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What Is the Enneagram?

Niki Acker
Updated May 17, 2024
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The Enneagram is a personality typing system used in psychology. It is a nine-pointed figure, with each point representing one of nine basic personality types. The roots of the system is a topic of discussion. Some argue that the origins go back as far as 4000 years ago. Numerous mathematicians and philosophers like Plato and al-Ghazzali are said to have pondered over the earlier variations of the Enneagram. The number and personality system is also linked to Sufi orders and it is thought that George Gurdjieff was introduced to it in this way. In its contemporary use, the Enneagram is often attributed to Bolivian thinker Oscar Ichazo, who began working on it in the 1950s. Ichazo's students, especially Claudio Naranjo, further developed and elaborated on the model beginning in the 1970s.

The Enneagram is intended as a tool of self-discovery, the idea being that one can recognize and avoid the pitfalls of unhealthy behavior patterns by learning about one's type and how it typically responds to stresses. Some psychologists and scientists criticize the Enneagram for its lack of falsifiability, but other more widely accepted personality typologies, such as that developed by Carl Jung, have the same weakness. Recent research in neuroscience suggests biological evidence for the Enneagram, but not all neuroscientists are in agreement on this issue. Critics believe that more research is necessary before the Enneagram can be accepted. A number of companies, including Motorola, Boeing, and the Stanford Master of Business Administration (MBA) program, use the Enneagram to evaluate applicants.

Following is a brief description of the nine personality types. The terminology used to label the triads and types is not standardized, and many different terms may be found in different sources.

Types Two through Four are known as the Feeling triad. Two, The Helper, over-expresses feeling and tends to be compassionate, generous, manipulative, and possessive. Three, The Achiever, is most out of touch with feeling and is characterized by being adaptable, confident, competitive, and critical. Four, The Individualist under-expresses feeling and is typically intuitive, creative, depressive, and introverted.

Types Five through Seven are collectively called the Thinking triad. Five, The Observer, is characterized by over-expressing thought and exhibits analytical, curious, withdrawn, and detached personality traits. Six, The Loyalist, is least in touch with thought and tends to be faithful, responsible, passive-aggressive, and self-doubting. Seven, The Adventurer is prone to under-expressing thought and is enthusiastic, spontaneous, fickle, and narcissistic.

Types Eight, Nine, and One are known as the Instinctive triad. Eight, The Leader, over-expresses instinct and is said to be dominant, decisive, overbearing, and confrontational. Nine, The Peacemaker, is the type most out of touch with instinct, characterized by being perceptive, empathetic, unresponsive and repressed. One, The Perfectionist tends to under-express instinct and is typically idealistic, conscientious, judgemental, and inflexible.

The nine-pointed Enneagram incorporates both a hexagon, connecting types One, Two, Four, Five, Seven, and Eight; and a triangle, connecting types Three, Six, and Nine. The lines that make up these shapes can be used to predict the behavior of each personality type at times of stress or security. These directions are often indicated on the diagram with arrows. The direction of disintegration, is seen in the sequences 1-4-2-8-5-7-1 and 3-6-9-3. The direction of integration is the opposite direction.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Niki Acker
By Niki Acker
"In addition to her role as a WiseGeek editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide range of interesting and unusual topics to gather ideas for her own articles. A graduate of UCLA with a double major in Linguistics and Anthropology, Niki's diverse academic background and curiosity make her well-suited to create engaging content for WiseGeekreaders. "
Discussion Comments
By SteamLouis — On Apr 10, 2014

The problem with the Enneagram, and all other personality systems in my view, is that they turn into a self fulfilling prophecy. Instead of encouraging people to change, I think that the Enneagram makes people adopt a fatalistic worldview that they are the way they are and nothing can change that. I don't think that it helps to constantly think about our shortcomings and faults.

By stoneMason — On Apr 09, 2014

My boss doesn't use the Enneagram to hire people but he uses the system to determine how he should interact with different employees and the types of rewards or punishments that might improve an employee's performance.

I actually appreciate this a lot. I'm a number one, so I'm very sensitive and hard working and I'm very harsh on myself. My boss knows this so before he criticizes my work, he tells me that I didn't do anything wrong but that I just need to fix something. That is actually very helpful for me because instead of feeling horrible for messing up, I concentrate on my work and I don't lose my self-esteem. I wish all employers used the Enneagram to improve employer-employee relations.

By bear78 — On Apr 09, 2014

I found out about the Enneagram from my professor who is very interested in it. He even gave me a book about it to read and he shares the Enneagram test with all his students and encourages us to discover our type.

I found out that I'm a type six. I'm not exactly sure how I can use the Enneagram for self development but I like that this system underlines both weaknesses and strengths of each type. So I think it's fairly objective.

Niki Acker
Niki Acker
"In addition to her role as a WiseGeek editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide range of...
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