The question is frequently asked: what exactly is the enneagram? Here I explain:
In a nutshell
The Enneagram is often called a personality typing system. The basic premise of which is that human personality traits can generally be grouped into nine categories. While it is certainly that, it is also much, much more.
While the Enneagram is a description of our preferred personality styles, it also provides for us a clear roadmap to the parts of ourselves that often remain hidden and underutilized. This can be a transformative process. A wise teacher, Ginger Lapida-Bogda describes it as "a study of the Human Ego Structures". This, to me, is the best descriptor I have found.
It is often said that the Enneagram "gets us out of the box that we have put ourselves into." Thus, it is the opposite of the assumption of many personality systems, in that it doesn't put you into a category, rather it helps to get you out of the one you might already be stuck in. Which is not to say that the teachings promote change for the sake of change--it clearly recognizes the gifts and strengths we all carry and present to the world.
The Enneagram philosophy and theory has shown up in various forms in writings going back for centuries. It was synthesized in the 20th century by a teacher in Chile, Oscar Ichazo, whose student Claudio Naranjo, an American psychiatrist, brought the teachings to the United States. It was developed into its most crystalized forms by a group of psychologists and spiritual masters in the 1970s. Many schools of study grew from there.
There is no copywrited version of the Enneagram. The study and evolution of this knowledge is fluid and brings forth current wisdoms and understandings, while keeping true to its most pure historical roots. One school of Enneagram study, The Narrative Enneagram, is based on just that: the narratives of individuals and their unique experience. There are certainly other valid schools, all of which I have drawn upon in my own study. But each of them, in my opinion, has some element of this narrative thread, which runs through the course of development of the teachings and particularly the expression of the philosophy.
Because no one corporation, institution or individual owns the Enneagram, the sharing of knowledge is very community-minded and based on a philosophy of shared wisdom. This is another aspect of it that is unique.
How the tool is used
Because the Enneagram shows us how to connect with all the parts of ourselves, even those aspects that we have suppressed, buried or denied, we are able to more grow into our truest selves. Thus, we access the entirety of who we are as humans. This is a hugely significant growth tool, and for some, it can be a bit uncomfortable. One way to guide and nurture this growth is to do so within a community of similar explorers, a coach, a therapist or a spiritual directors.
The professional practices of Spiritual Direction, Counseling and Psychotherapy often incorporate Enneagram theory and practice. Organizational Consultants such as myself may utilize the Enneagram in the development of executive leadership, management competencies, teams and organizational culture. Coaches can use it in Life Coach practice and in Leadership Coaching. It is often another tool in the tool box for many professional practices.
Anyone who works or lives with others in any setting can use this tool to build better working and personal relationships. Individuals the world over use it daily in these ways. In the sphere of personal, intimate and family relationships, many have grown their understanding of others, while more fully understanding their own behaviors. It is as Ginger Lapid-Bogda states, "the most powerful and practical system available for increasing emotional intelligence, with insights that can be used for personal and professional development" (1). For this single reason, it is immensely helpful in terms of business and interpersonal relationships, as well as personal growth.
Why the Enneagram?
The world demands the best of us right now. Most of us are seeing this very clearly. Even if we only care for and nurture our own little corner of the universe, if we all found more capacities to do so, what wonderful changes might take place? I think it is worth finding out.
By discovering the wider range of who we are, we bring more to the world, to our work and to our relationships. By waking up to who we are, our consciousness is raised and our humanity is magnified. What could be more relevant and important now?
"The Enneagram Is a Map for Understanding the Self and is a way to look at our Lens, through which we view the world...
The ENNEAGRAM (nine points) is a personality system that presents a useful template or map for understanding ourselves, the important people in our life, and the groups we work with. It describes nine ways of processing and responding to the world– a full spectrum of personality styles. We view the world through lenses which either bring great clarity or various degrees of distortion to our vision. The Enneagram enables us to look at our lenses instead of just looking through them."
(1) “Bringing Out the Best inEveryone You Coach: Use the Enneagram System for Exceptional Results” by Ginger Lapid-Bogda, Ph.D. (San Fransico,, McGraw Hill, 2010)