The Enneagram Explained

What is an enneagram?

An enneagram is a very old psychological model which you can use to discover and develop your true personality. It gives you a deep insight on your unconscious motivations for your behavior and why your behavior is so difficult to change. The enneagram lets you see your own dark side, the side you do not like to look at. This can be painful but the best way to get to know your self is to tackle your shadow side. Everybody has positive and negative personality traits. This model shows you how to reinforce the positive and improve the negative sides of your personality. The purpose of the enneagram model is to become aware of your motives so that you learn to understand why you behave the way you do and with this, gain the ability to change it.  

The word enneagram is actually from Greece origin. Ennea meaning “nine“ and Gramma meaning “point or figure”. So enneagram means figure with nine points. The dynamics of the enneagram lies in the symbol, which connects all nine points with each other. The symbol of the enneagram consists out of a circle, a triangle and a six lined figure called a hexagon. On the circle there are nine points equally distanced from each other. The nine points are also connected by the inner lines of the enneagram. As you can see in the figure, the three, six and the nine form the triangle. The rest of the six points are connected as followed: one is connected with four, four with two, two with eight, eight with five, five with seven and seven with one. These six points make an irregular hexagon.

Nine Perspectives

The nine points in the enneagram stand for the nine enneagram types. These enneagram types represent nine personality structures which are connected with each other. The most important idea of the model lies in the principle that everybody has one personality trait that dominates or has a central position in the total personality.

We can distinguish the following enneagram types:

Click on the names of each type to read a more detailed description.

 1.The Perfectionist       
    fundamental, purposeful, self-controlled and a perfectionist 
2. The Helper   
    generous, pleasing, demonstrative and possessive 
3. The Achiever  
    adaptive, excelling, driven and image conscious
 4. The Romantic 
     expressive, dramatic, introverted and high spirited
5. The Observer      
    perceptive, innovative, closed and isolated
6. The Loyal Skeptic          
    engaging, responsible, anxious and distrustful
7. The Adventurer      
    spontaneous, versatile, greedy and absent
8. The Asserter          
    confident , decided ,volitional and confronting 
9. The Peacemaker      
   receptive, reassuring, accommodating and indifferent




Some more facts about the enneagram types:

  • People don’t change from one enneagram type to another. We are formed by the circumstances, we constantly adapt to situations. Due to the constant adapting and change we have the tendency to forget who we really are and there for you may think you have a different enneagram type.
  • The descriptions of the enneagram types are universal and are equal for men and women because no type is intrinsically male or female.
  • Not everything that is in the description of your enneagram type will reflect you totally at all times because you constantly fluctuate between healthy, average and not-healthy character traits of which your personality exists.
  • The numerical order of the types is without meaning. A higher enneagram number is not better than a lower enneagram number.
  • Not one type is better or worse than another. All nine personalities have unique strong and weak points.

Every enneagram type has a free type and a not free type.  The free types have released themselves from the oppressive patterns of their enneagram type and the not free types are still stuck in their enneagram type patterns and behavior.  Our fixations and passions play a big part in developing and growing from a not free to a free type.

Fixations are mental thoughts which you are constantly focused on. It’s like you are in trance. You are constantly fixated on certain things and thoughts without even knowing it. Fixations have a positive and a negative side, which we call temptation and avoidance. Temptation is the kind of behavior that we tried to acquire love with as a child.  That type of behavior used to probably have success in acquiring love and attention in earlier childhood years.  Avoidance is the striving to avoid all behavior that hurts. Each enneagram type has characteristic pain spots consisting out of behavior that was not successful or not appreciated when growing up.  Temptation behavior stands in contrast to avoidance behavior.

Our fixations are controlled by our passions. These passions are also called blockades or root sins. That certain blockade or root sin of an enneagram type is what causes a certain enneagram type to fail or make the same mistakes over and over again. Our fixations and passions are not conscious because we have developed a defense mechanism around this, which started developing itself in our first life year. Because of the defense mechanism, the fixations and passions we have a limited view of the world. We only see one ninth of the world. We find ourselves in one enneagram type and see the world through those glasses. We don’t realize that there are eight other glasses and countless variants to see the world through. The challenge of each enneagram type lies in becoming conscious of their specific fixations and passions and learning how to become free of them.


Golden Triangle

The triangle in the enneagram is very important. It is formed by the three, the six and the nine. These are the main types. The other types are derived from them. That doesn’t mean that these types are more important than the others. But the types that form the triangle in the enneagram determine the structure.  The structure assumes that those 3 enneagram types indicate the underlying motives for their neighbor enneagram types.

For example:

The threes are driven by sorrow. The threes will not quickly show their pain and emotions.  With the twos, the pain is external. The two can express its sorrow. This can go with extreme crying. With the fours, the sorrow is internal.  They can cry quietly but chances are that they will withdraw themselves back when they feel sad or have fierce emotions.

The sixes are driven by fear. This fear is not shown by the sixes. Instead they show courage. With the sevens, this fear is external. They can show this fear but they fight it by doing fun things. The fives keep the fear inside. They withdraw themselves up in their ivory tower.

The nines are driven by anger. This anger is sleeping though. With the eights, the anger is shown external. They can become angry very quickly. They strike first and then they start to think. The ones keep the anger inside. There has to be a legitimate reason first before they can out this anger. This anger has usually been built up and then comes out all at once.


Focus of Intuitive Attention

We are in contact with our surroundings through our consciousness. In general there are 3 forms of intuitive consciousness: mental (head), emotional (heart) and physical (stomach/body). The nine enneagram types are equally divided in the head, hart or physical center. Each of these centers is based on a specified focus of intuitive attention. We have access to all three but as a result of our personality, we have a developed a preference for one of them. To prevent ourselves from limiting our focus of intuitive attention to only one of the centers, we have to learn how to use the other centers also.

The head center is on the left side of the enneagram.  The five, six and seven are in this center. Their focus of attention is on thinking and overseeing everything. They have to think about things first so that they can put the meaning and purpose of it in a logic system. Feeling and handling are secondary.

The eight, nine and one are in the top of the enneagram. This is the stomach center. Their focus of attention is on the physical body. They perceive through their stomach. After that there is room for feeling and thinking.

The heart center is on the right side of the enneagram. The two, three and four are in this center. Their focus of attention is on the emotional experience. Thinking and handling are on second place. They are really focused on others and are driven by their emotions.


The Wings

No one is just one personality type.  Everyone is a unique blend of his or her basic enneagram type with an influence of the two types who lay next to it on the circumference of the enneagram. These two types next to your basic enneagram type are called the wings. Your basic type dominates your global personality, while the wings complement and add important but sometimes contradictory elements to the total personality. The wings are the second side of your personality and these also need to be taken in consideration when trying to understand yourself or somebody else. The wings help individualize the nine enneagram types and make them more recognizable. Everybody has two wings, but usually only one of the wings dominates.  The less dominating wing of course keeps its influence but the dominating wing is far more important. Because of these different wing influences people with the same enneagram type can be very different from each other. A six with a five as its dominating wing can be more withdrawn and have a greater need for privacy and feeling protected while the six with a seven as dominating wing can be more careless, enthusiastic and playful. They can be more outgoing and distracted.


Establishing your Enneagram type

Before you can determine your wing, you of course have to establish your basic enneagram type. You can of course read detailed descriptions of the types and determine which one fits you the best.  You have to be cautious with this method though, because you tend to choose the type you like to be and not the type that you really are.  You usually choose for your psychological self and not for your essence type. There for several tests have been developed to help you determine to which enneagram type you belong.

Here we have two different enneagram tests which you can take:

Click on the links to take the test:

  • Short Enneagram Test                                                                                                                                                    Quick Enneagram Sorting Test developed by Don Riso and Russ Hudson from The Enneagram Institute 
  • Long Enneagram Test                                                                                                                                                    Test with yes or no questions taken from the book: Het Enneagram voor jouw persoonlijkheid door W. J. van de Wetering.


Levels of Development

There is an internal structure within every personality type. This structure is the continuum of behaviors, attitudes, motives and defenses formed by the nine levels of development of which the personality type self, consists.  The personality types can’t be explained correctly without these nine levels of development. The levels are responsible for the differences between people of the same type and significant wing. These levels form a framework in which you can see how all the different traits fit into a bigger whole. Without the levels the types seem like a random collection of unrelated traits with contradictory behaviors and attitudes. But by understanding the levels of development for each type, you can see how all traits are related. The enneagram without the levels is reduced to a horizontal set of nine different categories. By taking up the levels of development, the vertical dimension is added. This vertical dimension indicates the complexity of the human nature but also explains the different and important elements of the personality.

With the levels a dynamic structure, which displays the changing nature of the personality patterns, is introduced. People change constantly. Sometimes they are more clear, free, emotional available while at other moments they can be more afraid, reactive, resistive and emotional unstable. Understanding the different levels makes it clear that when people change the circumstances within their personality, they are shifting within the spectrum of their motivations, traits and defenses which form their personality type.  To understand an individual correctly, you have to know where in the continuum of the levels of their specific type, that person is.

The continuum consists of nine internal levels of development. There are three levels in the healthy section, three levels in the average section and three levels in the unhealthy section. In the continuum we have the healthiest traits on top. Moving down in the continuum in a spiral pattern, we consecutively pass each level of development. Moving down the levels, you can see a clear decay in the personality to even a psychological breakdown at the bottom.

The continuum for each of the personality types is shown underneath:

Level 1 Level of Liberation
Healthy Level 2 Level of Psychological Capacity
Level 3 Level of Social Values
Level 4 Level of Imbalance / Social Part
 Average Level 5 Level of Interpersonal Control
Level 6 Level of Overcompensation
Level 7 Level of Violation
Unhealthy Level 8 Level of Obsession and Compulsion
Level 9 Level of Pathological Destructiveness

The further we move down along the levels, the more identified we are with our ego’s and its increasing negative and restrictive patterns. Our personality becomes more defensive, reactive and automatic. This results in less real freedom and less real awareness. If we move down along the levels we are caught in more compulsive and destructive actions which will limit us. On the other hand, if we move up along the levels, we become more awake and aware in our heads, harts and bodies. When we become more conscious, we are less fixated on the defensive structures of our personality and more in tune with and open towards ourselves and our surroundings.  When becoming more aware, we see are personality traits more objective and the levels become a continuous guidance for self observation. In the top section we are free in the choice of our reactions and we are less focused on compulsive, unconscious fixations. This gives us the ability to act more effectively in all aspects of our lives. When we are less identified with our personality, we notice that we react exactly as needed to what live has to offer us.


The Enneagram concluded

The enneagram is not meant to label you. It is there to show us that we are stuck thinking inside the box of our personality type.  The purpose is to start thinking outside the box. You can do this by working on the less developed parts of your personality, like your less dominating wing or your focus of intuitive attention. The real purpose of the enneagram is to transcend the enneagram. You can do this from the middle of the enneagram. The eventual goal is not to have an ego anymore. In other words, not be any enneagram type. That is not an easy challenge and to achieve that we have to do some real internal cleaning. Our little box is so safe that every time something happens to us, we immediately run back to that box we have known are whole lives. Leaving this box takes courage. The enneagram can help you on the path to your life purpose.  It shows us what can or has to be done, what our limitations are and how to deal with the challenges in the best way. The enneagram gives insight; insight in yourself, the people around you and your spiritual path.

~ Spread the Love ~


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