Understanding the Enneagram

The Enneagram is a personality model consisting of nine basic types, identified by the numbers one through nine. An awareness of your basic personality type can be useful when applied to many situations; from deciding on your career path to simply increasing your self-understanding.  In its current incarnation, the Enneagram personality system arrived in the United States in the 1970s, however; some believe it has its roots in the teachings of a 4th century Christian mystic. (Wiltse, V.; Palmer, H. (July 2011). "Hidden in plain sight: Observations on the origin of the Enneagram". The Enneagram Journal 4 (1): 4–37.)

Enneagram Personality TypesFigure 1

Numbers 1 through 9 correspond to the nine personality types.  Although you may find each type has some qualities to which you can relate, the enneagram assessment assumes everyone is born with a dominant type; the type itself does not shift over time, although it can manifest in a healthier or less healthy way. In addition, certain aspects of your type might be strengthened or weakened by environmental factors such as your upbringing.

Enneagram AnalysisFigure 2

Once you have identified the number of your dominant personality type, check out the numbers next to your dominant number (see figure 1). These are called your “wings”.  While the number of your basic type best describes you, it’s likely you also carry traits from one, or both, of your wing numbers. For instance, a perfectionistic and justice-driven 1 may also have a strong people-pleasing streak from her 2 wing.

Note, numbers one through nine are evenly distributed around the circle, and lines connect each number to two others; these are called the “inner lines”. These lines indicate the direction in which the person will move under conditions of growth or stress. The direction of stress sequence is as follows: 1-4-2-8-5-7-1. That means the type 1 we were discussing earlier when under extreme stress will behave like a stressed type 4, and so on. 3, 6, and 9 are in a separate system of an equilateral triangle, so their stress sequence is 9-6-3-9. Thus, a highly stressed 9 will act like a stressed 6, and so on. In the direction of growth, each of these sequences is reversed. The 1 who is growing emotionally behaves like a healthy 7; the integrating 9 behaves like a healthy 3, and so on.

In addition to the inner lines denoting particular sequences of growth and disintegration, the Enneagram is also divided into three parts indicating the basic type’s relationship with certain emotions (see figure 2). When under stress, the default response for the Instinctive Center types is anger. The Feeling Center types gravitate towards shame, and the Thinking Center types tend to feel anxiety.

So, while your basic type plays the strongest role in your personality, it’s not the only factor. Each of your wings, as well as the types involved in your directions of stress and growth also contribute to your overall personality. Ultimately, as we grow emotionally and spiritually, the goal is to integrate healthy qualities from all of the types. This helps us to become more balanced people. In the end, then, our basic type represents only a starting point for our process of self-actualization.


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