The Enneagram

The Enneagram is a personality typing system based around nine distinct personality types – the theory being that everyone falls into one of these nine categories. Some say that it is an ancient system with its origins traceable to Sufism, others suggest that it is much more recent. However, it is an interesting system with more complexity than meets the eye at first glance.

Our personality develops in childhood – it is our coping strategy which we develop to deal with our own personal environment. There are nine distinctive patterns recognised in the Enneagram, but it also predicts how each of the nine personalities will change under stress and additionally, when we are feeling completely secure.

So, why would we wish to classify anyone as a specific personality type?  Well despite the fact that we can go to the moon, most of us have huge difficulty understanding each other. A key to being able to understand other people is to first develop a proper understanding of ourselves and one way of doing that is to take a look at ourself via the Enneagram.

It is not an easy thing to put your own personality under the microscope.  You have to be prepared to hear and discover things about yourself that you may not necessarily want to know. You may not like some of the things you discover. There is no point in finding out something about yourself if you are not prepared to address the findings, and changing your behaviour takes time, work and a good deal of commitment.

A couple of points to bear in mind when using the Enneagram: firstly, we need to recognise that all personality types are essentially positive and that any negative behavior you may become aware of can be remedied; secondly, you should be very careful about “typing” someone else i.e. putting somebody into a specific Enneagram category.

Knowing where someone else sits on the 9 points can certainly lead to an improved understanding and better communication. But the downside is that it can also lead to stereotyping people and that might lead you to associate specific negative reactions with certain people. For example, we run the risk of deciding that because somebody is a type 7, this means that they are uncommitted and always will be. Or if someone is a type 9, they will be lazy. By stereotyping people and seeking to predict their reactions, we are imposing our own prejudiced ideas and that’s just not a good thing.

As we will see, each of the 9 types of personality has positive and negative characteristics. This makes perfect sense, since no human being is perfect, but it is not healthy to concentrate on the negative aspects of anyone’s character. Accepting people for who they are and not what we want them to be leads to improved communication and more enjoyable human relationships.

What does the term Enneagram actually mean? 

Broken down, the words Ennea and Gram mean “nine” and “model” respectively. So what are the 9 personality types? The actual names will depend on whichever Enneagram teacher you follow but the underlying classifications are broadly the same:

  1. The Perfectionist/Reformer
  2. The Giver/Helper
  3. The Performer/Achiever
  4. The Tragic Romantic
  5. The Observer
  6. The Trooper
  7. Dreamer/The Epicure
  8. Confronter/The Boss
  9. Peacemaker/Mediator

By knowing your own type, you can become much more understanding of other people’s reactions. Motivating yourself to achieve things in life will become easier if you understand the drivers for your own behaviour. Followers of the Enneagram believe that everyone has one primary underlying motivational driver that, to a large extent, determines our thoughts, feelings and actions.

This underlying driver or passion creates a person’s paradigm or view of life. The passion is given a negative name but it does not mean that the personality type is negative. It means that the personality is primarily addicted to that specific behavior. But this is the raw material – with work, self examination and understanding, all personality types are capable of turning this “negative” into a positive.

For example, type 2, the giver, believes that everyone needs help. The underlying motivation is pride. The type 2 personality takes pride in believing that it can help everyone thus developing an inflated sense of self worth. But by examining and understanding this motivation in life, it can convert this pride to humility and use its natural gift for helping people in a better way.

The underlying driver for type 9 is sloth i.e. being lazy about life. Making decisions takes energy since they must weigh up both sides of the argument, so it is easier just to ignore difficulties and wait for them to go away or for someone else to resolve them. Nines value harmony above everything else. If an understanding of this driver is not developed, they will spend their lives trying to avoid conflict or side stepping arguments.

But Nines, like all the other personality types, can be a fantastic asset to the world. Once they understand that their basic underlying motivation is sloth, they can improve by setting small goals and structuring processes to ensure that they achieve them. Their natural wish to avoid conflict allows them to develop emotional detachment which is very useful in volatile situations.

It is very important to realize that everyone has only one type – you cannot be a member of two camps!  Some people, especially those that have just started studying the Enneagram, think that they are a mixture of the different personality types. They identify characteristics which appear to support this theory. Our personal characteristics are not the same as our underlying motivation. We can have similar characteristics and reactions to other people and yet be totally different personality types.

It may be difficult to classify yourself as a particular type. We all have an image of who we are rather than knowledge of who we are. It might be useful to ask a very close friend, whom you trust 100%, to give you some feedback on your personality. Be careful though; not all friendships can survive this type of honesty! And remember that each personality type has positive and negative aspects associated with it. Don’t get hung up about the negatives. Instead, pour all your energy into developing the positive aspects of your character.

So, there we go: a brief introduction to the Ennegram. I hope this post has whetted your appetite because we will take a look at each of these personality types in some detail in future posts.

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