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  • Writer's pictureClaire Bentley

ENNEAGRAM TYPE 1

Updated: Oct 25, 2023

FOR CREATIVITY AND CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT


INTRODUCTION

The Enneagram is a personality classification system which divides the human population into nine broad personality types based on their desires, fears, beliefs and behaviours. In this series of blog posts I will take you through each of the nine Enneagram personality types in detail, looking at how you can use them to improve your creative work patterns and to inform character development in your artwork.


The Enneagram personality system showing the nine personality types arranged in a circle
The Enneagram circle

There is dispute about the validity of the system as applied to ‘real-world’ humans. I’m not going to enter that debate in this series. However, I believe the system is potentially useful for creatives as a way of framing and understanding both our characters and ourselves. It is important to remember that personality systems are broad tools to aid understanding: there is lots of nuance and individual variation, and people rarely fit perfectly into one category or another.


WHY ENNEAGRAM AND NOT MYERS-BRIGG?


The Myers-Brigg personality classification system is also useful for understanding our characters and ourselves. However, I find it more complex and less intuitive than the Enneagram system. For example, when studying well-written fictional characters I can usually identify their Enneagram type quickly and easily, but I would struggle to identify which of the sixteen Myers-Brigg categories they fall under without reference material and a little free time to work it out. In addition, unlike the Enneagram, the Myers-Brigg types are not evenly distributed through the population: I am an ‘Advocate’ (INFJ), the rarest category at 1% of the population. In the Enneagram system I am a Type Nine, so many more ‘like-minded’ people to learn from.


However, the main reason I prefer using the Enneagram to the Myers-Brigg for character development is because story structure and story theory revolve around identifying the desires, fears, motivations, and misbeliefs of your characters. The Enneagram has these baked in and, even more crucially, the descriptions of healthy and unhealthy versions of each type make it far easier to see how a character might grow or disintegrate during a story (depending on what type of character arc you are writing).


WHY THIS BLOG SERIES?


The Enneagram is useful for understanding your pattern of work and behaviour when it comes to your creative life, so you can work out your strengths and weaknesses, find out what works for you, and identify areas where you could improve.


I have been using the Enneagram to inform character development in my current work in progress and it has been invaluable for helping me shape and develop their personalities, beliefs, and change arcs. There is a lot of information about the Enneagram but very little in terms of how to practically apply the system to character development in creative work. Therefore, I created this series of blog posts to explore each of the nine types in detail, and to provide guidance and examples when it comes to using the Enneagram for character development and plotting their change arcs.


There is a huge amount of information out there regarding the Enneagram and these posts barely scratch the surface! Therefore, I have linked references at the end of the posts (including the ones which informed this series) if you would like to explore the topic further.





WORKING OUT YOUR ENNEAGRAM TYPE

There are tests out there (both paid and free) which can help you identify your Enneagram type. However, (again unlike Myers-Brigg) you can probably work out your type from the descriptions.


A word of caution: study each of the types before deciding which one best describes yourself. It may not be the one you initially think! When reading through the descriptions I initially couldn’t find one that quite worked for me, then ‘decided’ I was a Type Three, even though there were parts of it that fit and parts that didn’t. However, when I reached the Type Nine description I had a moment of ‘oh s***, here I am’. If the description feels uncanny and makes you feel uncomfortable, you have likely found the right one for you!


It is worth saying again that people do not necessarily fit perfectly into categories. I had strong scores for multiple Types when I took a test (it turns out Type Nines are good at adopting the behaviours of other types!) I also later found out that healthy Type Nines behave like healthy Type Threes, which could explain why I felt an affinity for the Type Three description.


My point is, study the types first before deciding which one best describes you!


TYPE 1 OVERVIEW: THE REFORMER OR IMPROVER

Zoomed-in drawing of Type 1 on the Enneagram

PERSONALITY TRAITS

· Rational

· Idealistic

· Principled

· Purposeful

· Conscientious

· Self-controlled

· Perfectionistic

· Critical



SUMMARY

(https://www.enneagraminstitute.com/)

“Ones are conscientious and ethical, with a strong sense of right and wrong. They are teachers, crusaders, and advocates for change: always striving to improve things, but afraid of making a mistake. Well-organized, orderly, and fastidious, they try to maintain high standards, but can slip into being critical and perfectionistic. They typically have problems with resentment and impatience. At their Best: wise, discerning, realistic, and noble. Can be morally heroic”.


DESIRES

To be good, balanced, virtuous, correct, and to act with integrity. Wish to be of use in their world.


FEARS

Of being defective, morally corrupt, or evil.


MOTIVATIONS

· Moral goodness and justice

· Consistency with ideals

· Improve everything

· Strive higher

· Justification / desire to be right

· Be beyond criticism


WINGS

One with a Nine-Wing: the Idealist

More introverted. Better at maintaining relationships. You think before you speak to make sure you don’t say anything that goes against your morals, but may take so long to do this that it comes off as procrastination.


One with a Two-Wing: the Advocate

More extroverted and outgoing with a warm nature. You are helpful, empathetic and understanding. You’re an effective problem-solver, but you’re vulnerable to being critical and controlling.


DIRECTION OF GROWTH

Adopt behaviours of a healthy Type Seven: joyful and spontaneous


DIRECTION OF STRESS

Adopt negative behaviours of a Type Four: moody and irrational


ARE YOU A TYPE 1 CREATIVE?

Do you recognise yourself in the description above?


If you are a Type One creative then you may find yourself with a strong desire to improve the world through your creativity. You may even see this as your personal mission in life. You strive to overcome adversity (especially moral adversity) even at great cost to yourself.


You are passionate and act on your instincts, often searching for logic and objectivity to justify your actions, and with which to control and direct yourself.


You may appear repressed and rigid to others, even as internally you are bubbling with passions and desires which you feel you must stay in control of.


You likely struggle with perfectionism, to the point of being severe and unforgiving of yourself if you perceive yourself to have made a mistake.


Your personality type may have arisen from growing up in an unstable or chaotic environment, meaning you wish to establish order and purpose in your life.



Row of colourful toy bricks numbered in ascending order
Type 1 creatives are perfectionistic and like to establish order in their environment


YOUR WORK PATTERN

You like to work independently and with clear goals, seeing these goals through to the end. You may prefer focussing on one project at a time rather than dividing your focus between multiple projects. While you enjoy autonomy, you are able to work harmoniously with others who share your vision and are open to feedback.


You are perfectionistic and care deeply about the quality of your work. You spend a great amount of time and effort getting your work to an ‘acceptable’ standard: this can help you achieve your goals and successes by putting quality, meaningful art into the world. However, it can also be a disadvantage, e.g. taking longer over a piece of work for little gain, and / or becoming obsessive about the work.


You have laser focus and self-discipline, and like to establish strict order and purpose within your creative life to help you achieve your creative goals.


YOUR STRENGTHS

· Principled: you value integrity and wish to lead by example.

· Objective: you judge people and situations objectively.

· Conscientious: you are reliable and responsible.

· Structured: you enjoy structuring things and are adept at organising and prioritising.

· Quality-driven: you have a talent for detail and pay attention to quality and the application of rules and procedures.

· Idealist: can see beyond the current situation to what it could become.

· Motivated: don’t require external rewards.

· Working with others: able to interact with others to bring about positive change.


YOUR WEAKNESSES

· Obsessive: you place so much value on your ideals that you may not be happy until you reach your high (and unrealistic) standards.

· Unrealistic: your perspective may become distorted because reality and your ideals do not match.

· Overly critical: an unhealthy focus on the flaws of yourself and others.

· Self-righteous: you may label any outside perspective as wrong or immoral before taking the time to understand it.


RECOMMENDATIONS FOR GROWTH

· Prioritise relaxation and self-care.

· Remember that not everything is up to you and the world does not depend on you alone.

· Do not expect others to change immediately. Showing patience, understanding of others’ perspectives (rather than irritation), and being a positive example of change, is more effective than forcing your opinions on others.

· Be humble and accept the flaws within both yourself and others.

· Be aware of your self-critical voice and don’t let it gain too much power. Self-flagellation will not help you achieve your goals, and will undermine rather than help you.

· Recognise your underlying emotions and impulses rather than suppressing them.

· Your strict routines and rules may help you consistently produce strong work, but do not become too rigid in your routines or practices. A little spontaneity can breathe new life into yourself and your work.

TYPE 1 CHARACTERS IN YOUR ART

I will speak to writing because I am most familiar with this, but the lessons can be applied to other creative art forms.


WHERE MIGHT YOUR CHARACTER START?

The ‘average’ Type One individual might start from a position of being dissatisfied with reality. They may feel strongly about certain causes and about how things ‘ought’ to be. They may take it entirely upon themselves to explain their cause to others and to improve things, and feel that everything should be consistent with their ideals.


They are likely to be well-organised but perfectionistic and afraid of making a mistake. They may not be satisfied unless a task is carried out in accordance with their high standards. They may be impersonal and rigidly self-controlled, keeping their emotions and impulses in check.


They may be highly critical of themselves and others. They may be highly opinionated and may ‘correct’ people and / or nag them to do the right thing. They may be impatient, moralising, abrasive and angry.


HOW MIGHT YOUR CHARACTER GROW?

A healthy Type One character has a strong sense of right and wrong and a desire to be rational, reasonable, disciplined, objective and fair in all things. They have a strong sense of responsibility and integrity. They are humane, hopeful, truthful and inspiring. They practice empathy when communicating their expectations with others, rather than being critical or harsh.


A healthy Type One may become wise and discerning. A Type One who is realistic and accepts the current situation is better able to know what action is needed and when. They are able to disagree without being judgmental or demanding.


They are passionate about their work but they are able to take a break and enjoy other aspects of life (without becoming obsessive or self-critical).


HOW MIGHT YOUR CHARACTER DISINTEGRATE?

A Type One character is in danger of becoming self-righteous, intolerant and inflexible. The truth is black and white. They may be severely judgmental of others and inflict cruel punishment on perceived wrongdoers.


An unhealthy Type One may carry out behaviours and actions which contradict their own beliefs, rationalising and justifying their hypocritical actions to themselves. Focussing on the shortcomings of others helps them avoid their own shortcomings and misguided ‘standards’, leading them to misunderstand themselves and others and not gain any meaningful change in their life.


An unhealthy Type One may become an obsessive workaholic, yet may have poor focus on their goals and feel frustrated when these are not met. They may blame others for this rather than taking responsibility.


Prone to depression, OCD, nervous breakdowns, eating disorders, and suicide.


DEVELOPING YOUR TYPE 1 CHARACTER: WORKED EXAMPLE


Let’s say the one-line theme of your story is ‘perfect is the enemy of good’. You could make your main character a Type One because perfectionism is likely a key part of their personality. They begin the story with the misbelief ‘I must always be perfect to be good’ (the ‘lie’, or the opposite of the story’s theme).

Business laptops and papers scattered over the desk in a business meeting
Perfectionism takes over the Type 1 character's role

In the beginning they may be well-organised and doing well at their job, but they take too long to achieve things because they are perfectionistic and afraid of making a

mistake. This brings to mind possible related plot points, such as someone who is less detail-focused ‘unfairly’ being promoted ahead of the protagonist, or the protagonist burning themselves out with exhaustion because their perfectionism leads to them working longer hours. During the course of the story they must learn the theme, i.e. that being ‘perfect’ is impossible, meaning they become more realistic and less self-critical, and thus perform better in their role.


If the protagonist is in a negative change arc then they may resent the ‘imperfect’ colleagues who are doing better than themselves, blaming them for their own lack of progression, perhaps trying to sabotage them and losing their own job in the process.


This is just one example. Your theme may not suggest an obvious Enneagram type that ‘fits’, but it could be interesting to ‘try out’ your theme with protagonists and antagonists of different Enneagram types to see how these dynamics could impact your story and plot. Remember: a protagonist or antagonist (or any side character) could be any of the Enneagram types, and could grow or disintegrate within their type (or stay the same) during the course of the story.


TYPE 1 CHARACTERS IN WELL-KNOWN STORIES


EXAMPLES FROM HARRY POTTER

I do not agree with or condone any form of transphobia, and have not given a single penny to She-who-must-not-be-named since she outed herself. However, the story of Harry Potter helped me a lot as a child, and its characters remain some of the best known in the literary world. That is why I have chosen Harry Potter characters as examples in my discussion of the Enneagram, so that hopefully you can appreciate how the Enneagram might be used to help create strong, unique and conflicted characters. These categorisations are based on my own judgment and knowledge of the characters: please feel free to disagree (and let me know in the comments if you do!)


HERMIONE GRANGER

Hermione might initially seem like a Type Three rather than a Type One because learning and achievement are hugely important to her. However, many people do not fall neatly into one category or another.


I place Hermione as a Type One because she is highly moral, idealistic and perfectionistic. Those of us who have read the books will not forget her S.P.E.W. campaign! It could be argued that she was too heavy-handed in her approach for promoting elfish welfare, but I personally admired that, throughout the series, she always stuck to her beliefs and morals even when she was ridiculed or persecuted for doing so.


MINERVA MCGONAGALL

McGonagall is strict and has high expectations of her students. However, she also logical, objective and fair. For most of the series she is unemotional and straightforward in her behaviour and speech. As a reader, you knew things were truly amiss when McGonagall’s emotions broke through her self-control! As a side note, Type One’s are noted for making excellent teachers.


I have categorised both Hermione and Professor McGonagall as Type Ones, yet there are significant differences between their characters, with some Type One traits showing up more or less strongly in each of them. At the start of the series I would argue Professor McGonagall is a ‘healthier’ Type One than Hermione, possessing greater wisdom and more tact in how she expresses her opinions. Hermione regularly shows irritation and impatience with her friends and fellow students for not thinking as she does and for not ‘following the rules’. As the series progresses, Hermione learns to be less rigid and moralising, and like McGonagall is able to direct her irritation in far more effective ways.


Even if your story has two characters with the same Enneagram type, there will still be differences between them depending on their age, background, whether or not that have one of the ‘wings’, personal growth etc.


EXAMPLES FROM ENCANTO

Encanto is one of my favourite films from recent times. The characters are unique and fascinating, and the arcs they undergo are powerful and relatable. Therefore, I have also used Encanto to provide examples of the different Enneagram types in character-based art.


ALMA (ABUELA) MADRIGAL

Alma is head of the Madrigal household. As a young mother of newborn triplets she was forced to flee from her home and watched her husband murdered, before she was presented with the ‘miracle’ which now protects herself, her family and her community. She is a strong and capable matriarch, mentor and protector.


However, over the years she has become critical and over-bearing towards her children and grandchildren, fearing that the miracle (and the magical gifts it bestows) will be taken away if they are not ‘worthy’ of wielding them. She has high expectations of each of them, insisting that they use their powers to uphold the community and the family name, and become the ‘best’ versions of themselves that they can be. She imposes order and stability on her family through fear that it will all be taken away (again).


Notice again how Alma has the same Enneagram type as Hermione and Professor McGonagall, yet all three of them are different (different dominant Type One traits, different ages, backgrounds, cultures etc).


RESOURCES

I couldn’t find much that was geared specifically to fictional characters in writing (or other art forms). However, there is much more to explore within the Enneagram system, and I have listed some helpful resources below:

The Enneagram Institute: https://www.enneagraminstitute.com/

Don Riso and Russ Hudson have published multiple books on the Enneagram system

These resources provided a foundation for the blog posts in this series, which I then applied to understanding creative work patterns and crafting fictional characters.


BEFORE YOU GO…

Are you an Enneagram Type 1? Are any of your characters Type 1? Please join in the discussion (contact details below).


Please feel free to comment on the article and/or contact me if you have any questions!


Socials: @cbentleywriter on most of them!




Buy me a coffee: https://ko-fi.com/clairebentley

I welcome respectful and friendly discussion on the topics I write about, including if your opinion differs from my own.


Disclaimer: generative AI

I do not use generative AI to produce or inform my blog, my images, or my fiction. All of my content is generated by the chaotic firing of my own (human) brain! (I have access to some images through my Wix subscription). I do not consent to the use of my content, images, or fiction to train generative AI models. Please contact me to discuss permission and compensation if you wish to use my content in this way.

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