Personality by the Numbers
Modern psychologists define human personality as patterns of thinking, emotion, and behavior that are unique to an individual and consistent over time. The numbering system of the Enneagram identifies nine basic enneatypes that delineate core personality traits or behaviors that fit within specific patterns. Your enneatype, also referred to as your style or core personality, has four basic components:
Your focus. The vast majority of Enneagram teachers agree that each type has a particular drive to focus on certain things, and that how you focus — and what you focus on — plays a crucial role in your personality formation. Attention for human beings functions as sunlight does for a plant. What do you focus on? How do you focus?
Your energy. Your energy always follows whatever you focus your attention on. You invest your energy on what's important to you, and that same focus in turn juices you up. What floats your boat? What gets you excited or depressed? Where does your energy go?
Your worldview. Everyone develops a way of seeing the world, or what the Germans call a weltanschauung. What's your life philosophy? How do you feel about your place in the wider world? Are you comfortable in the world?
A strategy. A strategy is a structured response to an external situation that causes you to act or react quickly from an unconscious place inside. This fourth component is defined by therapists familiar with neurolinguistic programming as a series of strategies that can play an important role in how a personality functions. What's your modus operandi in the world? How do you typically react to a variety of experiences? How do you behave when stressed? How do you act when happy?
Your Enneagram style is not who you are; it is what you habitually and consistently do. Your enneatype or personality is both dynamic and structured, like water flowing downhill from a stream. Understanding this dynamic flow of energy — or your patterned ways of behaving — helps you delineate ways that you can make changes in your life.
When they intervene, therapists and coaches interrupt a client's primary patterns of doing, or being, as an effective way of weakening a person's fixations and helping that person break free of destructive or counterproductive behavior.
As noted Enneagram teacher and author Helen Palmer pointed out, the basic personality types of the Enneagram represent “how you are in normal circumstances; how you meet each other on the street.” And once you have identified what is holding you back, you have the opportunity to make choices that can alter your characteristic, and often unconscious, ways of being in the world. The essential premise of the Enneagram is that at the core of these patterns lies a single energy, a dominant tendency, or a fundamental weakness that engenders the other elements of the pattern and is the primary driving force in everything a person does.
Clarence Thomson, author of Out of the Box and guru on the Enneagram Central Web site, describes this core driver as “a prevailing wind that bends a tree permanently, sculpts our interior geography, and shapes our entire life.” Some believe that only a few, very enlightened people (the Buddha, Jesus Christ, Mohammed) have transcended the restrictions and limitations of their own personality in this life. But according to Thomson, “The Enneagram describes the inner box we are in and helps us realize the depth and contours of the problems we face. It is primarily a diagnostic tool, which is always the first step in dealing with any situation.”
Studying the Enneagram can also be an invitation out of the confining, limited box of an unexamined personality. And if you are willing to take a cold, hard look at your pattern of behaviors, and then do the self-reflection and behavior modification work required — including adopting behaviors from your connecting points that will help you expand your behavioral choices — you can create opportunities to creak open the box and expand your own vision of yourself. Ultimately you will seek to become fully integrated, whole, and liberated from ego restraints.
The Enneagram system assigns nine distinctive personality patterns with numbers, which is a convention that some people find off-putting when they first hear about it. Identifying someone as a Seven or a Two sounds suspiciously like someone has arbitrarily decided to lump unique individuals into narrow, bland categories — pigeonholing people without taking their complexity into consideration. But far from reducing individuals to limiting lists of traits and habits, the Enneagram numbers are meant to provide foundations for explorations that can lead to a much deeper understanding of human personality. Remember: A basic tenet of this system is that each person, each manifestation of the type, is a unique kaleidoscope of interacting forces within the personality.
The dominant tendency alone does not define a personality. It's just one of many factors that combine to make people who they are. This dominant tendency is, in fact, both your best friend and your worst enemy. It's your primary way of coping with life's challenges, developed in childhood and hardened over time. And it does not always serve your best interests.
All of the leading teachers of this system theorize that a person's basic type never changes. They conjecture that core patterns are rooted so deeply they continue to color a person's experience throughout his or her life. A Five can't become a Two, for instance, or a One a Six. The idea is that a person's core, or go-to coping strategy — your back-against-the-wall default pattern — is, by definition, fixed. Look at it this way: If you are a Seven, you cannot help being future focused; it's second nature to you. If you're a One, it will simply be more natural to focus on putting out fires in the here and now.
If you think about this idea, there's an obvious logic to this notion. When you consider the people in your life, do you really know anyone who is, essentially, both status conscious and oblivious of the opinions of others? Passionate and diffident? Empathetic and egocentric? Generous and stingy? “(Enneagram) types are based on passions,” Palmer says, “and passions are based on certain physiological responses. You can't be lustful and detached at the same time. The passions are expressions of energy, which rely on different neurological response systems.”
This isn't to say that an essentially egocentric person can't grow and find a way to empathize with others, a means-to-an-end-motivated Three can't find genuine joy in doing something for its own sake or a flighty Seven can never persevere. In fact, from time to time, everybody can exhibit behaviors that are very much like those of the other types — potentially all of them — for a range of reasons that will be covered later.
Furthermore, the deeper you delve into the system, the subtler it becomes. This is no blunt instrument, but a sophisticated tool that can account for a fluid range of human behaviors. The system starts with the broad-stroke basic personality types but then refines the picture of each individual by taking into account the influence of other factors, such as these rather obvious examples:
Your inherited characteristics
Your living situation or physical environment
The presence or absence of emotional trauma
Your parents' enneatypes
Your parents' degree of function, or pathology, within their enneatypes
Your siblings' enneatypes
Your wings and connecting points
Your parents' and siblings' wings and connecting points
Also, most Enneagram theorists discuss at least three basic degrees of personality functioning — healthy, average, and unhealthy — within each enneatype. The types each also have connecting points, or alternate type behaviors, that they gravitate toward when under duress or when feeling happy or secure. How your enneatype style or personality functions can also be greatly affected by what's happening in your life — if your needs are being easily met, or if you have life and death issues of survival to address.
Again, it's important to recognize one of the most important principles of the Enneagram system: no person is his or her enneatype. The types represent overemphasized coping mechanisms, patterns developed in childhood and clung to in adulthood, but not the true self or essence of a person. All interpreters of the Enneagram agree that a fully integrated, whole self is far greater than the sum of the traits or behaviors that make up any single personality enneatype.
Also, numbers are not progressive. You don't evolve from a One to a Nine. Some types may be more evolved in certain ways, but all types can evolve within their personality range, reaching a point where they are essentially liberated from ego restrictions and able to live their lives from their essence, or truest self.
The placement of the numbers on the Enneagram circle by modern scholars made the concepts fall into place and made sense of Enneagram theory. If you follow the circle logically according to the interactions that take place between types, the circle consists of three triads that are grouped as follows:
Two, Three, and Four
Five, Six, and Seven
Eight, Nine, and One
Other than Chapter 3, which provides a brief overview of each enneatype, this book follows the same organization in that the type descriptions and triad discussions start with type Two then proceed around the circle.