Faith Shifts and the Enneagram

Not everyone will be able to connect to this post but if you know anything about the Enneagram and have had some kind of shifting faith, this post is for you. I personally love the Enneagram as a tool for personal transformation. I have had the joy of doing some Enneagram for Teams work at a for-profit organization this year and each and every time I facilitate an experience for them, I am struck by its potency for self-awareness and change. I love that it focuses on cultivating strengths and honoring areas for growth at the same time.

If you know nothing about the Enneagram, just google it and you can find a plethora of information online about it. Here’s a post I wrote a few years ago with a good overview, too.

I spend a lot of time with people who are experiencing some kind of shifting faith, where all we once knew comes apart and we are trying to find our way forward. Faith unraveling and deconstruction can be a rough season for many, disorienting and confusing in so many ways. I’ve also discovered in talking to a wide variety of people that we respond to these faith shifts differently based on our Enneagram types. Please know, I have no research or other sources for this; it’s just based on experiences and conversations.

Here are a few thoughts about how each Enneagram types navigates a faith shift, what is hard about it, what we tend to do to cope, how we relate to others in the mix. I made a nifty little chart, too, with a little more clear comparison. I’d love to hear what you would add, too.

Type 1 – The Reformer

With justice and things-being-right at the top of the list for 1’s, the inconsistencies and hypocrisy in the church systems and leadership is what did a lot of us in. In response, a lot of 1’s are so angry and exasperated by the system that they.just.can’t.even.anymore.  1’s see all the holes in the system, all the ways it could and should be better. The fire for the gospel-lived-out-more-authentically is strong but because there are so few real-life possibilities for it, 1’s can feel super lonely and discouraged when everything they once belonged to comes apart. 1’s are mad a lot during faith shifts—“Really, people, this is what you think church should be?”

Type 2 – The Helper

I know this one the best because I’m a 2! 2’s thrive on relationship and connection so when we lose our churches, ministries, belonging to groups, and friends, it hurts. Deeply hurts. We want to make it all better, figure out a way to have everyone still like us and also remain true to our integrity. The dissonance about does us in and the hardest part is thinking about all of the people we will no longer be connected to, who disapprove of us, who want us to “come back and play nice again” when we know we can’t.  2’s are sad and afraid of losing love during faith shifts–“Will they still love me if they know what I really believe or leave me?”

Type 3 – The Achiever

Enneagram 3’s have an incredible ability to find a way to make something new work no matter the cost so often 3’s shake the dust off their feet, close their hearts to what was, and try to figure out how to make a go of something new. They stuff their sadness and feelings and tell themselves they’ll be better for it and forge forward either in a new church or group or way of being no matter the cost to their soul. They’re tired of trying so hard but it’s hard to admit defeat. 3’s are persevering during faith shifts—“I will not let the pain of a shifting faith win!”

Type 4 – The Individualist

4’s have some of the best shots at making it through a faith shift without as much baggage as some of the rest of us because the drive underneath 4’s is to be unique, special, and set apart from others–which is the exact contrary of most religious systems that thrive on homogeneity and toeing the line. 4’s are done with the lack of authenticity in most religious systems and the hypocrisy but can feel super lost without the connection that once held them together.  4’s are moody and irritable during faith shifts, “The system is so jacked up and I don’t want to be part anymore, but damn, I want to feel that connected feeling again.”

Type 5 – The Problem-Solver

Ennegram 5’s are pretty good at being self-reliant so a faith shift isn’t the end of the world for them. They will “figure out” a new plan, a better way of making sense of things, another place to put a changing theology and will usually find a way to make a different container for it.  Because community and people-ing was never 5’s favorite, the missing isn’t in that but it is in having something intellectually stimulating and clear. 5’s are in figure-it-out mode during faith shifting, trying to make sense of it all while ignoring some of the deeper longings underneath—“I’ll figure it out somehow, some way, me and God are enough.”

Type 6 – The Loyalist

6’s have a hard time losing all that was once clear because it was so comforting! To know the rules, norms, ways-of-being-and-believing was extremely helpful and to lose it all during a faith deconstruction is disorienting and creates anxiety. Enneagram 6’s will often try to figure out a good Plan B, what can I do to make this work, to get to safety again as soon as possible no matter what that looks like? During faith shifts, 6’s feel anxious and worried that they’ll never have safety and security again—“What are the new rules? Can someone please tell me quick!”

Type 7 – The Enthusiast

7’s might have an easier go in navigating a shifting faith than some at first because looking for something new or finding another hobby or way to cope is not foreign to them; yet, underneath that escaping is a deep loneliness and desire for connection. Losing that is painful but it’s hard to admit it.  7’s feel frenetic and searching during faith shifts—“Damn, I miss that connection; how can I find the feeling I’m looking for in some other way?”

Type 8 – The Challenger

8’s are good at saying screw the system! 8’s have a big outward advantage on faith unraveling because they say they don’t need the system, that it’s better on their own, that they aren’t weak like those who rely on religion, but the truth is it hurts for 8’s, sometimes in even deeper ways than other types. 8’s have a tender heart underneath all that strength and an authentic spirituality is no small thing to them. Losing that sucks and 8’s often feel super lost, angry at everything, and very vulnerable during shifting faith but cope with it by–“I didn’t need them anyway!”

Type 9 –The Peacemaker

9’s are a bit like 2’s during faith shifting because it’s so hard to live with the dissonance of disapproval and brokenness and disharmony that comes with the upheaval of faith. “Can’t I just figure out a way to make this work? I better not say what I really think or feel because it will upset people. If I just ________” are common for 9’s. Getting to the nitty gritty of what 9’s believe apart from everyone else is no small thing and makes faith deconstruction extra hard to navigate. 9’s aren’t sure what they are feeling during faith shifts—“I have no idea what I want right now…”

Here’s the chart again with some comparisons across the types:

What do you relate to?

What would you add?

I’d love to hear!

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


  • Hey Kathy!

    Thanks for this!

    I’m a 4w5.

    I would add that, because 4s feel misunderstood & irreparably flawed, the trauma around deconstruction likewise feels isolating and irreparable. Some of this is conflated in our own worlds, but some of it is facing the reality that we live in an increasingly secularised society. Finding community that understands the extent of the damage done but also our desire to find that community again is extremely difficult.

    Add to that letting go of the pain. 4s struggle with this aspect of who we are whatever’s happening. The pain defines us. We often stay overlong in the deconstruction phase well after we needed to have stepped into the reconstruction phase (whatever that looks like for us).

    • However,

      I’m also a 4w5 and totally ID.
      I really had to get over insisting that everyone move with in my direction at my pace. 4s really struggle with pushing people to places they are not ready to go. When no one saw what I saw, it made me want to blow up the whole institution.

    • thanks for sharing, erin. i love what you shared; such important reflections and i will definitely take note of all of what you wrote. i’m so glad i know you out here!

  • Omg Thankyou for breaking all of this down in such an easy concise
    Way. It’s like reading The Bible in “The Message” format. I feel like I’m all of these to some degree so that must mean I’m really Screwed up. I lean more towards a 2 and a 9 but I want to be a Badass so I’m not sure who I am. I need to go thru the enneagram again and see what I am for real. Ive done it before and I think it put me at a 7 but after reading your description of each I’m not so sure Maybe I’m really an 8 #badass‍♀️ I love your heart Kathy❤️Thankyou!

    • thanks for sharing, lynda, i appreciate your heart! i do think it’s worth it to take the more in-depth test and really find our number. it would be fun to see where you really land.

  • I saw this posted on Twitter and clicked out of curiosity. What it means to see my descriptor as a One written out, clear as day, during my own faith transition, and to be to the point — lonely — is scary and comforting. I cannot tell you how many times I have that internal voice remind me of this seemingly pervasive loneliness, especially in these days where the Church looks unrecognizable. Yet, I CANNOT shake my anger at its cracks or the hope that I still have in it.

  • I’m a 2! I’ve realized my big way of dealing with things is to “stay and fix it”. I find it hard to reach the place of realizing that sometimes you have to leave and go where your gifts are more welcome and needed.

  • As a One, I so appreciate this thoughtful review of shifting faith.

    I admit that I bristle at the “reformer” identification. Recently I heard one teacher describe us as the “Responsible Ones”. While I agree we can look like reformers (or that equally harsh word, perfectionists), to me it really feels like we bear the responsibility for everyone else, to make sure all in the world is right and good.

    Just a thought!

  • Thanks for this, Kathy. I read your “Faith Shift” a few years back now, and don’t recall if you cover this there, but you probably do: Our openness to and preparedness for a major faith shift is highly related to our personal growth stage (or increased solidity in our “identity”, general self-reliance, regardless of our personality type).

    In my own case, I was much more oriented to needing community and sensitivity to approval. And my milieu was very heavily Evangelical (tho mixed between highly conservative and moderately so). Spending a few years in a more progressive Christian setting helped break that down and create a partial alternate community which made a more thorough and objective re-examination possible. The result, with my strong Reformer and Problem-Solver aspects, was a thorough re-interpretation of God, the Bible and the nature of reality… shifting to a new paradigm. Grace, beauty and love still the core, now further expanded.

    Also, a lot of exposure to “fringe” (but substantive) science as well as theology greatly aided my transition. I really encourage “faith shifters” to stretch their intellectual muscles, even if not naturally so inclined, as understanding and meaning are vital elements in vibrant faith. It’s been nearly a millennium since “faith seeking understanding” became a major meme, for good reasons.


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