What is The Enneagram?
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Up to this point, most references to personality type on this site have been through the lens of Myers-Briggs. In this post I’m going to introduce a new way of understanding personality called The Enneagram.
The basic difference between Myers-Briggs and The Enneagram is that Myers-Briggs looks at the hard-wired, inborn way that people perceive and organize information, while The Enneagram looks at a person’s ego development and the patterns they adopted to cope with the world as children.
When we’re born, we don’t perceive any separation between ourselves and the rest of the world. We inevitably go through a painful and traumatic process where we become aware that we’re separate and where we have to learn how to cope with a world that we don’t have the mental resources to understand. This creates an existential terror at a time when we’re seeking identity.
The result is that we end up with one of 9 basic version of “I’m not OK”, and we create an identity around how we cope with this feeling. That becomes our Enneagram Type.
What’s the Point of Learning About The Enneagram?
Our Enneagram pattern compels us to play a game we can’t win. Developing this pattern was an important step in childhood, but it becomes an elusive obstacle to our happiness as adults.
For example, Enneagram type 2 is a pattern where a person’s existential terror revolves around the feeling that if they’re forthcoming about their personal needs, they’ll be rejected and left to die alone. So they respond to this by trying to get their needs me indirectly. This might show up in the form of giving gifts and doing favors for people, often compulsively, in order to (often unconsciously) try and indebt them into loving them and looking out for their needs.
The problem is that this, like all Enneagram patterns, comes from a place of imbalance. Enneagram 2s are imbalanced about their personal needs. Their attempts to indebt or manipulate others can be off-putting, often trapping them to the very thing they’re trying to avoid in the first place – neediness. This can lead to bitterness and resentment towards others who refuse to play this game that they believe they need to play in order to survive in the world.
The point of learning the Enneagram is to bring the ego into balance. The way out of the trap for Enneagram type 2 is to learn at a deep level that their needs are valid and that it’s both OK and necessary for them to express their needs like everyone else.
What are the 9 Enneagram Types?
Here are some very brief descriptions of the 9 Enneagram patterns. We each have all 9 of these patterns inside us at some level, though we tend to identify primarily with one of them, which we call our ‘type’:
This type is trapped in a dichotomy of right vs. wrong. They believe on some level that they need to be perfect in order to be loved.
This type fears that they’re unworthy of having their needs met in a healthy way. The believe that they need to manipulate in order to have their needs met.
This type fears that they’re not OK as they are and that they must show their accomplishments to others in order to loved and accepted.
This type believes that they’re missing something everyone else has and that they have to prove that they’re unique and special to compensate and win love and approval.
This type’s deepest fear is that they’re incapable and incompetent so they overcompensate by attempting to master things in their mind before participating in life directly.
This type feels that the world is fundamentally unsafe and that they need to be hyper-vigilant and to anticipate what might go wrong before it does.
This type is deeply afraid of being trapped in negative emotions and compensates by seeking fun, keeping their options open and planning enjoyable activities.
This type is most afraid of vulnerability. They attempt to present themselves as forceful and powerful so others will not see or exploit their vulnerability.
This type fears their own power and judgement. They go to great lengths to avoid taking decisive and consequential action.
In future posts we’ll go deeper into each Enneagram type and I’ll give some examples.
In the meantime, can you name the Enneagram pattern on display in “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” by Cyndi Lauper?