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THE ENNEAGRAM

"What Mendeleev's periodic table is to chemistry, the Enneagram may be to psychology - a way of organizing vast complexities in more understandable ways."

- Page 454 of Personality Types: Using the Enneagram for Self-Discovery

As I’ve described before, I’ve long been fascinated with understanding personality types and their implications for everything from our careers to our relationships. However, for many years, my interest in the topic centered mainly around just one particular personality type scheme, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). Though I was familiar with another such scheme called the Enneagram, I hadn’t researched it much and didn’t know if it offered enough different information than the MBTI to merit the time and energy. I was under the impression that, for the most part, the two systems simply said the same things in different languages.

That changed when I was informed by someone very well-versed with the Enneagram that this wasn’t the case. They told me that it did indeed account for important elements that distinguished it from MBTI. To demonstrate, they showed me a section of the profile of my basic Enneagram type, type 5, in the foundational Enneagram book Personality Types: Using the Enneagram for Self-Discovery by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson. This section intrigued me and I went on to read the book’s full chapter about my type. I was blown away not only by how accurate it was, but that it was so accurate about very deep and fundamental elements of my personality that the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator had not really addressed thoroughly.

At that point, I became extremely interested and went on to read everything I could about the Enneagram. What I found intrigued me even further and, very quickly, I came to consider it one of the most powerful fields available for facilitating greater self-knowledge, fostering personal development and helping us understand others. As I went on to write about in “The Enneagram: A More Complete, Precise, Dynamic System for Optimizing Personal Development, Relationships and Human Systems than the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator”, I believe that when it comes to personal development and healing, the Enneagram offers more comprehensive insight and a clearer map of the process than the MBTI.

The Enneagram and Its History

The Enneagram – Greek for 9-pointed figure - is a symbol composed of a circle with 9 equidistant points distributed around its circumference. The points are conventionally organized as shown with the 9 at the top and are connected to each other in a particular pattern that will be described later.

enneagram diagram

The symbol itself is said to be quite ancient, with some claims that it dates back over 2500 years. Others have linked its origins to the ancient Greeks, as well to mystical and religious sects such as the Sufis and students of the Kaballah. Many of these groups, supposedly, saw in the symbol a representation of profound patterns in the workings of nature.

The symbol was popularized in the West in the early 20th century by George Ivanovich Gurdjieff, an Armenian mystic famed for his “Fourth Way” school of spiritual growth. Gurdjieff claimed that it was the most important symbol in his model and incorporated it as a core component of his teachings.

However, it wasn’t until decades later that the symbol would be used to illustrate the personality typology technically known as the “Enneagram of Personality.” Two modern thinkers, Oscar Ichazo and Claudio Naranjo, are credited with discovering and promoting that particular use of the symbol.

Ichazo, a philosopher born in Bolivia, who has worked in Chile and the United States, is recognized widely as the first person to make a connection between the Enneagram figure and the patterns of personality types found among people. He assigned to each of the figure’s nine points a specific personality type, describing for each of the nine a particular “ego-fixation,” the way in which that type becomes stuck in identifying too strongly with the ego to the exclusion of the rest of the self. He then went on to describe for each type other features, including a specific passion or vice – based on the seven deadly sins along with fear and deceit – by which they are most challenged.

Naranjo, a psychiatrist from Chile who worked in the United States, learned this model of the system from Ichazo. He developed his own view of the system, and, returning to the U.S., explored its applications with various groups in order to expand the descriptions of the types and study their correlations to various recognized psychiatric disorders. Naranjo’s work continued the process of spreading the Enneagram as a personality typology, leading ultimately to an explosion of publications and interest in the decades to come.

The Various Contemporary Schools of Enneagram

Today, a variety of approaches to the Enneagram, each with its own particular “flavor,” are taught and promoted by different individuals and institutions. Some of the most well known include Helen Palmer and David Daniels M.D. of Enneagram Worldwide and Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson of The Enneagram Institute. I, personally, have learned most of what I presently know about the Enneagram through the work of Riso and Hudson so the information that I present here is mostly based on my understanding of their particular brand of ideas.

The Enneagram’s 9 Basic Personality Types

One thing agreed upon by the various Enneagram authors is that there are 9 basic types of personalities, each of which is represented by a point on the Enneagram figure. The Enneagram types are distinguished on the basis of somewhat different criteria than are the types identified by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. The MBTI divides its 16 basic types according to how, due to preferences, people tend to recharge their energy, process information, make decisions and structure their time. Thus, it tells us a great deal about how people function and what their strengths and values are.

On the other hand, the Enneagram divides its 9 types based on the particular drives and behaviors that individuals of each have evolved - as a result of a combination of factors including innate temperament and their roles during development in their family systems – in order to cope with a disconnection from the core self. Thus, it gives greater insight into a person’s deeper motivations and repetitive patterns of defense mechanisms dating back to childhood than does the MBTI.

Many available resources provide extremely detailed descriptions of the traits of each of the 9 Enneagram personality types. Therefore, here I will simply give my own particular extremely cursory view of the central identifying traits and most typical potential pitfalls associated with each type. In doing so, I will use the names given to each type by Riso and Hudson. For organizational reasons to be discussed in the next section, the types are often listed beginning with 2 and ending with 1.
  • 2 – The Helper – These people are caring and helpful to others, but can also become codependent and lose sight of their own needs.

  • 3 – The Motivator – These people strive for achievement and recognition, but can also become inauthentic and overly image-conscious.

  • 4 – The Individualist – These people strive to be unique and are deeply emotionally sensitive, but can become depressed and isolated.

  • 5 – The Investigator – These people strive for intellectual mastery and knowledge, but can become very eccentric and lose themselves in irrelevant thinking.

  • 6 – The Loyalist – These people strive for security, but can become paranoid and suspicious.

  • 7 – The Enthusiast – These people strive for excitement and stimulation, but can become impulsive and reckless.

  • 8 – The Challenger – These people strive to assert themselves and their authority, but can become hostile and pugnacious.

  • 9 – The Peacemaker – These people strive for calmness and peace, but can become aloof and disengaged.

  • 1 – The Reformer – These people strive for integrity, but can become overly perfectionistic.
We all, amongst the various parts in our multiplicity of mind, contain within us aspects representing the motivations of each of these Ennegram types. However, as a result of the relationship between our genetics and the traumas and wounds accumulated in development, each of us will primarily reflect the characteristics of 1 of the 9 types more than any of the others.

Triads

The 9 types can be organized into triads, 3 categories each consisting of 3 of the types, based on several different criteria.

Triads Organized by Challenged Function

The most common and fundamental triad scheme divides the 9 types based on the main function – Feeling (emotion), Thinking or Instinct (gut impulse that drives immediate action in the world) – with which their greatest strengths when healthy and their greatest challenges when unhealthy are associated.

The types are organized in this scheme thus:
  • 2,3,4 – Feeling Triad
  • 5,6,7 – Thinking Triad
  • 8,9,1 – Instinctive Triad
Within each triad, there is one type that expresses the function too much, one that expresses the function too little and one that is most out of touch with that function. These distinctions break down as follows:
  • Feeling Triad

    • 2 – Expresses Feeling too much
    • 3 – Out of touch with Feelings
    • 4 – Expresses Feeling too little

  • Thinking Triad

    • 5 – Expresses Thinking too much
    • 6 – Out of touch with Thinking
    • 7 – Expresses Thinking too little

  • Instinctive Triad

    • 8 – Expresses Instinct too much
    • 9 – Out of touch with Instinct
    • 1 – Expresses Instinct too little
Notice that each group forms a dialectic, a group consisting of three parts in which two of the parts represent opposite poles while the third represents some synthesis of the other two. This dialectic nature of the Enneagram’s organization is central to what makes the system works and ties it into many other dialectical fields and concepts as will be discussed later.

Triads Organized by Dominant Emotion

The 9 types can also be organized into triads based on Dominant Emotion, the particular emotion with which each encounters a special challenge due to its unconscious response to being cut off from the core self.

The types are organized in this scheme thus:
  • 2,3,4 – Shame
  • 5,6,7 – Anxiety
  • 8,9,1 – Anger
Again each group forms a dialectic based on the various ways that the types in each cope with that Dominant Emotion.

This scheme demonstrates how the Enneagram accounts for the enormous impact of faulty relationships to key emotions that I have repeatedly found core to the defense mechanisms at the heart of our cultural dysfunction. We will explore how the system details the unique type-specific impact of fear - perhaps the most fundamental emotion challenging personal and social health - when we discuss Riso and Hudson’s Core Dynamics model.

Triads Organized by Karen Horney’s Neurotic Solutions

The Enneagram’s ability to encompass and incorporate so many other schemes within its basic structure is part of what makes it special. Riso and Hudson offer a number of interesting ways of breaking down the types into triads based on their relationships to variables described by thinkers ranging from Freud to modern psychiatrists. One of the most interesting is their model relating the triads to Karen Horney’s categories of neurotic solutions.

According to Horney, individuals tend to cope with other people by withdrawing, acting aggressively or complying – another dialectic scheme. Riso and Hudson explain that the types can be divided into triads in accordance with Horney’s categories. They, however, believe that the categories describe not only how a given type relates to other people, but also how, in response to coping with its Dominant Emotion, the type relates to the world at large. The types are organized in this scheme thus:
  • 4,5,9 – Withdrawn
  • 3,7,8 – Aggressive
  • 1,2,6 – Compliant

Wings

Riso and Hudson explain that nobody is a “pure type.” In addition to our basic type, each of us tends to consistently display traits associated with one of the two types next to our basic type on the Enneagram figure. Thus, a 5 may have a lot of 4 qualities or 6 qualities. A 2 may have a lot of 3 qualities or 1 qualities. A 9 may have a lot of 8 qualities or 1 qualities.

If, for example, an 8 has many traits of a 7, we say that the person is an 8 with a 7 wing, often notated 8w7. If the 8 has more traits similar to a 9, then he or she would be an 8 with a 9 wing or an 8w9. On rare occasions, someone may experience elements of both of their potential wings equally. But in almost all cases, one wing is stronger than the other.

The wing is always a type immediately next to the basic type. An individual is never an 8w2 or a 5w9.

When we multiply the 9 basic types by the 2 possible wings that may interact with any of those basic types in determining any individual’s fundamental personality, we now have 18 potential subtypes identified by the Enneagram (each of which is named and described in great detail by Riso and Hudson). Thus, without even yet discussing the other aspects of the system, simply incorporating wings into the model renders the Enneagram more diverse and specific than the MBTI.

Degree of Wing Influence

Individuals can differ not only on their basic type and wing, but also on the degree to which their wing influences their overall personality relative to the influence of their basic type. Thus, one 2w3’s experience may be greatly affected by the characteristics of the 3 while another 2w3 may be only slightly affected by those 3 qualities. In theory, we could describe a person as having anywhere from 0 to 49% influence from his or her wing. Riso and Hudson account for this variation in a manageable way by describing an individual’s level of influence by the wing as light, moderate or heavy.

When we cross these three increments of wing influence with the 18 basic type and wing combinations already identified, we now see that Riso and Hudson’s Enneagram system can pinpoint 54 specific subtypes making it extremely precise in its assessment abilities.

Levels of Development

One of the elements that makes Riso and Hudson’s model of the Enneagram particularly dynamic is their identification of Levels of Development. They distinguish and name 9 degrees of health at which an individual may find him or herself, organizing them into 3 healthy levels, 3 average levels and 3 unhealthy levels. In Personality Types, they go on to describe in great detail what each type experiences and how it presents at each of these stages of health or dysfunction.

Regardless of the Level of Development, each individual still acts within the range of his or her basic type. However, individuals of the same type may appear quite different if they are at different levels of health as the more constructive or more destructive potentials of that type come to predominate. Moreover, individuals of different types may appear deceptively similar when at different Levels of Development. Such distinctions are crucial in improving our ability to assess personality and understand personal development.

According to Riso and Hudson, an individual of any type may exist at any moment at a particular degree of health or dysfunction. The Level of Development may change within the course of a day in response to periods of relative peace or stress, as well as vary in more lasting ways over the course of longer periods. As we move toward higher Levels of Development, we become more free of the dysfunctional limitations of our particular type and more present to our immediate experience. As we move toward the more unhealthy Levels of Development, we become more rigidly trapped in the typical defenses of our type and increasingly lose touch with reality.

I have long believed that an individual’s level of health is ultimately a more important factor in their life and relationships than is the personality type. The Enneagram, as taught by Riso and Hudson, accounts for this element, as well as capturing its fluid nature, in a way that MBTI does not.

Points of Disintegration (Stress Points) and
Points of Integration (Security Points)

Another element that makes the Enneagram so specific in its dynamics is that it contains within its patterns an explanation of exactly how each type may change and the direction in which it may move as it gets healthier or unhealthier. As you look at the Enneagram figure, you can see that the numbers are connected to each other in a particular pattern. This pattern reflects the relationship between each personality type and its Point of Disintegration and Point of Integration.

Points of Disintegration (Stress Points)

For each personality type, there is another type whose traits it may begin to take on as it becomes unhealthier. For a given type, that other type is known as its Point of Disintegration or Stress Point, and this relationship is represented by the line between the two types. As a given individual is placed under stress, they begin to move in their Direction of Disintegration and may exhibit traits characteristic of the type at their Point of Distintegration when at a similar Level of Development.

The Points of Disintegration can be remembered by memorizing two sequences:

1-4-2-8-5-7-1   &   9-6-3-9

Both sequences contain patterns that can help you remember them. In the first sequence, notice that the first two digits combine to make the number 14, the second two make 28 which is double 14, and the last two make 57 which is just more than 28 doubled. Then it just repeats with 1 again. In the second sequence, notice it simply starts at 9 and then goes down by 3 and then down by 3 again before repeating at 9.

You can see that these sequences match the pattern in which the lines in the Enneagram figure connect the numbers. The 9, 6 and 3 connect to form an equilateral triangle. The other 6 points connect to form an irregular hexagram.

The way that the sequences relate to personality dynamics is that each type, when it becomes unhealthy, begins to take on traits of the type whose number comes after it in the sequences. So, for instance, as a 1 becomes unhealthy, he or she begins to take on traits of a similarly unhealthy 4. As a 9 becomes unhealthy, he or she takes on traits of a similarly unhealthy 6. As a 7 becomes unhealthy, he or she takes on traits of a similarly unhealthy 1. In Enneagram lingo, this is often referred to as “going to,” as in “When a 5 becomes unhealthy and disintegrates, he or she goes to 7, taking on reckless activities in an attempt to escape a troubled, anxious mind.”

Points of Integration (Security Points)

On the other hand, as a type gets healthier, it moves in its Direction of Integration toward its Point of Integration, also known as its Security Point. The Points of Integration can be remembered by simply using the same sequences described above, but reversing the order. In other words, as a given type becomes healthier, it “goes to” the type whose number comes before it in the aforementioned sequences. A healthy 2 takes on traits of a healthy 4, a healthy 3 takes on traits of a healthy 6. As a 5 becomes healthier, he or she begins to take on traits of the healthy 8, becoming more assertive in the world.

As you can see, each type’s Point of Integration is that type for which the type itself serves as the Point of Disintegration and vice-versa.

Wing Disintegration and Integration

As a person becomes unhealthier or healthier, their wing may move toward its own Point of Disintegration or Point of Integration in tandem with the movement associated with their basic type. So, for example, as a 5w4, when I become unhealthier, my 4 wing goes to 2 simultaneously as my 5 goes to 7. As I become healthier, my 4 wing goes to 1 simultaneously as my 5 goes to 8. Being able to predict wing movement in conjunction with basic type movement allows for even greater accuracy in pinpointing how an individual of any given subtype is likely to appear at a given Level of Development.

Riso and Hudson’s Core Dynamics Model

Riso and Hudson have referred to the Enneagram as a “map of wholeness” and they demonstrate that in their Core Dynamics model, which is as close to a periodic table of human development as I’ve seen. Detailed in the appendix of Personality Types, the model brilliantly summarizes the core issues, motivations, growth challenges and required basic path of development for each type.

More comprehensively and precisely than perhaps any system I’ve encountered, the Core Dynamics model helps us identify and understand, based on our unique personality type:
  • Our role in our original family system

  • Our current Level of Development

  • The specific direction in which we should aim in order to pursue health

  • How to assess our progress at the various Levels of Development through which we will pass as we undertake the journey

  • The particular fears and defenses likely to confront us as we do so
Equipped with this information, we can begin to develop the Buddhist-like nonjudgmental detached observation so key to dissolving our defense mechanisms, start to notice consciously when we are starting to fall into our type’s habitual traps and take the often counterintuitive steps necessary to prevent a downward spiral and instead move toward self-actualization.

Many self-help gurus teach one path of development that may have worked for them and perhaps for some of their students as a universal method for pursuing actualization. However, as the Enneagram helps us see, the same path that leads to health for one personality type at one Level of Development may lead to disaster for another. One type’s Point of Integration is another’s Point of Disintegration. As a 5 moves to 8, he or she becomes healthier. However, as a 2 goes to 8, he or she becomes far less healthy. What may help a very healthy 5 grow may be premature for an unhealthy 5. By blending a universal goal of integration with the recognition that our paths must differ significantly depending on our starting place, Riso and Hudson’s Core Dynamics model provides an invaluable structure within which to learn about and travel our own customized road toward wholeness.

The Basic Fear and Basic Desire

According to the Core Dynamics model, as a result of the particular defenses developed to cope with being cut off from core self, each individual, based on the combination of temperament and past trauma, takes on a basic fear common to his or her Enneagram type. As the person’s ego works to defend against the fear, he or she takes on particular attitudes and behaviors and begins to chase a corresponding basic desire, also common to his or her type, that seems to promise an escape from the basic fear. The relationship between the basic fear and the basic desire is a key dynamic that helps explain the particular fixation and developmental path characteristic of each of the types.

The basic fears and desires described by Riso and Hudson in Personality Types are:

Type Basic Fear Basic Desire
2 Being unwanted, unworthy of love To be loved unconditionally
3 Being worthless To feel valuable and worthwhile
4 Having no identity or personal significance To find identity and personal significance from inner experience
5 Being helpless, useless and incapable To be capable and competent and have something to contribute
6 Being unable to survive on their own and having no support To find security and support and to belong somewhere
7 Pain and deprivation To be satisfied and content and have their needs fulfilled
8 Being harmed or controlled by others To protect themselves and be in control of their own life and destiny
9 Loss and separation (impermanence) To have inner stability and peace of mind
1 Being corrupt, evil, defective and imbalanced To be good, have integrity and be in balance with everything

Type-Specific Vicious Cycles

The problem for the unhealthy individual is that chasing their basic desire in an attempt to escape facing their basic fear counterintuitively only makes things worse. Such an action is a prime example of the misguided attempt to meet needs that Marshall Rosenberg, founder of Nonviolent Communication, finds at the heart of most human conflict and dysfunction. Instead of becoming stronger and more competent through confronting frightening situations and building skills, the person instead places themselves in a tenuous position based on a false self-image designed to create the illusion of security. In order to then protect this fragile self-image, they take on another level of attitudes and behaviors driven by secondary fears and aimed at the achievement of secondary desires that falsely promise an escape from those fears. Hence, another layer of rigidity is added to the ego as they spiral down another Level of Development toward their Point of Disintegration. Eventually, once they spiral down all of the levels, the vicious cycle is complete and their basic fear, in a self-fulfilling prophecy, is paradoxically realized due precisely to the misguided attempts to avoid it.

I have long noticed the centrality of vicious cycles and related concepts such as catch-22’s, paradoxes, the repetition compulsion and self-fulfilling prophecies in the process of personal development, as well as in healing on all levels of human systems. My interest in Systems Thinking stems partly from its focus on the prevalence of counterintuitiveness in systems and my interest in Imago Relationship Therapy is based largely on its brilliant explanation of how the repetition compulsion drives and can be resolved within our intimate relationships. The Enneagram, through Riso and Hudson’s Core Dynamics model, embodies a profound understanding of the counterintuitive, vicious cycles that underlie our dysfunctions and that must be broken in order to heal.

As Riso and Hudson explain on Page 457 of Personality Types:
"Each personality type contains within itself a source of self-deception which, if played into, invariably leads us away from the direction of our real fulfillment and deepest happiness. This is an irrevocable law of the psyche, something of which we must become convinced if we are to have the courage to look for happiness where it truly resides."
The vicious cycles described in the Core Dynamics model for each of the types as they become unhealthier, as I understand them, are as follows:
  • Type 2 – In a desperate attempt to be loved, they give so much to others that it builds inner resentment and engenders manipulation and pushiness that ultimately drives others away.

  • Type 3 – In an attempt to be seen as worthy, they develop a grandiose false self that is very fragile. They then become highly sensitive and insecure that this false self may be revealed or seen through and are ultimately rejected as they grow more and more deceitful and destructive toward anyone perceived as a threat to their image.

  • Type 4 – In an attempt to find and live out their own unique identity, they isolate themselves from others and from a world that they perceive as demanding conformity. Thus, they alienate others, becoming hopeless and ultimately indeed do lose their identity or personal significance in the world.

  • Type 5 – In an attempt to become competent and useful in the world, they build their confidence and perceived mastery through constant observation and conceptualization. They are then driven to protect their inner space from external demands in order to continue their deep thinking, and may cut themselves off from the outer world to the point where they ultimately do become helpless and without purpose within the community or society.

  • Type 6 – In an attempt to find a safe, supportive place to belong, they may become extremely protective of their perceived sources of security. Ultimately, however, they are abandoned as they become more and more paranoid and suspicious toward anyone perceived as a threat to that security.

  • Type 7 – In an attempt to generate satisfaction and fulfillment, they endlessly, and rather addictively, seek new sources of excitement and stimulation. Ultimately, since this seeking often meets superficial perceived needs at the expense of deeper, more authentic needs, they may wind up deprived and suffering.

  • Type 8 – In an attempt to remain in control, they may become more and more ruthless and dominating. Ultimately, their aggression may become destructive, leading to the very harm and lack of control that they most fear.

  • Type 9 – In an attempt to achieve inner peace and stability, they may disengage from and deny real problems in their lives and the world. Ultimately, they may become so dissociated from reality that their stability dissolves away, bringing on their greatest fear, disappearance and separation.

  • Type 1 – In an attempt to be a “good” person, they may become overly critical and perfectionistic. Ultimately, in an attempt to drive out all of the evil around them, they may become just as cruel and destructive as those against whom they originally rebelled. This cycle of the 1 is a prime example of the dangers of repressing and projecting the Shadow, as described in books based on Jungian psychology such as Depth Psychology and a New Ethic by Erich Neumann and When Good People do Bad Things: Understanding Our Darker Selves by James Hollis.
By remaining aware of the potential vicious cycles of our type and wing, we can notice when we are beginning to play them out, predict their inevitable failure to meet our true needs, and begin to take a more effective approach.

Self-Actualization Through Transcending Our Type-Specific Fear, Escaping our Vicious Cycle, Meeting True Needs and Moving Beyond Personality and Ego to Essence

Our ego is an important structure in our day-to-day functioning and identifying with our ego-centered personality is, for many, if not all of us, a necessary developmental step. However, as Carl Jung explained, our ego is very limited and, in order to actualize, we must ultimately begin to expand our identity beyond it to coincide with the much vaster Self that represents the whole of our psyche. Yet, as the Core Dynamics model demonstrates, as we become unhealthier, we increasingly lose touch with our “Essence” and take on an even more rigid ego-driven false self that drives us to pursue the needs perceived by extreme defensive parts of the psyche at the expense of our unconscious real needs.

The “goal” in the Enneagram system is to escape this vicious cycle that keeps us fixated in our particular type’s defenses and transcend that type by moving up the Levels of Development toward our Point of Integration and then journeying even further beyond the bounds of our personality toward greater wholeness as we integrate in healthy elements of all of the basic types. To accomplish this, we must relinquish our type’s usual way of attempting to escape its fears and finally face and transcend those fears, especially the basic fear of our type (and that of our wing). Only then can we actually achieve our otherwise constantly elusive basic desire and meet the true needs that will lead to self-actualization.

Abraham Maslow, who is most identified with the term “self-actualization,” agreed on the crucial importance of facing our fears if we are to reach our greatest potential.

He said:
"One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again."
In Maslow’s model, we achieve this growth by climbing up the Hierarchy of Needs. Yet even Maslow agreed that the hierarchy is an unrealistically simplified model and that we may all actually meet our needs in different orders. The Core Dynamics model adds precision to Maslow’s view of self-actualization by demonstrating how each type, in order to approach the wholeness for which we all yearn, must face its fears and meet its needs in a different sequential path.

As we begin to face our fears and meet our authentic needs, we may achieve temporary peak experiences, characterized by a greater sense of wholeness, alternating with returns to previous dysfunctional patterns. For a time, our healthy moments may even feel somewhat uncomfortable in their unfamiliarity. However, with time and practice, our healthier states can become more satisfying and sustained, until, eventually, we attain a baseline at a higher Level of Development.

A Dialectical Model

Not only have I noticed the prevalence of vicious cycles in our most destructive patterns, but I have also noticed that vicious cycles are usually escaped only through transcending a dichotomy and moving beyond duality as represented by the yin/yang symbol and as captured in the term Nirdvandva as expressed by Carl Jung. Fields and concepts ranging from Internal Family Systems to Imago Relationship Therapy to Dialectical Behavioral Therapy to Instant Runoff Voting aim to build sustainably healthy systems by fostering third-hand solutions that resolve conflict and transcend polarization.

As mentioned, the Enneagram itself is a dialectical model based on the emergence of a third-hand solution from the interplay between opposites.

Riso and Hudson proclaim on page 446 of Personality Types:
“If there is a single explanation of why the Enneagram works as it does, and why it is such a comprehensive system, it is because the Enneagram is a dialectical system, and as such it can be used to analyze different aspects of human nature dialectically."
Riso and Hudson’s Core Dynamics model, like the Enneagram itself, works because it embodies a dialectical approach.

Instinctual Variants

Some who work with the Enneagram noticed a variation among people that wasn’t explained by differences in type, wing, degree of wing influence or Level of Development. Even people with the same personalities on all of those measures, they observed, might still exhibit a fundamental difference in values. That unexplained difference was found to revolve around the relative priority that people placed on each of three main human instincts.

These three instincts are.
  • Self-Preservation (SP) – The instinct to secure basic resources and meet the needs of material and physical survival.

  • Social (SO) – The instinct to create lasting personal connections and secure one’s place in relationship to others.

  • Sexual (SX) – The instinct to seek intense, stimulating intimate connections, sexual and otherwise.
While we are all driven by all three instincts, we differ in the degree to which each drives us as opposed to the others. In order to account for this variation, some have added the Instinctual Variant to the Enneagram scheme as a source of additional precision in identifying the nature of a personality.

An individual’s values, as they relate to Instinctual Variants, are conveyed by writing, divided by slashes, the three basic instincts in the order in which that person prioritizes them. Such a notation is called the person’s Instinctual Stack.

So, for instance, one person may have an SP/SX/SO Instinctual Stack, indicating that they value self-preservation as their dominant instinct, the social instinct second-most and least the sexual instinct. Another person, even of the same basic Enneagram type, wing, degree of wing influence and Level of Development, may have a different Instinctual Stack, say, SX/SP/SO.

Note again that the Instinctual Variant is independent of basic type, wing, degree of wing influence and Level of Development. Therefore, a person of any personality profile on these other measures can have any Instinctual Stack, which further enhances the Enneagram’s ability to specifically identify an even greater diversity of personalities.

A Concise, Comprehensive Model for Personality Assessment and Personal Development

When we consider a person’s basic type, wing, degree of wing influence, Level of Development, Points of Integration and Disintegration and Instinctual Stack, it becomes clear that the Enneagram provides a tremendous amount of information about a person’s deepest motivations, defenses and required growth journey. In addition, that information is captured by the system incredibly concisely. I am a 5 with a heavy 4 wing and an SX/SO/SP Instinctual Stack. It is remarkable how much of my personality is communicated in that single sentence.

In addition, the relationships between the variables identified by a person’s Enneagram profile can tell us a great deal about the potential for harmony or conflict within them. For example, the 5 is a withdrawn type, whereas the SX instinct motivates a person to seek intense interactions. The 8 is an aggressive type, while 9 is withdrawn. Thus, when a 5 has SX as the dominant drive in their Instinctual Stack or when an 8 has a 9 wing or a 9 has an 8 wing, they may experience, especially at unhealthy Levels of Development, a profound and defining conflict at their very core. On the other hand, since 5 and 4 are both withdrawn types, the combination of a 5 and a 4 wing or a 4 with a 5 wing can exponentially increase the tendency to withdraw above and beyond what the basic type alone might create.

On this website and in my work, I discuss and apply a number of fields that each contribute in various ways to a comprehensive understanding of an individual’s personality and path to wholeness. But, given its ability to so succinctly describe such profound dynamics, I believe that the Enneagram may be the single field that best summarizes, in user-friendly form, the most important information relevant to healing and personal development.

Perhaps this is why authors and thinkers as accomplished as Ken Wilber and Harville Hendrix praise the system.

Wilber says, in relation to Wisdom of the Enneagram: The Complete Guide to Psychological and Spiritual Growth for the Nine Personality Types by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson:
“Riso and Hudson have produced one of the first truly integrated models of the human psyche. In addition to the importance of this pioneering work itself, it goes to point up the utter inadequacy of anything less than a full-spectrum model of human growth and development. Highly recommended.”
Hendrix, speaking about the same book, says:
“The authors clearly communicate the complexity of human nature, the spiritual yearning resonant in all of us, and the ascending levels of our possibility. But they do not leave us there. They offer a clear path for personal and spiritual evolution.”
In my view, with some supplementation from fields such as Neurolinguistic Programming and Internal Family Systems, which hone in on the more specific subjective mechanisms underlying personality dynamics, the Enneagram may be the core of the most complete map for personal development of which I am aware.

The Comfortable Spiritual Aspect of the Enneagram

The Enneagram, at its heart, strikes a comfortable balance between practicality and spirituality. The system has historical roots that tie into various spiritual approaches and ideas shared by many religions and various modern Enneagram teachers may promote versions imbued with their particular spiritual leanings. Yet, its basic concepts and principles are equally accessible and applicable to anyone regardless of spiritual orientation.

I myself am an agnostic, but do have a deep sense of spirituality. For me, spirituality ties into the experience of connection to a larger whole in the universe and to the potential for wholeness within myself. In the sense that the Enneagram, and especially the Core Dynamics model, are designed to help us dissolve the blocks of our personality, reconnect with our Essence and effectively expand toward that wholeness, it is, as Riso and Hudson call it, a psycho-spiritual process. Therefore, for those interested in and attracted to a spiritual element, the system provides knowledge that may be used to greatly enhance any path of spiritual development.

In addition, while fully respecting all spiritual beliefs or non-beliefs, the system may in some cases help dissolve defenses, revealing and helping to integrate a previously hidden spiritual side.

On the other hand, at its most basic level, the system itself does not require or push any particular spiritual beliefs. Thus, it can prove extremely applicable and comfortable for even the most secular agnostic or atheist.

Applications of the Enneagram

Since our personalities, to some extent, affect every situation in which humans engage, there are virtually unlimited settings in which the Enneagram can provide valuable insight and enhance our effectiveness.

They include:
  • Business

  • Education

  • Mental Health – Many counselors and therapists use the Enneagram in their practices to help assess and guide work with their clients.

  • Personal Development – Riso and Hudson provide many practical and useful suggestions for personal development in Personality Types, as well as in Wisdom of the Enneagram, which consists of a combination of text and workbook-fashion questions and exercises specific to each type.

  • Personal Relationships – As described so well in Imago Relationship Therapy, relationships inevitably involve an interplay between the past traumas, defense mechanisms, personality types and maturity levels of their participants. Therefore, it is no surprise that the Enneagram can tell us a great deal about how various individuals are likely to interact. It helps us understand why those at higher Levels of Development are more likely to engage in healthy relationships, as well as the particular types of conflict likely to arise between particular individuals at lower Levels of Development.

The Enneagram’s Value in Optimizing Higher Human Systems Levels

Though it focuses fundamentally on the individual level, the Enneagram has much to offer those working to understand and bring about greater harmony on the family, community, cultural, social and global levels as well. Many Enneagram practitioners realize that the defense mechanisms found in individuals both reflect and play out in emergent ways at these higher levels of human systems and are quite interested in identifying those patterns and how to best address them to bring about greater health.

Riso and Hudson, for instance, in their description of the type 3 in Personality Types, explain that the United States, with its image-conscious hyper-pursuit of superficial material goods and symbols is becoming a “dysfunctional 3 culture.” Other human systems on all levels may also take on predominant characters that reflect one or another of the basic Enneagram types. By recognizing this, we can apply many of the same principles suggested for individuals to help the systems in which we live transcend and break out of dysfunctional vicious cycles and move toward greater Levels of Development. In doing so, we will provide a more sustaining environment in which, through the principle of parallelism explained by Schwartz in Internal Family Systems, a great deal of trauma can be prevented so that we and future generations are more likely to remain in greater touch with our Essence and achieve and remain at higher Levels of Development.

The Enneagram vs. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

As mentioned, the Enneagram is not the only personality type scheme in existence. In fact, it isn’t even the most widely used. That honor goes to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. I’ve compared the Enneagram and the MBTI in great detail in my post “The Enneagram: A More Complete, Precise, Dynamic System for Optimizing Personal Development, Relationships and Human Systems than the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator”. There I explain why I ultimately find the Enneagram, with its insight into ego fixations and repetitive destructive patterns and its comfortable spiritual aspect, more conducive than the MBTI for use in personal development, healing of trauma and defense mechanisms and transformation, as well as in informing relationships. In my view, the Enneagram accounts more specifically for several factors and subtle variations critical to those activities that are not as clearly defined in MBTI. It also explains in more detail inter-type dynamics not as central to MBTI such as why one type may resemble another under stress or at its healthiest.

The MBTI remains a fantastic system for identifying certain strengths, talents and preferences and will and should continue to be used in many settings. In addition, it does at times touch on all of the variables discussed in the Enneagram. However, many of those aspects are only tangential factors in the MBTI scheme, while they are at the very core of the Enneagram. In the end, the two systems look at personalities through different lenses and, thus, each provides the best tools and information for particular tasks and should be used when most appropriate.

Enneagram Resources

In both Personality Types and Wisdom of the Enneagram, Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson say that when you read about your type, you’ll know because you’ll experience an eerie feeling, sometimes accompanied by a chill in your spine. I can attest that I actually really did experience that feeling as I read about my type in those books. As a result, I can highly recommend both of these books as the best I’ve read so far about the topic.

    Personality Types: Using the Enneagram for Self-Discovery

  • Personality Types: Using the Enneagram for Self-Discovery – In this book, Riso and Hudson offer an incredible amount of detail about the Enneagram system, every type and subtype at every Level of Development, and how the system relates to other personality type systems and psychological theories. Many feel it is the best overall reference book available on the subject and it offers many concepts unique to Riso and Hudson’s own model of the Enneagram. Reading about my type in this book had a profound effect on me.

Also visit:
  • The Enneagram Institute – The organization that serves as home base for Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson. The Institute puts on Enneagram workshops and trainings all over the world and its website offers tests to figure out your type along with a wealth of information on various aspects and applications of the system.

  • All of my Blog Posts tagged Enneagram

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