The Enneagram

Extraordinary Map to Your Gifts, Habits and Patterns

Clear Impact Consulting Group
37 min readAug 7, 2022
Almost all Striving names are taken from Mario Sikora, the Type names and adjective pairs are from the Enneagram Institute

Most of our readers have taken some sort of personality typology assessment: Meyers Briggs (MBTI), DISC, etc. Typologies are essentially ways of differentiating groups of people from each other for the purpose of self-awareness and other-awareness. In our experience, while we’ve been certified in those instruments as well, nothing matches the power of the Enneagram for better understanding self and others and working together more effectively.

Unlike other articles, all we can do here is to begin to introduce this powerful model. It would take a whole book to describe the Enneagram system in more detail, including longer descriptions of each Enneagram Type. If you’d like more depth, we have a full set of free Enneagram training videos on YouTube that explain the system, the Enneagram Triads, and go into more detail about each Enneagram Type. Just go to YouTube and search for “Clear Impact Enneagram” and you’ll find them.

The Enneagram has been our self-awareness tool of choice for almost 30 years. It describes nine different sets of values and filters through which the world can be seen. Our Enneagram approach does not put people in boxes. Instead, we assist individuals in recognizing and expanding the boxes they’re already in so that they have more freedom to express their deepest gifts and values. It’s a respectful and dynamic system that provides a path of healthy development for each type, including how to build on strengths and avoid pitfalls. The Enneagram assists leaders in understanding themselves, those to whom they report, others in the organization, customers/clients, and their organization itself through new eyes. When we integrate the gifts of the Enneagram, our energy is freed for productivity and creativity that was previously lost in frustration and agitation.

The Enneagram is focused on much more than surface behavior. Instead, it illuminates what most likely drives surface behavior — our underlying motivations. We refer to underlying motivations as governing variables. They are the attitudes, beliefs, assumptions, mental models, and filters of perception that guide how we act.

Another way of describing the Enneagram is to say it is not simply a personality system. It goes beyond personality and describes the nine “deep structures” that drive the kind of behavior that’s typically called personality. Two people with the same Enneagram Type, the same underlying structure, can be very different. One may be introverted, another extroverted. One person might be kind, another might be harsh. One can be analytical, another deeply feeling. One can lead a life of active conflict, another can be conflict-avoidant. Yet all these people are driven by the same governing variables; they have the same underlying fears and the same potential strengths.

Until we’ve integrated their wisdom, the Enneagram types generally operate quite unconsciously in us. We don’t notice the assumptions we make, beliefs we hold, or particular emotional, mental, and physical patterns that characterize how we act and react. Instead, we operate on autopilot. When people first learn the Enneagram, they tend to be quite surprised at how much of what they considered “spontaneous” behavior is accounted for by the Enneagram type. Once they become aware of the Enneagram, they are equally surprised at the increase in their ability to lead and perform more effectively.

An Overview of the Enneagram Types

We would like to give you an overview of all the Types, with the understanding that these are very brief descriptions. If you don’t already know your Enneagram Type, please use these thumbnail sketches to begin your search. Please watch our free training videos for more depth, by going on YouTube in putting in “Clear Impact” and “Enneagram.” Or read some of the excellent books or websites that explain the Enneagram and remember that not all of them are of equal value and depth. We highly recommend our friend Russ Hudson, as well as the work he did with his partner Don Riso at the Enneagram Institute, particularly for those with a self-awareness and spiritual orientation. We also like the work of Mario Sikora and Ginger Lapid Bogda if readers are looking for a more business-oriented perspective.

In this short overview, we’re generally, but not always, using the Enneagram Type names from the Enneagram Institute, and the strategy or striving names from Mario Sikora’s work.

Enneagram One, The Reformer: Striving to feel Perfect/Beyond Reproach

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 their view of 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 feel 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 depend 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 begin to punish 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 feel 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 their own expense and of 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 feel 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 feel Mastery/Detached

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 feel Secure

At their best they are committed, team-oriented, trustworthy, and dedicated to providing the needed security for 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 workaholics 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 feel 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 they see 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 feel 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 feel Peaceful

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 have 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.

Some Basics About the Enneagram

Core Features of the Enneagram Types

There are many Core Features we use to assist people in understanding and working with their Enneagram Types. In this chapter, we outline these features by applying them to people who are Type One, the Reformer, who is Striving to feel Perfect/Beyond Reproach. These core features include:

  • Striving or Strategy. This comes largely from the work of Mario Sikora, although we made some changes to his descriptions based on our own experience. 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, Type One, the Reformer, is Striving To feel Perfect/Beyond Reproach. The strategy is to correct self and others to align with their principles and to do the right thing.
  • Core Qualities. These are the positive qualities of individuals of each Enneagram Type when they’re at their best. They are the gifts of the Type. People of each Type typically recognize the Core Qualities as values they hold dear. For Enneagram One these qualities include being idealistic, objective, aligned with deep values and principles, expressing a deep commitment to fairness, and doing the right thing, including a love of goodness, alignment, sacredness, and order.
  • Emotional Energy. This is the “fuel’ of the Type and can have negative impacts on Levels of Presence and Freedom, which we describe later in this chapter. Emotional Energy 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 frustrating belief that others don’t care as much as I do. If I remain unaware of this Emotional Fuel and its impacts, I may slide down the Levels of Presence and Freedom.
  • Habit of Mind. This is what our mind does to support the Emotional Energy that typifies each Enneagram type. For example, for the Reformer, the Habit of Mind is Judging and believing that no one is good enough — not me, not other people, and not the world.
  • Basic Fear. This is what is operating deep below the surface, to drive the overall Enneagram pattern. For Enneagram One, the Basic Fear is of being defective.
  • Wake-Up Call. This is an event or circumstance that pulls each Type from High Performance into the Average range. For Enneagram One, a wake-up call is an insistent sense of obligation and pressure to fix everything themselves.
  • Instinctual Bias. This is a very important, separate yet interconnected system that illuminates tendencies we all have to focus on attention on some areas more than on others. It helps understand variations in each Enneagram Type, how some can seem quite different from each other. There are three primary clusters of instincts that are used in conjunction with the Enneagram, leading to 27 different Enneagram subtypes. Russ Hudson refers to the Instinctual Variants as three core drives that show up when we watch Animal Kingdom. They are three clusters of largely instinctual behaviors that serve to preserve the species over time. We were just in Mexico and could see all three instincts playing out in the pelicans we delighted in watching. We prefer Mario Sikora’s terms and overall formulation for the Instinctual Biases. We present our understanding or adaptation of his system below.

Instinctual Biases

  • The Preserving Domain focuses on taking care of the physical needs of ourselves and others. This includes health and wellbeing, keeping ourselves and loved ones safe from harm, practical life needs including finances, and domestic concerns (home, hearth, comfort).
  • The Navigating Domain focuses on our place in the herd, adapting and getting along with others. This includes attention to trust and reciprocity, receiving and sending cues, participating in the world, understanding the social order including status and identity, and how people get and use power and influence.
  • The Transmitting Domain focuses on extending ourselves into the future and on intensity of interaction. This includes broadcasting (general attention-getting) and then narrowcasting (focusing our attention on particular people), the energy of activation and release (intensity, immersion, absorption) and legacy, leaving one’s mark.
  • The Zones. In Sikora’s system one of these Instinctual Biases is the Zone of Enthusiasm, where we put most of our attention, often unconsciously, sometimes too much. Remember that overly focusing on one domain doesn’t mean we’re good at it, or that we do so in a way that’s adaptive for us or others. One Instinctual Bias is our Zone of Inner Conflict, where we’re more ambivalent. The third Instinctual Bias is our Zone of Indifference, often the least developed and potentially a blind-spot.
  • Instinctual Patterns of Expression. In Sikora’s system there is a predictable ordering of these Instinctual Biases. He asserts that if our Zone of Enthusiasm is Preserving, then our Zone of Inner Conflict will be Navigating and our Zone of Indifference will be Transmitting. The other two patterns are Navigating/Transmitting/Preserving and Transmitting/Preserving/Navigating.
  • Relationship Between the Instinctual Biases and Enneagram Types. We’ve heard him say that the Instinctual Bias is what’s important to us, and the Enneagram Type is our strategy for getting that. We see it slightly differently. The Instinctual Bias indicates what’s important to us, but so does the Enneagram Type. For example, a Preserving Enneagram One will have a focus on safety and well-being (Preserving) but will also tend to have Enneagram One-related values like fairness, justice and integrity.

Levels of Presence & Freedom within the Enneagram Types

Another Core Feature is what we will be referring to as the Levels of Presence & Freedom within each type. Two different people with the same Enneagram Type can show up very differently. They can even seem to have opposite characteristics. For example, Enneagram Eights are Striving to feel Powerful. Some Enneagram Eights are the most empowering people on the Enneagram typology. Others are the most disempowering. How can this be possible? How can two Enneagram Eights be so different? The Levels of Presence & Freedom help us to understand this apparent contradiction.

This is our chart of the Levels of Presence & Freedom:

Most presentations of personality typologies present each type in a box. For example, a presenter might tell participants, “If you’re an INTP in the Myers/Briggs Assessment (MBTI), or a high D (Dominant) in the DISC Personality Test, this is who you’re likely to be, and how you’re likely to act.” Unfortunately, even the Enneagram can be presented this way by some practitioners. We don’t just disagree with this way of presenting a typology. We see it as unethical, particularly in a business setting.

Why do we consider that poor practice, and even unethical? Humans are not static. Two people with the same Enneagram Type can show up very differently. How does this happen? Let’s use that example of an Enneagram Eight.

All Enneagram Eights have a Striving to feel Powerful. They have Core Qualities of vitality, power, strength, realness, immediacy, and aliveness. They also have a Basic Fear of being harmed, controlled, or violated. As you surely know, who we are is very much impacted by our early life experiences. So while all Enneagram Eights have this Basic Fear, some Enneagram Eights had a difficult childhood that brought that Basic Fear of being harmed, controlled, or violated very much to the forefront. Their experience was that they were not safe, emotionally, or perhaps physically. Coupled with a low level of self-awareness, such an Enneagram Eight might use their Striving to feel Powerful, coupled with their Core Qualities of vitality and strength, primarily to protect themselves from any further harm, control, or violation. This could lead them to undermine and disempower others, to use their powerful presence to intimidate others, or keep them off balance in some way.

Another Enneagram Eight might have grown up in a much more safe and secure setting. The Core Fear is still there, but not nearly as activated. Or perhaps they also had a difficult early life, but have gone through a considerable period of self-awareness and reflection, and are thus less impacted by the impulse to protect themselves with their dynamism. This Enneagram Eight not only enjoys their sense of vitality, but wants that for everyone. They thus can be the most empowering types on the Enneagram.

This pattern exists for all nine types, where those with more awareness and freedom express themselves in a way that’s opposite to how someone of the same type would express themselves at a much lower level of awareness and freedom. In a similar way, those at lower levels tend to be much more self-absorbed, while those at higher levels are much more focused on making values-based contributions to others.

So our first point is that two people of the same type can, in general, show up very differently. That’s why we’ll never say in an Enneagram Workshop something like, “If you’re an Enneagram Eight, this is how you’ll act.” Some Enneagram Eights will tend to reflect the higher qualities of their type, while others will tend to reflect the more problematic qualities.

But it goes beyond that. As we’ll describe below in our introduction to the Levels of Presence & Freedom, while each of us has a most typical level (our Center of Gravity) we also have a typical range that we can experience and express throughout the day, depending on things like stress, tiredness, and contextual issues. So, continuing with our example of Enneagram Eight, a given Enneagram Eight may be more or less empowering, throughout a single day, depending on a variety of factors.

The Enneagram describes the structure of our personality, but not how any given Enneagram Eight will show up. We think it’s vital to introduce the Enneagram in this way to our clients.

Presenting a typology in a static way is a disservice to the individual and can lead people to judge each other in negative ways. We’ve had people with a superficial understanding of the Enneagram say things like, “Well, I hope we don’t have any Enneagram Eights!” They are of course referring to not wanting to have disempowering bullies. But who wouldn’t want to have empowering, vibrant, energizing team members who are willing to support their colleagues, through thick and thin, even in the face of great pressure? And who are willing to push forward with strength and determination despite the obstacles?

As we said, integrating the Levels of Presence & Freedom is a way to understand the great variability in how people of the same Enneagram type can show up. This expression, Levels of Presence & Freedom, was developed by Don Riso and Russ Hudson of the Enneagram Institute, the organization through which we are Certified Enneagram Teachers. These levels help us to better understand ourselves and others, as well as to be aware of how we and others move between higher and lower aspects of our Enneagram types.

Look at the above diagram. Riso and Hudson provide descriptions of nine Levels of Presence & Freedom organized into three broad categories. We’ve adapted their framework and use names for the three broad categories that are more appropriate in the contexts where we work. Levels 1–3 we call High Performance, Levels 4–6 we call Average (which ranges from High Average to Low Average), and we call Levels 7–9 Acute/Chronic Stress.

Look again at the diagram. Few people function consistently at Levels 1 and 2. Those that do would be unusually evolved humans, very mindful and self-aware. They’d likely be a joy to be around and largely living in alignment with their highest values. In the same way, few people function much of the time at Levels 8 and 9. Such people would be extremely erratic, dysfunctional and dysregulated, and likely dangerous to themselves and/or others. Therefore, for the majority of us we can focus most of our attention on Levels 3 through 7.

At Level 3 (High Performance) we’re more present and operate with a considerable amount of self-awareness and ongoing mindfulness. This allows us to bring out the primarily positive qualities of our Type, and gently steer away from more negative ones. Our lives are more about being of service rather than acting out more compulsive and self-oriented needs. At Level 4 (High Average) we’re much less mindfully self-aware. We’re more identified with a social role (and thus have less freedom than someone at Level 3), and we’re more trapped in some repetitive patterns that impact our sense of inner peace, but our lives are generally going well. As we move down in Levels of Presence & Freedom, to Level 5 (Average), Level 6 (Low Average) and then into Level 7 (the first level of Acute/Chronic Stress), we become increasingly self-oriented, objectifying others by seeing them as “good” or “bad” depending on the extent to which they’re meeting our needs (or not). Our lives become increasingly contentious and conflictual. We’re increasingly unsettled inside, our relationships are less harmonious, and we have less inner peace.

Robert Kegan and the Movement from Subject to Object

One way to understand how the Enneagram helps people learn about themselves is through what Harvard Professor Robert Kegan, an esteemed developmental psychologist, calls the movement from Subject to Object. To understand his point, imagine you’ve been wearing a pair of colored glasses all your life. You’ve never been without them. You don’t even know you have them on. (Yes, we understand that you’d feel them on your nose, so this isn’t a perfect analogy, but stay with us!) These glasses impact everything you see, but you don’t know that because you’ve always looked at the world through them. Then one day someone points out your colored glasses. You take them off for the first time. You examine them thoughtfully and reflect on how they’ve impacted your worldview. You can now see the world more clearly.

One of us (the authors) remembers his first Enneagram week-long workshop. When the Enneagram teacher described his Enneagram Type, he recognized immediately that this Type represented the lenses through which he saw the world and had always seen the world. That Enneagram Type had a particular set of motivations, filters, and blind spots. Not just that. He could look back at all he had done, in all realms of his life — personal, professional, academic, spiritual — and see that these motivations were a common thread through all of them. And not just that, they’d been motivations that had been largely unseen or at least unexamined. He had literally been looking at the world through those lenses. Now he had the opportunity to take them off and examine them, noticing both the positive and the problematic ways they had influenced his life.

This new self-awareness is what Kegan refers to as the move from Subject to Object. Kegan sees individual evolution occurring as we develop the ability to step back and reflect on something we used to take for granted or that was hidden from us, which are unseen governing variables. They affect everything we do. Yet we can’t see them because they are lenses through which we look — they remain unquestioned — simply part of the self. In Kegan’s words, we don’t have things that are Subject — they have us. Our behavior is the result of these governing variables, without us even knowing it. With the right opportunity for taking off our glasses to become aware of them, underlying deep structures or unseen governing variables become Objects we can now see and consider, question, and reflect on. This reflection requires self-awareness and self-honesty.

While we didn’t even know we were wearing colored glasses — we now can take them off, look at them, understand their impact, see the world more clearly, and make different choices. Instead of those things having us, now we have them, along with a greater degree of freedom and an ability to respond effectively. The more freedom we have, the more perspectives we can take on, the more effectively we can address the contexts in which we work, and the more we encourage our own evolution, along with the evolution of our teams and organizations.

As a common language and model for talking about differences between people that may show up at home or at work, the Enneagram greatly assists in eliminating energy-sapping power struggles while facilitating appreciation for a diversity of perspectives and providing support for effective collaborative.

Movement on the Levels of Presence & Freedom

From the perspective of functioning within our Enneagram Type, we each have a Center of Gravity — a Level of Presence & Freedom we function at most of the time. With respect to our Center of Gravity, we also have a general range — e.g., from how we usually show up on our best days, to how we show up under moderate to significant stress.

If you look at this diagram, you will notice we include a column that has the numbers from 1–9. These are the range of Levels of Presence & Freedom, from High Performance to Acute/Chronic Stress. The hypothetical person in the left represented by the large black dot has a Center of Gravity at Level 3. They are individuals who have cultivated considerable ongoing presence, mindfulness and self-awareness. They are of service to their highest values, enjoy themselves, and tend to have smooth personal and professional relationships. On good days they’re extraordinary (Level 2) and even on their bad days they’re moderately contentious, argumentative, and disharmonious (Level 5). You would almost certainly enjoy having one of these people in your life.

The person on the right, however, has a Center of Gravity at Level 6. Most of this person’s life is difficult, problematic, and stormy. There is likely significant ongoing tension, relationship difficulties, and emotional dysregulation. On good days they’re still difficult. On bad days their instability can have a severe impact on themselves and/or others. You would likely not want this person in your life if you could avoid it. You would experience a high level of turmoil and discomfort.

What are some of the key differences in our behavior as we function at higher Levels of Presence & Freedom? At higher levels, it’s like the lights are turned on. We’re increasingly able to watch what we’re doing from the perspective of the Compassionate Inner Observer. This allow us to gently steer our lives in the directions of what’s truly most important to us. An increasing lack of self preoccupation allows us to be more aware of others in our lives, and our impact on them, and a desire to have this impact be positive.

As we move downward in these Levels, it’s like the inner light becomes increasingly dim. We have much less ability to observe our thinking, feeling and behavior from a compassionate place. Rather than a Compassionate Inner Observer, we’re more likely to have a harsh Inner Critic. Were more compulsive and reactive, less thoughtful and reflective. We become more and more self-absorbed, and increasingly tend to view others as objects in relation to our wants and needs. At the lower Levels, we might convey a message such as: I like you when you meet my needs, particularly my needs for how I want to see myself. I dislike you (even hate you) when you don’t meet my needs or impact my self-image positively.

At higher levels of Presence & Freedom we are naturally more oriented to act in accordance with our deeper values. We are more focused on the contributions we can make to others and to the world. Our relationships are more harmonious. We are happier and more content. We are more actively self-aware. At average to lower Levels of Presence & Freedom we are increasingly more self-oriented and unhappy. We’re led by habits and patterns that were formed when we were very young. Our relationships are increasingly conflictual. We operate more out of an unconscious modes or habits. We are less aware of the lenses that severely distort what we see and influence how we respond to what’s going on.

We mentioned earlier that we refer to the three major ranges of Levels of Presence & Freedom as High Performance, Average, and Acute/Chronic Stress. Within the Average level, where most people function most of the time, there’s a big difference between those at High Average and those at Low Average. We have more freedom when functioning at higher levels and more patterned and compulsive behavior when we function at lower levels. As we go down the Levels, we become increasingly self-focused. The relationship between two people whose Center of Gravity is High Average, for example, will be relatively harmonious and interdependent, and a lot less conflictual, than the relationship between two people whose Center of Gravity is Low Average.

Remember again that these Levels are fluid. We each have a Center of Gravity where we function most of the time, and a range we tend to move to on our best or worst days. On any given day we move may up and down the Levels of Presence & Freedom.

Enneagram Exemplars

In our training, 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. Many are made by very thoughtful and knowledgeable Enneagram teachers and practitioners. But they are still just guesses. As you’ll find on an internet search, there is a lot of disagreement! Unless those famous people actually did their own investigation into their Enneagram Types, and/or worked with experienced professionals, and publicly declared their Type, all the assertions on the Internet and in the books of most Enneagram teachers are at best educated guesses.

With all those caveats in mind about assuming we know the Enneagram Types of others, we present pairs of individuals who may have the same Enneagram Type, the same governing variables, but whose manifestation in the world is radically different, either because they operate (or operated) from very different Levels of Presence & Freedom, or because in some other way they are very different expressions of the same underlying variables.

The pairs we currently present are:

  • Enneagram Eight: Mother Teresa and Saddam Hussein
  • Enneagram Nine: Mr. Rogers (from the TV show) and Abraham Lincoln
  • Enneagram One: Jerry Seinfeld and Mahatma Gandhi
  • Enneagram Two: Albert Schweitzer and the Kathy Bates character from the movie Misery
  • Enneagram Three: Oprah Winfrey and Bernie Madoff
  • Enneagram Four: the performers Leonard Cohen and Amy Winehouse
  • Enneagram Five: the Unabomber and Albert Einstein
  • Enneagram Six: Mike Tyson and Woody Allen
  • Enneagram Seven: John Belushi and Richard Branson

We apologize in advance if our readers, don’t recognize all these people. It’s hard to find people who are known by most generations, but hopefully you get the picture from those you do recognize, or you’ll spend a few minutes looking up some of these people. Reflecting on these pairings highlights the dynamic nature of the Enneagram and demonstrates that no Type is better or worse than another Type. What matters is how we show up within our Type.

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.

Much has been written about the possible history of the Enneagram. No one really knows where it came from and exactly how it was disseminated. The Russian mystic George Gurdjieff (1866–1949) certainly used it, but from whom did he learn it? For now, we will just highlight one powerful aspect.

The Odyssey is one of oldest works of literature that is still read today. It was written between 700 or 600 years B.C.E. (Before the Common Era, which used to be marked off by the birth of Jesus of Nazareth). It was likely an oral story before it was written down by the Greek author Homer. It chronicles the journeys of Odysseus (Ulysses) after he fights the Trojan War (smart guy, coming up with the Trojan Horse!) as he tries to return to his home in Ithaca. The trip home is supposed to take about seven weeks. Instead it took ten years and he went through many challenges. During that time, he went through nine separate realms before returning home. A colleague of ours, Michael Goldberg, proposes that these are, in sequential order, exactly representative of the nine Enneagram Types: The first realm represents Type Nine, then Type Eight, and the last one is Type One. We find his book compelling. And, if true, that’s astounding. It means that the basics of this Enneagram system were known before 600 B.C.E. Given that the Odyssey is seen as having come from an oral tradition of storytelling, who knows how far back this was known?

This is one of the many reasons that we see the Enneagram as “the real thing.” Each human being is one of nine deep structures and core patterns. There are no exceptions. Sometimes it takes more time and dialogue to clarify someone’s Enneagram Type, but in the end they are one of these nine Types. And only one of them, not a combination of two or more of them. It’s as if we are formed out of nine different molds. This isn’t just an arbitrary way of dividing humans up along different dimensions. The assumption among most Enneagram practitioners, including us, is much deeper than that. We see the Enneagram as the core system that defines individual differences at the level of deep structure or governing variables.

Beatrice Chestnut has described how the Enneagram system is apparently also present in Dante’s Inferno, written in the early 1300s. It is ancient wisdom that we’re sharing, not some “pop psychology” fad.

The Enneagram in Infant Developmental Psychology

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 who study infant temperament also came out with nine styles that they map so closely with Enneagram Types? This is another cross-validation of the system in general and the idea that we are either born with these Types, or they form very early.

The Lines Connecting the Enneagram Types

Let’s start with the Enneagram symbol itself. As you can see, this diagram identifies all nine Enneagram Types and names the Life Strategies of each Type, e.g., Type One is The Reformer whose Life Strategy is to feel Perfect/Beyond Reproach and who tends to be rational and idealistic.

You’ll see that the Enneagram symbol is composed of an inner Triangle and an irregular Hexad (six-pointed figure). On the inner Triangle there are lines connecting Types Three, Six, and Nine. On the Hexad there are lines connecting Types One, Four, Two, Eight, Five and Seven.

Further, most Enneagram diagrams have arrows on each of these lines. On Diagram #5, the inner Triangle has one set of arrows that goes from Types Nine to Three to Six and back to Nine. On the Hexad, another set of arrows goes from Types One to Four to Two to Eight to Five to Seven and back to One.

The lines and arrows are not arbitrary. There is a great deal of meaning to be gleaned from them. We have a handout that goes into depth about the multiple meanings of these lines and arrows that you can access with this link. Contact us if you’d like it.

There’s some disagreement among Enneagram practitioners about the precise meaning of these lines and arrows. Most would agree that we don’t change our Enneagram Type, but that rather, in certain situations, we take on higher or lower aspects of other Types, as represented by the lines and arrows on the Triangle and Hexad.

We’ve recently adopted a metaphor from Seth Creekmore of the Awareness to Action Enneagram Podcast that we think helps clarify some of the confusion that can arise from the lines. If I’m an Enneagram One, I have a line to Enneagram Four and a line to Enneagram Seven. Imagine that I’m standing at Enneagram One, and I have one arm going to each of the other Types. I never stop being an Enneagram One, but I take qualities and characteristics from each of those other two Types and pull them toward me, consciously or unconsciously. These can be higher or lower aspects within those Types, depending on my overall level of functioning. But once a One, always a One.

To be clear, I can draw on aspects of the two connecting lines in a way that’s adaptive or maladaptive. And I can do it consciously (which is more rare) or unconsciously. The extent to which I do so adaptively or maladaptively has a lot to do with the Level of Freedom & Awareness I’m functioning at, at the moment.

The Enneagram Institute (Riso/Hudson), among others, called the line that goes against the arrows the Direction of Integration, if this happens at High Performance, and called it the Direction of Security, if this happens from the Average range of Presence & Freedom. Awareness to Action (Mario Sikora), following their focus on each Type having a specific Strategy, calls it the Neglected Strategy. The Enneagram Institute calls the line that goes with the arrows the Direction of Stress, while Awareness to Action calls it the Support Strategy.

In the past, most theorists saw the movement against the arrows as reflecting something positive or growth-producing, and the movement with the arrows as reflecting something negative or problematic. This has changed, at least among some theorists. Regardless of the name given to the two lines, both Russ Hudson and Mario Sikora hold the position that we described previously, namely that people can draw on the two connecting points in both adaptive and maladaptive ways.

Let’s give a brief example, again using Enneagram One, and the line from Enneagram One to Enneagram Four. Traditionally this was called the Direction of Stress, and represented negative movement for the Enneagram One. Enneagram Ones are usually very rational and idealistic. They put their feelings aside in order to take action that aligns with their values and to try to make the world a better place. But they’re also very hard on themselves, with a very active Inner Critic that focuses mostly on what’s not right about them and/or the world. At times the pressure of this stance builds up to the point where, using that “arm” to Enneagram Four, the Enneagram One unconsciously draws some of the more negative qualities of that Type. They can become very emotional, moody, depressed, even hopeless, and feel sorry for themselves.

But there can also be a positive way for our Enneagram One to work with the line to Enneagram Four. For those of you who watched the original Star Trek, you of course remember Spock. He had a Vulcan father (very logical, scientific) and a human (emotional) mother. In the TV show he fought the human side, sometimes vehemently, so that he could make more rational decisions. We see Spock as an Enneagram One fighting the part of him that’s connected to Enneagram Four. What if Spock attended a personal growth event, or met a wise being like Yoda (mixing Star Trek and Star Wars) and realized that he was under constant strain because of his rigid internal stance, holding his feelings at bay, and decided to consciously explore his “feeling” side? He attends some self-awareness workshops, identifies and becomes more comfortable and gently accepting of his feelings, becomes more self-compassionate, and learns to connect to others in ways that are emotionally fulfilling. Perhaps he explores his creative or artistic side (almost a high Enneagram Four quality) and finds expression for feelings both positive and negative, that he’s long repressed. The result of this conscious engagement with Enneagram Four is a more whole human being who, paradoxically to his original stance, is now able to make even better decisions and take even more effective action and be of even more service to (in Spock’s case) the known universe.

Hopefully this makes sense, seeing how the line to Enneagram Four can be both negative (in a way that’s usually unconscious and reactive) and very positive (in a way that’s usually conscious and responsive). Please see our handout for more of the nuances of these movements.

Seeing the Lines as Polarities

This article, both on Polarity Thinking and 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?” Look again at the Enneagram Diagram. From this perspective, an increasingly healthy Type One would be able to function 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 be more versatility in the movement our Type One person would make. The ability to respond more effectively to whatever is arising would increase. We provide more detail in the article on the Enneagram Polarities.

Other Essential Elements in Understanding the Enneagram

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

Most personality systems identify people on two to four factors, and provide descriptions based on where people fit on each. For example, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) places people on four scales: Introverted vs. Extraverted, Sensing vs. Intuitive, Thinking vs. Feeling, and Judging vs. Perceiving. By taking the MBTI assessment, participants are assigned to a “type” based on the four factors identified above. Your MBTI Type ostensibly predicts who you are and how you’ll act.

The Enneagram is very different, at least the way we understand and present it. We assume, as do a majority of current theorists, that we are either born a particular Enneagram Type, or that a Type forms very early (at least in the first couple of years), and remains constant for the rest of our lives. That is, once we are an Enneagram Type, we will be the same Type until our last breath. But remember, this is not a life sentence! Every Enneagram Type has the potential to be equally wonderful (or not), depending of course on our Levels of Presence & Freedom.

Some people state that we have all nine Types within us. This can be a glib statement. 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. This is why it’s so important to identify your correct Type. And again, our Enneagram Type doesn’t change. Unless, of course, you’ve had an extraterrestrial walk-in experience, and a new being, with a different Enneagram Type, has come to inhabit your body. If that happens, all bets are off!

No Enneagram Type makes a better leader or a better partner

People often ask us which Enneagram Type makes a better leader. We tell them that if you give us a list of everyone’s Enneagram Type, and their Center of Gravity on the Levels, we’ll ignore the Type and choose the person who functions, in general, at the highest Levels of Presence & Freedom.

The same is true about the almost inevitable question, “What Types work best in a relationship?” Our response is always the same: This isn’t like Astrology, where someone can say that if you’re an Aries you’ll get along best with a Virgo. Any two Types at High Performance, including the same Type, will tend to get along well and have a compatible, collaborative relationship, be self-aware and likely develop a mutually caring relationship. Any two Types at High Average will tend to get along well, with a little more conflict, particularly when their unconscious social roles clash with each other. Any two Types at Low Average will tend to have a lot of conflict, see each other primarily in terms of their own wants and needs, and be angry, rejecting or pull away when those needs aren’t met. Any two Types at Acute/Chronic Stress will likely have severe difficulties. With relationships, it’s all about the Levels of Presence & Freedom.

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 interpretations of the lines that connect the Types. There is great deal of information out there, but some is definitely better than other. It’s good to ask questions like how long a practitioner has been working in depth with the Enneagram, and whether they have certification from one of the long-standing, prestigious Enneagram institutes.

Beware over-simplifications, like statements that people of a certain Type all exhibit a particular behavior. The Enneagram really maps our character structure, the foundations of our personality. Two people with the same Enneagram Type, and even the same Level of Presence & Freedom, can still show up very differently.

Beware anything you read that says that it’s easy to find your own Enneagram Type or determine the Type of another person. We often hear people say things like, “The Enneagram? Yes, I took that test.” But the Enneagram isn’t a test. It’s a complex system, with tests that do the best they can to predict someone’s Enneagram Type. But no test is able with 100% accuracy to determine someone’s 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. Only a very experienced practitioner will be able to help you see when an assessment is actually incorrect, as all of them are at least some of the time.

Cultural and Contextual Influences

There are important cultural and contextual influences to understand when considering the Enneagram. Every individual is embedded in multiple cultures and contexts (national, organizational, ethnic, professional, and religious). These dimensions of experience impact how each Type shows up. An Enneagram Eight (The Challenger, Striving to feel 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 likely will appear very different. Similarly, we can take on qualities from our parents’ Enneagram Types, or that of our city and country, which makes it harder to identify our own Type, particularly at first.

Other Dos and Don’ts

The Enneagram should never be used as an excuse for poor behavior or poor performance. Beware of comments like: “Of course I’m codependent, I’m a Two!” The point of learning the Enneagram is to use it as an impetus for becoming an even better human being, not for justifying negative patterns.

Beware of using the Enneagram to blame or make fun of others. When teams learn about their Enneagram Types there can be a tendency to use the information to tease each other. These comments are almost always not funny, at least to the person receiving them. Keep the dialogue respectful, caring and positive.

You are not your personality. Your personality is the vehicle you’re riding in. It includes the lenses and filters through which you see the world and indicates your patterns of perception and behavior. “You” are much more than that. The Enneagram identifies “Your Story,” the narrative you apply to your life. It organizes your perceptions.

Finally, remember: You have no choice about whether you have an Enneagram Type, or what that Type might be. You can only identify it and use that information to be a better human being, parent, partner, friend, leader, etc.

Our Free Enneagram Training Videos

Identifying Your Enneagram Type

As we mentioned earlier, 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 your Type is vital because each Type has a different path of development and different elements that are most important to focus on. Some people recognize their Enneagram Type through our training videos, but it generally takes working with a skilled Enneagram Coach 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.

Summary

This is a particularly hard article to write. When we work with clients, we introduce them to the Enneagram on either a full-day workshop with us, when they watch a series of online training videos, or we do other more extensive personal work with them. But the Enneagram is such a fundamental part of our work that it would not have made sense to leave it out. Hopefully this gives you enough of a taste of its potential to support self-understanding and an understanding other people that you want to explore this typology further. Many of our clients continue to use the Enneagram as their primary model for self-awareness, self-development, and for working more effectively with others. We often hear people say after learning their Types that they wish they had known this about themselves 20 years earlier. We hope our readers will take the time to harvest its gifts.

Application & Reflection

First, we recommend you NOT go on the internet and take one of the many free or low-cost Enneagram assessments. As we wrote, we find them to be inaccurate at least as often as they’re accurate. People read the report, and then say something like, “Yes, that’s kind of like me” and they stop exploring and lose the potential power of identifying their correct Type. No Enneagram assessment can stand alone, without also working with a very skilled Enneagram practitioner. Our perspective is that you should only work with a practitioner who doesn’t need an assessment to help you determine your Enneagram Type. They can’t just rely on assessments. Practitioners need to have the personal expertise to help you identify your Type. If they do, they will be able to identify the times when assessments, no matter how sophisticated, are incorrect. It takes years to be at this level of proficiency as an Enneagram consultant. Buyer beware.

But once you accurately identify your Enneagram Type, with the help of a skilled practitioner, there is so much fertile application and reflection! One possibility is to incorporate it into our Integrative Cycles of Learning, or Goal-Plan-Action-Reflection process, throughout the day, by identifying one aspect of your Enneagram type that you’d like to focus on consistently for self-improvement. Or set a morning intention related to your Enneagram type, and then reflect at the end of the day on how you did and what positive results came from that.

There are many, many examples we could give for each Type. Here’s just a small sampling that all involve taking the natural Striving of that type to a higher octave of that same Striving:

  • Enneagram Eight, Striving to feel Powerful: Look for opportunities to see how being vulnerable and heartful, and allowing more empathy towards others in a way that brings people along with you, can help you be even more powerful.
  • Enneagram Nine, Striving to feel Peaceful: Look for opportunities to see how moving into action, taking initiative and becoming more engaged, including dealing directly with difficult situations, can help create a higher octave of genuine peace and harmony.
  • Enneagram One, Striving to feel Perfect/Beyond Reproach: Look for how taking yourself and others more lightly, and honoring multiple perspectives rather than one “right way,” can lead to a greater sense of alignment with your higher values.
  • Enneagram Two, Striving to feel Connected: Look for how becoming more self-aware, and then honoring your own needs, can lead to a deeper sense of connection to others.
  • Enneagram Three, Striving to feel Outstanding: Look for how being cooperative and of service to others, and to causes that you find meaningful, helps you achieve even more and feel even more outstanding.
  • Enneagram Four, Striving to feel Unique: Look for how stepping out of stormy emotional waters to take a more cool and rational perspective, helps you see your gifts and relax into your true identity and uniqueness.
  • Enneagram Five, Striving to feel Mastery/Detached: Look for how getting into direct action, and allowing yourself to be seen and known, adds to your depth of knowing.
  • Enneagram Six, Striving to feel Secure: Look for how allowing your mind to calm, and then trusting its direction, leads to a deeper sense of security.
  • Enneagram Seven, Striving to feel Excited: Look for how allowing yourself to be grounded, to stay in one place, to focus and savor the moment rather than be scattered, helps you feel a deeper level of true excitement and joy.

Please let us know if you have any comments or additional questions.

Clear Impact Consulting Group is Dr. Joel M. Rothaizer, MCC, ABPP and Dr. Sandra Hill. Hopefully, this article has stimulated some new thinking. We open-source our curriculum. Please subscribe to our Medium articles. You can find them all at Clear Impact Consulting Group — Medium. We welcome hearing from you. Our website is www.clear-impact.com. You can email us at partners[at]clear-impact.com.

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Clear Impact Consulting Group

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