May 7, 2014

The Enneagram & Prayer: Type One

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Type One: The Rational, Idealistic Type:
Principled, Purposeful, Self-Controlled, and Perfectionistic
Type One in Brief

Ones are conscientious and ethical, with a strong sense of right and wrong. They are teachers, crusaders, and advocates for change: always striving to improve things, but afraid of making a mistake. Well-organized, orderly, and fastidious, they try to maintain high standards, but can slip into being critical and perfectionistic. They typically have problems with resentment and impatience. At their Best: wise, discerning, realistic, and noble. Can be morally heroic.

  • Basic Fear: Of being corrupt/evil, defective
  • Basic Desire: To be good, to have integrity, to be balanced
  • Enneagram One with a Nine-Wing: “The Idealist”
  • Enneagram One with a Two-Wing: “The Advocate”

Key Motivations: Want to be right, to strive higher and improve everything, to be consistent with their ideals, to justify themselves, to be beyond criticism so as not to be condemned by anyone

The Meaning of the Arrows (in brief)

When moving in their Direction of Disintegration (stress), methodical Ones suddenly become moody and irrational at Four. However, when moving in their Direction of Integration (growth), angry, critical Ones become more spontaneous and joyful, like healthy Sevens.

Source: The Enneagram Institute: Type One

Type One: The Reformer


Known as The Reformer, Type Ones might more appropriately be called “Perfectionists,” although it wouldn’t be good to say that to the face of a One. Type Ones tend to be the most “black and white” of the Types, with a deeply ingrained sense of what’s wrong and what’s right. They are self-disciplined, hard-working and refuse to compromise. You’ll often find Ones in politics or places where structural change can produce great good. They are interested in making the world a better place, often by creating rules, regulations or structures in which good can come about. They are deeply responsible, and see themselves as being quite reasonable. (Although all the Type Ones waiting for this post to go live have been getting angrier and angrier throughout the day. According to a One, this post should have gone live at 12:01 am today.)

Type Ones are in the “gut center” triad of the Enneagram. Within the nine Types there are three groupings or centers, which are the predominant centers those Types act out of. Types Eight-Nine-One are in the “gut center”, Types Two-Three-Four are in the “heart center”, and Types Five-Six-Seven are in the “head center” of the Enneagram. Different Enneagram scholars present the centers differently, but for the most part the “gut center” refers to the fact that those in this triad tend to respond most strongly from their instincts and drives. They tend to react bodily to stress or conflict, raising their voice or needing to find some physical expression of what’s going on inside of them. The key emotion of this triad is anger or rage, which gets expressed differently for each type. Ones in particular spend most of their time repressing or avoiding their anger/rage, to the point that most immature Ones will not identify themselves as struggling with anger.

Ones are expert at controlling their responses, especially since they have such high standards for themselves and others. Often people tend to experience Ones as highly critical or having a standard that is difficult to live with, without realizing that Ones are simply projecting the pressure and standards they have for themselves outward. Criticism from a One is different from the other Types, in that Ones are usually articulating some disappointment they have with themselves and projecting it on the world around them.

At their best, Ones become wise and calm leaders, accepting the circumstances of the moment while inspiring hope for a better tomorrow. Well-balanced Ones are ethical and fair people who become exception teachers and witnesses to truth.

Type Ones & Prayer

I’ll be honest and say I don’t see a lot of Type Ones in spiritual direction. In general, their principles are so high for themselves that seeking support or guidance in an area as intimate as their lives with God is deeply vulnerable. It is most often a One in crisis that tends to find his or her way to spiritual direction (or counseling), as they are beginning to move from their places of black and white conformity to a culture or group’s set of principles into the more complicated and frightening territory of their own souls.

Ones can be so focused on attaining perfection spiritually that they search for any possible measuring stick to evaluate their spiritual lives. They may jump from teacher to teacher, resource to resource, in order to find a satisfying rubric for their own progress.

Ones take themselves very seriously, and need to be helped to release their quest for perfection and laugh.

The forms of prayer and spiritual practice that I’ve found most helpful for Type Ones are:

  • Contemplative Prayer
  • Silence
  • Prayer through play
  • Wandering Prayer
  • Nature

Contemplative Prayer:

Unlike inductive study, disciplines like fasting or intercessory prayer, contemplative prayer is not focused on a goal or outcome. Contemplative prayer is the quite focus of the mind, heart and soul on an aspect of the nature or character of God. Its focus is on union with God, rather than on a cognitive understanding of a truth about God. Contemplative prayer is experiential and often repetitive. As such, it can be quite hard for Ones to undertake, because it seems to be “going nowhere” at first, or worse, going in circles. One of the most famous contemplative prayers is the Jesus Prayer (“Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”) and can be quite helpful for Ones as a place to breathe in and out God’s love and attention while acknowledging their own imperfections. Indeed, the acknowledgement of imperfection isn’t hard for a One (they see it all the time, and it angers them), but the acceptance of and resting in that imperfection is difficult. Mature Ones are able to rest in the love of God without needing to change the imperfections they are aware of.


Like contemplative prayer, silence is a discipline of prayer that helps Ones to rest in the current moment without running ahead to how things could, should or need to be changed in order to be “right” or “better.” Long periods of silence help Ones to rest with God, to be in relationship with Christ, without seeing themselves or others as a fix-it project. Ones need to be careful with silent prayer, though, as they can begin to undertake it as a kind of competition or way of proving themselves holy and good. Over time, Ones need to become aware of the types of attention that they are giving themselves and others (critical or loving? judgemental or accepting?), and silence helps them begin to become aware of the trajectory of their own acts of attending.

Prayer Through Play:

Ones have a hard time taking themselves and their relationship with God lightly, so prayer through play is a very helpful type of prayer for this Type. This can involve games (or even the question I like to ask God once in a while, “What game would you like to play with me?”) or tactile play. Ones have to be careful of getting involved in competitive play, or beginning play only for it to become task-oriented (I need to learn to play this PERFECTLY!). The nature of play is that error, improv and failure are expected and part of the activity. Play improvises on what is, rather than looking at what is missing. This can be playful story-telling, playing with playdough or even learning about improv principles that help a One to relax and take themselves less seriously. (My good friend and fellow spiritual direction, Monica Romig-Green, has developed a workshop called Pray Thru Play that is an excellent resource for Ones.) Ones can even learn humor as a type of spiritual discipline to help themselves let go of their Inner Critic and rest lightly in the goodness and provision of God.

Wandering Prayer:

The Irish have a tradition of wandering or pilgrimage I find can be adapted well for a form of physical prayer for Type Ones. In ancient Ireland, monks were sent on pilgrimage without fixed destination—they were understood to be following the call of the Wild Goose, the Irish name for the Holy Spirit, out into the world. Destination was unnecessary, relationship with God was primary. The discipline of wandering prayer is similar, in that the person in prayer sets out on a mini-pilgrimage, or a prayer walk, with God. The focus of the time is relationship with God, not destination. I suggest that each time the prayer walker finds him or herself focused on “getting somewhere”, whether it be the bench at the park or the rock at the end of the path, that they turn and go in a different direction. This frustration of destination keeps the focus on God setting the agenda, rather than the prayer walker. If Type Ones can remain open and curious in this type of prayer walk, they can encounter some beautiful divine appointments, where God arranges things in His love rather than the One having to have everything figured out.


Type Ones are often most soothed by time out in nature. In the natural world, imperfections become part of the beauty of God’s creation, rather than something to be corrected. It’s rare to meet a One who isn’t involved in nature in some way (gardening, hiking, etc.) because the imperfect perfection of nature is calming and connecting for a One. Combined with silence, time in nature can connect a One with God and her or himself in deep, nurturing ways. If Ones aren’t careful, they can become self-isolated in nature, so something like a silent walk in a natural setting with a beloved friend can be very helpful for Ones.

Another Note On Prayer:

Forgiveness is an essential part of spiritual growth for Type Ones, as they often hold such a high standard that forgiving people can become difficult. They often place barriers to restoration of relationship, rather than giving forgiveness freely, as Christ does. They struggle with the idea of unconditional love, and tend to hold grudges. Growing in forgiveness is an important part of a life of wholeness in Christ for Type Ones.


Type One Playlist

(developed by Jennifer Brukiewa of Attending Grace Ministries)



Now it’s your turn.
Are you a One?
What prayer forms have proven most helpful for you? What ways do you struggle with prayer and your relationship with God? Share with me in the comments.


Sources: The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective by Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert, The Enneagram and Spiritual Direction: Nine Paths to Spiritual Guidance by James Empereur, The Enneagram Made Easy: Discover the 9 Types of People by Renee Baron and Elizabeth Wagele, and Using the Enneagram in Prayer by Suzanne Zuercher.


  1. Liz
    May 8, 2014 at 7:48 am

    I just discovered that I am a one. The most useful spiritual practice for me so far has been devotional reading each morning, but I do wish for something less intellectual. Nature is also a big connector for me. One of my struggles has been to stay connected to God and keep from distracting myself with work and tasks. I haven’t been very successful with prayer, but your suggestions sound wonderful!! Thank you so much for this series. I’m looking forward to listening to the play list!!

  2. Leigh Kramer
    May 8, 2014 at 1:42 pm

    Excellent start to this series, Tara! I’m looking forward to reading them all.

  3. Christine- Fruit in Season
    June 25, 2014 at 7:04 pm

    I’m late to the party, but I love this. I am a one who has gone through very strong and profound “breaking” in the past 5 years. Though dragged kicking and screaming in a way, I have been able to allow God to remove me from my black and white, dualistic mind, into a beautiful gray, area that is full of grace. It would be an understatement to say this has been the most difficult period of my life, but probably the most meaningful.

    I have found the contemplative life to have a strong pull on me, and my prayer life has changed dramatically as well, from rigid box-checking to quieting myself before the Lord and abiding in the Spirit in an active passivity (I know that’s an oxymoron, LOL). Nature and yoga have been a part of my practice as well. Richard Rohr has been a pivotal author, as well as Henri Nouwen and Brennan Manning. Looking forward to reading the rest of this series and sharing it with others.

  4. makeda
    July 4, 2014 at 1:32 pm

    This post has been open in my browser for a long time but only today have I been able to give it the attention I knew it deserved. I am a one with a nine-wing and you have perfectly described me and my journey. I have beginning to learn to live in the gray, instead of black and white, and finding lots of freedom in the gray. It is so affirming to hear that contemplation and silence are good for ones because for the last probably year and a half I have felt an invitation from the Father to explore these expressions of my faith. Thank you for sharing these words. I look forward to reading more about the other Types as well.