Yes, it’s a funny word (pronounced ANY-a-gram) but it’s not at all a strange system. The 9 types of people it describes are close to what any culture would come up with if it divided itself into nine: the perfectionist, helper, achiever, romantic, observer, questioner, adventurer, asserter, and peace seeker. It helps us understand ourselves and gives us the compassion to understand diversity in people all the way to the fringe.
Benedict Carey wrote an article in the New York Times Science section Tuesday November 27 called Thinking Clearly about Personality Disorders. The American Psychiatric Association is thinking about adopting a new diagnostic system for personality disorders (DSM). The problem, he says, is “the most central, memorable, and knowable element of any person—personality—still defies any consensus.” But it doesn’t defy consensus (according to me)! He never mentioned the Enneagram. We DO know a lot about personality.
The A. P. A. can easily compare personality disorders to the 9 healthy Enneagram personalities. Let me show you how it will work:
• Enneagram type 1 when healthy is well organized, idealistic, and wants to do things right. When this personality becomes pathological, when carried to an extreme, it is obsessive-compulsive.
• Enneagram type 2 when healthy helps, gives, and is in tune with others’ feelings. When this personality is carried to an extreme, it becomes manipulative and histrionic.
Let’s also discuss the absence of this quality—a non-nurturing person with no or little empathy. We can do the same for all the types.
• Enneagram type 3 when healthy works hard, achieves a lot, and thinks well of his or her abilities. Carried to an extreme, this personality becomes narcissistic and grandiose.
• Enneagram type 4 when healthy is compassionate and introspective, but carried to an extreme becomes depressed.
• Enneagram type 5 when healthy is independent, observant, likes to think about things. When pathological, this personality is avoidant.
• Enneagram type 6 when healthy is alert, watchful, and concerned with safety. Carried to an extreme it becomes paranoid and anxious.
• Enneagram type 7 when healthy is fun-loving, optimistic, and enthusiastic. Carried to an extreme it becomes manic.
• Enneagram type 8 personality is assertive, courageous and often a leader. Carried to an extreme it can become violent.
• Enneagram type 9 personality seeks peace and harmony. Carried to an extreme it may become too passive or dissociates.
The main idea I took away from Carey’s article was that the APA is looking for a unified system of healthy personalities to compare the disorders with. Each Enneagram type has healthy and unhealthy versions. Some disorders may not be linked to any particular personality (possibly schizophrenia) or may be linked to more than one. DNA studies are making interesting connections between brain and personality and pathology.
I strongly suggest the American Psychiatric Association adopt the Enneagram personality system of 9 types as the standard for healthy personalities and unhealthy pathologies.
See this new review by Courtney Behm of The Enneagram of Death – Helpful Insights by the 9 Types of People on Grief, Fear, and Dying.