The Enneagram is a system of personality typing that describes patterns in how people conceptualize the world and manage their emotions. The Enneagram model describes nine different personality types and maps each of these types on a nine-pointed diagram which helps to illustrate how the types relate to one another. The name Enneagram comes from the Greek: Ennea is the Greek word for nine and Gramma means something that’s drawn or written.
According to the Enneagram, every personality has a certain world view and looks at the world through their own lens or filter. This makes it possible to explain why people behave in certain ways. By describing how the basic personality adapts and responds to both stressful and supportive situations, the Enneagram shows opportunities for personal development and provides a foundation for the understanding of others.
The system has been the inspiration for multiple Enneagram personality tests as well as books on an eclectic variety of subjects, from personal development and spiritual growth, to relationships and even career development.
Understanding the Enneagram Symbol
The basis of the Enneagram is a nine-pointed geometric symbol. It consists of an outer circle, on which the nine points (personalities) are numbered clockwise and evenly spaced. There is also a triangle between the points 9, 3 and 6 and an irregular hexagon which connects the other points. The circle represents the wholeness and unity of human life while the other shapes represent how it is divided.
The types on either side of each core type are called wings. It is believed that wings represent related personality styles which we can transition into, in order to develop new facets of ourselves. Many people identify strongly with the description of one or both of their wings, in addition to their primary type, and understanding the influence of the wings can help to add more nuance to one's understanding of themselves.
Each basic type in the Enneagram is also connected by two lines to two other basic types; for example, Type 1 is connected to Type 7 and Type 4. The first line connects to the type which the person has left behind or repressed in childhood; the characteristics of this type must be reintegrated in order for the person to develop. The second line connects to the type which the person may grow into once they are ready to reach a higher state of development.
These connecting lines highlight how each basic type possesses indispensable strengths, but at the same time has darker sides that are full of challenges. The inclusion of these lines moves the Enneagram from a purely descriptive personality model to one that is dynamic, showing how personality can change under different conditions.
History of the Enneagram
We don’t know the exact origin of the Enneagram, but we do know it has an eclectic history. Some assume ancient roots in Babylon around 4,500 years ago while others place the origin in classical Greek philosophy around 2,500 years ago. The model has been attributed to the Jewish Kabbalah, Christian mysticism and Sufism, a mystical form of Islam. Dante apparently had very good knowledge of the Enneagram since the characters in The Divine Comedy correspond largely to the Enneagram types.
What we do know, is that the modern Enneagram system is the work of contemporary authors. Georg Ivanovich Gurdjieff, a mystic and spiritual teacher, introduced the model as a spiritual symbol in the 1930s, and it arrived on American shores in the 1960s. Most researchers today tend to focus on the psychological rather than the religious side of the Enneagram, drawing comparisons with other personality models like the Myers-Briggs system.
Applications of the Enneagram
Enneagram is mostly used for personal self-knowledge and personality development, offering a powerful tool for self-mastery, conflict resolution, team dynamics, leadership and emotional intelligence. Because it identifies opportunities for development for each individual type, it has become widely used in areas such as counseling, psychotherapy, business development, parenting and education.