Category Archives: Enneagram

Warning: This Personality Tool May Blow Your Mind

enneagramIn previous posts, I discussed unconventional approaches to character development, including Chinese face reading and numerology. Well, I’ve got another one for you: the enneagram. This system, which goes back at least as far as classical Greek philosophy, outlines nine basic personality types and their complex interrelationships. The name comes from the Greek words ennea (nine) and gramma (something written or drawn).

Very briefly, here are the enneagram’s nine personality types, with a few key descriptors for each:

  • One, “The Reformer”: rational, idealistic
  • Two, “The Helper”: caring, interpersonal
  • Three, “The Achiever”: success-oriented, pragmatic
  • Four, “The Individualist”: sensitive, withdrawn
  • Five, “The Investigator”: intense, cerebral
  • Six, “The Loyalist”: committed, security-oriented
  • Seven, “The Enthusiast”: busy, fun-loving
  • Eight, “The Challenger”: powerful, dominating
  • Nine, “The Peacemaker”: easygoing, self-effacing

I first heard about the enneagram on a radio show, though I couldn’t pinpoint my type. I took an online assessment, read the type descriptions, and determined that I was the poster child ninefor the Nine personality (“The Peacemaker”). I receive daily “EnneaThoughts”; these inspirational e-mails offer guidance for manifesting my strengths and overcoming my weaknesses. Here are some samples:

  • One of the greatest sources of strength for Nines is their profound patience: a deep “letting be” of other people that allows others to develop their own way. How can you express this rare quality today?
  • What would it be like to let go of your complacency and embrace your higher qualities of excitement and creativity today?
  • Remember that Nines can try not to stand out too much—putting themselves in the background so as not to upset themselves or others. Watch for this tendency today.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to slip into the background, settle into my routine, and squelch my creativity (at least until the next EnneaThought hits my inbox).

Character: Sum of the Parts or Greater Whole?

Here is where you are going to think I am totally mad or a genius, or possibly the entertaining hybrid mad genius. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I needed help developing characters. So I dug up a handout from the writer’s boot camp I attended several years ago. It included an “emotional development profile,” which called for the following information about a character: name, overall goal, obstacles, what he or she stands to lose, flaw, strength, hates, loves, fears, dream, and secret.

Frankenstein's monsterIntellectually, it made sense that a character would be the composite of, well, characteristics. But even if I was able to contrive a character from different traits, would I end up with a well-rounded figure—or Frankenstein’s monster? Is a character constructed from analyzed parts similar to a creature built in a laboratory? After breathing life into my precious creation, would I accept it as pleasingly human—or disavow it in horror, like the mad genius Victor Frankenstein?

To avoid such a terrible scene, I wondered if there might be a more holistic approach to character development, one that started with the whole rather than the parts. Over the last few years, I have been exposed to various systems for understanding myself and others. I am open-minded about these systems; if they work, I don’t necessarily question how or why. Here are some of my favorite tools for gaining insight into people’s personalities and motivations:

  • Archetypes. In Jungian psychology, archetypes are unconscious ideas or thought patterns that are inherited collectively and present in individual psyches.
  • NumerologyNumerology. According to numerology, a person’s name and birthdate possess specific vibrations that directly influence his or her individuality and life purpose.
  • Enneagram. The enneagram (from the Greek ennea, meaning “nine”) outlines nine basic personality types and their complex interrelationships.
  • Astrology. Unless you’re from another planet, you are already familiar with the study of how heavenly bodies influence human affairs.
  • Face reading. Chinese face reading teaches that your facial features carry messages about your true nature.
  • Ayurveda. This system of traditional medicine from India stresses a balance of elemental energies or humors, which define a person’s temperament and qualities.

If I applied these constructs to my characters, I would know their reactions to any situation, thereby creating further situations—which, I think, makes a plot!

For example, how would someone with the Bully archetype deal with rejection? How would a person with a 5 life path, the Adventurer, react to being imprisoned? What would the enneagram’s Loyalist do upon discovering a horrible secret about her spouse? Would an Aries and a Cancer have a successful romantic relationship? How would an individual with twinkling eyes, peaked eyebrows, dimples, and freckles (the fiery Fun Lover) respond to a structured routine? How would someone with the Kapha dosha function in cold, damp weather? Really, it’s almost cheating.

Of course, the challenge will be figuring out what the Trickster-Teacher-Peacemaker-Pisces-Perfectionist-Pitta would do . . .