Why I No Longer Use the Enneagram

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Backstory

Personality: the intersection of mind, spirit, and soul, innate yet malleable to some degree by the world around us. There is no way to inventory the totality of what makes up any individual, but that has never stopped humanity from trying—and sometimes succeeding—in describing broad patterns of human behavior as well as specific traits. The human mind, after all, likes patterns. For this reason, psychology has fascinated me from the time I was young; I’ve wanted to understand not only myself, but those around me—and in turn, as an author, understand the characters I write on the page.

My first introduction to a “formal” system of personality typing was the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Friends of mine learned about it because their father had to take the assessment at work, and we then used a free online test to score ourselves. It was predictably stereotypical, and since I was young, I inevitably molded my previously un-typed self to emphasize the parts that fit best within my “type’s” description. Soon, however, that wasn’t enough—I was growing up and growing tired of the relative flatness of what so many sources made the system out to be (or, one could argue, revealing just how flat the system is, but that’s a different discussion). After hours of online reading, I discovered the deeper origins of MBTI: Jungian functions.

The theory (at least the one I preferred—there are, apparently, several that come from Jung’s ideas) was far more complex and seemed more accurate, defining concepts like “introvert vs. extrovert” or “thinking vs. feeling” with nuance and balance. The system based off Jung’s work still contained stereotypes, but made it harder to adhere to them. I typed myself, all my characters, and everyone around me who I could observe for long enough stretches of time. If you had met me during the height of my interest, I no doubt would have taken the time to explain the theory in as simple of terms as possible in an earnest attempt to share my knowledge and figure out your “type” (I even used it as a topic in speech class).

MBTI wasn’t the only psychological subject that interested me—I was just as eager to read about attachment theories, human development, and mental disorders. Nevertheless, the MBTI system had a hook in my brain; and so, several years into my studies of personality typing systems, I began noticing another system pop up amongst the MBTI articles: the Enneagram. At first it hardly piqued my interest, but over time I was drawn to it—in large part because it seemed so similar to what I enjoyed about MBTI. What I saw was also, seemingly, very similar to MBTI: a way of categorizing certain traits and their prominence, helping to explain differences between individuals.

My studying of the Enneagram continued uninterrupted for over a year, perhaps nearly two. I was never interested in the more spiritual discussions people had about the system—apart from my actual faith in Christ, I lean heavily toward interest in intellectual pursuits rather than supernatural ones (and even gravitate toward the intellectual pursuits of the faith like studying scripture and theology). I liked the Enneagram for its psychological aspects. But I do believe in spiritual things, far more than what the Western world will give credence. I take my faith seriously and take it seriously when I feel the Holy Spirit nudge me (for lack of a better term).

Often, I’ll watch videos of theological or philosophical discussions when I draw or paint, and during one such instance, I saw a suggested video pop up on the side of the screen titled “Why I Quit the Enneagram.” I ignored what seemed like clickbait—not to mention that there are many times when Christians condemn things in genuine earnest that are not actually of bad origins. At a later time, the same video showed up as a suggestion, and eventually I gave into my growing curiosity and listened to the first portion of the interview. It was intriguing—and also a bit grating, as I felt like the condemnation was not simply against the Enneagram but against personality systems in general. Surely this was just another instance of conviction turned to dogma, right? I didn’t finish that particular interview, but I went on to listen to other videos about the same subject, as well as read a handful of articles. Ultimately, I felt convicted by the Holy Spirit to stop using the Enneagram based on the information I found. Within my faith, that is enough—but I didn’t abandon the system without fully knowing why, nor do I believe that my reasons for doing so could not also be reasons for others to forgo the Enneagram, Christian or not.

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A Brief History of the Enneagram

The diagram of the Enneagram was created by George Gurdjieff, a philosopher and spiritualist from Russia in the late 19th to early 20th centuries. There were no personality types or numbers connected to the design—rather, the diagram was meant to depict the dimensions of “cosmic reality.” Gurdjieff’s beliefs leaned heavily toward mysticism and esotericism, gleaning from yogi, fakir, and monastic traditions without adhering to any of the religions from which they came. His ideas of how to combine these traditions to reach enlightenment, with the influence of one of his students, Pyotr Demianovich Ouspensky, eventually became known as the “Fourth Way.” You can read more about the belief system here, for example, if you want to know what the belief entails from those who profess it.

However, the Enneagram personality system as we know it today is thanks to two different men: Oscar Ichazo and Claudio Naranjo. Naranjo in particular developed the 9 personality types—and this is what is of particular interest. In this interview, Naranjo explains that he came up with the idea for the Enneagram types via automatic writing, with some observation of people to confirm those ideas. That segment begins at roughly 3:30 if you want to hear that part only, but I suggest at least listening to the video leading up to that point to get context as well as more information about Ichazo and Naranjo’s previous claims about the Enneagram’s origins.

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