The Enneagram

Extraordinary Map to Your Gifts, Habits and Patterns

Enneagram Chart. The Strivings come mostly from Mario Sikora. The two-adjective descriptions are from the Enneagram Institute, as are most of the Type names.

Some Basics About the Enneagram

Levels of Presence & Freedom

Clear Impact — Levels of Presence & Freedom

Differentiating Levels of Presence & Freedom from Levels of Development

Please bear with us on this one. The distinction really matters.

Movement on the Levels of Presence & Freedom

We each have a Center of Gravity, the Level of Presence & Freedom from which we function, most of the time. We also have a general range, from how we usually show up on our best days, to how we show up under moderate to significant stress.

Enneagram Exemplars

In our trainings we point out pairs of famous people who are apparently the same Type, but at very different Levels of Presence & Freedom. The word “apparently” is important. Quick searches on the internet show innumerable assertions about the Enneagram Type of famous people. Many assertions are made in a very authoritative manner, and many are made from very thoughtful and knowledgeable Enneagram teachers and practitioners. But they are still just guesses. And, as you’ll find on an internet search, there is lots of disagreement! Unless those famous people actually did their own investigations into their Enneagram Types, and/or worked with experienced professionals, and then publicly declared their Types, all the assertions on the Internet, and in the books of most Enneagram teachers, are at best educated guesses.

Enneagram History

The Enneagram in its present form is generally thought to have originated with Oscar Ichazo in Chile, who introduced it in a 1972 workshop to a group who then disseminated the model. But its roots go much deeper.

The Enneagram in Infant Temperament

David Daniels, a psychiatrist teaching at the Stanford School of Medicine, was a wonderful Enneagram Teacher. He pointed out that Thomas & Chess (1977) identified nine different styles of infant temperament that show up between 3 and 18 months, and demonstrated how these mapped directly onto the nine Enneagram Types. Isn’t it striking that researchers studying infant temperament also came out with nine styles, and that they map so closely to the Enneagram Types. This is another cross-validation both of the system in general, and the idea that we are either born with these Types, or they form very early.

Each one of us is One Type. We remain that Type for life.

Most personality systems identify people on two to four factors, and then provide descriptions based on where people fit on each. So, for example, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) places you on four scales: Introverted vs. Extraverted, Sensing vs. Intuitive, Thinking vs. Feeling, and Judging vs. Perceiving, assigns you a “type” based on these factors, and then makes predictions about who you are and how you’ll act.

The Lines Connecting the Enneagram Types

Seeing the Lines as Polarities

Our article on the Enneagram Polarities uses the lines in another way. Enneagram Types are often referred to as points, for example Point One. Enneagram teacher Michael Goldberg once made the comment, “What are points but the extreme ends of a line?” From this perspective, an increasingly healthy Type One would be able to functioning anywhere along the continuum from Type One to Type Four, and anywhere along the continuum from Type One to Type Seven. Rather than being rigidly locked into one way of thinking, feeling and acting, there would now be much more versatility, the ability to respond more effectively to whatever is arising. Please see that article for more details.

Some Other Essential Elements in Understanding the Enneagram

  • No one “owns” the Enneagram. Anyone can say they have expertise in this system, or even create their own certification. Different theorists use different names for the Types and some have different understandings of the lines that connect the Types. Reader beware. There is absolutely great stuff out there, over-simplifications, and worse. People can learn a little about the system and then jump on the bandwagon and believe they’re ready to be a practitioner. Beware anything you read that says that it’s easy to find your own Enneagram Type, or to determine the Type of another person. Also beware people who overly trust any Enneagram Assessment as an accurate way to pinpoint Enneagram Type. A good Enneagram practitioner should be able to help you determine your Type without using any assessments. When this is true, the practitioner can use an assessment to help point in the right direction, while also understanding that all Enneagram assessments are correct some of the time and incorrect some of the time. And please don’t try to determine your Type by going on the internet and taking a free assessment. We heard one well-known Enneagram teacher say that up to 40% of people are incorrectly typed.
  • Many people say that we have all nine Type within us. This can be a glib statement. Sure, we have aspects of all nine Types. We can all have some of the gifts: integrity for Type One, compassion for Type Two, competency for Type Three, etc. We can also have some of the pitfalls: criticalness for Type One, giving-to-get for Type Two, being chameleon-like for Type Three, etc. But at our core we are only one Type. We’re not a mix of several Types. This is important. It gives the Enneagram its power and specificity. And this is why it’s so important to identify the correct Type .
  • There are important cultural and contextual influences to understand when considering the Enneagram. Each individual is embedded in multiple cultures and contexts (national, organizational, ethnic, professional and religious) and these dimensions of experience impact how each Type shows up. An Enneagram Eight (The Challenger, Striving to be Powerful) from New York will likely appear very different from an Enneagram Eight from Tokyo, although they have the same overall life strategy, gifts, habits, patterns and blind spots. Their underlying structure is the same, but they will likely appear very differently. Similarly, we can take on qualities from our parents’ Enneagram Types, and that of our city and country, that make it harder to identify our own Type, particularly at first.
  • No Type is better than any other Type, although some Types are drawn more to some roles than others.
  • No two Types naturally get along better or worse. It all depends on Level of Presence & Freedom.
  • The Enneagram should never be used as an excuse for poor behavior or poor performance, although we see this happening regularly. It also is inappropriate to use the Enneagram as a way to blame self or others. “Stop being such a Four!!!”In our professional work we support a respectful, compassionate approach.
  • Importantly, from our perspective, the Enneagram should not be used to put people into boxes, to identify “who you are and what you’ll do.” Our approach helps people see the boxes they’re already in, and how to greatly expand them.
  • You are not your personality. Your personality is the vehicle you’re riding in; it’s the lenses and filters through which you see the world and your patterns of perception and behavior. “You” are much greater than that.
  • The Enneagram identifies “Your Story,” the narrative you apply to your life. It organizes your perceptions.
  • Some people want to use the Enneagram to manipulate others. Of course, we find this unethical. It’s helpful to understands other people’s Types so we can integrate their perspectives, better understand them, and facilitate high-level communication.
  • Relying on external behaviors leads to mistyping. When people take Enneagram training, they often think they can identify the Types of their co-workers, managers, partners or other family members. They’re often wrong. Despite our level of experience, the two of us are often wrong when we try to guess what someone’s Type might be. Each Type is an “inside job.” The assessment of Type needs to be thoughtfully and carefully done by people themselves.
  • Finally, remember: You have no choice about whether you have an Enneagram Type, or what that Type might be. You can only identify it correctly or incorrectly.

Core Features

There are many Core Features we use to assist people to understand and work with their Enneagram Types. We outline these features here by applying them to Type Ones. These include:

  • Striving or Strategy. This comes largely from the work of Mario Sikora. It’s a way of understanding the organizing strategy that people of each Type believe they need to achieve to have a fulfilling life. For example, for Type One, the Reformer, it’s Striving To Be Perfect. The strategy is to correct self and others to align with their principles, to do the right thing.
  • Core Qualities. These are the positive qualities at a high level, the gifts of the Type. For Enneagram One they include being idealistic, objective, aligned with deep values and principles, a deep commitment to fairness and doing the right thing, and a love of goodness, alignment, sacredness and order.
  • Emotional Energy. This is the “fuel’ of the Type, in a negative way. It’s what runs the personality structure. The higher the level of “fuel” the more “pull” or “push” there is toward lower levels of Presence & Freedom. For example, for Enneagram One, the fuel is resentment, chronic simmering anger and the frustration that others don’t care as much as I do.
  • Habit of Mind. This is what our mind does to support the Emotional Energy. For example, for Enneagram One it’s Judging, seeing the way I and others and the world are never good enough.

Identifying Your Enneagram Type

As we mentioned several times, every person is only one Enneagram Type. We were born with that Type, or it formed in our first year or two of life, and we remain that Type until our last breath. Because of this, identifying that Type is vital because each Type has a different path of development, different elements that are most important on which to focus. Some people recognize their Enneagram Type through our training videos, but it generally takes working with a skilled Enneagram Consultant to be sure you have identified the correct Type. Our experience has been that, even after attending an Enneagram training or watching our videos, many people are incorrect about what Type they think they are. Perhaps this is because not many of us have taken a deep dive into why we really do what we do. Please contact us if you would like to learn your Enneagram Type and explore how this self-awareness tool can have a major impact on your happiness, satisfaction, and connections for the rest of your life.

Considering the Complexity of Living

We are currently living in very challenging times, including a reduction in human connection. Few of us are unaffected by grief or anxiety. All Enneagram Types, during times of acute and chronic stress, and particularly in these challenging times, can “project” onto other people. This can mean that we see qualities in others that are really disowned parts of ourselves (“I’m not angry, but you sure are!!”). Or we think we see in others the attitudes that are parts of the “story” of our Enneagram Type (“I always worry about whether people are approving of me, so I see you as being disapproving, putting me down”). Often, we’re feeling something, insecure for example, and then project blame on others for why we are feeling that way.

An Overview of the Enneagram Types

Enneagram Chart. The Strivings come mostly from Mario Sikora. The two-adjective descriptions are from the Enneagram Institute, as are most of the Type names.

Enneagram One, The Idealist, Striving to be Perfect.

At their best they are rational, dependable and highly principled. They care about doing the “right thing” and aligning their lives to their values. At average levels they tend to measure themselves and others against an internal standard of “shoulds,” and both they and the world tend to fall short of the mark. They are aware, or hyper-aware, of expectations. Under stress they become more rigid, critical and judgmental of themselves and others. They can also respond to acute stress by becoming moody, temperamental and self-pitying. They can project that others view them as bad or defective, or that others are flaky and irresponsible.

Enneagram Two, The Helper/Mentor, Striving to be Connected.

At their best they are empathetic, kind, compassionate, and caring. They naturally attune to others and enjoy being of service. At average levels they can “give to get” because their self-image and value depends on being viewed as “helpful.” Under stress they become more intrusive and blind to their own needs. They can also respond to acute stress by becoming angry and punishing of themselves and others. They can project that others see them as unlovable, or that others are self-absorbed and hypersensitive.

Enneagram Three, The Achiever, Striving to be Outstanding

At their best they are authentic, high performing, adaptable, admirable and effective. At average levels they are constantly driven because their self-esteem lies in being viewed as outstanding by themselves and others. Under stress they become more chameleon-like (doing what they perceive it takes to be viewed the way they want to be seen), task-focused (at the expense of themselves and the people around them), and deceptive. They can also respond to acute stress by zoning out and detaching. They can project that others view them as worthless, or that others are anxious and insecure.

Enneagram Four, The Individualist, Striving to be Unique

At their best they are creative, unique, sensitive and deep. At average levels they can overly identify with negative feeling states (envy, past hurts and pain, and feeling misunderstood or unseen by others). Under stress they become more self-absorbed, envious, moody, and hypersensitive. They can also respond to acute stress by excessively taking care of others. They can project that others see them as having no significance, or that others are critical and heartless.

Enneagram Five, The Observer/Investigator, Striving to Know

At their best they are curious, insightful, focused and integrative thinkers. At average levels they tend to withdraw from the world in order to make sense of it and resist sharing who they are. This is especially true if they perceive they are not in a position to show they “know” what they are expected to know. Under stress they become even more withdrawn, detached, and antagonistic. They can also respond to acute stress by becoming flighty and escapist. They can project that others view them as incompetent, or that others are angry and intimidating.

Enneagram Six, The Troubleshooter, Striving to be Secure

At their best they are committed, team-oriented, trustworthy and dedicated to provide needed security to themselves and others. At average levels their minds go towards negative thinking (what if…..what could go wrong) and they overly focus on safety and security. Under stress they become more anxious, indecisive, reactive and suspicious. They can also respond to acute stress by becoming workaholic and deceptive. They can project that others are unwilling to support them, or are the ones contributing to a lack of security, or that others are lazy and stubborn.

Enneagram Seven, The Enthusiast, Striving to be Excited

At their best they are playful, energetic, spontaneous and joyful. At average levels they can restlessly pursue positive experiences, be impatient, have trouble focusing and committing, and be very irritated by any tasks seen as repetitive, tedious or boring. Under stress they become more restless, flighty, and distracted. They can also respond to acute stress by becoming sharply critical and judgmental. They can project that others are trapping them in pain and deprivation, or that others are antagonistic and detached.

Enneagram Eight, The Challenger, Striving to be Powerful

At their best they are magnanimous, vital, championing, vulnerable and courageous. At average levels they can protect themselves (consciously or not) by keeping others off-balance and hiding their vulnerability. Under stress they become more combative, intimidating and bullying. They can also respond to acute stress by shutting down and withdrawing. They can project that others are trying to harm or control them, or that others are needy and intrusive.

Enneagram Nine, The Peacemaker, Striving to be Comfortable

At their best they are calm, peaceful, supportive and harmonious. They are natural mediators in conflictual situations. At average levels they can “check out” to avoid conflict or having their comfort disturbed. Under stress they become more disengaged, overly compliant, stubborn and passive-aggressive. They can also respond to acute stress by becoming highly anxious and fearful. They can project that others are disconnected from them, or that others are superficial and inauthentic.

Conclusion

So many of our clients continue to use the Enneagram as their primary model for self-awareness, self-development, and working more effectively with each other. We often hear people say, after learning their Types, something like, “I wish I’d known this 20 years ago.” Please take the time to cull its gifts.

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Building individual and organizational capacity through executive coaching, organizational/team effectiveness consulting and leadership development.

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Clear Impact Consulting Group

Building individual and organizational capacity through executive coaching, organizational/team effectiveness consulting and leadership development.