The EnneagramA System of 9 Personality Types for personal growth
An Introduction to the Enneagram
The enneagram (pronounced “any-a-gram”) is a system of nine archetypal personality types (or enneatypes) that is based upon an ancient nine-sided symbol (pictured). The word is derived from the Greek words “ennea” (meaning nine) and “gramma” (meaning written or drawn). This unique introduction to the enneagram describes the underlying factors that distinguish the nine enneatypes.
Combining traditional wisdom with modern psychology, the enneagram is a comprehensive, powerful and versatile system for understanding ourself and others. It has a variety of uses, including:
- Personal development and spiritual growth.
- Developing successful relationships at home and at work.
- Increasing self-awareness and emotional intelligence.
- Increasing personal and professional effectiveness.
- Understanding our patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving.
- Supporting our strengths and developing our potential.
- Identifying our limitations and associated blind spots.
- Becoming more understanding of other people’s behaviours.
- Managing our personal reactivity.
The Enneagram and Self Discovery
We are all driven by an unsettling subconscious sense that something indefinable is missing within us. Even though we don’t know exactly what we are looking for, we come up with all sorts of ideas about what will make us happy and fulfilled, e.g. a better relationship, more money and a nicer house. But even if we are blessed enough to have these things the unsettled feeling remains, because all we really want is to feel whole and to know who we truly are.
Before we can become whole we need to discover what aspects of ourself are ‘missing’, and what mental and emotional strategies we employ to help us cope in their absence. This can only be achieved through ongoing self-inquiry, but the wisdom of the enneagram can give us a head start with this.
When we were very young, disconnection from particular aspects of our true nature (called ‘essential qualities’) caused our personality to develop into one of the nine enneatypes. So our personality type is not ‘who we truly are’ – it is who we have become as a consequence of losing touch with ‘who we truly are’.
If there was no disconnection from our true nature / essential qualities, our personality would have developed as an authentic reflection of our true nature. But the mental, emotional and energetic disconnect forced our psyche to fill in the ‘holes’ with ‘ego structures’. Ego structures are psychological constructs that substitute for our lost authentic qualities and enable us to function in life despite their absence. They are crude representations of essential qualities that were created in our early childhood by our immature, undeveloped consciousness. Ego structures are not particularly refined, capable or stable, so their functioning is sub-optimal, which is why most of us have some psychological deficiencies.
Therapy can help us to cope with our deficiencies by reinforcing and repairing our ego structures, so that we can feel “normal” again. But this approach doesn’t deal with the root cause of our issues, i.e. our deficiencies. So things may look and feel alright, for a while at least, but the underlying issue remains buried in our subconscious and could resurface at any time. So deep and lasting change requires a fundamentally different approach – one that digs deeper into the cracks rather than plastering over them. This different approach is called self-inquiry.
Self-inquiry involves every aspect of our being – body, heart, mind and soul. The process often begins by feeling deeply into the bodily sensations that are associated with the issue (ego structure). Once we have a “handle” on the issue and deeply feel into it (without resisance), the energy and emotions that are entangled within the ego structure begin to loosen a bit. This creates some space for the light of our awareness to illuminate what we have been avoiding for so long, allowing us to gain some perspective, objectivity and insight. This enables us to gradually disidentify from the ego structure, which in reveals more of our true nature. So going deeply into our issues is actually our doorway to self-discovery, freedom and wholeness.
As we gradually work through an issue, the contracted, fearful, reactive, rigid, structural aspects are metabolised (or digested) by our soul’s presence and awareness. This releases the consciousness that was previously trapped inside, allowing it to reintegrate into the wholeness of our being. So the uncomfortable (psychological) experience of fully feeling into the issue is usually followed by the pleasant (spiritual) experience of reintegration and wholeness. Then we realise that the psychological and spiritual dimensions of our ‘inner world’ are one and the same – they are merely different frequencies or densities within the continuum of our consciousness.
The Enneagram and the Disconnect
The wisdom of the enneagram can help us to understand the core beliefs, motivations and strategies that underlie the key charateristics of each enneatype – please refer to the individual enneatype webpages. But first we need to look at the relationship between the enneagram and the different ways each enneatype copes with the disconnection from our “essence” or “true nature”…
Being disconnected from our true nature forces us to develop new ways of functioning in life – mentally, emotionally and instinctively:
Mental Style: The first way we compensate for the disconnect is by favouring one of the three centres of intelligence in our “mental body”; i.e. prioritising one of three decision making styles:
- Belly Types (8-9-1): Their decisions are primarily made in the belly centre (gut instincts and intuition). They have strong and intuitive minds. They fear losing control. They seek autonomy. Their stress response is anger / frustration / resentment.
- Heart Types (2-3-4): Their decisions are primarily made in the heart centre (emotional thinking). They have heart-driven minds. They fear being unworthy. They seek validation or attention. Their stress response is shame.
- Head Types (5-6-7): Their decisions are primarily made in the head centre (rational thinking). They have logical minds. They fear being helpless. They seek security. Their stress response is anxiety.
Emotional Style: The second way we compensate for the disconnect is by favouring one of the three centres in our “emotional body”; i.e. prioritising one of three emotional coping styles:
- Avoiding Types (3-7-8): Their emotions are primarily processed in their belly centre, which means they avoid their true feelings by keeping themselves distracted with constant ‘doing’ (action). Their emotional energy is externally focused, so they are often blind to their innermost feelings and vulnerabilities.
- Repressed Types (1-2-6): Their emotions are primarily processed in their heart centre, so they are emotionally sensitive. This means they tend to repress and bury their true feelings rather than feeling them and expressing them.
- Withdrawn Types (4-5-9): Their emotions are primarily processed in their head centre, which means they withdraw from their true feelings by retreating up into the mind. Their emotions are conceptualised instead of felt, so they are mentally detached from their heart and their feelings.
Instinctive Style: The third way we compensate for the disconnect is by favouring one of the three centres in our “etheric/energy body”; i.e. prioritising one of three instinctive styles. These three sub-types (or variants) are not type-specific, as the previous two groups were. Any enneatype can be any of these three sub-types (and we all have aspects of all three instincts):
- Self-Preservation Types (Sp): Their self-preservation instinct is dominant, so they prioritise physical safety, security, survival and well-being.
- Sexual Types (Sx): Their pair-bonding instinct is dominant, so they prioritise one-to-one connections, emotional intimacy and chemistry.
- Social Types (So): Their social instinct is dominant, so they prioritise others, groups, belonging and social standing.
The combination of our mental style and emotional style
determines our enneatype:
3 mental styles x 3 emotional styles = 9 enneatypes
The combination of our mental style, emotional style and instinctive style
determines our subtype:
3 mental styles x 3 emotional styles x 3 instinctive styles = 27 subtypes
Balanced, integrated and well-rounded people don’t have a dominant centre of intelligence; they utilise all three in harmony. So our dominant centre is actually where we are most out of balance, psychologically speaking. Excessive focus on one aspect of our being puts our entire being out of balance. The same applies to our dominant emotional and energetic centres, which put our entire being even further out of balance. Our one-sided view of ‘self’ and ‘life’ limits and distorts our consciousness, which creates all of the fears, insecurities and reactive behaviours (associated with each enneatype) that cause us so much suffering in life.
You might think that being disconnected from key aspects of true nature would hinder our development, but it is actually what facilitates our development. The difficulties that we encounter in life as a result of our disconnect provides the resistance that allows our consciousness to develop – just as the resistance of lifting weights helps our muscles to develop.
The nine enneatypes are not rigid divisions, so there is no such thing as a pure enneatype. Each enneatype is influenced by its neighbouring types, and the neighbouring types are known as “wings”. Most people have one dominant wing (e.g. a Two with a Three wing), but for some people both wings influence them equally, in which case the wing isn’t usually referred to.