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Enneagram Theory: Enneagram Arrows


A Guest Blog by Jerome Wagner, PhD.


The nine numbers around the Enneagram circle are connected by lines.  (Grammi in Greek means lines, I was told by a native speaker.)  When you divide 1 by 3,6,9, you get three sets of recurring numbers: .333333…. .1666666….. and  .11111.  This is the law of three, which says everything comes into being through the interaction of three forces (active, passive, reconciling; or thesis, antithesis, synthesis), and everything is trying to get back to unity.  Unfortunately, this doesn’t tell us anything about the direction of the energy flow within the 3-6-9 triangle.  The general consensus appears to be that the energy moves from the 9 to the 6 to the 3 back to 9, etc.

The movement of energy along the lines in the hexagon follow the numbers derived from dividing 1,2,3,4,5,or 6 by 7.  You keep getting the recurring set of 1-4-2-8-5-7.  That’s the law of seven, which describes the process of evolution or devolution once things are in existence.

There does not appear to be a consensus about what the arrows tell us about our inner dynamics.  When I first learned the Enneagram in the early 70’s, we were taught that going against the arrow towards the style preceding our own meant we were heading in the right direction toward integration or more healthy functioning; going in the direction of the arrow toward the style proceeding from our own meant we were heading in the wrong direction toward disintegration and more defensive, regressive functioning.

A more recent interpretation says we move against the direction of the arrow toward our core, balance, or security point when we are feeling safe and secure.  We can then either function from the high side of that style and have other resources available to us or we can miss the mark (hamartia)and hit the low side of that style and have those resources come out clumsily.  For example, as a Five shifting toward the Eight, I can be more healthily assertive and stand up for my own and others’ rights or I can be aggressive and boss people around.

When we are feeling stressed and under external or internal pressure, we move in the direction of the arrow towards our stress point.  Here again, we can either hit the high side of that style or miss the mark and end up in the down side of that style.  Sometimes, stress brings out the best in people and sometimes the worst.  As an example from my own miserable life, when I am under pressure I can augment my own wise, though retiring, style by shifting to the high side of the Seven and be more sociable, personable, and entertaining as a way to connect with others.  Or stress may push me to the low side of the Seven where I will creatively avoid pain by escaping to a movie, having a Scotch, or going into the woods to think great thoughts, etc.

There is yet another theory – and you can never have enough theories – that says the arrows don’t indicate integration/disintegration or relaxation/stress; they simply point out two other styles we can readily access to find resources when we need them.  So I might find the Eight and Seven styles available to me whether I’m under pressure or in a flow state.   Just as my neighboring styles Four and Six might be available because they’re nearby.

Is there any data that will help us out here?  Not really.  I’ve been on two dissertation committees where part of both research projects was an attempt to validate the arrow theory that says you go in the direction of the arrow when you are distressed and non-resourceful and you go against the direction of the arrow when you are relaxed, flowing, and resourceful.

For one dissertation, we made up an Enneagram test based on an earlier form of the WEPSS (Wagner Enneagram Personality Style Scales) and also gave people a well-researched anxiety inventory. The thinking was that the more anxious you were, the higher your scores would be at your stress point style (going in the direction of the arrow), and the less anxious you were, the higher your core point score would be (going against the direction of the arrow.)   There were no significant correlations for any of the Enneagram styles.

In the other dissertation, we gave people the WEPSS, which measures both the resourceful and non-resourceful dimensions of each type, an anxiety inventory measuring both state (present situation) and trait (characteristic, long-standing) anxiety, and the ego-strength scale of the MMPI (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory) – a highly researched psychological assessment tool.  The hypothesis was that people with low anxiety and high ego strength would score higher on the resourceful characteristics of their balance or core point and lower on the non-resourceful features of their stress point.  And the corollary would be: higher anxiety/low ego strength = high non-resourceful score on stress point and low resourceful score on relaxed/balanced/core point.  Again, the results yielded no cigars.  There were no significant correlations among any of the styles

One other study I know of used the WEPSS along with the depression, anxiety, and ego-strength scales on the MMPI with the hypothesis that low depression and anxiety and high ego-strength would equal high resourceful score on the person’s balance point while high depression and anxiety and low ego-strength would equal high non-resourceful scores on the person’s stress point.  Again, no significant correlations or interactions were found.

Since I am biased in favor of the Enneagram, my thought has been that there is a problem with the research design.  Maybe what the Enneagram is describing as relaxed and stressed is not adequately measured by anxiety inventories or certain MMPI scales or (in all modesty) maybe my Enneagram inventory isn’t measuring the resourceful and non-resourceful dimensions of the Enneagram styles as well as I’d like it to.

Or maybe the theory about the movements against and in the direction of the arrows doesn’t have anything to do with stressed and relaxed states, but are simply shifts to the resources of other styles that we can use to augment our own strengths and abilities.  Hence, there are little or no correlations found in these studies.

We need to continue asking people about their awareness of their experiences of the arrows and we need to continue more formal experimental research into what the arrows signify about the interconnections of the Enneagram styles.  At this time the lines and movement along them remain open to discussion.

Jerry Wagner, Ph.D. is a leading Enneagram teacher and author who travels worldwide when he is not in Chicago, teaching at Loyola University or engaged in his clinical practice as a psychologist. He is the author of the WEPSS (Wagner Enneagram Personality Style Scales), an Enneagram typing test now available online. His new book, Nine Lenses on the World: the Enneagram Perspective, is available at Amazon and BarnesandNobleJWagner5@aol.com.