The Enneagram of Personality is a system used by numerous mental health professionals to get more insight into one’s character, and as a method for self-development. The Enneagram consists of nine personality archetypes that are interconnected in different ways.
Some say that the Enneagram is liberating compared to the conventional methodology of mental health disorders because none of the archetypes are inferior or defective in themselves. Nevertheless, as it focuses as much on negative traits as on positive traits, it isn’t an ‘ego-flattering’ tool either.
The Enneagram leaves room for overlap between and within different personality types. Also, it acknowledges that nobody is purely ‘one type’, but rather a ‘basic type’ that transforms within its own range of characteristics and also corresponds with types that it’s connected to.
This video is an introduction to the Enneagram of Personality.
There is no consensus on the exact origins of the enneagram. But it’s certain that the use and meaning of it have been changed throughout the centuries, as there are different interpretations and usages by different people from several time periods.
The enneagram symbol appears in the Islamic Sufi tradition, and variations of it are found in the sacred geometry of the Pythagoreans. Some believe that Jewish neo-Platonist philosopher Philo brought the enneagram into the esoteric Judaism, and was later represented in the Kabbalistic ninefold symbol the Tree of Life.
The Enneagram as we know it today is based on the teachings of the Bolivian psycho-spiritual teacher Oscar Ichazo, and the Chilean psychiatrist Claudio Naranjo. Naranjo was influenced by Russian mystic George Gurdjieff who made the enneagram figure publicly known, and has possibly retrieved it from a Sufi monastery in Afghanistan at the end of the nineteenth century.
The word ‘enneagram’ is derived from the Greek words ‘ennea’ and ‘grammos’. ‘Ennea’ means nine, and ‘grammos’ means something that is drawn or written. Unsurprisingly, the Enneagram of Personality contains nine different nodes. Each node refers to one archetype.
The way in which the enneagram is set up, already shows the equivalence between the archetypes. None of the nodes is in a preferable position, as they are all part of the same circle. The numbers attributed to the nodes solely function as a way to identify the archetypes but are in no way a ‘rating system’, meaning that a 7 isn’t better than a 2.
Of course, there are differences in traits. But every type has positive as well as negative traits, which are all significant in their own ways. The level of appreciation for each personality type depends on personal and cultural preferences, and there’s empirical evidence that the archetypes play a significant role when it comes to mate selection.
The enneagram also distinguishes the nine archetypes through the manner in which they are interconnected. For example, they can be divided into three groups, meaning that these groups consist of personalities that share similar characteristics.
Another example is that every type is connected to at least one type from another group. This signifies the potential of developing characteristics that don’t typically manifest in one’s personality type but are present nonetheless, be it in healthy or unhealthy ways (later on in the video, we’ll explore this a bit further).
So, what archetypes does the enneagram present? In this section of the video, we’ll briefly explore the characteristics of each archetype. These short descriptions are not complete, but they give a concise insight into each type.
The first one is the perfectionist. A perfectionist wants to be right. They are driven to realize their ideal images and, with that, they want to change the world as it is, into something better. They worship perfection and are therefore burdened with the fear of imperfection, and can become quite angry when things aren’t the way they’re supposed to be. Norms and values are very important to them, and they can be quite fault-finding because of this.
Perfectionists are characterized by honesty, reliability, productivity, orderliness, and discipline. But they can also be judgmental, rigid, over-fussy, dominant, and jealous. Therefore, developing patience is beneficial for this archetype.
The second one is the helper. Helpers want to be loved and appreciated and share their love and appreciation with others. Even though there cannot be enough solidarity in this world,
helpers often use their love as currency to buy appreciation and affection, but, sometimes, also to purchase a sense of superiority and importance, and even power over other people. Thus, they could fall into the trap of manipulation.
Helpers are generally caring, warm, friendly, and generous. But they can also be manipulative, possessive, dismissive of their own needs, and often act out of fear of being unloved. Therefore, developing true solidarity instead of ‘transactional love’ is beneficial for this archetype.
The third one is the achiever. Achievers want to be successful. How others see them is of utmost importance. They are prone to push themselves to always be the best and are allergic to failure, even if their behavior goes at the expense of other people. They run the risk to become narcissists and frauds. Everything is allowed, as long as it prevents them to experience what they fear the most: worthlessness.
Achievers are characterized by industriousness, confidence, direction, and high-energy. But they can also be pretentious, narcissistic, superficial, and impatient. Therefore, developing truthfulness and authenticity is beneficial for this archetype.
The fourth one is the individualist. Individualists want to be unique. They dread the idea of being seen as insignificant and ordinary. They’re often artistic, and their compassion and emotional depth grant them the ability to empathize with others. However, deliberate separation from the herd often leads to difficulties with experiencing simple and mundane forms of happiness that (quote on quote) ‘normal’ people seem to experience so easily.
Individualists are characterized by creativity, expressiveness, supportiveness, and warmth. But they can also be melancholic, stubborn, shy, and envious of other people’s happiness. Therefore, developing equanimity in their emotional world is beneficial for this archetype.
The fifth one is the observer. Observers want to acquire knowledge, in which they find understanding as well as safety. They crave independence and self-preservation, which also makes them distant, detached, and closed-off from the world. This is related to their fear of being helpless and incapable of finding their own way. Thus, they put emphasis on being as self-reliant as possible and trust mainly their thoughts.
Observers are characterized by objectivity, sensitivity, analytical skills, and conceptual thinking. But they can also be emotionally distant, cynical, greedy, unassertive, and intellectually-arrogant. Therefore, the development of the emotional world is beneficial for this archetype.
The sixth one is the loyalist. Loyalists want to be dutiful. Being part of something makes them feel safe, and they can be reliable participants within a group. The dark side of their behavior, is that it stems from a place of fear. On the one hand, they seek guidance, and want to belong somewhere and believe in something or someone to ease their anxiety. On the other hand, they are suspicious of authority. This makes them complacent in one situation, and rebellious in another.
Loyalists are generally caring, thoughtful, responsible, and, of course, loyal. But they can also be unpredictable, dominant, defensive, and paranoid. Therefore, the development of courage and trust in oneself is beneficial for this archetype.
The seventh one is the enthusiast. Enthusiasts want to be fulfilled. They are commonly referred to as the Epicureans among the other personality types. Having fun, engaging in activities, and seeking happiness are the enthusiast’s main objectives. However, underneath the ongoing search for gratification hides a fear of being unfulfilled, because that would lead to a possibly unpleasant confrontation with themselves. Thus, they often impulsively jump from one pleasure to another, to stay out of negative thoughts and emotions.
Enthusiasts are characterized by spontaneity, a lively fantasy, curiosity, and the ability to oversee complex situations. But they can also be undisciplined, impulsive, manic, confused, and narcissistic. Therefore, coming to terms with the reality of suffering, as well as a more thoughtful approach to life are beneficial for this archetype.
The eight one is the challenger. Challengers want to be strong and independent. Their lives revolve around strength, which means gaining strength as well as using it to become as self-sufficient as possible. This desire to be strong comes from a fear of being violated and controlled. Needless to say, challengers despise being dependent and feeling weak. Even though they have a strong (and sometimes aggressive) demeanor, in relationships they are often very caring, loyal, and generous.
Challengers are characterized by protectiveness, high-energy, confidence, authority, and directness. But they can also be rebellious, insensitive, vengeful, violent, and domineering. Therefore, learning the value of being vulnerable, and the ability to let others lead are beneficial for this archetype.
The ninth one is the peacemaker. Peacemakers want to be content. In general, they are nice people, and it’s difficult to make them angry. They are accepting towards other people, considerate in their way of speaking, and dedicated to achieve peace among others as well as in themselves. The flipside is that peacemakers tend to walk away from conflict, avoid pain and suffering, and likely to suppress their own feelings and needs. Thus, their niceness often goes at the expense of genuine expression, which could lead to self-diminishment.
Peacemakers are characterized by patience, friendliness, diplomacy, and empathy. But they can also be unassertive, stubborn, evasive, and disengaged. Therefore, becoming more decisive and vigorous is beneficial for this archetype.
The basic archetype
If one wants to use the Enneagram for personal insight and development, the essential starting point is the identification of one’s basic personality type. From this insight, it’s possible to further explore one’s personality and the interconnectedness with other archetypes.
Even though a personality can be developed in different ways, and is, therefore, a flexible entity, we are not able to change it completely. According to the Enneagram Institute, we cannot change our core personality archetype, as its formation has been decided before birth.
Everyone emerges from childhood with one of the nine types dominating their personality, with inborn temperament and other prenatal factors being the main determinants of our type. This is one area where most of the major Enneagram authors agree—we are born with a dominant type. Subsequently, this inborn orientation largely determines the ways in which we learn to adapt to our early childhood environment.Enneagram Institute, How The System Works
We can, however, alter our personality into a healthy direction, when we gain sufficient insight and self-awareness. Moreover, in an ideal scenario, we can cultivate positive characteristics of all nine types, in order to achieve a fully developed and individuated self.
Aside from studying one’s basic archetype’s features, it’s perhaps even more interesting to investigate the relationship between oneself and other archetypes. The structure of the enneagram offers us several tools that identify how we relate to other personalities, and how we manifest traits from other types.
When we look at the placement of the nodes, we can see that some are closer to each other, and others are not. This isn’t a random thing.
We can divide the nine archetypes into three groups, also known as ‘intelligence centers’, which determine how we perceive information. The enneagram distinguishes three centers: the head, the body, and the heart center, also called, respectively, the thinking, action, and feeling center.
Someone in the head center approaches the world with logic and reason and sees it mainly through concepts and ideas. Someone in the body center is strongly engaged with the world, and acts mainly based on intuition and instinct. And lastly, someone in the heart center relates to the world through a deep connection with feelings and emotions.
As with the archetypes, each center isn’t inherently good or bad. But, they all have healthy and unhealthy characteristics, as the head, the body, and the heart can be used in constructive as well as destructive ways.
When we look at the placement of the nodes on the circle, we see that every personality has two wings. For example, type eight has seven and nine as wings, and type one has nine and two as wings.
Again, this isn’t a random thing. Wing types are closely related to one’s basic archetype. This means that one is likely to possess traits that actually belong to the wing archetypes. It depends on the individual to what degree one has traits of their wing types, and which wing type is dominant. For example, one’s basic personality type can be a six, combined with a strong five and a weaker seven, or vice versa.
Every archetype has a healthy and unhealthy connection with types that they are connected to. Therefore, these connections are called ‘lines of integration’ and ‘lines of disintegration’. The direction of integration represents personal growth and healthy self-development. The direction of disintegration represents how one acts when experiencing stress.
When working with the Enneagram, it’s essential to remember that people change constantly and in different directions. Even though a person is born as a certain archetype, he or she has the ability to develop traits of all archetypes.
This change isn’t necessarily progressive or linear: healthy, well-developed traits can deteriorate, and unhealthy traits can be transformed into healthy ones.
By self-neglect or unfavorable circumstances, one can regress into the realm of destructiveness. But through self-awareness and active engagement in self-development, one can become a well-rounded individual.
The enneagram has gained popularity among mental health professionals but has been a target of criticism as well, as some people question its validity due to the lack of scientific basis. Others accuse the enneagram of being too vague and open to interpretation.
Nevertheless, it’s safe to say that the Enneagram of Personality is an ingenious system that has awakened the interests of mystics, philosophers, psychologists, and many others throughout the ages. For many, it has been a valuable tool for self-development, which has granted profound insights through a philosophical lens.
There’s much more to the enneagram than the basics presented in this video. For further learning, you’ll find several links in the description.
Thank you for watching.