Understanding the Enneagram: The Practical Guide to Personality Types

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9780395521489: Understanding the Enneagram: The Practical Guide to Personality Types
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Riso's streamlined manual of the Enneagram emphasizes its application to daily life.

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About the Author:

Don Richard Riso, M.A. is the foremost writer and developer of the Enneagram in the world today. The most-published and best-selling author in the field, he is an internatioinally recognized authority on the subject. He is the president of Enneagram Personality Types, Inc., and founder of The Enneagram Institute. He has been teaching the Enneagram for more than twenty years, pioneering a revolutionary new approach to ego psychology through his 1977 discovery of the Levels of Development. His four best-selling books are available in British, German, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Spanish, and French editions. Mr. Riso was a Jesuit for thirteen years, holds degrees in English and philosophy, was elected to the Jesuit Honor Society, Alpha Sigma Nu, and was a Ford Foundation Fellow at Stanford University in communications (social psychology).

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1
The Practical Guide to Personality Types

We are like prisoners in an unguarded cell. No one
confines us against our will, and we have heard that
the key that will release us is also locked inside.
If we could find the key, we could open the door and
be free. Yet, we don't know where it has been hidden,
and even if we knew, part of us is afraid to break
out of our prison. Once out, where would we go, and
what would we do with our newfound freedom?
This is not a meaningless metaphor: we are
prisoners of our ego, enchained by our fears,
restricted in our freedom, suffering from our
condition. No one prevents us from searching for the
key that would free us. We must, however, know where
to look for it and be willing to use it once we have
discovered where it is.
With the Enneagram, we have found a master
key, one that will unlock many doors. It gives us
access to the wisdom we need to escape from our self-
imposed prison so that we can embrace a fuller life.
The Enneagram helps us to let go of the limiting
mechanisms of our personality so that we can more
deeply experience who and what we really are. It
provides insights that can help in freeing us from
our fears and conflicts, from our wayward passions
and compulsions, from our disordered desires and
inner confusions.
No part of this process is automatic,
however. Even after we have identified our
personality type, it still may not be clear how to
use the insights we have been given. People often
ask, "Now that I know my type, what do I do with it?
Where do I go with it now?" Understanding the inner
workings of the personality types helps to some
degree, but information alone is not enough to free
us. Instead, we need to understand the transformative
process and our role in it. The paradox is that we
cannot bring about our transformation yet, without
our participation, it cannot be done. So what part do
we play in our own inner development, and how can the
Enneagram help?
The Enneagram can help because it is an
invaluable map for guiding us to the points of
blockage in our particular personality structures.
The fundamental premise of the Enneagram is that
there are nine basic personality structures in human
nature - nine points of view, nine value systems,
nine ways of being in the world. They have much in
common with each other, although each manifests its
own set of attitudes and behaviors, reactions and
defenses, motivations and habits. And each requires
its own unique prescriptions for growth.
The central message of this book is that by
showing us what our personality is made of, so to
speak, the Enneagram indicates what is necessary for
our real growth and transformation. Everyone is not
cut from the same cloth, or poured into the same
mold; therefore everyone's psychological and
spiritual issues will be somewhat different, and the
order in which they can best be addressed will be
different. By helping us understand the structures of
our own personality type, the Enneagram shows us how
and why we have closed down and become constricted in
our growth. It provides us with a panoramic view of
what is happening in us and in our significant
relationships. It gives us nonjudgmental,
nontechnical language in which to talk about these
ideas, and it demystifies much in the realms of
psychology and spirituality. We see that these
realities are neither foreign nor strange: they are
the worlds in which we already live.
In addition to giving us insight into our day-
to-day behaviors, the Enneagram offers an answer to
our spiritual yearnings because it shows us with
great specificity how our personality has limited us,
what our path of growth is, and where real
fulfillment can be found. It teaches us that the
longings and structures of our personality are
actually useful guides to the greatest treasures of
our soul. By regarding our self-defeating patterns
and even our psychological pain and limitations as
indicators of our spiritual capacities, we are able
to see ourselves in a different light. With this new
perspective comes compassion, healing, love, and
We believe that, rightly understood, the
Enneagram can have a tremendously positive effect in
the world today. By touching people profoundly,
mirroring their experience of themselves and helping
them trace the trajectory of their lives, it reveals
our common humanity. It speaks to the soul,
reawakening faith, hope, and love. Many of our
students and readers have told us that the Enneagram
has helped them to rediscover spirituality - and even
brought many of them back to the churches and
traditions they once left. Their deepened
appreciation of spirituality and awareness of what
spirituality really means allowed them to operate
more gracefully within institutional frameworks. They
could see the soul of the religion they had left and
were able to orient themselves to its true Spirit.
In this book, we have enriched our
presentation of the Enneagram with ideas from Fourth
Way* schools such as the Gurdjieff Work, the Diamond
Approach of A. H. Almaas, the seminal insights of
Oscar Ichazo and Claudio Naranjo, and other awareness
practices. We have also drawn upon major religious
traditions (principally Christianity, Buddhism,
Islam, and Jewish mysticism). We hope that this book
will be a useful introduction to the Enneagram for
those who are unfamiliar with this system, as well as
a valuable resource for those already familiar with
it, as there is much new information here.
Above all, we hope this book will demonstrate
the Enneagram's relevance to all forms of
transformational work - and firmly place the
Enneagram in its true psycho-spiritual context. The
Enneagram can be applied on a superficial level, of
course, and the reader may wish only to use this
information to find out what type he or she is, or to
find out the type of someone else. New and valuable
insights are possible with even this kind of
pragmatic information. But to get the full benefits
of the Enneagram, one must integrate it into a
genuine spiritual practice. Otherwise, the
information alone tends to become an end in itself -
and ironically tends to solidify the personality
structures rather than liberate the person from them.
But when the Enneagram is part of a spiritual
practice, it more readily becomes a means for
recognizing our True Nature, and hence for loosening
the structures and limitations of the personality.
Of course, having a spiritual practice does
not guarantee ego transcendence and liberation from
egocentric structures and consequent suffering. But
without a spiritual practice, it is less likely that
we can become liberated from the limitations of our
personality. The momentum of the ego is too great,
and it cannot be transformed without bringing an even
greater force to bear upon it: the awareness that
comes from a spiritual perspective on ourselves and
our lives.

The two principal areas in which to use the Enneagram
are for self-understanding (seeing ourselves as we
actually are) and for understanding others (so that
we can have more harmonious relationships).
By far the most legitimate use of the
Enneagram is to understand ourselves. It can help us
understand our fears and desires, strengths and
weaknesses, defenses and anxieties, how we react to
frustration and disappointment - and, more
positively, what our truest capacities and greatest
strengths are so that we can build on them rather
than on misjudgments and illusions.
We will get the most benefit from the
Enneagram if we approach it with a spirit of open-
ended inquiry, using it as a support for discovering
things about ourselves and for seeing how our
characteristic issues are played out. As we observe
ourselves with the help of the system, we will see
what we are up to again and again, especially how we
are fleeing from ourselves - and why. And although we
may discover many things that make us uncomfortable
or that do not fit into the self-image that we have
of ourselves, it is important not to judge or condemn
ourselves for what we find. As we study our type, we
will begin to understand more clearly than ever that
our personality is a form of defense that we have
continued to use for reasons that started in our
infancy. Our personality has brought us this far, but
we may not need some of its features as much as we
once did. Because the Enneagram predicts the healthy,
transcendent qualities that we can expect to attain,
it helps us to have the courage to let go of old
outmoded habits.
There are three stages to this work. First,
we need to learn self-observation so that we can see
our behavior as objectively as possible. Second, we
need to increase our self-understanding so that we
can know the true motives for our behavior. And
third, we need to cultivate awareness or presence,
which facilitates and deepens the process of
transformation. Self-observation and self-
understanding alone will merely provide us with
insight to get us to the threshold of transformation,
but it is only through presence and awareness that
transformation actually occurs. Without developing
the ability to "show up" fully, the transformative
moments of our lives will have limited effect.
The Enneagram is not only about understanding
and transforming ourselves, however; it helps us in
understanding others, in fostering compassion for
them and developing insight into how they think, what
they fear and desire, what they value, and what their
strengths and weaknesses are. In short, we more
easily appreciate perspectives that are different
from our own.
Indeed, understanding others more profoundly
allows us not only to appreciate the good we find in
them but also to be more objective and compassionate
about things we may not like about them. Although we
tend to think that other people are basically like
us, it is helpful to recognize that different types
think and feel and react quite differently. By
understanding personality types, we can see others
more objectively, connecting deeply with them yet
remaining in our own center, true to ourselves. By
understanding the Enneagram, we paradoxically become
both more self-possessed and more capable of reaching
out to others.
In fact, we often use the Enneagram in our
relationships because it is as important to
understand others as it is to understand ourselves.
We simply cannot (and do not) go through life with no
idea about "what makes others tick" - about how they
are likely to react in various circumstances, about
their motivations, about how genuine or truthful or
good they are. Whether or not we are conscious of it,
we always use some kind of "personality theory." It
is therefore extremely helpful to recognize what our
implicit theory is and to make sure that it is as
accurate and comprehensive as possible.
Another reason for understanding the
Enneagram is that it helps us recognize our
unconscious tendencies before they become self-
defeating habits so that we can avoid the tragic
consequences of those habits. The Enneagram can act
as an "early warning system" of potentially harmful
behavior, allowing us to do something about it before
we become trapped in unhealthy patterns. If our
attitudes and behavior did not have potentially
tragic consequences, we could think, "Well, why
should I care about self-knowledge? What difference
does it make to know more about myself or my
personality type?"
The answer is that our attitudes and our
actions always have consequences, some of which can
affect the whole of our lives. This makes acquiring
self-knowledge and insight into others an
extraordinarily practical thing to do. Without self-
knowledge, we can make choices that may turn out
disastrously. Without knowing our own motives and not
having control over our behavior, we can do harmful
things to ourselves, our spouse, our children, our
friends and acquaintances - even to people we may
never meet.
Furthermore, without being good judges of the
characters of others, we can be terribly hurt and
abused. Many marriages end in bitterness and divorce
because people do not know either themselves or each
other. How often have we heard somebody say, "If I
had only known what my husband was really like, I
would never have married him." Or, "If I had only
known the Enneagram twenty years ago, my life would
have been so different . . ." We can console
ourselves with the thought that at least we know the
Enneagram now - and with its help, we will be much
more likely to avoid the suffering caused by our lack
of self-knowledge and the unwise actions that may
result. With insight, we have a much better chance to
avoid tragedy and become happier.

Each of the great spiritual traditions uses different
metaphors to express many of the same discoveries
about human nature and to express its insight into
the way out of our predicaments. At its deepest, the
Enneagram is not only profound psychology but a path
toward the spiritual since true self-knowledge is the
first step toward spirituality. Despite the
Enneagram's origin in a variety of spiritual and
metaphysical traditions, however, it is not overtly
religious. It can be - and has been - adapted to many
different religions and religious expressions because
it reflects the patterns found in human nature. By
helping us more clearly understand the human side of
the relationship between the Divine and the human,
the Enneagram can become an integral part of any
Thus, while it can say very little about the
revealed truths of religion, the Enneagram can say a
great deal about the forms that the human ego takes -
and these are the primary obstacles to a direct
experience of the Divine. It demonstrates both the
need for working on ourselves and the direction we
must take if we are to do so. The Enneagram is a tool
that, when used properly, can help us discriminate
between the more superficial aspects of ourselves -
our personalities - and the deeper aspects of our
true nature - our Essence. That is all it is. But
considering the sublimity of this work, the Enneagram
is a treasure, something more valuable than anything
we could have hoped to discover.
Even in a purely psychological,
nontheological frame of reference, we want to
understand the Enneagram so that we can become more
free - more liberated - from whatever is blocked,
negative, and destructive - from whatever is unfree,
conflicted, fearful, and wounded in ourselves. The
Enneagram can aid our healing so that we can use our
growing freedom in ennobling and constructive ways.
Once we begin to be liberated from our ego
states and our inner conflicts - from the darkness
and fear inside - with each step we take toward the
light, we will gain that much more freedom and create
new capacities in ourselves. Strength will build upon
strength, gr...

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