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What is the Difference Between the Enneagram and The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator?

A photo of clouds with a dark overlay so the text above it can be read. The text reads "3 Ways the Enneagram and MBTI Differ (+ 3 Ways They’re Similar)."

Understanding what makes you tick is incredibly important in your faith journey. While there are many ways to add language around how you think and behave, there are two personality typing systems that can assist you in figuring that out. It’s important to note that, though these typing systems are useful, they are not definitive or absolute.

The two typing systems I’m writing about today are the Enneagram and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). Neither of these are technically scientifically validated in that there haven’t been a sufficient number of studies to verify the claims made, but that doesn’t make them any less useful. Each typing system above is linked to other articles we’ve written that explain each of the typing systems in detail.

How the Enneagram and the MBTI Are Different

Aside from the origins of each typology, there are some key differences between the Enneagram and MBTI. We’ll cover 3 here, but know that this list is not exhaustive. Feel free to get in touch if you want me to cover more than these 3 differences! The 3 differences we’ll be discussing here are that the Enneagram has 9 types versus the MBTI’s 16 types, the Enneagram is determined by motivation while the MBTI is shown through behavior, and the it’s more difficult to type people on the Enneagram than it is on the MBTI.

The Enneagram Has 9 Types and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Has 16 Types

The most obvious difference between the Enneagram and the MBTI is the number of types covered. The word “enneagram” translates to “nine-sided shape” (it really isn’t that mystical), which means that there is a type at each point that is distinctly different from all the other types at other points. Each of the 3 types are then broken down into subtypes, stances, and repressions. The subtypes are called “Triads” and are called the gut (or body), heart, and head triads. These triads help us group similar types together and help us further understand ourselves by reflecting on the numbers surrounding our primary number. The stances and repressions are a little more nuanced, so we will not cover them here.

While the Enneagram has several natural break points that have been created, refined, and passed down throughout the years, the MBTI does not have such points. Instead there are 16 types (not 9) and these types, while still distinct, have significant similarities with one another. Many people have tried to categorize and group these types together, but it doesn’t seem like there has been any consensus on how that should be done. Instead, we’ll focus on the preferences.

What Are Preferences?

Your MBTI type consists of 4 letters, each representing a different part of your personality. The first letter indicates how you prefer to get your energy, through other people and external sources or from your inner world - extraversion and introversion. Next, the second letter informs you about how you prefer to gather information, either from the reality around them (sensing) or from the abstract future ahead of them (intuition). The third letter tells you how you prefer to make decisions, either based on facts and logic (thinking) or based on feelings (feeling). Lastly, the fourth letter indicates how you prefer to deal with the outside world, either through structure and order (judging) or through flexibility and spontaneity (perceiving).

The Enneagram Focuses on Internal Motivation and the MBTI Focuses on Perceived Behavior

Another key difference between the Enneagram and MBTI is that one, the Enneagram, is focused on internal motivation while the other, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, is focused on perceived behavior. Each Enneagram type aligns with a core motivation that is strictly internal and unique to the individual. It can be difficult to understand your Enneagram type if you have low self-awareness because you’re not easily able to do the work to figure out what makes you tick internally. And, since it’s an internal motivation, outside coaching can only bring you so far.

Typing yourself for the MBTI is still reliant on some level of self-awareness, but it requires less. Since the MBTI is centered around your perceived behavior or how you interact with the world, it’s easier for assessments and coaching to help you drill down to your personality preferences. While this may be true, you know yourself better than anyone else and especially better than any assessment you take, so be sure to treat whatever advice you get from coaches and any results from assessments with wisdom and discernment.

It’s More Difficult to Type Someone Using the Enneagram

In a similar vein as my point above, it can be easier to assign a type to people using the MBTI rather than the Enneagram. Much of the characteristics defined in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator have ways that they show up in the outside world where people can perceive how you interact with people, information, and decisions. For example, if you’re known for going with the flow rather than following a rigid schedule, it’s likely that you have a preference for perception.

However, with the Enneagram, it’s a bit more nuanced than that. Many of the Enneagram types may have a preference for perception, but it’s not about how or when they show up but why they show up that way. For example, the Enneagram 3 who is motivated by a desire to appear successful may show up early to meetings not because they’re eager to be there or prefer the structure of a schedule but because they’re eager to appear like they are an ideal, successful employee.

Because of the internal and deeply personal aspects of the Enneagram, it can be difficult to tell what a person’s type is from the outside looking in.

How the Enneagram and the MBTI Are Similar

Now we have a good idea of how the Enneagram and Myers-Briggs Type Indicator are different from one another. While they are quite distinctly different, they do share some similarities as well. Those similarities are that they’re both methods of typology, they’re both descriptive of personality, and both can be used to enhance your relationship with Jesus.

The Enneagram and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Are Both Typologies

This is the most obvious similarity between the Enneagram and Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Both of these personality systems are really typologies, which simply means that they’re a way of categorizing and “making sense” of people - specifically using the social sciences. While the number of types and how those types are defined may differ, the fact remains that they are both typologies.

The Enneagram and the MBTI Are Both Descriptive, Not Prescriptive

The Enneagram and MBTI are both descriptive rather than prescriptive. Put simply, this means that these typologies were designed simply to describe your personality, not define it. You are not your Enneagram number or your MBTI type. While both of these typologies can help you put language around your motivations and behaviors, they are not the cause of those things.

Personality doesn’t typically change over time assuming you’re relatively self-aware when you first assess your types. While that’s true, you can use these systems to grow in both your strengths and weaknesses. Instead of saying something like, “Oh, I’m a Type 9, so I’ll always be conflict-averse,” you can say, “I recognize that my conflict-aversion stems from my Type 9-ness, now I can be more aware of that specific characteristic and compensate for it.” Instead of saying, “I’m an introvert, I should only ever be alone,” you can say, “I recognize I have a preference for introversion, so I know I need plenty of alone time to recharge but not at the expense of my close relationships.”

The Enneagram and the MBTI Can Be Used to Enhance Your Relationship With Jesus

Lastly, since both the Enneagram and Myers-Briggs Type Indicator are descriptive, not prescriptive, they can both be used to help you enhance your relationship with Jesus. All the types are uniquely different from one another in how they prefer things. A Type 3 may prefer being active in their connection with Jesus while Type 4s may prefer making way for the emotional experience in a connection with Jesus. Knowing that difference within yourself can help you determine what’s best for you in your relationship with Jesus.

Since we’re all unique in how we’re wired, that means we’re all unique in how we connect with Jesus. Introverts and extraverts are going to need different levels of stimulation in order to focus on what Jesus is speaking to them about. Those who prefer intuition over sensing may want to reflect on the general patterns of their life and think about their relationship in the abstract rather than relying on their physical senses to connect with God.

We have devotional ideas for all types, both Enneagram and Myers-Briggs over at the tab that says devotional ideas. If you’re interested in getting started with how you can use your unique personality to connect with Jesus, I recommend you start there, or sign up for our mailing list where we can send you those articles straight to your inbox.

There are many more differences and similarities between the Enneagram and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator that I’m hopeful I’ll cover in later articles. I hope, though, that this was a helpful start to your journey into understanding yourself better so that you can connect with Jesus better.

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