The Value of the Enneagram

"Don't Put Me in a Box": One of the main questions that I tend to get about the Enneagram, is in regards to the value in "personality typing" systems like the Enneagram. There is a conception amongst some people that personality typing is limiting, as they perceive that it creates a schema that "puts people into boxes".

Indeed the Enneagram is categorical and tends to put people in categories, however in my opinion, this is an inherently human tendency and has a practical usefulness in understanding the world.

Labeling is only necessary in as much as the label itself provides a signpost for understanding our surroundings and the people within it. It is the value judgment of labels that can become a problem. Just as a tree is no better than a rock, a Type Two is no better than the Type Seven.

Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now, states that the identification with the labels of the world is what creates suffering, and because we cannot see beyond our labels, we therefore lose the ability fully experience the present moment without constant judgment. We become slaves to these labels and the judgments that they imply.

This seems to be true, however without the signposts of the world, the human brain (which needs some form of cognitive organization), would have a more difficult time finding solid footing and things would seem chaotic.

The Enneagram model is merely another signpost, or tool, that can be used to understand our fellow human beings. The Enneagram, if worked with on a compassionate and dynamic level, can help us to transcend the limiting boxes that we are already in, unlock our own potential, and understand and relate to the essence in others.

An Invisible Tribe:

It appears through our research, that the nine personality styles have probably been in existence all along throughout our human history.  It is as though there are nine invisible tribes throughout the world and most people are unaware that they exist, but all people belong to one of these tribes, speaking the same language and expressing the same fundamental experiences. If we can find our tribe (or type) we can begin to feel a sense of familiarity in finding ourselves and settle into the understanding that others share some fundamental characteristics with us.

We can see the types clearly working, unbeknownst to most people, through language use, facial expressions, conflict and relationship styles, fears, desires, and strengths and weaknesses. Research is even being done now to show that these individual "personality tribes" occur throughout the world.  The realization of these tribes loosens the grip of loneliness that people tend to experience when thinking that nobody understands them.

The Enneagram does not seek to eliminate the inherent individuality of each person, but rather gives us a starting place to understand others. We seem to already be in these "ego boxes" and our functioning within them, and without awareness, tends to create interpersonal and psychological suffering.  This suffering can be transcended if we can learn to observe and understand our limiting ego-patterns.

The Enneagram provides us a model with which to categorize these patterns, and in turn this can help to ease our suffering. Whether it is that nagging problem we have of interrupting other people, or a deep seeded dissatisfaction with our lives, the Enneagram is a useful and remarkably elegant tool in beginning to understand ourselves and our fellow human beings.

In many spiritual and religious traditions, this process of ego identification is referred to as naming the demon. If we name the demon we can have control over it. However, it is important in our modern understanding not to completely demonize the ego.

Our egos are necessary to some extent. The ego can help us function in the day to day world and can help us to achieve practical results. It is when we cannot disengage our ego/personality that it can become a problem.

Many of us are unaware that we are working against ourselves, and find ourselves in a state of frustration as we are continually thwarted in finding happiness or achieving our life goals. The ego should be a bit like a jacket that we can take off when we no longer need it, but one that can help to protect us when necessary.

Soul Desire and Ego Desire:

Each type has a characteristic ego desire and soul desire depending upon their personality style. The soul desire is the integral part of the self that wants to be in touch with one's highest purpose. This is the desire which feeds your spiritual center and provides you with a contentedness, as well as a sense of fulfillment that is pervasive and permanent.

The soul desire of all human beings is to just be and to eliminate suffering. Ego desire is the part of the self which wants to differentiate itself from others.  The ego desire is the part of us that keeps striving for happiness.

Ego desire believes that we must seek fulfillment in the physical world in order to be whole. The ego is not entirely wrong in that we are physical beings living on the Earth and we have specific needs, weaknesses, strengths and wishes.

For example:

The Three is the Achiever archetype. Threes fear being worthless, and their basic personality desire is to be valuable and worthwhile. They are driven to succeed in the world, and strive for symbols of success in their respective social spheres in order to be seen as valuable. Three's can have problems with narcissism and deceit as they begin to believe that their accomplishments are their true self.

Soul Desire: To be valued for the true authentic self. Ego Desire: To be valued for accomplishments and success in the world.

Enneagram Institute 2010/Enneagram of Essential Qualities

The Story of "Donald":

Working with this example we can imagine a man, "Donald." Donald has an "Achiever" personality style. Donald's ego desires success and personal actualization that can be seen and admired by the world around him. However, at some point Donald begins to value his achievements over his authentic feelings and desires, and he begins to shelf those in order to achieve results in his career and/or love life. Donald has slowly become unaware that his drive for success has begun to undermine his ultimate desire, which is to be valued for who he is. By shelving his authentic self in favor of a more socially desirable self image, Donald has begun to work against his soul's real longing, which is to be seen for who he truly is. He has replaced true self-worth with achievement and measures of social success. He has to keep striving in order to maintain this false sense of self because nothing is ever enough. So, to feed his hungry unidentified ego, Donald begins lying about his achievements, and gets more and more angry when people don't recognize his successful stature in the environment. Donald buys a bigger house, a nicer car, and the nicest clothes he can afford. He gets the biggest promotion at his corporate job, and has the most attractive and well dressed family. However, Donald begins to realize that people seem to be less and less impressed by his external efforts (unless they too are caught in the illusion of these achievements). This is because Donald has abandoned authenticity for image, and other people sense it. They value him less, because now Donald seems "fake", "superficial", or "into himself". Donald's ego now works against him, becomes a demon, and he is a slave to its whims.

Now imagine that Donald has found the Enneagram.

Imagine Donald maintained the conscious thought somewhere in the back of his mind that he has the tendency to seek success as a means of being valued in the world. Imagine that Donald could have kept this notion in the back of his mind every time he inflated himself, steamrolled someone in order to gain reward, bought a new house, car, or outfit in order to "look the part", or embellished his achievements in order to feel worthy. This doesn't mean Donald wouldn't still give into his ego desires, nor does it mean that his ego desires are necessarily bad or wrong. Donald can still enjoy his promotion, car, and home, and can still be proud of his achievements because he truly is a hard worker and that is his gift. But Donald would now realize that these things are not him. The Enneagram provided Donald with an awareness of his patterns and ego-traps. The Enneagram then becomes the entryway into reaching his ultimate desire which is to be valuable. Donald can, through using the Enneagram, learn that his true value comes from being authentic to his feelings, desires, and impulses and not deferring to what is seen as successful. The goal for Donald could be to sync up his ego desires with his soul desires and to ultimately realize that his ego desire is an illusion. It is likely that Donald would get more of his ego desires met if he stayed focused on feeding his soul.

Three "No-No's" of The Enneagram:

Discrimination using the Enneagram: So with all of the value of the Enneagram there are a few ways that the Enneagram system can be used that are destructive. When we begin to utilize the Enneagram to place absolutes on another human being, we have moved into dogma. For example saying "You're a Six so you are ALWAYS distrustful of people, therefore I don't like Sixes." Using the Enneagram in this way creates anger, limitation, and doesn't allow for the exploration of the self by ascribing a hard and fast rule to a type.

Inflexible Stigmatizing: Typing other people without allowing for those typings to change. It can be awfully fun once we start using the Enneagram, and by "personality typing" our tendency can be to say "oh, he's a type ____" and then ignore any new information that comes in that could possibly change our typing. The types are merely signposts, and once we see a new sign we should have the flexibility to adjust that typing. Enneagram as an Excuse: Using the Enneagram as an excuse. There is a tendency, once we find our type, to say something like "I'm a Four, so I can't possibly work in a normal job...because I think I'm special" or "I'm an Eight so of course I'm going to scream at you when I get mad!" The Enneagram is not an excuse to engage in bad behavior. It should wake you up to your limiting behaviors/thoughts/feelings, but will never give you the license to treat others disrespectfully or an excuse not to develop yourself.

All of these thoughts will be expanded upon in later blog entries, particularly the notion of ego desires and soul desires.

The Enneagram is merely a tool, and may not be for everyone. However, it can be a wonderful entryway into discovering yourself and those in your life.