The Enneagram (any-a-gram) system is a map (“gram” means drawing or symbol) of nine (“ennea” means nine) fundamental personality types which makes it an extremely effective tool for the development of emotional intelligence. Each of these nine types has unique patterns of thinking, feeling, and acting in the world based on underlying motivations.
First and foremost, the Enneagram helps us understand ourselves. Once we see our personal experience described in one of these nine personality types, we begin to recognize more and more of our habitual patterns. We get a deeper sense of ourselves; our underlying motivations, how our personality type has helped us experience some of what we desire, and how they have actually hindered our progress. When we add presence and acceptance to this new awareness, we experience profound change.
Second, the Enneagram helps us understand others. The Enneagram is an egalitarian system; no one type is better or worse than any of the others. Each type has tendencies, gifts, and challenges. Learning the Enneagram allows us to see how the challenges of each type are just as difficult for them as our challenge is for us. It also allows us to see how our gifts and the gifts of others are also equally valuable. In addition to learning the definition of each type and recognizing their qualities, we learn compassion too.
Beyond learning about ourselves and others, we are also learning about human nature, about these nine archetypes, and other interesting insights as to how the world works. We all have a bit of each type inside of ourselves too so as we learn about ourselves and others, we are also learning about the shared experience of being human. Almost 6.8 billion people live on this planet and each one of them falls into one of these nine types; it’s amazing to ponder.
The Enneagram Symbol
The Enneagram symbol is made up of three different polygons: a circle, a triangle, and an odd-looking six-lined one called a hexad. Each of these has significance for understanding this system; although mainly from a background perspective as we don’t spend more than a passing moment on these explicitly in our training.
The circle represents unity, sometimes called the law of one. The Enneagram represents the full range of the human experience. The upside, the downside. Thoughts, emotions, behaviors. We all have all of it.
The Triangle represents the law of three which states that all phenomenon is composed of three separate aspects: active, passive, and reconciling. Think of a sailboat that needs the active force of the wind, the passive force of the sail, and the reconciling force of the helmsman to actually move in the water. Certain personalities are more active, others more passive, and others tend to reconcile. And, we have all three of these forces within us working all of the time as well.
The hexad represents the Law of Seven and tells us that nothing in nature and life occurs constantly in a straight line; there are always ups and downs. It’s an important point to keep in mind when using the Enneagram for development purposes. By the way, to get to “seven” from the six points you end where you start so it goes 1-4-2-8-5-7-1. It is interesting to note that dividing 1 by 7 results in a repeating decimal of .142857. Fascinating!
There is a lot more to the Enneagram symbol itself but for our use of the Enneagram in organizations, we leave it at that. By the way, these laws originally came from a guy named G.I. Gurdjieff in the early 1900s.
Beyond these laws, the order of the types is important as well as the lines connecting them. In addition to our primary type, we are influenced by the two adjoining types which we call the wings and the types connected to our type by the lines; which traditionally are known as stress and security which can be a bit confusing because with development we have full access to all aspects of these types.
The Three Centers of Intelligence
We all have all three centers of intelligence; head, heart, and body. Each center of intelligence is the basis for three different Enneagram types therefore one of these three centers is a basis for our Enneagram personality type. Each center has its proper use and common misuses, under-uses, and over-uses.
Head Center: The head is the place of thinking and intuition. It is where we figure things out, plan, and be thoughtful. It is also the home of confusion, projection, intellectualizing, and analysis-paralysis. Emotionally, this is where fear arises. Types 5, 6, and 7 are considered “head types.”
Heart Center: The heart is the place of love and loss. We connect with others from our hearts and it yields compassion, empathy, approval, and loving-kindness. Likewise, it can yield hatred, rejection, and manipulation. It is where we keep our values. Emotionally, this is where we feel sadness. Types 2, 3, and 4 are considered “heart types.”
Body Center: The body is the place of knowing, order, and control. It is where we experience a “gut-feel” for something. Action, inaction, and over-action all reside here as well, as do force, power, and excessiveness. Emotionally, it is the home of anger. Types 8, 9, and 1 are considered “body types.”
Regardless of our Enneagram type, understanding the functions of these centers of intelligence allows us to use them most effectively when making decisions and in developing self-mastery. For example, when faced with a decision you could ask yourself, what do my head, heart, and body tell me about this decision? Are they in alignment or am I torn? If all three agree, you are in alignment. If you have different answers from each then you might need more time, more information, or consider the consequences of not deciding yet.
The Nine Enneagram Types
The Enneagram is a system of nine fundamental patterns of thinking, emoting, and being in the world. The following is a brief description of each type. Consider this what it is; a starting point of a few brief sentences.
Type 1 – Seeks to get things “right” based on internal high standards. Easily identifies error in the environment, self, and others. Sometimes known as The Perfectionist or The Reformer. Body type.
Type 2 – Relationship oriented. Seeks to meet the needs of important people in their lives. Attuned to the needs and feelings of others, much more so than to their own. Known as The Helper or The Giver. Heart type.
Type 3 – Focused on tasks and goals. Able to see what it takes to be “the best” in the eyes of others and then go out and do it. Known as The Performer or The Achiever. Heart type.
Type 4 – Connect to life through their emotional experience. Ability to see what is missing brings out artistic expression, a sense of meaning, or a sense of longing. Sometimes called The Artist or The Romantic. Heart type.
Type 5 – Accumulates the specific knowledge needed to meet limited wants and needs. Objective. Known as The Observer or The Thinker. Head type.
Type 6 – Solves problems to avoid things going wrong which in turns allows things to go right. Easily sees the counter-argument. Called The Loyal Skeptic and Questioner. Head type.
Type 7 – Planning for positive, pleasurable, possibilities. Upbeat, avoids pain and limits, reframes the negative into positive. Known as The Epicure and The Visionary. Head type.
Type 8 - Takes control in the interest of truth and justice when needed. All or nothing energy feels big to others. Known as The Protector, The Challenger, and The Boss. Body type.
Type 9 – Easy-going. Seeks harmony and positive mutual regard. Avoids anger. Also known as The Mediator or The Peacemaker.
The Enneagram – Wings and Arrows
In addition to our primary type, we are also strongly influenced by four other points on the Enneagram, the types immediately adjoining our primary type on the circle – these are called our “wings” – and the types connected to our primary type by lines or arrows – often referred to as our stress and security points.
Every person has two wings; one may be more dominant than the other. For example, a nine has both an eight and a one wing. Some nines may have a dominant eight wing, others may have a dominant one wing, some people might show both wings, and others may not show much of either wing. The dominant wing will influence how the nine shows up in the world. In the case of a nine with an eight wing (9w8), the nine may be more forceful or dominant at times whereas a nine with a one wing (9w1) may be more structured.
Because the wings are closest to our primary type, the energies and gifts of these types are more accessible to us as we are looking to develop ourselves.
The other two types that influence our primary type are the two connected by lines or arrows. The arrows point in this order 1, 4, 2, 8, 5, 7, 1 and then 3, 9, 6, 3. The direction of the arrows is traditionally called the stress point of your type. It is named this way because we normally first experience the movement to this type when we are under stress. Under stress, a nine may ruminate more, a six may work harder, and a three may fall into inertia. Likewise, a one may become more emotionally introspective, a four more manipulative, a two more take-charge and controlling, an eight more withdrawn, a five may become confused with thoughts, and a seven may become inflexible. As you can see, the arrows point to the low side of the type.
Similarly, in the other direction of “security” a nine gets things done, a three shows more loyalty, and a six relaxes. Ones have fun, sevens get concentrated, five more engaged, eights more generous, twos more creative, and fours more serene; the high side of the connected type.
As we develop ourselves, we gain the ability to access the full range of each of these types. Like the wings, these types are places to look for skill development.
The Enneagram – Subtypes
A more advanced topic is that of instincts and subtypes. We each have all three of these instincts; the instinct to survive which is called self-preservation, the instinct to connect with another which is called one-to-one or sexual, and the instinct to form and be a part of groups which is called the social instinct. One of the three instincts is dominant in each of us, another one we use about right, and the third is underdeveloped.
Our dominant instinct forms what we call our sub-type. In a sense, these subtypes are a typing system in their own right since the themes of the subtype cross types. But for now, think of the subtype as being the arena in which the fixation of type shows up most prevalently. Here is a brief overview of the subtypes as a starting point.
Self-preservation – concerned with issues of survival such as food, clothing, home, money, water, sleep, etc.
One-to-One / Sexual – concerned with making one-to-one connection with other people, intensity, and attractiveness.
Social – concerned with connection to groups (or lack of connection.), causes, and status.
Another consideration when working with these instincts is the one that is least developed. By identifying this type for yourself and taking action to develop it, you bring greater balance and harmony to your life.