Self-awareness is the key to psychological health and spiritual fulfillment—the ability to observe ourselves and recognize the obstacles within our own personalities that are blocking us from our true essence. The difficulty comes when we’re doing the monitoring and finding it difficult to detect the issues or their source. For the many life coaches, therapists, pastors, and individuals that use the Enneagram, the personality system is a valuable instrument for identifying, observing, and managing the facets of our personalities and our interactions with others.
“For me what’s most important is that it’s a tool that can be used in our own work and own our lives to deepen our contact with our true nature,” says Katy Taylor, the director of special projects for the Stone Ridge-based Enneagram Institute. Taylor has been studying the Enneagram for more than 10 years, and works with field pioneers and institute founders Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson.
According to Riso and Hudson in their book The Wisdom of the Enneagram (Bantam, 1999), the nine-pointed symbol of the Enneagram dates back at least 2,500 years. Its modern use is credited to George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff, an esoteric teacher of the late 19th and early 20th centuries thought to have discovered the symbol somewhere during his travels in Turkey or Afghanistan. He would later translate the nine points and the movement along these points as a paradigm for natural processes. “Gurdjieff used the symbol to show the movement and transformation of all things, but without any connection to personality types,” Taylor says. “It was Oscar Ichazo who had a flash of understanding and insight of what this symbol was related to. He was the spark that took the psychology of the system and mapped it on the figure.”
Ichazo, the Bolivian founder of the Arica Institute (a school for higher consciousness), applied the nine divine attributes, which stems from sources like Neo-Platonism and the seven deadly sins (plus fear and deceit) of Christianity, to the symbol with brief descriptions of personality types. These ideas were developed further by one of his students, psychiatrist Claudio Naranjo, who brought the ideas to California in 1970. Riso learned of the system not long after his time as a Jesuit seminarian. Since the early 1970s, he has worked on expanding the psychological descriptions by interpreting each of the types through the lens of the modern psychology of Karl Jung, Karen Horney, Erich Fromm, and others. The result is a system of nine personalities that are interrelated and able to move and be affected by the traits of other numbers of the symbol.
“The Enneagram shows us nine personality types, I like to think of it as a continuum. On one end, it’s nine personality types, and, on the other end, it can be seen as nine facets of life,” said Taylor. “It’s not like you’re just one or the other, we’re humans with personalities and our truest deepest nature is divine, spiritual. If you understand the psychology of what’s driving you, the motivation of what’s creating your personality, that understanding can also open your awareness and deepen your contact with the divine.”
According to the Enneagram Institute, every person embodies characteristics of each number of the Enneagram but will have only one primary type they identify with. Riso and Hudson refer to the nine types with the following titles: One is the reformer, two the helper, three the achiever, four the individualist, five the investigator, six the loyalist, seven the enthusiast, eight the challenger, and nine the peacemaker. Different authors may label the types in different terms, but the attributes generally stay the same. The institute offers the Riso-Hudson Enneagram Type Indicator (RHETI) test on its website, which allows participants to answer questions about their feelings, behavior, and outlook, to get an idea of which type they are.
“Taking tests can be helpful as a way of eliminating most of the possibilities fairly quickly,” Riso says. “Then, you must read the descriptions carefully and do some observation. The point of the Enneagram is to help us to become better self-observers so that we can be free of old, self-destructive patterns, not just to find some sort of new psychological label for ourselves. You will continue to find bits of yourself in all nine types—but when you find your core type, it should come as a revelation, a relief, an embarrassment, a welcome home, and an invitation to see yourself in an entirely new way.”