The Enneagram: a starting point

A long time ago, when you were little, you discovered something: that the world is a hostile place. It wasn’t going to give you all you wanted, and was not always to be trusted. In the short term, survival was the order of the day. And so it was that you chose a way to cope; a survival technique. You had to twist reality into a particular shape, but it served your purposes – and from this tense and worried inner soil, your personality grew.

As little became large, although you discarded your clothes and toy collection, you didn’t discard your survival technique. As your personality hardened, it became an established psychological addiction, of which you were largely unaware. The Enneagram meets you at the point of this addiction, or ‘compulsion’ as it is often called.

Recognising your compulsion

Compulsion is defined as ‘devoting your self to something habitually or obsessively,’ and the Enneagram describes nine of these, one of which is particular to you. This addiction is both psychologically and emotionally blinding for you.

To recognise your prime addiction is something of an awakening. It is like a plant being freed from the strangulating effect of unchecked weeds. As Atisa, the 11th century Tibetan, said: ‘What a lightening flash in the gloom it is for the self, cloaked in the darkness of ignorance, when awareness is gained even a little bit!’

It can be difficult. Our compulsion seems both the most natural and most logical way to proceed, and our personality may scream with pain at the prospect of having it uncovered. Such discovery is more relief than pain, however, helping us not only to understand our past and present – but also look to the future with more hope.

The Ugly Duckling was unquestionably destined for beauty, but first, there was a confused struggle, born from misplaced identity. Our journey has been similar. We too have suffered from a mistaken identity. The Enneagram, in offering you self-awareness, seeks to give you back to your true self; to establish your real and very beautiful identity.

The Enneagram is a complete map of the psychological forces at work in us – both the healthy and the destructive. There is no aspect of life on which it does not touch. Once you have found yourself on the map, the journey of insight, will and well being begins.

Here are some tasters of the nine compulsive personality types described by the Enneagram. Can you sense your self in one of these?


These people were good little boys and girls, who learned to behave properly. And because their natural desires were hidden when young, they rarely now ask what they want from life. Instead, they focus on what they perceive to be the correct thing to do. An inner critic is always telling them what they could have done better – and they pass this critical attitude on to others. Ought and should are big words for them. They do not approve of anger, and do not react well to it either in others or in themselves. These people are keen to be seen to be doing the right thing – and resent others who don’t do the right thing. And they can be great.


These people may be seen as life’s carers, as they gain their self-worth from being connected to others, usually in a helping/supporting role. They move out towards the world with great energy. It is hard for these people to face their own needs, however. Perhaps they won approval when young for helping, and continue a similar search for approval, and by a similar means, as an adult. There can be traces of pride in their belief that others need them; and resentment in them if others are not suitably grateful for help given. This can make them angry and aggressive. They tend to like being a Number 2 behind a strong leader they admire. And they can be great.


It is important for these people to be active, and they are often perceived as successful in their chosen sphere. They have a strong competitive edge, with a profound fear of failure. They are experts in image, with the result that there tends to be a schism between their real self and their performing self. Activity drowns the pain of this schism, but does not bring peace. Feelings are not encouraged in this life script, and if they appear, may make them very angry or sad, and disable them quite seriously. They will withdraw into numbness in stress. And they can be great.


These people live with a sense of both beauty and abandonment; and a sense that something is missing in life. It is important they feel special as an adult, for they did not feel so when young. There is a strong sense of abandonment in them, and they react badly to any perceived rejection or to being misunderstood. They are frequently negative toward that which is close, and positive toward the unobtainable and far away. In the face of their swirling emotions, they can become controlling people. Unable to control their inner environment, they impose order beyond. They can be attracted by intensity. And they can be great.


These people will drift toward the corner, happy to hide themselves. They will tend to be quiet, avoidant, loners. They will use words carefully, more aware of what they think than what they feel. They tend to be observers, seeking to understand the world, before taking part. They are stingy with the time they offer relationships. Life is compartmentalized into different boxes, and every box has a time limit. In a heated situation, their first step is always back, and they fear spontaneous confrontation. They value self-control, seek predictability, and use knowledge to fill the emptiness they feel. And they can be great.


Trust, security and authority are significant issues for these people. They are always searching for security, but don’t know where to find it. They are ambivalent towards authority – both seeking it, and fighting it. They have powerful imaginations, with a tendency toward the paranoid version of reality. They scan the horizon for danger constantly, in order to be prepared. Dominated by their head, internal debates can go round and round in their minds, paralysing decision making. They are fearful people, who will either plunge recklessly at what they fear – or run away. They struggle to imagine they have any inner authority of their own. And they can be great.


These people tend to be planning their way into the future; and the future is where their interest lies. They are instinctive planners, working to keep options open, escape routes clear and with a deep fear of being bored. They seek out social settings – but remain individualists in all settings. A persistent feeling of alienation can leave them wondering whether they are loved in this world; true connection always seems denied them. To compensate, they are greedy for experience, particularly new experience. It is pain they most fiercely reject, and will do anything in their power to avoid facing it. They can prefer a small taste of many adventures, rather than feast of just one. And they can be great.


These people take pride in their power and strength, and if they are not in charge, will take on the one who is. Life is warfare, and the truth comes out in the battle. They want others to understand what they want to say – but is a monologue, not a dialogue. They tend to be building their own kingdom; have a great lust for life, with all its tastes and experiences; and feel constrained by anyone else’s rules. They live by confrontation, and if there isn’t any, they will create it. They despise weakness in others, just as they can’t face it themselves. They seek to control people and territory, and often relationships are more about protection than intimacy. And they can be great.


These people feel happiest amid peace and unity. Conflict is the last thing they wish to face. They may be considered easy going by some, but beneath is a stubborn streak. With no very clear identity of their own, they tend to merge their identity with those of other people. They are very dependent on others for affirmation; something their low self-esteem craves. They are aware of how people perceive them. Anger is their primary issue, but is well-buried, exploding only occasionally. It is usually expressed passively, or in surges of irritation at other people. Tendency towards inertia, unfocused use of time, and dislike of change and the new. And they can be great.

Reading and making contact

If these doorways have stirred anything in you, please see my book, The Enneagram, which explains more of my approach.

Also see AH AlmaasHelen PalmerRichard RohrSandra MaitriSuzanne Zuercher and Don Richard Riso, who have all written well on the subject.

If you would like a personal Enneagram consultation, do not hesitate to make contact. Books are good, but the Enneagram is best learned through face to face encounter. For most of its life, the Enneagram has been an oral tradition.