Original: September 6, 2020
Revised: No

Playing the Enneagram Game

(a "magical" introduction to how an aspiring musician might play it)

Enneagrams are currently the most talked about system for personality typing and there are some good reasons for this. Enneagram typing is simple and people can easily relate to its 9 types. My friends and relatives (and I consider myself to be both a friend and a relative of mine 😄) who took the time to find their enneagram type had a positive impression and found useful applications both to personal growth and to relationship development. Bothersome arguments were better understood, some heartaches may have been healed, and some lightness and fun emerged out of that process.

Could it be that all that goodness is just the result of people talking to each other about important personal matters? Yes, but if it works, who cares? On the other hand, let's say this clearly from the start: enneagram typing is not a science and IT SHOULD NOT be treated as science. Its usefulness, charm, and playfulness arise from this realization. We'll justify these last two sentences later on, but for now our beginning assumption is that playing the Enneagram Game is very useful for a better understanding of yourself and of the people who are important in your life.

Enneagram typing has connections with the spiritual rather than the scientific. It originated and flourished with people who were engaged in spiritual practices, including meditation. It is more fluid, more flexible, and more holistic, than the more rigid science-based approaches. It is also more fun to play with than those science-based approaches. For more scientific (but less fun) systems, one should consult the Myers-Briggs Type Identification(MBTI) based on Carl Jung's personality dimensions (Extraversion or Introversion; Sensing or INtuitive; Thinking or Feeling; Judging or Perceiving) or the DISC system based on William Marston's personality dimensions of Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, and Compliance. (regarding the debate around the Extraversion/Extroversion spelling, read this; I prefer the original Jung spelling, but don't ask me why; in the US, the "o" spelling is gaining more acceptance)

We'll be referring mostly to an enhanced MBTI (we will call it MBTI+), which adds a 5th dimension, called Identity, to distinguish between Assertive and Turbulent dispositions. I found this Identity dimension, measuring how confident we are in our ability to make decisions, surprisingly useful and consequential when playing with enneagrams. My score is 82% assertive, 18% turbulent. Actually, that is the most conclusive of all my other 4 MBTI scores. So, I am an IN?P-A type, do not laugh, it is true that the Thinking/Feeling dimension for me always comes very close to 50%, sometimes right on the 50% mark; the "?" within IN?P is my geeky way of specifying this inconclusive dimension (but in the online literature you will only find descriptions for INTP-A or INFP-A). I will talk at length about people who are at this Thinking/Feeling border later; in the enneagram world, the Thinking/Feeling border is that empty space at the bottom of the symbol, between types 4 and 5 (it is called the void in the enneagram world). For that reason, the void is one of the most intriguing aspects of the Enneagram game when I play it.

MBTI allows for all combinations of its 4 dimensions, leading therefore to 16 personality types, while DISC allows for a personality type to be defined by one or two of its 4 dimensions, leading to 12 personality types. For even more scientific (but even less engaging) systems, one may choose to move away from discrete typing entirely (as in 9 for enneagrams, 16 for MBTI, and 12 for DISC) into a continuous traits-based system like the Big 5 (also known as the OCEAN system). These more rigorous systems are usually used in conjunction with a professional psychologist, but enneagrams can be played with by anyone, and played without much planning, either alone or with someone close. Because the enneagram type system gives people a license to freely experiment with it, there is a large amount of information which individuals post online. There is no right or wrong way to use enneagrams. We should end this paragraph by mentioning that the modified MBTI system we adhere to (MBTI+, as described here) also has 5 dimensions and that those 5 dimensions translate straightforward to the Big 5, as seen in the table above. Part of your game playing is to reconcile and refine your Enneagram type by comparing it with the more scientific Big 5/MBTI+. (See this Ted talk for an engaging introduction to Big 5/OCEAN, especially the Extraversion dimension.)

Because of the non-scientific nature of enneagrams, there is some controversy associated with them, especially with regards to religious matters. In particular, type descriptions can appear to be too general and vague, so some effort is required of you to beef up those descriptions and make them more specific. The controversies are even stronger when it comes to the origins of the enneagram concept. Some consider it to have appeared in a number of spiritual traditions, including Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism, although there is some pretty strong opposition by religious organizations to these claims.

But generally, there appear to be three main names credited with the modern version of the enneagram concept: George Ivanovich Gurdjieff, Oscar Ichazo, and Claudio Naranjo (3 is the most stubborn number in the enneagram world!) . The button below takes you to some links and some video clips about this history. I include an interview with Naranjo, a roundtable with known masters of the game, a quick test, and some other material I consider relevant. I also include more skeptical views on enneagrams. My intention is to present various points of view, leaving it up to you to figure out if the enneagram game is for you or not. You have an easier time escaping the skepticism if you include in your Enneagram game playing your Big 5/MBTI+ scores.

Resources: links, video clips

Before we move on, let's stare a bit at the enneagram symbol below. Many believe there is something sacred about it. When we refer to the enneagram symbol in the following text, we will mean exactly this symbol, without any parts missing or added to it. In particular, without the types being specified. Just the geometry and the numbers. As we will see below, there is something magical about the geometry and the numbers.

The enneagram symbol

A First Look at the Mathematics of the Enneagram Symbol
(lots of 3s, but why the 7?)

When I first read about enneagrams and the sacredness of the symbol, one thing stood out. The algebra of the symbol contains many groupings based on the number 3. And its geometry is based on 3 outstanding connected subgraphs; a connected graph just means that you can get from any node to any other node when you traverse the graph. These 3 subgraphs are shown below: a circle, an equilateral triangle, and a mysterious hexagram breaking the otherwise perfect 3-based symmetry.

It is a known fact that the enneagram symbol has something to do with the decimal expansion of real numbers. Just a quick refresher. Any real number has a decimal expansion, with the irrational numbers having expansions without any loops (repeating groups) and the rational numbers having either a terminating or a repeating sequence in their expansion. We denote a repeating sequence by putting a bar over the sequence. So, for example, \( 1/2 = 0.5 \), with no repeating sequence, while \( 1/3 = 0.\overline{3}=0.33333... \) But the fact that


positively rattled me. Not only is the 142857 group containing exactly the numbers of the hexagram, but the sequence 142857 is precisely the so-called stress direction between the 6 types of the hexagram! The stress direction points from your type to another type whose negative characteristics your type tends to acquire under stress. Under stress a 1 takes on the negative characteristics of a 4, and so on. The opposite direction is also meaningful, it is the relax direction.

So if you want to know what happens to you when someone cuts in front of you at the check-out counter, you do not need to google for your stress type; you simply fire up the calculator on your phone, divide 1 by 7 and look which type follows yours in the resulting expansion. Vice-versa, if your significant other brings home your favorite bottle of wine, you fire up the calculator, do the division and look at the type that precedes yours in the result. You then know what to do 😄. But be warned that on occasion, there may be little time for you to fire up the calculator! Especially if you are type 8 😄! Among the types of the triangle, the relax direction is 369.

Rules of the Classical Enneagram Game

Let's put together the symbol and the stress/relax arrows. Also, let's introduce the all important concept of center. The 9 types are divided into 3 centers: the instinctive/gut/anger center, the feeling/heart/image center and the thinking/head/fear center. Each center has a dominant emotion, which manifests itself largely through the subconscious. In the gut center, the dominant emotion is anger, in the heart center it is shame (many times replaced with image, as its outward manifestation), in the head center it is fear. Each type has its own way of handling the dominant emotion of its center. Do not confuse this "way of handling the dominant emotion" with experiencing the dominant emotion. All types feel all these emotions equally, what distinguishes them is how they each handle the emotion.

Source: integralrelationship.com

UniversalityEvery individual has a main type, one of 9 possible types.
ImmutabilityThe main type does not change during an individual's life.
EqualityNo type is generally superior to any other type, or more desirable. Various cultures may rank some types higher than others, but for us these cultural tendencies will be irrelevant.
VolatilityAt any particular time, individuals have characteristics from all types. They move between types, their main enneagram type is only a marker for general tendencies.
Centers The 9 types are divided in 3 groups, with 3 types in each group: feeling, thinking, instinctual. Within each center, types handle the dominant emotion differently.
WingsTypes have wings; the wings are the two types adjacent to the type on the enneagram circle. An individual may appear to switch to one of these wing types under various conditions in life. One can play the game by considering that one of the wings is always dominant (we'll call that rule Wings-1), or that both wings are equally important (Wings-2), or simply ignoring the wings altogether (Wings-0).
ArrowsThere are two arrows going out from each type; they are very important in the Enneagram Game. One arrow (with a red tip at its end) points to the stress/disintegration type; this is the type you are moving towards when you are imbalanced or under pressure over a longer period of time. If you are stressed, you are behaving more like your stress type, and therefore others may think of you differently than what you really are. This stress arrow is the more important of the two arrows and the one you should focus on for long term personal growth. The other arrow (with a black tip at its end) points to the relax/integration type; you behave more like this type when everything is going your way and the gods appear to be smiling at you. Again, if that is the case, others may perceive you differently.
One last thing, let's add an important attribute to the 3 centers, namely the outcome that people in each center desire. People in the gut center desire Power and Control, people in the heart center desire Affirmation and Esteem while people in the head center desire Safety and Security.

A more detailed view of the 3 centers

All these properties of the enneagram personality typing are succinctly captured in the Nine Types paragraph of Wikipedia's article on enneagrams.

How Exactly is the Enneagram Game Played?

(Just like for the Glassperlen game, I am deliberately asking this question with the word "exactly" included. Because for either game, there is no such thing, there is no precise set of rules to follow. You are supposed to construct AND play your own game.)

So, with this caveat understood, how does one play the Enneagram Game? Perhaps the best way to proceed would be to explain how I construct my game and play it. My main goal in playing the game is to understand why certain things went well in my life and why I messed up other things. Hoping that I'll mess up a little less in the future. So here we go.

I took the enneagram test a few times and my type comes as an 8 or a 9. So in the classical enneagram notation I am a 8w9 or a 9w8, "w" standing for the dominant wing. I am definitively in the instinctive center (top center in the above picture); most of the important decisions in life I made on instinct, without much thinking or feeling: romantic partners, career choices, places to live, etc... People in this center are about Power and Control and they are somewhat defined by their handling of anger. 8s have no problem showing anger at any time and blowing it off, 9s try to avoid conflict and anger (and then blow up with rage when they do have to show it), while 1s despise displays of anger and go out of their way to repress it (and become resentful, tense, and demanding, when they encounter it).

Most of the people who know me smirk immediately and say "You are such an 8, don't even think about being a 9!" Except one particular 8, who happens to be an expert in enneagrams and who types me as a 9. Apparently, I laugh too easily and goof around too much to be an 8. And moreover, men with a mix of Eastern European and Israeli backgrounds tend to look like 8s in the US (a 3+6+7 country!). If you saw how cars in Tel Aviv are anticipating the turning of lights to green, to be the first through the intersection, you may acknowledge the point 😄 (see what I mean about goofing around?). OK, so this is the background, part of my game playing is to also understand what's going on with this split.

Now, as I mentioned earlier, my MBTI+ type is IN?P-A, and I asked you not to laugh because indeed the Feeling/Thinking dimension comes very unclear for me. If you look at most tables that relate enneagram typing with MBTI typing, this is what you will see in general (not by uniform consensus, and notice that the Assertive/Turbulent dimension is missing, because conventional MBTI does not include it):

Source: wakedup.org

As you can see, my MBTI typing and my enneagram typing do not agree at all. 8s are mostly ENTJ and 9s are mostly ISFP. The ESTJ between the 8 and the 9, which should match me the best, is positively out of whack. As a matter of fact, if I pick INFP as my MBTI type, instead of the INTP, then the ESTJ is exactly the opposite in every single dimension!!! What's going on?

So let's go a bit deeper and review the enneagram symbol again. We saw already that the symbol contains major groupings based on the number 3 (there are 3 centers and there are 3 types within each center) and there is also the triangle 3-6-9 of so-called integration/disintegration arrows between the types 3,6, and 9. But there are also two arrows glaringly breaking the overall symmetry: the (2,4) and the (5,7) arrows, shown below in red:

Now the arrows for 8 and 1 are perfectly fine, so we have 5 types with Integration/Disintegration symmetry: 1,3,6,8,9. What is so special about the (2,4) and the (5,7) arrows? If this were a physics theory, then yes, maybe there could be something special about the (2,4) and the (5,7) arrows. But the whole personality typing business (Myers-Briggs, enneagram, ...) is fundamentally predicated on the assumption that there is no type which is superior or preferable to any other type (the Equality rule, as we called it above). So there appears to be no good reason to have special cases.

If you "correct" the situation and replace the (2,4) arrow with a (2,5) arrow and the (5,7) arrow with a (4,7) arrow, you achieve perfect symmetry, and we now have 3 equilateral triangles (3,6,9), (1,4,7) and (2,5,8), as shown above in the middle. These are called the harmony triads and there are pretty interesting theories behind them as well, for example the one by David Daniels. There are many other groups of 3 and interesting theories around them, as seen below; see if one of these theories jives with you.

On the left you see the so-called hornevian groups, named after Karen Horney, a German/American psychoanalyst, known for her emphasis on society and culture, rather than the Freudian explanations prevalent at her time. These groups are based on the way people relate to others in order to meet their own needs, what tactics they use: they can move against others (aggressive), move towards others (compliant), or move away from others (withdrawn).

Below you see the so-called harmony groups, not to be confused with the harmony triads shown in the middle of the picture above. These harmony groups are based on the way people handle negativity, when they experience disappointment, or find themselves in conflict with others: they can choose to twist things into a positive outlook, focus on their competency, or react with strong emotions and let others know it.

Source: enneainternational.com

As you have seen, there is quite a variety of ways in which you can play the game, based on groupings of 3. Alternatively, you may want to look at different ways to line up the arrows, or extend the wings. You may discover that your dominant wing is so dominant that it may make sense to view yourself as an in-between type; you may want to build a Type.5 theory and consider yourself a 6.5 for example, if you are either a 6 with an equally strong 5 wing or a 5 with an equally strong 6 wing.

The enneagram on the right above (with the 945 triangle in red) is part of my game playing, as I alluded above. Since my MBTI+ type is IN?P-A, this would translate into the (4,5) void at the bottom of the enneagram, because 4s are mostly INTP and 5s are mostly INFP. But recall that my ennneagram type is in the very top center, the intuitive/gut/anger center. I may even be at the very center of that center, i.e. a type 9. Here is the weird thing. It makes sense! Most of the time I AM in the intuitive center, but at other times I easily fall all the way into the void! That fall is not part of the standard enneagram theory, so maybe Myers-Briggs has some value. There are times when I can fall into the 5 type very hard, living all in my head, withdrawn and overly analytical, building up and completing stories based on incomplete data, a tendency which did not score well with people close to me. At those times, you would type me as an unquestionable 5.

At other times, I fall into the other side of the void, type 4, just as hard. I go through short and intense bursts of creativity (especially with a shovel in my hands), feeling different, dreamy, and repulsed by the ordinary. I overvalue my ideas and believe they are unique. Which realistically is almost impossible, because ideas seem to follow a stubborn pattern of bursting in many heads at the same time. Anyway, the area in red in the enneagram on the above right seems to have added importance for my game playing and therefore an area where I should try to make some positive changes.

Speaking of making changes, let's tie this in with the fact that enneagram typing is not science and that many use it in a 3-step process, yes, 3 again! The 3 steps are observe, understand, and transform. You begin your game by observing your behavior, you move on to understanding some of your desires and fears, and then move on to acting on this understanding and transforming into a happier, more aware, and more adjusted individual. So clearly this 3rd step has more spiritual leanings and indeed many people study the enneagram while also working on some kind of spiritual practice. But the main idea in playing the Enneagram Game is to experiment with various configurations, run them by people close to you, and generally use the insights that you gather to advance along the observe/understand/transform route.

Some mistakenly may fall in love with their personality type ("I just did that because I am such a 3!"), others may wish to belong to a different type. But it does not work that way. Your personality type is set by childhood events, and it is actually more of a liability than an asset. You tend to impulsively act your type, because this is what worked for you in the past, but many times those actions have unwanted consequences. Fighting your type does not work either. The Enneagram game is about embracing your type, understanding it, seeing it for what it truly is, and then stepping back and making wiser decisions which may not be what the initial impulses are asking for. You slowly begin to transform into a healthier version of your type, more in tune with who you truly are, not with the average caricature that your type demands of you. This healthy range of your type is the top layer of what are called Levels of Development in the Riso-Hudson book.

I'd like to conclude with a few more words about the observe/understand steps in our more flexible interpretation of the Enneagram game. You may want to take more than one test to determine your type. Then try to relate it either to the MBTI+ type, or to the Big 5 traits. Then proceed by asking your other half, your friends, and your family to type you. Laugh with them about why they think you are a certain type. And engage, engage, engage! Maybe certain things don't quite fit with the main theory. Build your own theory. Maybe the geometry or the symmetries of the enneagram symbol don't agree with your experiences. Maybe you want to find a different geometry, maybe not a circle, maybe not those arrows but others, maybe those wings do not jive with you, and so on. What emerges in that search process is the game itself (your game!), and a better understanding of yourself and the people you care about. If you feel like making deeper spiritual connections, more power to you. Maybe then you reach the transform step.