Why Study the Enneagram?
At first glance, the Enneagram seems to be just another system for
pigeon-holing people. But look twice and you see it’s describing
something central: your core strategy for making sense of reality, your
basic life stance, the axis of your flat earth. As you investigate the
system and compare its insights with your own experience, you may be
amazed at its depth and accuracy.
When people initially identify their Enneagram
style, they often feel stunned that the core of their psyche has been
so vividly exposed. Sometimes in life there are moments of creative
breakthrough – what are called “Ah Ha!” experiences – when you suddenly
see the familiar in a new way. The typical early encounter with the
Enneagram is more like an “Oh, my God!” experience, a mixture of
enthusiasm and horror.
Like motel room lighting, the system seems to
first highlight our less attractive features. The Enneagram is
uncomfortably specific about lies we tell ourselves, masks we wear for
others, excuses we have for not getting what we want. It shows us how
we get trapped in habits of perception, ignore our blind spots and
actively defend our illusions and vanities. We have expectations, we
make assumptions; we’re certain of the world that we have in our head.
But, sometimes we get things wrong.
While not for the fainthearted, the usefulness of
these insights quickly emerges. As you learn about your Enneagram
style, you’ll see clearly why you think and act the way you do. You’ll
uncover deep beliefs that have colored your perceptions and formerly
baffling aspects of your behavior will suddenly make sense. Right away,
the Enneagram will help you stand back and observe yourself
dispassionately, to take your own behavior less personally, to get out
of your own way.
You may see how your everyday actions are guided by
a central pattern, like a thought you think all day long. Your
Enneagram pattern is composed of habitual feelings, beliefs, attitudes,
personal myths and memories, old-but-familiar self-images and, behind
it all, an unconscious map of “the world.” To some degree, this pattern
acts like a shadow government, unconsciously driving your behavior,
sometimes usefully, sometimes in ways that confound your best
Getting to know this pattern in detail is an
important step towards making meaningful change. Learning about your
personality style can help you loosen rigid stances, shed old defenses
and create new patterns of thought, feeling and action. The Enneagram
offers a dynamic framework in which to understand your behavior,
especially enabling you to identify any psychic knots that you tied
early in childhood.
The Enneagram will also reveal your higher
capacities, the talents and aptitudes natural to your style, the
resources that are present when you are happiest or at your best. Some
of these you may already be conscious of, while others will surprise
you. In this sense, the Enneagram can work like a treasure map,
offering many clues about where to find your gold.
Socially the Enneagram has dozens of positive uses,
from understanding relationships to improving communication to handling
difficult people. The same depth of insight that you apply to yourself
will reveal the central patterns of people close to you: your mother,
father, spouse, children, colleagues, and friends. The system will help
you understand current and past relationships and make it easier to
avoid conflicts at work as well as at home. It will also clarify a
lifetime of intuitions and lessons you’ve learned about human nature
and explain why you’re attracted to some people and have trouble with
It’s sometimes shocking to realize how sincerely
different our maps of reality are. When two people do or say the same
thing, it's not the same thing at all. If you have friends from other
cultures, you know that on one level you may be very conscious of how
different their culture is from your own. On another level, you and
your friends understand each other in a deeper way that bypasses how
your cultures make you different.
I have a friend named Werner who is Swiss German.
Whenever I teach workshops in Switzerland Werner and I spend time
together. We have much in common and are very fond of one another.
Werner's English is not great, and my German is worse but we understand
each other anyway.
Every once in a while Werner does something or says
something that is absolutely, unmistakably Swiss. It can be just a
gesture, a look on his face or a way he responds to an event. At such
moments, I’m aware of a mysterious gulf opening between us. I know that
I am never going to completely understand how Werner thinks and feels
when he is at his most “Swiss.” Werner has told me there are times when
I, as an American, seem just as alien to him.
Once I told an American joke in a Swiss workshop:
“How does a single woman get rid of the cockroaches in her apartment?”
The joke’s answer is, “She asks them for a commitment.” In American
culture, this joke has a bitter-but-funny meaning to many single women.
They often experience American men as shy about getting married or
making commitments. When I told the joke in Switzerland, the audience
just sat and stared.
Intrigued by the lack of response, I asked Werner to
help me find the Swiss equivalent of the joke. He came back with
something I didn't understand about Swiss gardeners and snails. When I
later told that joke to the Swiss audience they laughed and it was my
turn to sit and stare.
The gulf between cultures, like the gulf between
Enneagram styles, points to what might be called “the paradox of true
difference.” In daily life you are connected to the people that
you know and love, and yet there are fundamental differences in your
worldviews. The Enneagram shows you these differences clearly, but how
you choose to react to them is crucial. It’s possible to use a
knowledge of personality styles in a bigoted way, to simply reinforce
your biases. But, if you accept that personality differences are
genuine and involuntary then you can usefully anticipate the way they
will arise in your relationships. As friends, Werner and I can accept
and enjoy our cultural differences; we can “budget” for how they might
arise, rather than being surprised or offended by them. The more we
accept each other’s differences, the less they matter; Werner only
occasionally seems Swiss to me, only sometimes am I an American to him.
With the Enneagram’s depth and accuracy you can
change places with other personality styles and compare your inner
outlook with people from other “nationalities.” When you understand
what motivates the behavior of someone with another personality style,
their actions and behavior will seem less foreign or hostile – more
understandable in basic human terms. Often, this leads to a greater
sense of compassion; although you won’t suddenly love everyone but you
will understand them better. Learning the Enneagram can enhance your
capacity to forgive or, at least, help you comprehend what you can’t
Once while sitting at an outdoor cafe on a beach
overlooking a quiet, placid bay, I looked up from my breakfast to see a
large gray whale break the water’s surface, breathe, and then
disappear. Astonished, I looked around at the cafe’s twenty or so
diners and realized that not one other person had seen the whale. If I
hadn’t looked up from eating I wouldn’t have seen it either. The whale,
however, would still have been there.
Evidence of personality styles surfaces all the
time, passing us on the street, in the workplace and at home. Whether
we realize it or not, psychology rules the human world, and as you
learn about the Enneagram you’ll see a deeper hidden logic to private
and public events.
When I was in college, it was often said that
psychology majors were only interested in the subject because they were
“trying to solve their own problems.” The idea was that people without
problems would study something completely unrelated to their
psychological makeup. But no human creation or enterprise has an
objective existence. Our interests, intellectual and political
opinions, career choices, whom we marry and befriend, are all
influenced by our personal psychology in both obvious and subtle ways.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “People seem not to see that their
opinion of the world is a confession of character.”
We intuitively know that ego plays a role in what
people do, invisibly shading objective events. The Enneagram will give
you a “secret decoder” of human behavior, an extra dimension of insight
that will even help you make sense of the evening news.
will notify you of new blog posts, upcoming product specials
as well as
new podcasts, workshops, CDs,
videos and books.