Welcome to the final installment in the Center for Family Transformation’s blog series on the Enneagram. Thus far, I wrote about the advantages in personality typing. Part 1 described what the Enneagram does. I noted it offers a mechanism for distancing yourself from a false identity, which I called your mask. Many of us wear masks portraying to the outside world how we want others to see us; we do this for survival. Over time, this mask becomes constricting and destructive. Using the Enneagram, you can take off your mask to show your true self, ushering in freedom, authenticity and a much richer life experience.
Part 2 of the blog series outlined how to do that. The Enneagram has several fundamental attributes with the core being your basic typic. I described how to find your type using The Enneagram Institute, one of the many resources available to employ the Enneagram. You can go to The Enneagram Institute’s website to find your basic type through research or assessment. Then I encouraged you to investigate your center, wing, and subtype to complement your basic type. Today, I will elaborate on what I believe makes the Enneagram stand above other personality profiling tools: its guidance on how to become a healthier you.
The context behind the text
To be clear, I am in no way dissuading you from utilizing other personality tools for personal growth. Other personality profiling systems like Myers Briggs, DISC, StrengthsFinder, and more can be incredibly beneficial. My partiality toward the Enneagram is based on personal and professional experience with typing tools and their ability to guide people over time. In my opinion, the Enneagram’s capability is rare because it goes beyond categorizing people to offering them a roadmap toward health. The Enneagram can aid you in traversing away from subconscious habits, both helpful and unhelpful, to being inwardly balanced. I love this feature, and I hope you find it advantageous, too.
Levels of development in the Enneagram
With that in mind, we can discuss the way the Enneagram provides capacity for growth to all who use it. Two parts of the Enneagram offer this. The first is called the levels of development. These levels exist on a continuum; as described by Riso and Hudson (1), the levels of development are the “skeleton of each type”. At any point in time, you will land somewhere on the continuum within your type. “It may aid you to think of the continuum of levels as a photographer’s grayscale which has gradations from pure white to pure black with many shades of gray in-between” (1). See the graphic (1) below for the levels.
As time progresses, you can move up (toward Level 1) or down (toward Level 9) within your type. Why is this useful? First, it reminds us that we are not stuck in our ways. The levels normalize that we may fall into unhealth due to stress or trauma, but a shift in thinking and action can propel us in the other direction. Second, this perspective aligns with how trained professionals view mental health wellness and disorder today: existing on spectrums (2). Although the Enneagram has not been validated and is not an evidence-based program (EBP), it does line up with psychology as it is best practiced.
Directions of integration (growth) and disintegration (stress)
Another element of the Enneagram that I love is how it integrates. To integrate something is to join it together. Now, psychological research shows that life’s trauma can cause dissociation, or unconscious fragmenting of our soul, mind, and emotion to keep us safe (3). So if experiences can overwhelm us to the point of internal fracture, what better way to walk toward health than by integrating the broken pieces within us? The Enneagram can do that through its directions for growth and stress. Let me describe this in further detail.
Within the Enneagram’s circular diagram, you might see inner lines linking numbers to other numbers; this is outlined in the graphic (4) below. These lines “connect the types in a sequence that denote what each type will do under different conditions” (2). One line represents how your type acts under conditions showcasing health. For instance, a type 4 moving toward health will act as a healthy type 1. The other line illustrates that type’s movement toward stress and breakdown; in our example, a type 4 moving toward stress will act more like an unhealthy type 2.
What are the implications here? The directions for integration and disintegration become signals for you as you observe yourself over time. When you are stressed, pay attention to your motivations and actions. You may notice yourself behaving like your type in disintegration, which can alert you to care for yourself. As you become more attune to your personal development, you may find ways to cut off disintegration before it occurs. Vice versa, you can also put plans into place to operate out of your growth type, which will allow you to be the best version of yourself even when stress hits.
Riso and Hudson (1) note on their webpage that “the goal is for us to move around the Enneagram…acquiring healthy potentials for all the types.” Said another way, at your healthiest and most aware moments, you will not only grow into your type of integration, but you can begin picking and choosing tools from every type. What an exciting prospect! On this comment, I make my final pitch for using the Enneagram as a tool. If you are not bound by your number but encouraged to transcend it, there are limitless possibilities for your development. In ending, I wish you true joy as you embark upon your Enneagram journey. May you find healing, transformation, and everything in between along the way.
(1) The Enneagram Institute. (2017). How the Enneagram system works. EnneagramInstitute.com. Retrieved from https://www.enneagraminstitute.com/how-the-enneagram-system-works
(2) American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5 th ed.). Arlington, VA: Author.
(3) Friesen, J. G., Wilder, E. J., Bierling, A. M., Koepcke, R., & Poole, M. (2016). Living from the Heart Jesus Gave You: A Life Model Book. East Peoria, IL: Shepherd’s House, Inc.
(4) The Enneagram Institute. (2017). The individualist: Enneagram type four. EnneagramInstitute.com. Retrieved from https://www.enneagraminstitute.com/type-4