Enneagram Roadmap: Introduction To The Enneagram & History


JOEL MARK WITT: My name is Joel Mark Witt.

ANTONIA DODGE: And I’m Antonia Dodge.

JOEL MARK WITT: We’re here with a very special guest today, Beatrice Chestnut. She is the author of two books on the Enneagram, The Complete Enneagram; her most recent book, The 9 Types of Leadership. She’s here today to talk about her brand new program that she has published with us here at Personality Hacker called the Enneagram Roadmap. Beatrice, welcome to Personality Hacker.

BEATRICE: Thanks. Thanks. It’s good to talk to you again.

JOEL MARK WITT: We want to get into some details about the program, the Complete Enneagram. We want to get to details about your personal story and all this other stuff. But before we even do that, somebody watching right now, you watching, this might be the first time you’ve heard of the Enneagram, or maybe you’ve heard of it but you’re not really clear on what it is, or you really want a good description of what is the Enneagram. What we want Beatrice to do right now is give us the lowdown. What is the Enneagram? How is it used? What’s the relationship we should be looking at the Enneagram for ourselves?

BEATRICE: The Enneagram, it’s basically a framework for nine types of personality styles. It’s a typology. It describes nine different characters, nine different personalities with very, very accurate, thorough, deep descriptions of these nine personality types; and their interconnections. While there are nine types, the types are arrayed around a symbol, which is called the enneagram. Enneagram basically means a nine-pointed figure or a figure with nine sides. I have a friend who says if the pentagon had nine sides we’d all know what an enneagon was. It’s a symbol that actually has very ancient roots, which to me was part of what was very compelling about learning the system. But if you look at the symbol, it has nine points and there is a star inscribed in a circle. These nine points are associated with nine specific personality styles that have interconnection with each other. In a way, it’s a way of describing personality and also the nine forms that human personality can take.

ANTONIA DODGE: You said that the thing that really struck you when you were learning about the Enneagram was the history of it. Can you go into what about the history was particularly captivating for you?

BEATRICE: Sure, sure. The first thing I need to say is we’re not exactly sure where it comes from, how old it is, who originated it in the very beginning. However, we do know, we have a strong sense that it’s hundreds, probably thousands of years old; then I’m talking about the symbol, itself; but also various symbolic meanings connected to it. One of which is this personality style map, which is very much a growth tool; very much a map for personal development for human transformation. But we don’t really know where it comes from, but we do have some clues that it might be very old. We find parallels between some of the aspects of Enneagram, and certain teachings in very old, usually mystical forms of spiritual traditions.

For instance, you can see it parallels in the nine types between a lot of teachings that you find in early esoteric Christianity. The idea of the seven deadly sins; or just the seven or eight or nine depending on what you’re looking at in history, ways that humans can kind of getting their own way; thoughts or recurring thoughts, or ways of being that can make us stuck, that can slow our spiritual development. From this point of view, the Enneagram was kind of a way of seeing what gets between me and God; what gets between me and my higher development. You also see aspects of the Enneagram teaching in the Sufi tradition, which is the mystical form of Islam; as well as in the Hindu religion. Again, the earlier you go back the more you see some traces or some parallels that are pretty hard to refute in terms of how similar they are.

One of my favorite parallels that I like to point out that to me really gives me a sense of wow, this is really a profound system that something that goes back a long way, is the Enneagram’s parallel to the Odyssey. A lot of people may have heard of The Odyssey, which is one of two books, The Iliad and The Odyssey, written by Homer. These are books that were pretty much the first books ever written down in Western literature. They’re thought to be books that were written based on hundreds of years of oral tradition that is there were these traveling bards or storytellers that would go around to different places in Greece and the areas around Greece in ancient times, and tell these really important profound stories that kind of carried the culture, the mythic ideas about what was important to know in culture. These were addressing questions of life and death, and what’s the purpose of human life on earth, and things like that.

The Iliad and The Odyssey were these two things that were ultimately written down so that we can still read them today. The Odyssey is a story of Odysseus’ trip home from the Trojan War. Odysseus as many people might know was the guy who actually thought of the Trojan War in the Greek Trojan War. It was his idea. So after the war, he survives and he sails home. He starts his long journey home to Ithaca where he’s from. Now, the Odyssey is thought to be a metaphorical story about the human’s journey home to the true self. Another word is, the path we all need to take to really come truer to who we really are, to really know ourselves.

If you read The Odyssey, it’s basically the narrative of it, the plot line, is Odysseus traveling to nine different lands where these mythic live, and he encounters different kinds of struggles and difficulties, and has to kind of figure out how to get out of there so that he can move forward on his journey. If you read the nine places that he goes to, it turns out those nine places exactly parallel the nine Enneagram types in terms of their thematic content. You read about the Lotus-eaters, for instance; that’s the first place he goes. There are pretty unmistakable parallels to type nine. Then the next land he visits is the Cyclops, and there are again some really clear thematic parallels to type eight; and on down around the symbol in order, counter-clockwise. To me, that was really amazing and a great sort of pointer to the fact that how this is definitely comes from some deep oral tradition.


ANTONIA DODGE: OK. Well I was going to say, so to summarize then, the Enneagram is a typology system that looks at nine different ways that we get in the way of ourselves finding our true self.


ANTONIA DODGE: This is a pattern that has reoccurred throughout writings and oral traditions and history and different spiritual disciplines and mystical forms of those spiritual disciplines tracing all the way back, potentially, to Homer’s Odyssey. Effectively then …

BEATRICE: And probably …

ANTONIA DODGE: Mm-hmm. (affirmative)

BEATRICE: Yeah. Probably farther back than that.

ANTONIA DODGE: Right, because that was like a collection of oral traditions as well.

JOEL MARK WITT: Oral traditions, yeah.


ANTONIA DODGE: Effectively then, the Enneagram is something that keeps getting rediscovered over time. It’s a pattern that has recognized in how we interrupt our personal development process. People, they seem to keep rediscovering this pattern over and over and over again. The current incarnation that we experience is what we know as the Enneagram. Is that essentially the point?

BEATRICE: Exactly.


BEATRICE: Exactly. Rediscovery is exactly the best word. There are basically two different eras to think about when you’re thinking about the history of the Enneagram. One is sort of the distant past, the ancient world. Again, I think it could be like 2000 years old or more. You see traces of it coming through Egypt and probably from Babylonia, before that; through Pythagoras and Plato, and the ancient Greeks. Then you see it sort of reemerging in the Renaissance when a lot of Renaissance thinkers were looking back at some of these old esoteric ideas. You can sort of see it come up; but then you don’t really see a lot of concrete like here’s the Enneagram symbol. However, it reemerged in the 20th Century. There’s also this modern era of the Enneagram history, which would start around the 60s or around 1970. That era, that sort of more modern era is the time where it’s been rediscovered.

We can trace that to a guy named Oscar Ichazo. He was a Bolivian man but he brought it forth in Orica, Chile where he started a school that was all about human transformation. He said his teaching was specifically designed for people in the West to learn about personal transformation. Oscar Ichazo actually talked about may different things when it came to personal transformation. The Enneagram was just one piece of a larger system that he talked about and that he taught in his school.

There was a guy, Claudio Naranjo, a Chilean-born man, who was trained as a psychiatrist in America and who has lived in Berkeley in California in the US for most of his life. He is really the person who learned it from Ichazo. Naranjo was really I think a uniquely suited person to really bringing the Enneagram forth in this era, because he was trained as a psychiatrist in mainstream Western psychology, but he also knew a lot about Eastern spiritual traditions. He’s an expert on Tibetan meditation, for instance. He knows a lot about all forms of Western psychology; and he was a leader in the Human Potential Movement. He was a collaborator with Fritz Perls, who brought forth Gestalt therapy, which is a body-based, sort of the in the moment, in the here now kind of form of psychotherapy. He was sort of at the forefront of Human Potential Movement, and he worked Esalen in California, a big center of the growth movement. He and some other people in around 1970 went down to South America to learn this system from Oscar Ichazo; to learn about what Ichazo was teaching.

Naranjo brought what he learned from Ichazo back to California. He really refined the system, kind of reinterpreted it, intuited it a lot about how to expand it and enhance the type descriptions, in particular; and especially connected it and communicated it through the lens of Western psychology. He’s the one who I think really defined the nine types as we know them today, and as they are really widely used all over the world today.

JOEL MARK WITT: OK. So you watching right now, we can’t actually talk to you in real life, right? But we know that you might be coming as a complete newbie. You might be a little bit more advanced. I think that as we talk about the course, the Complete Enneagram, the program we put together with Beatrice, I think there’s something for everybody here. If you’re brand new, there is a lot of introductory material that’ll help you get up to speed about what the Enneagram is. If you’re more advanced, it really dives down into using the Enneagram for personal growth and how to basically determine not just your type, but your type. We’ll get into this in some more future videos here as we go through these little short series.

I guess if this is the only video that somebody watches; so if someone’s watching right now, Beatrice, and this might be the only video they ever see; they are just interested in what the Enneagram is, maybe just kind of give us a sense of it. You hinted at it being a growth tool. It helps us find the places in our lives or our growth path that might be the, what did you say, the obstruction or the resistance? I think you’ve mentioned the shadow. What was the word you used, specifically?


JOEL MARK WITT: If you can remember.

BEATRICE: Yeah. I think it’s just what about the way we operate. I think probably unconscious patterns, which will be a good way to put it, gets in our own way and blocks our own development and our own higher manifestation of all of who we really are. I think it’s a great question of what is this really exactly and how does it help you. I think the way I look at it is in childhood, we all take on coping strategies just to survive in the world. That just what happens. In childhood, we need to survive. I always point to the fact that humans have the longest period of dependency of any mammal, right? When we’re kids, we have to depend on others. We have to get along in the world, and so to grow up, we adopt these survival strategies. It turns out that what strategies you adopted have kind of turn into what your personality type is all about; what the themes and the patterns; the defense mechanisms; how you protect yourself.

The personality is something that’s actually a good thing. It helps us get along in the world. It helps us be OK and grow and become who we are. However, when we reach adulthood, what happens if we’re not doing conscious in our work, is the coping strategies that we developed, the defense mechanisms, the protective adaptations that we just naturally take on as humans, turn into kind of an invisible set of patterns that actually limit us; because it’s almost like we keep going with what worked before. We developed a way of being, way of acting, way of thinking, feeling, and behaving in the world based on what worked and what helped us survive. Without really being able to reflect on that, we just keep doing what we’ve done before.

In some ways, the personality reflects our strengths, what we’re good at, what our specialties are. Maybe you’re good at creating connections with people, or maybe you’re good at making things happen and getting things done. The Enneagram type often spells out … one of the things it spells out is that what you’re good at; what your gifts and talents are. However, what the Enneagram points out is that if we think of the human being in terms of our wholeness, it’s almost like … the Enneagram is based on a circle, the diagram is a figure within a circle, it’s almost like your personality type is sort of how you focus on one sector of 360 degrees of reality. You’re kind of looking at the world through a lens that’s based on 1/9 of what you could be seeing.

Now, you did good at that and it works for you, and so you stick with it. It’s familiar, it’s comfortable. But what ends up happening is, without knowing it, you’re actually limiting yourself because you kind of keep doing the same things over and over again. You keep applying the same skill set to everything you encounter in life. By the time you’re an adult, you might be encountering diverse people and situations and challenges, and it doesn’t really work to keep just repeating the same relatively limited skill set over and over again.

What the Enneagram points out is that actually the human is really capable of a much larger degree of wholeness. Just naturally our endowment is that we’re much more than the defensive structure we took on in childhood to survive in the world. And so the Enneagram points out, it highlights here’s what you did to survive and that was good, and it’s helped you develop these certain strengths in many different ways, but if you only stick with the strengths that you’re comfortable with, you’re really limiting yourself from realizing your full potential. The Enneagram highlights what your personality limitations are. Again, what you’re good at, but also how you tend to focus on a narrow place and by seeing that, you can open up to developing a much wider range of repertoire of strategies, of ways of being in the world.



JOEL MARK WITT: I think that was very well put. You were actually here in our home and in the studio shooting this program with us for, I think it was like a week, right? We spent a lot of time together.


JOEL MARK WITT: We got to know you personally. You got to know us a little personally.

BEATRICE: Right. Yeah.

JOEL MARK WITT: We got to hear your personal story about how impactful the Enneagram has been in your life for personal growth. I think that’s a really interesting story. In fact, I’d like to dedicate the next video we shoot in this little short series to that. Let’s go ahead and finish this video here. And when we start the next one, let’s talk about your personal story, Beatrice, so the person watching right now at home could hear from you and the passion you come to this with, because you do have passion. I know that you’re interested in personal growth. You’re interested in seeing people develop and grow themselves. You spent years as a therapist, as a coach, as a teacher doing this; and you’ve written, obviously, books around it. You’ve got a lot going here, and I want to hear your story. Let’s finish this video and we’ll talk about your story in the next video.

BEATRICE: OK. Sounds great.

Personality Cards Decks

Each pack of these beautifully designed cards includes

  • 16 Type Cards
  • 8 Dichotomies
  • 8 Function Cards

Designed to be used with clients during Personality Profiling Sessions, get your own set for "personality readings" for yourself or friends.

Get Your Own Deck