In this, our second of two articles on the Enneagram, I wanted to spend a bit of time on the nine basic personality types.
Again, your personality type in the Enneagram describes only your habits of thinking and behavior. The habitual ways we think and respond to people, places and situations is often rather narrow. Our habits do not define our essence, but the ways we habitually respond to people and situations profoundly shapes our lives.
My teacher was Don Richard Riso, who died a few years ago. I highly recommend his book, which he wrote with Rusty Hudson, called The Wisdom of the Enneagram. Get The Book Here
They also have a very informative website at www.enneagraminstitute.com.
The word Enneagram means literally “a nine sided shape“. The nine types sit on the shape in relationship to each other. The nine types are:
1 – The Reformer
2 – The Helper
3 – The Achiever
4 – The Individualist
5 – The Investigator
6 – The Loyalist
7 – The Enthusiast
8 – The Challenger
9 – The Peacemaker
No one type is any better than another, and people of the same Enneagram type can look quite different. One factor that shapes how you look and behave within your type is your level of health.
Level of health or “Levels of Development”, as it is so beautifully laid out by Don Riso and Russ Hudson, refers mainly to a person’s level of psychological health and development. A person who is Enneagram Type 1 (The Reformer) might be healthy (or high functioning), average (or normal), or unhealthy (and destructive of self and others.)
So let’s look at this in detail.
As an example, if we look at the different levels of Type 1 we find:
A) Healthy or High Functioning: Consider two famous people considered to represent a healthy Type 1: Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. Type 1 types are generally described as conscientious and ethical, with a strong sense of right and wrong. These healthy Type 1’s embodied this ethical and morally “right” approach. They lead entire nations of people into a new and better future. So they take the qualities of that Type and make them the best they can be.
B) Average or Normal: Obviously someone achieving this level of a Type hits the basic marks but does not push beyond that particularly. Being average in many ways is great, since you at least are not causing harm. However you could do better.
C) Unhealthy or destructive to self and others: In contrast, an unhealthy Type 1 will scream from a soapbox that they know what is right, but will appear simply as opinionated, surly, curmudgeonly, and at their worst dangerous psychopaths.
In a sense this is the shadow aspect of a quality. Good qualities when out of balance can become toxic. If one used their sense of “right and wrong” to abuse another person, then this is a quality that has lost its center. Sure they are keeping with the habit of a strong sense of right or wrong, but through this they cause harm and trauma. Not good.
Through cultivating more self awareness and humility this unhealthy state can begin to balance itself out again. That is a major reason why understanding your habits and patterns helps you to eventually transcend them. It is then that you can receive influence and inspiration from the other Types out there. Getting out of our rut helps us heal.
So why do we write about the Enneagram?
When we can identify our habits of thinking and behavior, then there is the possibility of moving beyond our narrow habitual ways into a fuller presence in the world.
And the benefit to you? At the very least, less stress, fuller relationships with others, and even better physical health. We have seen again and again people stuck in chronic physical problems that did not fully heal until they worked to shift their narrow and habitual ways of relating with others and the world.
As we mentioned in the first article, this is one of several tools to help us understand ourselves and our relationship to the world. The Enneagram is a complex system and if you have an interest there is a wealth of free information at the website. Just follow the link to www.enneagraminstitute.com.
Sign up to become a member (it’s free) at www.enneagraminstitute.com/members/login.asp.
And once you are signed up, start by subscribing to the free EnneaThought for the Day (Link to that Page is Here). If you are not sure of your type, use the questionnaires available on the site to help you figure it out.
Be forewarned, this work of self-discovery is very gratifying and sometimes difficult. When I was studying with Don Riso and Russ Hudson we used to joke that the easiest way to identify your type was to read through the descriptions of the nine types, then look at the description that made you most uneasy. Usually the one you said, “Who would ever want to be that type?” to very well would be yours.
The world is funny that way.
What is your type? Leave a comment and let us know what you found out!
Until then – take good care.
To your health.