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  • Writer's pictureMarcelo Aguirre

The Enneagram ~ A powerful tool for self-awareness & personal development

Ennea ... What?

Integrating philosophical, psychological, and axiological-transcendent (or spiritual) roots, the Enneagram is a broad system that describes 9 human types or personality styles. Each one of them is identified by a number from 1 to 9, distributed equidistantly on a circle that encloses a 9-edge star or enneagon (hence its name, from two Greek words, Ennea = nine; Grama = strokes).

Where the Enneagram come from?

The Enneagram symbol is attributed to the authorship of the Armenian philosopher George Ivanovich Gurdjieff (1866-1949). According to him, each one of the three parts that constitute it—that is, circumference, triangle and hexagon—has a symbolic meaning related to the dynamic processes of nature (subject that will not be delved here, since we'll focus on the 9-types descriptions, mainly).

The Bolivian thinker Oscar Ichazo (b. 1931) added the numbers to the original symbol, arranging them around the circumference. Ichazo systematized thus the first philosophical body of the Enneagram, and he taught it for the first time in the early 60s, in Arica, Chile. One of his first followers, the Chilean psychiatrist Claudio Naranjo (1932-2019), made an important contribution to the system—from the Gestalt Psychology perspective. Naranjo disseminated the Enneagram in the United States from the 70s onwards. As of that, the Enneagram began to be applied to various fields—besides personal development, individual/group psychotherapy, life and business coaching, counselling, and education.

In 1994 the International Enneagram Association (IEA) was founded. It brings together professionals and Enneagram enthusiasts from several countries around the world. In 2008, in Argentina, a first group of enthusiasts and researchers gave birth to the IEA Argentina Affiliate. For more information, please visit the official sites of both Associations,

How does the Enneagram classify Personality Styles?

The Enneagram distinguishes three centers of intelligence located in three body regions; head, the THINKING center; heart, the FEELING (emotions) center; and belly, DOING OR INSTINCTIVE-MOTOR center. All the 9 personality styles are grouped three for each center, as follows;

  • Belly / Doing center: styles 8, 9, 1.

  • Heart / Feeling center: styles 2, 3, 4.

  • Head / Thinking Center: styles 5, 6, 7.

Although each individual has only one of the 9-styles as their principal or dominant one, we all have actually partial traits—to varying degrees—of the other personality styles. So, each personality itself constitutes a peculiar, more or less stable combination of traits acquired throughout the vital development. These traits arise from various factors, such as, genetic inheritance; significant experiences lived in the primary environment (family); education; cultural patterns and environmental modelling—those behaviours that individuals imitate and incorporate from their own interaction with the environment.

Each personality style is usually identified by some labels indicating certain of its distinctive characteristics. For didactic purposes, we'll adopt the following ones:

  • Style 1: The Perfectionist

  • Style 2: The Seductive

  • Style 3: The Achiever

  • Style 4: The Special

  • Style 5: The Observer

  • Style 6: The Skeptic-Loyal

  • Style 7: The Planner

  • Style 8: The Boss

  • Style 9: The Peacemaker

Let's take a look at brief descriptions of the main features for each personality style.

Brief descriptions of the Personality Styles

The following descriptions belong to T.E.P.E. ®, my Enneagram Personality-Style Test.

Style 1. Ones are straight, principled, serious, critical, responsible, methodical, and orderly. They respect others and make themselves be respected. They are proactive, formal, and demanding. They adept to follow the correct procedures of each thing and demand that others also do the same. They have a great facility to detect errors or failures, and consider as their own duty to correct themselves and to correct others. They tend to be objective in judging before making decisions. It is often difficult for them to accept a different point of view than their own. They have difficulties with resentment and anger management. They are easily outraged by what they consider 'mediocrity'. They point out the errors clearly, and try to keep their own aggressiveness at bay—although it manifests itself indirectly as muscular tension and criticism.

  • Underlying passion: Anger (irritation and inner tension followed by hypercriticism).

  • Virtue to enhance: Serenity (acceptance of reality and its own times).


Style 2. For Twos, the most important thing is to obtain appreciation from those people that are significant to them, and they are willing to do everything to achieve it. They feel they have more love to give than most people. They are generous, willing to help, give, and sacrifice themselves for the others. They have difficulty saying 'no' when someone requires their help. They give even if the others didn't ask for it. They are glad to be needed by others. They often flatter people and what they do, as a way of showing them appreciation. They feel a strong, internal need to please and connect with others. They have difficulty in expressing their own needs; and often sacrifice their own well-being for pleasing and/or helping others.

  • Underlying passion: Pride (not recognizing one's needs).

  • Virtue to enhance: Humility (being able to sincerely ask for what you need).


Style 3. Three’s life motto could be described as, "I must shine to survive; and to do it, I need to reach my goals and show my achievements." They consider that leisure is definitely not for them. Their personal goal is to succeed through their own work and effort. They value themselves and also like to talk about their talents, and show their achievements and competencies in several areas. They have difficulties in getting relaxed, since they are always in a hurry and prioritize their goals and business to everything else. They are commonly competitive and pragmatic, "If you're not gonna be useful to me, just don't get in my way." They plan how to achieve goals and ensure that their feelings do not block off the way into them.

  • Underlying passion: Vanity (depositing one's own worth in their achievements and/or appearance).

  • Virtue to enhance: Authenticity (expressing what one really feels and wants).


Style 4. Fours painfully suffer from thinking that they are barely understood by very few; "I am a very special person." They prefer to be different from others, willing to leave their personal mark instead of disappearing in the mass. They are original, creative, deep, sensitive; and they often get inspired by feeling such a sadness and pain. When feeling rejected or undervalued, they start feeling a lot of hate and resentment against others, and then explode into some anger or drama outburst. They have difficulty in not falling prey to melancholic mood, sadness and/or emotional pain. Their emotions sometimes become so intense that prevent them to keep focused on their goals.

  • Underlying passion: Envy (negative, melancholic mood; low self-esteem; comparing oneself to others).

  • Virtue to enhance: Equanimity (emotional balance and a thankful attitude).


Style 5. Fives consider their mind to be the most valuable thing they have. Outside their mind—in the physical, real world—they are prone to feel fragile and small, often inadequate. They are reserved, respectful and calm. They are very jealous of your privacy, time, and personal space. They feel uncomfortable in emotive or tense situations, at which they tend to keep an observing attitude, with little or no participation, and then move away. Although they can be generous, they prefer to save time, energy, and money, and fend for themselves. Even though they are very sensitive and perceptive, they are not that outgoing at expressing emotions. They prefer to shut up, or talk about what they know and think instead of what they feel.

  • Underlying passion: Stinginess (distancing and disconnecting from others).

  • Virtue to enhance: Generosity (sharing while relying on feedback circuits).


Style 6. Sixes seem to be always on guard. They spend much of their time and energy in detecting hazards, trying to anticipate possible problems to prevent them. They experience having inside a sort of guard who never sleep. They are distrustful and cautious by nature. Even though they externally show recognition, respect, and loyalty to authority, internally distrust it. At the same time, they feel scared to, and attracted to assume leadership. They have difficulty making important decisions while trying to decide if they should trust or not. They like and encourage teamwork, in which they feel more comfortable than working alone. However, they distrust the individuals that constitute the team. Inside they suspect, "People have hidden motives."

  • Underlying passion: Fear (scape or attack; cowardice or temerity).

  • Virtue to enhance: Strength (to connect with one’s inner security).


Style 7. Sevens commonly have many different interests. They prefer generality rather than specific details. They are prone to surround themselves with positive, joyful people, moving away from those who are sad or in a bad mood, as soon as possible. Although they are able to be responsible when making promises and compromises, they prefer enjoy feeling free and independent, while trying new things. They are very imaginative, restless, and enthusiastic. And if something doesn't seem to work for them, they easily go for a 'plan B'. Since they have difficulty putting up with routine and limits, when bored they quickly restart making new, exciting plans while 'pecking'/trying different experiences.

  • Underlying passion: Gluttony (of experiences).

  • Virtue to enhance: Temperance (moderation, realism, perseverance, and commitment).


Style 8. Eights consider themselves stronger and more powerful than most of those around them, so they feel naturally qualified to be in charge. They usually go straight to the point when perceiving any injustice against themselves or those of his/her own, "Whoever does it to them does it to me; an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth." As children, they learned that "I must intimidate them first, so that they cannot do that to me, either dominate nor manipulate me." They have difficulty in regulating their temper. Sometimes they can be crude to express themselves. They may be described as pragmatic, direct-to- the-point, head-on minded. They try not to show their vulnerable side, because their life motto would be, "We live in a jungle where only the strongest will survive."

  • Underlying passion: Lust (compulsion towards excesses).

  • Virtue to enhance: Compassion (to connect with inner-child's tenderness; to forgive).


Style 9. Nines usually prioritize other's preferences to their own. They look calm and adaptive to any circumstances. They find it difficult to decide on important issues that involve taking sides. In general, they have a hard time saying no; but once they do it, they hardly go back. They prefer to adapt instead of causing conflicts. They consider themselves as 'common guys', and believe that their own opinions and preferences are less important than those of others. They like to cooperate and have no problem in taking second place, in order to maintain peace and harmony around them. They like routine and go along with it daily; although they frequently lose track of time while doing something, and also when doing nothing or resting.

  • Underlying passion: Mental Laziness (forgetfulness of oneself and psychomotor inertia).

  • Virtue to enhance: Diligence (conscious action and self-care).


Self-observation is the key

Identifying your main personality style—regardless we all actually have partial traits of the other eight styles—, it is only the first step in the path of personal development that the Enneagram proposes.

The second step is to engage with self-observation practice, which means the habit of bringing your attention to those aspects of your personality that run on 'autopilot mode', while you become more and more aware of your rigid, stereotyped patterns of thinking, feeling, and doing, as they manifest spontaneously in your day-to-day life. In doing so, paraphrasing Victor Frankl, you can gradually return from the automatism and inertia to that 'inner freedom zone' which is the consciousness established between stimulus and response.

A tool for compassion and relationship healing

The third step the Enneagram proposes is to take advantage of that big amount of valuable information about human types or personality styles it offers, so you can better understand from where others act; say, how they think and feel according to their own psychological patterns; and how those patterns may activate yours, leading you to face recurring problems in relationships.

The Enneagram allows you to deeply understand how—your and others'—personality works, so you can improve interacting with others day by day. Also it allows you to take over of the part of your own responsibility about the quality and the future of your relationships in various fields: family, friends, couple, work.

As Riso & Hudson rightly said,

"The Enneagram doesn't put us in a box. It shows us the boxes we are already in—and the way out."

In fact, for a long time we all have been in the box (reacting according to our personality-style's automatic patterns). But now, by the self-observation practice, we can get increased our inner freedom in responding—instead of just reacting.

Using the Enneagram as a 'map' to explore the territory of our particular way of being—the personality style—, it may help us to become not only more aware and responsible for the way we influence others, but also more compassionate towards them, since we can realize that we all may make mistakes more by ignorance than by wickedness itself.

In the end, all the valuable knowledge the Enneagram offer us, it helps us become aware agents of change, in order to make this world a better place to live in.

Marcelo Aguirre

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