The Enneagram of Personality ― Illuminating Ego, Personality, and Instinct

The Enneagram ― Shining A Light On Ego

The best tool that casts a light on the mechanisms of the mind, Ego is 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 the underlying theory and outcomes of this system.  What’s more, this system is deep enough to satisfy the desired details for clinicians.  Yet, it uses language, almost everyone can use it.  This makes it 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 the mechanisms of our Ego, 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.  This helps us to 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.

Basic Definitions

The components of the mind can be divided in the following way to make it easier to understand:


What is Ego?  In terms of the Enneagram, Ego is the home of personality and instinct.  It’s that sense of “I” that’s normally in control of awareness. However, it is a necessary tool that connects consciousness to our bodies.   Ego is the tool in between the real us, the Observer, and our experience of life. That is until we begin to awaken.  When we add “presence” and quiet the mind, then 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?  For use with this method, it is a mixture of three basic inborn behavioral modes of the primitive mind.  These are self-preservation, social, and sexual.  These are reflexes operating below the conscious level of awareness.  They create value patterns that color our personality and temperament.  In many cases, instincts override conscious thought.

The Observer

What is the Observer?  The Observer is the real you.  It’s the person you talk to inside your head.  It’s the awareness who experiences your dreams when you sleep.  The Observer is not a part of the Ego.  Some traditions call the Observer, 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 circle 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 move in relation to our state of mind.  This is how our attitude shows up in the health of our thinking.  So, this means there are several ways to group personality types for additional insight.  To emphasize, this symbol is not an arbitrary picture.  It’s an important visual training tool.  It helps us learn and understand how personality and instinct works.

The Enneagram Methodology

The core of this system is its ability to identify specific traits of thinking.  This is accomplished with the use of a test or questionnaire.  If you provide accurate and honest answers you will get an accurate profile.  There are tests for personality and instinct.  But this is only the beginning. There are many levels of knowledge within this system.  It will take you as deep into the psyche as you can go with any analytical system of psychology.

Most people learn about the Enneagram because of the questionnaires which give them their core personality type.  This leads them to read more about their default type and their instinctual stack.  And, so their journey beings.

Testing is only one facet of this process. However, it is an important one. You may need to complete it more than once.  This is because misidentification is possible.  This happens for several reasons.

When you take the test you must 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, our Ego comes forward to mask itself.  So, answers are not as accurate won’t result in an accurate profile.  So, it’s best to test and retest after a few days.  Then validate your results.  Read about the main personality type to see if it does resonate.

Workshops are another good way to deepen your understanding.  You will meet people with the same personality and instinctual stacks.   Here you will discover the use of a variety of additional exercises. This is not a tool for diagnosing mental disorders. However, it does have a way of showing the health of our thinking.  This can help us to identify when we need to our thinking.  Or, even to seek help.

History of the Enneagram

The origins of this system are obscure.  Tracing the lineage can take you to several sources. In fact, you see it in reference to Jewish mysticism and the Kabbalah.  However, the obscurity of the origins does not detract from the accuracy of the current version.

And, it’s not surprising to see similarities with psychology.  That’s because since they were being developed at the same time. And, for the most part by the same people. Borrowing and then building on 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 parallels in the nine processes of consciousness.

Oscar Ichazo 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 published Fourth Way Work 1957. This work uses the same nine element structure and discusses many of the observations in use today.  And, he alludes to the discovery of the nine-side symbol in the 1920s while visiting a Sufi Sarmouni monastery in Afghanistan.  However, he does elaborate on what context the symbol was being used or any other teachings associated with it.  Claudio Naranjo and John Lilly studied with Oscar Ichazo in the late 1960s. Naranjo is largely responsible for bringing the system into Western culture in the 1970s.

Additionally,  Research and enhancements are ongoing.  For instance, Tri-type is another evolution in understanding personality. There are many sources for this system today.  Many of these are the rebranding of earlier ideas.  This is a testament to the simplicity of the system.

What can I Expect?

The Enneagram is much more than a way to identify your personality type. Curiosity about who they bring people to this process.  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 opens the door which allows us to move beyond the stereotype thinking of Ego.  We see we can access the higher values of our nature.  The Enneagram of Personality is a doorway to many aspects of the higher-self such as the virtues of the spirit.  These are the superior aspects of our nature.  They within the lineage of our DNA just waiting for us to unlock them.  In turn, this will lead you to the source of your personal power.


The system is straightforward and well-structured.  So, you can go pretty far with self-study.  If you use good 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 a good way to accelerate your understanding.  You learn not only from the speaker but also fellow participants.  The best teachers use several effective small and larger group exercises along with their lectures.

The exercises you’ll find are not unique to this system.  However, they fit well with the subject matter.  For instance, one-on-one 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.

Main Takeaways

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 a reflection of the Ego. And, the Ego is just the default setting necessary.  It connects our awareness with our bodies.  We are the Observer of this life experience.  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, then we can learn to move beyond it.  We discover how we can reprogram the self-talk scripts of our inner critic and cultural narrative.  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 it is to see 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.  This means reaching the transcendent through Japa or its more commercially available form know as Transcendental Meditation (TM).  They are both the same technique.

Enhancing Critical Thinking

Many other tools can provide an experience of awareness. But, the Enneagram shows us the connections between the Ego, its components of personality, instinct, and our thoughts.  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 along with other core analytical tools you will raise your ability to think more clearly.  Two other tools we use along with the Enneagram are the study of logical reasoning and comparative analysis.  Together they ensure you can determine the facts from the fiction.

Seeing The Mechanisms of the Mind

If we can see the programming of our mind, then the thoughts and values of our default settings are visible.  If we can see them, we can change them.  This perspective enhances our critical thinking ability.  This is why 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 the programming of our cultural narrative.  This differs depending on many factors.  The cultural narrative often supersedes our natural values for life.  So, it’s powerful it can make people behave in ways they would not think of doing.

That’s why it’s important to question the cultural narrative.  We do this by first questioning 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 the programming of your cultural narrative isn’t easy.   However, it can be done.  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 main levels.  It shows both the mechanisms of the mind and the cultural narrative.  Of course, the personality and instincts of our Ego are necessary tools.  They connect our consciousness to our bodies.

However, the cultural narrative is a different story.  No matter where you live, you must learn to question the cultural narrative.  This is one of the traits of a healthy psyche.  It places you closer to those who are freethinkers and healthy skeptics.

The Cultural Narrative Disguised as Truth

A story is exactly 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, we’d learn that when everything becomes quiet this could be a sign of danger.  However, if we did not grow up in a culture teaching and living by this sign, then we’d miss it.  So, the tiger eats us for dinner.

The problem is many religions use cultural programming to install thoughts and values which are harmful.  Our natural inclination as social beings is to look out for the welfare of others.  If we spot a tiger hiding in the bushes we shout so everyone knows.  But, in some cases, religion tells us to allow outsiders to 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 programming of the Ego and the culture we gain an increase in awareness. This 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, we learn to see the basic drivers which influence our culture.  This helps us to avoid it and to help others avoid it as well.

When you discern facts from the fiction then you are less likely to accept spurious or unsubstantiated propositions.  This is very helpful especially in the landscape of spirituality.  This is important because 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, 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 typically come from those who distrust all forms of psychology and science in general. Those who believe it is evil, do so from a point of illogical bias and prejudice.

It’s important to remember that 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.  This is why 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.  This is the person you talk to inside your head.  This is who is experiencing your life.  Next, are the elements of the Ego.  This includes both our instincts and personality.  On the outside is the cultural narrative.

Our instincts are drivers of desire and basic values.  These are the “gut” feelings that tell us what is good and what is bad.  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 in the healthy range our instincts and personality generally reflect the positive values of humanity.  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.  This is programming comes from our society.  This programming can override the natural tendencies of our nature, our instincts, and our personality.  This is the programming that contains bias and prejudice.  This can make people justify greed and any form of 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.

We test the validity by testing the tools and assertions of the teaching in practical applications.  If you have others you’d like us to review and test please let us know.  Here is our recommendation.

    • Russ Hudson, co-creator of The Enneagram Institute 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.

In Conclusion

If this article resonates, there are more on our blog. To find out more about our organization, see our page FAQ.

Interested in spiritual exploration?  Check out the blended learning process at the core of our teaching process. It reflects what Joseph Campbell called the Hero’s Journey.  Our learning options include both face-to-face and virtual learning sessions.  Please consider donating and supporting our mission. This helps others learn the knowledge for developing their path.


Joseph Campbell & Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero’s Journey, Wikipedia
Oscar Ichazo,
George Ivanovich Gurdjieff,
Claudio Naranjo and John Lilly,
The Enneagram Institute,

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