The Enneagram, a personality system sometimes called the GPS of wisdom, has been gaining in popularity over the last decade. Featuring nine distinct “habits of attention” and a complexity that can explain almost all behavior, it’s an extremely useful tool in business, relationships, and personal growth.
With origins dating back thousands of years, it is a surprise to many to learn that the Enneagram has several modern developments. New ways of thinking have evolved over the years, and we talk about the Enneagram in ways that were different even twenty years ago. But before we look at what has changed, let’s take a quick history lesson to understand the origins of this ancient personality system.
The Origins of the Enneagram
The origins of the Enneagram are shrouded in mystery and difficult to pinpoint. Variations of the nine point symbol have been found in the sacred geometry dating back 4,000 years during the time of the Greek philosopher Pythagoras. Others believe the origins of the Enneagram symbol can be traced not to Greece but to the Sufi tradition of Central Asia. While the original roots are vague, the modern-day application of the Enneagram is largely credited to three individuals:
• G.I Gurdjieff (Jan 13, 1886-Oct 29, 1949): Born in Russian Armenia, Gurdjieff was a philosopher and spiritual teacher who spoke of the symbol of the Enneagram and presented a practical teaching path to greater consciousness. He described the three centers (heart, head, and body) but didn’t address the nine distinct personality styles.
• Oscar Ichazo (Jun 24, 1931-March 26, 2020): Born in Bolivia, Ichazo founded the Arica School and is largely credited as the first person to offer a detailed description of the nine distinct Enneagram types. The origin of his knowledge is not transparent, though he mentions Aristotle and Neoplatonism as sources. It is believed that his knowledge came from his studies in the near and far East, particularly in Afghanistan. Among other things, his Arica School teaches the concepts of the Enneagram.
• Claudio Naranjo (Nov 24, 1932-July 12, 2019): Born in Chile, Naranjo learned the Enneagram from Ichazo in the 1970s when he went for an Arica School training. Naranjo integrated Ichazo’s work with his own broad view of human development and offered even more refined descriptions of the personality types.
Much of the modern Enneagram knowledge is a result of the teachings of Ichazo and Naranjo, and like language, the Enneagram has evolved. The core concepts remain the same, the foundational elements remain intact, but some of the subtleties and nuances have changed for an evolving collective consciousness. Let’s explore two of the big changes.
How We Talk About Type
My Enneagram training began in the 1990s and during that time, it was common to identify yourself as a specific type. I would say “I’m a Type 7,” my teachers would say “I’m a Type 2,” “I’m a Type 6,” and so forth. This was widely accepted. Over the last decades however, the Enneagram community started to observe this language as too narrow, and the labels were boxing people in.
For example, I’m a Type 7, but I have a strong Type 8 wing, and I can sometimes behave like a Type 1 in a business environment. How can I better describe my type? Now it is more common to say “I lead with Type 7” or “I identify as Type 7” thereby allowing space for other facets of the other profiles to be part of the picture. We are complex beings, and this new way of talking about type helps to acknowledge that.
The Path of Disintegration/Stress Point and Path of Integration/Security Point Evolved to Contraction and Expansion Points
In the Enneagram system, there is an acknowledgement that we all behave differently if we are in high pressure environments or if we are feeling very relaxed and expansive. In the old language, we would talk about this as a “path of disintegration” or stress point and a “path of integration” or security point. As such there was a negative bias around the stress point and a positive bias around the security point.
Over the last decade, the community observed these biases were creating misunderstandings. The stress point didn’t need to have a negative connotation and instead could be used to describe useful tools each personality type employs to function under stress. While the movement to this point might involve discomfort, it also could result in personal growth and an opportunity for the individual to become more whole.
For example, a Perfectionist, Type 1 goes to the Individualist, Type 4 under stress. While this movement can result in the Type 1’s behavior becoming more emotionally driven, intense, and at moments messy, this isn’t always a bad thing for the more emotionally contained Type 1. There is an opportunity to access more of the emotional spectrum and to grow as an individual.
And the security point, while having a component of the personality’s personal growth path in it, could be viewed more neutrally. It’s good to access expansion, but it is more powerful if you’ve also mastered your behavior when you are stressed or contracted. Building on the prior example, Type 1s go to Type 7, the Enthusiast, in expansion and when they are feeling relaxed. This is a growth edge for them. However, it is a more meaningful growth edge if they have also mastered the contraction point and have access to the full emotional spectrum.
We now describe the stress and security points and paths of disintegration and integration as points of contraction and expansion, aligning more directly with the energetics involved and acknowledging the neutrality in both.
Why Change an Ancient System?
These are two of the biggest developments or twists on the modern Enneagram, but we should expect more as the times continue to change. Some ask “but if the system is so ancient, why are there modern changes? Shouldn’t the ancient Enneagram withstand the test of time?” It’s an interesting question.
I live in Athens, Greece where the Greek language has been around for thousands of years. While the foundations of the language remain, it would be a limited thinking to not acknowledge the world evolves and that language is dynamic, not static. For example, there is now a Greek expression “Tha to Googlearo” to mean “I will Google it.” Aristotle couldn’t have predicted that one…!
In the same way, for the Enneagram to remain relevant, it has to evolve. Personally, I see these changes as a very positive development in the long term usefulness of the Enneagram. And I can’t wait to see what’s coming next.