A Comparison of the Nine Enneagram Personality Styles and Theodore Millons’ Eight Personality Patterns
by Jerome Wagner, Ph.D.
There are several congenial correlations between the nine styles of the Enneagram and the eight personality patterns proposed by Theodore Millon, Ph.D. (1969) who is an influential personality theorist, personality and clinical test developer, and a member of the task force that formulated one of the earliest versions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association. Since the correlations are in the direction one would expect, given the dynamics of each typology, the results provide some concurrent validity for both systems.
Millon devised a typology which defines eight personality patterns. His formulation of the genesis of these personality patterns parallels in many ways the Enneagram conception of the development of ego-fixations, particularly along the lines of Claudio Naranjo’s theorizing (1994). Millon suggests that personality patterns result from an interaction between our genetic dispositions and temperament and our social environment which reinforces, punishes, or ignores our behavioral experiments. Nature + nurture = personality.
In the first years of life, children engage in a wide variety of spontaneous behaviors. Although they display certain characteristics consonant with their innate or constitutional dispositions, their way of reacting to others and coping with their environment tends, at first, to be capricious and unpredictable; flexibility and changeability characterize their moods, attitudes, and behaviors. This seemingly random behavior serves an exploratory function; each child is ‘trying out’ and testing during this period alternative modes for coping with his environment. As time progresses, the child learns which techniques ‘work,’ that is, which of these varied behaviors enable him to achieve his desires and avoid discomforts. Endowed with a distinctive pattern of capacities, energies and temperaments, which serve as base, he learns specific preferences among activities and goals and, perhaps of greater importance, learns that certain types of behaviors and strategies are especially successful for him in obtaining these goals. In his interaction with parents, siblings, and peers, he learns to discriminate which goals are permissible, which are rewarded and which are not.
Throughout these years, then, a shaping process has taken place in which the range of initially diverse behaviors becomes narrowed, selective and, finally, crystallized into particular preferred modes of seeking and achieving. In time, these behaviors persist and become accentuated; not only are they highly resistant to extinction but they are reinforced by the restrictions and repetitions of a limited social environment, and are perpetuated and intensified by the child’s own perceptions, needs, and actions. Thus, given a continuity in basic biological equipment, and a narrow band of experiences for learning behavioral alternatives, the child develops a distinctive pattern of characteristics that are deeply etched, cannot be eradicated easily and pervade every facet of his functioning. In short, these characteristics are the essence and sum of his personality, his automatic way of perceiving, feeling, thinking and behaving. (Millon, 1969, p. 221)
Millon describes a personality pattern as:
…those intrinsic and pervasive modes of functioning which emerge from the entire matrix of the individual’s developmental history, and which now characterize his perceptions and ways of dealing with his environment. We have chosen the term pattern for two reasons: first, to focus on the fact that these behaviors and attitudes derive from the constant and pervasive interaction of both biological dispositions and learned experience; and second, to denote the fact that these personality characteristics are not just a potpourri of unrelated behavior tendencies, but a tightly knit organization of needs, attitudes and behaviors. People may start out in life with random and diverse reactions, but the repetitive sequence of reinforcing experiences to which they are exposed gradually narrows their repertoire to certain habitual strategies, perceptions and behavior which become prepotent, and come to characterize their distinctive and consistent way of relating to the world. (Millon, 1969, p. 221)
In Millon’s theory the individual’s personality pattern becomes the foundation for his or her capacity to function in a mentally healthy or unhealthy way:
When an individual displays an ability to cope with his environment in a flexible and adaptive manner and when his characteristic perceptions and behaviors foster increments in personal gratification, then he may be said to possess a normal and healthy personality pattern. Conversely, when average responsibilities and everyday relationships are responded to inflexibly or defectively, or when the individual’s characteristic perceptions and behaviors foster increments in personal discomfort or curtail his opportunities to learn and grow, then a pathological personality pattern may be said to exist. (Millon, 1969, p. 222).
I think many Enneagram theorists would agree that health involves being flexible and adaptable enough to access the internal resources of all nine Enneagram styles to bring them to bear on whatever environmental exigencies are present. We have many tools in our toolkit, not just a hammer, to deal with our problems. Or to use another analogy, given the requirements of the situation, we have nine players on our inner team that we can bring into the game instead of just the two or three with whom we are most familiar and comfortable.
Sometimes we are required to be exact as when performing brain surgery; sometimes we need to be unfocused and brooding to allow a new solution to arise from our unconscious. There are times when we need to bring force to bear on a situation when justice requires an intervention; there are times when we need to go with the flow, allowing nature to take its course. Sometimes we need to keep the law to avoid intersection collisions; sometimes we need to break the law to overcome tyranny. Sometimes we need to use our head; and sometimes our heart. There is a time to be serious and a time to play; a time to weep and a time to rejoice.
Some time ago (Wagner, 1981) I conducted a research project comparing the nine Enneagram styles with Theodore Millon’s (1969) eight personality types. While it’s not easy squeezing nine into eight, I did find some significant correlations between the two systems with each Enneagram style showing a distinct profile of Millon’s eight patterns. Among other things, the differences help tease out how Enneagram look-alikes are not-alike. And even though the study was done in the past, the comparisons should still hold up in the present.
The sample consisted of 390 subjects, combined from various groups. There were 311 women and 79 men, with ages ranging from 19-82. The age distribution of the sample followed a bell curve with most of the subjects in the 20-60 age range.
For this study I constructed a 135 item Enneagram Personality Inventory, (Wagner, 1981) to assess Enneagram styles and used the 150 item Millon-Illinois Self-Report Inventory (Millon, 1974) to determine Millon’s types. The MISRI was designed for nonclinical normal adults. Millon went on to develop the Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory (MCMI) to measure a more pathological clinical population.
I eventually developed a questionnaire, the Wagner Enneagram Personality Style Scales (1999) with much more robust reliability and validity.
Even with the lower reliability and validity of these early instruments, all of the differences among the Enneagram types and Millon scales were significantly different beyond the .0001 level except on Millon’s active-ambivalent scale 8 which at .05 was still statistically significant. Apparently a little ambivalence shows up even in testing.
I’ll give a brief summary of Millon’s theory of types along with his description of the eight patterns and then show how the Enneagram styles scored in his system.
Millon describes eight personality patterns based on whether we seek comfort and satisfaction (positive reinforcement) or attempt to avoid emotional pain and distress (negative reinforcement); whether we seek satisfactions from outside or within ourselves; and whether we actively or passively go about maximizing rewards and minimizing pain. Individuals who seem aroused and attentive, arranging and manipulating life events to achieve gratification and avoid discomfort, display an active pattern; those who seem apathetic, restrained, yielding, resigned, or seemingly content to allow events to take their own course without personal regulation or control, possess a passive pattern.
Detached types are those persons who fail to seek positive reinforcements and who experience few rewards or satisfactions in life, be it from self or others.
1. Passive-detached/apathetic/asocial personalities seek neither to gain positive reinforcements nor to avoid negative reinforcements. Their self-image is “I am complacent “and their interpersonal attitude is indifference. They may come from an impersonal family background and their temperamental disposition is phlegmatic or anhedonic.
High scorers tend to keep to themselves, appearing rather quiet and unemotional. They are undemanding, even-handed, fair-minded and not easily excited. They tend not to get emotionally involved with others and do not often feel strongly about things. They do not avoid other people, but simply feel indifferent about having others around.
2. Active-detached/sensitive/avoidant personalities do not seek positive reinforcements from others or from themselves but do seek to avoid negative ones. Their self-image is “I am alienated” and their interpersonal attitude is distrustful. They may have experienced parental rejection and deprecation in their family background and their temperamental disposition is threctic, representing a fearfulness and vulnerability to threat, sensitivity to stimulation, and tenseness and hyperirritability.
High scorers tend to be quite shy or socially ill-at-ease with others. These persons would like to be close to people but have learned that it is better to maintain one’s distance and not to trust the friendship of others. Although they often feel lonely, they avoid close interpersonal contact, often fearing rejection and tending to keep their sometimes very strong feelings to themselves. They may be tense and cranky and withdrawing and can provoke hostile and rejecting attitudes from others.
Dependent types are those individuals who experience reinforcements from sources other than themselves and who measure their satisfactions or discomforts by how others react to or feel about them.
3. Passive-dependent/cooperative/submissive personalities wait for others to provide reinforcements. Their self-image is “I am inadequate” and their interpersonal attitude is compliance. They may have had over-protective parents and their temperament is a combination of melancholic and threctic.
High scorers tend to be soft-hearted, sentimental and kindly in relationships with others. They are extremely reluctant to assert themselves, however, and avoid taking initiative or assuming a leadership role. They are inclined to be quite dependent on others, preferring to let them take the lead and give direction. It is typical of them to “play down” their own achievements and to underestimate their abilities. They present a gentle, sad, fearful visage and style that provokes warmth and over-protection from others.
4. Active-dependent /sociable/gregarious personalities manipulate and seduce others to provide reinforcements for them. Their self-image is “I am sociable” and their interpersonal attitude is seductive. In their families they experienced irregular positive reinforcements of good behaviors and no negative reinforcement for bad behavior. There was a variety of sources of gratification. Millon did not assign a temperamental label for this pattern – though sanguine might describe this approach.
High scorers are talkative, socially charming and frequently dramatic or emotionally expressive. They tend to have strong, but usually brief relationships with others. These persons always look for new excitements and interesting experiences. They often find themselves becoming bored with routine and longstanding relationships. They are active and responsive and provoke varied and stimulating reactions from others.
Independent types are persons who experience reinforcements primarily from themselves, whose gratification is gauged primarily in terms of their own values and desires with little reference to the concerns and wishes of others.
5. Passive-independent/self-assured/narcissistic personalities are self-satisfied and content to leave matters be. Their self image is “I am admirable” and their interpersonal attitude is exploitive. Pampered and indulged, they experienced non-contingent positive reinforcement in their families. Here, again, Millon assigns no temperamental disposition, though sanguine might fit.
High scorers tend to be quite confident in their abilities and are often seen by others as self-centered and egocentric. They rarely doubt their own self-worth and act in a self-assured manner. These persons tend to take others for granted and often do not share or concern themselves with the needs of those to whom they relate.
6. Active-independent/assertive/aggressive personalities seek to arrogate more power to themselves. Their self image is “I am assertive” and their interpersonal attitude is vindictive. They may have experienced non-contingent punishment in their families and their temperament is choleric and parmic, representing a fearless, aggressive, thick-skinned approach to life.
High scorers are strong-willed and tough minded, tending to lead and dominate others. They frequently question the abilities of others and prefer to take over responsibility and direction in most situations. They are often blunt and unkind, tending to be impatient with the problems of weaknesses of others. They are both suspicious of others and confident in their powers of self-sufficiency. Their acting out, aggressive, impulsive, intrusive, and incorrigible behavior provokes aggression from others.
Ambivalent types are those who have conflicting attitudes about dependence and independence, who experience considerable conflict over whether to be guided by what others say and wish or to follow their own opposing desires and needs.
7. Passive-ambivalent/disciplined/conforming personalities submerge their desire for independence and behave in an overly acquiescent manner. They are dependent on the outside and independent on the inside. Their self image is “I am conscientious” and their interpersonal attitude is respectful. They had over-controlling parents who scheduled them and experienced regular contingent punishment. Their temperament is a combination of threctic-choleric-anhedonic.
High scorers are very serious-minded, efficient, and rule-conscious persons who try to do the “right” and “proper” things. They tend to keep their emotions under check and dislike “showy” people. They prefer to live their lives in a very orderly and well-planned fashion, avoiding unpredictable and unexpected situations. They restrain their anger out of fear. They know what they should not do, but not what they can do.
8. Active-ambivalent/unpredictable/negativistic personalities vacillate erratic-ally from a position of dependence to a position of independence. Their self image is “I am discontented” and their interpersonal attitude is vacillation. They experienced parental inconsistency and so were unable to predict the consequences of their behavior. Their temperament is a combination of threctic-melancholic-choleric.
High scorers tend to be discontent and pessimistic. They often find themselves behaving unpredictably: sometimes being out-going and enthusiastic; then changing quickly to the opposite. They often feel guilt about their moodiness, apologize to the people involved, but soon are just as moody as ever. As children who were difficult to schedule, irritable, sullen, peevish, testy, fretful, and nervous, they provoked confusion and vacillation in their parents and now, as adults, in others.
Now let’s take the Enneagram styles in turn and see how they correlated with Millon’s types. Each Enneatype has a distinct configuration of Millon’s patterns.
Enneagram Style One (N=71) practically paralleled the pattern of all the Enneagram types averaged together (N=390). In the graphs, the dotted line is the average of all the Enneatypes while the solid line is the average of each particular Enneagram type. Ones scored highest on Millon’s passive-ambivalent scale (7), which is his disciplined or conforming pattern. These individuals are described by Millon as being serious-minded, efficient, and rule-conscious persons who try to do the “right” and “proper” things. They are perfectionistic, compulsive, legalistic, righteous, and moralistic. They adopt a “good boy,” “good girl” image. In their childhood they were taught a deep sense of responsibility to others and a feeling of guilt when these responsibilities have not been met. As youngsters they were moralized to inhibit their natural inclinations toward frivolous play and impulse gratification. These are all remarkable One-like characterizations.
Enneagram Style Two (N=83) scored highest on Millon’s passive-dependent personality scale (3). This is the cooperative or submissive type of person. High scorers tend to be soft-hearted, sentimental, and kindly in their relationships with others. They are inclined to be dependent on others for approval. Twos also scored higher on Millon’s active-dependent scale (4). By their helping behavior, they are actively trying to solicit the approval of others. Twos scored lower on Millon’s independent personality scales (Millon 5 and 6) and were also less detached (Millon scales 1 and 2) than the average Enneatype.
Enneagram Style Three (N=28) scored highest on Millon’s passive-independent/self-assured/narcissistic personality pattern (5). High scorers here tend to be quite confident in their abilities and are often seen by others as self-centered and egocentric. They convey a calm, self-assured quality in their social behavior which is sometimes perceived by others as immodest, haughty, cocksure, and arrogant. They exaggerate their powers, transform failure into success, and inflate their self worth. Threes also scored high on Millon’s active independent/gregarious/sociable scale (6). High scorers here are talkative, socially charming, and frequently dramatic or emotionally expressive. Not surprisingly, threes scored low on Millon’s detached patterns (1 and 2) since they move towards and against, not away from people.
Enneagram Style Four (N=28) scored highest on the passive/dependent scale (3). They are dependent on others’ approval and acceptance, but tend to stand off, waiting for others to notice them and invite them into the group. They are also high on the active/dependent scale (4). Through their suffering and specialness, they seek to draw others to them. Fours scored low on the independent scales (Millon 5 and 6). They were lower than the average on Millon’s scale 7, the disciplined style. Fours want to be original, not conforming. Some of the Fours scored high on Millon’s active-detached scale (2), the sensitive personality. These Fours (like Fives) actively avoid involvement to keep from being misunderstood and hurt.
Enneagram Style Five (N=59) scored higher than the average Enneatypes on Millon’s detached patterns (1 and 2) and lower on Millon’s styles 4 (gregarious), 5 (self-assured) and 6 (assertive). High scorers on the passive-detached/apathetic pattern (Millon 1) tend to keep to themselves, appearing rather quiet and unemotional. They are even-handed, fair-minded, and not easily excited. They tend not to get emotionally involved with others and do not often feel strongly about things. As we shall see, Fives share some of this pattern with their look-alike Nines. Where they differ is their higher elevation on Millon’s style 2 the active-detached/avoidant pattern. High scorers on this scale tend to be shy or socially ill-at-ease with others. These persons would like to be close to people but have learned that it is better to maintain one’s distance and not to trust the friendship of others. This is in contrast to passive-detached asocial individuals (Millon scale 1) who do not avoid other people, but simply feel indifferent about having others around. Avoidant personalities (Millon scale 2) are highly alert to social stimuli and are oversensitive to the moods and feelings of others, especially those which portend rejection and humiliation. While passive-detached personalities (Nines) tend to drift to the shore, active-detached personalities (Fives) head for the hills.
Enneagram Style Six (N=38) scored higher than the average on both the passive and active detached scales (1 and 2) and on the passive-dependent scale (Millon 3) where they competed with the Twos for the highest scores on this cooperative/submissive/compliant scale. Sixes (at least the fearful variety) want to belong in the group and want to be aligned with authority. Sixes were lower than average on the gregarious, self-assured, and assertive scales (Millon 4, 5, 6) and appeared the least aggressive of all the types. In contrast to their Five neighbors, Sixes were less passively-detached Millon scale 1), but more actively-detached (Millon scale 2). Perhaps their fear makes them even more wary and cautious than their hyper-alert neighbors. Sixes were more gregarious (Millon scale 4) but noticeably less self-assured (Millon scale 5) than Fives.
Enneagram Style Seven (N=19) came out less detached (Millon 1 and 2), dependent (Millon 3), and disciplined (Millon 7) than the other Enneagram styles and more gregarious, self-assured, and assertive (Millon 4, 5, 6). This appears to reflect the Sevens’ self-image of “I am O.K.,” their outgoing nature, their liking for parties and social events, and their tendency towards gluttony which would not lead them to a high disciplined score. Interestingly and fittingly the different groups that made up the Seven sample had the most variability amongst themselves of all the Enneagram types. This might have been due to the small sample size or this is what tracking a collection of butterflies looks like.
Enneagram Style Eight (N=39) profile came out almost the opposite of the other Enneagram types – giving new meaning to the term oppositional character. Eights were decidedly less detached (Millon scales 1 and 2), dependent (Millon scale 3), and conforming (Millon scale 7), while being more gregarious, self-assured, and assertive (Millon scales 4, 5, 6) than the average Enneatype. They displayed a 5 (passive independent), 4 (active dependent), 6 (active independent) pattern for their highest scales but were by far the highest scorers among the Enneagram types on the active independent assertive scale 6. Millon describes high scorers on this scale as strong-willed and tough-minded, tending to lead and dominate others. They frequently question the abilities of others and prefer to take over responsibility and direction in most situations. They are often blunt and unkind and are driven by a need to assert their own superiority. Independence for them stems not so much from a belief in self-worth, as from a fear and mistrust of others. They feel secure only when they are independent of those who may harm and humiliate them. These and further descriptions of the active-independent personality read like they are taken directly from the Eight’s playbook.
Enneagram Style Nine (N=25) profile, in contrast to the Eights but like the Ones, followed the general overall pattern of all the other styles. Apparently even on personality inventories, Nines do not like to differentiate themselves from others. The Nine profile has an affinity to the Enneagram type Five and Six configurations. Like the Fives and Sixes, Nines scored higher on the detached scales (Millon scales 1 and 2). They scored higher on the passive-dependent scale (Millon scale 3) than the average – more so than the Fives but less so than the Sixes. Nines scored lower than the average on the gregarious, self-assured, and assertive scales (Millon 4, 5, and 6). They were more gregarious and assertive than Enneatypes Five and Six and more self-assured than Sixes but less assured than Fives. Nines, Fives, and Sixes show different elevations in their scales which might help in differentiating them. Not surprisingly Nines scored lower than the average on the disciplined personality scale (Millon 7). Nines tend to be more “whatever”, relaxed, and loose rather than rigid, uptight, and driven.
As can be seen in the accompanying figures, each Enneagram style has a profile distinct from all the other Enneatypes on Millon’s typology, providing some confirmation that there might indeed be nine distinct Enneagram styles. Also the correlations among the Enneagram and Millon types are, for the most part, congenial by being in the direction one would expect. For example Ones are disciplined while Nines, not so much. This yields some concurrent validity to both systems. These varying profiles also point to some underlying dissimilarities among Enneatype look-alikes.
Even a cursory knowledge of Millon’s patterns might be useful in distinguishing between Enneagram look-alikes.
Ones and Sixes look alike in that both are conscientious, responsible, rule-abiding, accountable, etc.
But Sixes are more asocial and avoidant and more cooperative than Ones. And they are less sociable, self-assured, and assertive than Ones. Ones have an edge, however, on being disciplined.
Twos and Sevens look alike when Twos try to cheer you up if they can’t help you and Sevens try to help you if they can’t cheer you up.
Twos and Sevens are about the same when it comes to being asocial and avoidant. Both are below average. But Twos are much more cooperative and much less assertive than Sevens. And they are more disciplined.
Threes and Eights are both problem/solution/action oriented, assertive, energetic, etc.
Both are much less detached than the other Enneatypes. But Threes are more dependent and submissive than Eights; both are equally self-assured but Eights are more aggressive. Threes are considerably more disciplined and less unpredictable. So Eights would be more: “Let’s step on it;” while Threes would be: “Let’s calibrate it.”
Fours and Sevens look alike when Fours are on the manic side of their mood swings though Sevens might decline the invitation to swing down to the melancholy side.
Fours tend to be a little more sensitive than Sevens but not as much as one might expect. Fours are more passive-dependent/cooperative than Sevens but just about as active-dependent/gregarious as Sevens. Fours are less assertive but more disciplined and unpredictable than Sevens.
Fives and Nines are alike in that both are on the sidelines. However Nines have drifted there, while Fives have headed there.
While both Fives and Nines are more detached than the other Enneagram styles, Fives are more asocial and a little more avoidant than Nines. Nines are more submissive than Fives and are more gregarious but a little less self-assured. Fives are more disciplined than Nines and not as unpredictable.
Readers are invited to explore these Enneagram-Millon profiles to see how Enneatypes differ in their underlying dynamics even though they may look alike on the surface.
Millon, T. (1969) Modern psychopathology. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Co.
Millon, T. (1974) Millon-Illinois Self-Report Inventory (MISRI). Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Co.
Naranjo, C. (1994) Character and neurosis: An integrative view. Nevada City, CA: Gateways/IDHHB.
Wagner, J. (1981) A descriptive, reliability, and validity study of the Enneagram personality typology. Ph.D., 1981, Loyola University, Chicago. 41/11A. GAX 81-09973.
Wagner, J. (1999) Wagner Enneagram Personality Style Scales: Los Angeles: Western Psychological Services. www.wepss.com