According to the the dictionary, an "Enneagram" is a nine-pointed star. The Enneagram of Personality has nine inter-related personality bases.
The Enneagram is a personality model, supposedly derived from Sufi teachings and elaborated upon by George Gurdjieff, Oscar Ichazo, and Claudio Naranjo. It is unique amongst personality tests in that it doesn't try to pigeonhole you based on who you happen to be at this very second; it accounts for personal evolution, both in the past and in the future, and gives suggestions for how to improve. People could use this to identify from where their own subconscious impulses stem from, and unlock their true self.
The underlying theory of the Enneagram is that, in the wise words of Magic: The Gathering's Mark Rosewater, "Your greatest weakness is your greatest strength pushed too far." Each of the nine "Enneatypes" has a core "Vice," a single root insecurity that serves as the Freudian Excuse which the entire type is thereafter built on; it is the story of nine personalities Compensating for Something. But the core Vice must be let go for self-actualisation. This is also why the system doesn't try to pigeonhole you: as you read through the nine types and their vices, you'll note that you have all those fears. But one of them's probably strongest, and Enneagram theorists would assign you to that type. The types are:
Feeling Triad (id)
- Twos/Helpers (superego) are kind, generous and often selfless, which is their backwards way of hoping that somebody will be nice to them and get their needs met. "Love Hungry", or perhaps "Desperately Craves Affection," is their Basic Fear. They like feeling needed and can get possessive of the people they care about, and sometimes forget how to please themselves (Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places is a major theme of the Enneagram). On the other hand, a healthy Two is a model of altruism and unconditional love.
- Threes/Achievers/Motivators (id) can be chameleonic in their pursuit of acceptance and status, becoming whatever they think will make them popular; Lucy Ricardo's willingness to do anything for fame was a major Three trait, as is the surface shine of a Stepford Smiler. Their Basic Fear is of being worthless. They are susceptible to public opinion, and can become so obsessed with pleasing everyone that they kind of forget what their actual personality is like. (Getting Hoist by Your Own Petard is another major theme of the Enneagram.) Paradoxically, a healthy Three is the most authentic and genuine person you will ever meet. David Foster Wallace's "Good Old Neon" is a pretty good example of what it's like to ride in the head of a Three. Despite their apparently high self-esteem, they actually feel a lot less confident than they let on.
- Fours/Individualists/Romantics (ego) are the reason True Art Is Angsty. Their Basic Fear is that they have no identity or personal significance, that the world will forget them when they're gone. They are sensitive and self-aware, looking inwards for meaning, and express themselves with their prolific creative output... Or they may become the stereotypical Mad Artist who thinks no one understands them and may be Driven to Suicide. When they aren't cutting off their own ears, they are luminary and visionary creators, helping make sense of the senseless world around them.
Thinking Triad (superego)
- Fives/Investigators/Thinkers (ego) are the silent observer types. Their Basic Fear is to be helpless or unable to defend themselves, and as such they develop keen insight and an incredible awareness of how the world works; Fives are the type who can stop (or start) wars with a single well-placed remark. Unhealthy Fives can become Freaky Loners or Cloudcuckoolanders; the healthy ones revolutionize the way we see the world.
- Sixes/Loyalists/Skeptics (superego) are one of the more confusing types, being an uneasy compromise between a creature-comforts person and a devil's advocate with an overactive Spider-Sense. Both behaviors stem from their Basic Fear of lacking security; they constantly anticipate attacks which will deprive them of the things and/or people they love. They show Undying Loyalty at all times, even when it's a bad idea; the healthy ones, to quote the old meme, "doesn't afraid of anything."
- Sevens/Enthusiasts (id) are somewhere between the Genki Girl and the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. They love new experiences, as borne out of their Basic Fear of being deprived or in pain, and cannot be beat at living in the moment and being joyful. Having said that, they can get scatterbrained or impulsive, and sometimes even withdraw from life entirely, burying fear in an avalanche of experience in which they are (in fact) too scared to actually partake. (Also, despite the trope attributions, Sevens can be males; in fact, one of the common names for this type is The Peter Pan.)
Asserting/Anger Triad (ego)
- Eights/Challengers/Leaders (id) have a lot in common with the Mama Bear trope, except that the person they are trying to protect is themselves. The Eight's Basic Fear is of being harmed or controlled by others, and that has driven them to be brash, bold and confident in themselves. Of course, they can also get confrontational and domineering; they may have trouble controlling their tempers, and with being vulnerable to others. They make the best leaders, but also the best bullies, and are by far the most likely to employ the "Taking You with Me" trope.
- Nines/Peacemakers (ego) just want everyone to get along. Their Basic Fear, of having to undergo separation and loss, causes them to have a lot of empathy and do whatever they can to promote harmony and well-being. At their worst, this turns them into a passive-aggressive Extreme Doormat who goes into denial if anything goes wrong. However, they can also be The Pollyanna, accepting, trusting and refreshingly optimistic. Most All-Loving Hero characters will often fall into this category.
- Ones/Reformers (superego) are The Perfectionist, plain and simple. Their Basic Fear is to be corrupt. They have a little voice in the back of their heads which is constantly criticizing their behavior; they use this to try and stay moral and ascend beyond the criticism of others. They tend to shove under the bed anything they feel ashamed about, which can create all sorts of horrific repression problems. A healthy One leads by example and shows Incorruptible Pure Pureness; an unhealthy One can be a Broken Ace or a hypocritical Knight Templar.
Along with the whole "Freudian Excuse" thing, another major theme of the Enneagram is of shooting oneself in the foot: the defensive mechanisms that each type uses to keep themselves safe are also the ones most likely to alienate them from people, happiness, healthiness, life, the universe, and everything. An unhealthy person may realize their defense mechanism has taken them too far down to self-destruction: for example, Fours, as one of the more self-aware of the types, tend to be extremely self-conscious, and at unhealthy levels, their introspection results in self-hatred and depression rather than creative transformation.
Obviously, every Type is numerically adjacent to two other types, and the more dominant of the adjacent type becomes a "Wing." Simply put, that wing is your secondary personality: an Eight with a Nine wing (8w9) tends to be more reserved and let anger build up in themselves, whereas an Eight with a Seven wing (8w7) is more gregarious and impulsive.
The real complexity comes from the "Direction of Integration" and "Direction of Disintegration." This theory states that, when a person is under stress, they start displaying the negative traits of the type they "disintegrate" to. For instance, Ones fall to Four, meaning that a One who is having a bad day will start to brood, wallow in self-pity, and question their identity the way a Four does. Conversely, the Direction of Integration describes which type a happy person starts integrating the positive traits of. Ones rise to Seven; a One who has managed to make peace with his/her own flaws will not only feel joyful and optimistic, but give themselves permission to enjoy life more. The Direction of Disintegration is simply the Direction of Integration backwards. Thus the lines you see in the Enneagram circle diagram. Integration for each type is as follows (there are two circuits):
- 2 → 4 → 1 → 7 → 5 → 8 → 2
- 3 → 6 → 9 → 3
A hallmark of the Enneagram is that it does not try to insist that only one enneatype can achieve a certain type of interaction. In fact, every person has all nine enneatypes in play in varying degrees, with different facets coming out at different times, which may make it hard to figure out what type your base is besides taking a measuring test. Even worse, no one type has a monopoly on any given trait or facet. If you like to lead, for instance, the obvious answer is Eight (from their urge to show their strength), but Sixes and Ones can have their moments as well - Sixes out of their loyalty and confronting fear, and Ones for getting things done right. Fours are wildly creative, drawing from their introspection and self-awareness, but Fives have it too, from their perceptions of the world, and Nines from their idle, daydreaming imaginations.
Finally, there's wide bunches of stuff we haven't talked about, like the "Instinctual Subtypes" (self-preservation, social and sexual), the directional scales, what your childhood was probably like, and other interesting-but-unwieldy trivia. More information can be found at:
- The Enneagram Institute - which provides overview and in-depth descriptions of the Enneagram and each type, including personal growth and mistyping
- 9Types.com - for advanced reading.
- Eclectic Energies Test - includes two tests; Classic (choice answering) and Instinctual (pairs of character traits to rate).
- Some of Judith Searle's articles on applying the Enneagram to fiction and characters.
- Enneagram of Personality on The Other Wiki.