What is the Enneagram?
The word Enneagram derives from the Greek words ennea (“nine”) and gram (“something written or drawn”) and refers to this nine-pointed figure inscribed in a circle. The enneagram symbol conveys a great deal of knowledge about the nature of change, both in the human psyche and other natural systems.
The Enneagram system of personality types situated around the enneagram symbol offers profound insights into the way people think, feel, and behave. It lays out nine distinct personality types and the patterns and habits that characterize them. Its great power lies in the accuracy and depth of the personality descriptions and the transformational path it offers those who wish to grow to reach their fullest potential.
The Enneagram describes three centers of human intelligence — the head, heart, and body — nine interconnected personality types, and 27 subtypes — three versions of each of the nine types, based on whether a person has a predominant drive toward Self-Preservation, Social interaction in groups, or One-to-One bonding. I’m describe Claudio Naranjo’s most recent articulation of the subtypes in detail in my book, The Complete Enneagram: 27 Paths to Greater Self-Knowledge. I believe these subtype descriptions offer an even more nuanced view of the possible manifestations of the human personality, shedding light on our most automatic functioning so we can become more self- aware.
My new book is now available! Several years in the making, this comprehensive guide is both as an entry point to this amazing personal growth tool for people new to the system and a source of updated, high-quality information about the Enneagram as a map of human transformation for veteran Enneagram fans. It highlights the key importance of self-awareness and self-knowledge as well as the roots of the Enneagram in ancient wisdom traditions and personal testimony about the subtypes by people who are practiced at seeing it in action in their own lives.
If you are interested in the Enneagram or personal development generally, you will want to get this book!
Why Study the Enneagram?
We humans are all limited to the extent that we are trapped in invisible automatic patterns that we don’t see. We all take on specific coping strategies early in life to get along with others and get what we need, and these early strategies for dealing with the world around us become fixed and rigid patterns that can be hard to change because they are old, familiar, and comfortable. By illuminating the habitual patterns that constrain us (that we often don’t see because they are unconscious), the Enneagram provides a map for becoming freer of compulsive habit, more conscious in the choices we make, and more capable of a wider range of coping strategies in daily life.
In short, it helps us wake up to our unconscious (and thus automatic and invisible) repetitive patterns that direct our beliefs, our emotions, and our behavior so that we can live life more fully and have a more satisfying experience of everything.
The Enneagram is unique among modern personality typologies in that it comes out of ancient psycho-spiritual teachings about human evolution. It is hundreds, and perhaps thousands of years old.
G. I. Gurdjieff, a philosopher and metaphysical teacher, spoke of the Enneagram as coming out of early contemplative Christian teachings, as well as mystical Jewish and Islamic traditions. It has thematic links to the Jewish Kabbalah. The system and its component parts may have existed as an oral teaching for centuries as a way for people to overcome human mental and emotional “fixations” and find a greater sense of peace and transcendence.
The modern sources of the Enneagram as we understand it today are Gurdjieff’s writings and those of his students, the work of Oscar Ichazo, who developed it independently as method for helping people transform themselves, and Claudio Naranjo, who learned the system from Ichazo and then developed it further.
Since the publication of several books about the Enneagram in the late 1980s, the system of personality types located around the enneagram symbol has grown in popularity as a way to gain insight into oneself and develop greater empathy for others.
The Centers, Types, and Subtypes
Three Centers and Nine Personality Types and 27 sub-types: What they are and how they aid in self-development
The nine points on the Enneagram represent nine distinct personality types – nine distinct worldviews or ways of paying attention associated with different patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving.
The Enneagram model suggests that each individual views 360 degrees of reality through a narrow slice of perception based on early coping strategies that were used to adapt to the environment in childhood. These coping strategies grow into patterns of perceiving the world and shape what we pay attention to and what we don’t pay attention to.
These adaptive strategies help us to survive and thrive in childhood, but after we reach adulthood, they can represent overused strengths and an overly narrow set of habits through which we interact with the world.
Studying your personality as defined by the Enneagram map can help you to see more clearly what you tend to think, feel, and do habitually and automatically. By becoming more aware of your unconscious habits, you can expand your capacity to interact with the world in more effective ways, and direct your behavior more from conscious choice rather than unconscious habit.
Here is a brief description of the three centers:
According to the teaching behind the Enneagram, we humans perceive the world through three centers of intelligence, the head, which thinks thoughts, the heart, which feels emotions, and the body, which feels or senses kinesthetically or through “gut knowing.”
There are three head types (types 5, 6, and 7), which overuse the head center, there are three heart types (types 2, 3, and 4), which overuse the heart center, and three body types, (types 8, 9, and 1), which overuse the body center.
The idea is that each of the types is out of balance in using one center more than he others, and that one main point of using the Enneagram for personal growth is to achieve more balance and wholeness by expanding how one interacts with the world from a reliance on a narrow set of capacities and strengths, to a wider range of abilities and strategies.
Here is a brief description of the nine types:
Each of the nine types can be recognized by where its attention typically goes – and through particular patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving. The power of the Enneagram map of personality lies in its highly accurate articulation of these patterns.
Type One is sometimes called The Perfectionist in that they tend to view the world in terms of how it matches (or doesn’t match) what they view as perfect or ideal. Their focus of attention is on whether things are right or wrong, doing the right thing, noticing and correcting errors, and working hard to improve things. They have a strong internal critical voice that comments on the things they do, and they can be critical and judgmental of others. They usually conform to rules and standards and tend to be idealistic reformers. They are often people of high integrity. Central challenges include managing their own anger and self-criticism.
Type Two is sometimes called Givers or Helpers. However, they usually give strategically in that they can be afraid to ask for what they need, so they give to others as a way of making themselves important and implicitly inviting others to meet their (unspoken) needs. They tend to be friendly, upbeat, and generous (to a fault). Their focus of attention is on other people, on important relationships, and what other people think and feel about them. They pay a lot of attention to whether or not others like them and they strive to be indispensible and approved of in the eyes of others. They are very empathic with others, but they can be out of touch with their own feelings and needs and overgive compulsively to others.
Type Three is sometimes called The Performer, and they tend to view the world in terms of tasks, goals, and achieving success. Their focus of attention is being perceived as successful and getting a lot done. They are good at matching the ideal model of how something should be done in terms of material success and cultural ideals of achievement. They usually focus on doing at the expense of feeling (emotions) and being. They can have a difficult slowing down and knowing what they are feeling, but they are very good at getting a lot done in the most efficient way. Their main challenges are knowing what they really think and feel (and not just what looks good to think and feel) and slowing down and not doing anything.
Type Four is sometimes called The Artist. They tend to have an artistic or aesthetic sensibility, they value emotions and authenticity, and they are typically comfortable with a wide range of emotions, including pain. Because they live more in their feelings than other people, they can at times over-identify with their emotions. They focus their attention on their own internal world, the status of their connections with others, and the aesthetic aspects of their environment. In relationships, they value depth and the genuine expression of feeling. They tend to be idealistic and creative, but they can at times get caught up in longing, melancholy, or a focus on the past.
Type Five is sometimes called The Observer. They tend to be introverted and shy, and less expressive emotionally than other types. They focus their attention on thinking, on interesting intellectual pursuits and interests, and creating boundaries to maintain privacy. They often have the sense that they have a limited amount of energy and they are sensitive to other people potentially draining them of their finite stores of time of energy. They are usually well-boundaried and can withdraw to a safe place if they feel threatened by intrusion. They can be overly boundaried at times and can have a hard time sharing themselves with others in relationships.
Type Six is sometimes called The Devil’s Advocate or The Contrarian because they can be contrary in their thinking. They have a rebellious streak and usually have some authority issues – both wanting a good authority and feeling a sense of mistrust in the presence of authority figures. They focus their attention on detecting threats to their safety and preparing in case something dangerous happens. They are naturally vigilant, and can be either actively fearful (phobic) or strong and intimidating as a proactive move against fear (counter-phobic). They tend to be loyal, analytical, and good at trouble-shooting, but they can also struggle with paranoia and indecision.
Type Seven is sometimes called The Epicure or The Adventurer. Sevens tend to be energetic, fast-paced, and optimistic. They focus their attention on fun and stimulating things to think about and do, on creating many options, and planning. They are usually enthusiastic, fun-loving people who dislike feeling uncomfortable feelings including sadness, anxiety, boredom, or pain. They are good at reframing negatives into positives, they usually have many interests, and they usually enjoy engaging socially with others. Their central challenges include dealing with difficult or uncomfortable emotions, showing up for conflict in relationships, and focusing on one thing at a time.
Type Eight is sometimes called The Boss or The Challenger. Eights tend to be oriented toward strength and power. Eights usually move toward conflict and confrontation more easily than other types. They also have more ready access to anger than most of the other types. Eights focus their attention on creating order out of disorder, the big picture, and who has the power. They have big energy, though they can underestimate their impact on others. They can be excessive, impulsive, generous, and protective of others. They are natural leaders, but can have a blind-spot when it comes to expressing vulnerability.
Type Nine is sometimes called The Mediator or The Peacemaker. Nines make good mediators because they can naturally see all sides of an issue and feel motivated to reduce conflict and create harmony. They are usually affable and easy-going, and they focus their attention on getting along with other people. They tend to be out of touch with their own anger and their own agenda, because having anger or strong opinions might invite conflict with others, which they dislike and so habitually avoid. Nines often have a hard time saying no and taking a stand for their own desires, and so can say yes when they mean no, and can be passive-aggressive when their unacknowledged anger leaks out or gets acted out.
Why the 27 Subtypes are so important:
Each of the nine types comes in three versions according to which of three basic animal instincts is dominant, the self-preservation instinct, the Social instinct (for getting along with others in the social group), or the One-to-One (or Sexual) instinct (oriented to bonding with one other person).
These 27 sub-characters highlight distinct differences among people of one (of the nine) type. They are more specific and more nuanced personality types than the nine categories. I have been studying these subtypes a lot lately and it’s getting so it’s hard for me to even talk about just nine types, especially because for some of the nine types, these three versions can be quite different from one another — like with Fours and Sixes.
Please stay tuned to this web site for more information about the unique character of the 27 types in my book, my blog, and upcoming workshops.