While the MBTI is squarely rooted in modern psychology (specifically
Jung's writings about cognitive preferences), the enneagram is rooted in
mystery--and that raises questions about its true aim. The enneagram
symbol itself supposedly came via George Gurdjieff (an early, 19th-20th-century
self-help guru) from an ancient Sufi tradition. But in modern times it has
been reinterpreted largely by Jesuits who have infused it with esoteric
Christian concepts while also trying to connect it with modern psychology
(especially DSM-III, which is a handbook on personality disorders).
Early enneagram descriptions (e.g., by Oscar Ichazo and Claudio
Naranjo) are based on the Seven Deadly Sins (pride, lust, envy, avarice,
gluttony, anger, and sloth). But since there are nine personality types in
the enneagram, two more "sins" were added: deceit and fear.
These "sins" are at the very root of human personality, according to
mainstream enneagram theory. That is, each of us has "strayed" in
primarily one of these nine ways, and that's what's causing all our problems in
Richard Riso & Russ Hudson, in their book
Personality Types : Using the Enneagram for Self-Discovery, also bridge the enneagram to Freudian and Jungian psychology.
But in my opinion, the links are pretty thin (e.g., since Jung offers only eight
function-attitudes, Riso & Hudson say that enneagram type 3 does not
correspond to any of them). The links to the DSM, however, are more
credible: various personality disorders do seem to match up pretty well
with the nine enneagram types. This is not really surprising, since the
modern enneagram is based on the Seven Deadly Sins plus two; i.e., it is a
personality-typing system based on pathological patterns.
Essentially, enneagram theory holds that most people are mentally or
psychologically unhealthy. The enneagram purports to be a map showing
unhealthy people how to become healthy. Unfortunately, it is just a map;
there are no guidelines or exercises or practices that help an individual become
So, in order to find your enneagram type, you first have to admit
that you're unhealthy in some way or other. It's like going to your first
Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and saying, "My name is ____, and I'm an
alcoholic." If you're a type 1, you're prideful; if you're a type 2
you're lustful; and so forth. Declaring your enneatype is equivalent to announcing which
psychological disease you've fallen prey to.
Right away, we see a sharp contrast between the enneagram and the
MBTI. While it's true that Jung was a psychiatrist whose work was mainly
with unhealthy patients, his model was nonetheless based on healthy
people. Isabel Myers took Jung's eight "cognitive
preferences," separated that model out from the rest of his writing, and
constructed an instrument designed to categorize these healthy personalities.
The MBTI has long been used in the fields of business, education, and day-to-day
life as a means of codifying ordinary people's personalities. There are no
value judgments; no type is better than any other type, nor is there a
"sinful" or "diseased" component to any personality type.
The whole thrust of the MBTI (and
likewise of Keirsey's temperament theory)
is to identify personality types and thus facilitate communication and
understanding between people. It can be--and sometimes is--misused to
label people and foster bigotry; but that's just a misuse of the system that
arises from ignorance.
The thrust of the enneagram is to identify fundamental human
weaknesses or failings (sins or personality disorders). Presented in its
best light, the aim might be to point unhealthy people in the direction of
greater health. But in any case, the starting point is, "There's
something wrong with you." Buying into that is sure to make a person
feel defective. Moreover, it's sure to make the enneagram practitioner see
everybody else as defective too. On the plus side, that may help people
accept their own and others' foibles and aim for self-improvement. But on
the downside it calls attention to people's darker qualities; it accentuates the
Just as most good Christians avoid preaching fire and brimstone,
most enneagram enthusiasts avoid publicly discussing the darker side of the
enneagram. Enneagram books and discussion groups are full of humor and friendly
anecdotes. Some enneagram writers come across as upbeat as Dr. Phil.
But both Dr. Phil and the enneagram basically focus on unhealthy attitudes and
behavior. The logic seems to be, "if you're not sick, we can't fix you; so first you have to pick
one of nine kinds of sickness."
It could still be a good thing if the enneagram were able to fix
people--but it can't. It's little more than a diagram with accompanying descriptions
of personality at varying levels of health. It might provide useful
yardsticks for recovering schizophrenics or people with other personality
disorders; but even those people are still going to need more help than this to actually
recover. The enneagram is not a recovery method; it's merely a diagram--a
sort of road map to recovery.
For me personally, it's not a very useful road map.
Overall, I'd say I'm pretty darned healthy. So for me (unless I'm
hopelessly in a state of denial), the enneagram is actually
counterproductive. I'd have to stretch my imagination and assume some
trace of disorder, then start looking for a way to cure that problem. Meanwhile,
I'm apt to become even more self-absorbed, which is likely to keep me from
communicating with and understanding other people as they really are.
Hang around an enneagram discussion group for any length of time,
and you'll soon feel you're in some kind of recovery group. A few people
take pride in their enneatypes, but most admit they have problems and are
looking to recover from those problems. And if they do recover, many of
them feel the enneagram will no longer serve any useful purpose. Once a
person becomes healthy and balanced, the enneagram becomes irrelevant.
But in my experience, enneagram enthusiasts don't usually recover.
Instead they tend to revisit and re-analyze themselves, working their way
through two, three, or more of the nine enneatypes. When I was dabbling at
it, I tested as type 4 and called myself a 4 for a couple years; but then I
"woke up the fact" that I'm really a type 9. That sent me back
to the books and into further self-reflection, because I was seeing my whole
personality in a new way--and I now had a whole new set of problems to recover
from. This process of changing types (i.e., mistyping oneself and later
discovering one's true type--only to perhaps later find that was also a case of
mistyping) is common in enneagram circles. There is no definitive test to
determine one's type. Even the best questionnaires are unreliable.
So, why don't I like the enneagram?
Let me count the ways. It's based on pathologies:
it's of dubious use for healthy people, and it's unclear how it can help
unhealthy people recover; and yet the very act of determining one's enneatype is
tantamount to identifying with one or more personality disorders. That
accentuates the negative, prompting the individual to engage in self-analysis,
searching for the roots of problems which may or may not really exist. In
my opinion, putting a lot of attention on problems (even on overcoming
them) is likely to feed those problems rather than lead to recovery.
For those who may want to use a personality-typing system to improve
communication and understanding, the enneagram can also prove counterproductive.
The moment you decide your spouse or friend is such-and-such an enneatype,
you've essentially branded that person with a particular personality disorder. The
enneagram description will lead you to believe you now know which twisted drive
is really motivating the other person--which of the Seven Deadly Sins (plus two)
the person is guilty of. I wonder how that "knowledge" is likely to
improve communication or mutual understanding. Digging skeletons out of closets
usually doesn't improve matters. You end up with something like, "Oh, I see.
You're inclined to cheat on your taxes, while I'm inclined to cheat on my
spouse. We're both guilty in different ways." Such
"revelations" don't lead to liking one another. On the contrary,
they undermine relationships by fostering distrust.
The MBTI/Keirsey systems sort personalities into types without
making value judgments or considering psychological disorders. We end up
with sixteen different-but-equal types of people; and learning the types can
facilitate communication and lead to better understanding. Revealing your
type to someone is not at all like airing your dirty laundry. On the
contrary, it's like telling an acquaintance what kinds of things you like
and dislike. It's a natural (albeit tersely codified) way of getting to
know people--a common language for discussing what kinds of people there are in
correspondence, used with author's permission, all rights reserved.)
Moderator of the Temperament