This cognitive science tool shines a light on the “mechanisms of the mind,” our Personality and Instincts. Find out how you can use it to create positive change.
The Enneagram is a system of cognitive science. It’s a blend of both science and spiritual tradition. So, it draws on several sources for its psychometric knowledge. The development of this process is ongoing.
Testing with the scientific method verifies this system’s underlying theory and outcomes. This system is deep enough to satisfy the clinician, yet, it uses plain language that is easy to understand. It makes this a practical tool for self-discovery and inner wisdom.
The Enneagram of Personality
The strength of this system is its accuracy depth of insight. It shines a light on our ego’s mechanisms, namely personality and instinct. It helps us understand how the mind works. Thus, providing us the power to change thought patterns and values.
This system proves our Ego is not our enemy. It’s a necessary tool that connects our consciousness to our bodies. So, we cannot eliminate it. We need to learn how to use it correctly.
To summarize, the Enneagram of Personality Profile is a systematic approach that shows us see how our mind works. It illuminates the “mechanisms of the mind” in a way that we can understand and regain proper control of our personality and instincts. It does this by illuminating thinking processes, symbols, and typologies that influence our thinking and values. All in all, a powerful tool to learn about the mind: if you are curious about how your mind works, then this is the tool you need.
The Enneagram divides the mind’s components in the following way to make it easier to understand.
What is Ego? The Ego is the home of personality and instinct. It’s that sense of “I,” which is the default setting of awareness. It is a necessary tool that connects consciousness to our bodies. Ego is the tool between the real us, the Observer, and our life experience. That is until we begin to awaken. When we add “presence” and quiet the mind, Ego becomes subordinate. When you are present, the real you shows up.
What is personality? A personality is a specific group of traits, thinking patterns, (self-talk) behaviors, and values. In turn, these show up in our lives as defining traits and characteristics. Each type relates to traits of demeanor and even our temperament. The Enneagram can identify nine specific types.
What is instinct? This method identifies three basic inborn behavioral modes of the primitive mind; self-preservation, social, and sexual. These instinctual variants operate at the subconscious level, so we are not generally aware of them. These behavioral modes create value patterns about what we like and dislike. They also color our personality and temperament. In many cases, instincts override conscious thought.
What is the Observer? The Observer is the real you. The Observer is the person who is listening when you talk to yourself. It’s the awareness that experiences your dreams when you sleep. Some traditions refer to the concept of the Observer as Soul, or Spirit.
The Enneagram of Personality Symbols
There are three parts to the symbol. First, an outer circle, then there is an inner triangle, along with an irregular hexagonal “periodic figure.” Together they make up the symbol.
The name comes from the Greek word, which means “nine.” All nine of the points within the circle represent each personality type. And, the symbol is also a valuable training tool. The outer ring shows us how all types connect, pointing to the concept of Oneness. The numbering of each point is deliberate.
The position of each personality type on the symbol has meaning. Thus, providing a visual way to understand and group types to understand them better. The lines between each point show us how our personality traits integrate or disintegrate depending on the mind’s health.
So the symbol is a visual training tool that shows us how the different personality types relate to one another.
The Enneagram Methodology
This system’s core is a questionnaire that identifies specific personality and instinctual traits. If you provide accurate and honest answers, you will get an accurate profile. Identifying your default settings is is only the beginning of the methodology. There are many levels of knowledge within this system. It will take you as deep into the psyche as any psychology system.
Testing is only one facet of this process. However, it is an important one. You may need to complete it more than once. Initial misidentification is not uncommon. It can happen for several reasons.
First, when you take the test, be sure to answer the question from a historical perspective. Don’t take the test when you are going through a crisis. Don’t try to skew the answers to show yourself in a better way. Be aware that the Ego comes forward to mask itself. So, responses that are not as accurate won’t result in a correct profile. So, it’s best to test and retest after a few days. Then validate your results. Read about the primary personality type to see if it does resonate.
Workshops are another excellent way to deepen your understanding. You will meet people with the same personality and instinctual stack. Here you will discover the use of a variety of additional exercises. It is not a tool for diagnosing mental disorders. However, it does show the health of our thinking.
History of the Enneagram
The origins of this system are obscure. Tracing the lineage can take you in several different directions (1). Its origins’ obscurity does not detract from the modern version’s accuracy.
And, it’s not surprising to see similarities with psychology. That’s because both systems were in development at the same time. And, for the most part, by the same people. Borrowing from the work of others is still a common practice. They share many of the same ideas about psychic structures and the inner critic. For example, Jungian psychology (2) parallels the nine consciousness processes.
Oscar Ichazo (3) is where the modern version emerges. He began using the Enneagram in his Arica Institute in 1956. He claims to have developed his concepts independently. Also, George Ivanovich Gurdjieff (4) published Fourth Way Work 1957.
Gurdjieff’s work uses the same nine element structure and discusses many of the observations in use today. He alludes to discovering the nine-side symbol in the 1920s while visiting a Sufi Sarmouni monastery in Afghanistan. However, he does elaborate on its use or any other teachings associated with it. Claudio Naranjo (5) and John Lilly studied with Oscar Ichazo in the late 1960s. Most people give Naranjo credit for bringing the system into Western culture in the 1970s.
Additionally, Research and enhancements are ongoing. For instance, the Tri-type is another evolution in understanding personality. There are many sources for this system, a testament to the design’s simplicity.
Enneagram Learning Methods and Sources
The Enneagram is much more than a way to identify your personality type. However, learning about their temperament encourages them to know more. The more you find out about the programming of your self-talk and value judgments, the more interesting things become. People have that Eureka moment when they discover they are not their personality!
This system opens the door of our subconscious, allowing us to move beyond the stereotype thinking of Ego. We see we can access the higher values of our nature. The Enneagram is a doorway to the “virtues of the spirit.” These are the superior aspects of our hearts. They are the legacy of our ancestors, locked within our DNA.
The system is straightforward and well-structured. So, you can go pretty far with self-study. If you use accurate resources and do some homework, you can get a lot out of this system. Moreover, you can go at your own pace. After all, inner work is hard work. It’s hard to face things that challenge our current state. But, that’s what self-development is all about. It also takes time to normalize new information. We each have our own pace.
Workshops and Seminars
Enneagram workshops are an excellent way to accelerate your understanding. You learn not only from the speaker but also from fellow participants. The best teachers use several practical small and larger group exercises and their lectures.
The exercises you’ll find are not unique to this system. However, they fit well with the subject matter. You will see activities like the repeating question exercise, moving mudras for each personality type, and small group sharing.
Through these kinds of exercises, you learn about yourself. You explore the inner critic and self-talk. So, you’ll also see your bias and prejudices. Similarly, many teachers also use panel type discussions. Here you divide people into groups by personality or instinctual type where they talk about various experiences based on the filter of these mechanisms.
It doesn’t take long to find some valuable insights. Those just starting with the process will find the following takeaways.
The first big takeaway is learning that we are not our personality. Our personality is just a tool of the Ego. The Ego connects our awareness with our bodies. However, we are not our Ego; we are the Observer. The real “You” is who you talk to inside your head. It is the person who experiences your dreams when you think.
Once we digest we are not our Ego, we can learn to move beyond it. We discover how we can reprogram our inner critic and cultural narrative’s self-talk scripts. And so, we can change the trajectory of our lives.
Another big takeaway is learning how much our instincts affect even how our personality traits manifest. It is often easier to see instinct shapes behavior than our personality type.
Last is how presence and mindfulness can pull us out of the control of our Ego. Even a one-minute break can make all the difference. But, it also underscores the importance of meditating. We recommend using Japa, or its more commercially available form know as Transcendental Meditation (TM). They are both the same technique.
Enhancing Critical Thinking
There are other tools for exploring consciousness. The Enneagram helps show us how the Ego works. It’s like looking under the hood of a car. You get to see all the moving parts. Thus, it gives us a new perspective on the “mechanisms of the mind.”
When you use this process and other core analytical tools, you will raise your ability to think more clearly. Two other tools help enhance critical thinking, logical reasoning, and comparative analysis. Together they ensure you can determine the facts from the fiction.
Seeing The Mechanisms of the Mind
When we reveal our mind’s programming, our thought patterns and values are visible. If we can see them, we can change them. This perspective enhances our critical thinking ability. We use the Enneagram Personality Profile and Instinctual variant tests early in our group meetings.
Identifying the Cultural Narrative
Enhancing our ability to think shines a light on our cultural narrative programming. The cultural narrative often supersedes the programming of personality and instinct. So, it’s powerful; it can make people behave in ways they would not think of doing.
That’s why it’s imperative to question the cultural narrative. We do this by first learning to question our own beliefs and values. Here the Enneagram can help us see beyond the barriers that keep this programming hidden. On the positive side, if we can see the programming, then again, we have the power to change it.
Changing your cultural narrative’s programming isn’t easy, but you can do it. Once you’ve identified the negative values, the bias, and prejudices, it becomes a matter of choice.
Exposing the Cultural Narrative
So, as we work with the Enneagram of Personality, we learn how this system exposes programming on two levels. It reveals the programming mechanisms of the Ego. Once we can see the programming, we begin to understand the cultural narrative’s impact. Some people have more negative programming than others.
However, the cultural narrative is a different story. No matter where you live, you must learn to question the cultural folklore. Learning to develop a skeptical mindset is healthy. It places you closer to those who are freethinkers and skeptics.
The Cultural Narrative Disguised as Truth
A story is precisely what the cultural narrative is. The culture tells us a story that we accept as authoritative. Here’s how it works. If we live in the jungle, we grow up needing to know how to tell if a harmful predator is near. So if we live in a tropical rainforest, we would learn when it is quiet, it could be a sign of danger. However, if we did not grow up in a culture teaching and living by this sign, we’d miss it. So, the tiger eats us for dinner.
Many religions use cultural programming to install thoughts and values that are harmful. Our natural inclination as social beings is to look out for others’ welfare. If we spot a tiger hiding in the bushes, we shout, so everyone knows. But, in some cases, religion tells us outsiders can be eaten. If you aren’t a part of the tribe, you are an enemy of the tribe. We may intentionally feed outsiders to the tiger because this is what our religion programs us to do. Religion disguises itself as the narrative of truth when for the most part, it harbors bias and prejudice.
Exposing Programming for More Clarity
When we see the Ego and the cultural programming, we gain an increase in awareness. Greater awareness gives us more choices to make a positive impact. For instance, what you learn from understanding how your personality works also helps you understand others. Similarly, it shows us the fundamental drivers that influence our culture, then we can avoid it.
When you discern facts from fiction, you are less likely to accept spurious or unfounded propositions. This skill is helpful, especially in the landscape of spirituality. The arena of spirituality is full of people making bogus claims. However, they work because people buy the false arguments. And, it’s the use of the Enneagram that exposes these fictions within our programming.
On the other hand, being pro-facts doesn’t mean you should be anti-religious. Many of the early researchers into the psyche was conducted by ancient cultures. They passed along their research in stories. In some cases, these stories became myth, and mythology became a religion.
Three religions dominate almost one-half of the population of the world. These are the Abrahamic religions (6), Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. These religions aren’t new. They are the rebranding of earlier traditions from the Mediterranean region. Namely the Egyptian, Babylonian, Persian, and Assyrian mystery religions. These paradigms contain religious, ethnic, racial, and gender bias and prejudice.
Concerns about using the Enneagram
Those who have concerns about using this process tend to distrust all forms of psychology and science. Those who believe it is evil are misinformed and do so from illogical bias and prejudice.
This system has undergone many years of scientific testing. It is as valid a method of the psyche as any form of psychology. Those who have concerns about it do not understand it. Or, perhaps they fear what it can reveal. The Enneagram is solid cognitive science, and many mental health clinicians use it.
Below is a visual graph showing one way to describe the psyche. You will notice the Observer is at the center.
Our instincts are drivers of our fundamental values. These are the “gut” feelings that tell us what is right and evil. Most people are surprised to learn how much instinct colors their thinking and value judgments.
Personality provides the default settings of our demeanor. It too colors value and emotion. It is a specific set of traits and a framework for thinking.
When our thinking is healthy, we reflect humanity’s positive values in our actions. This outward effect is generally protective, nurturing, and overall non-judgmental. We are social beings, even if we are introverted.
The outer layer is the cultural narrative. It’s the programming that comes from our society. This programming can override the natural tendencies of our nature, our instincts, and our personality. The cultural narrative is the programming that contains bias and prejudice we are taught. It’s the justification for greed, discrimination, and violence. This is the level on which religion uses groupthink manipulation tactics to install its programming.
Today the market is full of different sources for information about the Enneagram of Personality. Sometimes there are authors and teachers to make breakthroughs that expand our knowledge. The tri-type theory is an example of how experience and observation enable a new understanding.
On the other hand, it is common for people to rebrand the same ideas. This way, they can sell it as their own. For that reason, you’ll find many books and online resources. This doesn’t mean that the most recent sources aren’t valid. Nor does it mean that some of the more dated resources are valid.
- One of our favorite resources is Russ Hudson, co-creator of The Enneagram Institute (7) with the late Don Riso. Russ knows this system well. He is a good seminar instructor. Check out their site for workshops near you. We also recommend any of the instructors certified to teach by their Institute.
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(1) The Kabbalah, Wikipedia
(2) Jungian Psychology, Wikipedia
(3) Oscar Ichazo, Wikipedia.org
(4) George Ivanovich Gurdjieff, Fourth Way Work, Wikipedia.org
(5) Claudio Naranjo and John Lilly, Wikipedia.org
(6) Abrahamic Religions, Wikipedia
(7) The Enneagram Institute,enneagraminstitute.com
(8) Joseph Campbell & Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero’s Journey, Wikipedia