Understanding the Enneagram

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The Enneagram can be seen as a set of nine distinct personality types, with each number on the Enneagram denoting one type.

It is common to find a little of yourself in all nine of the types, although one of them should stand out as being closest to yourself. This is your dominant personality type.

This inborn orientation determines how we relate and adapt to our environment. By the time we are four or five, we have begun to develop unique ways of fitting into our world.

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  • The Enneagram uses numbers because numbers are value neutral.
  • The numerical ranking of the types is not significant. A larger number is no better than a smaller number.
  • Each number represents a distinct pattern of thinking, feeling and acting.
  • These patterns are based on a belief about what you NEED in life for survival and satisfaction.
  • We develop these patterns ourselves, in healthy and unhealthy ways.
  • Understanding your patterns can help change, in a POSITIVE way, how you relate to self and others.

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Note: Different versions may use different names but the general traits will be the similar.

enneagram-4 Type 1 – The Reformer

Type One is principled, purposeful, self-controlled, and perfectionist.

Basic Desire – to be good, to have integrity

Basic Fear – of being corrupt

Motivations – want to be right, strive higher and improve everything, to be consistent with their ideals

enneagram-5 Type 2 – The Helper

Type Two is demonstrative, generous, people-pleasing, and possessive.

Basic Desire – to be loved

Basic Fear – of being unwanted or unworthy of love

Motivations – want to be loved, express their feelings for others, to be needed and appreciated

enneagram-6 Type 3 – The Achiever

Type Three is adaptive, excelling, driven, and image-conscious.

Basic Desire – to feel valuable and worthwhile

Basic Fear –  of being worthless

Motivations – want to be affirmed, distinguish themselves from others, to be admired, to have attention

enneagram-7 Type 4 – The Individualist

Type Four is expressive, dramatic, self-absorbed, and temperamental.

Basic Desire – to find themselves, to create an identity

Basic Fear –  of having no identity or significance

Motivations – want to express themselves and their individuality, to create and surround themselves with beauty, to take care of emotional needs first, to attract a rescuer

enneagram-8 Type 5 – The Investigator

Type Five is perceptive, innovative, secretive, and isolated.

Basic Desire – to be capable and competent

Basic Fear –  being useless, helpless or incapable

Motivations – want to possess knowledge, to have everything figured out as a way of defending self from the world.

enneagram-9 Type 6 – The Loyalist

Type Six is engaging, responsible, anxious, and suspicious.

Basic Desire – to have security and support

Basic Fear –  of being without support and guidance

Motivations – want to have security, to feel supported by others, to fight against insecurity and anxiety, to have reassurance

enneagram-10 Type 7 – The Enthusiast

Type Seven is spontaneous, versatile, distractible, and scattered.

Basic Desire – to be satisfied and content

Basic Fear – of being deprived and in pain

Motivations – maintain their freedom and happiness, to avoid missing out, to keep excited and occupied, to avoid pain

enneagram-11 Type 8 – The Challenger

Type Eight is self-confident, decisive, willful, and confrontational.

Basic Desire – to protect themselves

Basic Fear – of being harmed and controlled by others

Motivations – to be self reliant, to prove their strength and resist weakness, to be important in the world, to stay in control of situations

enneagram-12 Type 9 – The Peacemaker

Type Nine is receptive, reassuring, agreeable, and complacent.

Basic Desire – to have peace of mind

Basic Fear – of loss and separation

Motivations – to create harmony in their environment, to avoid conflict and tension, to preserve things as they are

The Centres

The Enneagram is also divided into three triads or centres.

The Head (Thinking) Centre : Types 5,6,7 – Their style is to gather information, generate ideas, process, analyse and plan. When feeling threatened, this centre is dominated by fear or anxiety. They can range from productive planners at their best to over-planners at their worst.

The Heart ( Feeling) Centre: Types 2,3,4 – Their style focusses on experiencing feelings, emotional relating and sensitivity to others. When feeling threatened, this centre is dominated by sorrow or shame. They can range from compassion at their best to over-sensitivity at their worst.

The Body ( Instinctive) Centre : Types 8,9,1 – Their style involves movement, physical sensations, action or inaction and control. When feeling threatened, this centre is dominated by anger or rage. They can range from gut knowing and instinctive at their best to reactivity at their worst.

The Wings

No one is a pure personality type: everyone is a unique mixture of his or her basic type and usually one of the two types adjacent to it on the Enneagram.

One of the two types adjacent to your basic type is called your wing. Your basic type dominates your overall personality, while the wing complements it and adds important, sometimes contradictory, elements to your total personality.Most people have one dominant wing, but it is possible for both wings to influence your reactions.

Your wing is the “second side” of your personality, and it must be taken into consideration to better understand yourself or someone else.

The Levels

The Levels account for differences between people of the same type as well as how people change both for better or worse. You have probably noticed that people change constantly—sometimes they are clearer, more free, grounded, and emotionally available, while at other times they are more anxious, resistant, reactive, emotionally volatile and less free.

When people change states within their personality, they are shifting within their distinct personality type. Two people of the same personality type and wing will differ significantly if one is emotionally healthy, and the other, unhealthy. Some approaches refer to these as mastery levels – at times we will have high, medium or low mastery. The level at which we operate may vary according to the context of the situation.

For example, I am a Type 7.

At my highest level of mastery, I can be awed by the beauty and simple joys of life, enthusiastic and optimistic, practical, productive and multi-skilled.

At my medium level of mastery, I can be restless and less focussed, throw myself into constant activity, unable to say no and always wanting more.

At my lowest level of mastery, I might be impulsive and infantile, anxious, exhausted and at risk of losing myself.

Our level of mastery determines how we react when our basic desires are threatened and whether we react negatively or respond healthily to the situation. Healthy traits can deteriorate into average traits and possibly into unhealthy ones.

As we move up the Levels though, we discover that we are more free and less driven and compulsive. We are able to make conscious choices to act more effectively in all areas of our lives, including in our relationships.

The Arrows

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The inner lines of the Enneagram connect the types in a sequence that indicates what each type will do under different conditions.

One arrow connects with a type that represents how a person of the first type behaves when they are moving toward health and growth. For example, as a seven, I may draw on the qualities of a one.

The other arrow points to another type that represents how the person is likely to act out if they are under increased stress and pressure. As a seven I may take on the                                                                               behaviours of a six.

Different situations will evoke different kinds of responses from your personality.

Summary

  • The descriptions apply equally to males and females.
  • Not everything in the description of your basic type will apply to you all the time because you fluctuate constantly among the healthy, average, and unhealthy traits that make up your personality type.
  • No type is inherently better or worse than any other. All the personality types have unique assets and liabilities. Some types are often more desirable than others in any given culture or group.Each has unique capacities, each has different limitations. If some types are more esteemed in Western society than others, it is because of the qualities that society rewards, not because of any superior value of those types.
  • The ideal is to become your best self, not to imitate the assets of another type.

How do we make use of the Enneagram typing?

  • We need to be aware of the habits that limit us.
  • We need to accept and value differences, rather than criticize and blame
  • Acceptance comes from understanding our needs and those of others
  • Co-operation and harmony comes from acknowledging and working with differences.
  • Confrontation occurs when we believe that our needs, beliefs and values are more important than others, and we retreat into our unhealthy levels.

Acknowledgement: Most of the material in this presentation comes from The Enneagram Institute and The Enneagram in Business.