The great strength of the enneagram personality typology is that it is a dynamic, functional way of understanding personalities and how unconscious drivers affect us in the ebb and flow of everyday life. It has been used for many years, especially in the Americas, and is increasingly used by businesses as a management tool.
The principle underlying the enneagram typology is that it is in the nature of the human condition to be anxious that we will not survive and thrive. This manifests itself as the two main adrenaline- producing emotions of fear and anger, together with nagging doubts of inadequacy. For each of us, one of these is in the driver’s seat with the other two present but only in the accessory role of ‘backseat drivers’!
Our personalities are the coping strategies we have each developed to survive the world which we perceive through the lens of this emotion. They are constantly operating in everyday stress. We need them to survive, and they are an integral part of our egos. So, for instance, the ‘Achiever’ (Type 3) gathers a variety of achievements to quell the nagging anxiety of inadequacy. A lot of energy goes into this because achievements are what fills up the ‘I’m not good enough’ hole. The pressure to achieve more and more is therefore constant and unquenchable. It is exhausting. Unchallenged, it can become like an addiction and, like an addiction, everyone else can see what is happening apart from the Achiever.
The Achiever may resort to ‘spin’ or even outright deceit to keep up appearances. This in itself creates more stress as the spin must be maintained and the deceit kept hidden.
The antidote is easier said than done. It is to first of all recognise what is going on. The next is to acknowledge the feelings of inadequacy which are in the driver’s seat. The next is to come to realise that who and what you are is ‘enough’. You do not need to prove anything to anybody.
But the enneagram has more to say about stress. The name ‘enneagram’ is derived from the fact that the nine (‘ennea’ is Greek for nine) personality types each move predictably into one of the other eight types when stressed. Very often this move begins to take place before one is aware of the stress. So an awareness that this move has happened can be a useful warning sign that stress levels have climbed. Sometimes this stress is necessary and unavoidable, but it is important to be aware of it so the behavioural changes do not result in even more stress.
In stress the Achiever (Type 3) moves into the Mediator (Type 9) personality. That may bring a healthy more balanced viewpoint into the situation or it may make it worse. The Mediator’s driver is anger so a sarcastic outburst could be around the corner. But the Mediator is more concerned about balance than driving things forward so the Achiever may collapse into the passive aggression of a ‘what’s the point’ frame of mind.
The direction of the arrow points towards where a personality goes when stressed. A stressed Achiever shows some similarities to a Mediator but they are not the same as a Mediator: everyone who knows them well can see they are in a bad way.
Every personality has its own distinct dynamic. But in each case it is a combination of the personality-specific driver and motivation which brings this about. Each of us will therefore have a similar response to stress to about a ninth of humanity, but most people will have a different response. The drivers and motivations for each personality type are listed with the individual personalities in Enneagram Personalities of Students.
The antidote to a personality moving into unwanted ‘stress’ mode can be to look for the ‘security’ arrow for your type and consciously cultivate the positive aspects of that personality. The ‘security’ arrow is the arrow pointing TOWARDS a particular personality type. For the Achiever that is to move out of the relentless drive of doing – or the apathy of the negative aspects of the Mediator – and into the loyalty of the Questioner (Type 6) by spending more time with valued family and friends.