Enneagram Dimensions

Below is a bare-bones outline of a vision I have for working with the enneagram. It's a short introduction to ideas I explore further in the articles I've written.

Briefly, I'd like to propose broadening the scope of enneagram work beyond its current focus on personality typing. To flesh out this vision, I borrow ideas from many fields, including systems theory, chaos theory, the philosophy of art, and transpersonal & cognitive psychology. I start by proposing a shift in focus (from personality to individuality) and then touch on dimensions of the enneagram that we might explore.

If you're completely new to the enneagram, I suggest you check out the following links before reading on. I added the first chapter from The Positive Enneagram, because it's a good comprehensive introduction to my take on the system:


The enneagram is a great tool for exploring individual differences in motivation. It's for that reason that the enneagram is often used as a tool for determining personality type.

However, if we use the enneagram only as a personality typing tool, we limit ourselves. It's possible to use the enneagram for looking not just at personality, but beyond it. If we really think there's more to us than just our personality selves, we need a way of thinking (and speaking) that reflects this idea.

This is why I'm in favor of an enneagram of individual differences. Speaking of individual differences instead of personality types has several advantages.

One advantage is that it lets us talk about individuality without necessarily talking about personality. Personality differences are individual in nature, but individually is a broader concept than personality. We need a way of speaking that reminds us that we are more than our personality type.

Another advantage is it doesn't have a negative connotation. The term "personality" is often used to describe aberrant behavior; we hear about narcissistic personality types, compulsive personality types, borderline personality types, etc. So when we speak of enneagram types as personality types, this tends to emphasize our limitations rather than our potential.

A third advantage is that it helps us develop a broad view of the enneagram. The enneagram is a meta-system--that is, a "system's system." Its geometry describes the nature of processes in general, not just personality processes. All processes have a purpose, and it's this purpose that animates each point of view. This sense of purpose is reflected at the personality level, but doesn't originate there.

In short, by making individuality the focus, we open ourselves more fully to the many dimensions of the enneagram. Below is a brief tour of some of these dimensions. For a more in-depth approach, see the articles I've written on various enneagram topics.


In my brief summary of Enneagram Dimensions, I spoke of a viewing the enneagram from a multidimensional perspective--specifically, a perspective that's exploratory, transpersonal, nonjudgmental, systems-oriented, narrative, imaginative, and humorous.

I see each of these words as touchstones. Each is unique and special. When put together in a list, they define an outlook that's hard to capture with a single word. I can call my view multidimensional, but what does that really mean? Let's take a look.

"Exploratory":   Looking at the enneagram from an exploratory perspective means looking at in the way a child looks at the world: with curiosity and wonder. It's a way of looking that is less about seeking definitive answers than asking interesting questions. It's dynamic because it focuses on process rather than product. It's open-ended and adventurous. And above all, it's not overly serious!

"Transpersonal":   A transpersonal view of the enneagram allows for the study of individual differences at many different levels of the psyche, not just the personality level. So it assumes that (a) consciousness exists beyond the parameters of the personality self and (b) that the enneagram can offer insights into whatever levels we ourselves are capable of accessing.

"Impartial":   An impartial approach takes the sting out of examining attributes of the self up close and personal. It's only possible to take a close look at the psyche if you're relatively impartial, because otherwise the process can get too painful and overwhelming. When we take an impartial stance, we become less reactive and more capable of intelligent self-guidance.

"Systems-oriented":   A systems orientation broadens the scope of our exploration. It's based on four key assumptions: (a) life is intelligent, (b) everything is related, (c) living systems thrive on openness and flexibility, and (d) creativity makes growth and evolution possible. (There's a lot more that could be said on this--see my article on the enneagram from a systems perspective.)

"Narrative":   A narrative is a story. So using the enneagram in a narrative way means letting it help us discover (and perhaps re-work) the story of our lives. The enneagram can help us see the roles we play, the characters we embody, and the themes we live out. The aim isn't so much self-reform as dramatic refinement.

"Imaginative":   When we think of our lives as stories and ourselves as the lead characters in those stories, this wakes up the imaginative faculty. We become receptive and impressionable. Our experience in life becomes more immediate and vivid. Images and other sense impressions (including "extra"-sensory impressions) make themselves known to us. The senses gradually become more awake and alive to what we experience.

"Humorous":   The ability to be in touch with life is relaxing and rejuvenating. It brings a lightness and playfulness to everything we do. Even in difficult situations, we see that "Life is Beautiful."

* * *

I'm excited by the prospect of using these touchstones in my work with the enneagram. I hope that keeping these ideas in mind will help me use the power of the enneagram to unlock the inner beauty I see in myself and those around me.

[ Back to Top ]