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The Enneagram Personality System

enneagramThe Enneagram  Personality System comes from the Sufi spiritual tradition and has been recently adopted by Western psychology. It is designed to show us the particular habit of mind we use to avoid pain in our lives, and to therefore, avoid being ourselves. The purpose in using the Enneagram, is not to label anyone, but to use it to see what we are not, so that we can free ourselves from the habit of fixating on a certain way of seeing life. This habit keeps us in a form of trance, unaware of the true reality of the moment. This comes from childhood, when in order to survive, we adapted our natural behavior to fit our circumstances to deal with painful feelings.

The Enneagram is traditionally pictured with nine numbers arranged around a circle (see above).

The system includes nine personality types, divided into three triads, each with a different focus of attention:

  • Numbers Three, Two, and Four, are the Image types, and getting approval is their focus in life. They are associated with the Heart, and with wanting to be loved.
  • Numbers Six, Five, and Seven, are the Fear types, and managing fear is their focus in life. They are associated with the Head or mind, where  fear is a thought about the future.
  • Numbers Nine, Eight and One, are known as the Self-forgetting and anger types They deny a part of themselves in order to survive, and anger is their issue. They are associated with the Body, or solar plexus, where anger is felt.

Each of these triads, has one central point. These are the Three, Six, and Nine for each triad. This point sets the tone for that triad. The other two points, are opposite each other in terms of being either withdrawn, or outgoing. Twos are outgoing, focused on others, whereas Fours have an internal focus, on themselves. Sevens are impulsive and outgoing, whereas Fives are more withdrawn, carefully accessing before acting. Eights live life with gusto, acting when they feel like it, whereas Ones are inward, careful and considered in their decisions.

There are three general ways that the nine types can vary:

Wings: Each type tends to lean one way towards one of the 2 types next to them on the circle, taking on the flavor of what is called their ‘wing’, e.g. a Seven can lean towards the Six or the Eight, with a Six wing being more careful and quiet, while an Eight wing, would be more outgoing and less fearful.

Subtypes: Each of the nine types also belongs to one of three subtypes, which have to do with where we put our strongest focus in the world (our sense of what is most important to our survival):

  1. The Self-preservation type, which focuses on survival issues in life, and less on relationship.
  2. The Social type, which relates to the group or community as an entity, and not so much the individual person.
  3. The One on One type, (sometimes called, the Sexual type), which focuses on pair bonding, whether with romantic partners, friends or family members.

It is interesting that we tend to be happier in relationship with our own subtype, more than our own number type, because our relationship goals are the same.

Arrows: Each of the Nine types has a Stress and Relaxation point. There are lines connecting the types across the circle (see above). A type can move along the line in the direction of the arrow when the person is under stress, taking on the flavor of the type at the other end. When relaxed, one moves towards the number in the direction moving against the arrow. When you are very relaxed or under stress you may look more like this other number than your own.

Because of these many variations on each type, two people of the same number type can look very different from each other.

The Nine types can mature and grow through out a lifetime. We do not change our basic type over a lifetime, but we do hopefully become more conscious. When we become more aware, we evolve from our Fixation, or habit of mind and emotion, into our Essence or aware quality. For example, the Seven evolves from gluttony(for experiences) and (obsessive)planning, to sobriety and work(real follow up, instead of just dreaming).

It is easy to confuse the types from written descriptions until you have more experience actually seeing the energy of each type. It is important to visually see the way the types hold themselves physically and energetically. In choosing your type, it is best to think about how you were/are as a young adult in your 20s, when your fixation shows more clearly. Finding one’s type should be a careful and slow process of discovery, comparing your own and other’s perceptions, without jumping to conclusions. We share all the qualities of each type as human traits, but the motivation behind our behavior is what determines type. It is a learning process about which motivations stand out from the rest to determine our type.

The Enneagram is a sacred tool. It is important to use it in this context, and not to label people. Each of the nine types is one human way of dealing with the difficulties of life, none are better than any other. Each of the nine types has a reason for doing what they do, which, if understood, would bring compassion to our hearts for them. As you read about each type, try to understand the pain that created each of their habits of mind. It is often true, in all the types, that that which we do to compensate for our pain, ends up actually causing ongoing repetition of the pain. It is in our understanding of each other’s childhood motivations for these ‘strategies’ that we find compassion.

The purpose of knowing our type ultimately is to help us on the path to freedom from the trance of habituated mind, to see who we really are and experience reality without these filters.

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