When I attended my first Assessment and Diagnosis class in graduate school the fall of 1989 I had no idea what the Enneagram was or how it would impact my life.
A brilliant woman named Helen Palmer, who had just published the best seller, The Enneagram: Understanding Yourself and Others in Your Life, would be my professor for the next six months.
There, I learned on a cellular level, that not all people saw the world the same way I did. She taught us an amazing way of seeing others and ourselves by looking at the nine different but inter-connected personality types of the Enneagram.
Every couple of weeks a panel of individuals who shared the same type or point on the Enneagram would come in, and we had the opportunity to ask them questions and hear them share about themselves and their world-view.
At first sight we couldn’t tell the similarity between these individuals but by listening to them talk over a couple of hours we were able to understand their shared characteristics; what motivated them, the patterns that ran their lives, and how they saw themselves and the world. Helen Palmer would say that they are similar in their history, their choices, their preferences, their goals, what they dream and what they avoid.
The Enneagram shows how we lose connection to our Divine Essence as we develop a personality (persona meaning mask) and hide behind it. Seeing who we are and changing the patterns that are detrimental to us, the Enneagram can be a tool for authentic spiritual transformation.
It isn’t clear where and when the Enneagram originally started but according to Richard Rohr in his book, Discovering The Enneagram: An Ancient Tool a New Spiritual Journey, it is rooted in Egypt beginning with a desert father of the fourth century, a Christian monk named Evagrius Ponticus.
In the 14th century it was rediscovered by a Franciscan missionary and taught to the Moslems. For centuries the Enneagram was taught by word of mouth in Christian, Sufi, and Jewish traditions.
Then, in the early 1900’s an Armenian philosopher and spiritual teacher, George Gurdjieff used the nine-pointed geometric figure, or Enneagram, to teach individuals to understand themselves and to awaken to a higher state of consciousness.
From what I understand the Enneagram has gradually developed through the centuries. In the early 70’s a Chilean named Oscar Ichazo, and an American-trained psychiatrist named Claudio Naranjo developed it to emphasize a more psychological dimension.
Narianjo brought it to the United States and originally taught the Enneagram to a small group of students at the Esalen Institute in California. Three of those students became teachers such as Helen Palmer, Father Robert Ochs S.J., and Sandra Maitri whose books are listed below. At that time Richard Rohr had already been teaching the Enneagram in Germany for many years.
Types or Points on the Enneagram
Just to give you a taste of each of the types, I will use the name and a brief description of each Enneagram number given in Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile’s book, The Road Back To You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery. I highly recommend this book as a solid, comprehensive and easy reading description of the Enneagram.
Type One: The Perfectionist. Ethical, dedicated and reliable, they are motivated by a desire to live the right way, improve the world, and avoid fault and blame.
Type Two: The Helper. Warm, caring and giving, they are motivated by a need to be loved and needed, and to avoid acknowledging their own needs.
Type Three: The Performer. Success-oriented, image-conscious and wired for productivity, they are motivated by a need to be (or appear to be) successful and to avoid failure.
Type Four: The Romantic. Creative, sensitive and moody, they are motivated by a need to be understood, experience their oversized feelings and avoid being ordinary.
Type Five: The Investigator: Analytical, detached and private, they are motivated by a need to gain knowledge, conserve energy and avoid relying on others.
Type Six: The Loyalist. Committed, practical and witty, they are worst-case scenario thinkers who are motivated by fear and the need for security.
Type Seven: The Enthusiast. Fun, spontaneous and adventurous, they are motivated by a need to be happy, to plan stimulating experiences and to avoid pain.
Type Eight: The Challenger. Commanding, intense and confrontational, they are motivated by a need to be strong and avoid feeling weak or vulnerable.
Type Nine: The Peacemaker. Pleasant, laid back and accommodating, they are motivated by a need to keep the peace, merge with others and avoid conflict.
Wings, Stress and Security Points
It gets more complicated as you dig deeper into the Enneagram. Looking at the diagram at the top of the page you can see that the Enneagram is a nine-pointed geometric design. Each number or point on the Enneagram represents a personality type.
The arrows that point toward and away from any given point indicate where a person goes when stressed and where that person goes when they are in a more healthy or relaxed space.
For instance, if you are a point Eight on the Enneagram and are feeling stressed, you would tend to take on the negative traits of the point Five. So, you may find yourself withdrawing, and not taking very good care of yourself, which are characteristics of the point Five.
However, still in the negative, stressful stance, you may be thinking about how you feel betrayed, which is actually a characteristic of an Eight on the Enneagram. In other words, though we lean towards our stress point we still come from the trait of the point we originally are, in this case the point Eight.
If, as a point Eight, you were feeling relaxed and in a more healthy space, you would take on the more positive qualities of a point Two, thereby being more thoughtful of others, and more likely to listen and value other people’s point of view.
Each of the points also connects to the two points on either side of them, which are called their wings. Often a person will tend to take on the traits of one wing more than the other. This is one of the reasons why some individuals of the same Enneagram point seem different than others of the same point.
For an example, a person who is a point Seven on the Enneagram and leans more toward the point Six, though he may still plan stimulating experiences like a point Seven, he would probably be more cautious and practical than if he was a point Seven who leans more toward the point Eight wing. The later would tend to be more likely to throw caution to the wind and, just like a point Eight, would be more confrontational and competitive.
No personality type is better or worse than another and each has its own strengths and weaknesses. However, within each type one can be low functional or highly developed and anywhere in between.
The deeper purpose of the Enneagram is to understand and work on our personality so that by the grace of God we can transcend our ego traits and go beyond to a deeper dimension of ourselves that is more profound, more authentic, and more fulfilling. It is a place of spiritual transformation!
As we study the Enneagram and learn to observe our inner world, we become more aware of the thoughts and feelings that arise in the moment and how they affect our body, mind and spirit. Thereby they become less automatic, and we can, as Helen Palmer says, free ourselves from the habits that limit our point of view and expand our awareness beyond the preoccupation that define our type.
Working to unmask our personality is important on our spiritual journey. Sandra Maitri in her book, The Spiritual Dimension of the Enneagram, states, “Pursuing spiritual work without working on our personality typically results in lack of resolution of deep-seated issues and a lack of true integration of our spirituality. The Enneagram can be a tool for authentic spiritual transformation.”
The Enneagram isn’t a cookie cutter method that puts everyone in a box but a tool that can help us see the characteristics that get in the way of realizing our true Essence.
I like how Ian Morgan Cron puts it. He writes, “The Enneagram doesn’t put you in a box. It shows you the box you’re already in and how to get out of it.” Also, the Enneagram is not meant as a format to judge oneself nor others but as a support to bring conscious awareness to our inner world in order to unfold spiritually.
What I have gained from studying the Enneagram
Shortly after we started studying the Enneagram, Helen Palmer asked us to determine what point on the Enneagram we identified with, and write a paper about the characteristics that we recognized in ourselves.
I went to her and told her that for the life of me I couldn’t determine which Enneagram point I was. I identified with all of them! She immediately told me that since I identified with all of them I was probably a Nine.
Nines tend to merge with whomever they are in contact with and have trouble knowing who they are, and what they want in life. As I studied further I realized she was right!
In order to determine which point we were she told us to look at where we go when we feel stressed and how it is for us when we are relaxed.
I knew that as a Nine on the Enneagram, when I was stressed I felt overwhelmed, and I would take on the negative traits of the Six feeling anxious and fearful. When relaxed taking on the positive traits of the Three I could work happily for hours.
Also, she told us that it is helpful to look at what motivates us! She gave us an example of three people who are working side by side on a job. They are all working hard but their motivations are very different.
The person who is a Three on the Enneagram is there because he identifies with his work. The person who is a One is there because she believes she should work to support herself and her family. It’s the right thing to do! The person who is a Seven loves what he is doing and is having fun doing it. Once he gets bored, and its no fun anymore, he will probably look for another job.
I realize that part of my work as a Nine on the Enneagram is to stay present and focused so that when I am about to merge with others I can be more consciously aware and true to myself.
I have learned that I am a peacemaker, which is great in a way, but can be a problem, especially when I simply want to avoid conflict rather than having my heart and mind truly peaceful.
As a point Nine on the Enneagram I tend to see all sides of a situation. When this gets overwhelming, or simply when my mind is preoccupied, I tend to space out!
I also know that due to spacing out I tend to procrastinate and have difficulty prioritizing. Knowing this I find that staying present in the moment as well as keeping a schedule can be helpful. So, I start each day with meditation and prayer and usually am able to get done with what is on the schedule.
These are just some of the challenges that I as a Nine on the Enneagram face. As I become more aware I am less driven by the unconscious patterns that have run my life, and am more at peace.
I have studied the Enneagram for many years and am still learning so much from it. I do know that on the Australian Institute for Enneagram studies website they show an esoteric side to the Enneagram that I haven’t even begun to study.
But one doesn’t need to know everything about the Enneagram to gain volumes from it. Taking it seriously as a tool to know ourselves and change what we need to be a more loving, peaceful and authentic human being is more than enough.
Below are some of the books I have enjoyed and recommend. There are so many more good books out there on the Enneagram. I hope you will find one and get as much understanding about yourself as I have on the journey back to you.
Love and Peace,
The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery, by
Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile
The Spiritual Dimension of the Enneagram: Nine Faces of the Soul, by Sandra Maitri
The Enneagram: Understanding Yourself and Others in Your Life, by Helen Palmer
Discovering The Enneagram: An Ancient Tool for a New Spiritual Journey by Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert
The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective by Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert
The Enneagram: A Journey of Self Discovery by Maria Beesing, O.P., Robert J. Nogosek, C.S.C., Patrick H. O’Leary, S.J
Spellbind, by Clare Cherikoff
The Enneagram of Parenting: The 9 Types of Children and How to Raise Them Successfully, by Elizabeth Wagele
Mary Mohs LVN, MA, RYT,