How can only nine different types describe everyone?
How can people of the same type look and be so different?
Don’t type labels just put us in a box?
Do people ever change their type? Does our type change as we grow and evolve?
I’ve narrowed it down to two or three possibilities, but can’t decide which type I am. How do I decide?
I think my friend is one type but she thinks she’s a different type. How do we figure out which one is right?
My friend wants me to tell him what type he is. I think it’s obvious, but is it okay to tell him?
How can I use the Enneagram to help my relationship with my partner?
Where did the Enneagram symbol come from? What does it mean?
What are wings?
What do the lines and arrows mean?
Why are some points connected on a triangle and the others on a star?
What influences how we experience the world besides our type?
Do some types get along with each other better than other types?
Are some types better than others?
Will knowing about the Enneagram help me change my type?
How important are subtypes in my daily life and in relationships?
Do many organizations use the Enneagram in their management? If so, how?
Human beings are wonderful and complex. From ancient times to modern psychology, people have used typologies and diagnostic models to understand themselves and one another. Some systems have 4, 5 or 16 types. With the Enneagram we see nine basic personality types, or character structures, which also are described in psychology. Traditional psychology has focused more on the problems that people face. The Enneagram talks about both the problems and the strengths of each personality type to create a more balanced view, and it brings together these nine basic types in a unified system. There are many ways to describe people, but the Enneagram suggests that there are nine primary ways of seeing the world, and nine major styles in relationship.
The Enneagram describes nine types based on our inner concerns and motivation. We don’t always know someone’s type from external behaviors. Yet there is a common theme among people of the same type, which we can hear on type panels or with type groups, even though there are big variations. For example, every Enneagram type can be either introverted or extroverted. And there are many differences, at least on the surface, which come from our family background and culture. Finally, there are other factors within the Enneagram itself that influence how we express our type – see questions about subtypes, wings and lines below.
It’s a problem when people use the Enneagram to stereotype, and we don’t want to put people in a box. People are more than their personality. Each person has a unique, essential self that cannot be categorized. But personality falls into predictable patterns, so knowing our Enneagram type helps us to get “out of the box” of our automatic patterns and habits.
We don’t change our basic type, which is so fundamental to our way of being in the world, but we can change and grow throughout our lives. In this way, our type structure becomes much more flexible. Instead of being stuck in automatic patterns we have more access to our own strengths and abilities, plus we can learn how other types see the world and broaden our own point of view. Our behavior changes as we work on ourselves and evolve.
One challenge with the Enneagram is that no questionnaire or test can tell you exactly what type you are. For example, Dr. David Daniels’ Essential Enneagram test gives a result in terms of percentages, based on research and scientific probabilities. Discovering your type requires a process of self-exploration and self-awareness, sometimes aided by feedback from people who know you well. This can take time, but it’s a worthwhile journey. We have parts of different types within us, but we can still look for central theme. Each type has a particular way of seeing the world – a habit of attention – and a specific emotional habit that is different than the other personality types. Identifying these key habits may take time, reflection and more study. We recommend attending a panel workshop to hear all nine types talk about their direct experience. Books are great, but watching type representatives share their stories supports learning not only with the mind, but also the heart and body.
We can benefit from feedback from our friends, but ultimately each person has to make their own decision based on knowing oneself from the inside. In the meantime, don’t worry about who is right. Disagreement is common, but eventually the “right” type will emerge over time. What’s important is to stay friendly within the conversation.
The Enneagram is a powerful tool for self-discovery. It’s fine to give your opinion, as long as you are clear that it’s an opinion, and he needs to check it out for himself. And make sure that you point out that no type is any better or worse than another, they’re just different! People who have worked with the Enneagram for many years know that even though a person’s type seems obvious to us, we’re not always correct. So it’s best to be careful with our opinions.
One of the greatest gifts of the Enneagram is helping us to have better relationships at home and at work. When we understand our own type, we can learn about our patterns of reactivity and how to manage these with self-awareness and practice. This is a huge help! It also shows us how we can become more present and loving in all three of our centers: head, heart and body. When we understand our partner’s type, we realize that they have a different, but equally valid, way of seeing the world, with their own underlying concerns and emotional issues. We don’t take things so personally, and we can work toward feeling deeper empathy with a partner.
We don’t know where the symbol came from originally. What we do know is that for thousands of years, scholars and philosophers have used number sets to organize information about people and nature. In many religious traditions, the number nine has been used to signify the different aspects of Divine Presence. Many of the Enneagram’s central ideas can be found in the work of Christian, Sufi and Jewish monastics. The first published Enneagram appears in the writings of Ramon Llull, a Franciscan monk who in 1305 CE used the diagram to describe the nine “Dignities of God,” which we know today as the nine “passions and virtues.”
The modern Enneagram has been developed in the past century by teachers of human development, such as George Gurdjieff, who brought the system and its teaching to Europe, and Oscar Ichazo who created the original map of nine human types. Since the 1970s, the Enneagram has been developed as a modern psychological system by Claudio Naranjo, MD, and other psychologists in California, including Helen Palmer and David Daniels, MD. Loyola University in Chicago also was an early center of Enneagram work, where Catholic clergy and lay people such as Don Riso and Jerome Wagner began learning and teaching. The Enneagram continues to develop through the efforts of many people worldwide who are creating new insights and new applications for personal, spiritual and professional development.
Around the circle of the Enneagram, we find ourselves between two neighboring points. These are often called the wing points, and they have a strong influence on our own experience. We have both wings, but most people can identify a predominant wing, which is part of our personal style and creates some of the variations between the types. For example, a Type Nine with a strong Eight wing will appear more Eight-like in style (grounded and assertive), while a Nine with a strong One wing may look more like a Type One (organized and correct). However, they still have the basic Type Nine personality structure. The wings can serve as resources to moderate or empower our own type, but also can create their own challenges when we fall into the low side of this neighboring type.
The Enneagram seems to hold some intelligence within the diagram itself. We are connected on the inner lines to several other types, and we can move to these types under different conditions. The forward arrows indicate a direction or movement (3-9-6-3, 1-4-2-8-5-7-1) to what is called our “stress point,” which means that under certain kinds of stress, we may find ourselves experiencing more of the feelings and patterns of this other personality type. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; having the experience of this type also can be a resource for us. For example, a Type Six may travel to Three and move more quickly into action; a Type Seven can travel to One and become more focused and organized. But it will be stressful if we stay there too long.
In the other direction (3-6-9-3, 1-7-5-8-2-4-1) we move toward what is called our “security point” or “heart point.” This may happen when we feel safe and secure, as in a close relationship, or when we are engaged in deep personal growth and our type structure relaxes. This is usually a positive experience, allowing us to integrate some of qualities of our security point, which can balance and mediate our own type. But we also may encounter new challenges at this point.
The theory is useful since it describes different states and experiences as we travel to our connection points on the Enneagram, but each person needs to see how this works in their own experience. The patterns are there, but we don’t always fit the pattern completely.
There are two overlapping diagrams inside the Enneagram itself. The triangle connects points 3, 6 and 9. This is called the “Law of Three,” which illustrates three forces present in all actions or events: affirming or initiating force at point 3, resisting or developing force at point 6, harmonizing or reconciling force at point 9. We also can talk about this as thesis, antithesis and synthesis. In religious traditions, we may find this described as the Trinity.
The other internal diagram is a hexad (group of six), which connects the points 1-4-2-8-5-7 with its own flow pattern. This illustrates the “Law of Seven,” indicating the necessary steps for accomplishing tasks or projects, and their interconnections. Some people use the diagram and its two flow patterns for what is called the “Process Enneagram,” which can help organize major projects and systems within an organization. Various books written about the Enneagram explain how it expresses the “natural laws.” In our work with Enneagram types, we are interested in the theories about the symbol and the lines, but are mostly concerned with what is practical and useful for our own personal development.
There are many influences in addition to our Enneagram type, including our culture, family of origin, body type, and so on. This is why so many differences are found among people who are the same Enneagram type. A basic neurobiological pattern is inherent to each type, but developed further by our early childhood circumstances and the need to adapt to new social environments as we grow older.
There are predictable patterns for how the types connect well, and how they run into problems. Helen Palmer describes the 45 type combinations in her book, The Enneagram in Love and Work. Some type combinations may have easier relationships at first, but run into problems later. Other types will encounter more difficulties at first, yet establish a better relationship over time by working through conflicts. Is it better to relate to people who are more like us or to people who are different? There are benefits either way. The main point is that every combination of types can do well if we are willing to work on ourselves.
Sometimes we think our type is best! Or our type is worst… The truth is that every type is wonderful and every type is difficult at times. We are all equal in this way. All nine types are beautiful expressions of the human spirit.
The goal is not to change our Enneagram type, but to develop our strengths and talents through self-awareness and personal growth. We all need a personality or ego structure to function in the world. The inner work is to know ourselves at a deeper level where we are more than our personality or ego. For people on a spiritual path, freeing oneself from ego opens the door to a greater presence or connection with the Divine. It’s a big help to know how our ego, or personality type, gets in the way.
Very important! Learning about the instinctual subtypes shows us how we use our three major instincts in daily life. Our self-preservation instinct expresses our relationship to material security, food, warmth, home and family. Our social instinct shapes our friendships and our participation in groups and our community. Our one-to one-instinct fuels our personal vitality, sexuality and intimate relationships.
The Enneagram suggests that although we have all three instincts, one of these is more important in determining where we spend much of our time and attention in daily life. Each personality type has three variations, or instinctual subtypes. So there are 27 subtypes that help us understand our path in life: What are the people, places and projects that are most important to us? Where do we invest our time and energy? How do we participate in work, home and the community? What do we need to feel secure? What is the role of instinct and emotion? In our significant relationships, subtype differences (or similarities) can be as important as personality type!
It’s impossible to track which organizations use the Enneagram around the world. But the answer is many, and more all the time, from major corporations to small companies and nonprofits. The Enneagram has proven its value for leadership development, communication skills, conflict management and mediation. Knowing your Enneagram type provides specific feedback about how you can develop your practical skills in the workplace. It also helps people reduce unnecessary conflict and build bridges to cooperation and greater effectiveness as a team or work group. An Internet search for the Enneagram in business will show trainers, consultants and coaches in many countries who use the system with managers and leaders.