Enneagram Type 1: The Perfectionist

Written by Tim Branch

Original Design: They see the world not for its imperfections, but for what it was meant to be before sin entered into the picture. They help everything return as close as possible to that state. (They diligently work toward creating more good in the world.)

Desire:  To be mistake free and live by their admirable moral standards as excellently as possible.

Fear: Being defective or corrupt.

Sin: Anger that people (but especially themselves) will ever live up to their standards for how everything should work. This often comes out sideways as resentment—a suppressed form of Anger. Their resentment, coupled with their fear of being “bad,” causes them to force their high standards upon themselves and others.

Enneagram Type 1 At a Glance:

Ones are incredibly passionate about doing what’s right. They’re consistent, hardworking, and motivated by a strong moral compass that guides their steps. This can be a double-edged sword, though, because it also points out tons of small imperfections in their environment. They strive for excellence in everything they do, and they are their own biggest critic. They feel a beautiful, noble calling to change the world for the better.

You might be a One if:

  1. It feels like you have a strong voice in your head that keeps you following the right path, but it also critiques every little imperfection.
  2. You feel a deep sense of calling to make the world a better place.
  3. When you make a mistake, you’re really hard on yourself—and that causes you to take extra care to make sure you do things right.
  4. People see you as a serious person (but you do like having fun when work is done).
  5. You’re high-capacity and can get lots of stuff done.
  6. You often feel like there’s so much work to do that you have trouble relaxing.
  7. You’re not a rule-breaker, and you believe others shouldn’t be either.
  8. You’re detail-oriented. You notice small imperfections in your environment and want to improve them.
  9. People can count on you because you’re responsible and consistent.
  10. You have a strong sense of good and evil, and you don’t think there’s much (if any) gray area.
  11. Noble sacrifice deeply inspires you.

How Ones Work

Dependability, diligence, and integrity are three words you’ll hear when someone’s describing a One.

They have a massive capacity to get things done. They have insane self-control and discipline—which, when combined with their action-oriented nature, lets them accomplish more than nearly any other type.

Ones are guided by what they believe is right, and they don’t compromise. Morality is their True North. They can smell right from wrong a mile away, and they’d never be caught dead betraying their inner values. This generally makes them passionate rule-followers who never back down from what they believe in—even if the world is against them. (Example: many supreme court justices.)

At their core, Ones feel compelled to do the right thing. And that desire has painted the way they experienced their childhood. Since they were young, Ones were taught the difference between right and wrong—by their parents, by their school, by their coaches. And what they hear is this:

In order to be worthy, I need to do the right thing. And in order to do the right thing, I need to remove every fault from my life.

So they’ve evolved to have “mistake vision.”

It’s like they have glasses that highlight all imperfections in a neon yellow. And each one screams at them all day long. This can be so intense that it can even feel like an assault.

Because they see both theirs AND others’ mistakes, it’s hard for Ones not to point these things out to those around them.

To them, they assume others have the same accusatory voice in their heads, so they think, Well, I would want them to tell ME if I was messing something up. I’m doing them a favor.

But to others, it can come across as nagging.

How Ones Reflect God

If you’re a One, know this:

Whether you realize it or not, even your greatest weakness is only the “dark side” of one of the best things about you. Meaning, your weaknesses are twisted versions of things inside you that were originally designed to be beautiful.

And God has big plans to renew those things in you, to call you Redeemed.

I say this so you know that the goal of the enneagram is to help you reclaim your God-given gifts—and so you don’t beat yourself up for qualities inside you that might look imperfect right now, but  were actually meant for good.

The closer you get to your original design, the more you reflect God in an amazing way.

The beautiful root of a One’s desire for perfection is a love and longing for the way things were meant to be. For what they were designed to be. For how they will look in heaven, when everything is flawless.

Ones have a deep passion for getting things back to what they would have looked like before sin entered the world. That’s one of the main places they reflect God…and a special place where they connect intimately in their personal relationships with Him.

Because God has that same passion for restoration, righteousness, and goodness. And I believe He created Ones because He wants to deeply share that with a special group of His children, who would reflect His image to the world in that way.

Spiritually healthy Ones, like God, realize imperfection came because of the fallen world—and that things were never meant to be this way. And they see our potential to return to how we were meant to be.

They also share the resolve of God. You can see it in their remarkable self-discipline—which, when motivated by love, causes them to work tirelessly on behalf of others, to make the world better for all of us.

They’re called the Reformer or the Perfectionist (which sounds negative but isn’t) because they’re wired to help all of us break free of the chains that keep us from becoming the best version of ourselves.

A pretty amazing gift to offer the rest of the Body of Christ, if you ask me!

Here’s why it’s so great:

John 14:15 says “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” That means one of the primary ways God feels loved by us is when we keep His commandments. It’s one of our main “love languages” for God.

Ones are masters of loving God with this love language. As they get closer and closer to their original design, their moral compass becomes acutely tuned to the same frequency as God’s heart. They were made with an acute moral compass, and they connect intimately with God over their shared passions for righteousness and goodness. They also use that moral compass to keep the rest of the Body of Christ moving in the right direction.

We love God better because of Ones.

Yes, often it can feel impossible, discouraging, even condemning to try and live up to the sky-high standards of perfection.

But the most beautiful part?

Spiritually healthy Ones have the ability to forgive themselves and others for imperfections.

They realize that because of sin and brokenness, true perfection simply doesn’t exist in this world. So they’ve learned to embrace God’s grace when they don’t live up to His standards—AND they extend that same grace to others.

Where It Goes Wrong

Ones love goodness. But that can be turned against them by a well-crafted lie.

The main lie they struggle with is, “You have to do the right thing to be worthy.”And when they believe that lie, fear enters the picture…the fear that they won’t perform up to the impossibly high standards of “goodness.”

They long to be good—right, holy, perfect—but that’s so out of reach in our broken world, and it terrifies them.

Ones are deeply afraid of being bad, corrupt, or messed up in some way. And when that fear controls them, it puts their inner critic on steroids, judging everything in their path—including other people. Because their fear tells them they can’t afford to be wrong. “Control this so it doesn’t corrupt you,” it says.

That fear leads them to their cardinal sin, Anger.

Their Anger is a response to the “wrongness” around (and within) them. A One might see that word and resist it because it seems “bad.” The word resentment is probably better than Anger in this case—because when the Anger seeps out, it often comes out sideways as resentment that others aren’t meeting their standards of quality, goodness, and righteousness.

They work harder and harder to fix the world around them and within them—with their impossibly high standards riding them like a slave driver, pointing out all the wrong they need to fix. It can even contribute to an out-of-control workaholism.

But that’s how the enemy works. He uses a lie to hijack things meant for so much good, and then barely twist them.

Why They Embrace Their Burden

The enemy’s lies cause us to believe our fear-based response to the world is actually helping us.

And that’s why we’re so afraid to let go of it.

In the One’s case, they believe the merciless inner critic—born of their fear of imperfection—is actually helping them achieve “goodness.” So they allow that fear to run their lives.

A One’s worst nightmare is that they’ll be powerless against the corruption around them. Their fear whispers, “I can make sure you have power against this evil. But you’ll have to let me call the shots.”

That’s a strong sales pitch to a One.

Only problem is, it’s not quite true. Yes, they get a new powerful voice that rages against imperfection, but it eventually turns into a blazing fire that destroys everything, including the One’s relationships, happiness, and self-worth..

At Their Worst

When they listen to their fear, it transforms their passion for goodness into an accusatory voice that screams at everything they do.

It tells them, “Look here, this is wrong. This is corrupt. You’re becoming a bad person. You have to fix this. How could you be good and also allow this to happen?

The “dark side” of their inner judge starts to drive them crazy, because it’s telling them that in order to earn God’s favor, they have to do the impossible—be perfect.

So where does this end up?

When fear is ruling their life, they become workaholics, constantly doing everything they can to control their world, and doing everything they possibly can to earn love by being good—even though they feel they’re hopelessly imperfect.

They become terrified that others will notice their small imperfections, so they double down trying to clean themselves up. Nothing ever seems good enough.

Their Anger increasingly grows as other people are much more lax in allowing imperfections, so the One takes matters into their own hands by exerting control over other people’s lives. For instance:

  • A parent may force their college child to major in something “more practical”, when the child feels like that doesn’t suit them at all.
  • A spouse might get annoyed when the dishwasher gets loaded wrong—and make subtle jabs about how the dishwasher should be “properly loaded.”
  • Friend 1 might become overly critical of the way Friend 2 dresses, acts, or spends their time—and pick a fight about all the little ways Friend 2 needs to “shape up” if they ever want to get a job.

When you get annoyed at a One for chastising you, they might act confused—even surprised.

But the reason they’re surprised is because you don’t also have the same inner critic pointing out the small mistakes to you. “I’d be thankful to know if I were making a mistake.” They believe they’re helping you.

But here’s the redemptive part of all this:

The original design of a One’s controlling comes not from somewhere evil, but somewhere good. It’s a part of them that was simply twisted by lies, and the fear that results from those lies.

At their core, they long to provide goodness to the people they’re trying to control. They just bought into the lie that “It would be better for them if they did it that way, so I need to make them do it that way.”

A One’s greatest challenge is to stop trying to force perfection in the world—and instead trust God to do it. When fear is ruling their life (the fear that they’re only worthy if they’re “good”), they struggle to accept grace in their shortcomings, and they struggle to accept the natural messiness of life.

If you know a One who is operating in this unhealthy space, give them some grace. Because if their gift weren’t twisted by fear (which happens to all of us), they’d be able to feel safe in their imperfection—and relax into in the grace that God abundantly provides. That’s when their passion for righteousness becomes an amazing blessing to everyone around them.

A great verse for Ones to remember is John 3:17: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

How to Self-Actualize

A One’s journey toward Jesus is a journey of release, and a journey toward redemption and Grace. Grace isn’t just the starting point. Grace is the entire point. And until a One accepts it, they’ll keep driving themselves crazy.

Without Grace, they’ll feel like they’re always on a hamster wheel—running as hard as they can, never getting to their destination. Because no matter how close to “perfect” we get, we can never get close enough.

We can never earn worthiness from our performance in this world.

So how does a One finally break free from that dark voice, which has been twisted by lies, and get renewed into the beautiful, noble version of themselves they were created to be?

The journey begins when God starts to convince them that he doesn’t grade them based on how perfect or imperfect they are. He’s thrown that out the window. Only then can they release their imperfection to God, in exchange for His abounding Grace.

Because of their passion for goodness and rightness, a One is constantly tempted to hate the parts of themselves that are imperfect. Remember, their mind constantly hears that accusatory voice picking apart everything they do and telling them what’s wrong with it.

And without God, that voice drives them crazy. They spiral into an ever deepening Anger because things aren’t how they should be.

The key word there is should. Should is what drives them crazy.

God begins to knock on the door of their heart, and say:

“I’m not holding ‘should’ over your head. So don’t hold it over your own head. Regardless of how you perform, GOOD is who you are. Because I originally designed you to be good, and I’ve redeemed you. Now, Good is your name. Take my hand, and accept this Grace!”

God wants to free them from the perceived consequences of should. “You should meet this standard—or you’ll be corrupt, bad, unworthy.” That’s the core lie He untwists. He shows Ones that failure’s consequences aren’t unworthiness. There’s a new measuring stick, and it’s called Grace.

But Grace initially doesn’t seem like it works with the cutthroat inner judge in their head:

“No! This isn’t right. It’s corrupt and can’t be allowed to continue. This ‘Grace’ thing is allowing bad things an excuse to survive in my life. I don’t deserve this and I shouldn’t accept this!”

The dark, yelling, abusive voice of the judge has run them ragged all their lives trying to keep them from falling off the tightrope and becoming bad, wrong, corrupt.

But God says, “I have forgiven that. I love you anyway. You are still good. Your goodness doesn’t come from your performance. It comes from your true identity as my son/daughter. I’ve put my own goodness inside you, and you don’t have to do anything to earn it.

“I know you’ve been trying all your life to earn favor by being good and doing right. You are SO good, because through Jesus’s blood I’ve made you good. I cover up all your imperfections. And one day, I’ll remove every single imperfection from the world, and then I’ll take your hand and show you what I’ve made you so passionate about seeing. We’ll experience it together, holding hands, looking over the perfection of the way things were always meant to be. You and I.”

The Pathway Toward Accepting God’s Grace

Of course, it’s all easier said than done.

So…what’s it take for a One to internalize this beautiful truth?

  1. Accept Who You Are

Here’s a great place to start:

Acknowledge your worldview as a One—including the fact that you struggle to accept Grace. When you’re a One, it’s hard to admit to yourself that something isn’t right and that you don’t know how to make it right.

But here’s the beautiful thing about God: He only asks us to show him the dirty rooms in our house, because He wants to make them clean—which only He can do.

Even though it may be difficult, take time to reflect on your struggles and learn to accept how you see the world. That’ll help you grow when it’s time to start growing.

  1. Break Your Agreement With Fear, and Learn to Release Your Control

Fear convinces you that it can help you by controlling things. “I can help you be good, right, pure. Just hand me the keys to the car. I’ll keep us from harm.”

But it’s fueled a faulty definition of good. “Goodness” doesn’t come from doing right. It comes from your identity in Christ, who shares his perfect righteousness freely with you. No matter what you’ve done, and no matter what you will do in the future.

That means you don’t have to nitpick yourself or others in order to be good. You get Christ’s perfection even when things don’t always look perfect.

With that new definition of “Goodness” in mind, work on taking your keys back from fear. If you don’t have to be deathly afraid of imperfection anymore, you can start to loosen your grasp and release your fear-based control.

Once you do that, you can strive for “doing right” in a way that’s motivated by love rather than fear. Your identity doesn’t come under attack anymore when you mess up, or when anyone else messes up. Anger toward yourself and others disappears.

It changes everything.

  1. Learn to React to Messyness Like God Does

Here’s something curious: As a One, your passion for goodness and righteousness was modeled after God’s own heart for goodness and righteousness.

BUT…somehow God allows messyness in the world. Churches fail. Broken relationships are allowed to continue being broken. Pain is allowed to continue. Why doesn’t He clean up the mess, especially when His children are begging Him to?

God allows the mess because there’s a plan for redemption.

And if you can get there too, your life will never be the same.

Reflect on Exodus 34:6-7, where God tells us Himself exactly what His personality is like:

“The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.’ “

Merciful and gracious. Slow to anger. Abounding in love and faithfulness. All this alongside an ironclad commitment to justice.

A One’s original design isn’t all about the justice. It’s also about grace, mercy, and being slow to anger, which doesn’t come easy when you’re a One.

But that does mean you have it in you to give people grace (and give yourself grace), to embrace the mess, and to accept imperfection—while still longing for the way things were meant to be.

  1. Shift Your Attention From What’s Wrong to What’s Right

Instead of focusing on all the imperfections of the world, move your focus toward gratitude and celebration of everything that’s right.

Take time to be out in nature, where things are as they were created to be.

Look for the good in people—even people who have frustrated you over and over again. Celebrate what’s great about them.

You control what you focus on. So be careful with your focus, because as Matthew 6:22 says:

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light.”

  1. Practice Releasing Resentment and Extending Forgiveness

You have it in you to be appreciative, loving, and gracious toward yourself and others. It’s part of God’s character, and you were made in His image.

So, just like God, make it a habit to practice forgiving others for their imperfections.

Once you fully accept that other people are responsible for their own growth, it gives you more patience to tolerate shortcomings and mistakes—and to resist the urge to jump in and try to fix it for them.

  1. Remember: The Goal Is Not Perfection

Don’t expect to be perfect at all these things all the time. That’s something no one can do.

Your number’s health is fluid—just because you’ve achieved a certain level of healthiness doesn’t mean it’ll stay like that. You move in and out of health throughout your life and won’t always be able to access it in the same way all the time.

You’ll have moments of imperfection, resentment, anger, and with dealing with those things as a One does: by trying to take control.

But part of growth is learning to identify when you’re moving into that, and then go back through the process of releasing that control and receiving what God has for you instead.

What Does the Ultimate Enneagram 1 Look Like?

When a One is operating in their original design, they are finally able to embrace the imperfections of the world—while still being passionate about the way things are meant to be, and longing for the day when it all becomes perfect.

They’re finally able to fall back into the grace of God, realizing it requires absolutely nothing of them in order for them to be fully good in Jesus.

They have their strong moral compass, and they gently and gracefully (and, when required, strongly) let people know when they need to be corrected in the Spirit. But they’re also quick to praise you for what you do right.

They are insanely hardworking and they make a huge difference with their time—doing good for everyone around them and transforming people and things around them to look amazing, without casting dark blame or shame or guilt.

They are convictors, inspirers, potential escalators, that take you to your best self.

Do you have any other thoughts about being a One that should be covered in this post? Email me at [email protected].