In the past a system with the complexity and depth of the Enneagram would have been reserved for psychologists. Today, however, average people have access to personality typologies through training in the workplace and online resources for personal development.
In both education and in business, millions of people have taken personality inventories. The idea of discovering one’s personal style through relating to common patterns and then recognizing similarities and differences with others has had a huge impact in raising collective consciousness.
Let’s have a look at how the Enneagram compares with some of the better known personality typologies to appreciate what each has to offer.
Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)
While the Enneagram is becoming universally popular, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is the most widely used personality assessment instrument in the world. Based on the theories of psychiatrist Carl Jung, the MBTI was developed by Isabel Myers and her mother Katherine Briggs in the 1940’s. Their intention was primarily to create a tool for placing civilians in the workforce for the war effort, as well as to support communication and understanding across diverse personality styles.
The results of the MBTI are reported as a four-letter code, expressing four separate categories of self-identified preferences :
- EXTRAVERSION (E) – INTROVERSION (I)
- SENSATE FUNCTION (S) – INTUITIVE FUNCTION (N)
- THINKING FUNCTION (T) – FEELING FUNCTION (F)
- JUDGING PREFERENCE (J)- PERCEIVING PREFERENCE (P)
The combination of possibilities creates a 4 X 4 model with 16 distinctive types. Its purpose is to identify preferences, not capabilities: what you do rather than why you do it.
MBTI and the Enneagram
The MBTI supports self-awareness related to four primary preferences in mental functioning as well as the ability to communicate effectively with those of different personality types. We have a primary orientation to the world. Some practitioners believe that personal development based on MBTI theory occurs through integrating secondary and tertiary styles of engagement. Under stress we are likely to act out our fourth preference or inferior function, the aspect of life in which we are most limited.
For example, my own MBTI type is ENFP. That means that I have a preference for Extraversion: what you see is what you get. The P indicates a Perceiving preference so I tend to approach everything first from an Intuitive (N) perspective, with my Feeling function (F) being my back-up and more introverted style. I might read about ENFP but also want to see what my NF preference reveals. My Sensate function is the least developed and might be considered my blind spot, coming out in unexpected ways.
By contrast, the Enneagram is a more psycho-spiritual system. Its roots are ancient, based on a teaching, like Jung’s theory of the eight cognitive functions, rather than on the inductive clusters of characteristics that we would find in the results of a research investigation. It is a 3 X 3 model creating nine types. Enneagram theory views development as progressive integration and movement up nine levels of development within your type. The guidance embedded within the system is oriented toward enhancing psychological health and eventually spiritual liberation.
Social Styles is another popular model, based on research that identified two primary domains in interpersonal interaction, Responsiveness and Assertiveness. These create a four quadrant model:
- Low Responsiveness and Low Assertiveness is the Analytical style, aligned with the Thinking function in the MBTI
- High Responsiveness and Low Assertiveness is the Amiable style, aligned with the MBTI Feeling function
- Low Responsiveness and High Assertiveness is the Driver style, similar but not exactly like the Sensate function in the MBTI
- High Responsiveness and High Assertiveness is the Expressive style, somewhat similar to the Intuitive function in the MBTI
The diagram shows an example where the Responsiveness Score is 3.0 and the Assertiveness score is 3.5. The social style for the example is “Expressive.”
Social Styles and the Enneagram
We can recognize general traits of several Enneagram types in the descriptors of each of the four Social Styles. Analyticals are likely to have either Type Five or Type Six as a core or wing, Amiables are likely to have Type Nine as a core or wing, Drivers are similar to either Type Eight or Type Three as a core type or a wing, and Expressives are likely to have Type Seven or Type Two as a core type or wing. Type One’s can show up as either Drivers or Analyticals, although neither description really captures the essence of One. In my experience, Type Four rarely shows up in more general typologies, confirming the tendency of Four’s to believe themselves to be unique and not suited for categorization.
Social Styles is a good beginning tool, especially in working in a business setting in which the emphasis is on communication more than deep inner development. I have worked with a colleague who uses Social Styles in her coaching. She refers clients to me when their issues require more in-depth penetration that is possible through using the Enneagram and a psychotherapeutic model.
DISC is another quadrant behavioral model, based on the work of psychologist William Moulton Marston in the early 1900’s. It is designed to examine the observable behavior of individuals within a specific situation. Behavior characteristics are grouped into four personality styles, and while we all possess all four, each of us emphasizes one style, similar to the Enneagram. There is a primary (or stronger) type, followed by the secondary (or lesser) type.
The quality of Dominance relates to control, power and assertiveness; Influence relates to social situations and communication; Steadiness (what Marston originally termed “submission”) relates to patience, persistence, and thoughtfulness; and Conscientiousness (or “caution, compliance” in Marston’s terminology) relates to structure and organization. In the matrix, one dimension is the continuum of Assertion and Passivity, and the other represents the continuum of Openness and Guardedness.
People who score high in dominance are very active in dealing with problems and challenges, while those low in dominance want to do more research before committing to a decision. High scores in influence tend to be emotional, talkative and active, while those with low scores influence more with data and facts, and not with feelings.
People with high steadiness scores want a steady pace, security, and do not like sudden change, while those with low scores like change and variety. High scores on conscientiousness like to do quality work and do it right the first time, while those with low scores challenge the rules and want more independence.
Similar to the MBTI, Social Styles, and DISC, the Enneagram describes typical behavior – how different types behave and how to recognize these behaviors in ourselves and others. But the Enneagram also goes deeper, identifying why we do what we do, that is, the motivation for our behavior.
Since the Enneagram system looks at basic fears and desires as key motivators for behavior, and since these fears and desires are often subconscious or even unconscious, the process of discovering one’s type using the Enneagram is more a quest than a report. Scores on questionnaires are a first step to entering the system and are a great way to begin the conversation about the worldview revealed by the Enneagram.
Three by Three Model of the Enneagram
Comparing the Enneagram with the other typologies we reviewed, we find that instead of a 2 X 2 model like Social Styles or DISC, and unlike the 4X4 map of the MBTI, the Enneagram is a system of three groups of three types each, or 3 X 3, to produce nine types. These nine types can be grouped in several sub-categories so the matrix becomes geometric in its flexibility.
The three triads relate to one of the three Centers of Intelligence in the body, and three types in each of the three triads: Belly Center types are 8, 9 and 1; Heart Center types are 2, 3, and 4; Head Center types are 5, 6, and 7.
There are also three groups based on how we like to work and engage with the world (also known as the Horneyvian groups). There are three types within each of these groups: Initiator types are 3, 7, and 8; Cooperator types are 1, 2, and 6; and Soloist types are 4, 5, and 9.
Another grouping addresses how we typically manage conflict and are sometimes called the Harmonic groups. Again there are three types in each of the groups: Competency types are 1, 3, and 5; Positive attitude types are 2, 7, and 9; Catalyst types are 4, 6, and 8. We can do the same with three styles of dominant affect from Object Relations theory: Attachment (3, 6, 9), Frustration (1, 4, 7) and Rejection (2, 5, 8).
In other words, there can be a rich interplay among the nine points on the circle. By exploring each aspect, our understanding of behavior, motivation, and the direction for wholeness expands.
Attributes of the Enneagram
The visual Enneagram is a circle with an internal triangle linking points Nine, Three, and Six, and an unconventional hexagram linking the other six points. These internal lines are very important as they describe a map of stress reactions and possibilities for personal growth. The numerals at each point are value neutral, so One is not superior to Nine or conversely, Nine is not superior to One.
The numbers are “position neutral” as well. Even though Nine is at the top of the circle, it is not higher or better than the other points. Identifying names for each of the points can be helpful in remembering the basic patterns or issues of that type. However, since the major writers on Enneagram theory have elected to choose their own type names, we have found it more useful in the long run to simply refer to the number of the point. The Enneagram is used around the world and is relevant across culture, gender, and race.
The core type is the blueprint of the structure of our personality pattern, but we have all nine sets of characteristics within each of us to a greater or lesser degree. No one is a “pure” expression of a type. The core pattern is modified by what is called the wing, as well as the individual’s level of development or functioning, and how we are responding daily to stress and to opportunities for growth and integration.
Nature and Nurture
It is generally agreed that we are born with a predisposition to one Enneatype and that our earliest experiences are already being filtered through that predilection. Therefore, we do not change our type throughout our lifetimes, but we can move into higher levels of development or functioning.
During childhood, the quality of the holding environment, the health of the parents, and their ability to respond accurately to the child’s experience, rather than imposing their own perceptions, will influence how psychologically healthy the child will be entering adolescence and adulthood.
Everyone begins as a helpless and completely self-absorbed infant. As we grow, based on our physiological capacities and the quality of the nurturing and security we receive, we naturally move up levels of development. Eventually we reach a plateau, and movement beyond this point is based more on our intention and willingness than on natural progression. We are born with natural tendencies, often termed “nature,” that are then developed by “nurture.” Instead of an either/or dilemma, the Enneagram says that our personalities result from both nature AND nurture.
As we grow, our fundamental behavior is the result of these deep motivating patterns that are the Enneagram types. The patterns are built around characteristic assumptions about the world which are accurate but incomplete. In the language of physics, the Enneagram personality blueprints are like strange attractors for organizing the chaos of our earliest experiences of consciousness both internally and externally.
It is as though we come into this world with an imprint of one of the nine blueprints and we systematically arrange our sensations, emotions, and concepts around this blueprint. As we grow and mature, these patterns are fleshed out or embellished as we encounter the multitude of variables that describe our individual lives. We are each unique, yet we can recognize the underlying organizing field.
The Value of Typologies
Every typology seeks to distinguish factors that operate as attractors, patterns that shape the way we interact with the world and make meaning in our subjective universe. The use of MBTI, Social Styles, and DISC, and all the other systems of categorizing individual differences has introduced the concept of personality typology into mainstream culture. Typologies provide concepts to recognize characteristics in ourselves and other people, laying the foundation for great understanding and acceptance of diversity.