The Enneagram (pronounced any-a-gram) figure is a circle inscribed by nine points. In Greek, ennea means nine and gramma means point. Each point portrays a distinctive personality style that has its own way of viewing, construing, and responding to people and events. Each style has both adaptive or resourceful and non-adaptive or non-resourceful cognitive, emotional, and behavioral strategies for self-maintenance and enhancement, for interpersonal relating, and for problem solving.
This array can be compared to a wheel of colors. If you shine light into a prism, it fans out into a spectrum of the basic colors. Following this metaphor, every person contains all the hues of the spectrum although one color particularly stands out or characterizes each individual. From a psychological perspective, human nature is expressed in nine natural fundamental ways; from a philosophical viewpoint, being is disclosed through nine essential characteristics; from a spiritual point of view, divinity descends and shows itself through nine earthly manifestations.
Within all of us, there are certain universal qualities that express the essence of the human person. We prize these essential characteristics as values and strive to realize them in ourselves and in the world. These principles, such as goodness, truth, and compassion, have an adaptive function whereby if we follow them, we will have an objective vision toward ourselves and others, using adaptive cognitive schemas, and we will live in a virtuous state of being with adaptive emotional schemas.
If our values and visions are threatened or discounted, we experience vulnerability and may develop a personality strategy to protect our sensibilities and to compensate for characteristics in our selves we fear might be lacking. This personality is usually an overly exaggerated expression of some valued quality of our true person. It attempts to defend and maintain our self in the face of our critics, to appease them, to gain their attention and approval, to win them over to our side, or to defeat them. Personality relies on repetitive thought, feeling, and behavioral patterns giving us a distorted subjective vision with maladaptive cognitive schemas that are driven by maladaptive emotional schemas or vices.
When we are functioning from our natural person, our values and vision are clear and our problem-solving capacities are optimal. When we operate from the strategies of our personality, our values are conflicted, our vision is narrow and opaque, and our actions are impulsive, compulsive, scattered, and less effective.
The Enneagram is a useful tool for understanding both the “upside” and “downside” of our personality styles.