Enneagram Roadmap: Enneagram Myths - Is Enneagram Scientific?


JOEL MARK WITT: We’re back, Joel Mark Witt, Antonia Dodge with Personality Hacker here with our guest, Beatrice Chestnut, author of two books, The Complete Enneagram and The Nine Types of Leadership, and she has developed a program here at Personality Hacker with us called the Enneagram Roadmap. I’m really excited about this program. It’s an amazing program and we’ve been doing a short series of videos, multiple videos talking about what the enneagram is, some of Beatrice’s story about how she got into this, and some of her credentials and why she does this, and we talked a little bit more about the system itself. In this video though, we want to continue our last conversation where we talked about some of, I guess some of the resistances that you might have, that someone might have. I don’t know if you personally have this watching, you’re probably very interested because you’re continuing watching the series.

A lot of people say stuff about personality types in general, we get this all the time in Personality Hacker. Personality types put people in boxes. You can’t really … How can you reduce 7 billion people on the planet down to a set nine … nine sets of types basically or 16 in the Myers-Briggs System or whatever the system is you’re using, how can you get people down, and put them in a box and lock them into that? Is this even real? This is like philosophy, right? Is this scientific? What’s the backing of this? Let’s explore some of these topics in this video, because it’s important for you to know, watching, where we’re coming from on this. Let me just throw this to you Beatrice, is this scientific? Is there any basis for this in science at all?

BEATRICE: Right. Right. Well, it’s interesting, I think science in some ways is the study of the outside world, and I think what we’re talking about here is the study of the inner world. Some of those spirit ancients spiritual teachers talk about this, about how science is the measurement, what’s the outside world made of, that’s exoteric, this is esoteric. This is almost studying the inside of you exactly like a scientist would study the weather or a geological formation or plants. In a way it’s like science, in that it involves observation and it involves verifying things and patterns about yourself, and most of all, I think one of the questions … One of the answers to the question like, “How can you reduce all these people to these limited number of categories?” Is they reflect patterns in nature, that are found in nature.

I think in a way it’s self-verifying, in other words, you can read a description of your type and say, “Wow, that’s like me.” There is something sort of observational, you can make experiments, however I wouldn’t say it’s scientific from the point of view of there haven’t been studies done that have say, officially validated it scientifically. Now to me, that doesn’t really matter because it’s helped me so much, and again, it’s self-verifying. I can read the description and the guidance provided by the enneagram in how my type operates, and see that in my life, and it’s incredibly helpful for me in my growth path.

However, if people need this to be scientifically validated, I think that’s just a big challenge, because it’s hard to validate subjective phenomena. It’s hard to apply scientific principles to something like personality. I studied social science in graduate school, and there was just a constant tension between the hard sciences that can measure things in a certain way, things are kind of cut and dried, and the softer sciences or the people-oriented sciences that’s a human phenomenon, and especially our inner worlds, because it’s just … we’re talking about something completely different. It hasn’t been scientifically validated, but there are ways in which it is all about observable patterns, natural reoccurring patterns.


ANTONIA DODGE: I think this is something that comes up for us as well a lot, in fact we recorded a podcast on it, that if something isn’t proven by science that doesn’t make it unscientific. Something is unscientific when it’s been proven to be wrong and people still pursue, like wanting to believe in it, when it’s been definitively, like physically proven to be wrong.

JOEL MARK WITT: Like the flat Earth theory.

ANTONIA DODGE: Right, exactly. It’s not unscientific, but it’s not verified, there’s not a credential by the scientific world on it. There’s now a dichotomy there, there’s like a bunch of stuff in between scientific and unscientific. There’s a whole spectrum in there, and like you mentioned that more esoteric things are … We don’t have instruments at this time to validate some of these more intrinsic, subjective experiences, it doesn’t mean that they’re unscientific, it just means that we haven’t developed the technology to measure it yet.

BEATRICE: It doesn’t mean they’re not real.

ANTONIA DODGE: Or helpful, which I think is the more interesting question, is that, “Could this be helpful for you? Could this be something that helps you put on the right trajectory?” Which when it comes to personality development is the more relevant question.

BEATRICE: Yes, and could I tell a short story that’s related to this? Sometimes I work with teams in businesses and organizations bringing the enneagram to them, to help them understand each other and help team dynamics. One time I was giving a … doing a team session with a senior, high-level leadership team of a venture capital firm, and I had done something with them the year before. They were about, probably like 10 people on the team, and there is one guy who was kind of a skeptic, and he kind of would challenge me on things. He was asking me a lot of questions, and I was answering his questions. He ended up finding his type, and they ended up having a really productive discussion about their types that really helps their team.

Now, two years later I come back and I’m doing another session with the same team, but some new people, and I went in, I’m like, “Oh, the skeptic guy from last time is still on the team.” I’m getting underway and I’m talking about the enneagram, and one of the new guys raises his hand and says, “Well, has this been scientifically validated?” Before I could even open my mouth to say anything to respond, the guy who was the skeptic in the first team session opened his mouth and says, “You know what, that doesn’t matter.” He said, “You can just tell by reading the descriptions what you are and what you relate to, and let me tell you, this was by far the best thing we’ve ever done in terms of team dynamics. This helped us so much, and so I don’t really care if it hasn’t somehow been validated, because there’s a way that it’s valid to me, and it was valid in terms of how it worked.”

I always think of that when this question comes up, and in some ways one of my first teachers, Helen Palmer, used to say all the time, “It’s self-verifying.” It’s almost like you can trust yourself to be able to look at, “Do these patterns match what I do?” That’s the real key.

ANTONIA DODGE: We already talked about whether or not it puts people in boxes, there are actually patterns that are replicated in nature. It’s not really about pushing yourself or shoe-horning yourself into a type, it’s more about observing yourself in how … which pattern of nature that you happen to gravitate toward. It’s not unscientific, it’s not something that we have instruments to measure and all of those instruments are saying, “No.” We don’t have instruments, and the only instrument that we can really use is our subjective experience, and if it’s helpful, then it’s helpful.

One of the third things I think oftentimes people come up with, is this idea of is this truly helpful because if I get really intimate with my type, and then I change types over my lifetime, then … like I might have done all these work in one type, but I know that I’ve changed types, now should I do all these work in this other type or how does that work? When people say that, “I’ve changed types,” or, “What if I change types and I’ve done all these work in this one type, but now I’m a different one,” what is generally your response to somebody in that situation?

BEATRICE: Before I answer that question I want to say one more thing about the box thing, and that is it often comes up that people say, “Well, doesn’t … I don’t want to be put in a box.” One answer that I think makes sense in this is that the enneagram isn’t putting you in a box. You’re actually already in a box, by the defensive structure of your personality has kind of boxed you in, only you don’t know you’re in the box, and the enneagram helps highlight the box that you’re in and helps you out of it. I like that. I think that’s an important way of raising the box issue, because I do understand people feeling like, “I don’t want to be pigeon-holed. I don’t want something outside me telling me who I am.” I think that’s an important question, but I like that, that the answer is, “You may already be in a box, you just don’t know it.”

ANTONIA DODGE: Definitely.

BEATRICE: I did want to say that, but then to go to what you’re saying, I think it’s a lot about … I’ve forgotten what you said. Sorry.

ANTONIA DODGE: I asked if people changed types.

BEATRICE: Changed type, right.

ANTONIA DODGE: If they do changed types, does that make it not worth pursuing looking at one type? Because if I’m just going to change types or already have, then how does it end up helping me?

BEATRICE: Right. According to the enneagram teaching we don’t change types. You’re one type throughout your life. Now, of course the enneagram is all about growth and development, but the idea is you grow within your type. It’s almost like there is a vertical dimension to this, and there’s sort of a low side or an unhealthy side of the type, and we talked about this in the enneagram roadmap, about when you’re not very aware or when you’re at your most defensive or when you’re under stress, you may go to sort of act out the lower part of your type. But then, with self-work and consciousness and effort there’s a lot of room to grow within your type. The high side of your type is actually where you’re more free, where you’re able to manifest higher potentials, but it’s also connected to who you are.

The idea would be that you don’t switch types, in fact in one lifetime you could do a lot of work on your type just working on that. Then type is something that is so deeply ingrained, like if you look at some of your habits, some of the things that you’ve always done, they’re hard to change. It’s the idea that you’re working on one type for the whole time, and changing within that type as you grow and develop.

ANTONIA DODGE: I think that’s been a big piece of my experience, is that I’ve noticed that the more development I do on my Type Three, especially my Sexual Subtype Three, I’ve noticed the less I identify with general descriptions. I could see me going, “Well, I think I’ve changed types because I’m not identifying as much with these descriptions.” What I realized is that a better word is maybe transcending it, maybe getting to a place where I’m not as identified with the parts that I’ve done a lot of conscious work around. I think maybe when people end up feeling like they’ve changed types, it could be that they’ve just transcended some of the more common descriptions of that type.

BEATRICE: Right. Right. The descriptions, it’s important to remember are really descriptions of archetypes. These are the archetypal descriptions and you’re not going to fit in 100%, because you’ve been growing and developing already in your life. You may have responded to certain challenges and certain things were working for you, so you automatically said, “Oh, I’m not … I’m going to try not to do that anymore,” and that’s another reason why it can be hard to find your type, because sometimes you have grown out of certain archetypal patterns associated with your type.

It’s important to remember that too and when you’re trying to find your type, remember to look at the whole scope of your life and what you were like when you were younger, but I definitely think it’s absolutely about transcending a kind of fixated way of being. I like that word because it’s sort like, “Are you more fixated in your type patterns or are you able to have more flexibility? Are you able to draw, consciously say draw on the patterns of other types?” Their wing types and the arrow line connected types are a special types that give you … that you have access to, that you can draw on for development.

I think it is all about creating more inner space so that you don’t always do the same pattern over and over again, but you can kind of get to a choice and go, “Oh, normally I would avoid this conflict, because habitually I don’t like conflict, it makes me anxious, and so I go in the other direction, but maybe in my life right now I really need to learn to do conflict, and to do whatever it takes inside for me to get to the support I need to enter into conflict a little bit more, because conflicts can be productive and constructive, and they can bring you closer to people.” I may have a belief like I do, that conflicts damages relationships inevitably, when really the truth is when we can have a constructive conflict with someone oftentimes it creates trust, it creates more closeness. We’ve really … we’ve come through something together. Knowing my style and knowing that I have a tendency to avoid something, that I can really grow through avoiding it, that makes me less fixated in my defensive patterns that are associated with the archetype that I identify with to a degree.

ANTONIA DODGE: This idea of having fully transcended my type I can totally tell that, that is … that could be a very easy story for me personally, to fall into, because I do a lot of conscious work, but then when I met my lower self, and it’s not like I’m never on my lower self. I’m in my lower self on a fairly regular basis, than all of those behaviors would just start flaring up like crazy. I think when we’re self-diagnosing we’re like, “Oh, I might have changed types.” What about those moments when you’re actually in your lower self and what is that matching up to, and I think that usually can kind of sort of find yourself in those spaces.

JOEL MARK WITT: I just want to say that I think what I would recommend if you’re watching right now, and you’ve asked the same questions, “Is it scientific? Does this put somebody in a box? How is this best used?” You have a lot of these questions, I think from my experience and from what I’ve seen other people’s experience with the enneagram system in particular, is that you get out of it what you bring to it. In other words, if you are showing up with a skeptic’s mind and you have a lot of resistances you’re probably going to get less out of it, than if you show up with some openness. Not to say that you have to believe everything you hear all the time, but when you show up to things open and you open yourself up to new ways of seeing yourself and others, particularly yourself, and you allow the enneagram to help you increase the awareness levels that you show up with, I think there’s a lot of gold to mine there.

Even if it’s just some little things you get out of that, I think it can be powerful for your personal growth journey. I think that as we’re going through our personal growth journey, and you can speak to this Beatrice, if you want to, any tool, like the more fidelity the more tools we have, the more systems we can engage with, not just one system like Myers-Briggs or enneagram, but weaving lots of systems of together, I think gives us a really clear fidelity to who we are as people in our path of growth. I think there’s a lot to unlock here in the enneagram, which is exciting.

ANTONIA DODGE: I think one of the things that really attracted us to be Beatrice in particular, when we wanted to put together an enneagram program, because we’ve been wanting to put together an enneagram program forever, but we’re not enneagram experts.

JOELMARK WITT: Years. We wanted it for years.

ANTONIA DODGE: Exactly. We’re enthusiasts, we’re not experts. One of the reasons why Beatrice was so attractive to us, Beatrice, is that you look at typology in the enneagram system very similar to how we look at Myers-Briggs, which is not the behavior, it’s for us with Myers-Briggs it’s the cognitive functions. Whenever we talk about type we try to avoid almost the archetypes, we try to more focus on how your mind is wired. There’s a lot of different possible behaviors that emerge from that, but it’s really more about the wiring of your mind. The way that you look at enneagram subtypes is you focus less on those archetypical descriptions, and you focus more on what are the elements that make up that type. What is the source of what makes up that type, the strategies, the passions, the things you have a tendency to fixate on? Those have some predictable emergent behaviors, but for the most part they can kind of show up a lot of different ways depending upon who you are, but what’s most important is what are the building blocks inside of you that make up your type.

I think that’s one of the reasons why we’re so attracted to your work, is that you have less of a behavioral component, and it’s more of a inner work focus on what’s going on internally, and then that’s where the laboratory is for the development work, which of course you go into in enneagram roadmap. You talk about the inner space being the laboratory really, and utilizing a knowledge of how your type shows up in the building blocks element, to be able to create a roadmap for your own growth. I think that’s one of the reasons why it’s such a perfect marriage in creating this enneagram roadmap program, is that a lot of the objections that people have, I think are based on a more shallow interpretation or understanding of the enneagram, and you refuse to stay at the shallow, you go really, really deep, and that’s what we appreciate about your program.

BEATRICE: I think sometimes the objections come from a fear of being vulnerable, a fear of really, “What will I learn about myself if I really open up to something that can help me know more?” That’s understandable, I can empathize with people who have that fear, but I think, like you’re saying, if you’re really oriented toward growing, if you’re really committed toward your own development, I just think that we all need help. We all need tools to help us along our journey. I think the enneagram, as well as some other tools are really, really helpful in helping us move farther faster really.

JOEL MARK WITT: This is all good stuff. We’ve talked a little bit about what the enneagram is in general, your story, some of the objections or questions someone might have, I think in the next video I’d like to explore a little bit more about the system itself, where you can just give us a quick overview structurally of how the system … the nine types are architectured, and then this idea of subtypes, I’d like to dive in to a little bit more. Just get some basics of that so someone could basically have an anchor point to tether themselves to as they start to go down the journey here of learning more about this, and maybe clarify some of the terminology. Because I know there’s a lot of different terminology in the enneagram world, and you listening, you might have heard different terms all over the place and you’re very confused.

In the next video I’d like to bring a lot of clarity, for someone that’s watching that would really help you at home be able to get a grasp of this in a clear way. Let’s conclude this video. We’ll see you in the next video, here with Beatrice Chestnut.

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