# The Enneagram

# Etymology of "Enneagram"

  • ennea (nine) and gramma (something written or drawn)
  • a figure/symbol which represents a system associated with George Gurdjieff, published in 1949 after Gurdjieff's death

# Origins, History, and the Connection to Psychology and Personality

# George Gurdjieff's Synthesis and Diagram

The origin and history of the Enneagram itself is disputed and varies widely. However, it is widely accepted the diagram was synthesized by George Gurdjieff (opens new window), a world traveler-come-teacher. His focus was a gnostic and esoteric one.

Gurdjieff's emphasis was not related to psychology or personalities, but more a sythesis of traditions, religions, mathematics, and nature ranging from the Kabbalistic Tree of Life (opens new window) to Leonhard Euler's (opens new window) nine-point circle (opens new window), as well as potentially Pythagorean Tetractys (opens new window), Renaissance Hermeticism's nonagram (opens new window), a nine-pointed figure used by Christian medival philosopher Ramon Llull (opens new window), and Plotinus' writings collected into The Six Enneads (opens new window) (direct link (opens new window)).

# Oscar Ichazo's 9 "Ego Fixations"

The application of the Enneagram to personalities was theorized by Oscar Ichazo (opens new window), a Bolivian-born writer. That said, he denied (opens new window) deriving it from Gurdjieff's Fourth Way (opens new window) work, instead giving credit to quite well known and ancient sources like The Upanishads, Plato, and others having influenced eastern and western cultures, traditions, and religions for thousands of years.

Both Gurdjieff and Ichazo were fascinated by lost knowledge (aka "mysticism" or "esotericism"). In the 1950's, Ichazo connected the Enneagram symbol to the personality types, or the nine divine attributes, an idea stemming from the Neoplatonists and appearing in The Six Enneads. The Six Enneads is a collection of 9 viewpoints of Plotinus on 6 specific subjects.

The result of this connection was the Enneagram's nine types, or as Ichazo called them, "ego fixations."

# Claudio Naranjo's Expansion into Psychological Systems

In 1970, psychiatrist Claudio Naranjo (opens new window) connected these nine types to other psychological systems which he had studied. Naranjo gathered together panels of people who identified with a particular type, or whose psychiactric categories were known, and highlighted similarities, thus expanding upon Ichazo's work.

# The Enneagram Institute's Growth and Stress Gradations

The Enneagram Institute (opens new window), founded in 1997 by Don Riso and Russ Hudson, have been developing the psychological basis of the types further by filling out the descriptions and showing how the Enneagram relates to other psychological and spiritual systems. They have also highlight gradations of growth and deterioration throughout a life, psychological motivations of each type, and have developed deeper systems for personal growth "using it as the primary tool for understanding ourselves and others".

# Why the Enneagram Matters To Me

As you can see, the Enneagram's relationship to personality types does not come from an ancient lost body of knowledge, but rather has bene expounded upon, layering modern psychology upon it. It's certainly not scientific, but I can acknowledge much of our lives as humans is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to judge by the scientific method. There seems to be some amount of metaphysics present.

The existence of metaphysics, or at least admission that science isn't able to explain everything, doesn't instanty convert me into a peyote-eating shaman or mystic occult follower. I'd like to think life is less dualistic than that, and we can take bits and pieces of what we learn and work them into our principles and behavior accordingly.

Perhaps you, like me, have taken personality tests over the years. Perhaps you've also found, as I have, they seem to result in narrow, cursory, and context-driven explanations, not really getting to the core of a person.

However, when I took an Enneagram test, the results uncannily accurately matched my thoughts and feelings about myself. It put words to why I behaved differently in different situations as well as explained some of the underlying motivations behind those behaviors.

It was like someone was reading my mind. And, considering I'm decent at expressing my thoughts in words, I found the Enneagram's descriptions insightful, conveying deeply held beliefs I hadn't yet been able to express.

The results were surprising. It made me want to hear what others' experiences were.

When I asked friends and family to take the evaluations and to discuss whether they were accurate, their experiences seemed to mirror mine.

With this allegorical ammunition, I decided to explore the Enneagram further - to learn how it originated and why and how the ideas behind it were propagated.

# The Numbers and Wings

Here's where things get a bit more interesting, because the Enneagram starts getting applicable to us individually.

Not being an expert in the Enneagram, I'm going to stick to the things that have resonated with me.

I'm going to write a lot about the numbers, their "wings", the stress and growth connective numbers, etc. As with most concepts, it's difficult to fully grasp the vernacular and jargon at this point, without having something concrete to apply it to. So, I'll try to keep it brief and understandable.

That said, I highly recommend you breeze through this next section if the Enneagram is new to you.

Get a basic understanding. Take the two (free) tests I'll recommend at the end, and then come back here and re-read this section again. It should resonate more once you have your basic personality type and "wing" identified.

Here's the general idea, though...

Enneagram Diagram

As you may be able to guess by now, the Enneagram diagram consists of 9 points. Each point is given a number, like "an Eight", for example, like I am. Each number is considered a reference to a set of basic personality types (explained and linked to later). This all said, it's easy to see yourself in all of the types in some form or another, but one will likely stand out as being closest.

Most people also have a dominant "wing". In this case the 8's wing is either a 7 or 9 - the numbers adjacent to the dominant number. Because everyone is a mixture of types, one of the two numbers adjacent to your basic type is called your "wing" and lends an extra dimension to your basic type.

I'm an "8 wing 7" or "8w7" for short. This means I most resemble the personality traits, basic fears, and basic desires of the 8, but have characteristics which match the 7 more than the 9 as a secondarily dominant set.

# Directions of Integration (Growth) and Disintigration (Stress)

The basic personality types and their wings are not static.

We all have moments of stress and moments of growth. But the goal of the connective numbers to your basic type is to identify patterns of behavior during these non-neutral times.

As mentioned, our primary number is a basic set of behaviors and beliefs. As we know, however, our lives aren't always on cruise control. There are times we feel invincible and times when life feels like it's bearing down on us. So the connections from the 8 to the 2 and 5 help define what those different states might look like and how we might behave.

In the case of the 8, we will generally move toward how a 5 typically behaves when we are under stress, and conversely how a 2 typically behaves if in growth. Different situations will evoke different kinds of responses from your personality, and thus blend into your personality. These directional sets play an important part in our overall persoanlity.

It's important to note that these state changes happen at any time, both in a micro and macro way.

Because we are so dynamic we should not try to guess other people's numbers. We generally have no idea when people are feeling stress, are neutral, or are in growth when we see them, and moreso have very little understanding of another person's deeply held beliefs, fears, desires, and motivations.

# How to Determine Your Enneagram Numbers

The gold standard of typing yourself is the Riso-Hudson Enneagram Type Indicator (RHETI) (opens new window). There is a cost for it, though. At the time of this writing it costs $12 per test and gives you scores for all nine types plus three expanded type descriptions.

I didn't take that test to figure out my number though, because I'm a cheapskate.

Instead I opted to take a few other free tests, all of which seemed to be accurate for myself and others I've suggested them to.

First, there are two tests here, by Eclectic Energies (opens new window). The first is a longer set of pages which seems to take 10-20 minutes to ge through if you're being honest and taking your time. The second test is quicker, and gives an indication of your wing as well. Either should give you good results.

DISCLAIMER: I do NOT feel the descriptions of each of the personality types at Eclectic Energies are accurate. I highly suggest getting the results from the test and skipping the descriptions, not bothering reading them on that site.

Once you get your basic type and wing I recommend reading 9types.com (opens new window), or better yet The Enneagram Institute (opens new window) for the type and wing descriptions.

However, I depend on Crystal (opens new window) for their descriptors more than any other. Crystal seems right on target and very readable. I even use Crystal as a manager to understand those I work with (although you can ignore their job suggestions).

# The Enneagram in Practice (Allegorically)

After taking the test, feeling "seen" in such a strange way, trying to be a skeptic, and then listening to other's stories and seeing the similar patterns of self-realization, I've come to a point where I feel it's a good tool.

I use such a tool, only after someone self-identifies, to be a better (opens new window) friend (opens new window) (lots of 1's in my life), a better co-worker, a better manager, and a better (opens new window) husband (opens new window).

I believe when we have such a tool, which helps communicate in ways we may not have been able to do so before, or more effectively, we should use and share it.

Of course these are all generalizations. There's nothing more niche and unique than you. But generalizations that can be helpful if used within reason. If you want to feel understood, this is a great one.

In the end, taking these tests and learning about others through them has helped me become more empathetic, and effectively so. It's quite difficult to argue with those results.

Empathy is something I've needed help with. And now, not only can I work on that but I can understand and accept this very struggle in myself - which all makes sense considering I identify as an 8w7 (opens new window). 😉

If you're curious about the things I write about here, you should definitely join my newsletter. It's an occassional email with interesting things I've read or found, plus new articles.

Nate Ritter

Last Updated: 8/1/2020, 9:15:34 PM