A Type of Paradox – The Enneagram

In conjunction with the below ABN Radio National Interview transcript,
I also invite you to read my piece called
Enneagram. Raising Consciousness. The Path Less Travelled” for free.



Broadcast Sunday 2 September 2001 7:10AM

Popularised on self-help shelves in the 1980’s, the Enneagram personality-type indicator is often called a bridge between spirituality and psychology. According to some enthusiasts, the Enneagram has roots both ancient and sacred. Some believe the system was developed over several generations within the mystical traditions of Sufism, the Jewish Kabbalah, and the Christian Desert Fathers. What are the nine types of the Enneagram and why do they keep popping up in spiritual workshops and in education, business and psycho-therapy? In this Encounter we hear from practitioners and users around the world , particularly Catholic religious and laity whose opinion of the system is divided.





Carmel Howard: That’s the St Mary’s Enneagram Community in South Brisbane. Each week, they meet and discuss one of the nine types that make up the Enneagram system of personality.

All over the Western world, various groups, often Christian, very often Catholic, meet and work on ways of reaching a deeper understanding of themselves and others, through the help of this personality type indicator.
But interest in the Enneagram doesn’t stop there. It’s also popping up as a tool in business, education and psychotherapy.

What is the fascination with this system, enigmatically drawn as a nine-pointed star? Where did it come from, and why is it blurring the boundaries of spiritual and secular realms?

One of the system’s leading authorities is Helen Palmer. Her four books on the subject have been translated into eighteen languages, and we begin this Encounter with her sketch of the nine Enneagram types.

Helen Palmer: The first of the types is very easy to understand, I call it the Perfectionist and the drive, the negative tendency is anger. And what it is, is somebody who believes that only perfect people are worthy of love and so there’s a big motive to be perfect in the eyes of others and in your own eyes.

On the positive side, it makes you a very good worker who is perfectionistic in their output. On the negative side, it makes you irritated because you have the perception that other people are bending the rules.

The second of the types is called the Pride type, is rooted in the perception that other people need you, and the focus of attention is on those needs, that’s the survival strategy for a Two. If I serve the needs of others, then I will be included in their life and helpful people are worthy of love. On the positive side, it makes you truly interested in the potentials of others and able to potentiate other people. On the negative side, it gives a false or illusory idea of oneself as indispensable in the eyes of other people.

The third, called the Deceptive type, someone who is deluded by the idea that one’s image and impression that you give to other people, is the way in which we are going to survive in life. And, that vanity – “I scored”, “I impressed somebody else”, “I stand well in their eyes”, is the energy that runs the type Three. On the positive side, it makes a Three a terrifically hard worker, able to persuade other people. On the negative side, you can get swept by your own positive imagery and start to believe you’re more than you actually are.

The Four, the Envious type, there’s a marked focus of attention on what isn’t present, in other words, what’s missing and a marked inattention to what we already have. On the positive side, the focus allows a Four to become deeply involved in the search for a more spiritual reality, for being able to weather the negative in life, the disappointing, the things that are hard on people and a deep sensitivity to that. On the negative side the glass is always half empty.

On the Five position, I call it the Observer. The focus of attention is on an intruding world. And that comes off as things like withholding your emotions from other people. You withhold your information, how you tick, what matters to you, because that would over-involve you with other people. You might be manipulated through their misuse of that information. On the positive side, there’s superb powers of analysis usually on a Five’s part because you’re always observing rather than interacting. On the negative side, it just isolates you from life because you’re perpetually contracted.

The Six position on the Enneagram, the operating motive is anxiety, or fear. You notice other people are less afraid than you are and you would like to be like them. You would like to be more courageous. The positive side of this is a superb attention to motivation, other people’s motivations. On the negative side, of course, the tendency is to “Yes, but.” a lot and look to the opposite side and over-question, “Am I being misled here?”, a kind of suspicious tendency.

The Seven, called the Gluttonous type. It’s someone who eats a lot of options. The idea is to have as many options and possibilities and future plans afloat as possible as a way of having choices rather than getting pinned by life. So, on the positive side, what it does is give a huge boost to someone who can synthesise in what other types of people would just see as disconnected options. And, mentally, they can be extremely creative along those lines. On the negative side, it’s escapist, period.

The Eight, the Lust type, heavily misunderstood in contemporary life as sexual lust, which it sometimes is acted out that way, but that’s not the main thrust of the motive. The motive is really a lust for life, there’s a huge degree of almost instantly mobilised force which doesn’t register to other types. On the positive side, they take charge, they’re definitely in control, there’s a lot of power and control easily mobilised. They show up a lot in the business community as leaders. On the negative side, they can be over-controlling, overpowerful, over-forceful.

The Nine, the conflict is around sloth and that, again, is heavily misunderstood in the present culture as lazy and, on the contrary, they’re usually very active people but slothful about the central agenda. One’s own agenda is very easily jettisoned in the interests of following someone else’s agenda which is mesmerising because then you don’t have to act for yourself, you don’t have to be disappointed, you don’t have to take a stand, you can avoid conflict, you can stay more comfortable. The positive thing is that you can put a lot of real support into the lives of other people which they appreciate. On the negative side, you tend to lose your own position.


Helen Palmer: I think the Enneagram, as we know it, is a renewal of interest in a very old theme. It’s not a modern discovery. It’s a renewal of a teaching that bridges both psychological type, ordinary cognitive reality with the dimensions of non-duality, or spiritual reality and that bridge has been forgotten and reasserts itself periodically in human history.

The human condition has been around for a long time. Envy is much the same as it was centuries ago. Anger and pride are exactly the same as they were. They look different, they’re acted out in a different way. But pre-Modern times, these basic emotional habits are the stuff of myth, of the ancient world, the deep attention paid to spiritual traditions to psychological type.

You see, from all around the world, regardless of the outer form of worship such as the differences in iconography and the look of how one pays attention to God, it looks different in the Muslim culture than the Christian or the Judaic or the Animistic or the Hindu or the Buddhist. It looks different. But the concurrence is a point of solid agreement between all of the traditions that type is the fact that it’s in the way of having a spiritual experience. And what stands between me and a spiritual experience is me, is that I can’t alter my state to be receptive, to be in the present moment, to tolerate the inability to know what’s coming next. I’m swept away by my own memories of the past and my suppositions about the future. The silence is confounded by the constant arising of my own thoughts, so how am I going to learn to get rid of me?

There are two ways of looking at religion. One is the outer theme, which is the exoteric, you might say, the outer way in which you pray and worship and then there’s the esoteric, which is the methodology of how you come to a realm of awareness that is not dualistic. And that search for the mystical union with God is a universal theme but it’s the esoteric tradition of every world tradition that carries the method, the information of how to shift from ordinary to spiritual consciousness.

Carmel Howard: So, “esoteric” traditions are often understood as the hidden or secret part of world religions.

Sufism, the Kabbalah, and the Hermetic Desert Tradition, have been described as the “esoteric” traditions of Islam, Judaism and Christianity. And variations of the Enneagram have been linked to each of these groups.

Indeed, when this system first became popular on the self-help shelves in the early 1980’s, it was hailed an old “Sufi teaching tradition.” The controversial esoteric teacher, George Gurdjieff, who introduced a version of the Enneagram to the West at the beginning of the 20th century, claimed he was taught the system by Sufi masters. But the Sufi association with the Enneagram is one now often disputed.

Dr Laleh Bakhtiar, a Muslim psychologist and leading Sufi scholar from Chicago, claims the Enneagram model did evolve within the Naqshibandi Sufi order, but comes out of a tradition that stems back further than Islam.

Laleh Bakhtiar: As far as my research has shown, Gurdjieff did meet with the Naqshibandi Sufis in Central Asia, where he was given the oral tradition that Sufi had passed down for generations from one Master to the next. And that was, as far as I understand it, the Sufi Enneagram that Gurdjieff later took to Russia and then he took to Paris, where it then became part of the Western world. But when you then research where that oral tradition came from, you see that there are many other traditions which have been incorporated into it. And it’s fair to call it Naqshibandi Sufi origins, because that’s the point where it was given to somebody who then was able to do something larger with it than just within his own community.

He was in a sense able to internationalise the whole concept. But, it has come from out of the Judeo-Christian and Western tradition, and the Greek philosophers. The Sufis learned from them many aspects of it, and put it together in the way that they did in the Naqshibandi Sufi order.

My research has shown that it definitely was within Plato and Aristotle and the four virtues that they talk about, and also they mention the vices that are either too much or too little of a virtue. This is all very much part of them, and it is part of the writings of St Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica. He refers to exactly the same psychology.

Then, it’s also part of the work of Moses Maimonides, who was the great Jewish theologian of the Middle Ages in Spain, who actually wrote in Arabic because Spain at that time was a Muslim country. He mentions exactly the same psychology. So, I would say the origins at least go back as far as the early Greeks and this, then, became part of the Judeo-Christian Islamic tradition.

Howard Addison: During Medieval times, it seems that there was a good deal of conversation that was going on across faith communities. And, therefore, drawing on some of the mystical insights of the Kabbalah as related across faith traditions, an occultist by the name of Ramon Lull, drew a nine-pointed star which he felt was the equivalent of the Tree of Life, and three centuries later, a Jesuit by the name of Athanasius Kircher also picked up on this particular diagram. And he even said this was a geometric representation of the Tree of Life and so, therefore, you have in Medieval times already this type of correlation taking place between the Etz Chazim and the Enneagram, the Tree of Life and the Enneagram.

Carmel Howard: Rabbi Howard Addison, of Temple Sinai in Dresher, Pennsylvania. His study correlates the Enneagram with the Jewish Kabbalah’s Tree of Life.

Howard Addison: It’s interesting to note that Kabbalah actually looks to Father Abraham as being its founder, and there is a section that is found in the Book of Genesis which indicates that when Abraham was elderly he bestowed the major part of his estate on his son, Isaac, that he had other children with his various concubines, he gave them gifts and sent them off to the East around Afghanistan and they became the wise people of the East.

That George Gurdjieff, who was an Armenian philosopher and spiritual teacher, who actually introduced the Enneagram symbol to the West at the beginning of the 20th Century, he claims that the symbol traces itself back to a group called the Sarmoun Brotherhood, a wisdom school that existed in Afghanistan about the same time as Abraham, the end of the Third Millennium, before the common era, around that same time. And, therefore, we have a very interesting correlation that goes back to the mythology of both of these two spiritual movements.

In terms of perhaps more documentable influences, both Kabbalah and the Enneagram psychology draw upon the Platonic philosophy particularly in terms of the structure, we find Plotinus writing a book entitled “The Enneads”. They also draw upon Pythagorian numerism – that the number 9 represented new birth and a coming of a new reality. We find influences from early Christian aescetics, and also from the Sufis, and the use of Arabic numeralism.

Carmel Howard: David Burke is the Director of the St Mary’s Enneagram Community which meets weekly in Brisbane. His doctoral research suggests the system originated with the Christian Desert Father’s theology of the passions, otherwise known as the Seven Deadly Sins.


David Burke: The Desert Tradition was a move out of the urban areas into hermetic or monastic communities. By a process of practising the virtues, prayer, meditation, and supervision, they were able to transcend the passions, to achieve union with God.

Evagrius of Pontus arrived about fifty years after the tradition had been established by Anthony in the deserts of Egypt, and he was a brilliant young researcher who had been exiled from Constantinople for a transgression. He began to write down in the ascetical tradition, the Praktikos and the Ad Monachos, some advice for young monks. Evagrius, of course, was writing down an oral tradition. They had been discussed earlier in a less systemic way but Evagrius was the first to, if you like, observe the clinical nature of the eight passions as he described them, which became the nine passions of the Enneagram.

The Enneagram describes a process of falling in love which leads ultimately to the possibility of a deep union with the Divine. The passions are the blocks, the defence mechanisms that every human being has which blocks our ability to be completely selfless. In Evagrius’ time he described the passions as ascede, vainglory, avarice, gluttony, envy, anger, pride and lust. Over the years, they then became the Enneagram passions of anger, pride, deceit, envy, avarice, cowardice, gluttony, lust and sloth. There is a very big gap in our knowledge between the time when Evagrius and the Desert Ascetics up to about the 6th Century were working on the psychopathology of the passions, and the time that we next see it being used in the West in the form of the Enneagram.

Carmel Howard: Does that give us a speculation that perhaps there isn’t a relationship between the two?


David Burke: The actual theology and the psychology of the Enneagram are too closely linked to the Neo Platonism of the early tradition to believe that they aren’t associated in some way. The passions as described by the Enneagram are almost identical as the passions as described by Evagrius.


Carmel Howard: I’m Carmel Howard and this is Encounter on Radio National and we’re talking about the Enneagram, a personality type indicator that has been linked to the mystical traditions of various world religions.

The Enneagram describes nine different types of personality and suggests that each person tends to favour one of these types.

For example, one may be a Type Two, driven by the desire to help others, and often neglectful of their own needs, or perhaps a Type Six, driven by fear and constantly attentive to security. All of the nine types are seen as having equal value, though each contain paradoxes of strength and vulnerability.

So – what significance do the nine personality types of the Enneagram have for spiritual practice today?

Dr Laleh Bakhtiar, whom we heard earlier, has written at length about the Enneagram and Sufi practice in her three-volume work, God’s Will Be Done. Within the Sufi-Islamic tradition, she explains, the individual types are not of themselves important. Rather, one integrates and balances wisdom, temperance and courage, by engaging with all the Enneagram points – the aim being to reach the centre of the circle, where one has transcended the limits of ego, and is a fair and just person.

Rabbi Howard Addison believes the interplay of the Enneagram with the Jewish Kabbalah’s Tree of Life enriches spiritual understanding of Kabbalistic tradition.

Howard Addison: Kabbalistic texts say that people’s roots of their soul, come from divine understanding. Some come from divine understanding, Binah, some come from divine beauty, Tiferet, without really giving us any notion of what this means in terms of how our own characters unfold – and the Enneagram helps to supply that content in understanding exactly what it means to derive one’s soul root from a different aspect of the Tree of Life.

Both speak of the fact that one’s virtues and one’s vices are not really the opposites of each other but, rather, are the flip sides of each other. For example, the Caregiver, Binah, can be very wonderful in terms of offering help to others and, indeed, be able to intuit their needs even before they’re spoken and yet when that characteristic is taken to an extreme, one can become very manipulative in terms of the help that one gives to another and they become very cloying, in order to use that help to gain what one wants from that individual.

Similarly, with the Kabbalistic theory of the personality, you have this idea that corresponding to the Tree of Life, there is a realm of evil which is called the Sitra Achra which is really the flipside of the Tree of Life. And even in earlier Rabbinic psychology, you have the idea that the human being was created in one act with two different personality inclinations and that these two are the light and shadow side of each other.

David Ranson: I think the primary orientation of the Enneagram is to enable a person with greater self-awareness. The Enneagram’s particular direction is about the awareness of one’s vulnerability, where a person experiences their limit. And I think that anything that can help us into self-awareness and into the acknowledgment of where we are vulnerable is a useful spiritual instrument.


Carmel Howard: Fr David Ranson lectures in Spirituality and Pastoral Studies at the Catholic Institute of Sydney. He’s speaking here with Florence Spurling.


David Ranson: It’s a personality typology. No more and no less. No single person can be reduced to one instrument and any sense that would simply try to appraise a person’s journey or a person’s struggle through one typology, I think, is very misguided. This has been one of the dangers in the popularisation of the typology – that people do ascribe themselves very prematurely with a particular number and almost completely identify themselves with that number. This is a misrepresentation of its use and I think quite dangerous in terms of being able to appreciate the mystery that we are essentially, and that even though a typology can be a helpful aid, it certainly doesn’t exhaust who we are, doesn’t exhaust our identity.

The important thing from a Christian perspective is that any typology that we might use needs to contain within itself the capacity or, at least, the possibility, of self-transcendence. That is, that we are not determined simply by character. That there is the possibility that we can move beyond what normally characterises ourself, we can move beyond our needs into an act of love that is transcendent.


Florence Spurling: Biblical literature is full of these sorts of self-transcending moments and, perhaps one could describe them as the moments where God engages very dramatically and directly with an individual, and it’s more God’s knowledge of the potential and fullness of that person that’s at issue, rather than their self knowledge. For instance, Saul to Paul.


David Ranson: Certainly, from the Catholic tradition, grace always builds on nature and never despite nature. So, what we see in Scripture are stories of transformation. But they are stories of transformation that build on what is already there. Something is not introduced, as it were, simply out of the blue. It builds on what is already being experienced. So, that would be the first step. But the second thing I would have to say is that from a scriptural perspective, salvation certainly is not about self-fulfilment and this, of course, can be one of the liabilities of typology like the Enneagram, where personality integration can be seen to be the end.

Whereas from a scriptural and from a faith perspective, salvation, redemption, wholeness, is in the end, a gift from God. Received through the graciousness of God, and not simply the outcome of our own psychological struggle or our own psychological effort.

So the stories of scripture in which God intervenes, in which God quickens the pace of transformation, as it were, demonstrate to us that in the end, wholeness, life, salvation, redemption, however you want to put it, is always a gift of God. It comes from outside of us. It’s not something that is manufactured simply by ourselves.

One of the things which makes the Enneagram suspicious to some is that it has arisen within a certain cult of self-fulfilment. Particularly in the 70’s and 80’s. Self-fulfilment, self-integration, I think, became an obsession for many people. In many ways, people could be seduced, I think, into thinking that if only I followed these steps and achieved integration of personality, then I would be saved. I think that’s erroneous and I think out of that climate there emerged a basic suspicion about it.


David Ranson: Because it became popularised in the West at the same time as a lot of other so-called New Age spiritualities, it is and would be regarded by some as pagan and at worse, quite evil. It would be some line of thought, I think, that would regard some secret agenda as being kind of manifest through it, and it would be grouped alongside Astrology and the typology of the Horoscope, for example. But I think that’s to misunderstand the intention of the use of an instrument like the Enneagram, and maybe it’s to attach a fear to it that is somewhat overstated.

Primarily, I see it as a psychological tool that can be, given certain conditions, useful to the spiritual journey. To equate it with a spiritual journey, I think, is a mistake. To see it as exhausting the spiritual journey is certainly a mistake. But, as a tool, certainly, at the beginnings of a spiritual journey, it has some merit.

Margaret Cain: I feel that the religious traditions have told people that they err in various ways. But they hadn’t really been able to describe the dynamic of that.


Carmel Howard: Sr Margaret Cain is a Catholic religious and Clinical Psychologist. She practices the Enneagram at the Sophia Centre for Feminist Spirituality in Adelaide.


Margaret Cain: Choice is not available to us until we step back far enough to see what is automatic and compulsive in our ways of being. So, in some ways, by noticing this very thing, it can become a turning point. It’s been used in many Catholic circles where the gifts of each individual are, and how these are best used in the community, and I really feel that it’s split open Augustine and Ignatius and these people who set down ways of being spiritual. It’s furthered that work because it doesn’t confine us to one great personality. It teaches us that there are better ways of meditation from some types of people than others. It’s a very precious thing to be able to learn the discipline of a meditation practice that best serves one’s own growth.


Pam: I have been part of the Enneagram community now for about three and a half years. I have had personal crises in my life. My daughter was very heavily drug addicted, and I went to pieces, and I’ve had quite a lot of “ups and downs”, and my daughter has actually passed away now, and that has been very traumatic for me and my family. And I think with the Enneagram, and the love of the people in the community, that has helped me considerably to get to where I am – and the meditation certainly has been a huge part of this as well.

And I’ve come to know a lot about myself. Certainly some of it has been rather distressing to find out but hopefully now I’ve reached a point in my life where I can now change some of those things, and work towards moving forward.

Margaret Cain: This raw material of ourselves is all any of us have got, and Christianity has always said in death there’s life and in life, death, and where sin abounds, there grace does more abound. They really did have it poetically and symbolically, I think.

Death in life is the very heart for my tradition, the Eucharistic tradition, and the celebratory meal, which is also the meal of sorrow. But they never kind of spelt it out, I thought, via the skill of psychology. And it’s not an end in itself. Like everything, it’s a tool, it’s a way to meaning. It isn’t meaning itself, the meaning and the mystery of the immanent God, and I feel the greater strength in Enneagram is that it does point to the immanence of God – and I imagine that’s why there are many women who would be very attracted to it, because God is experienced immanently, as a life within ourselves, and patriarchy hasn’t emphasised that aspect, although, of course, it’s deeply in all of the great world religious traditions.

Carmel Howard: Although the Enneagram is used widely among Catholic religious and laity, the system remains problematic for some. Several religious who lead Enneagram workshops were reluctant to discuss their use of the system on this Encounter.

The Enneagram first gained popularity in Catholic circles through its use amongst Jesuits at Loyola University in Chicago in the 1970’s. But, as Fr Ranson suggested earlier, suspicion surrounds the Enneagram within the Catholic Church. Last year, it came under fire in a report by Fr Augustine Di Noia, theological advisor to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in the United States.

And when the Most Reverend Luc Matthys, Bishop of Armidale, arrived in the Diocese two years ago, he instructed the Diocesan Spirituality Centre to stop offering Enneagram courses.

Luc Matthys: There are plenty of schools of good spirituality that have stood the test of time. Well, I suggest that if people claim the Enneagram is some form of spirituality or a tool for a better spirituality, it will not stand the test of time.

Carmel Howard: If it is irreligious, or if it doesn’t have anything to do with spirituality, how do you account for its popularity amongst Catholic religious and laity at the moment?


Luc Matthys: Well, it’s one of those fashionable things, I suppose, and it will work its way through and that’ll be the end of that. It’s not a good psychological tool to use for spirituality. Now if you allow people to go down that track, we’ll have to pick up the pieces later on, because it’s not on a good foundation. It’s not a Christian spirituality that these people propose or lead onto. Salvation or liberation from compulsion is not brought about by psychology essentially but by the grace of Jesus Christ.


Carmel Howard: What of the claims that it is rooted in the mystical traditions of the different world religions?


Luc Matthys: Well, that’s untrue, my dear. Claims are made, yes, yes. It’s supposed to have come from the Sufis. Well that would be a revelation to Sufis, I’d say. Look, I’m not here to denigrate or to push aside Enneagram. I made a decision that our Spirituality Centre is not to offer these course. That is my decision and I’ve asked people who contest my decision to show me some other things so that I change my mind but so far nothing has come.


Carmel Howard: What of the experiential data that affirms its accuracy?


Luc Matthys: Well, I’ve been given hundreds of testimonies. But testimonies only go so far. Let me say to you that I think you’ll probably find it hard to find any number of either psychologists or psychiatrists who would give this the tick, that it’s a good system.


Carmel Howard: Bishop Luc Matthys from the Armidale Diocese, and you’re listening to an Encounter about the Enneagram system of personality on Radio National. I’m Carmel Howard.

Whatever the spiritual origins and integrity of the Enneagram, it’s proving useful to many lay and professional people in the West – in psychotherapy, education and business.

David Daniels is a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University’s Medical School in the United States. He’s a leading developer of the Enneagram system, and has practised it around the world.

David Daniels: I hated typologies because the ones that psychiatry used for personality or character for personality disorders had terrible titles, and I didn’t like to put people in that kind of box. So, I was very resistant to typologies in general but, to me, the Enneagram was very very powerful because it got right down to the basic way we organise our attention, our perceptual filters our point of view. The filters that select in some information and select out other information, and we do this because it’s tied very closely to a basic coping strategy and what motivates us.

The key to a personal development is self-awareness. It’s developing a good self-observer. And I often say that there’s these three little laws of behaviour that we all know are true once we examine them. The first one is that wherever attention goes, energy follows. And the second little law is that in order to do something profound about our attention and energy, we have to become self-observant. We have to know where it’s going so we can redirect it. And the third goes, self-observing never gets to be a habit. It gets easier but you have to keep at it. So, it’s a lifelong process of hopefully growth and development. But, awareness, good self-observer – that’s key.

Beyond that, of course, there are many practices we can do. We can do specific action practices or awareness practices or reflection practices. There’s much one can do to work with their habit of mind, so to speak. I think it’s so fundamental, it’s so intrinsic that it can help in one’s own personal development, one’s own personal reactivity to the things that set you off.

It’s very much dependent upon which of the nine types you are, whatever you happen to be. In practice, it works wonderfully in the treatment of individuals and psychotherapy and counselling. It’s marvellous for relationships, particularly intimate relationships, family relationships. It can be very freeing, very liberating. Your empathy and understanding can grow enormously.
And it’s great in work situations where you have issues around team building, projects and leadership style. It makes a huge difference in the way a person would lead an organisation, for example. Certainly in education and learning strategies.

So, it has very broad applications, but it’s mainly for decently functioning people that have enough self-observer that they can do something about it. If you’re not developed enough to self-observe, you’re not going to be able to use the Enneagram very well.

Carmel Howard: What’s your response to the criticism that it lacks scientific credibility?


David Daniels: I think we ought to do more work to get more scientific credibility. One of the things about the Enneagram is that it lends itself to direct observation, self-observation and the observation of others, which is the basis of all empirical science. So, it’s just that it hasn’t quite worked its way into the mainstream, it’s still early adoptors. But it is very researchable at the personality level, and a lot of research needs to be done.

As we develop standards, for instance, in our book The Essential Enneagram, there’s a test in which we’ve done an enormous amount of validity and reliability work, and that’s a big step for a scientific basis.


Carmel Howard: The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual – or DSM-IV – is issued by the American Psychiatric Association, and is recognised internationally as a tool for categorising behavioural disorders.


David Daniels: The amazing thing about the DSM-IV and the Enneagram is that they actually line up. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent on task groups trying to understand the different kinds of psychopathologies, the categories line up almost perfectly with the Enneagram, which, again, to me speaks of the universality of the Enneagram.

For instance, taking my type Six, which is a mistrusting kind of position and you need to build faith and trust and confidence, in the very lower levels this is paranoia, there’d be a paranoid personality. If you’re a Seven, this type that opens up to all the possibilities and options, it tends to be pretty narcissistic – “I like me, I’m okay, what’s the matter with you?” – kind of approach. And the Nine, the mediator at the top – it’s a passive-aggressive personality.

And you can go around the Enneagram. Of course, the Five, the more withdrawn, constricted, detached from emotion type, would be called the schizoid personality. The dramatic romantic that’s always longing and looking for what’s missing that’s important has a kind of melancholic personality. But it’s interesting on the Enneagram, there is no diagnostic category for the workaholic which is a 3, the person that’s always on the drive and go-ahead energy, because the whole strategy is you get love and recognition and approval from accomplishment and achieving. I think that’s not in the manual because at least here in the United States, workaholism is considered healthy. So, it doesn’t work itself into the Diagnostic Manual. Do you understand what I mean?

Carmel Howard: Yes, in fact, the Diagnostic Manual has been criticised by some people for being too subjective, relying as much on the political opinions of the people that put it out, I guess.


David Daniels: Another good example of this is that the melancholic personality actually doesn’t appear in the body of the text. It appears in the appendix and I think the politics of psychiatry currently lean so much toward psychopharmacology that mainline psychiatry doesn’t want to have a characterlogical dysfunction as a diagnosis. They want to be able to treat it all as a physiological process.


Carmel Howard: Is there any danger of the Enneagram system becoming a form of psychological fundamentalism, being too categorical, too dogmatic?


David Daniels: Absolutely. I’m so glad you bring this up because the human brain is a categorising brain and it’s part of our adaptive strategy. That’s the trouble with typologies of any kind, is that they can devolve into stereotypes. And, you know, we do that about races and religions and so forth and so on, but the Enneagram being powerful is very subject to that kind of reductionist sort of thinking.

Our book takes you on a little journey of self-discovery through type descriptions and key differentiators and you’re encouraged to consult with people that are close to you that would know you so that you’re discovering from the inside out. It’s an inside job. And as long as we keep that standard, inside job, it will not get reductionistic.

Janet Levine: I’m a Three on the Enneagram and I just saw that I had tried to conduct my classes in a very Three-like way, very much task-orientated, with a big emphasis on skills that help with presentation and so on. So, it became apparent to me and affected my teaching that I had to facilitate the learning of different types.

Carmel Howard: Janet Levine teaches at Milton Academy in Boston. She’s the author of The Enneagram Intelligences.


Janet Levine: I first learned about the Enneagram around 1989 from a career counsellor at Harvard University here in Boston. I’ve always been interested in personality. I was an activist in my native South Africa. I’ve always been a journalist and a writer, as well as a teacher, and it’s been evident to me that somehow the personality is very, very important.

Once I had done quite a thorough study of the system, it became apparent to me that my personality was both my greatest strength as well as my greatest weakness, and the very reason why I was missing certain students and not connecting with them. Teachers really must work with themselves, find out what their own type is, see how different characteristics and motivations in their personality are working out in the classroom.

Carmel Howard: How does one place confidence in this system when it is largely unsubstantiated?


Janet Levine: It is very difficult to develop a following when there is no research base. I’m trying to bring some sort of intellectual and academic rigor to the study. I’ve written several articles for academic journals and I get emails from PHD students who want to include the Enneagram in a psychology-related thesis and they say, “Can you give me my bibliography of the research? And I say, “Sorry, I just can’t do that.” The only way that you can have confidence in it is to have some empirical experience yourself. Once people can begin to see that this is something that absolutely describes them, then their interest is definitely piqued.

From 1992, I have taught all my students the Enneagram and they identify their types and then we work through some interventions for study-related problems they’re having. And there’s great interest on behalf of parents to know how they can improve their relationships, their communication and their understanding of their children.

You know, in South Africa, what motivated my activism was a really deeply held belief that everyone should have access to equal opportunities. And here again, I just feel that we have this incredible tool that can really help to level the playing field for all of us.

Marie: It gave us a tool to use so that the next time my son was experiencing enormous emotional drama, he was able to identify the feelings that he believed he was feeling as typically type Four things. And once we were able to basically de-personalise the behaviour, we were able to discuss it really openly and easily, and certainly if a child is aware that that sort of melancholy or depression may be as a result of the roller coaster feeling or emotions that the type Four experiences, then just by being aware of that they can often pull themselves out of it, before it becomes a great problem.


Carmel Howard: But why is a system ascribed to spiritual traditions in its origins and attentive to human vulnerability appearing in the business community?

Dr Carol Dalglish is a Senior Lecturer with the Graduate School of Business at the Queensland University of Technology, and she uses the Enneagram in her Leadership Units, a part of the School’s MBA program.

Carol Dalglish: What the Enneagram demonstrates is that there are nine significantly different ways of seeing the world. Completely different ways of prioritising, completely different ways of viewing what is valuable. And therefore, by understanding that, you are much better able to engage other people, because you understand that what you want is not what they want. The idea that if you give people what you would really like you’ll motivate them is very misplaced.

My observation is that I as yet have had no one that I think was hurt by it, in other words, it didn’t take them where people didn’t want to go or weren’t able to go, but it was challenging enough to start that reflective process. And that’s really what I needed to do.


Carmel Howard: What do you think the future holds for the Enneagram?


David Daniels: One of the things that’s really important about the Enneagram is, it does cross race, religion, culture, gender. It is quite moving to be teaching in Brazil and then teaching in Finland and in Australia as well as the United States, to see that underneath are all these types. If people around the world in different religions and races and nationalities can come to understand that underneath we all have these nine types, I hope that’s going to be something that will help unify us.


Margaret Cain: I think the excitement has come from so many people being able to name their experience in a way that’s understandable to others. And if I can invest others with the same immanence as I invest myself, and if I can come to appreciate and embrace difference from myself, love your neighbour as yourself, if I can believe that other people carry as I do this divine spark, but in a different way, then I think that’s the very first step toward any kind of social justice.


David Ranson: An essential focus of the Enneagram is on the experience of paradox in human experience and that we discover ourselves constantly in a movement between integration and disintegration. So, it’s the strength of the Enneagram as a typology that it actually engages that complex mix of longing and contradiction. That’s when the Enneagram is at its best, when it recognises the tension that exists and is actually able to engage that in a creative and constructive fashion.

For me, it did take an awful long time to really be able to identify where I might have fitted into the typologies. And that’s not an uncommon experience and I think demonstrates once again that to use it properly it really requires a great deal of self-listening. Its liability is either to ascribe a type to oneself quickly or, worse, to see others through a type too quickly. We don’t know people instantly. We only know people over a very long time, through very sensitive listening. We’re always far more than what a typology might be able to assist us with.

Carmel Howard: You’ve been listening to “A Type of Paradox”, an Encounter about the Enneagram system of personality.

My thanks to all who took part, including Pam and Marie from the St Mary’s Enneagram Community, and to Series Producer Florence Spurling. This Encounter was produced in Brisbane with Technical Production by Peter McMurray.

I’m Carmel Howard.


The Enneagram: Understanding Yourself and the Others in Your Life

Palmer, Helen

HarperCollins, 1988

The Enneagram and Kabbalah: Reading Your Soul.

Addison, H.

Jewish Lights Publishing, 1997

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders

American Psychiatric Association

Mental Hospitals Service, 1996

God’s Will Be Done

Bakhtiar, L.

Kazi Publications, 1993

Traditional Psychoethics and Personality Paradigm

The Institute of Traditional Psychoethics and Guidance

The Essential Enneagram: The Definitive Personality Test and Self-Discovery Guide

Daniels, David and Virginia Price

Harper, 2000

The Enneagram Intelligences: Understanding Personality for Effective Teaching and Learning.

Levine, Janet.

Bergin & Garvey, 1999