26 January 2010; 21 April 2011
Last Updated: 21 July 2012
The Enneagram: A Typology of Personality
Type Identification - Working With the Model
This page presents a detailed overview of the Enneagram, a typology of personality. Tools and techniques for identifying one's type or subtype are explored in some depth, including descriptor comparisons, triadic groupings,
selected online tests, MBTI and temperament and Tarot correlations with the nine ennea-types, and an exercise in cognitive mapping to help identify ennea-type or subtype dominance. References and resources are provided for further reading.
At once complex and profoundly simple, the Enneagram is an introspective tool, a psychodynamic model of nine types (Gk. ennea, nine), to which some
attribute great antiquity. Yet there exists no core text, no seminal work by which to establish that provenance. The fact that it may have been transmitted as oral tradition is difficult to establish. There is no doubt the typology is a recent adaptation of historical schemata
applied to the study of divine principles and universal laws. Historically, it does not seem to have been applied as a personal psychology.1 According to Mitchell Pacwa, S.J., Oscar Ichazo
"invented the enneagram of personality types in the 1960s", and Claudio Naranjo helped him "develop and disseminate it in America". Naranjo "contributed to the personality descriptions and correlated Freudian defense mechanisms
to each of the nine types", after which he taught the Enneagram at Esalen in 1970.2
The matter of provenance does not much concern me. Of relevance is whether the model has utility in my introspective and interpersonal work. Pacwa expresses criticism of the Enneagram on several important grounds, including the fact that there is no evidence only nine types exist,
nor that the correct nine have been identified. He questions the theory of personality upon which the model is predicated, namely, the idea that "everyone was born in their essence but chose an ego fixation around age three or four". In an effort to defend against parental fixations,
the child supposedly develops a neurotic habit that characterizes the Chief Feature of acquired personality. This neurotic habit obscures the child's essence, which is otherwise pure and unadulterated, evincing no conflicts of thought, emotion, or instinct.
Ennea-types are referred to by different names, sometimes simply by number. These are some of the variations:
- Perfectionist ... Reformer
- Helper ... Giver
- Performer ... Producer ... Achiever
- Tragic Romantic ... Individualist ... Connoisseur
- Observer ... Investigator ... Sage
- Devil's Advocate ... Loyalist ... Troubleshooter ... Guardian
- Epicure ... Enthusiast ... Visionary ... Dreamer ... Generalist
- Boss ... Top Dog ... Challenger ... Confronter
- Mediator ... Peacemaker ... Preservationist
Recognition of one's Chief Feature and corresponding ennea-type is not always an easy task. Deep introspective work may reveal it in an AHA! experience, qualified by what Richard Rohr tells us is a rule of thumb: "Whoever is not humiliated has not yet found his or her 'number'".3
One experiences a sense of resonance when work with a psychological concept or model affirms one's awareness of self. In discovering one's core archetype, for example, and recognizing a deeply personal meaning within its mythos, there occurs a sense of "home", of acceptance and belonging. So that is part of this picture. But the humiliation to which
Rohr refers, involves the parallel discovery of the hidden and rejected. One's ennea-type describes a narrowing of perspective, a constraint of awareness, maintained in neurotic defense against the intolerable. One feels embarrassed at having been found out.
Consider the following excerpt from an autobiographical sketch, written by Gestalt therapist and trainer Paco Penarrubia during a group workshop on the Enneagram:
Before knowing that I was a glutton [ennea-type Seven], Claudio [Naranjo] was already having me work from that angle. In the first group I did with him, at mealtime I was arguing with a colleague, defending a hedonistic posture against the other's Apollonian position. I asked Claudio his opinion, and he answered me with a saying from his country: "In Chile we say that too benevolent a surgeon allows the wounds to
rot". I didn't understand the meaning, but it hit me deeply - one of those impacts that one doesn't forget, which are like turning the consciousness upside down, and which one understands deeply with the passing of time. When I finally knew my sin, I understood that gluttony was nothing less than my permanent anxiety and that my conception of the world was a string of rationalizations, of
self-explaining, justification, of charlatanry in the end.4
This typologic model is thought by many to foster self-awareness and an appreciation of the differences among people, their ways of apprehending the world and acting within it. The Enneagram purports to classify these differences in a universe of nine categories, the ennea-types. Psychotherapist Margaret Frings Keyes
treats of the ennea-types as programs, or life scripts. She suggests that the Enneagram allows inference of "nine distinctly different versions of Jung's notion of the Shadow archetype".5
Consistent with this shadow quality, a single "passion" is posited for each ennea-type in consonance with its neurotic fixation. These passions are construed in terms of the seven deadly sins of Christianity, deceit and fear completing the picture. Some people find them extremely useful in the identification of type. And there are many additional descriptors applied to each type. Compare
them in the following table.6
Another approach may help you recognize your Chief Feature:
You can assess which core quality of the grouped types applies to you. The Enneagram is organized in three triads,
and the ennea-types in each group are thought to share similar characteristics. Rohr refers to these as the Gut,
Heart, and Head triads. Other writers designate them differently.7 Theoretically, one of these areas predominates in each of us.
Gut-people center their awareness in the underbelly, where they filter reality instinctively, spontaneously, intuitively, in the "raw material" of existence. They are direct, territorial, concerned with power, ruled by aggression, may be troubled by ethical self-doubts and self-blame.
Heart-people have their body center in the heart and circulatory system. They are relationship-oriented, toward intersubjectivity, and their domain is subjective feelings. Concerned with what others think of them, image and prestige, they see themselves as being for others, often believing
they know what's best for them. They dislike being alone, may feel sad, inadequate, and ashamed.
Head-people have body center in the brain and nervous system. They withdraw to reflect, to apprehend the situation, understand the pattern of events and their place within it. Detached from their emotions, methodical and orderly, they are ruled by the need
to understand the puzzle of life, know where all the pieces fit. Their apparent objectivity and conviction may mask inward feelings of isolation, confusion, loss of meaning, anxiety.8
The Chief Feature also might present as a combination of two adjacent types, as, for example, Seven and Eight. This
combination may be regarded as a sybtype in which the weaker principle, let us say Eight, is termed the wing of Seven. While
some writers recognize one wing only, others would treat of Six, in our example, as an equally important wing. Michael J. Goldberg sees
the lowest number as indicative of the shadow, conceived, in the Jungian sense, as a rejected part of self. The shadow is "that
part of ourselves of which we say, 'Good Heavens, I am not that!'" The ally, on the other hand, corresponding to Eight
in our example, is "something of an antidote to one's Enneagram style, a practical source of leverage [that brings to light] what
draws you, what excites you, what will get you out of your morass". Goldberg believes we operate at our best when the wings are
Once the Chief Feature has been identified, the Enneagram can be used for deeper introspection in the identification of integrative and disintegrative behaviors.
Integrative behaviors, in this context, involve self-expression through the positive cognitive strategies evinced by another ennea-type. For instance, when ennea-type Five,
the detached observer, adopts strategies more like those of a healthy, self-assertive Eight, the Five is better able to "integrate" experience by standing up for herself.
Disintegrative behaviors, on the other hand, are seen as regressive or debilitating. To continue with our example, Five is less able to act with informed self-interest when
engaged in behaviors that scatter attention in an effort to preserve a sense of well-being (this is the negative expression of ennea-type Seven).
You might recognize your type with little difficulty; for some, the core pattern is immediately obvious. If you've studied the
ennea-types and can't identify a personal pattern, perhaps there isn't one. This model might not work for you. Maybe the MBTI or
another typology would be better suited to your needs. After all, as Goldberg notes:
...there are no Enneagram types - there are only people, people who have habitual patterns of thinking and seeing and
feeling, patterns of being in a relationship, of leading or following or deciding. Getting a handle on these habits and the
forces that create and drive them can make a person accessible and understandable, especially if that person happens to be you.
Getting a handle on things, in that sense, can be faciliated through any number of cognitive schemata. If you're able to identify
your Myers-Briggs type (INTJ, for example), the important lesson is that other people are not the same type. As INTJ
Richard Aylesworth puts it, "we can improve our relations with others by accepting that the basic structures they operate from are different from our own, by
seeking to understand those differences and seeing that they are inevitable, not merely capricious".
Tools and exercises that might help you identify your Chief Feature
An exercise in cognitive mapping...
NOTE: The following approach may prove more effective if you are familiar with
the different characteristics and descriptors for each ennea-type.
In studying any typology of personality, it is often useful to recognize all types as patterns within oneself.10
This is an exercise in creative imagination. Think of yourself as a community, a plurality of aspects (alter personalities,
sub-personalities, archetypes, whatever you want to call them). If you're working with the Enneagram, think of this as a wheel or
round table with nine members. You're the hub, at the center of a dynamic group, and this is the basic structure of your inner
community. You determine who will be heard.
Ideally, each member of the community expresses him- or herself through you. Your personality is a functionally integrated whole
a gestalt that is greater than the sum of its parts. We can visualize this gestalt in the illustration at right. Here, the upper
sphere is conceived as a relational self through which, in your own unique way, you relate with the world around you.
The relational self may be inhibited, depending on the tolerance you are able to display in response to the members of your community.
If you favor one member, for example, if rely upon that member habitually and limit or deny contribution from the others, your style of relating will reflect
that dominance. This helps us identify your core ennea-type pattern.
Remember, the core pattern is habitual, a kind of life script that has evolved from earliest childhood. That information usually isn't consciously available.
Deeply engaged in our habits of relating, we remain blind to the scripts we live. In this exercise, we're attempting to identify the dynamics of your community. We want
to know on which member(s) you rely the most.
Identifying the key factors...
A cognitive map is a mental representation of external or
internal variables. When you visualize how you might walk to the local library from your place of residence,
for example, you are using a cognitive map. In this instance, we use a cognitive map to explore the structure
and psychological relevance of the Enneagram.
In a receptive, meditative state, imagine that you are at the center of this map; imagine that you can receive
communication, in any form, from any of nine directions. Be open. Avoid imposing restrictions on content. You
might see images, for example, hear a voice, remember an event, feel an emotion or sensation. The
significance of the material is not always self-evident; significance and meaning can be analyzed after the event.
Pay attention to the direction from which communication comes - not from North, South, East or West, but from 1, 2, 3, 4, etc.
In my experience, Five-Four (i.e., Five, with a strong Four wing), a mixed (or sub-) type, is particularly resonant.
In fact, standing at the center of the map, I have a strong feeling that I am experiencing the other members of the community
with Five-Four supporting my back, seeing through my eyes. Egoic reality, my sense of "I", is strongly informed by Five-Four.
The Chief Feature is obvious in that respect. Deeper analysis confirms that impression in terms of my
passion (greed for knowledge, envy), what I avoid
[i.e., what makes me most uncomfortable] (embarrassment, mediocrity), and my key coping
and defensive strategies (detachment, withdrawal, dissociation). Nine is inevitably my point of focus, the way of
transcendence (which can also, at times, involve accidia, or self-forgetting). Active dialogues occur with
Three, Six, Eight and One, while Two and Seven present in impulsive action on my part.
Myers Briggs Type Inventory (MBTI)
Several authors have presented correlations between MBTI types and the Ennea-types. If you know your MBTI type, the following table may be of some help in
identifying your Ennea-type.
Other tools that might help...
Introspective work is sometimes facilitated by the synthesis of information derived from several tools. The more
you explore, the more you have to work with to achieve your "aha!" experience.
- Tarot Constellations is a schema that
enables you to identify what Mary K. Greer terms the Soul, Personality and Hidden Teacher cards, in the major arcana,
for your particluar date of birth. Whether you use tarot or not, you might find this an interesting exercise. Your card(s)
may trigger insights that help you identify your Chief Feature.
- Temperament assessment might prove useful. One or more of the
four classical temperaments (sanguine, choleric, melancholic, phlegmatic) may apply. You can correlate this information with
the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory. Reviewing the Enneagram triads is also helpful in this light.
Here, for example, is Xandria Williams' correlation of the four temperaments with the Myers-Briggs core types. She
organizes the sixteen types in four groups of four, and regards these as temperament subtypes.
If you've studied the system and are deeply motivated to identify your Chief Feature, dreams may reveal it to you.
Dream analysis can provide crucial information regarding your psychodynamics.
Astrological analysis can be useful too, but identification of the Chief Feature by this means requires in-depth
psychoanalytic assessment of chart dynamics. Simple Sun sign correlation may suffice in some cases, but will not apply in others.
Here's an example.
Darrell Zahorsky presents a typology of entrepreneurs that appears to have been derived from the Enneagram. Type names are somewhat different, but the brief
descriptors are remarkably similar, including positive (excerpted below) and negative perspectives. Zahorsky also provides examples of successful entrepreneurs for each type.
1. The Improver
If you operate your business predominately in the improver mode, you are focused on using your company as a means to improve the
world. Your overarching motto is: morally correct companies will be rewarded working on a noble cause. Improvers have an unwavering
ability to run their business with high integrity and ethics...
2. The Advisor
This business personality type will provide an extremely high level of assistance and advice to customers. The advisor's motto is:
the customer is right and we must do everything to please them. Companies built by advisors become customer focused...
3. The Superstar
Here the business is centered around the charisma and high energy of the Superstar CEO. This personality often will cause you
to build your business around your own personal brand...
4. The Artist
This business personality is the reserved but highly creative type. Often found in businesses demanding creativity such as web
design and ad agencies. As an artist type you’ll tend to build your business around the unique talents and creativities you have...
5. The Visionary
A business built by a Visionary will often be based on the future vision and thoughts of the founder. You will have a high degree of
curiosity to understand the world around you and will set-up plans to avoid the landmines...
6. The Analyst
If you run a business as an Analyst, your company is focus on fixing problems in a systematic way. Often the basis for science,
engineering or computer firms, Analyst companies excel at problem solving...
7. The Fireball
A business owned and operated by a Fireball is full of life, energy and optimism. Your company is life-energizing and makes
customers feel the company has a get it done attitude in a fun playful manner...
8. The Hero
You have an incredible will and ability to lead the world and your business through any challenge. You are the essence of
entrepreneurship and can assemble great companies...
9. The Healer
If you are a Healer, you provide nurturing and harmony to your business. You have an uncanny ability to survive and persist
with an inner calm...11