1) For people who have never heard of the Enneagram, how do you typically describe it?
The Enneagram system describes nine personality types, each with a particular world view and relational style. All the types are found in our psychological literature; they are not unique to the Enneagram. But this system brings them together in an organized way and describes both the strengths and the challenges of each personality type. In this way it works for high functioning people, not only as a diagnosis of problems or neurosis. First developed by psychologists in the Bay Area as a system of personal and spiritual growth, it's now being used in many countries for applications to relationships, parenting, teaching styles, and leadership and team building in business.
2) Are the origins of the Enneagram known?
The diagram itself goes back many centuries, possibly as far back as the Greek mathematicians and beyond. The first appearance in print (that we know about) was in 1305, when a Franciscan friar named Ramon Lull in Majorca used it as a way of synthesizing the knowledge of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. As a system of psychological types, this development began in the late 1960s although there are parallels in the Christian tradition going back to the "Desert Fathers" in the first two centuries CE. The obstacles to spiritual practice were described as the eight or nine habits of mind.
3) I understand that the knowledge was virtually lost for many years. How was it rediscovered?
The use of the enneagram for understanding the natural laws of the universe was apparently preserved by spiritual groups in the mid-east. George Gurdjieff, a teacher of human development, brought the symbol to the public in 1915 in Moscow. Gurdjieff used the Enneagram as a central part of his teaching, but did not talk about personality types per se. He mentions a Sufi monastery as the source of the symbol and system. Oscar Ichazo, another teacher of human development who had contact with Gurdjieff groups in South America, was the first to arrange human types around the Enneagram in the late 1960s.
4) How did you initially come across the Enneagram?
The Enneagram came to Berkeley in the 1970's, taught by Claudio Naranjo MD, who was a well known gestalt therapist. Dr. Naranjo had gone to Chile to study the system with Oscar Ichazo, and he took Ichazo's basic, brilliant outline of the nine types and combined it with the knowledge of modern psychology. The first public Enneagram classes began in Berkeley in 1978, taught by Kathleen Speeth PhD and Helen Palmer. At one point there were 100 people attending class on Friday night at the Healing Ourselves Center, then 200 people on Sunday night at the YWCA. It was an exciting time! The first major books appeared in 1988. In those early days we had no idea that it would spread to so many people around the world.
5) Nature versus nurture ~ what are your thoughts on the degree of influence of each of these on one's type?
There is a wonderful debate about how much of our personalities come from nature - meaning genetic inheritance, temperament, and perhaps destiny - and how much from nurture - the family, social environment and times in which we were raised. Most people would say it's both factors. Personally, I think each child is born with a type (not yet a personality, but a certain spirit or archetype), or perhaps they have a leaning toward several types that are similar and then adopt one structure a bit later in childhood - between the ages of 5-7 when personality falls into place.
6) Could you give a brief explanation of each of the three subtypes, which are common to all nine types?
According to the Enneagram system, there are three powerful biological drives - the self preservation instinct, social instinct, and sexual or one-to-one instinct - which combine with the nine personality types to create 27 variations or subtypes.
Each of us has all three instincts, but the one that is most central creates a particular style and focus of attention - this is our instinctual subtype, which accounts for so much of the variations in people of the same personality type. These 27 profiles hold the key to understanding our path in life and our role in the community. They illuminate these important questions: How do we spend our time and energy in daily life? What are our most important projects and relationships? How do we participate in home, neighborhood, politics or religious activities? What do we need to feel secure? At the intersection of archetype and biology, understanding subtypes gives us a lens to see and bring awareness to our choices in life.
7) What are the "wings," and how is one affected by them?
The term "wings" means the two personality types next to our own on the circumference of the diagram. These nearby types are like the houses next door - they're easy to visit. They also influence how we express our primary type. In terms of personal style, we can often identify someone's personality as influenced by the more predominant wing. It gives a different flavor compared to someone of the same personality type who is more influenced by the opposite wing. Along with the instinctual subtypes, the wings account for many of the wonderful variations in personality type.
8) What impact might the understanding of one's own Enneagram type have on a person?
What is so useful about understanding our Enneagram type is that it gives us a huge amount of information about our personality, character structure, and our patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving. We have the opportunity to develop our self awareness and make more conscious choices about what serves us and what doesn't. At the beginning level there is a short list of suggestions: "do this, don't do this" which can improve our daily functioning, our performance at work and our communication with others. At a deeper level, there is a map to profound psychological and spiritual growth.
9) What impact might the understanding of each other's Enneagram type have on a couple?
Many people around the world are using the Enneagram to increase their understanding and compassion for the people they love. It's a tremendous tool in relationships: to know where the other person is coming from, what they are most concerned about, how to support them, and how to not take everything so personally! As many people have learned, personality gets in the way even when love is present. Instead of reacting automatically to others via our type structure, we can learn to stay aware and present, and we can take responsibility for the impact of our personality and behavior on those we love. And the Enneagram is a great way to learn how to communicate better with people who are different from us.
10) Recognizing the limitations of generalizing, are there certain natural affinities and natural repulsions between certain types?
Every type can thrive in relationship with every other type. However, there are generally useful predictions about people's natural affinities, what will be easy, and their challenges, which is where the conflicts will arise. Helen Palmer has a book The Enneagram in Love and Work with a matrix of all the 45 possible combinations. Every personality has a set of patterns, so we can talk about how the patterns will interact with those of others. The point is to become more than our patterns - to move beyond the habit of our type structure, create choice, and learn to be receptive and present to ourselves and others.
For more information on the Enneagram system, the nine personality types, and classes and programs please visit EnneagramWorldwide.com or EnneagramBayArea.com.