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Enneagram Typing, Stereotyping, and Subtypes | A Guest Blog by Beatrice Chestnut


In Light of the Power of Enneagram Types and Subtypes

Ginger’s blog on the issue of stereotyping with the Enneagram struck me as extremely important and motivated a desire to weigh in on this crucial subject; minimally, avoiding stereotypes should be seen as crucial to anyone who values the Enneagram as a serious map that can aid human development and transformation.

Whomever said that Nines are “big, fat, visceral, slow,” (and thus President Obama cannot be a Nine) was not only expressing a depth of ignorance that endangers the integrity of the Enneagram; this comment exemplifies the real harm the Enneagram can do when it is used so casually and thoughtlessly by people who really don’t know what they are doing.  This person’s superficial stereotype of “all Nines” is exactly why seminal teachers like A. H. Almaas, Oscar Ichazo, and Claudio Naranjo each in their own way, have chosen to embed the study of the Enneagram into a deep and broad program of self-development work and not promote it as a stand-alone “tool” for everyday use by the untutored and undeveloped individual.

As a Two, I have often been surprised by how specific individuals misunderstand my own personality as I experience it.  I see this happen a lot when people type individual’s whom I believe to be Twos as Threes, simply because they are successful.  Certainly Oprah can’t be a Two – which I believe she is – because she’s so over-the-top successful. She has to be a Three, right? Another person told me she did not want to be a Two because “Twos are doormats.”  It’s this shallow, uneducated tossing around of stereotypes that makes people outside the Enneagram community rightly stereotype the Enneagram system itself as a superficial, new-agey, pop psychology fad that puts people in boxes and won’t let them out. When these silly stereotypes are perpetuated, it makes the Enneagram appear superficial, limiting, and judgmental, a meaningless and harmful way of categorizing the human character.

Of course, for people who regard the Enneagram with too much reverence to make blanket statements stereotyping “all Nines” or “all Twos” or “all Sixes,” the system is too complex and too dynamic to clumsily adhere to narrow definitions.  One way that I have come to appreciate another level of this complexity – and also learn again not to resort to stereotypes – is through studying Claudio Naranjo’s 2004 version of the instinctual subtypes.  The additional information Naranjo provided about subtypes in his 3-day workshop at the 2004 International Enneagram Association (IEA) conference showed me a totally new dimension of the system that both helped me understand more about myself and showed me another aspect of the dangerous likelihood of mistyping and misunderstanding type in a stereotypic way.

Naranjo discussed the subtypes in a way I’d never heard before, and I learned a great deal about the subtle dimensions this added to my sense of the nine types. When you know all 27 types as he described them, it makes the possibility of stereotyping clearer and more obvious.  For instance, I believe most all people think all Threes are like Social Threes, when the Self-Preservation and the One-to-One versions of the Three are actually quite different from the stereotypic Social Three who likes to be in the spotlight.  The Self-Preservation Three can look a lot like a Type One; and the One-to-One Three can look like a Type Two. There is a One that looks like an Eight (the One-to-One 1), a Two that can look like a Six (the Self-Preservation 2), a Four that resembles a One (the Self-Preservation 4), an Eight that can appear Fivish (the Self-Preservation 8), a Seven that looks Twoish (the Social 7), and yes, a Nine that resembles a Three (the Social 9).

So, if you are prone to stereotyping – just throwing everyone who superficially resembles one or another of your own very narrow pictures of what the types are into the same small box – you are likely to get it wrong a lot of the time and give the Enneagram a bad name in the process. For all of the nine types, there are subtypes that can look similar to other types. And this is just one example of why you have to know a lot more than some people appear to know before you go limiting people to small boxes of your own ignorant making.

Finally, a word about body types. As anyone who is acquainted with more than a few people of one type knows, it would appear that there is more than one narrowly defined body type associated with each type. I know some curvy Nines and some slim, athletic Nines, some slender Twos and some full-figured Twos.  I think the evidence we all have – and this comes from knowing people of different types – bears this out, and this simple fact should warn against saying that all the people of one type share one specific characteristic. This kind of narrow stereotype of a particular type just seems so obviously wrong to me, and I believe this is one of the biggest reasons the Enneagram isn’t more popular or used more widely today than it is – too many people like Mr. “Nines are fat” are using it badly and holding the whole enterprise back.

Bea Chestnut, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist in private practice and an Enneagram teacher and business consultant who resides in San Francisco, California. She has a forthcoming book on the 27 Enneagram subtypes and recently authored a recent article in the Enneagram Monthly: “Obama is a 9, not a 3.”  E-mail: bmchestnut2@sbcglobal.net