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The Enneagram Figure

The Enneagram (or Enneagon) is a nine-pointed diametric figure used to indicate - among various other applications - a dynamic model of nine distinct yet interconnected psychological types (usually called 'personality types' or 'character types'). The types can be understood as unconsciously developing from nine archetypes.

As a typology model it is often called the Enneagram of Personality but it is mostly just called the Enneagram which can create confusion with other ways of understanding and using the Enneagram figure.

Although usually understood as being a personality typology others understand it as a model of archetypal character types. Theoretical distinctions between 'personality' and 'character' require clarification by those who make them.

Contemporary ways of understanding and describing the Enneagram have developed from various traditions of spiritual wisdom and modern psychological insight. Some people understand the Enneagram primarily in spiritual or mystical ways whilst other understand it primarily in psychological terms.


The Diametric Figure

The term 'enneagram' derives from the Greek word "ennea" meaning "nine". The figure is also known as an 'enneagon'. The usual form of the Enneagram figure is composed of a circle enclosing an equilateral triangle and an irregular hexagon that connect the nine points around the circle's circumference.

Historical Development

It is sometimes speculated that forms of the Enneagram typology can be found in ancient sources, especially within the Sufi spiritual tradition, or that the Enneagram figure is possibly a variant of the Chaldean Seal from the times of Pythagoras. Although this may be true, there does not appear to be any hard evidence to support such speculations.

It seems that the Enneagram figure's first definitely established use is found in the writings of the Greek-Armenian spiritual teacher and mystic, G. I. Gurdjieff (d. 1949). Gurdjieff's teachings were heavily influenced by his personal experience with Sufism as well as Orthodox Christianity and Buddhism. Even though some of the principal ways of understanding the Enneagram have come from Gurdjieff's teachings there does not seem to be any clear evidence that he used the Enneagram figure as a typological model (at least not in the popular modern form).

The figure's use for a typological model is first clearly found in the teachings of Bolivian-born Oscar Ichazo (born 1931) and his system called 'Protoanalysis'. Ichazo first taught his understanding of the Enneagram (or the 'Enneagon' as it is usually called in his teachings) to students in Arica, Chile in the 1960s and later in the United States through his Arica Institute.

Much mainstream Enneagram teaching has, however, been principally derived - directly or indirectly - from the teachings of the Chilean-born psychiatrist Claudio Naranjo who first learned the basics of the Enneagram from Ichazo in Arica.

It was principally from Naranjo that the Enneagram became established in the United States. His Enneagram teaching was further developed by many others teachers - including, significantly, a number of Jesuit priests and seminarians.

The popular authors Helen Palmer and Don Richard Riso have also contributed significantly to the spread of the Enneagram teachings in the United States and internationally.

There are some significant differences between Palmer, Riso and other Enneagram theorists in their interpretation and approach. Some of the prominent teachers have developed and promoted ideas that are not generally accepted by others.

The Nine Types

The nine Enneagram types are often given names that indicate some distinctive behavioral aspect, though these labels are insufficient to capture the nuances of the type concerned.

Some examples are:

  • One: Reformer, Critic, Perfectionist. This type focuses on integrity. Ones can be wise, discerning and inspiring in their quest for the truth. However, they tend to dissociate themselves from their flaws and can become hypocritical and hyper-critical, seeking the illusion of virtue to hide their own vices. The One's greatest fear is to be flawed, and their ultimate goal is perfection.
  • Two: Helper, Giver, Caretaker. Twos, at their best, are compassionate, thoughtful and astonishingly generous; they can also fall to passive-aggressive behavior, clinginess and manipulation. Twos want, above all, to be loved and needed, and fear being unworthy of love.
  • Three: Achiever, Performer, Succeeder. Highly adaptible and changeable. Some walk the world with confidence and unstinting authenticity; others wear a series of public masks, acting the way they think will bring them approval and losing track of their true self. Threes fear being worthless and strive to be worthwhile.
  • Four: Romantic, Individualist, Artist. Driven by a fear that they have no identity or personal significance, Fours embrace individualism and are often profoundly creative. However, they have a habit of withdrawing to internalize, searching desperately inside themselves for something they never find, creating a spiral of depression. The stereotypical angsty musician or tortured artist is also a stereotypical Four.
  • Five: Observer, Thinker, Investigator. Believing they are only worth what they contribute, Fives have learned to withdraw, to watch with keen eyes and speak only when they can shake the world with their observations. Sometimes they do just that. Sometimes, instead, they withdraw from the world, becoming reclusive hermits and fending off social contact with abrasive cynicism. Fives fear incompetency or uselessness, and want to be capable above all else.
  • Six: Loyalist, Devil's Advocate, Defender. Sixes long for stability above all else. They exhibit unwavering loyalty and responsibility, but are prone to extreme anxiety and passive-aggressive behavior. Their greatest fear is to lack support and guidance.
  • Seven: Enthusiast, Adventurer, Materialist. Eternal Peter Pans, Sevens flit from one activity to another. Above all they fear being unable to provide for themselves. At their best they embrace life for its varied joys and wonders, truly living in the moment; but at their worst they dash frantically from one new experience to another, too scared of disappointment to enjoy what they have.
  • Eight: Leader, Protector, Challenger. Eights worry about self-protection and control. Natural leaders, capable and passionate, but also manipulative, ruthless, willing to destroy anything and everything in their way. Eights seek control over their own life and their own destiny, and fear being harmed or controlled by others.
  • Nine: Mediator, Peacemaker, Preservationist. Nines are ruled by their empathy. At their best, they are perceptive, receptive, gentle, calming and at peace with the world. On the other hand, they prefer to dissociate from conflicts, indifferently going along with others' wishes, or simply withdrawing, acting via inaction. They fear the conflict caused by their ability to simultaneously understand opposing points of view, and seek peace of mind above all else.


To some extent the personality issues and traits of the nine Enneagram types can be understood as 'overlapping' around the circle. Observation suggests, for example, that Type One people will also tend to express some of the characteristics of either or both Type Nine and Type Two. The two types on each sides of a person's principal type are usually called the 'Wings'. This aspect of Enneagram theory was first suggested by Claudio Naranjo and then further developed by some Jesuits. Some Enneagram theorists do not give much or any importance to the Wing concept.

Stress & Security Points

The internal lines of the triangle and hexagon indicate what are called 'Stress Points' and 'Security Points,' or (in Riso's teachings) the 'direction of integration' and the 'direction of disintegration.' The sequence of stress / disintegration is 1-4-2-8-5-7-1 for the hexagon and 9-6-3-9 for the triangle, whereas the security / integration points go in the opposite direction (1-7-5-8-2-4-1 and 9-3-6-9).

What the terms mean is that, simply, when people feel particularly good or bad about themselves, they may adopt some of the personality traits of the next type up or down the list. A healthy and happy One, for instance, picks up some of the Seven's traits (which makes sense, as Ones tend to be highly self-inhibitory, whereas Sevens always give themselves permission to enjoy the moment). On the other hand, an unhealthy One begins to express some Four traits (particularly the obsessive introspection; they also share a certain amount of self-loathing and self-inhibition).

Instinctual Subtypes

Each type also has three main instinctual subtypes - the Self-Preservation, Sexual, and Social subtypes.

  • Self-Preservation subtypes focus on personal survival and well-being.
  • Sexual subtypes focus on intimacy and one-to-one relationships.
  • Social subtypes focus on others, groups, and community.

Ego-Fixations & Deadly Sins

The Enneagram types have also been correlated with the traditional Seven Deadly Sins plus two additional descriptors - 'deceit' and 'fear'. The '7 sins + 2' need to be understood in a much more specific meaning than usual.

Anger as a frustration in working hard to do things right, while the rest of the world doesn't care about doings things right and doesn't appreciate the sacrifice and effort made.

Pride as a self-inflation of ego, in the sense of seeing themselves as indispensable to others - they have no needs yet the world needs them.

Deceit in the misrepresentation of self by marketing and presenting an image valued by others rather than presenting an authentic self.

Envy of someone else reminds this individual that they can never be what the other person is, reawakening a sense of self-defectiveness.

Avarice in the sense of hoarding resources in an attempt to minimize needs from a world that takes more than it gives, thus isolating oneself from the world.

Fear often in the form of a generalized anxiety that can't find an actual source of fear yet may wrongly identify one through projection, possibly seeing enemies and danger where there are none.

Gluttony not in the sense of eating too much, but instead, of sampling a taste of everything the world has to offer (breadth) and not taking the time for richer experience (depth).

Lust in the sense of wanting more of what this individual finds stimulating to the point that most people would feel overwhelmed and say too much.

Sloth or laziness in discovering a personal agenda and instead choosing the less problematic strategy of just going along with others' agenda.

Research Issues

Because of the differences between Enneagram teachers on the nine types, and even the system as a whole, some skeptics claim that more research needs to be done to test the Enneagram as a emperically valid typology.

Whilst some believe that the research already done (http://similarminds.com/enneagram_nfo.html) has not given support to the Enneagram's validity (especially concepts of the Wings or the Stress and Security Points) others believe that by its somewhat complex and 'mystical' nature the Enneagram typology is too difficult to test by conventional emperical methods.


  • "The Enneagram Made Easy," Renee Baron & Elizabeth Wagele, 1994, ISBN 0062510266
  • "The Enneagram: Understanding Yourself and the Others In Your Life," Helen Palmer, 1991, ISBN 0062506838
  • "The Enneagram in Love and Work: Understanding Your Intimate and Business Relationships," Helen Palmer, 1996, ISBN 0062507214
  • "The Wisdom of the Enneagram," Don Riso & Russ Hudson, 1999, ISBN 0555378201

External links

it:Enneagramma nl:Enneagram


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