The Enneagram

Star The worth of a character typology is that once you identify your type, you get a lot more information about yourself. This is because a typology presents character as a structure. The implicit assumption is that self-knowledge may lead to personal growth. When I see that, "Yes, this is how I operate," then I am free to do something about it.

I have two criteria to measure the worth of a typology: how closely people can identify with a given type in the system, and whether this tells them something useful they didn't know before. If I look at a typology and find that I identify with a bit of each type, but whole-heartedly with none, then that typology is worthless to me. This is why the enneagram attracts me - most people seem to clearly identify with just one type; I certainly do.

In this article I compare four versions of the enneagram ("nine-pointed star") character typology, as presented in four different books. This piece is merely a cursory overview, giving only a rough idea of the enneagram typology.

Seen from the enneagramatic viewpoint, personality is little more than a set of defence mechanisms, a kind of maladaptation. Be warned: each of the nine types of the enneagram is essentially negative. If you find yourself in the enneagram, you won't like most of what you will discover!

It is as though each of us has chosen to incorporate 11% of the total human potential by adopting just one type of the nine possible. In this sense the enneagram shows each of us how incomplete we are. Each type over-values certain aspects of life while neglecting most others. I regard each type as being like a personal style, something that is essentially fixed for the duration of this life. It is a question of what you do with it. As someone put it, "It's not what your parents did to you that matters, but what you do with what they did to you." Every type has its characteristic strengths and weaknesses and it is a question of making the most of the former while mitigating the effect of the latter. Interestingly, the strengths and weaknesses of each type are two sides of the one coin. There is no point in trying to change to another type, for that would just mean swapping one set of problems for another.

The enneagram is not a parlour game, and it is harmful to use it to highlight the faults we see in others. For that matter it is hard to place other people unless we know them really closely. The purpose of the system is for working on oneself, not typecasting others.

I have a problem with all four books in that none is able to justify why, a Four, say, should be seen as having certain qualities and not others. In addition, it is hard to see the connection between some of the characteristics cited by the same book as belonging to the one type. For that matter it is far from clear to me that a Two in Ichazo's version is a Two in the Jesuit one - they appear quite different.

While the origins of the enneagram system are obscure, it probably derives form Sufism, a mystical branch of Islam. Note that there are many other character typologies, from the ancient Greek division into four humours, to astrology, Freudian, Jungian, bioenergetics.

(1) Oscar Ichazo's Version

This was written up by J. Lilly & J. Hart as a chapter for the book "Transpersonal Psychologies", edited by Charles Tart (1975). The chapter is called "The Arica Training".

The five main aspects are:

Ego Drive - the personality developed by the child to survive in a threatening world. It is characterised by a fixation, or definite way of thinking and behaving. This fixation causes the individual to search for a particular thing, leading in turn to the ego trap.

Ego Trap - this is the false substitute for the experience of their own essence. The Ego Trap is the easiest way to identify oneself in this version of the Enneagram, since it functions as a palatable cover for the underlying Drive.

Passion - is the habitual response to life, setting the emotional tone of the personality. The Passion is the emotional coping system of the Ego Drive. The Passion keeps one from experiencing one's essence.

Virtue - counteracts the Passion.

Growth - moving against one's compulsion. Growth is when 1->7->5->8->2->4->1 and
9->3->6->9, ie the way forward for a One is to become more like a Seven etc. This idea is characteristic to all four books.

Ego Drive Ego Trap Passion Virtue
1 resentment perfection anger serenity
2 flattery freedom pride humility
3 vanity efficiency deceit truthfulness
4 melancholy authenticity envy equanimity
5 stinginess observer avarice involvement
6 cowardice security fear courage
7 planning idealism gluttony sobriety
8 vengeance justice excess innocence
9 indolence seeker laziness action

This is how the nine types were characterised at Self Transformations.

One - Always angry with themselves and others for not being perfect. Tend to focus on the negative. Tend to suppress anger.

Two - Need an approving audience, have a constant need for recognition and acknowledgement. Yet they try to free themselves from the need for social disapproval or approval.

Three - Strive for degrees, positions of importance, power and prestige over others, fame and personal acknowledgement, and all kinds of possessions. Impatiently seeking more effective and quicker methods of achieving goals, they may finish by being rather inefficient themselves.

Four - Never happy with the present and live in the past or the future: the ideal home, job, relationship is always just around the corner.

Five - Find that life is fascinating to watch from a safe distance. They are the watchers, too afraid to take part in life. Greedy for knowledge.

Six - Do not have a strong sense of self and usually need strong leaders to follow and to be protected by. Always fearful, they try to build up tremendous security.

Seven - Always planning what to do and what must happen, manipulating and controlling situations and are usually disappointed at the outcome. Believe that if a little of something is pleasant then an unlimited amount of it should bring unheard of joy.

Eight - Very sensitive to unfairness, whether suffered by them or others. Their immediate response is that of revenge, doing good or taking up causes. Go in for vengeance and guilt.

Nine - Always seeking outside themselves for the solution to their problems. Very lazy in searching for their individual essence or purpose, though they may be hyperactive in finding ways to avoid working towards this goal.

(2) A Jesuit Version

Described by M. Beesing, R. Nogosek, P. O'Leary, in "The Enneagram, a Journey of Self-Discovery" (1984).

This book is written by Jesuits, who felt obliged to assimilate Ichazo's enneagram into Catholic theology - sin, redemption etc, which is a turn-off for me. Nevertheless I found this book worthwhile.

The five main dimensions are:

Characteristic tendency - the person's characteristic goal or desire. The person's limited view of reality causes them to pursue one aspect of life in an exclusive and detrimental way.

Avoidance - this is the defence mechanism or compulsion that acts as a driving force for the personality. (This is the easiest way to identify oneself in this version of the Enneagram.)

Pride - what the person is proud of being, a misplaced sense of virtue. It means seeing one's predominant fault as being one's predominant virtue.

Passion - this is the feeling that results from the person's tendency. It distorts their experience of life.

General way of operating - this is analysed according to two factors: dominant centre (thinking, feeling or gut), and attitude to self.

Goal Avoidance Pride Passion Operating
1 perfection anger striving anger G, deny T, SA
2 helpfulness need selflessness pride F, deny T, SC
3 achievement failure efficiency deceit F, SD
4 specialness ordinariness uniqueness envy F, deny G, SA
5 omniscience emptiness detachment stinginess T, deny G, SC
6 duty deviance loyalty fear T, SD
7 planning pain cheerfulness over-indulgence T, deny F, SA
8 control weakness strength arrogance G, deny F, SC
9 harmony conflict equanimity laziness G, SD

KEY: G = ruled by the gut, F = ruled by feeling,
          T = ruled by thought, SC = self-centred,
          SD = self-denying, SA = self-adjusting

One - Avoid anger, though they perceive much to be upset about. Dedicated to being perfect and to doing things in the right way.

Two - Avoid recognising they have needs, though they readily see the needs of others and are eager to help.

Three - Avoid failure and strive above all for success.

Four - Avoid ordinariness and want to be special.

Five - Avoid emptiness, are preoccupied with increasing their knowledge. Tend to be loners.

Six - Avoid deviance and see life as governed by laws, rules and norms. Loyal and dutiful.

Seven - Avoid pain. They are optimistic and fun-loving persons. Tend to avoid facing difficult situations.

Eight - Avoid weakness and glory in being strong persons. They perceive life as struggle for what is right. They meet injustice head-on.

Nine - Avoid conflict, feeling uncomfortable with any tension or lack of harmony between people. Value peace and restraint. Tend to be passive.

Of the 20 questions that are used to identify my type, I answered in the affirmative to 19 1/2! (No prizes for guessing which type is mine.)

(3) A Jesuit-derived Version

Described in "Personality Types, Using the Enneagram for Self-Discovery" by Don Riso (1987).

Riso introduces a positive orientation, going beyond the purely negative formulation of character usually seen in the enneagram. Unfortunately, it does not sit well, since Riso's emphasis is still mainly on character flaws and degeneration, rather than on growth. He discusses each type along a continuum from self-actualising, to average, to unhealthy. This gives rise to nine sub-types of each main type, allowing more precise self-identification.

I don't like his 'wing' much (ie that each type has a bit of one of its neighbours, such as a Seven with some Eight) - if you are 51% type Two and 49% type Three, then the notion of clearly defined types, corresponding to distinct character structures, vanishes. No doubt Riso was compelled to do so due to the difficulty of placing certain people.

One - the reformer. Want to be right, look for perfection and get angry if they don't find it. They like to have everything tidy, neat, clean and under control, personifying the Protestant work ethic. They are self-controlled, principled, orderly, perfectionistic and punitive.

Two - the helper. Emotionally demonstrative, friendly, full of good intentions. Get overly intimate and possessive. Feel indispensable. They are caring, generous and manipulative.

Three - the status seeker. Competitively concerned with prestige and status, career and success. Highly image conscious. They are pragmatic, goal-oriented, efficient, calculating, narcissistic, arrogant, self-assured and hostile beneath their facade.

Four - the artist. Artistic and romantic, taking an imaginative-aesthetic orientation to life. Self-absorbed, introverted, moody, melancholic. Feel different from others and exempt from living as others do. Self-pitying and self-indulgent. Decadent, dreamy, impractical, unproductive, effete, creative, intuitive, depressive.

Five - the thinker. Intellectuals become specialised and analytic. Detached, enjoy speculating about abstract ideas. Tend to be reductionistic, imposing ideas on the facts, iconoclastic, extremist, perceptive, eccentric, paranoid.

Six - the loyalist. Identify with and obey authority figures. The traditionalists or organization men. Ambivalent, dutiful, indecisive, evasive, cautious. Take a "tough guy" stance: authoritarian, highly partisan, blaming others, but are also likable, dependable, dependent, masochistic.

Seven - the generalist. The worldly sophisticates and connoisseurs, constantly amusing themselves with new things and experiences. Extroverted, uninhibited, hyperactive, focused on doing, dilettantish, materialistic, prone to conspicuous consumption, demanding, self-centred, jaded, accomplished, impulsive, excessive, manic.

Eight - the leader. Enterprising, the rugged individualists, often entrepreneurs. Forceful, aggressive, expansive, dominating. They get willful, combative, intimidating others to get their way. Confrontational, self-confident, destructive.

Nine - the peacemaker. Self-effacing, accommodate themselves to others too much, accepting conventional roles and expectations. Unreflective, too easygoing, oblivious, unresponsive, disengaged, passive, complacent, fatalistic, peaceful, reassuring, neglectful.

Riso compares the enneagram with Jung's 8-fold typology and comes up with the following correspondences, which I find meaningful:

One is the extroverted thinker, Two is the extroverted feeling type, Three has no corresponding Jungian type, Four is the introverted intuitive, Five is the introverted thinker, Six is the introverted feeling type, Seven is the extroverted sensation type, Eight is the extroverted intuitive, Nine is the introverted sensation type.

Riso sees the nine types in terms of relating, doing and feeling.

One - underdevelop their ability to relate to the environment in the sense that they feel less than an ideal which they constantly strive to attain.

Two - overdevelop their feelings, expressing only their positive emotions while repressing their negative ones.

Three - are most out of touch with their feelings, projecting an image to others as a substitute.

Four - underdevelop the expression of their feelings, revealing themselves through some form of art or aesthetic living.

Five - underdevelop their ability to do. They substitute thinking for doing.

Six - are the most out of touch with their ability to act on their own without the approval of an authority figure.

Seven - overdevelop their ability to do, becoming hyperactive and increasingly manic.

Eight - overdevelop their ability to see themselves in relation to their environment. They view themselves as bigger than everyone and everything else.

Nine - are the most out of touch with their ability to relate to their environment since they identify with another person, living through the other rather than developing themselves.

(4) Helen Palmer's Version

"The Enneagram" by Helen Palmer (1988). Palmer bases herself mainly on Ichazo's work. Her treatment is similar to Lilly's, but expands on it considerably.

One - the perfectionist. Critical of themselves and others. Feel ethically superior. Use 'should' and 'must' a lot.

Two - the giver. Demand affection and approval. Seek to be loved and appreciated by becoming indispensable to another person. Manipulative. Have many selves - show a different side to each good friend.

Three - the performer. Seek to be loved for performance and achievement. Competitive, obsessed with image. Confuse real self with job identity.

Four - the tragic romantic. Attracted to the unavailable, live in the future. Sad, artistic, sensitive.

Five - the observer. Maintain emotional distance from others, seek privacy, avoid involvement. Feel drained by commitment and other people's needs. They are detached from people, feelings and things.

Six - the devil's advocate. Fearful, loyal, dutiful, plagued by doubt. Identify with underdog causes, self-sacrificing.

Seven - the epicure. The eternal youths - superficial, adventurous, dilettantish. Trouble with commitment and perseverance. Like to keep their options open.

Eight - the boss. Protective, combative, have to be in control. Prone to excess.

Nine - the mediator. Obsessively ambivalent, readily replace own wishes with those of others. Tendency to addiction to food, TV etc. Know other people's needs better than their own.

Note that Palmer's types are similar to Riso's, but with different emphasis. Palmer gives substantially the same passions as in (1).

Here are what Palmer calls the focal points of attention of the types.

One - evaluate what is correct or incorrect in the situation.

Two - desire approving attention from other people.

Three - want positive attention relative to tasks and performance.

Four - awareness shifts to the availability or unavailability of objects and other people.

Five - wish to maintain privacy. Sensitive to others' expectations.

Six - scan environment for clues that indicate the hidden intentions of others.

Seven - attention shifts to pleasant mental associations and optimistic future plans.

Eight - look for any indication of potential loss of control.

Nine - attempt to determine other people's agendas and points of view.

Palmer gives the defence mechanisms of the nine types:

One - reaction formation (the conversion of a socially unacceptable impulse into acceptable behaviour, usually manifesting as the opposite of the original impulse)

Two - repression (the unconscious banishing of thoughts and impulses from awareness)

Three - identification (incorporation of aspects of another person's personality)

Four - introjection (turning of feelings for another towards oneself)

Five - isolation (retreat from involvement with others)

Six - projection (the unconscious transfer of subjective psychic elements onto an outer object)

Seven - rationalization (justifying one's actions or beliefs with plausible but specious reasons)

Eight - denial (refusal to acknowledge certain painful truths)

Nine - narcotization (retreat into numbness)

The strength of Palmer's book is that she explores what it feels like to be each of the types. Her description of mine is amazing, as if specifically about me. I certainly gained some new insights about myself. I was also surprised to learn that what I had thought were my highly personal idiosyncrasies turned out to be characteristics shared by others of my type.

Summary of the nine types:

One - The perfectionist or reformer. Driven by resentment, seeks perfection.

Two - The giver or helper. Driven by flattery, seeks freedom.

Three - The status-seeker or performer. Driven by vanity, seeks efficiency and achievement.

Four - The artist or tragic romantic. Driven by melancholy, seeks authenticity and specialness.

Five - The thinker or observer. Driven by stinginess, seeks omniscience.

Six - The loyalist or devil's advocate. Driven by cowardice, seeks security and to follow duty.

Seven - The generalist or epicure. Driven by planning, seeks idealism.

Eight - The leader or boss. Driven by vengeance, seeks justice and control.

Nine - The mediator or peacemaker. Driven by indolence, seeks harmony.

The nine types can also be seen in terms of the seven deadly sins (with the opportunist addition of deceit and cowardice):

One - anger, Two - pride, Three - deceit, Four - envy, Five - avarice, Six - cowardice, Seven - gluttony, Eight - lust, Nine - sloth.


Having said all this, which book do I recommend? Lilly is curt, Beesing is Catholic and straight-forward, Riso is more detailed and involved, Palmer is more analytical and focuses on personal growth. My own preference is Palmer's book because of the richness of both her descriptions and insights.

Since writing this, I glanced through another eight or so tomes at the Adyar bookshop. These seemed generally similar to the ones I have read. I recommend buying a fat book, since one's own type is just one ninth of each book.

A Few General Thoughts

The enneagramatic types can be related to the three basic orientations identified by Horney. Karen Horney (with a name like that she is obviously a neo-Freudian) devised a useful character typology based on three possible orientations to people. In her view, the worries and neuroses that plague us have their roots in our relationships to others. She suggested that, especially in conflict situations, each of us tends to adopt one of the following basic ways of relating to other people.

Moving towards people - due to a feeling of helplessness. "If you love me you won't hurt me. If I give in I won't be hurt." Seeking to gain favour and to be liked, this is the compliant or dependent type.

Moving against people - due to hostility. "If I have power, no one can hurt me." This person desires to be strong and to overcome the opposition of a hostile world. Seeking to control people, this is the aggressive type.

Moving away from people - protection through isolation. "If I withdraw, nothing can hurt me." Seeking to avoid all conflict by being self-sufficient and apart, this is the withdrawing type.

According to Riso, the compliant (or dependent) types are the One (to ideals), Two (to being 'good') and Six (to authority). The aggressive types are the Three (competitive), Seven (aggressively satisfy appetites) and Eight (forcefully get their way). The withdrawn types are the Four (withdrawal of feelings), Five (withdrawal into thought) and Nine (self-effacing).

Riso differs from Beesing in that he describes the Seven as aggressive rather than compliant, and the One as compliant rather than aggressive (critical of others). The three people I know who seem to be most like Ones alternate between compliance and aggression, so I'd put a bob each way! On further reflection, I decided it is hard to tell, even with people we seem to know well. This is because we all have a compliant persona behind which lurks an aggressive shadow. One we show freely, the other we hide from view. So how does one tell which is the overall tendency, compliance or aggression? I suppose Horney would say the criterion is the behaviour in stressful situations.

Hopefully my exposition makes it clear that the enneagram is just another map of personality - it is not the territory. Likewise, there are various cartographers of the enneagram and they don't necessarily agree. In common with every other typology, it is, and has to be, highly reductionistic. The enneagram is no more than an aid to understanding ourselves. It goes without saying - so I had better say it here - that no person is really a 'One' or a 'Seven'. Each actual human personality contains great complexity. This is shown by the presence of many contradictory elements and idiosyncrasies, and no schema will ever capture their complex interplay. For example, I closely conform to a particular tendency in my relationships with people; yet in certain circumstances my behaviour is the polar opposite of this overall tendency. The other caveat is that writers on the enneagram are prone to obsessive number formalism, whereby they try to fit everything into groups of three. I call this syndrome 'triadism'.

If you focus only on removing the negative in yourself then that is all you will ever do. As an antidote to the negative orientation that characterises enneagram studies, here is a purely positive characterisation of the nine types. The strength and special contribution of each type can be expressed as follows.

One: improving things and measuring up to a high standard.
Two: giving and helping
Three: achievement and productivity
Four: honesty and creativity
Five: insight and objectivity
Six: loyalty and dependability
Seven: sophistication and enjoyment of life
Eight: strength and leadership
Nine: harmony and making peace

To finish on a more serious note, a friend of mine employs a binary typology. He divides all people into two groups - those who divide everyone into two groups and those who don't.

Tad Boniecki

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