If you’ve been keeping up with this series on the Enneagram system, you’ll know about what it is, where it comes from, all the different nine personality types and the wings of each type.
Unless you’re already familiar with the Enneagram, I really recommend going back and checking out the rest of the series here, in order to get much sense from today’s post.
OK so today we’re talking about the Levels of Development. Now this is what really got me hooked and interested in learning more about the Enneagram because I don’t know of any other typology system that really lays out in detail this idea of progress within each personality type.
And forgive me, if you’re someone who understands the Enneagram as more than just a personality typology, I know it’s not defined in that way by everyone, but for the sake of this beginners series, let’s look at it in that light.
The idea is that there is an overall structure to each personality type. Each type description spans from healthy traits, to its average traits, and then to its unhealthy traits.
The Levels of Development were created by Don Riso in 1977 who wrote the excellent book, more like the Bible, on the Enneagram called Personality Types.
One reason why knowing where you are on the Development scale is because it’s much easier to accurately identify your own type when you know whether you currently have the healthy traits or less healthy traits of that type. For example, two people of the same basic personality type and wing will still differ significantly if one of them is healthy and the other unhealthy, and one might confuse themselves for another type because the differences are so great.
In addition, even though most would say your core type, whatever that is, never changes, your Levels of Development certainly do change and this is what I’m all about. It moves us out of that hairy realm of labels and boxes – that so many folk detest about typologies like MBTI – and moves us into a spectrum that gives us an indication, like a gas gauge of how we’re doing and where we can stand to improve ourselves.
Don Riso describes 9 different Levels within each of the 9 types. Three unhealthy, three average and three healthy. Let’s not even go into the wings of each type today, but I did the calculation and I believe that would leave us with 162 variants of personality!
So, you can’t say the Enneagram is limited.
So back to the idea of self improvement according to the Levels. The idea here is that there are directions you ideally want to move in: most would agree that the optimum version of themselves, the version they aspire to is the healthy end of the spectrum. If you want to move to that end of the spectrum, you’re going in the direction of Integration. If you feel yourself moving in the direction of the unhealthy traits, you’re going in the direction of Disintegration.
One thing I have qualms with in the book I read about the Levels, is that it’s hard work to move up toward the direction of Integration: i.e. it’s harder to go from unhealthy levels to healthy levels.
I get the argument: much like it’s technically easier to spend all day on the couch eating rice krispie snacks, than it is to go for a brisk walk and snack on celery, it’s easier to flow in the direction of Disintegration. No surprises there.
But when we do make a conscious choice to move toward Integration, we will be rewarded. Life gets a LOT easier when you have lower levels of anxiety, easier relationships, greater career success, all the things. And this doesn’t have to be a hard slog: especially if you are aware of where you are in your Enneagram type, simply noticing where are on the spectrum will, over time, naturally help you move in the direction you want to go.
It’s just like having a compass: it’s the first thing you do if you’re lost in the woods. You orientate yourself.
To make things even more… er well let’s say ‘rich’ rather than complex because I don’t want to put you off this tool – there is an overall pattern to the nine core types. They are connected in a specific way: this becomes clearer when you look at the Enneagram diagram, go ahead and google it now or you can find it in the shownotes – it’s bascially a circle with two shapes inside: the lines of which connect each of the outer numbers (1–9) that represent each type.
The order is significant because it describes the Direction of Integration (health, self-actualization) and the Direction of Disintegration (unhealth, neurosis) for each personality type.
The Direction of Disintegration for the hexagram shape is 1-4-2-8-5-7 and back to 1. This means that under conditions of increased stress and anxiety, you will begin to act out some of the unhealthy behaviors of the type next in line, in the direction of Disintegration. So if I’m a 1 and put under stress or I’m not at my best, I’ll start to exhibit the unhealthy behaviors of a Four; a Four type when under stress will exhibit unhealthy Two behaviors and so on.
The same applies to the second shape, the equilateral triangle, the sequence there being 9-6-3 and back to 9: under conditions of stress or increased anxiety, a Nine will exhibit some of the unhealthy behaviours of the Six, a Six will exhibit some of unhealthy behaviours of the Three, and so on.
It’s worth noting you never fully become another type: at your core you remain the same. But as you become more healthy and move around in the Direction of Integration, you will adopt or learn the healthy traits of your adjacent type.
For example, if you’re a Six, at least an average to unhealthy Six, most of your problems stem from insecurity and anxiety. When a Six gets healthier they adopt the healthy characteristics of a Nine, becoming more relaxed, accepting, and less anxious than ever before.
Last, I just want to bring up the Wings like we discussed last week. A quick recap: this is the type that sits either to the right or the left of your type. It might be in the direction of Integration or Disintegration.
What’s important is to take into account that type’s movement too: the result is that there are a total of four types that blend into your total personality; a unique mixture of which will give you the fullest picture of yourself.
For example, no one is simply a personality type Two. Anyone who is a Two has either a One-wing or a Three-wing, and the Two’s Direction of Disintegration (Eight) and its Direction of Integration (Four) also play a role in their overall personality.
With that over with, the one thing I want you to take away is how important and useful it is to have a good read through – or listen through – to not just your own core type but those around it too.
In addition, note how useful the Enneagram is for giving you such detailed information about your reaction to the world when you are at your best or at your worst. As far as I know, no other typology does this so clearly and that’s why I’m a little bit in love with it right now.
All of this is just here to serve as a compass, guiding you out of the woods. Have fun with it, don’t take it too seriously, and as always if you have any questions: email me at firstname.lastname@example.org