Enneagram FAQS

Frequently Asked Questions

1.What is the Enneagram?

Don Riso has defined the Enneagram as "a geometric figure that delineates the nine basic personality types of human nature and their complex interrelationships." While the Enneagram suggests that there are nine basic personality types of human nature, there are, of course, many subtypes and variations within the nine fundamental categories. Nevertheless, the assertion of Enneagram theory is that these nine adequately map out the territory of "personality types."

The Enneagram is also a symbol that maps out the ways in which the nine types are related to each other. This is the aspect of the Enneagram most people are familiar with because it offers them a framework for understanding themselves and everyone they deal with. As a psychospiritual typology, the Enneagram helps people to recognize and understand an overall pattern in human behavior. External behaviors, underlying attitudes, one''s characteristic sense of self, conscious and unconscious motivations, emotional reactions, defense mechanisms, object relations, what we pay attention to, our spiritual potentialsand much more—are all parts of a complex pattern that forms each personality type. Therapists, business counselors, human resource directors, and spiritual seekers from around the world are all finding the Enneagram to be immensely useful for self-understanding and personal growth. Always remember however, that the Enneagram does not put you in a boxit shows you the box you are in and the way out!          

2.Where did the Enneagram come from?

The history and transmission of the Enneagram are mysterious and complicated affairs, although they become clearer if we distinguish between the Enneagram symbol and the descriptions of the nine types which are gaining such worldwide attention. The symbol (the circle with the inner triangle and hexagon) is ancient, dating back to Pythagoras or even earlier. The concept of the nine personality types has elements rooted in several traditional teachings such as the Seven Deadly Sins (beginning in the 4th century), and the Kabbalah (beginning in the 12th century) but the psychological descriptions of the types, on the other hand, are modern and are the work of modern authors.

George Gurdjieff brought the symbol to the West around 1900, and Oscar Ichazo was the first to synthesize the symbol with elements of the teachings about the types. He was the first to identify the core qualities of each of the nine types, and his work was expanded on by the psychiatrist Claudio Naranjo who also introduced the panel method for gathering information about the types. Naranjo''s work, in turn, has been expanded on by Don Riso and Russ Hudson who added many new elements to the early Enneagram systemmost notably the lengthy systematic descriptions of the nine types, as well as the nine internal Levels of Development, the "inner logic" of each type.

For more information, see The Traditional Enneagram and Enneagram Contributions, as well as the "Origins" chapter in Personality Types and "Ancient Roots, Modern Insights" in The Wisdom of the Enneagram.         

3.What use is the Enneagram? How can it help me?

The Enneagram can be extremely useful to everyone as a source of self-knowledge because it acts as a kind of "mirror" to reveal features of our personality that normally are invisible to us. Most of the time, people function habitually, as if on "automatic pilot," according to the pattern of their basic personality type. Usually this allows people to get along well enough in their lives, but when their normal routines break down or the stresses of their lives increase too much, their normal way of coping also tends to break down or become dysfunctional. Seeing clearly what our habitual patterns are—seeing what we are doing and why we are doing it, and at what cost to ourselves and others—holds the key to our liberation. By knowing your type correctly, you are able to see yourself—to "catch yourself in the act"—as you move throughout the day. With this increased self-awareness, you are also able to avoid reacting in negative and potentially dangerous ways.

Once real balance has been restored to the personality structure, the Enneagram can help us to orient ourselves to the higher spiritual and psychological qualities that each type has in abundance. Thus, at its highest, the Enneagram invites us to look deeply into the mystery of our true identity. It reveals that we are not our personality, but something more—a spiritual being who has lost contact with his or her true nature. Living out of this realization shifts completely how we see ourselves, others, and the world, bringing liberation, freedom, and joy. (See pages 27-48 in The Wisdom of the Enneagram or pages 11-17 of Understanding the Enneagram (Revised Edition) for more about the psychological and spiritual context of the Enneagram.)         

4.How can I learn which personality type I am?

There are no short-cuts in this matter: only your own self-awareness and honesty will enable you to discover your personality type. For some, the discovery is quick and immediate: they are able to find their type right away. Others, for many reasons, may take somewhat longer.

Furthermore, no single method works equally well for everyone. We recommend taking all sources of information about the Enneagram and its types into account, although the final responsibility for finding your type remains firmly with you alone. In short, no one can tell you which type you are: only you can weigh all of the available evidence and then draw your own conclusions. We do offer the only independently scientifically validated Enneagram Test available, the Riso-Hudson Enneagram Type Indicator, and we also offer a quick version of this test for people who are just beginning to explore Enneagram personality typing.

As you consider your type, remember that you have all nine types in you, but one is primary. Your primary type is the one you should see showing up again and again if you look at the broad spectrum of your life. While we believe type is visible from birth, it becomes more apparent in the teenage years, and is even more firmly showing itself by the early to mid-20s, after the teenage years of exploration are over. Above all, continue to observe yourself to see if your type determination fits. And remember that finding your type is not the final destination with the Enneagram, in fact, it is only the beginning of the journey.         

5.Are written Enneagram type tests a good way to type yourself?

No pencil-and-paper type tests are foolproof. Don Riso and Russ Hudson have done more work than any other Enneagram writers to develop a battery of type tests and yet, they still caution students to use them only as one element in the search for the person''''s type. Because of the inherent limitations of type tests (including skipping questions, not reading words, misunderstanding concepts, projection and misinterpretation, nervousness, being too analytic, and so forth), it is almost impossible to have any test that is consistently higher than about 85% accurate for determining basic type.

Even so, the RHETI (The Riso-Hudson Enneagram Type Indicator, Version 2.5) has been independently scientifically validated and is accurate in around 80% of cases, and we believe the QUEST-TAS in The Wisdom of the Enneagram is also equally accurate. (Both are available in Offprint booklets from The Enneagram Institute, and the QUEST-TAS scoring form is more sophisticated in the Offprint than in the original book.) For both the RHETI and the QUEST-TAS, we feel strongly that the user''''s correct personality type will almost certainly be one of the three top scores, except in the rarest of cases. We also recommend that the results of the RHETI and the QUEST-TAS be evaluated by someone trained by Don Riso and Russ Hudson if the outcome of the tests does not seem to be correct. In any case, the tests should be taken as only one piece of evidence in the quest for self-discovery, and the person should be encouraged to continue to observe himself, to read reliable books and to attend workshops for more insight into his type.         

6.Can you be more than one personality type?

While we have elements of all nine types in us, only one of the nine types is our basic personality type. You can think of it as your "home base," the frame of mind, the pattern of reactions and defenses, that you habitually return to. It is true, of course, that we have qualities from all of the nine types, and that, from the point of view of simple behavior, we can sometimes act like any of the types. For example, we can be aggressive, and funny, and angry, and fearful, and hard-working. But if we look more carefully, we will see that each of these qualities (and many hundreds more) can be distinguished between the nine types. In other words, the humor of Ones is different from the humor of Twos and Threes and Fours, and so forth. The attitudes of all of the types toward work are quite different, although in one way or another, everyone works. Thus, our internal attitudes, our affects, and our motivations must all be taken into account—and when this happens, we see clearly that our habitual orientation to life forms an overall pattern, the pattern of our basic personality type. We also see that there is only one "home base" that we return to because it has worked for us in the past, beginning in our childhood.         

7.What are the Levels of Development?

The Levels of Development (an original discovery of Don Riso made in 1977) specify how each type changes as the person becomes more or less identified with his or her personality structure. Everyone moves "up" and "down" the nine Levels within their type as they become more defended and more identified with their fixation, or conversely, as they become more free, open, and in touch with their true nature. The Levels thus reveal the "internal logic" of each type and show which behaviors and motivations go with which type, and why. This is highly significant because the behaviors, attitudes, and motivations that each type manifests shift from Level to Level—so much so that two people of the same type at different Levels can seem to be different types. Little meaningful Inner Work or practical applications of the Enneagram can be done without taking the Levels of Development into account.

For more information see The Wisdom of the Enneagram, pages 75-87, the Revised Edition of The Understanding the Enneagram, pages 136-166, and Personality Types, throughout, particularly pages 465-493.         

8.What are the Wings?

The Wings are another refinement offered by the Enneagram system. They recognize that while people are one basic type, almost no one is a "pure" type. Everyone is a mix of two types of the Enneagram, and the second type in the mix is called the Wing. However, your Wing lies on either side of your basic type on the circumference of the Enneagram. Thus, the layout of the Enneagram is remarkable in that the mixtures of type and wings that we see in real life are precisely mirrored by the Enneagram itself (as Oscar Ichazo first mapped it out). For example, in real life we see that people who are Twos have either a One-wing or a Three-wing (and sometimes both). We do not see Twos with a Five-wing, or Twos with a Seven-wing, for instance. More on the Enneagram Wings.

For more information see The Wisdom of the Enneagram, pages 69-70, and Personality Types, pages 43-44, as well as the descriptions of the wings in the type chapters of both books.         

9.What are the Instinctual Variants (or Subtypes)?

The Instinctual Variants (often erroneously called "the subtypes") are a third set of variations of the nine basic types that also account for differences and variability within the types. A major aspect of our human equipment lies in our instinctual "hard wiring" as biological beings, and three major instincts are an essential part of our human nature. We have a self-preservation instinct (for preserving the body and its life and functioning), a social instinct (for getting along with others and forming secure social bonds), and a sexual instinct (for extending ourselves in the environment and through the generations). As with other elements of our personality structure, one or more of these instincts usually becomes imbalanced in some way and to some degree in childhood, thus becoming a significant arena for various related "issues" to arise. (See Personality Types and the individual type chapters in The Wisdom of the Enneagram for more information about the Instinctual Variants.) See also the article on the Instincts on this website.

To help people determine their Instinctual Variants, The Enneagram Institute offers the Instinctual Variants Questionnaire (IVQ), which not only determines the dominant instinct, but also the ranking of the instincts, aka the "Instinctual Stack." This is the premier, self-administered Instincts test available in the world today. It is highly accurate for determining your dominant Instinct (over 85%), and only slightly less accurate for determining your entire Instinctual Stack. This information is particularly important in both intimate and professional relationships.          

10.Are some types more compatible than others?

Fortunately, the Enneagram does not predict which types "go" with which others in any kind of cookbook fashion. Positive or negative relationships cannot be predicted by whether or not certain types are connected to each other by lines on the Enneagram, as some Enneagram teachers have taught. Nor are types more or less compatible because they are in the same group or Center of the Enneagram, or on the right or left side, or opposite each other on the circle.

However, insight into the structure and characteristics of each of the types does reveal the kinds of psychological issues that preoccupy people of each type—and based on that kind of deeper knowledge, some thoughtful things can be said about what kinds of issues are likely to arise between any two of the Enneagram types. For instance, Eights have issues with autonomy and independence (among many others), whereas Twos have issues with needing validation and seeking intimacy, (among many others). Depending on each type''''s Level of healthy functioning, a number of insightful things could be said which would be helpful to such a couple-the strengths and weaknesses and likely conflicts they will have concerning these issues.

Don Riso and Russ Hudson have outlined the key compatibility issues between each combination of Enneagram types in our Type Compatibility Matrix. For more information, we offer a Relationships Workshop.         

11.Which books and audiotapes do you recommend about the Enneagram?

Naturally, we recommend our best-selling books on the Enneagram as being those that present the most complete and accurate descriptions of the types and the system as a whole. They also offer a great deal of insight and practices for using the Enneagram in your personal life. Furthermore, we continually revise all of our books so that they contain the newest, most precise work about the Enneagram system available anywhere. For advanced students, we recommend two books in particular, Character and Neurosis by Claudio Naranjo and Facets of Unity (about the Holy Ideas) by A. H. Almaas.

Our five books are The Wisdom of the Enneagram (1999), Personality Types (1987, 1996), Understanding the Enneagram (1990, 2000), Discovering Your Personality Type, and Enneagram Transformations (1993). We have also written The Power of the Enneagram (published as a 6-cassette audio tape set by Nightingale Conant, as well as an abridged edition of it on 2 cassettes by Simon & Schuster.) Please note that all of our books and tapes contain completely different material, and none of the books repeats contents from any other book or tape.

As for personal and spiritual growth books by other authors, we have compiled a large list of books giving perspectives related to or complementary with the Enneagram.

Most Enneagram books have something to offer, although perceptive readers will discern that there are significant differences between them. Some books actually contain information that we feel is incomplete and misleading. We feel strongly that Enneagram books about relationships, business, spirituality—or any other topic, for that matter—will be of little use if they are based on distorted notions of the types or of the Enneagram as a whole. For better or worse, there is no such thing as "the Enneagram"—and no "oral tradition" which has transmitted it. (See the article, "Romancing the Enneagram" on this website about this topic.) There are only different interpretations of Ichazo''''''''s original insights which have been elaborated on by different authors. Those interested in this system are therefore urged to read all Enneagram books (including our own) critically, to think for themselves, and always to judge everything by their own experience. Sadly, we must warn–Caveat, emptor!         

12.How does your Training and approach differ from others?

Don and Russ offer an extremely comprehensive, experiential Enneagram Training Program. The Program is a synthesis of presented materials, discussion, group exercises, meditations, interactive type panels, spiritual teachings and music—all aimed at giving participants a rich, multi-modal experience of each personality type, particularly their own. It is important to note that Don or Russ with trained Faculty members personally teach every session themselves rather than rely on certifying students or on other teaching substitutes. The Riso-Hudson Enneagram Training Program is in three parts, and is described in detail on this website on the Programs and Trainings pages. Please get more details from there, and call The Enneagram Institute office if you have any additional questions.

Part I of the Training is an extraordinary mix of mental, physical, and emotional elements that both convey the information participants need to use the Enneagram in their lives and provide the safety and accepting environment to make personal breakthroughs. For each type, Don and Russ present a meditation and spiritual teaching, followed by a discussion of the type''s Center issues as well as childhood developmental patterns, the wing subtypes, the Psychic Structure (a new, visual representation of the inner dynamics of the type), an experiential exercise, a trip through the Levels of Development with examples from popular culture, an interactive type panel, and a piece of music. The depth and clarity of the Training makes it possible for participants to experience the power of the system in action. Having deep insight and personal experiences of their type allows participants to "Observe and Let Go" of their old personality patterns. They realize for themselves that they are, indeed, not their personality but something more—a spiritual Presence in the world. Seeing themselves clearly in the "mirror" of the Enneagram liberates them from the distortions of the past so that they can live joyously and productively in the present.         

13.How do the Levels relate to spiritual development?

Some people may fancy themselves to be operating at the highest Levels of Development—that is, their self-image is such that it allows them to see themselves in a much more positive way than the actual facts of their behavior would allow. In fact, very few people actually ever attain even Level 3 in the Healthy range and are able to stabilize their personality structures and consciousness there. To do so is actually an extraordinary achievement. It is most likely that only some rare individuals in monasteries of Zen monks or contemplative Christians, or very serious Inner Work Schools would ever attain and maintain Levels 1 and 2. For the rest of us, who are mainly living in the Average Levels, this state of operating beyond self-consciousness and without need for ego gratification, habit, or conflict remains an ideal.

Just remember that from one point of view, the Levels are a measure of our ability to be present and to maintain contact with the moment. The farther down the Levels we are (because of past traumas or dysfunctional childhood), the more difficult this is, and we need professional help and Inner Work practices to move “up the Levels” and stabilize our personality at higher, more functional states of Being. In short, the Levels are a yardstick of our consciousness. The difficulty is that we can imagine ourselves to be very different from how we actually are, but this does not mean that we have actually changed in any real way.         

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