What is the Enneagram?
The Enneagram is an extraordinarily accurate personality system that combines psychology and ancient wisdom.
It offers a powerful map for understanding the human condition. This nine-pointed map provides a profound understanding of people as they are to themselves and how they operate in the world. These nine distinct worldviews describe each type’s core motivation, habitual patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving, as well as its unique strengths, limitations and blind spots. These insights, coupled with the developed skill of self-awareness, create the possibility of lasting transformation and living a well-lived life.
The Power of the Narrative Approach
In our experience, there is no greater method than the Narrative Approach to exploring the Enneagram types. We strongly believe that each person is an expert on themselves and, therefore, holds the truth of what it means to be a particular type. As their stories, life lessons, strengths, challenges, and paths of transformation are shared, the type comes alive and we gain insights not only into each particular type but into our own experience of relating to that type. The Narrative Approach is a direct line to their unfolding truth, not seen through our perception, but through theirs.
Our 50 years of combined experience in working with the Enneagram with committed individuals and organizations who value and invest in personal growth and self-development has proven that this tool is a powerful and transformational tool for both individuals and organizations.
About the Enneagram
TO FULLY UNDERSTAND AND APPRECIATE the value of the Enneagram teachings in personal and professional development, it is important to review the basic concepts of the Enneagram system and model.
- The term “Enneagram” comes from Greek origins with “Ennea” meaning 9 and “gram” meaning model. The Enneagram is, therefore, a nine-pointed model.
- No one type is better than another.
- The Enneagram describes nine ways of thinking about, viewing and interacting in the world. The “lens” we use filters information in a specific way and may limit the way we perceive and define situations. The Enneagram shows us that our personality is on automatic and has a “habit of mind” that operates all the time. In effect, we live in a “box.” The Enneagram helps us get out of that box by teaching us to recognize the habit of mind, especially if it is not working for us. In addition, it gives us the insights necessary to transform this habit into conscious thoughts, feelings, and actions that support desired and deserved successes.
- It appears our type was developed early in childhood. The question of how we developed our type always arises when introducing this tool. While there is no definitive answer, the general belief is that all of us come into this world with some predisposition (heredity/nature) to our type. However, each individual’s environment (nurture) reinforces his/her predisposition to operate from one of the “lenses” described by the Enneagram model.
While we have characteristics of all the types, there is one that is “home base,” one that will resonate more strongly with us than the others. Furthermore, this type does not change in essence throughout our lifetime. However, we naturally develop strategies for overcoming the barriers of our type through life experiences as we mature and age. We may also learn to take on characteristics of other types under certain situations.
Looking at the model, one will notice that there is an inner triangle made up of points 3, 6 and 9. These points or types represent the core points of the Enneagram model with all other types being a variation of these three points.
When looking at the model, one can begin to distinguish among the types when closely observing the way the different types process information. With reference to the above triangle, 3, 6 and 9, these points are analogous in Western psychology to so-called intelligence of the heart (emotional intelligence),of the mind (mental intelligence), and of the body (sensations and instincts).
The 2, 3, and 4 types are called the “Heart” or “Image” Types. The commonality these three types share is the way they process and filter information through the heart or emotional center. When information is presented, it is filtered and processed through the emotions. The 2, 3, and 4 types are concerned with relationships, how one perceives others, and how others perceive him/her. While all of us have access to emotional intelligence, these three types are at tuned more closely to the emotions and engage the emotions to process information.
The 5, 6 and 7 types are called the “Head,” “Thinking,” or “Fear” Types. These types filter information through the mental processes. Information comes in and is analyzed by thinking, sorting, organizing and processing. The 5, 6, and 7 types are concerned with order, logic, certainty, and structure. They are also called the “Fear” Types because each type seeks avoidance of fear through the mental processes of analyzing, planning, organizing, and sorting of data.
The 8, 9 and 1 types are called the “Body” or “Anger” types. These types tend to filter information through the intelligence of kinesthetic and physical sensations and gut instinct. Types 8, 9 and 1 occur as a sense of knowing based upon the physical or gut reactions experienced. These types are also called the Anger types because each of the three styles uses the energy of anger to achieve what it is they want or need.
The arrows on the model indicate shifts of attention and the behaviors that follow. Since energy follows attention, we can notice our habitual patterns once we develop the self-awareness to do so. Attention shifts differently for each type and depends on the situations occurring at any given moment. The movement toward or away from the arrow indicates that you may take on the characteristics of those types shown in the arrow movement when your attention shifts. Our colleague and friend, Peter O’Hanrahan, describes it well: “Sometimes we go back and forth very quickly, hardly noticing the change in our outlook. At other times we may experience a more dramatic shift or spend quite a bit of time in a point other than our basic personality type.” It is important to remember that our type is our “home base” and that any movement away from our “home base” can be a supportive or non-supportive movement.
Self-observation is the key to identifying type. The best practice is to begin observing yourself as you go through the day, as you interact with others, as you react and respond to situations that arise, and also as you are relaxing. In becoming self-reflective, you can raise your level of awareness and begin to understand how your type helps or hinders your personal and professional successes.
No one but you can identify your type. Other people may be able to provide input or feedback as to how you impact those with whom you interact, but ultimately, you are the expert on your type. You are the only one who knows what drives you, where your attention goes, what thoughts, assumptions, attitudes, etc. drive your behavior.
It is accepted good practice not to type others whether intentionally or in jest or fun. Nor do you use your type or others’ types as a way to explain or justify questionable behaviors and motivations. It can be damaging, hurtful, and limiting to view others in their “personality box.” In speaking of others in terms of 9’s, 6’s and 3’s and all other numbers of the Enneagram, one must remember that this is done for the sake of convenient language in an attempt to understand this personality system. You must always bear in mind the fact that a mere number can never fully describe a person, a being who is always much more that the description of a type number.
The essential value of the Enneagram, then, lies in the realization that the only way each person comes to understand another person is to interact and dialogue with him/her. We need to ask questions about how the other person is seeing a particular situation. Only then can we present our own “lens,” not as truth, but as one way to view a situation. When we do this in our personal lives or when all members in an organization receptively adhere to this practice, relationships will be enhanced, personal responsibility increased, and underlying issues discussed in a non-threatening, non-defensive manner.
BY BEING AWARE OF OURSELVES (our thoughts, reactions, feelings) in the moment, we can choose a different way of being in the moment with others. RATHER THAN BEING REACTIVE AND ON AUTOMATIC, we are present and choosing how we want to interact and impact others. IN ESSENCE, WE ARE AWAKE!