Dr Claudio Naranjo

The Enneagram

The Enneagram of Personality is a diagramatic map of humanity reportedly deriving from diverse and ancient esoteric traditions. The name Enneagram derives from the Greek for nine (ennea) and refers to its formulation as nine points organized on the circumference of a circle. Each of the nine points refers to a personality or character type, and collectively they form a comprehensive depiction of human ‘error’, virtue and potential.

Each of nine types is associated with a particular set of emotional, cognitive and behavioural inclinations or compulsions that together form a basic worldview and modus operandi. At the core of this edifice is a reliance on a particular emotional drive. Radiating from this core emotion is a corresponding cognitive inclination, a particular idea about the world. This serves both to shore up and to channel the underlying emotion. Though the Enneagram affords many complex permutations and nuances through a variety of considerations (such as Wings and Sub-types) this emotional and cognitive bias is the nucleus of each of the nine enneatypes.

According to Dr. Naranjo this emotion/cogniton diad can be summarized for each personality type by the following key words:

  • Anger – Perfectionism

  • Pride – False abundance

  • Vanity – Self-deception, Attractiveness

  • Envy – False lack

  • Avarice – Detachment

  • Fear – Accusation

  • Gluttony – Indulgence, Fraudulence

  • Lust – Vengeance, Intensity

  • Indolence – Self-forgetting

It is from the perspective of one of these emotion/cognition diads that each individual will construct behavioural strategies to defend themselves against experience and reality. Whilst the emotional, cognitive and behavioural strategy is particular to each ennea-type, broadly speaking they serve the same ends – to limit the experience or awareness of anxiety and suffering. Such avoidance is natural and inevitable, a necessary survival mechanism in our negotiation of our relationship to ourselves and to the world. We are all obliged by nature and by circumstance to construct an identity, a strategy for presenting ourselves to the world.

Whilst enabling on the one hand, on the other hand this same personality is limiting to the degree that its construction requires the systematic negation of elements of ourselves or the world that do not conform to its mould. To be in personality is therefore to be out of contact with a more comprehensive view of the world. To be in personality is to be wearing blinkers, or blue or red or green tinted spectacles such that we see the world (including ourselves) as red, or green or blue. It is to be on “automatic” plot, slightly roboticized, and no longer free to respond to the world and reality from an uninhibited emotional, cognitive or behavioural palette, from the free flow of instinct. To be in personality is to have lost the spontaneity of the infant, and the contact with self of the newly born.

The therapeutic function of the Enneagram of Personality is to identify the precise form of rigidity that we have constructed for ourselves in place of spontaneity and ‘being’. Which suit of armour did we don at a certain point in our history, and subsequently confuse for our skin? Which mask did we confuse with our real face? To discover this armour or mask permits a degree of distinction between our sense of personality and our sense self. By allowing this distance we can begin to understand that we are more than we appear to be, that our personality is not just the way we reveal ourselves in and to the world, it is the way we have hidden or lost contact with much of what we think and feel, and with the free flow of our instincts. We can begin to wonder what it might be like ‘to be’ outside, or beyond personality, and to shed light on that within us that has remained in personality’s shadow. In theory, once we realize that our personality is a manipulation of ourselves and the world, involving a degradation in our ability to perceive and operate fully within reality, we can begin to examine and reveal to ourselves new ways of thinking, feeling and doing.

To this end the Enneagram of Personality offers us antidotes - attitudes and values that we can cultivate that will help to loosen, in time, the grip of our passions and cognitive fixations that constitute our “automatic” and defended self. Likewise, as a diagrammatic system, the Enneagram permits us to locate other ways of being in the world and our relationship to these ‘others’. Thus, the Enneagram provides us not only with a diagnosis of our malady, but also with very loose prescriptions, clues, pointers, and avenues to explore how we might become more than we apparently are, ‘other’ than what we are, or re-discover our capacity for spontaneity, understood as a non-automatic, healthy and organismic response to reality.

It is on this shifting crossroads between malady and cure, neurosis and virtue, that the long journey of the work on self occurs.

Note: Much information about the Enneagram, of varying quality, can be found on the internet. Wikipedia is a fairly dispassionate place to start, if needed, although it is worth pointing out that not all the attributes described to personality are adhered to from Dr. Naranjo’s perspective (for example, the use of Wings and the differentiation between Integration Points and Disintegration points).


Note: Enneagram tests to diagnose types are freely available on the internet. However given the intricacies of character they are no substitute for critical self-observation over time. Naturally, such tests incline towards rather crude assumptions and generalizations about personality types and follow a tendency of ‘assigning’ people to type, rather than permitting the preferable but often slower ‘discovery’ of type through the osmosis of self-insight and self-study.