What is the Enneagram? How can the Enneagram help me? Which number on the Enneagram am I? Does the Enneagram work?
We often hear these questions about the Enneagram. Answering them can take a few minutes and an entire lifetime. This blog post provides a brief introduction to this ancient personality tool and a compilation of different resources created by Father Richard Rohr, the Center for Action and Contemplation, and others. We hope it helps you begin to discover and live more fully as your True Self.
Click the section-headings below to learn more about the Enneagram:
Self-exploration is best accompanied by a contemplative or meditative practice. We over-identify with our repetitive thoughts and feelings. Contemplative prayer helps us let go of who we think we are and rest in simple awareness of Presence. Learn more about the Center for Action and Contemplation.
The Enneagram: A (Very) Short History
The Enneagram is old. It has roots in several wisdom traditions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Seven of the nine Enneagram types are associated with the “capital” or “deadly” sins which originated with the Desert Fathers. But it was not until the late 1960s that Oscar Ichazo began teaching the Enneagram as we know it today. From Ichazo’s school in South America, a group of Jesuits learned the system and brought it back with them to the United States. Richard Rohr learned about the Enneagram from this group and was one of the first people to publish a book about it in English.
The Enneagram gained popularity as a tool within spiritual direction. Today it is widely taught as a way of understanding personality, addiction, relationships, and vocation.
The Enneagram: What It Is and What It Isn’t
The Enneagram is a dynamic system. It was developed primarily in an oral tradition, in the context of relationships between students and teachers. A “dynamic system” is one that recognizes that humans are far too complex and nuanced to fit easily into simple categories; it supports the evolving, maturing human journey.
The Enneagram is not a strict law or code. Its categories are not meant to bind or restrict you to a certain way of being and living. People who know the Enneagram in a superficial way think it’s about putting people into boxes, but it actually works to free people from their self-created boxes.
The Enneagram is a powerful tool for self-discovery and spiritual transformation. But it shouldn’t be your only tool. The Enneagram is most helpful when used in conjunction with other practices like study, meditation, spiritual direction, and life in community with others.
The Enneagram is not just a personality typing system. Yes, there are tests and quizzes that help you identify your primary Enneagram type, but that is often just the first step. This tool is meant to help you over a life-long journey.
While self-discovery is important, it is not the Enneagram’s final objective. The Enneagram’s purpose is to help us uncover the traps that keep us from living fully and freely as our True Self so that we will use our unique, authentic gifts for the good of others and the world.
For a more in-depth introduction to the Enneagram, check out these three posts by Father Richard Rohr:
Knowing Ourselves: When used in conjunction with a regular practice of contemplative prayer, the Enneagram can be powerfully transformative. It can open us to deeper and deeper levels of understanding and insight, love and grace.
Loving the Whole Self: Our deepest sin and our greatest gift are two sides of the same coin. When we are excessively fixated on our supposed gift it becomes a sin. Maintaining this self-image, this false self, becomes more important than anything else.
Belly, Heart, and Head: The Enneagram is organized around three Triads: gut (instinctive), heart (feeling), and head (thinking). We need each part to be awake and integrated in order to do our inner work and to truly love ourselves, others, and God in a holistic, non-dual manner.
The Enneagram: 9 Personality Types
The Enneagram is divided into nine distinct personality types. As you read the descriptions of each, you may discover that you feel deep resonance with one or many of the different types. In fact, all of us have a little bit of each one inside us.
Below are short summaries of the nine types with a link to a reflection by Richard Rohr where you can learn more about each number.
Vice: Anger and resentment
Basic Desire: Goodness, integrity, excellence
Further Reading: Without prayer, love, and nature, ONEs can scarcely imagine cheerful serenity and patience, but remain aggressive idealists and ideologues.
Basic Desire: To give and receive love
Further Reading: TWOs are redeemed from themselves the more they experience God as the real lover and realize that their puny love can only consist in sharing in God’s infinite love.
Vice: Deceit (especially self-deceit)
Basic Desire: To feel valuable
Further Reading: THREEs need endless successes and feedback to reassure themselves against a very honest and realistic insecurity.
Virtue: Equanimity (appreciating life just as it is)
Basic Desire: To be uniquely themselves
Further Reading: The essence of the FOUR is the mystery of our true identity. It feels oceanic, deep, unfathomable, mysterious. FOURs live for beauty, intimacy, and depth.
Virtue: Non-attachment (not clinging and not avoiding)
Vice: Avarice (for knowledge and for personal privacy)
Basic Desire: Mastery, understanding
Further Reading: The essential core of the FIVE is the soul’s capacity to be illuminated and to illuminate, to make things clear.
Basic Desire: To have support, guidance
Further Reading: The original blessing of the SIX is the quality of awakeness . . . that gives you an unshakable courage to take your place and walk your walk in the world.
Virtue: Sobriety (a sober joy despite life’s difficulties)
Vice: Gluttony (an insatiable quest for new experiences and options)
Basic Desire: To be satisfied and content
Further Reading: SEVENs are people who radiate joy and optimism. Their motto is “More is always better.” Mostly they are gluttonous for fun and options.
Virtue: Innocence (or mercy)
Vice: Lust (an addiction to intensity)
Basic Desire: Self-protection
Further Reading: Losing the sense of divine Presence makes EIGHTs feel vulnerable, deflated, and dead. The ego tries to force life into feeling real and alive again.
Virtue: Decisive action
Vice: Sloth (lack of focused energy)
Basic Desire: Wholeness, peace, harmony
Further Reading: NINEs once knew that reality was all about love, all connected, operative, and effective. Love changes everything; love resolves everything.
Here are additional audio, video, and print resources to help you understand more about the Enneagram and how to use this tool for your own spiritual and personal growth.
The Enneagram and Grace: 9 Journeys to Divine Presence (AUDIO)
Richard Rohr and Russ Hudson offer a deep study of the Enneagram. At its core, the Enneagram addresses the question of how we fail to recognize the presence of Grace in our lives. It helps us see the psychological issues that cause us to forget the Divine Presence here in each moment.
The Enneagram is an important aid in helping us gain clear self-knowledge and in awakening to our True Self. Rohr and Hudson offer lectures and practices to nurture transformation for ourselves, compassion for our companions, and prayer for the world.
Approximate length: 10.5 hours; available as CD and MP3 download from CAC’s Bookstore
The Enneagram as a Tool for Your Spiritual Journey (AUDIO & VIDEO)
In these talks, Richard Rohr and Russ Hudson go far beyond the identification of the nine Enneagram types. Their talks include in-depth explorations of the three centers: body, heart, and head. This study of the Enneagram shows the importance of compassion, grace, and the awakening of the soul.
Approximate length: 7.5 hours; available as DVD, CD, and MP3 download from CAC’s Bookstore
The Enneagram: The Discernment of Spirits (AUDIO & VIDEO)
Richard Rohr explores in detail each of the nine Enneagram types: their virtues, their compulsions, and their paths toward spiritual growth. For the serious learner of the Enneagram, this workshop offers clear, practical, and deep teaching.
Approximate length: 7 hours; available as DVD, CD, and MP3 download from CAC’s Bookstore
The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective (BOOK)
This is a significant revision of Richard Rohr’s original Enneagram book, with special emphasis on the Enneagram’s compatibility with Christian faith and the discernment of spirits. The book contains excellent diagrams to illustrate the relationship between the numbers and the ways that each Enneagram type develops and changes.
280 pages; available from CAC’s Bookstore
The Wisdom of the Enneagram (BOOK)
Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson, renowned Enneagram teachers and founders of the Enneagram Institute, offer an integrated model of the human psyche. This comprehensive model for spiritual and emotional development provides practical suggestions for greater self-awareness and freedom from fixations.
400 pages; available from most major booksellers
The Enneagram Institute offers a comprehensive personality test that can help you discern what Enneagram number or numbers you identify with the most. Just remember that while some people find this test helpful, it is only one step in applying the wisdom of the Enneagram to your life.