The Enneagram: what is it and do safe experiments come out of it?

Loretta Brady's Book

I have had some-one talk to me about the Enneagram and how it has helped them develop small, safe experiments.  I am not going into details about it here; there is much on the Internet and there is a lot you could research, if that is your wish.

To devise this page, I have included the cover of Loretta Brady’s book, above. Also, I was given the book The Essential Enneagram by David Daniels and Virginia Price, from Harper One (2009). 

This research was further informed by visiting a few web sites as well as well as revisiting my own past studies.  For more information on this model, please visit:

…. where a concise summary of the nine personality types can be found.  Also, there is a useful account at:

A personal reservation

I have a problem with the Enneagram, and similar personality ‘tests’, including well-accepted ones. Here are two examples; one diagram from from Wikipedia:

Big Five personality traits - Wikipedia

… and the rather well-known notion of the Type A personality Traits from the work of Meyer Friedman and Ray Rosenman in the 1950s.

What It Means to Have Type A Personality Traits

or even the popular and still well-established Myers-Briggs classification,  as follows:

The Myers-Briggs Personality Test

Why my aversion, you may ask? Here is a front page quotation from one web site offering personality testing:

“It’s so incredible to finally be understood.”

Note that the quote is spoken in the ‘passive’ tense, as a linguist might put it.

It assumes that something or some-one, somewhere, has understood me. This is what ‘labelling’ approaches do; a psychiatrist makes a diagnosis so I am entitled to a course of treatment, or an educational psychologist concludes I am autistic and this gives me access to resources to improve my lot.

Sadly, the quotation suggests that person is three steps away from doing something with that ‘understanding’:

  1. without any change, the ‘understanding’ is simply a label – that is accepted. That could be a simple acceptance or a smug arrogance or a discount of ourselves.
  2. Doesn’t my wish to take a personality test in the first place rather assume that I am thinking about change? By all means stay the same, and there are many reasons – reasonable and irrational – why you or I might want to do this. My interest, as a psychologist, is to help myself, or others, to find ways to change. If this is so, then ….
  3. …. I need to understand I am aiming for something a little bit different, and
  4. I can identify something I am going to do about it.

Being understood by another is all very well and good. BUT are they right in their understanding, and how does my ”right” differ from yours? ‘They’ can be as ‘right’ as is possible but that does not help ME identify what to change and how to change it.

The issue here is: who decides, what.

Understanding myself is an essential step to knowing what to do about it

The whole point of the Discount Matrix is that it reminds me that I cannot change my life until I know there is something I want to change.

After that, I need to know what stops me obtaining change?

Do I respect the significance of the change I am seeking?

Do I have the personal abilities to implement those changes?

I wrote this web site because I was so impressed by the creativity of the many thousands of clients I have met over the years. I wanted a record of their creations.  Also, on a personal note, I have never liked being told what some-one else thinks I am. That simply gives me an insight into their opinions and their make-up.

Designing your way forward

When it comes to change, I want to explore the possibilities myself. I want to design a pathway that is my way forward; to direct that change for myself.   I’d like to think you’d value something similar.

I can hear some folk saying how can you know what you do not know or change something when you do not have the skill set to make it so. Those questions are addressed, in part,  by the Johari Window.

There are ways to gain insight and to build up my own skill set. In the event that I do not manage to do this, then there will be a price for me to pay. Small or large, who knows?

At least I pay it; I do not send an invoice to anyone else. It’s possible that the price is not as prohibitive as I think and, in time, I may even save up enough to deal with it.

That’s the ‘strong’ case. What is the less strong case, and what do I actually do? I have learned that labels have helped some people – it has focused their attention and it has, indeed, given them state resources to improve things. Also, as stated, I have identified the Discount Matrix as a helpful diagnostic device.

If it works, don’t knock it

The ability of the Discount Matrix to help here can be under-estimated and too little known. That’s why I highlight it on this web site.

I can see that The Enneagram can be as helpful as the Discount Matrix.  It can focus our attention on aspects of ourselves we might wish to review.  What I do like about Daniels and Price is their practical approach to fostering change in the final section of their book. Indeed, their guidance can help in the design of some safe experiments. Their suggestions will ring bells with anyone who has read through other pages on this web site.

For instance, their guidelines encourage an open and compassionate attitude towards ourselves and others.  This attitude should chime with this page

In addition, they place emphasis on breathing. They provide some specific exercises to help us focus on the responses of our bodies. The model is aware of somatic therapies.

Daniels and Price: their guiding principles

Of particular value, are their three “laws” of behaviour. I’ve adapted them to show how the ‘laws’ may help me shape my safe experiments.  I’ve include one other ‘rule’ of my own and I have personalised all these rules to ‘me’. I am not asking you to follow them, and you could still try them out. So how do they shape up?

  1. I cannot, not behave: everything I do, each action I take, sustains or changes my place in this world.
  2. The way I attend and direct my energy will determine how I behave.
  3. To change my behaviour depends on self-observation. This is part of the ‘just noticing‘ safe experiment I have mentioned from time-to-time.  Here is one page you could investigate.
  4. New habits can emerge from regular and consistent practice but any habit needs to be kept under review. Continuing to practise and regular ‘just noticing’ can keep me in a state of constant change.

Further, Daniels and Price encourage us to keep journals in order to:

  • stay aware of my ‘patterns of attention’; where do I put my energy?
  • record automatic behaviour that might otherwise skip by, unnoticed.
  • to ask the question: what something a little bit different might I do tomorrow?

Also, their text acknowledges the importance of our neuro-biology. They refer to the ‘three survival behaviours’. Some of this web site is devoted to researchers who are now able to offer even more specific insights into the workings of our autonomic system.

Finally, I will mention the author’s interest in knowing and learning. It is one thing to generate some information and to ‘just notice’ things;  assimilating those insights into our life is not always straight forward. I have mentioned the scenic route before as a pathway to assimilating new experiences.  In addition, I would invite you to look at the less common-sense way in which humans appear to learn.

Trying out the Enneagram

Now if you want to try out the Enneagram for size, here is a link to a free Enneagram Test

For the record, I ended up a Type 9 when I did this exercise recently. My own safe experiments seem not to have changed that over many years. Maybe I should’ve?

To conclude, my contact advised that the Enneagram is specifically resistant to “being typed” and, indeed, might not really limit the types to only 9; a closer read will reveal that there are sub-types, all capable of having a ‘conversation’ as the Internal Family Systems (IFS) model would recommend. This is in line with the Transactional Analytic notion of sub-personalities and, indeed, the more traditional views of analytic psychologies.

That conversation can lead to a unique ‘typing’ and it only applies if the person accepts a fit. She is concerned that the Enneagram not to ‘impose’ a ‘type’ on you and me. She advises me to be wary of one-dimensional self-administered questionnaires (such as I offer on this page). therefore, as a further safe experiment can I encourage you to:

Some leads to consider

What is a Nudge

Designing safe experiments

Actions that can help design a safe experiment

More on the scenic route

One illustrated journey toward change.

One view of psychological healing

An index of pages on Your Nudge