What if you were able to read a guide to your own soul? What if you were able to stare your ego in the face and realise the subtle tricks it had been playing on you during your life, to hold back your spiritual progress. What if you, now conscious of where you were repeating negative patterns were able to consciously understand them. What if you could lovingly embrace those on the path with you, understanding their struggles which, although different from your own, were as hard for them? What if you understood the motivations which drove you to behave the way you do? Could you then let go of all judgement and replace it with deep understanding and compassion?
I believe this remarkable body of understanding that is the Enneagram can do just this.
What exactly is an Enneagram?
An Enneagram is symbolically represented by a Nine pointed star (composed of a triangle and hexagram) contained within a circle. (The base line of the hexagram is not connected). Ennea meaning ‘Nine’ and gram as in ‘diagram.’ Put another way, if you put Nine points equidistant on the circumference of a circle, you’ll have the Nine points of the Enneagram. Each point represents a certain personality type. While (because it’s a circle and everything is connected), we each have aspects of each type within us, we each have our own basic or dominant type.
At first the Enneagram may appear as simply a way to categorise or put people into boxes. It is however, quite the opposite – a way of seeing the unified whole as opposed to segregated self. When fully understood it becomes a map of wholeness – a guide to conscious development or integration. There is a dynamic interplay between the different energies represented by the points. In fact metaphysical teacher Gurdjieff, used movement and dance to teach the meaning of the symbol, with students following the patterns of the lines. The symbology of the points can be seen further as in the hexagram (perfected or Vitruvian man) and the triangle – think trinity etc. contained in the circle – symbolic of wholeness. (Holiness). The Enneagram system then is a synthesis of a number of ancient mystical/esoterically systems incorporating Pythagorus, the Sufis, and Oscar Ichazo together with more recent input from a Jesuit (Don Riso) and Russ Hudson, as well as people such as Helen Palmer.
These Nine types then become different ways of expression of the Divine whole. As we fall from grace or as we feel separate or loose consciousness so we become fixated in our ego based personality.
We have to distinguish between a man as he is in essence, and as he is in ego or personality. In essence, every person is perfect, fearless, and in a loving unity with the entire cosmos; there is no conflict within the person between head, heart, and stomach or between the person and others. Then something happens: the ego begins to develop, karma accumulates, there is a transition from objectivity to subjectivity; man falls from essence into personality.IchazoFrom an interview on the Enneagram system
In healing the personality we can once more climb back up the ladder to realization or consciousness. There are Nine main ways that we fall into the trace of illusion and perceive a loss of connection or Oneness with the Divine. The “Seven deadly sins,” in the bible, such as avarice, lust etc as well as Two additional Ones: fear and deceit. These represent our emotional response to dealing with the “fall” or separation from wholeness. As with all things in the universe, there exists an opposite to these so called ‘Passions,’ – the Virtues. Through recognising our passions and working to heal them, we connect and restore our Virtue. These virtues are more of an arising of presence and consciousness within us than something that we must do. Through the virtues we transform beyond duality into Oneness. The Passions then are essentially the ego which needs to be mastered – the dragon to be slain, in order to allow true presence to emerge within us.
Killing the Dragon
The ego does not take kindly to being destroyed, anymore than the mythical dragon (ego) would be compliantly slaughtered by the knight. Consequently, your ego will deny aspects, ridicule the whole system, trick you, go into ‘hurt/victim’ mode – do whatever it can to prevent you from exposing it in the form of shadow aspects of your personality. While our soul desires consciousness, our ego demands that we stay trapped in our illusionary world. It’s a paradoxical push/pull energy that is repeated throughout the universe.
Quietly observing yourself in a detached non-judgemental manner, through the observations of your Enneagram personality type, is One way to work through this. Through this self-observation, comes self-awareness and later self-realization.
Aspects of the Enneagram:
Each number has a number on either side of it, your so called ‘wings.’ For instance a Five will have a Four and a Six wing, while a Nine will have an Eight and a One. You will tend to lean towards one of these ‘wings,’ which will influence your personality type. A Five with a Six wing, will behave differently to a Five with a Four wing, adopting some of the attributes of the Six.
Levels of Development
In 1997 Don Riso, the most published author on the subject of Enneagrams, discovered Nine Levels of Development within each personality type. This is why two ‘Nines’ may appear to behave differently, one expressing the Unhealthy Levels and the other the Average or Healthy Levels. Not only do the Levels explain the differences between people of the same type, but they also give us an idea of where we need to grow and where we have fallen behind. (Naturally, our egos will attempt to assume control and rate us above that which we actually are!)
Whilst we can grow up through the Levels, we can also slip down them. This also accounts for why people can change from being clear, emotionally grounded and freer on one day and reactive, scattered and anxious on the next.
The Triads are comprised of the Instinctive Triad, The Feeling Triad and the Thinking Triad. They indicate to us where our main imbalance lies and where we limit ourselves.
Reacting to Stress or becoming integrated?
Each Type has a specified number where it ‘goes to’ when under pressure. For instance the Two Type will go to the Eight Type, meaning that the caring, kind and needing to please Two will show a toughness, aggressive or confrontational approach (Eight) not normally apparent. They can also become controlling and domineering which may come as a surprise to those who are only aware of the normal softer Two aspects. When a Two Type moves towards integration, they learn to be in touch with their feelings (its ok to feel this even if it’s not pretty), rather than simply being aware of the emotional states of others.
Do we change our personality type as we age?
No. You keep the same type but as explained in the section on Levels, may move up or down, accounting for seeming personality changes.
Are we born a certain type?
Babies as young as three months have been shown to exhibit aspects of their personality type. Whilst environment, parental influence etc does affect the Level (Unhealthy/Average/Healthy) of your type, the actual type itself remains from birth.
Is one number or Type ‘better’ or more advanced than another?
This is a great question for the ego who just loves the illusion of being better, more advanced etc. Truth is that no number is better than another. Each have their strengths and weaknesses. Together they form part of the whole and are thus each different, yet vital to the whole.
What about differences of race, sex, creed or colour?
The descriptions apply equally across all these variables. However, certain countries have greater proportions of certain personality types. For instance, Russ Hudson and Don Riso, surmise that in England, types One, Five and Six predominate. (The Reformer (also referred to as the Perfectionist in some systems), the Investigator (also referred to as the Observer in some systems), and the Loyalist (Devil’s Advocate or Questioner).
If we take Ones as being rational, self-controlled and principled. Fives as being detached from their emotions, innovative and perceptive. Sixes as being responsible, engaging and anxious, you probably have a pretty good overview of the major personalities in English society. As opposed to the Twos, Eights and Sevens found in Italy.
Working with the Enneagram
Guessing other peoples’ Enneagrams.
Want a quick guide to loosing friends and angering people? Reveal their Enneagram number. (Or their spouses, children’s’, lovers etc). They may enjoy the complimentary aspects: compassionate, hard-working etc but when the unhealthy or shadow aspects appear, (critical, controlling etc) denial, and even anger may emerge. Consequently it may be wiser to use this as a self growth tool, rather than a way to ‘help’ or expose others. I have also learnt that it is very hard to truly gauge everybody’s underlying motivations and whilst they may appear to fit a certain personality type, it does not mean that they are really that basic type (you may be seeing a Wing in action rather than the Type itself. This is also a tool that some people in the Unhealthy ranges or even Average Levels, may not be able to accept. As mentioned previously, the ego does not enjoy exposure!
Guessing someone else’s type is haphazard at best. Part of this is because its hard understanding the motivations behind why people act the way they do. For instance both Type Two, Type Three and Type Six are hard workers, but a Two type will work hard because they want to please – their core motivation, whilst a Type Three works hard to fulfil his/her need to succeed and achieve. Six Types works hard because their core motivation is fear (if I work hard then I will be secure in my job).
Both Type Sevens and Type Threes are very active, but while a Three A-type personality is so because they want to achieve and win, a Seven Type is simply looking for new and exciting experiences. Unless you know someone really well, it can make differentiating the Two types hard.
Figuring out your own Enneagram
Sometimes it’s hard to fathom out your own Enneagram number for reasons explained. There are a number of tests available, some more accurate than others. Even the scientifically validated Rheti Enneagram test is only between 56-82% accurate depending on which number or style you appear to be. The internet offers a number of free tests which are a guide.
When you do find your real number it inevitably will create some emotional reaction. Something at the core of your soul resonates and you simply know it’s correct. For example, yesterday a friend experienced this and started crying. You may feel uneasy, afraid, or have the hairs on your arms stand up, but when you get a glimpse of your core self, it does create a response on some level. It’s as if someone has understood you – seen through the layers to your inner most self.
When I was first looking for my Enneagram number, a quick glance at the personality types and I decided I must be one of two which appealed to me the most (Ego emerging!). The Adventurer (Type Seven) sounded really good – “likes to be social, travelling and doing exciting things” and yes I have travelled widely and I used to Surfsail competitively, but conflicted with The Helper (Type Two), whose concern was the upliftment of my fellow man (or women). It was a hard decision. I read up more about both types and I had to admit little seemed to fit. (Naturally, my ego simply found the Enneagram system faulty, rather than my understanding of it!)
Months later I picked up another book on the Ennegaram. I bounced all the possible descriptions off my family, whose egos weren’t blocking them. Bingo! I had found my type. I went back to the previous book, bought another, scanned websites and realised they had been right. Suddenly all aspects of myself became clear.
Eric S. Schulze, MD, Ph.D., and Tina Thomas, RN, DCSW are working on research using the Enneagram system to understand the varying degrees of effectiveness of psychiatric drugs on different people. They surmise that the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain which modulate brain activity in predictable patters differ according to certain groupings in the Enneagram System. This would explain why certain drugs such as Prozac have different levels of effectiveness on different people.
If the research proves correct, then my understanding is that given the Type of a person, psychiatrists would be far better equipped to medicate effectively, realizing that different types have naturally different levels of these three neurotransmitters.
The potential for health is very promising in all aspects of predictive medicine. Knowing your Type would then mean knowing which areas of your health would come under pressure most when stressed.
The potential for understanding and transformation on all levels of being, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual, using the Enneagram system is enormous. As one person I worked with who had come to understand his Type said: “It’s like having a road map to your own consciousness.” All it takes though to work with the system, is an open mind and willing heart.
(According to Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson)
1. The Reformer
2. The Helper
3. The Achiever
4. The Individualist
5. The Investigator
6. The Loyalist
7. The Enthusiast
8. The Challenger
9. The Peacemaker
• The Wisdom of the Enneagram, Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson, Bantam Books, New York, 1999
• Personality Types, Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson, Bantam Books, New York, 1987
• Enneagram for the Spirit, Mary Horsley, Gaia Books, London, 2005
• The Enneagram, Helen Palmer, Harper Collins, New York, 1975
• Research by Eric S. Schulze, MD, Ph.D., and Tina Thomas, RN, DCSW from the nneagram Institute website: “the nine basic types with wings, the Triads, the Hornevian groups, and the Harmonic groups)* is explained by genetically determined high, medium or low Levels of three dominant amine central nervous system neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that modulate brain activity in predictable patterns. These three are Dopamine, Serotonin, and Norepinepherine.
*(These last three are further categories within the system.)
We believe that the Enneagram is therefore as important and predictive for psychology and psychiatry as the periodic table of the elements is to chemistry and physics. This could explain why certain psychoactive medications such as Prozac work on some people, cause unwanted side effects on others, and have no effect on others. We are currently studying whether certain medications, and even foods and activities can be helpful based on the above types and their neurochemistry.”