What can an enneagram say about you?
The enneagram is a multi-layered, complex and dynamic system of psychological mapping. We cannot hope to deeply explore the many layers of the system in a single article, but it may be useful and at the very least interesting to put the nine primary points, or personality types, of the enneagram under the spotlight.
The enneagram symbol is based on sacred geometry and comprises the universal symbols of the circle, the triangle and the hexad. The nine outer points represent the nine personality types: (1) The Perfectionist, (2) The Giver, (3) The Performer, (4) The Tragic Romantic, (5) The Observer, (6) The Devilâ€™s Advocate, (7) The Epicure, (8) The Boss and (9) The Mediator.1
Each of the nine points is coloured by the points either side of it, known as â€œwingsâ€. For example, the wings of the Type 4 personality (Tragic Romantic) are Type 3 (Performer) and Type 5 (Observer). In addition, each personality type takes on the characteristics of other types when faced with certain life experiences. These are known as the stress and security points. For example, the Type 4 personality (Tragic Romantic) takes on the characteristics of Type 2 (Giver, or people pleaser) when feeling stressed and the characteristics of Type 1 (Perfectionist) when feeling deeply secure.
The nine personality types are further divided into three planes of intelligence: the mental, emotional and instinctual. Each personality type has one of these centres as a primary source or place of intelligence.
While you might identify with aspects of each of the nine personality types, youâ€™ll inevitably identify more strongly with one as a core point. At different times in your life, youâ€™ll also be influenced by the subtypes of this core point according to particular circumstances.
Evolution of the enneagram
The enneagram was first taught in the Sufi mystery schools and passed on verbally. It wasnâ€™t until the Russian metaphysician George Ivanovich Gurdjieff (1877-1949) started his own mystery school and began using the enneagram as a way of assisting his students spiritually that it became better known and popularised in the West. He, too, wrote nothing down, except the enneagram symbol, which he etched into the floor.
The enneagram was first written down by South American psychologist Oscar Ichazo, who researched and wrote several books about it in the 1950s. In the 70s, the noted psychiatrist Claudio Naranjo further developed the enneagram as an effective means of psychological typing, or mapping, which he taught and used in conjunction with other systems. He also uncovered the levels of development of the enneagram Gurdjieff had used. These levels revealed â€œthe gradations of growth and deterioration that people move through in their livesâ€.2
The personality types performed
Considering the Sufi practice of never recording the enneagram but passing it on through an oral teaching tradition, it seemed entirely appropriate to be an audience member watching a group of â€œactors as healers and social transformersâ€ depict on stage each of the nine enneagram personality fixations.3
1. The Perfectionist
First, the Type 1 character struts onto the stage: The Perfectionist. Heâ€™s an authoritarian, self-righteous priest who continually criticises his congregation for everything they do, telling them in no uncertain terms they simply arenâ€™t good enough. He gives a rather stiff sermon on the apparent lapse of the ethical and moral standards of his congregation, all the while diligently checking the cleanliness of the chapel. He declares he expects them to live up to the high ethical and moral standards exemplified by the Church, yet in private he reads pornography and regularly sees an S&M mistress.
Itâ€™s easy for Ones to see what is wrong with things and they are always looking for ways to improve any situation or person. They pride themselves on being responsible and doing things â€œthe right wayâ€. There is one way of doing things â€” their way â€” and they become resentful when this is not adhered to.
Ones put their work first and suppress other desires â€œin order to get the job doneâ€ but often end up breaking their own rules just to relieve the buildup of psychic pressure. They suppress their desires as necessary to get the work done.
Healthy Ones can be crusading moral heroes, principled teachers and organised, effective activists.
2. The Giver
Next, the Type 2 personality enters the stage: The Giver. Sheâ€™s a very caring, sharing nurse who pauses to straighten peopleâ€™s pillows, smooths the brows of audience members and offers everyone a lollypop. She is all-loving and all-giving, endearing herself to everyone by trying to guess their needs while she herself appears to have none. She loves being at everyoneâ€™s beck and call because it makes her feel wanted and loved.
Twos are very sensitive to other peopleâ€™s feelings. They are hyper-vigilantly tuned to what others need, even when they donâ€™t know them. They are caretakers who are good at meeting othersâ€™ needs but not their own. At worst, they are people pleasers and enablers. They find it difficult to say no.
Relationship is their highest priority because they want and need love. They try to maintain that by being indispensable, overly helpful and caring â€” sometimes to the point of being meddlesome. This can lead to them becoming manipulative and controlling of others. They often project the â€œgood girlâ€ image and get upset when not appreciated or taken into account.
Healthy Twos are genuinely caring, supportive and altruistic. They are the special friend.
3. The Performer
Suddenly, weâ€™re blasted with Simply the Best by Tina Turner and jumping on stage with the energy of someone who has just won gold at the Olympic Games is the Type 3 personality: The Performer. This guy is a workshop leader in personal development and positive thinking and is power-dressed in a swanky suit, grinning from ear to ear. He is the best! The first. A winner. Heâ€™s a high achiever and status seeker. Recognition is of the utmost importance to him.
Threes think their value is based on what they achieve. Thus, they are high achievers, always have hectic schedules and are often over-committed. They find it hard to sit and do nothing. They easily become impatient with those who donâ€™t use their time well. They like to be on top and they like to compete. They put their feelings on hold to achieve their goals.
Healthy Threes are great communicators, good promoters and motivators. They make good team leaders and role models, achieving their goals without losing touch with their heart centre. They get a lot done and are often successful at most things they touch.
4. The Tragic Romantic
On stage next is a sobbing, tear-stained bride; a crying, desperate female who has just been jilted at the altar. This is the Type 4 personality: The Tragic Romantic. Always searching for her true love but never finding him, she consoles herself with getting drunk and, in fact, consumes copious amounts on a regular basis to stave off loneliness, fear and the growing realisation that she may always be alone.
Fours are very sensitive, with intense feelings. Individualists, they often feel misunderstood and different from others. This leads them to feel â€œspecialâ€, so they find it difficult to connect with others. Their life reads like a Mills & Boon novel: very romantic and very dramatic. They crave emotional connection. Because they find it difficult to connect in the real world, they imagine the world they want, reliving it over and over. They often have strong fantasies of being rescued and they either project into the future what love will look like or rehash what could have been.
Fours are chronic victims. Others seem to have it â€œtogetherâ€ but Fours never feel they do. They feel thereâ€™s something wrong with them and they get trapped in the â€œpoor meâ€ syndrome, which leads to depression and melancholy. They often have a refined sense of aesthetics and experience a rich world of emotions and deeply plumbed meaning.
Healthy Fours are creative in their way of life. They are artistic, lovers of beauty and good at helping others through pain.
5. The Observer
Type 5, The Observer, is next. She is characterised as the nerdy scientist locked away in her room studying the stars and constellations, retreating and hiding from the world behind her hair and thick glasses.
Fives have no time for anyone. They feel that communication with the outside world is a waste of time and completely unnecessary. They feel that what they are studying or doing is of the utmost importance. They therefore become specialists in their chosen field. They tend to be analytical and need more time alone than the average person. They donâ€™t like too many demands to be placed on them. They find it difficult to get in touch with their feelings, especially with others around, and find it easier when on their own.
They enjoy their experiences more as a distant memory than when actually living them. They never really get bored as they have a very active mental life. They protect their time and energy and like to be as self sufficient as possible, living a simple, uncomplicated life.
Healthy Fives are learned intellectuals and deep thinkers; they become experts in their field of interest.
6. The Devilâ€™s Advocate
Retreating and shy, a girl in school uniform walks on stage and dumps her school bag on the floor. Worried, fearful and tense, she begins to neurotically pace up and down. The Devilâ€™s Advocate, she is the Type 6 personality, who feels she has to be perfect because she is afraid of everything in life. She reasons that if she is perfect, no one will pick on her and sheâ€™ll be left alone.
Sixes have vivid imaginations when it comes to what could threaten their safety and security. They have the ability to spot what could potentially be a harmful or dangerous situation. This makes them good troubleshooters. They are often paranoid and experience intense imagined fear, as if something bad were really happening. They either always avoid danger or always challenge it head on.
They tend to be stalwarts and traditionalists. Their intense imagination leads them to ingenuity. Life is uncertain. They doubt all that is around them â€” people and situations. They can see through people and can be very astute. They can be very suspicious of authority.
Healthy Sixes are loyal team members and good friends and guardians. They are fighters for the underdogâ€™s cause.
7. The Epicure
Grooving onto the stage in a way-out outfit and dancing to U2â€™s I Still Havenâ€™t Found What Iâ€™m Looking For is Type 7, The Epicure, the adventurer. She is going for a job interview as an assistant to an Arcturian, except she has misread the newspaper advertisement; the job is for an assistant to an actuary. She is a cross between a hippie and new-age fanatic who is always on the move and has done a million and one jobs (a jack-of-all-trades, master of none), all of which she divulges in her 200-page CV.
Sevens are ever optimistic and always coming up with new ideas. They have very active minds, always looking for the big-picture connection; how various ideas fit together. They are concept oriented.
They love to follow their passion and work on things that interest them. But, alas, they have a very hard time sticking to things that are tedious, repetitive and, to their mind, unrewarding. They are multi-tasking generalists. While they are good at being at the beginning of a project, they find it difficult to remain till the end. If something upsets them, they shift their mind to more pleasant things â€” quickly.
Healthy Sevens make good theorists. They are enthusiastic, optimistic, imaginative and inventive.
8. The Boss
Roaring onto the stage on a Harley-Davidson is the Type 8 character: The Boss. Chewing gum and staring confrontingly at everyone, she is the leader of a biker gang called The Outlaws. She is up-front, ballsy and confrontational; a maverick. She approaches everything in an all-or-nothing way, especially issues that matter to her. She places a lot of value on being strong, honest and dependable. She says, â€œWhat you see is what you get … I donâ€™t trust others until they have proved themselves.â€ She explains that she likes people to be direct and she â€œknows when someone is being devious, lying or trying to manipulateâ€.
Eights have a lot of difficulty tolerating what they perceive as weakness or vulnerability. They have a hard time following orders, so are leaders and are categorically in charge and in control. Entrepreneurial types, they make great providers. They find it difficult to hide their feelings when angry and frequently have rage attacks.
Healthy Eights make wonderful leaders, especially in the adversarial role. They are Rock of Gibraltar types, always ready to stick up for friends and loved ones when the crunch comes. They make great guardians.
9. The Mediator
Lying on a beanbag in front of the TV, asleep and snoring, is the Type 9 personality: The Mediator. Dirty and scruffy, she has food stains all over her clothes. She explains that her flatmates are always complaining that sheâ€™s always late, irresponsible and basically an unreliable slob. A real couch potato.
Nines are easygoing, pleasing and agreeable and they like others to accept them. They have a good ability to step into othersâ€™ shoes and see all points of view. Reconcilers, they appear indecisive at times because they are weighing up the pros and cons of a situation. This ability makes them good at helping other people resolve their differences but it can lead to their losing touch with their own position and identifying solely with the otherâ€™s point of view. They avoid conflict by going along with what others want, which can make them become passive aggressive.
They get distracted easily from the task at hand.4 Tasking is difficult for them as they have poor follow-through. They are also addictive types who narcotise on TV, food, nicotine, alcohol and other drugs.
Healthy Nines make excellent peacemakers and comforters. Good negotiators and empathetic counsellors, they achieve well when theyâ€™re on track. At their best, they are optimistic utopians.
A portal to self awareness
Portraying the nine-pointed enneagram system through performance (and seeing it performed) is undoubtedly a lot of fun and very much in keeping with the enneagramâ€™s ancient oral tradition, yet we donâ€™t want to lose sight of the deeper purpose behind it.
Understanding oneself in relation to the enneagram is really about becoming more aware in order to give up the suffering the personality has created by its unique fixation. This then allows what is already present â€” our soul essence â€” to be revealed.
Becoming aware of how we are keeping ourselves from realising our soul essence enables us to release and let go of our personality fixations. It helps us understand that these ordinary fixations of personality are really an opportunity for deeper awareness and a portal to greater consciousness. Therefore, the enneagram is a valuable teaching tool, either for self help or as a therapeutic model in the therapy room.
- These titles were coined by Helen Palmer, The Enneagram: Understanding Yourself and the Others in Your Life. Other writers may use variants.
- Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson, The Wisdom of the Enneagram: The Complete Guide to Psychological and Spiritual Growth for the Nine Personality Types.
- Performed earlier this year by adult students of the Institute for Sacred Theatre and Creativity Psychotherapy, Sydney, directed by Stephanie Hurst.
- David Daniels and Virginia Price, The Essential Enneagram: The Definitive Personality Test and Self-Discovery Guide.