Often, I see questions in Enneagram groups like, “Which type is most likely to cheat on you?” ”Who is likely to take the high ground/make it in marketing/get divorced/react to XXX”? It seems that many people who are familiar with the Enneagram are yet not familiar with the levels of development.
The idea of these levels comes from Don Riso, who was the first one to describe them. I don’t know if the Enneagram Institute is still the only one teaching them, but considering who important they are to type descriptions, it’s hard to believe that any decent-level Enneagram teacher would fail to incorporate something to that effect in their teaching — even if it wasn’t the EI levels, specifically.
The levels of development
In brief, the levels of development are levels of psychosocial maturity. Phrased differently, they are a measure of how much we are in the grip of ego. Yet differently, how “liberated” or expressive of our essential nature we are. By analogy, we might say that the levels provide topological information to the Enneagram map. Without them, we have a flat sheet of paper. With them, we get hills, valleys and overall depth. This makes it so much easier not only to navigate, but also to understand the territory we’re viewing.
To illustrate, take the Five (just picking a random type). Here, we find the likes of Hannibal Lector — but we can also find Albert Einstein and Eckhart Tolle. If we look at Ones, we have Nelson Mandela — but also Osama bin Laden. It doesn’t take much to realise there’s more than one way of being the same type. (If you want to find out more about the developmental levels, please follow the link in the first paragraph.) So what is type, then, if it’s not the expression of personality? Or, rather, what constitutes this expression, if “type” does not suffice?
So what is type, then, if it’s not the expression of personality? Or, rather, what constitutes this expression, if “type” does not suffice?
In recent years, many twists and elaborations on the interpretation of the basic Enneagram model have surfaced. Thus, if you threw this question out there today, you might get lots of suggestions. ”It’s down to the tritype, not only type.” “No, you have to look at subtypes; if you don’t take instinctual aspects into account, you won’t get it right.”
Well. These elaborations (for lack of a better word; I’m not debating their validity) will all affect how our core type is expressed. But there’s a vertical aspect here, too, that is the developmental levels. This vertical aspect needs to be taken into account before it makes sense to try and further detail the horizontal aspect of a certain behaviour or trait. And when we realise that this vertical aspect exists, we also understand why “what type does X” questions won’t work. We need to look at psychological maturity.
Maturity, not just type (or tritype, or subtype)
So many of the things we do and choose depend on our current level — not our type. That is, if we were a different type, the same level might of course generate another action or choice. But my point is that ethics, communication skills and personal resonance aren’t type-specific. If anything they are LEVEL specific. (For sure, they are also strongly affected by our instinctual preferences. But that arena, too, is rife with misunderstandings and simplifications, and it’s never down to specific behaviours or opinions).
For the record, course how we act is also affected by our childhood and later life experiences. Our current conditions and situation. A virtual sea of non-Enneagram-related factors. But, as these things cannot realistically be categorised, the developmental levels are still a very good tool to use 😉
So many of the things we do and choose depend on our level, not our type. Ethics, communication skills and personal resonance aren’t type-specific; if anything they are LEVEL specific.
So we need to get a decent grip on the types and their respective levels of development. I don’t mean that we need to memorise them verbatim, but we need to understand each type’s “trajectory”. Only then we can start really understanding what the Enneagram types are. Now, we see much more clearly what motivates them. We realise what they fear and value, and how they respond to those fears and values. Then, if we like, we can get on with the finer details.
Growing with the Enneagram
So we need to get a decent grip on the types and their respective levels of development. Only then we can start really understanding what the Enneagram types are.
I can’t stress this enough: if you want to deepen their understanding of the model, the types, the instincts and themselves, you need to look at motivations. Look at the types’ fears, and their defences against those. This, incidentally, is the material of the developmental levels. With this knowledge, we can notice how the ego’s offered “solutions” remain consistent regardless of psychological maturity.
Yes, these things are much harder to “look at” in others, as they don’t show as clearly. And no, these things don’t always come out when you talk to people. But that is the point. We cannot “learn the Enneagram” as a theoretical system, apply it mechanically and expect to get any value from that. We have to experience it from within ourselves, as it were; learn the basic theory and then investigate and experience it within ourselves and with others. Then, the questions we ask others are likely to be very, very different 🧡