An Introduction to the Enneagram

I’m guilty of something. 

I have turned into the person who can’t help but bring up the Enneagram with, well, anyone who will listen. 

And I’m not alone. 

I recently spent five days with 48 other people who understand the compulsion to discuss this personality typing system at every turn. 

Last week, I attended the Fundamentals of the Riso-Hudson Enneagram run by the Enneagram Institute® in Stone Ridge, NY. 

And I’ve noticed two questions keep popping up when I tell others about the training:

  1. Ennea-what? What did you just say?
  2. What is it?

Even crossing the US/Canada border provided the challenge of trying to explain succinctly why I was driving 7 hours to learn about this thing most people haven’t ever heard of, and usually can’t pronounce. 

So, this post is an attempt to answer some of the most common questions I hear and why I believe this system is so powerful. 

ENNEA-WHAT?

The structure of the Enneagram is represented by a circle divided into nine with connecting inner lines. 

Each number represents a distinct personality type. And while we all have traits from each of the types, we have one dominant personality type. Think of this as our temperament. 

A few key points about the types:

  • Your basic, dominant type is yours for life. In times of stress and security, we can act more like another type, and we may look different depending on how healthy we are. 
  • No one number is better than another, and there is no ranking. One is not better than Five, etc. Each type has its own strengths and limitations. 
  • The types are evenly distributed across genders – there is no inherently masculine or feminine type. 

The use of numbers to distinguish the types is neutral and universal, regardless of language. However, names have emerged to help identify the types and capture the essence of each one. 

The names in the above image are from the Enneagram Institute® and may differ from other names that have emerged over the years. But, even if the names differ, each type is fundamentally the same. 

A very quick overview of the types from the Enneagram Institute® helps expand somewhat on each basic personality type:

  • Type One is principled, purposeful, self-controlled, and perfectionistic.
  • Type Two is generous, demonstrative, people-pleasing, and possessive.
  • Type Three is adaptable, excelling, driven, and image-conscious.
  • Type Four is expressive, dramatic, self-absorbed, and temperamental.
  • Type Five is perceptive, innovative, secretive, and isolated.
  • Type Six is engaging, responsible, anxious, and suspicious.
  • Type Seven is spontaneous, versatile, acquisitive, and scattered.
  • Type Eight is self-confident, decisive, willful, and confrontational.
  • Type Nine is receptive, reassuring, complacent, and resigned.

HOW DO YOU FIGURE OUT YOUR TYPE?

There are two main ways to discover your type. 

  1. Take the Riso-Hudson Enneagram Type Indicator (RHETI®)
  2. Read the full descriptions of each type until you discover the one that hits home. 

In my experience, you will know you’ve found your type when you feel a bit exposed. This typically comes less from the positive aspects of the type and more from the areas of growth. When you hit on the parts of your personality you aren’t particularly proud of sharing with others, then you are likely closer to landing on the right one. 

When I first explored the Enneagram and read the brief four word descriptions, I was led astray. At first glance, I presumed I would be a One, Three, or Five. So when I took the RHETI and it said I was a Seven, I actually disregarded the results.

I literally closed the report without reading it. 

It wasn’t until six weeks later that I finally took the time to read the full, detailed report and realized I was absolutely a Seven. And I knew it because I felt exposed. On paper, I was reading about my unhelpful patterns of behaviour as if someone had been observing me in secret. 

“How does it know?!?”

The lesson I gained from this experience is to avoid slipping into the trap of using the four word descriptions above, and instead dig deeper until you strike a nerve. 

WHY DO SOME PEOPLE WITH THE SAME NUMBER ACT SO DIFFERENTLY?

It’s important to understand that how you show up in the world largely depends on your level of health. The Riso-Hudson Enneagram includes a continuum of health, called the Levels of Development. 

LEVELS OF DEVELOPMENT

Don Riso discovered a range of behaviours, attitudes, defences and motivations within each type. He identified nine different levels divide