The Enneagram: A Path to Self-Discovery
by Kelley Granger
From The Chronogram's Healthy Living Supplement, October 28, 2008
Self-awareness is the key to psychological health and spiritual fulfillment—the ability to observe ourselves and recognize the obstacles within our own personalities that are blocking us from our true essence. The difficulty comes when we’re doing the monitoring and finding it difficult to detect the issues or their source. For the many life coaches, therapists, pastors, and individuals that use the Enneagram, the personality system is a valuable instrument for identifying, observing, and managing the facets of our personalities and our interactions with others.
“For me what’s most important is that it’s a tool that can be used in our own work and own our lives to deepen our contact with our True Nature,” says Katy Taylor, the Director Of Special Projects for the Stone Ridge-based Enneagram Institute. Taylor has been studying the Enneagram for more than 10 years, and works with field pioneers and Institute Founders Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson.
According to Riso and Hudson in their book The Wisdom of the Enneagram (Bantam, 1999), the nine-pointed symbol of the Enneagram dates back at least 2,500 years. Its modern use is credited to George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff, an esoteric teacher of the late 19th and early 20th centuries thought to have discovered the symbol somewhere during his travels in Turkey or Afghanistan. He would later translate the nine points and the movement along these points as a paradigm for natural processes. “Gurdjieff used the symbol to show the movement and transformation of all things, but without any connection to personality types,” Taylor says. “It was Oscar Ichazo who had a flash of understanding and insight of what this symbol was related to. He was the spark that took the spirituality and psychology of the system and mapped it on the figure.”
Ichazo, the Bolivian founder of the Arica Institute (a school for higher consciousness), applied the nine divine attributes, which stems from sources like Neo-Platonism and the seven deadly sins (plus fear and deceit) of Christianity, to the symbol with brief descriptions of personality types. These ideas were developed further by one of his students, psychiatrist Claudio Naranjo, who brought the ideas to California in 1970. Riso learned of the system not long after his time as a Jesuit seminarian. Since the early 1970s, he has worked on expanding the psychological descriptions by interpreting each of the types through the lens of the modern psychology of Karl Jung, Karen Horney, Erich Fromm, and others. The result is a system of nine personalities that are interrelated and able to move and be affected by the traits of other numbers of the symbol.
“The Enneagram shows us nine personality types, I like to think of it as a continuum. On one end, it’s nine personality types, and, on the other end, it can be seen as nine facets of the Divine,” said Taylor. “It’s not like you’re just one or the other, we’re humans with personalities and our truest deepest nature is divine, spiritual. If you understand the psychology of what’s driving you, the motivation of what’s creating your personality, that understanding can also open your awareness and deepen your contact with the Divine.”
According to The Enneagram Institute, every person embodies characteristics of each number of the Enneagram but will have only one primary type they identify with. Riso and Hudson refer to the nine types with the following titles: One is the Reformer, Two the Helper, Three the Achiever, Four the Individualist, Five the Investigator, Six the Loyalist, Seven the Enthusiast, Eight the Challenger, and Nine the Peacemaker. Different authors may label the types in different terms, but the attributes generally stay the same. The Institute offers the Riso-Hudson Enneagram Type Indicator (RHETI) test on its website, which allows participants to answer questions about their feelings, behavior, and outlook, to get an idea of which type they are.
“Taking tests can be helpful as a way of eliminating most of the possibilities fairly quickly,” Riso says. “Then, you must read the descriptions carefully and do some observation. The point of the Enneagram is to help us to become better self-observers so that we can be free of old, self-destructive patterns, not just to find some sort of new psychological label for ourselves. You will continue to find bits of yourself in all nine types—but when you find your core type, it should come as a revelation, a relief, an embarrassment, a welcome home, and an invitation to see yourself in an entirely new way.”
Once the basic type is determined, the interplay within the symbol can be assessed. Each type is affected by a dominant “wing,” or one of the numbers at each of its sides. A Type Four (Individualist) with a Three (Achiever) wing merges the Four’s creativity and desire for self-improvement with the Three’s inherent ambition and goal-setting, while a Four with a Five (Investigator) wing combines Four’s creativity with Five’s perceptiveness and originality. Depending on our development, our type is influenced by other numbers in the lines of the Enneagram symbol, which serves as directions of integration or disintegration. As an example, a Type One (Reformer) under stress may disintegrate to Four, taking on moody and irrational traits associated with that number. When we make a choice to pursue personal growth, we move in the direction of integration. In that case, a One would take on the spontaneity and joyfulness of the Type Seven (Enthusiast) it’s connected to.
While it’s believed that we are born with a primary number, the Enneagram also has instinctual variants within numbers that some believe are more based on the way we were raised. These self-preservation, social, and sexual instincts also influence aspects of our personalities within our type.
One of Riso’s most significant contributions to the study of the Enneagram is his defining the Levels of Development within a type. Each person in each type is influenced by a number of factors in their lives that can render them at different Levels of Development. Riso uses the example of Martin Luther King and Saddam Hussein—both were Type Eight but at very different Levels of the number. To move through the Levels of Unhealthy and Average to attain a Healthy status, Riso says you have to have awareness and be able to go against the habits of your personality type.
“The Levels are a measure of our fixation—and the measure of how asleep we are to ourselves and to reality,” he says. “A person who is low in the Levels is so asleep to themselves, so alienated from the truth of who they are, that they cannot see themselves. They need the help of some external force. Enneagram knowledge alone is not enough. They need therapy or a spiritual teacher, a guide to greater awareness and objectivity. You need somebody to act as an external mirror and guide you to a new understanding of reality.”
Correctly determining your type and its other influences is the first step on a path that can lead to personal growth, relationship improvement, and better parenting. Taylor says that when she and her partner began utilizing the Enneagram, it removed a strain from their relationship.
“[My partner] and I used it as a way to understand why we were so different in a relationship,” she said. “It was like, ‘Okay this isn’t just you not meeting my needs or me not being there for you, this is about our expectations, they’re different. What we’re trying to get out of the world is different. How we’re trying to be in the world is different. No wonder it’s hard for us to understand each other.’ It really helped us in that basic way of accepting each other more.”
The Enneagram can also be useful for parents and children. Elizabeth Wagele, author of The Enneagram of Parenting: The 9 Types of Children and How to Raise Them Successfully (HarperOne, 1997), says that parents are often frustrated by children they don’t understand, and the Enneagram can provide a bridge to insight.
“[The Enneagram] stretches the possibility in people’s minds of the differences between people,” she says. “Naturally, we think people are like us, and until we learn the Enneagram we don’t realize how different we really are from each other. It’s unbelievably helpful for parenting more than any other reason.” As an example, Wagele used a Type-Three Achiever parent with a Type-Four child, which she calls “the Romantic.” Type Threes are driven by a desire to be accomplished and successful, while Fours are sensitive, artistic, and interested in inner experiences.
“A Three only sees the child wanting to get ahead and run for school office and be extroverted,” Wagele says. “A Four child might want to be an artist, maybe a pianist, and wants to spend all her time playing the piano and doesn’t see any good in running for school office or making a million friends. The Three Parent doesn’t understand her child at all and is so frustrated because she would love to drive the child to this class after school, or this competition, or this game, and the poor child wouldn’t want to do any of those things. She just wants to write in her journal. And the Three has never written in a journal in her life. Three parents usually expect their children to be three children. If they haven’t had Four children or parents in their life before, they may think, ‘This is the strangest person I’ve seen in my life.’”
Wagele says that reading the book and just having an awareness of your child’s makeup can make all the difference in the world in the way you view and approach your relationship. On an individual basis, the Enneagram can help you on a path to self-discovery by facilitating recognition and elimination of negative patterns and habits that trouble your life and relationships. According to The Enneagram Institute, there are seven steps to the process. The first step is seeking truth and becoming an observer. “It’s habits and patterns that are driving us. If we observe, we can choose if we want to do those behaviors,” Taylor says.
After you’ve observed, practice “not doing” by not acting on impulse—but if you catch yourself carrying out your pattern, don’t be too harsh on yourself. “What we encourage is to observe with non-judgment,” Taylor says. "If we can observe it with non-judgment, there’s a chance for compassion to arrive. If I go, ‘Oh jeez, Katy, there you go again,’ in a non-judgmental way, just acknowledging that I did it, it allows awareness to grow and encourages growth.”
Remember to be open, and to seek out those who will support your efforts, whether it’s a family, a friend, or a teacher. The Enneagram Institute offers workshops and retreats at the Stone Ridge location as well as at other venues nationally and internationally. Throughout the process, acknowledge and learn from everything that arises. Cultivate a sense of love for yourself, and look into starting a practice activity such as yoga, meditation, or prayer to devote time to regularly each day.
“Identifying one’s type correctly is only the starting point of a lifelong journey of self-discovery, and the Enneagram can be a hugely powerful tool for assisting people on that journey—the journey from illusion and sleep to awakening and transformation,” says Riso.
The Enneagram Institute is a Service Mark of Enneagram Personality Types, Inc.
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