The Enneagram is a personality profile that defines nine major human motivations, the world-views that result from them, and the behavior patterns that accompany those paradigms. It helps me and my clients to quickly identify the origins of feelings, thinking processes and behaviors – their own, as well as those of the people with whom they interact -- and to see both perspectives from an objective vantage point. Some think personality profiles encourage us to think of people in one-dimensional, rigid ways. I find, however, that when used thoughtfully, the Enneagram helps me understand my clients’ styles so that I can assist them rapidly and efficiently.
Although complex, the Enneagram is remarkably accessible. You can start with your basic type which explains your core motivation, and then build on that foundation to develop a deeper understanding of how that type might feel and behave when stressed. The interpretational model I use, which was developed by Don Riso and Russ Hudson, also maps out the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that indicate growth, as well as those that indicate movement away from healthy balance.
One example of work combining the Enneagram and NLP involves “Brenda,” a client who came to me with marriage problems serious enough to cause anxiety attacks. Her husband Mike, angry at her mother’s interference with the way they raised the children, and criticism of the way they spent their money and interacted with the rest of the family, was refusing to spend time with her parents anymore. Brenda’s mother complained that he was being aloof and insinuated that he might be considering leaving Brenda.
In order to please her mother, Brenda implored Mike to spend time with her family. He did resume attending the traditional Sunday family dinners, but was openly hostile to her mother. The more Brenda tried to mediate the dispute, the more withdrawn and irritable Mike became. Their marriage was suffering, as was Brenda’s health. The anxiety drove her to call me and make an appointment.
I invited Brenda to take the Enneagram profile test available on-line, and to bring the results in to share with me. Her highest score suggested she was type Nine – the Peacemaker, and her second highest score pointed to type Six – the Loyalist. The major beliefs and motivators of these two types are: 9 – “if I can keep the peace around me I will be OK” (being at peace and connected), and 6 – “If I do what is expected of me I will be OK”-(feeling supported and approved of). She recognized that these had been her motivators since she was a child. Her mother (an 8 or Challenger – one who fears being out of control) had always demanded agreement, and her father (another peace-loving 9) kept the peace by keeping quiet. Brenda strongly identified with the beliefs and behaviors of a 9 and a 6, and the Enneagram map enabled her to examine them objectively without blaming herself and without feeling criticized by me. She could see they were just the normal “operating modes” of her two highest-scoring styles, and at the same time, understand how and why they were working to her detriment.
The processes illuminated by the Enneagram also indicate the direction of growth. I pointed out that for the Peacemaker (9), being in touch with one’s own needs, desires and thoughts and standing up for them in spite of what others think, was the direction that would take her to the higher growth levels in that type. The growth path for the Loyalist (6) is to discover and rely on her own inner guidance, to find security and support within her own strength and wisdom. Brenda could see the truth in that.
Using the NLP Core Transformation Process we were able to access Brenda’s highest motivations and apply them to her situation. With the Enneagram as our guide to suggest healthy beliefs and behaviors, we used NLP’s Belief Change process and the “New Behavior Generator” to help her step into a new way of being, and create more appropriate ways of interacting with her mother and with Mike.
Soon Brenda was listening to her own inner guidance, standing up to her mother, developing strong boundaries to protect herself, and supporting Mike’s attempts to protect himself. When Brenda stopped responding to her mother’s complaints and focused on the things they mutually enjoyed, the complaints stopped. Her relationship with Mike was strengthened and they began to enjoy each other again.
The Enneagram gave me and my client a clear direction and guidelines to track our progress, helped her to feel understood, gave her the means to normalize and understand the behaviors of everyone involved, and provided direction for future growth.
There are several “schools of thought” regarding the Enneagram and its use. If you would like to explore it further, I have listed a number of books that represent the different approaches on the subject. I have also included a link to Riso and Hudson’s Enneagram website where you can take the personality profile test.
WISDOM OF THE ENNEAGRAM by Riso and Hudson
THE ENNEAGRAM by Helen Palmer
THE SPIRITUAL DIMENSION OF THE ENNEAGRAM by Sandra Maitri
THE ESSENTIAL ENNEAGRAM by Daniels and Price
THE ENNEAGRAM MADE EASY by Baron & Wagele
MY BEST SELF by Hurley & Dobson
ENNEA-TYPE STRUCTURES by Claudio Naranjo
Take the full RHETI Test ($10). The free “RHETI sampler” test is too abbreviated to provide a definitive, reliable profile.
For NLP Resources: www.nlpco.com