Guest Post: Enneagram vs. 16 Personalities in Character Building
Author Bio : Lisa Sparrow, an experienced psychology expert and University of Edinburgh alumna, brings a considerable amount of counseling knowledge and a deep fascination with the human psyche. With expertise in the 16 personality types, she has served as both a school counselor and researcher, guiding students through life’s challenges. As an experienced writer for MyPersonality.net, her articles seamlessly blend academic understanding with practical insights, showcasing her commitment to enhancing mental and emotional well-being.
Enneagram and 16 Personalities are excellent tools for character building, as both systems describe different personality types in a unique way and offer insights you likely wouldn’t think of otherwise.
In other words, with their help, your characters will be more compelling, realistic, and complex, thus improving the quality of your story.
In this article, we will compare the Enneagram and 16 personalities and show you how to effectively use them in character building.
What Is the Enneagram?
The Enneagram is a system that classifies human personality into nine interconnected types based on behaviors, motivations, fears, and desires. Each type has its strengths and weaknesses, as well as levels of development ranging from unhealthy to average and healthy.
Furthermore, no one is limited to traits characteristic of just one personality type—you can simultaneously exhibit traits of all nine Enneagram types. However, you are born with just one dominant type, which may develop over the years but doesn’t change.
To better illustrate what Enneagram is all about, let’s take a look at the following three of the nine types:
- Type 1 (Reformer). This type is highly principled, with a strong sense of right and wrong, but may be overly perfectionistic, uncompromising, or judgmental, both of themselves and others. Ones constantly seek ways to change and improve the world, which, though noble, can lead to severe disappointment when their ideals aren’t achieved.
- Type 5 (Investigator). This type is perceptive, logical, and thoughtful but may be detached, isolated, and secretive. Usually, Fives seek answers and a deeper understanding of the world and reject doctrines and traditions in favor of critical thinking. However, their independence may cause them to become reclusive and fearful of others.
- Type 9 (Peacemaker). This type is peaceful, spiritual, and harmonious but may be overly complacent, conflict-avoidant, and passive. Nines value internal and external peace above all, seeking balance and connection with their environment. Unfortunately, that may come at the expense of their own opinion and identity, which they sacrifice for harmony.
All other types are similarly labeled with numbers and a descriptor and may be briefly summarized using several positive and negative attributes.
What Are 16 Personalities?
According to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, there are 16 distinct personalities that can be derived from the following four personality dimensions:
- Introversion/extroversion. This dimension shows whether you restore your energy by yourself or by spending time with others. Introverts need alone time to recharge after socializing, while extroverts feel especially energized around people and at social events.
- Sensing/intuition. These descriptors explain whether you take in information using your five senses or intuitively discern connections and patterns. People who prioritize their senses tend to be more practical and grounded in reality, while intuitive types look for symbols and abstract ideas rather than concrete facts.
- Thinking/feeling. This dichotomy describes how you make decisions—either by relying on facts and logic or following your heart. Thinking types tend to be more analytical and as objective as possible, while feeling types prioritize emotions and strive to be caring and compassionate to others as well.
- Judging/perceiving. These descriptors reveal whether you prefer your world to be structured or flexible. Judging types work best when they have a detailed plan that outlines precisely the steps that need to be taken, while perceiving types prefer to have only a general idea, allowing them to adapt to any potential changes on the spot.
Upon completing a 16 personalities test, you will receive a four-letter acronym that describes your personality type. So, for example, if your dominant dimensions are introversion, intuition, thinking, and perceiving, you will be an INTP.
Examples of 16 Personalities
To help you understand 16 personalities better, we will take a look at two types and explain their characteristics in more detail.
First, we have INFJ: introverted, intuitive, feeling, and judging. People with this personality type are usually thoughtful, imaginative, compassionate, and deeply caring about the world and others.
Due to their innate wisdom and almost effortless understanding of others’ feelings and motivations, they are considered old souls who are always seeking meaning and connections that go beyond the superficial.
However, INFJs can also be overly perfectionistic and idealistic, which leads to burnout, disappointment, and sensitivity to criticism. They are also notoriously difficult to get to know, as they tend to value their privacy above all else.
On the other side of the spectrum, we have ESTP: extroverted, sensing, thinking, and perceiving type. ESTPs are vibrant and energetic individuals who aren’t afraid to speak their minds and push their own and other people’s boundaries.
Their open nature and direct approach make ESTPs excellent leaders and welcome guests in any social situation. However, their constant need for action may make them impatient, impulsive, and even insensitive if someone in their vicinity can’t keep up.
Comparison of Enneagram vs. 16 Personalities in Character Building
Although both Enneagram and 16 personalities classify personalities using distinctive personality types, there are key differences between these two systems.
Namely, the Enneagram focuses on innermost motivations and fears, while the 16 personalities system uses cognitive functions and thinking processes to determine your personality type.
As a result, you get a vastly different picture of a person using each of the systems: with the Enneagram, you gain insight into their emotional states and behaviors, as well as healthy and unhealthy development, while 16 personalities delve deeper into personality archetypes and their strengths and weaknesses.
Therefore, both systems can be used in character building to explore different aspects of the character or, when combined, to paint a more complete picture of their personality.
But before we explain how to use Enneagram and 16 personalities in character building, let’s take a look at fictional characters that perfectly embody each system.
Mulan is an excellent representative of Enneagram Type 6, otherwise known as the Loyalist. This type is driven by security and a sense of comfort they find in their families and communities. As a result, Sixes are responsible, trustworthy, and hard-working.
There’s no doubt Mulan is all of these things, but it may be surprising that someone so security-oriented would leave their family behind to join the military disguised as a man.
However, when Sixes feel their families and communities are threatened like Mulan felt when her father was drafted, they become rebellious, defiant, and willing to go to great lengths to protect them. This is perfectly reflected in Mulan’s arc and in her eventual return to her family home.
Enneagram: Sherlock Holmes
Fictional detective Sherlock Holmes is a clear example of Enneagram Type 5: he is curious, insightful, innovative, and independent, always searching for knowledge and truth. Like most Fives, he has a rich inner world and focuses on his thoughts and ideas above all.
However, that can make him reserved, isolated, and somewhat detached from the world. He tends to dismiss social norms and conventions, especially when they hinder his detective work, which results in others perceiving him as arrogant or eccentric.
Consequently, Sherlock Holmes finds himself surrounded by only a few friends who can understand him or at least accept him. This is something many Fives can relate to—instead of seeking out large groups, they are most content with a couple of good, reliable friends.
16 Personalities: Arya Stark
Arya Stark is one of the many heroines that appear in Game of Thrones and a perfect example of a female ISTP. She’s practical, observant, and highly skeptical—a crucial trait in Westeros, where friends can’t be easily distinguished from foes.
ISTPs are known as self-reliant survivors whose resourcefulness and quick wit get them out of peril time and time again. That’s certainly the case with Arya, who always finds ways to avoid captivity or death and to keep moving across the war-ridden kingdom.
However, like most ISTPs, Arya can be callous, unapologetic, and extremely reserved. Though these traits are understandable in her situation, they make forming closer bonds with those who genuinely mean her well difficult.
16 Personalities: Jack Sparrow
Jack Sparrow embodies the ENTP personality type, often considered charismatic, energetic, curious, witty, unconventional, and spontaneous. Like any ENTP, the fictional pirate can talk himself out of every situation and enjoys nothing better than playing the Devil’s Advocate, even when his life’s on the line.
However, his incredible charisma can only take him so far before his friends notice how selfish and unreliable he can be. This is characteristic of ENTPs, too—though they mean well, their words should be taken with a grain of salt, as they aren’t above saying things they don’t actually believe in.
How to Use Enneagram & 16 Personalities in Character Building
To use Enneagram and 16 personalities in character building, you must first thoroughly explore both systems and better understand different types and their characteristics. When you find a type that particularly speaks to you, use it as a basis for creating your character.
For example, if you get inspired by Enneagram Type 9 while you’re reading about it, you can come up with a character that contains some of its traits, desires, and motivations. The same goes for 16 personalities and their different types.
You don’t have to opt for either Enneagram or 16 personalities, though—combine the two to achieve greater complexity and character depth. Your character should be as close as possible to a real person, and real people can be classified using both classifications.
Use Enneagram & 16 Personalities for Already Created Characters
Even if you already have a character with established traits, motivations, desires, and fears, you can use the two systems to understand them better and give them another dimension.
For example, try to figure out which Enneagram and 16 personalities types suit your character and consider whether the type description can help you give them more depth and understand how they would respond to certain situations.
Enneagram is particularly useful when developing your character’s behaviors and traits on a full scale—when they are happy, they will exhibit different characteristics than when they are sad, angry, frustrated, or desperate. Once you figure out their Enneagram, it should be easier to get a grasp on the inner workings of their mind.
On the other hand, 16 personalities are great for establishing strengths and weaknesses, as well as potential issues and blindspots your character might have. Their type will also reveal their cognitive processes and how they approach and resolve conflict with other types.
If you can’t figure out your character’s personality type on your own, it might be fun to take both tests on their behalf and learn more about them through type descriptions.
And remember—nothing is set in stone, so as long as it makes sense, you can give your character traits and behaviors associated with a type other than their own. After all, your personality isn’t limited to a single type, either, and neither should be your character’s.
Though there are key differences between Enneagram and 16 personalities, they paint a complete picture of one’s personality when used together. Every writer’s dream is to get to know their character better, and these classifications allow you to do just that, so don’t hesitate to test them out in your future writing.