Enneagram Type 1: The Perfectionist

The Enneagram of Personality, or just the Enneagram, is a representation of personalities using a geometric figure, also called an enneagram (little e), to express nine interconnected personality types. While each type is unique it is related to other types through the circle connecting the type to each of it’s wings and the lines or arrows in the center connecting the type to the ones it imitates in times of stress or growth. The Enneagram is used in business management training to better understand interpersonal dynamics in the workplace.

Types eight, nine, and one constitute the gut triad. This triad is primarily motivated by anger. Those in the gut triad tend to filter life at a “gut level” or by instinct. Because of that, they tend to be motivated by a desire to be independent and stay in control of their own life. Of the three, Ones internalize their anger and focus it on themselves by seeing their own faults.

At their best, Ones are committed to a life of service and integrity. They are able to forgive themselves and others for being imperfect. They are principled, but patient while they wait on the world to get better.

At their worst, Ones are fixated on small imperfections, whether those imperfections are their own or those of others. They become obsessed with managing minutea and asserting control over external circumstances.

Ones bring an attention to detail and desire to make the world better that can really make things better. They apply their high standards to both themselves and others and can often inspire the people around them to greater things. However, because the world isn’t a perfect place and never will be, this tendency can make them resentful of any imperfections they notice, whether within themselves or within others. If you are a One, remember that no is perfect and no one HAS TO BE perfect. This includes you. The world is exactly how it has to be. Friends of Ones can help them by being reliable, showing them that they are useful, by being understanding that imperfections in the world bother them more than others, and understanding that they can’t really express it.

Episode Breakdown

Main Characteristics

The Enneagram Type 1 is “The Perfectionist” or “The Reformer”

Their devotion to improve the world is the reason the One is called the Perfectionist. They strive to overcome adversity, especially of the moral sort, so that the human spirit can work through them to improve the world. They are discerning, wise, realistic, and noble. They can be morally heroic. The Perfectionist’s downfall is being overly critical and perfectionistic. They can start having problems with resentment, impatience, and anger.

Ones have a strong sense of purpose and a wish to be *useful* in the best sense of the word. They feel they have a mission in their lives and they aim to get it done. This sense of mission doesn’t stop the One from feeling like they need to justify their actions to themselves and others. This causes the One to spend an excessive amount of time thinking about the consequences of their actions.

As a member of the Gut or Anger triad, Ones can be grounded and in touch with their instincts. However, they can easily persuade themselves that they are only proceeding on logic and objective truth (in truth, no one is doing that). They can end up searching for a rationale for what they feel they must do.

While trying to remain true to their principles, Ones will try to avoid being affected by their instinctual drives. This can easily result in a personality type that has problems with repression, resistance, and aggression. They are often seen as having excellent self-control, but they don’t FEEL like they do. If they aren’t careful, they can end up feeling as if they have to keep a lid on their emotions to avoid hurting the people around them.

As children, many Ones try to be perfect, knowing the rules and following them to the letter.

You’ll often see this when talking to a younger One, as they will spend more time comparing themselves to others than talking about themselves. These children are also very hard on themselves, often shying away from sports and other group activities where they might not excel, since perfection is their goal.

As children, Ones will ask lots of questions about the “right way” to do things and can often take responsibility for things that aren’t their fault. Ones do not multi-task well, especially as children. However, they often don’t get upset when told to clean up their room – organizing things can be soothing.

Perfectionists are also terrified of making mistakes. If they are invested in something, it’ll have to be perfect or you’re never going to see it. Ones as children really need to know that making mistakes is part of development, that it’s expected, and that it’s perfectly normal. It’s also best to correct them privately, as they can be much more thin-skinned than they might appear.

Desires and Fears

The basic desire for the Reformer is to be right. They also want to be consistent with their ideals and to live in such a way as to be beyond criticism. Ones have high expectations of themselves and others. Oftentimes, they’ll sacrifice their own desires to live up to overly arbitrary standards for themselves. They’ll forgo what they WANT to do in order to do what they SHOULD do.

The basic fear of Ones is a fear of making a mistake or becoming corrupted. This often leads to resentment as they watch other people ignore the rules that they still feel they have to follow. These tendencies can also lead to boundary issues as well, where they become a bit puritanical towards the rest of the world (think the portrayal of the church lady from SNL back in the day).

Examples (Healthy, Average, Unhealthy)

A healthy One is wise and discerning. They accept reality for what it is and become realistic, taking the best action they can in the moment, rather than sticking perfectly to what they consider “ideal”. They still maintain their integrity, but they don’t allow the perfect to become the enemy of the good. They also are conscientious, with strong personal convictions. They try to be moderate, rational, disciplined, and mature.

An average One tends to be dissatisfied with reality, idealistic, and judgemental of others. They can easily become workaholics. They can become opinionated, scolding, moralizing, and abrasive, as well as indignantly angry. You’ll commonly see them in comments sections on websites, as well as advocating for various moral crusades and causes.

An unhealthy One can be extremely self-righteous, dogmatic, intolerant, and inflexible, while rationalizing their own actions. They’ll focus too much on the imperfections of others, while ignoring their own. At the worst, Ones will condemn others, become cruel and punitive.

Anger (or more properly, strong resentment) is the deadly sin of the One.

Ones often have an innate belief that being strict with themselves will justify them in their own eyes and the eyes of others. They tend to disconnect from and distrust life and seek “the greater good”. This anger will manifest as a simmering resentment of how things are, as the One doesn’t grasp that others are not motivated by the desire for perfection. Their inner, critical voice can become indistinguishable from their own personality and they don’t just apply it to themselves.

The One doesn’t want to be criticized for something preventable and will often overdo things to avoid criticism. They’ll also avoid many meaningful experiences and life goals out of fear of not being perfect, or because they are trying to be perfect somewhere else and don’t have the time. They’ll tend to resent people who make different sets of choices.

Sitting atop a boiling kettle of resentment, Ones will often feel like they can’t express negative (or “imperfect” emotions), either because they’ll be judged for them, or because the resentment has built up to the point where it is dangerous to release it. Because of the resentment and the need to bottle up emotions, Ones often deal with severe depressions, nervous breakdowns, and often commit suicide. There is also a strong correlation to the depressive and Obsessive-Compulsive personality disorders.

Wings and Things (Arrows)

Ones with a Nine Wing are “Idealists”

They tend to be more introverted, detached, and relaxed. They also are more idealistic and objective, spending more time thinking before they speak. They also tend to procrastinate more and mull over decisions for longer before acting to fix them.

Idealists do well in building and maintaining relationships due to being more laid-back. Being a One, the Idealist still has high expectations for the people in their lives, but this tendency to be more relaxed makes them less resentful.

Ones with a Two Wing are “Advocates”

Advocates are more people-focused, generous, and extroverted. This gives them a sense of other people’s problems and what they can do to help. When healthy, this empathy helps interpersonal relationships, but when they aren’t healthy, this tends to make them more critical and controlling.

Advocates are effective problem solvers and are generous with things like church, education, government, community, and family. Unlike the adjacent Twos, these Ones don’t feel an insatiable need to try and meet other people’s needs, even if they are aware of them.

The Direction of Integration or health for the One is towards the Seven or the enthusiast.

When moving from unhealthy resentment and perfectionism, the One becomes more spontaneous and joyful. As ones become more healthy, they become more self-accepting, open to new experiences as the voice of their inner critic becomes quieter.

When Ones become more healthy, their focus shifts from being about what’s wrong with the world towards what is right about it. Interestingly, this often happens to Ones when they go on vacation, because they feel less responsible for fixing things.

The Direction of Disintegration or stress for the One points towards the Four or Individualist.

When under stress, their inner critic takes over and their need to control and perfect their world takes over. They’ll become more resentful of others having fun, get more upset when criticized, and slip into depression.

They’ll also start feeling the weight of the obligations they’ve taken on and want to get out from under them, becoming uncertain of their own abilities and feeling unlovable. Under a lot of stress, they’ll become extremely angry and critical of the people around them.

Interacting With Others

Interactions with Ones

Ones have trouble owning their anger, so if you see one ranting about something that seems minor to you, that’s probably not what they are actually angry about – it was just the last straw.

If you want to work well with a One, you should take them seriously, including the principles that motivate them. Being flippant about things like morality and justice will make them distrust you at best and will build resentment over time even if you do everything else right. Learn to give constructive feedback privately. Ones take criticism to heart quite a bit, so be careful how and when you offer it. Remember that they are usually harder on themselves than you’ll ever be.

When in conflict with a One, probably the first thing you should do is admit your own mistakes and shortcomings. Believe me, they know about them anyway, but acknowledging them will help keep the resentment from bubbling up. After a conflict, be sure and give the One some time to reflect on the situation, alone if needed. Don’t follow them around trying to “resolve” the situation immediately, because you need to let their inner monologue catch up with things without creating resentment towards you.

Working with Ones

Ones care about details. A lot. You want them in roles where attention to detail helps. They are a waste in situations where doing things in a quick and dirty fashion is desired – they’ll drive you crazy and slow the team down with their focus on perfection.

Programming roles are especially good for ones, provided that you can reign in their perfectionism to a level that is appropriate for your team. Ones will tend to struggle a lot with imposter syndrome, so it’s important not to add inappropriate criticism to their plate. They have enough of their own.

Watch out for procrastination. Because ones are perfectionists, they’ll often delay starting something if they don’t think they can do it perfectly. Ones generally don’t like change and resent interruptions. In tech, this can be an issue, since both things are endemic diseases of this industry. Ones also tend to generalize problems to a larger scale than is entirely reasonable (like that last sentence).

Friendships with Perfectionists

Ones have considerable difficulty in making themselves vulnerable, which is required for close friendships and intimate relationships. In a way, they tend to use their perfectionism as a mechanism to keep them from getting hurt. Ones are very sparing in verbalizing praise or appreciation. If you expect these things, you are probably going to have a bad time.

Rather, ones tend to show their appreciation by being responsible and doing what’s expected of them. Be true to your word with Ones and above all else, don’t blow off your obligations to them to go have fun. That will make them resent you in a major way. Remember that they pay attention to detail and highly prioritize doing the things they are supposed to do and doing them in the right way. If they see you throwing their sacrifice away, it’s going to cause a problem.

It’s important to appreciate what the One does for you (this would imply thanking them for it and telling them why it helped). That’s how they know they are useful.

Relationships with Perfectionists.

It goes without saying that no one is perfect in a relationship. This intersects badly with the Type One, especially when they are unhealthy. Their high standards can often mean that they few are “good enough” for them.

When they do get into relationships, they are committed, loving partners, but they have difficulty expressing how they actually feel. In general, they feel that being too emotional (or expressing it too much) is a sign of weakness. This can lead to romantic partners feeling unloved and unappreciated. Ones are not particularly passionate people and are often seen as cold, from the outside at least. They tend not to be outwardly sensual or romantic either, preferring to show their love in smaller, more subtle ways.

Ones may also feel that they aren’t very good at relationships (remember, the inner critic doesn’t discriminate) and they may hold small things against themselves that you’ve already forgotten. It’s important to show them that they don’t have to be perfect and that they can still be loved even if they aren’t.

Tricks of the Trade

You don’t have to be a One to be a perfectionist. While they do tend toward perfectionism more than the other types we all have areas in which we can be a little over consumed in the idea of getting something just right. While it is always good to strive to do your best, you also need to know that everything doesn’t have to be exactly perfect. This is especially the case when you are learning something. We don’t see all the paintings that Van Gogh threw away or the hundreds of hours Slash spent practicing and messing up while playing guitar. What we see is the result of all that work. Sometimes we can get this idea that if we don’t do it perfect the first time then it’s not worth doing or if we mess something up that we need to throw the whole thing away. Don’t stop because you aren’t perfect, instead use that lack of perfection to galvanize you to keep going and getting better.

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