WHAT IS THE ENNEAGRAM?
The Enneagram is a sophisticated and practical tool for helping us to discover our inner selves, and to understand other people better. Since I first encountered it in 2001, I have been endlessly fascinated by its accuracy and insight, and find it crucial to my personal development and to my work as a parish priest
The Enneagram is a system of nine basic personality types – nine distinct and fundamentally different ways of thinking, feeling and acting. Of course we are all individuals and no system can take full account of all our quirks and idiosyncrasies, yet the Enneagram maps out with uncanny accuracy the broad patterns for each type, and still allows plenty of space for personal choices and characteristics.
Enneagram theory suggests that each of us has a central preoccupation or compulsion linked to our personality type, which causes us to search for certain things in life, and avoid other things. When we are running on automatic pilot this preoccupation is where our attention naturally goes, and this has both positive and negative sides to it.
Understanding our own strengths and weaknesses, our fixations, automatic reactions and blind spots, is fundamental to personal and spiritual development; it is also massively important in making us more flexible, compassionate and skilful in our dealings with those around us – a Godsend for many relationships.
WHICH TYPE ARE YOU?
Some people discover their Enneagram type very quickly, just by reading through a description of the nine types. Others need time to mull it over, perhaps discuss it with a friend, partner or Enneagram consultant, or attend a workshop where they can listen to people of different types talking about themselves. And there are numerous tests available, which, to be honest, are of varying quality. The Essential Enneagram test is one of the most successful. This was designed by one of my Enneagram teachers, Dr David Daniels, a retired clinical professor of psychiatry at Stanford University Medical School. You can access the test at www.enneagramworldwide.com where you will also find a wealth of resources about the Enneagram. I also recommend The Essential Enneagram by David Daniels & Virginia Price, a succinct introduction to the Enneagram, which also contains the personality test.
Any description of the Enneagram types is a crude oversimplification, but here is a brief thumbnail of each profile. The best strategy is to read through them and eliminate the ones that definitely don’t fit. Then try to narrow it down to the one that fits best. It’s more a case of seeing which type ‘feels’ most accurate rather than trying to find an exact match with each point.
Type One: the Perfectionist
These are responsible, independent, hardworking people with high standards and principles. They can come across as critical and nit-picky, but they are also very hard on themselves, seldom living up to their own expectations, rarely managing to placate their strident inner-critic. The attention of Ones naturally goes to spotting what’s wrong, and what needs to be done to get it right. They excel with detail, and make a priority of integrity.
Type Two: the Helper
Spending their lives attending to other people’s needs, Twos are cheerful, outgoing, warm and personable with a relentless knack of sensing what the rest of us want or need – perhaps before we realise it ourselves. However, this can lead to Twos being manipulative. Also, since they prefer giving to receiving, they often struggle to acknowledge their own needs or ask for help from others.
Type Three: the Achiever
Self-confident, ambitious and successful, Threes have boundless energy to pursue their goals and projects. They are born winners and great motivators. But, chameleon-like, they often change their image to suit the situation or to gain approval. Also, they may come across as unfeeling and calculating when single-mindedly pursuing their latest project.
Type Four: the Romantic
Fours detest mediocrity and are drawn to the extremes of emotional experience. Often melancholic, they spend their lives searching for the significant and meaningful, or for that ‘something’ they sense is missing. They generally have a distinct aesthetic sensibility, and though caught up in their own emotions, can be wonderfully empathetic in emotionally painful situations.
Type Five: the Observer
These are the most private types, who need their own time and space to recharge their batteries. They may come across as detached, especially emotionally; observing rather than engaging. The mind is where Fives feel most comfortable, and they make fine thinkers and analysts who have a love of information and knowledge, often in specialised areas of interest or study. They are self-sufficient and like predictable routines, but they make creative intellectuals.
Type Six: the Loyal Sceptic
If something can go wrong, the Six will probably have spotted it, because their attention naturally goes to possible hazards and threats, or to ulterior motives in people. On the other hand they are inquisitive and make excellent critical thinkers. Instinctively suspicious of authority figures and overly successful people, they readily align themselves with underdog causes. Yet once you gain their trust, Sixes are deeply loyal and committed friends and colleagues.
Type Seven: the Epicure
Pleasure is very important to these types: they can achieve almost anything, and work from dawn ‘til dusk, provided it feels like fun. Sevens are life’s optimists. They are charming, up-beat and adventurers. However, their tendency is to avoid the darker side of life. And if their interest isn’t maintained, they drop out or switch off, with their minds shifting to more pleasurable options. Naturally unconventional, with fast minds, they make great lateral-thinkers.
Type Eight: the Protector
These are the most assertive or aggressive personality types, with an all-or-nothing approach to life. Fiercely independent, Eights are natural leaders with a great sense of fairness and justice. They will go to any lengths to protect their loved ones and those in their care, or to pursue a cause they believe in. Yet people often find the passion of an Eight overpowering: Eights never do anything by halves, from drinking with friends to a theological debate. Passion is their life-blood.
Type Nine: the Mediator
No one can take in and understand the views of a group of people better than a Nine. However they are not so good at determining their own views, or identifying what it is that they want. Peace and harmony is the name of the game for these types, and they will often go along with other people’s agendas to keep the peace. But when the feeling of being pressurised becomes too much, the buried anger emerges in stubbornness and passive aggression. Nines make excellent arbitrators and lovely partners (I know: I have one).
Even though I have described some of the behaviours associated with each of the nine types, it is important to stress that Enneagram typology is less about the behaviours and more about the motives, spiritual energies and worldview of the nine personalities. People may behave in very similar ways but for very different reasons.
More coming soon…