How I Learned That I Am a Hovering, Intrusive Gossiper (and What to Do About It)

A test called the Enneagram showed me who I really am. It’s also helping me to change.

I took the Enneagram Test. So should you. I was skeptical of it at first, but I found after a few weeks that I had really changed my behavior. Why? Because the test nailed me. Embarrassingly so.

The Enneagram is like a personality test. Google it, go to the site, pay $10 and answer 145 questions like this one:

A. I have tended to focus too much on myself.

B. I have tended to focus too much on others.

The test makes you choose between options — sometimes it’s Both or Neither of the Above, but you have to choose.

The site scores the test immediately. Then comes the bad news: You fall into one of nine categories. We all have pieces of each category in us, but you fall most deeply into one of the nine, and that category reveals to you a lot about who you are. All the categories have their pluses, but the minuses are painful and sadly recognizable.

I’m a Two, which is The Helper. That sounds nice, but it’s not good. Twos are caring and generous, but they are also “people-pleasing” and “possessive.” It’s true — I took the test twice, and I’m really a Two.

Once I got over the shock of seeing the hard truth in front of me, I decided I could either spend the rest of my life deeply flawed, or I could try to change.

Here are the Categories. You can click the link on each one to find out more:

1: The Reformer

2: The Helper

3: The Achiever

4: The Individualist

5: The Investigator

6: The Loyalist

7: The Enthusiast

8: The Challenger

9: The Peacemaker

The Enneagram is used by religious and spiritual leaders, psychiatrists, and therapists around the world. It’s also used by businesses as a hiring tool. It’s particularly helpful in couples’ therapy, says Russ Hudson, who designed the current version of the test along with the late Don Richard Riso in the 1990s. As he and Riso first helped people take the test, they found the results stunning, and they were able, says Hudson, to “convince the hard core guys [academics and doctors] that this test was easy for people to relate to.”

Hudson told me that the idea for the Enneagram has been around since the Greek Philosophers. “It’s about will, emotion, and intellect — the belly, the heart, and the head.” The nine types are divided equally among those three aspects of people. They tell you “what you do to cope with the main way you’ve learned to operate in the world.”

The nine categories correspond to nine sins — a list rooted in the Seven Deadly Sins. (According to Hudson, there used to be nine sins, but two got dropped along the way.) The Reformer represents rage. The Helper represents pride. The Achiever represents vanity. The Individualist represents envy. The Investigator represents greed. The Loyalist represents cowardice. The Enthusiast represents gluttony. The Challenger represents lust (which is not just sexual). The Peacemaker represents sloth.

Hudson says that in the Enneagram what we’re looking at is not just who we are, but how we survive. “We look at the (nine) types to remind ourselves to see a deeper sense of ourselves.”

The usefulness of the Enneagram is not based on religious beliefs — it works for people of any faith or no faith. Hudson studied Buddhism at Columbia University, but is not religious. “I do my best to follow the teaching of Jesus Christ,” he says. “Love God above all things and love your neighbors as yourself.”

What I find so valuable about taking the Enneagram is that it shows you three levels of your type: Healthy, Average, and Unhealthy. Healthy Twos are “caring, empathetic, warm, thoughtful, appreciative, generous, other-oriented, tactile, affectionate, well intentioned, and demonstrative.” I was feeling very smug when I read that — until I learned that almost nobody is a true version of their Healthy type.

When I looked at the Average level for Twos, I found that I am intrusive, intimate, and accosting; I give unwanted advice and am prone to hovering and “checking in.” I am also seductive, gossiping (see what I mean about getting really nailed?), enabling, and dominating. Help!

It really does take some courage to take this test.

Once I got over the shock of seeing the hard truth in front of me, I decided I could either spend the rest of my life deeply flawed, or I could try to change. I chose the latter.

And it is working. Every time I catch myself falling into the “terrible Twos,” I pull back and rethink my words or actions. Will I ever achieve the Healthy level? Probably not, but I’ll die trying.

Hudson says nobody achieves Healthy levels all the time: “People are up and down. There’s a lot of fluidity. There are good and bad days. There are days when things are flowing, when (you are all of the) gorgeous things about your type. Then one bad phone call will throw everything off.”

It does get better, he says. Where once you would be angry for four days, now you might only be angry for four minutes. “You learn to be more skillful at getting back on track if you know yourself. You see the train pulling into the station, and you don’t want to get on it. The more we practice, the more integrated we are, and the more we experience the healthy aspects of ourselves.”

I don’t know, though. I’m not sure I’ll ever be healthy enough to give up gossiping.

Sally Quinn
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