In this episode we were joined by Certified Enneagram Narrative Teacher, Christi Engle. Her knowledge was of such depth, we split the conversation into two episodes! Click here for Episode 1.
What is the Enneagram?
The Enneagram is a powerful tool for personal and collective transformation.
In simplistic terms, it’s a personality typing system, but it’s so much more than that. It’s an invitation to personal growth; it offers a pathway, a map if you will, to self-work. The Enneagram helps us get beyond of the learned, rote patterns we learned from our earliest development which ensured our survival and gives us tools to manage our environment in a more healthy, productive, holistic way. It helps us “wake up” to our patterns and behaviors that keep us stuck and cause conflicts in all areas of our lives.
The words Ennea and Grammos are Greek words meaning “Nine” and “a written figure or symbol” and refer to the image you often see of the nine-sided figure associated with the Enneagram.
How long has the Enneagram been around?
No one really knows with certainty the origins of the Enneagram, but teachers date them back to the fourth century, where it was used by desert mothers and fathers as an oral teaching passed down from teacher to student in the context of spiritual counsel (some say its origins go back even farther, to Pythagorus). Its teachings can be found in a variety of religions and wisdom traditions.
There are other uses of Enneagon symbols used by various teachers and guides throughout history, but The Enneagram of Personality (which we’re talking about here) was modernized in the early 1900s by a mystic and spiritual teacher named George Gurdjieff, and continued to be passed down from teacher to student, but it was not brought to the U.S. until the 1970s by Claudio Naranjo, where he taught it to a group of students in Berkeley, California. In the late 1980s, one of Naranjo’s students, Helen Palmer, published the first book on the Enneagram. From there it slowly gained traction and social media and more widespread publishing of materials made it the phenomenon it is today.
What is the difference between the Enneagram and the Myers Briggs test, or the Strengths Test? How is the Enneagram useful?
The Myers Briggs, Strengths Finders, and other personality tests are helpful. Anything that offers insights into your unique humanity and encourages self-growth is useful and has a place. But in my experience, these modalities are good at labeling and helping you see that others respond to the world differently than you. The Enneagram takes this an (important) step forward and beyond – it shows you why you do what you do and uncovers your unconscious motivations.
So maybe Myers-Briggs will reveal that I’m an extrovert. Ok…that’s helpful to know that I love meeting new people but my spouse would rather be at the sink doing dishes than interact at a party. But WHY might I love to get out there? Using one example, knowing that I identify with Type 3 on the Enneagram helps me see that I have an inherent need for people to admire me. That my greatest fear is that people won’t value me for who I am, but for how successful I appear to be. Being extroverted helps me meet that need by allowing me to get my name out there, by networking with important people, and ultimately to get the recognition I’m craving inside. Once I have that self-understanding, I can more clearly see the masks I wear to gain admiration. I can understand why I began adopting these strategies in the first place, and can learn to gain my self-worth from internal sources rather than hustling for external validations. This process leads me to self-compassion (and by extension, helps me to have compassion for others.) This is the real work, and honestly, is the starting place for deeper study and continued growth.
Once I have those initial insights I can go deeper with my learning to see what that looks like in times of stress or security, how my wings affect or “flavor” my type, and how it began to take shape in childhood. Back to the Type 3 example, I can see what part of my Essential Self I’m leaving behind to sell myself out for the recognition I crave. I can then begin the work of (re-)learning that I am enough exactly as I am even if I never won another award. That’s the next-level benefits of the Enneagram.
What is the most common Enneagram type?
This is a fun question to consider, and I don’t know of any reliable way to quantify it. I’ve heard Enneagram teachers speculate that Type 6 represents the largest group of people, as many as half of the population. Individuals leading with Type 6 are sometimes called The Guardians. They’re known for holding our communities together, and they’re concerned with the common good. If we have lots of Sixes roaming the planet, I suppose we’re in good hands.
How do I identify my Enneagram?
First, you have to be ready to be honest with yourself and to be “on to your own game.” You have to be committed to non-judgmental self-observation so you can “catch yourself in the act” as your personality structure drives the bus. And you have to begin to identify into your core motivations – so not just what you do, but why you do it.
Many people start with a free online test. I don’t recommend this for several reasons:
They’re only as good as the input you give – we often tend to answer with an idealistic or not-yet-aware lens
Many don’t have adequate research behind them
People tend to view them as diagnostic, when they’re at best informative and should be considered as a single piece of information, not a confirmation of type.
I recommend either meeting with someone trained in the Typing Process, or doing your own research with a good book. I’ll give some recommendations at the end for next steps.
Tell me about nature vs. nurture. How does the Enneagram play out when it comes to us developing from children into adults?
This question has been debated as long as the Enneagram has been around. Some teach it’s a combination; I think it is more nature – we’re born with our type, and we filter our experience through that lens. Twin studies that have been conducted bear this out. It seems our subtype is more shaped by family settings and is therefore more a function of nurture. Those are my leanings but I wouldn’t die on that hill.
What are some of the flaws of the Enneagram?
I’m not trying to answer this question like you would answer in a job interview to the question, “What are your greatest weaknesses?” and you would say, “I try too hard.” But I think the weaknesses of the Enneagram at least as I’ve seen them arise are imposed on the Enneagram by those who dimply don’t know the system – but they don’t know what they don’t know.
And I think with the advent of the internet, we have to be careful to not meme-ify the Enneagram or make it cartoony. We have to be careful to honor the traditions from which it came and not reduce it to a dinner party trick or an Instagram meme. This not only dishonors the tradition of the Enneagram teachings, but it discounts the unique complexity of the individuals we’re trying to help.
I won’t be a staunch defender of the Enneagram. I don’t need to be; people throughout the ages who have made its teachings their teacher speak for themselves. It’s not for everyone. I love it, I honor it, but I hold it loosely. The goal is not to get everyone to use the Enneagram; the goals are self-knowledge, self-understanding, and growth. How you get there is not my greatest concern. I can just say that this is the most useful tool I’ve found to date to help me transcend unhelpful/unhealthy patterns and I’d be open to anything that does the same for others.
I love this quote from mathematician George Box and think it’s appropriate here: “All models are wrong, but some are useful.”
Can you tell us the Enneagram numbers of some famous people?
This is another really fun thing to consider, but I’m always careful to provide a disclaimer: We shouldn’t type other people. It’s an unethical use of the Enneagram AND we can’t type people from afar who we haven’t worked with (just as a therapist wouldn’t label someone they haven’t met or examined as a Narcissist).
But having said that, and acknowledged that these are just guesses and JUST FOR FUN:
1 – Queen Elizabeth; Dana Carvey’s character The Church Lady from Saturday Night Live
2 – Martha from the Bible
3 – Gaston from Beauty and the Beast
4 – David Rose from Schitt’s Creek
5 – Sheldon from Big Bang Theory;
6 – The Cowardly Lion (We can see both Phobic and Counter Phobic behaviors in this character)
7 – Robin Williams, Michael Scott from The Office, Peter Pan
8 – Martin Luther King, Jr., Princess Jasmine from Aladdin
9 – Marty Byrde from Ozark, Ronald Reagan, Randall from This is Us
You’re a certified Enneagram expert. How does someone go about getting certification to do what you do?
There are many quality programs out there but I’ll speak of the one I know well: The Narrative Enneagram. It was started by early American students of the Enneagram Helen Palmer and Dr. David Daniels (now world-renowned teachers). They believe that we best learn about people’s inner experiences from hearing their stories. The Enneagram is therefore taught in the narrative tradition, and is fluid and dynamic – meaning, if we hear over and over again something that contradicts our teaching, then we adjust our teaching. TNE’s emphasis on inclusion, their desire to honor the experiences of people, and their obvious personal inner work led me to trust the organization. My two-year coursework and countless interactions with them have led me to conclude that that trust was well placed.
You can find them at www.narrativeenneagram.org
- How can we find your work?
we’re working on a new website! After July 15, 2022 you can reach me at www.perennialcoaching.com. I’ll have links to Facebook and Instagram on the website as well. I’d love to see you over there to continue the conversation!