Note: This was originally published on 12/9/07.
Every so often, someone comes along to critique the Enneagram (or, at least, an interpretation of the Enneagram) on the basis that it is too negative. One such critic is Susan Rhodes. In her article "Let's De-Pathologize the Enneagram" in the October 2006 issue of Enneagram Monthly (downloadable, for free, here), she writes, "I never liked the idea of looking at personality as a way to measure pathology. I liked looking at personality as a way to explore individual differences. That's why the MBTI appealed to me so much.
When I encountered the enneagram, I tried to use the MBTI personality descriptions as a reference point for enneagram descriptions. But I found this almost impossible to do. It wasn't because the two systems had a different number of types or even a different way of determining the types. It was because the enneagram descriptions read more like 'neurosis types' than personality types. They seemed to reflect such a pessimistic philosophy of human nature."
I have a different perspective. I am a big fan of the Myers-Briggs system, but I think the Enneagram has a huge advantage over it, precisely because of the "pessimistic philosophy" which is, indeed, present within it. Here's an apt quote from The Enneagram: A Journey of Self-Discovery, by Maria Beesing, et al, "In the beginning of this Enneagramic journey into the self what is being asked is the willingness to acknowledge oneself as a sinner. Compulsions are selfish as is typical of sin. They amount to a distortion in being as one ought to be. All the nine types are sin types... If the Enneagram is to be useful, one must discover the negativity of one's personality. Only then can one begin the process of being freed from the compulsion."
This, to me, is the brilliance of the Enneagram. First, it lures you in with what seems to be a neutral to positive description of personality. To a five, it says, Would you agree that your mind is your strongest asset? Would you agree that privacy is something that you value? To the two it says, Would you agree that your personal relationships are of utmost importance to you? Would you characterize yourself as a helpful person? And so on for all of the types.
Next, it says, okay, if you agree, with that, Five, then how about this: Here are all the ways that greed manifests itself in your life. Two, pride is killing you. And so on for each of the types. This second piece is that much harder to dismiss because the first piece was so compelling, and with true realization of the cost of sin comes the willingness to change.
I remember being in Russ Hudson's Psychic Structures and the Superego workshop , learning to meditate, learning to cultivate Presence, growing in compassion, and thinking (as a skeptic and, until recently, an atheist), If it weren't for the Enneagram's precision as a psychological descriptor, I wouldn't even be here to listen to its spiritual implications. And, oh, how I needed to be there!