Sunday, November 16, 2014

My Thoughts on the Enneagram

In grad school, I was introduced to the Enneagram as a system for personality types. At the time, I received the book Personality Types, written by psychologists Riso and Hudson. Now, four years later, I've actually taken the time to read (well, skim some parts) the book, and I believe I'm better off for it.

For those of you unaware of the Enneagram: For all intents and purposes for me, the book, and how I am relating to it, it is a system for understanding personality types from a psychology approach. It is based in a lot of old philosophical and mystic sources but that's another conversation. It's great for those that find other systems trite or limiting in their approach. There are nine different types, divided into three triads: feeling, thinking, and instinctive. Each person is not distinctly one number or another, rather one lies on a spectrum (around the circle) so a person might be a Four with a Three Wing. For each person, you Integrate and Disintegrate based on how healthy you are. So when an Eight is at their healthiest point, they exhibit signs of a Two, and at their worst, Five. There's obviously a lot more to it, but that's the dumbed down version.
As the authors point out in the closing chapter of the book, the Enneagram, or any personality test, is not perfect and it cannot save us from ourselves. At the same time, recognizing our motivators in life helps us work in healthy directions. "As wisdom has always recognized, it is only by dying to ourselves - that is, to our ego and its strategies - that we find life" (Riso & Hudson, p. 458). 

As far as I know, there's no quizzes you take to identify for which personality you are. Rather, one should self-identify (something I value). When reading through each description, I identify strongly with the Six the Loyalist, and I think I have a slight 5 Wing. As Riso and Hudson propose, "For Sixes, security comes from a rock-of-ages allegiance and an investment of themselves in something outside themselves which they believe will give them stability and safety. Sixes want to feel protected and secure by having something bigger and more powerful than they guiding them" (p. 218). This is totally me. There are other descriptors of Sixes which I don't feel strongly connected to but then there are other parts of Sixes (and my Five Wing) that also jive a lot with my lived experience. 

Why is this helpful or relevant? Well I think it helps me understand why I am good at writing research papers where I pull trusted information from outside sources. And it helps me understand why I'm not the best at making in-the-moment decisions when I don't have a protocol or previous experience to fall back on. It pushes me towards finding trusted friends and colleagues who are trustworthy and proficient at the role they fill. It also pushes me toward taking time to move past my internal anxiety and ambivalence - doing things like blogging or writing in my journal help with this. It also pushes me to analyze myself during times of watching a lot of TV or movies - am I doing it to avoid myself? Or have I sorted out myself and am able to integrate what I'm consuming into a healthy self? 

To the three of you reading, any thoughts on the Enneagram and the way you've utilized it?


Riso, D. R., & Hudson, R. (1996). Personality types: Using the Enneagram for self-discovery. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company.