Welcome to a rich, rewarding, cool, profound, and sometimes a bit uncanny model of the human psycho-spiritual condition! 😊 And welcome, specifically, to my particular corner of the (plentiful) online offerings!
Since you chose this entrance, perhaps you were googling the Enneagram of Personality* and haven’t got a lot of knowledge about the system yet? Or maybe you are one or two books into your journey? Either way, I have some tips and recommendations for you to get the most out of your time with the Enneagram. You can jump to the relevant header, or just read on to find them below.
*) If you are looking for work solely from the geometrical symbol in itself, you might type in the process Enneagram and see where that takes you.
Getting a good basic understanding
The Enneagram of personality is a fascinating model. This means that online in general and on social media in particular, there’s tons of free material about it. While this might look very promising, I want to issue a gentle warning. If you are indeed serious about learning about the model, its types, and all of it, this will require at least one out of two things (and preferably both):
- You are going to have to read actual textbooks, and/or
- You are going to have to join events and contexts where you physically meet others who know their type.
It’s tempting to try and pick it up as you go, listening to others talk about it, and asking for their advice about what your type might be — but unless you know that these people actually haves the insight required, that’s not going to give you a lot. (And honestly, even if they do have the insight, you need a basic structure to be able to integrate the information in a meaningful way. Otherwise, the information that you have such and such a type does not really mean anything.)
Doing it properly (I know, it does sound tedious!)
For this reason, my recommendation is to start with two or three comprehensive books — unless you have access to interactive Enneagram gatherings of some kind, in which case, by all means, combine the two! While there is lots of good material out there, I recommend some books below, for slightly different purposes and stages of your introduction. For some idea of what I mean by comprehensive books, I’m referring to books that
- describe the model as a whole and its basic aspects — at the very least, go through the three centres as resources everyone possesses, regardless of type, and
- explain the core points and issues for a type, rather than just providing descriptions of behaviours. (While such descriptions will often be there, too, unless they are supported by some understanding about the deeper psychological structures, they will mostly just either confuse or create unhelpful stereotypes).
Now, especially the first of those bullet points might sound a bit boring. When we hear about personality types, the real juice is reading the different type descriptions, right? Well, yes, in a way. But unless we get the model as a whole, too, pretty soon those descriptions will just be random lists of traits and stop being all that useful. So trust me, it’s worth it ❤️
A few words about “personality types”
Before that, though, I want to say something more about the concept of “type”. There are various personality typologies out there, mapping out similar or not-similar-at-all aspects of that which we call “personality”. Some models, e g the Myers-Briggs system, deal with socionomics and look at cognitive function, that is, how we process information. This is not revealed by our Enneagram type; while some tendencies might be statistically more common in some types than others, it’s a mistake to believe they are type-specific. Other systems look, perhaps, at how we function in groups and in relationships, what types of intelligence we most display, and so on, and so forth — that is, other types of personal differences and leanings that also aren’t what the Enneagram is describing.
A brief interjection about psycho-spirituality
So what, then, are the Enneagram points types of? And here, the difference between it and other “personality” typologies become clearer. The Enneagram is not at its core a psychological model — or at least, not merely a psychological model. Rather, it is a psycho-spiritual model, and its various components have ancient roots in a world of psychospiritual development that historically hasn’t been accessible to laymen. Until quite recently, unless you went off to a convent or ashram, away from the world, these teachings weren’t available. (Note: This is not to say that the Enneagram personality model as it stands is ancient; it’s not, and in this form it originated in the 1950’s. But the tenets and concepts that the understandings rest upon have ancient roots and seem to have risen independently in the various strands of mysticism developing in different spiritual paths across the globe. If you are interested in these ancient roots of the system, I recommend you to take the course The Ancient, Spiritual Roots of the Enneagram as a Path for Self-Discovery and Wholeness with the Shift Network.)
Core features vs descriptive fluff
Anyway, I digress. What this means is that the “psychological traits” that really go into making up these types are things like deep-rooted (and quite possibly unconscious) core beliefs, existential wounds (for the most part, equally unconscious), and “lost” (or so it feels) connections to our true ground of being (which is most definitely unconscious). Because these are not average discussion-topics around the dinner table for most people — and even more because of the number of times “unconscious” is featured above — few people would ever relate if the type descriptions in the books only consisted of such aspects. Instead, books and lectures usually feature examples of common expressions of these core aspects, which make the descriptions much more relatable, with various typical traits, habits, outlooks, and so on. (Now you see why you want books that do include the deeper stuff. The fluff and colour of the descriptions is there to exemplify, but what really characterises the type is the core bits, not those exact descriptions? Some books contain mostly the relatable surface bit, though (even if some of it might still be less palatable!), which, again, gets confusing after a while since the outcome of the core aspects can be so diverse.)
The whole, zoomed-out picture — that is “type”
The important thing, then, is not to look too myopically upon these examples. In all likelihood, you will not recognize every last sentence when reading a description of what might actually be your type. All the different bits of the description might be like a vast number of coloured dots, ranging anywhere from almost black, across a blueish-green spectrum, up to more or less white. You will not recognize all the colours as “you”. But if you take a couple of steps back and take in the entirety if the description, you might see an ocean — and suddenly it clicks into place that you are in fact also an ocean, or perhaps that it does not much feel that familiar at all. The point is that you will recognize some of the “coloured dots”, and sometimes even bigger patches of colour, in most if not all of the types. Only by seeing the examples in relation to the core structures will it be clear if what you recognize is on that core level or more superficially.
My point is, this is originally intended for deep inner work, which means to be fully understood, we need to view the types and their inner structures from that direction. Not everyone is interesting in doing that; there are plenty of “Enneagrammers” out there who use this model for things like helping businesses or doing relationship counselling (and likely a lot of other things). That’s fine, obviously. Often, however, these applications end up shaving bits off the original model, as these aspects are deemed either too esoteric or just irrelevant. If that is what you want to do and you then stick with the bits that are left, that’s fine. (You might quickly get bored around here, though 😇.) But if you then delve further into the depths of the original model from the point of view of the shaved-down format, things might start getting a bit confusing. Which is not in itself a problem, a long as we know why that might be.
LITERATURE FOR LEARNING THE COMPREHENSIVE BASICS ABOUT THE MODEL AND THE TYPES
The Wisdom of the Enneagram by Don Riso and Russ Hudson | Since this book was published in the 1998, some people will say it’s passé and perhaps even outdated in places. From where I stand, though, such statements already expose those people as not too well-informed in the field, since 90% of the stuff written in more recent years is largely derivative from this work (and from Personality Types, which came before it but which is a bit of a heavier read). So please do make it part of your Enneagram library.
LITERATURE FOR ANYWHERE ON THE JOURNEY WHEN YOU WANT TO UNDERSTAND WHAT THE CENTRES ACTUALLY TELL US
Aspects of You by Cicci Lyckow Bäckman (i e, yours truly) | This book provides a deep-dive into the centres of intelligence, such as they appear in all of us, and the instinctual drives. The overwhelming majority of Enneagram introductions (even the good ones!) tend to leave us with a feeling that some people have more of one centre than the other two, or even lack access to a certain centre, depending on where we sit on the Enneagram cycle. Nothing could be further from the truth.
LITERATURE FOR LEARNING ABOUT THE DEEPER ASPECTS BEHIND THE TYPES’ PSYCHO-SPIRITUAL, INNER STRUCTURES
The Spiritual Dimension of the Enneagram by Sandra Maitri | This book goes to the core, and moreover, view the types and their psychological structures from the inside, as it were. While you don’t need to have extensive knowledge about either psychology or psycho-spirituality starting out, prepare to get plenty of that perspective. You would likely benefit from having some basic understanding of the types before diving into this one, since it’s describing the inner workings of the outer traits, behaviours, and attitudes that are traditionally associated with each type.
The Enneagram of Passions and Virtues, also by Sandra Maitri, goes still deeper in the core structure behind each type, as these appear in all of us (but not as strongly, obviously). Again, her perspective provides a beautiful, thorough look into the depths, and slow reading with plenty of reflection is recommended.