Enneawhat? (Updated)

I was just reading a post over at Tony Jones' blog about the Enneagram profile of Mitt Romney.

I'm writing this as a confession/observation:

I'm a psychologist and I have no clue what an Enneagram might be.

So when I hear about stuff like this my default response is:

Someone has invented another way to make money on our narcissism.

Apologies to any Enneagram enthusiasts, but is there any psychometric literature on this?

In the comments many of you have shared how you've found Enneagrams to be helpful. So apologies for any snark in my initial response. I confess to being a psychometrics snob. Professional hazard. As I've written about before, we are all snobs about something.

Incidentally, for what it's worth, I took an online test and came out as a Type 9, "The Peacemaker." (And I will not admit to that label affecting my narcissism...).

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25 thoughts on “Enneawhat? (Updated)”

  1. Enneagrams have been around for a while. They're somehow related to the Myers-Briggs types, but since there are fewer of them, they seem even less helpful. I'll get back to you with more.

  2. Someone gave me an enneagram book, and I found it helpful. The basic premise, as I understood/appropriated/re-interpreted it was this: in the process of coming to self-consciousness in a bent world, everybody gets wounded. These wounds outwork as prevailing lies we come to believe about ourselves/the world. Our personalities can be grouped according to the coping methods we come up with to deal with these woundings. The enneagram test asks a few short questions to determine where, broadly, we tend to fit.

    For me, it broke down as follows: for some reason, when I was a kid I came to believe that there wasn't enough unconditional love in the world for me. Maybe it was out there - but just not for me. I coped with this by attempting to conform myself to the expectations/conditions that I perceived in the people around me.

    Like I said, I found this helpful. Maybe it is just a money-grab from narcissism, but it certainly shone a spotlight on a prevailing, unhealthy trend in how I approached the world, and I feel as though it's helped me have less of an emotional reaction when I feel as though someone is disapproving of what I'm doing.

    As I think about it, it seems likely to me that EVERYTHING is a narcissism-utilizing money-grab.

  3. I just happen to have a textbook on personality psychology out from the library (don't worry, I think most of it is crock; I have it because I want to design some characters and while these can be terrible assessment devices, they are excellent character-design devices). It described the Enneagram in its New Age section.

    It's usually traced back to Greek-Armenian mystic Georges Gurdjieff (1866?-1949). He talked about a Fourth Way as a counterpoint to systems of thought that separate the body, intellect, and emotions. Instead, says Gurdjieff, humans live in "a kind of sleepwalking state" and can attain higher forms of consciousness, higher bodies, higher levels of development, etc. The textbook emphasizes that Gurdjieff was part of "a larger wave of interest" in the occult, esoterica, spiritualism, theosophy, and so forth beginning in the 19th century. At the beginning of the 20th people started to be interested in ascended masters, secret teachings, channeling and mediums, wisdom from the Eastern religions, and so on. Gurdjieff is connected to these; the textbook also mentins the tarot, astrology, etc. "What is most noteworthy about the small splinter groups of spiritualists and believers in secret teachings that formed in the early 1900s was their near-total lack of a sense of history." For this reason, there is little in the New Age movement that is actually new [says the textbook; I disagree somewhat, in that the New Agers made up a lot of nonsense and passed it off for old]. Some say that the Enneagrams were derived from Sufi mysticism, but Gurdjieff never explicitly says this. There are a bunch of other theories, but they all seem to be tenuous claims made by his disciples, so I won't bother with them.
    Gurdjieff opened a school outside of Paris following WWI, which transmitted the Enneagram to study groups in London, New York, and Paris. Gurdjieff, however, did not develop the nine personality types now associated with the Enneagram. That was done by Oscar Ichazo (1931-), founder of the Arica School, which is a collection of techniques for consciousness-raising, etc.
    He had a disciple names Claudio Naranjo (anthropologist-psychologist) who split with Ichazo over the correct interpretation of the Enneagram. Naranjo worked in Gestalt therapy in the 60s. Some of his students were Jesuit priests, who adapted the Enneagram for their counseling programs. The nine personality types were originally handed down from teacher to student, but at some point in the early 70s, they were written down in one-page descriptions, like we see them now.One of Naranjo's disciples, Helen Palmer, wrote some popular-audience books on the Enneagrams, focusing on self-analysis and on applying the Enneagram to family and workplace relationships. So I guess she's the real populariser? Anyway, according to the textbook, this fractious history means there is no unified school of thought regarding the proper use of the Enneagram. (Actually, the disagreement is interesting. Ichazo seems pretty psychoanalytical: he thinks the types on the Enneagram are ego fixations developed from childhood trauma, and the point is to identify your fixation so you can resolve it and move past it. Therefore, according to him, Naranjo et al. are strengthening the fixation by encouraging people to identify with it, and as a result they are hindering people's development.)However, many users today see the Enneagram as a tool for self-discovery rather than a tool for finding the source of their suffering. People supporting the Enneagram in this sense seem to draw from the language of Carl Rogers, though of course this does not mean that Carl Rogers supports the Enneagram. Some users have tried to correlate the Enneagram with other typologies and psychologies.

  4. Not an enthusiast, but was curious and the wikipedia page of one popular variant contains 2 studies.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Riso-Hudson_Enneagram_Type_Indicator

  5. OK, research!

    Little clinical research has been done, partly because there are so many interpretations of the system, making evaluation difficult. Lots of people do not recognize themselves in any of the nine, so it would be hard to test them. Also, many people say the Enneagram is too "spiritual" to be measured by clinical methods. But some people have tried to correlate the Enneagram with neurological differences? I can't find a citation for that.Most recent research has been in organizational psychology (Haynes 1994).Critiques are plentiful. "Some observers consider it pseudoscience, no more scientifically valid than the Myers-Briggs or similar personality inventories." They can't be falsified, so they can't be validated. It is "science-proof" (Charlton 2006). Others talks about the Forer effect (or Barnum effect), where people tend to believe that a description supposedly written for them is applicable, even when the description is very broad [and/or totally made up]. And then there is research showing that young adults who are attracted to the Enneagram were more likely to have been rejected by their parents, insecure attachments, etc. than young adults who were traditionally religious (Granqvist et al. 2007) [which seems suspect to me--we're evaluating religious traditions based on the psychology of their practitioners? really?--but what do I know?]

  6. The Enneagram has nothing to do with narcissism. It is rather an aide to self-discovery, much like the more popular sixteen Myers-Briggs types (I'm INFJ). The Enneagram was invented by a mystic/esotericist named George Gurdjieff. The crux of his system, the "Fourth Way", was awakening man from his existential slumber.

    The Enneagram is hard to test or falsify, but that doesn't imply that it's just hocus-pocus. It requires us to be receptive and use our intuitive eyes. Some conservative religious types have eschewed the enneagram.

    Try it here: http://similarminds.com/test.html My results tell me I'm "very unhealthy" because my main preoccupation seems to be maintaining safety (introverted intuitives like me are, as a rule, not very daring).

  7. And sources.

    Melton, J. (2000, July 17). Beyond millennialism: The New Age transformed. Paper presented at the conference on the "New Age in the Old World," Caligny, Switzerland.
    Needleman J. & Baker, G. (Eds.) (1996). Gurdjieff: Essays and reflections on the man and his teaching. New York: Continuum.Haynes, C. (1994). The Enneagram: Perspective on ourselves, each other, and our clients. Beginnings 14, 1-4.
    Charlton, B. (2006). Despite their inevitable conflicts--science, religion, and New Age spirituality are essentially compatible and complementary activities. Medical Hypotheses, 67, 433-436.
    Granqvist, P., Ivarsson, T., Broberg, A., & Hagekull, B. (2007). Examining relations among attachment, religiosity, and New Age spirituality using the Adult Attachment Interview. Developmental Psychology, 43, 590-601.And the textbook from which I got all of this (I'm switching citational styles because MLA is the only one I have memorized. Sorry!)Personality Theories: Critical Perspectives. Ed. Albert Ellis, Mike Abrams, and Lidia D. Adams. Los Angeles: Sage, 2009. 570-576. Print.Well, that was fun.

  8.  For what it's worth, I've found study of the Myers-Briggs system to be MUCH more fruitful.

  9. I'd say that most pop psychology is a narcissism-utilizing money-grab. That's why it's pop. But from what I can tell, real psychology isn't so much. I mean, I would not call proper therapy methods narcissistic if they are being used to treat a person who is actually suffering, and I would not call social psychology narcissistic at all. I mean, just read this blog. (Though my reasons for reading this blog, of course, could very well be narcissistic.)

  10. I should clarify: the people who Ichazo so disagrees with think their types are immutable. Once fixed (sometime in childhood), this is who you are. Therefore you should structure your decisions based on this personality type. This is what Ichazo thinks is so crazy; you should not cherish your ego fixations as a part of your identity! You should vanquish them!

    To be clear, I don't have a horse in this race. The exclamation points are how I imagine Ichazo making his claims. I am not invested in this system.

  11. By narcissism I'm talking about the selling and marketing of self-assessment systems, systems which comes in waves with new products replacing the old, that proliferate in churches and the world of business. Such diagnostic products sell well because we are all interested in ourselves and like looking the mirror, finding some number, animal, color, or four letter code to describe ourselves. Not saying self-assessments are useless. Much of my discipline is driven by them. Just pointing out the dark side of when consumerism meets self-assessment.

  12. http://similarminds.com/cgi-bin/similarminds.pl
    If you want to "classify yourself", though to my mathematical mind, these seem similar to the Myers-Briggs, as several have noted below.

  13. I find the enneagram system of personality typing a nice complement to Myers-Briggs.  One of the big drawbacks, IMHO, of Myers-Briggs is that it makes no differentiation between healthy and unhealthy versions of the same personality types.  In Hudson/Riso's book on the enneagram, they lay out 9 levels of emotional health for each of the nine numbered types.  It's a good reminder that just because we are who we are, there are better and worse ways to be "true" to ourselves.  Growing/healing emotionally and spiritually does not mean becoming something that we are not. 

  14. I do think that anything that makes us more reflective and aids us in narrating or re-narrating our lives is helpful. So in that sense, I've got no problems. And I definitely like your phrase "in the process of coming to self-consciousness in a bent world, everybody gets wounded." Carl Rogers called it "incongruence" of the "self-concept" due to "conditions of worth" being attached to "positive regard." The emotional template being "I will love you if..." That "if" is the toxic part.

  15. If you want to see some good material that presumes the Enneagram as a model for thinking through God's grace mediated in gracious communities, I recommend Brennan Manning, an ex-alcoholic ex-Catholic.

  16.  I honestly can't remember if that's what the book was really about - that's just what I got out of it. A wise old Latin-Teacher-British-Lady gave it to me because she thought I'd find it helpful, and I did. It made me cry, actually, which is always good. Nothing quite so lovely as a good cry.

    I tend to agree with you, though. I think we'd all be a lot better served by a little less navel-gazing and a little more digging in the dirt, followed handing the produce of our toil to people who aren't rich enough to afford the luxury of navel-gazing.

  17. I find the Enneagram to be the most helpful of any of the tests out there. Largely because it is so complex and subjective. This is why it seems to be the preferred tool of many spiritual directors. I have found it personally very helpful, particularly in living in community. Lots of Catholic Worker communities in the midwest have latched onto it as well. The whole premise is to understand what it looks like when you "integrate" and when you "disintegrate" as such, it is tool more designed to help you grow than it is to help you figure out your "type."

  18. I took the test and I'm Type 9, "The Peacemaker"

    The Description:
    Nines are accepting, trusting, and stable. They are
    usually creative, optimistic, and supportive, but can also be
    too willing to go along with others to keep the peace. They
    want everything to go smoothly and be without conflict, but
    they can also tend to be complacent, simplifying problems and
    minimizing anything upsetting. They typically have problems
    with inertia and stubbornness. At their Best: indomitable and
    all-embracing, they are able to bring people together and heal


    Abraham Lincoln, Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung, Ronald Reagan,
    Gerald Ford, Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Grace, Walter Cronkite, George Lucas,
    Walt Disney, John Kennedy, Jr., Sophia Loren, Geena Davis, Lisa Kudrow, Kevin
    Costner, Keanu Reeves, Woody Harrelson, Ron Howard, Matthew Broderick, Ringo
    Starr, Whoopi Goldberg, Janet Jackson, Nancy Kerrigan, Jim Hensen, Marc
    Chagall, Norman Rockwell, "Edith Bunker" (Archie Bunker), and
    "Marge Simpson" (The Simpsons).

    I'm down with any comparison to Abrahma Lincoln, Walt Disney, JFK, Keanu Reeves, Jim Henson, Edith Bunker and Marge Simpson.

  19. We use it in my local church to help us work together as a team. There's 14 people on staff, so one day we had an Enneagram consultant come in and help us understand each other better. They are not meant to be prescriptive on one's own, perhaps, but best used to explain the differences between different people in a group work environment.

  20. Incidentally, a lot of the items map onto the Big 5 personality traits. For example:

    Conscientiousness: "I always accomplish my work on time."; "I maintain my spaces in an orderly way."

    Agreeableness: "I am aggressive."; "My thoughtfulness and charitable nature are my foundation."

    Neuroticism/Emotional Stability: "I have a very relaxed personality."; "I like to go through life without haste, unhurried, in a relaxed manner."

    Openness to Experience: " Its not enough that I like/enjoy something, I have to understand why."

    Extraversion doesn't seem to be picked up on in this scale. The remain items seems to be a mix of things like self-esteem ("I tend to dislike myself."), sensation-seeking ("I think if it's not exhilarating, I would rather not do it."), agency ("I am a domineering person."), optimism ("I am very optimistic."), and narcissism ("My desire for acclaim motivates me.").

  21. Interesting thoughts in relation to the fallen mind, the unconditional nature of universal reconciliation, and the damaging effect of a contractual if/then presentation of the gospel.

  22. Via Ouspensky, I got into Gurdjieff in the late 60s and early 70s.  I learned a lot from studying his teaching, actually (including the Enneagram).  For me, G. kind of prepared the way for Christ.  But one of the things that attracted me to G's esoteric and eclectic project of "working on oneself" was his sardonic sense of the human propensity for self-deception (I would now call it Augustinian).  Which is precisely what is missing from most contemporary psycho-spirituality.  There is also its endless self-referentiality (cf. Rowan Williams' recent speech on "contemplation"), including the heresy (perspicuoulsy observed by Kenneth Leech, with whom Williams once worked, commenting particularly on MBTI) that God loves those who love themselves, that "we have accepted as a fundamental premise that we can't love God or others until we love ourselves," whereas "it would seem that nearly two thousand years of Christian experience says otherwise."  Not to forget the almost total absence of social critique on the spirituality circuit.  Finally, my ultimate heresy for some Christian readers: Freud over Jung, hands down.

  23. No harm, no foul. Yes indeed, there are narcissistic excesses in these kinds of self-assessments. There's entire internet communities of people who obsess over these metrics. I think we could properly call that narcissistic.

  24. That's interesting, because Myers-Briggs leave me cold--as do most other psychometric models. On the other hand, I find the enneagram incredibly useful personally, and in relationship with a few other people who also gel with it.

  25. I am type 2-helpful. No wonder our marriage is so good. Peaceful and helpful always go together.

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