The Power of the Enneagram

I’ve been a follower of the Enneagram since 1998. The Enneagram is a powerful system that is highly useful for understanding your personality and inner motivations.

My work colleague told me about it one day, and mentioned that she was pretty sure I was a “Six” just like she was. Horrified to be lumped into a category with someone I often struggled to get along with, I quickly set out to prove that I WASN’T A SIX! I didn’t care what it actually was, I just didn’t want to be THAT.

I took a few tests online and found that the results were mixed. In some I WAS a Six. The horror! In others, it came back as a Four. Hmm. (The tests can be a great place to start if you’re curious about this.)

My colleague suggested that the best way to “get” the Enneagram was to attend a panel discussion, where I could watch and hear from groups of particular types. I think over the years I’ve now attended two different Enneagram panel series and one other Enneagram class here in the local San Francisco Bay Area.

But what I vividly remember is watching the panel of Fours in the first series I attended. I was already suspecting I was a Four — the Individualist, the Dreamer, the Romantic, the Tragic Romantic, the Artist — and I was determined to find out once and for all. (The names vary depending on whose book you’re reading, and some people don’t even like to use the names at all because of the projections people make onto them.)

Fours are known for wanting to be different and special. Unique. It’s both a source of pain and pride for them.

At that first panel series, I watched the entire row of Fours talk about their experiences being a Four. We got all the way down to the very end of the line (there must have been 12 to 14 people easily), and the last woman said, “I don’t know, I just don’t really identify with everyone else here. I mean, I know I’m a Four, and I know you all are too, but I just feel different.”

Right then, I knew in my core, as she expressed EXACTLY WHAT I WAS THINKING, that I was, in fact, a Four.

It wasn’t exactly a thrilling revelation, though it certainly did alleviate my other drama about my colleague (Fours seem to, ahem, like, create, and attract drama). Mostly it hit me: “Oh man, you mean all that stuff that Fours are? I’m that too??”

personality-typesMost of the Enneagram books out there tend to look at each of the nine types from a fairly negative perspective, and a lot of people can be overwhelmed by that. I quickly learned that most of Helen Palmer’s books were too dark for me, and found Personality Types: Using the Enneagram for Self-Discovery* by Don Richard Riso with Russ Hudson. I loved the levels of integration and disintegration they described because it gave me a sense that there was hope for improvement and it helped me learn a ton about myself and my suddenly transparent behavior and fixations.

So fast-forward a few years.

Over time, the Enneagram has been a great tool for me for both understanding and getting along with my Nine husband (a Peacemaker) and helping my clients understand themselves better (of course many of them tend to be Fours :) ). One of my colleagues has written a series of books for empaths based around the core Enneagram principles* that I highly recommend. I’ve written a few articles related to the Enneagram myself, and have a page on my old website about the Enneagram and how it relates to high sensitivity.

And once I started writing fiction, I turned to the Enneagram to use it to develop my characters. But I thought of it as simply that, a tool to help me develop each character individually.

I never really thought of it as anything more, or how the characters might be related to each other through the Enneagram.

Then last October, I was following one of my fellow ScriptMag columnists online, Jeff Lyons, who tweeted something about a class he was offering and I discovered that he also offered writing-related, “rapid story development” Enneagram classes and I was enthralled! I wanted to know more right away. It didn’t take long for us to talk about him coming here to Berkeley to teach his method.

What amazes me most about it is that he uses a combination of story premise and the archetypal Enneagram system to do story structure work. Not just character, not just motivation, not even just how characters are related. He works with his own proprietary story premise model with the Enneagram to tackle character, plot, and structure in a holistic, integrated fashion.

Who knew!?

I can’t wait to see how he does it, and I hope you’ll consider coming to join us too. He’s going to be teaching the Enneagram in a very hands-on fashion — it sounds like perfect hybrid of observation, teaching, taking action, and getting a chance to put it into practice. He’s even going to do some 1:1 “magic time” with a few lucky participants on their own story structure and premise. It’s going to be amazing.

If you can’t come and be there live, or if you want more information, we’d love to have you join us over the next three weeks for a three-part interview series with Jeff so you can get a sense of this ground-breaking tool. You can find out more about the teleclass series and register here.

Your turn

Are you familiar with the Enneagram? What has it helped you shift or change in your own life? If you’re a writer, do you use it in your writing? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.




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  1. Jenna:
    I too am a four, but I guess it’s been awhile since I checked in with this system because I hadn’t remembered that fours are “known for wanting to be different and special” and for this reason may even feel different from other fours.
    This certainly rings true for me. And serves as a reminder that perhaps this impulse needs to be tempered a bit or at least put in perspective when interacting with people that have no desire to be different or special.

    • John, in my experience there’s always a “thing” about being different and/or special. Sometimes it’s painful, we feel different, like we don’t belong or fit in. Or we can feel special or above-it-all which can become condescending as I’m sure you can imagine. :) Fours tend to like to do special things and not be required to do ordinary, mundane things. The more I work with this, the more that I find that when I practice self-discipline and do the work I’m here to do (write), the less resistance I feel to the daily stuff of life. Though it’s still something I’m working on!

  2. John: Allow me to jump in here :) Fours are really misunderstood by most people who use the Enneagram. Fours are seen as whinny, melancholic, needy, “out there” (think Blanche Dubois in “Streetcar Named Desire”). But, fours are amazing in their (your) capacity to feel deep emotion. Their deepest desire is to create something special in the world through their authenticity and connection with the world. This is why fours are such cool people: they teach other people how to be real and not self-indulgent, but rather how to take their passion and make the world a special place. But, when this gets distorted by the delusion that the four is “missing something,” that they are somehow separate and the exception, rather than exceptional, then this otherwise beautiful motivation to create something special in the world gets twisted into being special themselves. They look outside themselves for that “missing piece,” thinking someone else has to give them the “answer” to why they are not connected the way they want to be with others. This is all a lie, of course, one that is bought into as part of the child’s development and survival mechanisms as the four child moves into their Enneagram style, adapting to it for survival. Sadly, this is what most people focus on with the fours: how special they seem, yada yada. Once the the four’s delusion of insignificance is broken (which you do through your growing up and maturing), then the four can really show what they’re made of—which is a whole hell of a lot. :) Fours are special, but not for the twisted reason most people think :)

  3. Hi Jenna,
    Last time we connected it was about Joseph Campbell (Hero With A Thousand Faces) … and since then I have been struggling with coming up with a business model that my core recognizes as my “call to adventure” … and I think that’s coming together finally and gratefully. One piece of that journey has been recently reconnecting with a passing interest in Ennegram Theory … found Don Riso’s site … then I found out there was 1 or 2 points between me being a 5 and 4 … I believe I’m both depending on the situation and what gets activated, mind or body … right now I resonate most deeply with being a 4. So I’m thrilled about this series of interviews to learn more not only about the Ennegram but how it relates to archetype, story, myth and our collective journey to higher realms; and I really appreciated your comments about the “darkness” of some writing … it validates my own experience. Do you have a Riso book you’d recommend as a ‘first’? Looking forward to the 17th … and beyond. Cheers,

  4. Hi Lee,

    I’m thrilled you’ll be there on the 17th! That’s great news. You may well be a 4 with a 5 wing or a 5 with a 4 wing, so it’s not surprising you’re influenced by both.

    The book I love love love from Riso is the one I linked to in the article above, called “Personality Types: Using the Enneagram for Self-Discovery” (this is my Amazon affiliate link to it: Check it out and let me know if you like it. I find it particularly useful.

    There’s another called “The Spiritual Dimension of the Enneagram” by another author that I keep trying to wade through. I like it in principle but in practice I find it a little challenging. Jeff mentioned “The Literary Enneagram” to me the other day, I’m going to pick that up and check it out too.

    Good luck with working on the career that satisfies your “call to adventure”. I’d be happy to help you do some work around that at some point if you’re interested.

    We’ll be looking forward to having you on the start of the call series next week. :)

  5. Jenna, thank you very much … I’ll check out those books. I realize now this Tuesday the class starts at 7 pm Atlantic time and I won’t be home for the first hour of the call … can I join late? I’ll definitely be there the following week from the beginning.

    • Hi Lee, It’ll run for just about an hour, you’re welcome to come in at the end, there’s a chance we’ll still be there. But regardless, it’ll be recorded and I’ll be sending out the recording link ASAP after the first call. So you’ll get to hear it one way or another. Thanks for asking!

  6. I had the same experience when someone suggested I was a 6. Turned out I am a 6. It’s only been recently that I’ve started to finally enjoy some of my 6ness =) some being the operative word!

    • That’s so interesting, Elan! Some part of my brain keeps wondering if someday I’ll realize I’m a 6 after all. :) But when every time I look at the 4 again, I think, yep, that’s it!

  7. I’m a 4 with 5 wing (my mate a 5 with 4 wing), and all I really know about Enneagram is from the site. So thanks so much for these book suggestions! I more recently found the part about levels of integration and disintegration, which I find quite helpful for myself. I also really appreciate Jeff’s help in understanding this type. Judging from other people’s reactions in my life, I think sometimes I can come across as needy and whiny or condescending, when that’s not how I’m feeling – and maybe this is a sign things are off, or too big to express yet. It’s where I need to learn to sit with the discomfort and keep my mouth shut. ;) I’ve also often read that 4s need to learn to put their emotions aside and get work done. But indeed, Jenna, you nailed it – when I’m doing the work I’m built to do, the mundane stuff gets done!

    • Marki, yes, I find that if I keep my mouth shut while I’m IN the emotion I’m better off. Then I can deal with it later when I’m feeling less triggered. And taking action no matter what is a huge key for me. :)

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