Origin and Rationale

Originally the Enneagram was taught by secret oral tradition. At first it was used forspiritual development. More recently it has “gone public” with numerous books, workshops, and applications. Is this a lasting important typology, or is it merely the typology of the moment? In some ways people who use the Enneagram are similar to those who developed MBTI. There is great enthusiasm, new applications are being developed, new publications are being offered, and the first international conference was held in 1995, with over 1000 participants. In other ways it is very different.

Why do we need another typology system, particularly one built on a system of 9 types? The hypothesis which seems to fit the two systems is that each system measures a different part of our mental apparatus which Jung calls the psyche. MBTI appears to be concerned with the conscious, cognitive part of the psyche, while the Enneagram is focused on unconscious, motivating forces in the depths of the psyche, perhaps associated with its archetypal structure. The two systems come at the psyche in two contrasting ways.

The MBTI starts with the assumption that there are four sets of fundamental choices, E/I, S/N, T/F, J/P, each of which are equally good. The description for each of the 16 types is presented in mostly a positive light. There is an emphasis on goodness: different styles and patterns, but the overall focus is on positive attributes. Only after one has learned the basic system does attention go to the negative attributes of a personality, for example, when in the grip of the inferior function.

The early teachers of the Enneagram started with a consideration of negative behavior. In fact some related the different styles to the “Seven Deadly Sins” of the Christian tradition plus two additional “Sins” of Deceit and Fear. The learner may be asked to choose their chief fault, which lies at the basis of their life script. In Jungian terms, it’s as though how we structure our Shadow archetype describes the underlying motives of our life. Enneatype descriptions can range from extremely healthy (noble or altruistic) to extremely unhealthy (psychotic).

Theory of the Enneagram: Centers of Intelligence

The nine different Enneagram types arise from a consideration of three centers of intelligence: the Head, the Heart, and the Gut (or Instinct). These may be thought of as the basic “functions” for the Enneagram. It’s been suggested that they correspond to three parts of the brain which represent evolutionary stages: the reptilian, the early mammalian, and the late mammalian. The Instinctual center consists of action processes (doing, being active or passive, power). The Heart center consists of relational processes (caring, loving, influencing, accepting, rejecting, affiliation, affects). The Head center is the home of the mental processes; for example, the Jungian functions of Thinking, Feeling, Sensing, and Intuiting.

Functional levelthinking & reflectingaffecting & being affectedinstincts & habits
Other namesintellectual, thinking, doing centeremotional, feeling centerinstinctive, moving, or vital center
Processto step back from reality as perceived and to reconstruct it according to some pattern or meaningway of experiencing personal encounter with othersconcerned with being, moves spontaneously, often in relationship to an external stimulus
Inner experienceexperience being reflective and to act with considerable deliberationto experience a personal encounter with others (or one’s self)–to be aware of motivationsexperience of being in one’s body and letting one’s body react to a present situation
Attitude on entering a gatheringHow does this all fit together?Are you going to like me or not?Here I am; deal with me!
Time focusfuturepresentpast

Each center can not only act for itself, but also take the place of another function. This gives each center a certain autonomy. In the Enneagram personality types, the ego consciousness has chosen a particular center as the way to be a person to the detriment of the functioning of the other two processes. This results in an imbalance in functioning as a human being. Ideally the three centers are used interdependently with each center used for its own functioning in any given situation. This amounts to accepting one’s whole human essence; no one center predominates by regularly substituting its functioning for that of one or both of the other centers. To choose one center as the way to express personality disrupts the inner harmony of energy, narrows down the experience of being a person and creates an imbalance or awkwardness. Instead of dwelling in each of the centers according to what’s appropriate in the circumstances and using their mutual functioning like a team, the ego consciousness causes people to identify with some one center and to make its functioning predominate as the way to experience life and be themselves. [This probably happens because it’s difficult or impossible to develop more than one center at a time. A choice must be made as consciousness is developed in the young child. The situation would be similar to the hypothesis that one of the Myers-Briggs functions is developed first: the dominant function.]

Each of the three centers has three Enneagram types associated with it. The Gut center ispreferred by Enneatypes 8,9,1; the Heart center is preferred by Enneatypes 2,3,4; the Head center is preferred by Enneatypes 5,6,7.

From the Centers to the Types

We can get to the final differentiation of the 9 types by considering another principle of separation: the three personality stances first described by Karen Horney. In her system, there are three groups of people, those who are assertive (moving against people), those who are compliant (moving towards or dealing with people), and those who are withdrawn (moving away from people). In each of the Centers, there is one type corresponding to each of these three preferences. For example in the Head center, 7 represents assertive, 6 compliant, and 5 withdrawn types:

Enneagram Type Descriptions

  1. Reformer: rational idealistic type; reasonable, principled, orderly, perfectionist and self-righteous.
  2. Helper: caring, nurturing type; concerned, generous, well-meaning, possessive, and manipulative.
  3. Motivator: success-oriented, pragmatic type; adaptable, ambitious, goal-oriented, image conscious,
    and arrogant.
  4. Individualist: sensitive, withdrawn type; intuitive, artistic, aesthetic, self-absorbed, and depressive.
  5. Thinker: cerebral analytic type; perceptive, original, innovative, provocative, and eccentric.
  6. Loyalist: committed, traditionalistic type; engaging, responsible, hardworking, cautious, and anxious.
  7. Enthusiast: hyperactive, uninhibited type; enthusiastic, accomplished, versatile, excessive, and manic.
  8. Leader: powerful, dominating type; self-confident, decisive, challenging, authoritative, and combative.
  9. Mediator: easygoing, phlegmatic type; receptive, optimistic, complacent, tolerant, and disengaged.

Correlation Data Between MBTI and Enneagram Typologies

A research study was undertaken using members of the APT. This group was chosen because it was thought they had a good understanding of their own MBTI type. An instrument for sorting Enneatypes developed by John Richards was sent to over 1500 people in response to our article in the Bulletin of Psychological Type. The results here represent responses from 964 people. The correlation of MBTI and Enneagram types was measured using a SRTT program developed by CAPT. This program calculates selection ratios (I) and identifies those which are statistically significant. A summary of the correlation data is presented below.

Enneagram TypeNumber in GroupAssociated MBTI Types(I)I > 1 and p £ .05Associated Preferences & Temperaments
1-Perfectionist125ISTJ(3.2), ESTJ(2.6)I, S, T, J, SJ
2-Helper252ESFJ(2.8), ENFJ(2.7), ISFP(1.8), ESFP(1.8), ENFP(1.6), ISFJ(1.5)E,F
3-Performer42ENTJ (3.2), ENTP (3.2)E, T, NT
4-Individualist57INFP(5.1), INFJ(2.9)I,N,F,P,NF
5-Thinker152INTP(4.3), INTJ(3.7), ISTP(3.5), ISTJ(1.8)I,N,T,NT
6-Loyalist19ISFJ(6.1), ISTJ(1.8)I, S, J, SJ
7-Enthusiast53ESTP(4.6), ENTP(4.6), ENFP(3.1), ESFP(2.8)E, N, P
8-Leader62ESTJ(5.5), ENTJ(4.1)E,T,.J
9-Mediator33ISFP(9.1), INFP(3.8)I,F,P,SP

Some Generalizations for Relating the Enneagram and MBTI Data

  1. Each Enneagram Type can be correlated with several MBTI types and vice versa. 
  2. The relationship between the two personality systems is complex. Some Enneagram ego states are concentrated in one or two MBTI types. Others have a nearly equal distribution of the MBTI types. 
  3. Each system complements the other. 
  4. In describing Enneagram types it’s useful to take into account the various MBTI preferences; for example, Extraverted Fives, Thinking Fours, and Perceiving Ones.

Advantages and Limitations of Each Typology System and When to Use

The major advantages of the MBTI typology are 1) its origins are more clearly in line with accepted psychology (Jung and Myers-Briggs); 2) it uses a psychologically validated instrument; 3) it has well-developed applications, especially career counseling, management and team building; 4) powerful exercises have been developed to demonstrate the theory; 5) it’s widely accepted by counselors, business, and education. The disadvantages of this approach are 1) it’s complicated—many people report difficulty remembering each of the 16 type descriptions; 2) it measures the part of the psyche relating to consciousness and cognitive behavior, not motivations; 3) so many people have been exposed to Myers-Briggs typology, they think “been there, done that;” 4) the results of the instrument can be taken literally to label people.

The major advantages of the Enneagram typology are 1) it’s easier to remember the key motivations of 9 Enneatypes than the description of 16 Myers-Briggs types, 2) it’s a relatively new system that’s attractive because of its novelty, 3) self-development/personal growth is an integral part of the theory, 4) use for organizational development or team building brings a new perspective to these subjects, 5) it has been shown to be very engaging and helpful for people interested in spiritual development. The major disadvantages are 1) the origins come from obscure esoteric “teachers of wisdom” who’ve been secretive about this system, 2) there’s no common terminology or description for each of the 9 Enneagram types, 3) there’s no validated instrument.

Ideally speaking, both systems should be used to complement each other, enabling a better comprehension of the psyche. This approach might be used in situations where one is being counseled about personal development, or an in-depth study about relationships. However, in many cases it will be possible to use only one or the other because of pragmatic issues.


  • Baron, Renee and Elizabeth Wagele. The Enneagram Made Easy. San Francisco, CA. Harper SanFrancisco, 1994.
  • Baron, Renee and Elizabeth Wagele. Are You My Type, Am I Yours, San Francisco, CA. HarperSanFrancisco, 1995.
  • Beesing, Maria, Robert J Nogosek, and Patrick H. O’Leary. The Enneagram: a Journey of Self Discovery, Denville, NJ. Dimension Books, Inc., 1984.
  • Hurley, Kathleen V., and Theodore E. Dobson. What’s My Type?, San Francisco, CA: Harper San Francisco, 1992.
  • Palmer, Helen. The Enneagram: Understanding Yourself and Others in Your Life. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1988.
  • Palmer, Helen. The Enneagram in Love and Work. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1995.
  • Riso, Don R with Hudson, Russ. Personality Types: Using the Enneagram for Self-Discovery, Revised Edition, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1996.
  • Rohr, Richard and Andreas Ebert. Discovering The Enneagram. Crossroad Publishing Company, 1990.

 Comparison Of Myers-Briggs and Enneagram Typologies

OriginsJung–20’s, Myers & Briggs 40’s, Instrument 60’s.Gurdjieff, Ichazo, Naranjo–late 60’s
Number of Types169
DescribesMostly conscious behavior–4 components–Extraversion/Introversion, Sensing/iNtuition, Thinking/Feeling, Judging/Perceiving.Attitudes and Behavior-relating to three centers–mental, emotional and instinctive
Character of Type DescriptionsMostly positive–stressing that each type has advantages and disadvantages which make each type of equal value.Healthy & Unhealthy attitudes and behaviors, traditionally focus on personality defects
Internal structure of the TypesEach type is composed of four sets of four bipolar choices.Each Type can be related to one of three “intelligences”, i.e. Head, Heart, Gut.
InstrumentMBTI overwhelmingly used–validated by psychological test criteriaSeveral–none validated using psychological testing criteria.
How taughtTheory, behavior descriptions, exercises, panelsDescription of behavior (positive & negative), traits and motives; panels
ApplicationsPersonal understanding, career counseling, management training most developed. Spirituality less developed.Personal understanding growth and spirituality most developed. Organizational and management training less developed
Growth pathGrowth path related to “balance” –development of less favored preferencesSpecific growth path part of theory
Development issuesCan work on preferences directly; development of less preferred functionsSuggestions based on healthy/unhealthy model, and going beyond personality
Degree of conscious controlMostly under conscious control, especially two favorite functionsDifficult to go “beyond personality” directly–to work on unconscious motives.
Spiritual issuesSome guidance for different types of prayer and worship services. Not as clear about interior practicesDealt with directly–model is based on “seven deadly sins” Meditation found to be useful for “going beyond personality”.
Origin of the Types in a particular individualPrimarily genetic–like handedness. The expression may be influenced by family and cultural environmentPrimarily genetic, with “health” determined from early childhood relationships
Key QuestionHow does a person behave?Why does a person behave in a certain way ?