Levels of Development
The Levels of Development
There is an internal structure within each personality type. That structure is the continuum of behaviors, attitudes, defenses, and motivations formed by the nine Levels of Development which makes up the personality type itself. This discovery (and the working out of all the traits that comprise each type) was made by Don Riso in 1977, and has been subsequently developed with Russ Hudson in the last ten years.
They are the only Enneagram teachers to take this important factor in personality theory and practice into account in their treatment of the Enneagram. The Levels are an important contribution not only to the Enneagram but to ego psychology—and the personality types of the Enneagram cannot be adequately explained without taking them into account. The Levels account for differences between people of the same type as well as how people change both for better or worse. Thus, they can also help therapists and counselors pinpoint what is actually going on with clients and suggest ways out of the problems they are having.
The Levels of Development are a way of conceptualizing the “skeletal” structure of each type. They provide a framework for seeing how all of the different traits that comprise each type fit into a large whole. Without the Levels, the types can seem to be an arbitrary collection of unrelated traits, with contradictory ones being part of the picture. But by understanding the Levels for each type, one can see how traits are interrelated—and how healthy traits can deteriorate into average traits and possibly into unhealthy ones. With the Levels, a dynamic element is introduced that reflects the changing nature of the personality patterns themselves.
You have probably noticed that people change constantly—sometimes they are clearer, more free, grounded, and emotionally available, while at other times they are more anxious, resistant, reactive, emotionally volatile and less free. Understanding the Levels makes it clear that when they change states within their personality, they are shifting within the spectrum of motivations, traits, and defenses that make up their personality type. As pioneering consciousness philosopher Ken Wilber has noted, without the Levels, the Enneagram is reduced to a “horizontal” set of nine discrete categories. By taking the Levels into account, however, a “vertical” dimension is added that not only reflects the complexity of human nature, but goes far in explaining many different, important elements within personality.
To understand an individual accurately, it is necessary to perceive where the person lies along the continuum of Levels of his or her type at a given time. In other words, one must assess whether a person is in their healthy, average, or unhealthy range of functioning. This is important because, for example, two people of the same personality type and wingwill differ significantly if one is healthy and the other unhealthy. (Inrelationships and in the business world, understanding this distinction is crucial.) The continuum for each of the personality types can be seen in the following diagram. The continuum is comprised of nine internal Levels of Development–briefly, there are three Levels in the healthy section, three Levels in the average section, and three Levels in the unhealthy section.
|The Structure of the Continuum of Levels|
|Level 1||The Level of Liberation|
|Level 2||Healthy||The Level of Psychological Capacity|
|Level 3||The Level of Social Value|
|Level 4||The Level of Imbalance/ Social Role|
|Level 5||Average||The Level of Interpersonal Control|
|Level 6||The Level of Overcompensation|
|Level 7||The Level of Violation|
|Level 8||Unhealthy||The Level of Obsession and Compulsion|
|Level 9||The Level of Pathological Destructiveness|
The Continuum of the Levels of Development
At each Level, significant psychological shifts occur as is indicated by the title we have given to it. For example, at Level 5, the Level of Interpersonal Control, the person is trying to manipulate himself and others to get psychological needs met. This invariably creates interpersonal conflicts. By this Level, the person has also fully identified with the ego and does not see himself as anything more than that: the ego must therefore be increasingly defended and inflated for the person to feel safe and to keep their identity in tact.
It may help you to think of the continuum of Levels as a photographer’s gray scale that has gradations from pure white to pure black with many shades of gray in between. On the continuum, the healthiest traits appear first, at the top, so to speak. As we move down the continuum in a spiral pattern, we progressively pass through each Level of Development marking a distinct shift in the personality’s deterioration to the pure black of psychological breakdown at the bottom. (The spiral pattern is created as the person moves from a fear at whatever Level they are operating to a lower Level desire which is more restrictive and increasingly dysfunctional. As a result of this new desire, a cluster of related internal attitudes arise in the person’s consciousness and these, in turn, are acted out in the cluster of behaviors that we see at the same Level. If these behaviors do not get the person what he or she is seeking—and if they create yet more conflicts for the person—a new fear and source of anxiety is created, and the spiral continues downward.)
One of the most profound ways of understanding the Levels is as ameasure of our capacity to be present. The more we move down the Levels, the more identified with the negative and restrictive reactions of our personality type—and we consequently have less and less real freedom and less consciousness. As we move down the Levels, we become caught in more compulsive, destructive actions which are ultimately self-defeating.
By contrast, the movement up the Levels is simultaneous with being more present and awake in our minds, hearts, and bodies. As we become more present, we become less fixated in the defensive structures of our personality and are more attuned and open to ourselves and our environment. We are freer and less driven by compulsive, unconscious drives and therefore able to act more effectively in all areas of our lives, including in our relationships. When we are less identified with our personality, we find that we are able to respond as needed to whatever life presents, actualizing the positive potentials in all nine types, bringing real peace, creativity, strength, joy, compassion, and other qualities to whatever we are doing. (For more, see Personality Types, 45-51, 421-6; 465-93; Understanding the Enneagram, 136-66, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.)
Below is the complete Levels of Development diagram for one of the Enneagram types. The Levels of Development diagrams for each of the Enneagram types are available to purchasers of our independently scientifically validated online Enneagram Test (the Riso-Hudson Enneagram Type Indicator, version 2.5), and to purchasers of the above books.