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Why We Need Claudio Naranjo (Helen Palmer, Don Riso and Others) More Than Ever

Many people have told me that I seem to be (except for Russ Hudson) the most traveling Enneagram teacher. They make comments such as this: Wow, are you tired? You travel more than anyone except maybe Russ. Since I can barely keep track of my own schedule, I really don’t pay attention to anyone else’s, but the frequency of comments ignited my thinking about what I am observing from my journey.

In general, the spread of the Enneagram is greater than ever, over every continent and in so many countries. By this, I am referring to many factors: the number of people who contact my office from all over the world; my experience when doing programs in the US and outside in terms of people’s interest, enthusiasm, and information; comments from members of the Enneagram in Business Network who are everywhere (and so have their fingers on the global pulse); what I experience and observe at IEA (International Enneagram Association) conferences and events, both global and local, just to give some examples.


The good news is the spread, excitement, energy, and multi-national quality of the Enneagram. Even better is the quality of the people who are attracted to the system and the emphasis on using the Enneagram for development rather than for simply describing oneself or others. Ten years ago when I would travel both inside and outside the US to do Enneagram programs for Enneagrammers – as juxtaposed to my organizational programs in which people were new to the Enneagram – about 50% of the time, people would say this: You are different from other Enneagram teachers because you emphasize development. Now, this is almost never said, which is a great relief to me. The Enneagram, at least for me, has always been about development – that is, reducing the hold of the ego so the deeper and more conscious “self” can emerge. Now, the development focus does seem to be the focus.

But new issues have arisen that concerns me greatly, issues that make me say we need Claudio Naranjo and other conscious, smart, highly experienced teachers who are well-versed and grounded in the Enneagram. First, let me explain three issues (although there are more) and give examples:

Issue 1: Making ungrounded leaps of theory
This issue is actually not new, but it seems to be growing. I first observed this 10+ years ago: people – via articles, presentations, and even books – saying that the wings do this or the arrows do that, or that subtypes are like this. Although new theory is actually desirable, ungrounded theory is not, and neither is theory stated as an absolute rather than as a speculation.

An example: An Enneagram teacher saying he/she can absolutely tell the type of another person because she/he can readily determine the Center of Intelligence and subtype of another person and this gives the person’s ennea-type.

Think about this. How can we determine the person’s main Center of Intelligence before they themselves deeply consider this? It has, I think, long been debunked that just because a person’s ennea-type is formed from a particular Center that that is the primary Center they use.  For example, many 9s are not so much in touch with their body center; many 9s relate more to the heart center and some to the head center. Many 3s do not relate to being heart-centered and some don’t appear this way either.

How can one determine another’s subtype when subtypes are so subtle and nuanced? Asking the other person before he or she understands the subtypes accurately is no help. Drawing conclusions based on a simplistic understanding of the ennea-types is also misleading. For example, some suggest that the self-preserving subtypes are always concerned about self-preserving issues such as safety and security, etc. At a high level, this is true enough, but this doesn’t mean self-preserving subtypes always have these needs addressed. For example, self-preservation 4s are called reckless-dauntless. One of the ways they respond to the self-preserving instinct is to pay little attention to some of their real or true self-preserving needs. For example, they may have an abundance of money and then spend it all recklessly, or they often work themselves to a frenzy (even being a look-alike for a 3 or a 7) as a way of showing how much they can do and not suffer or as a way to avoid their deeper feelings of melancholy and sadness. Similarly, social subtypes do not always feel comfortable in groups. I am a social 2, and I have a strong but mixed reaction to groups. I like them when they are productive and focused, but am highly aware that groups can be mean and actually harmful to people if left unattended (as in Lord of the Flies).

Issue 2: The obsession with typing other people
This issue seems to be getting worse, but perhaps that is because more people know the Enneagram and as a result, more people are “playing with their knowledge” and/or assuming they can accurately type others. I read this on Facebook, on LinkedIn; I hear this at conferences and during informal discussions. And it really disturbs me. Although the reasons for attempting to type others – often public figures – are understandable: it’s a way for us to apply what we think we know; it’s interesting to try to figure out the type’s of others; and I think some people may think that if we can’t type other people, then what use is the system?

The answer is that the Enneagram is really for our own use and for our own development psychologically and spiritually. We can also use it to improve our compassion for and interactions with others if we know their type accurately. But to assume we can determine another’s type with any certainty – an even more so with public figures whom we don’t know personally and for whom our only data is what we read about them (which may not be accurate) or how we experience them on television or some other media (which has our own bias to our assessment) – is disturbing and even arrogant. That is a strong word and I don’t use it lightly.

An example: I was at a dinner with some other Enneagrammers, including some well-known Enneagram teachers (unnamed!), and the name Ryan Seacrest came up. One of the Enneagram teachers said, “Oh, he’s absolutely a 3.” I was startled by this comment because of several factors: (1) the statement was made with such certainty, even though this teacher had never met Seacrest; (2) I’ve watched Seacrest on American Idol since its inception, watched his other TV shows, listened to him on the radio for years (he began as a radio personality), read a great about him in magazines, and seen him interviewed multiple times and he appears to me to much more of a 7, though I am not certain of this.

I remarked, “Oh, I think he’s a 7; what makes you think he’s a 3?”

I received this response: “He’s a 3 without a doubt.” When I asked about the data for this point of view, I was told, “Seacrest has replaced Dick Clark on some shows and Clark is definitely a 3. Plus, I’ve read biographies about him, and I know he’s a 3.”

What I was thinking was this: Even if Clark is a 3, this doesn’t make Seacrest a 3. And even if a biography describes a public figure in some way, the biographer has selective information and a point of view, so bias can easily creep in. However, what is said in response was this: “Could you give me some books or articles to read so I could understand better why you came to that conclusion?” What was said in response was this: “I’m right; you’re [Ginger] wrong. I can always tell a person’s type by reading their biographies.”

Let’s just call this a very awkward moment, to which I said, “I’ve never thought of you as arrogant and I do think it is arrogant to presume we can know the type of another person, and especially public figures, with 100% certainty.”

The response from this teacher: “You’re wrong.”

I do want to add that I do engage and, to some extent, enjoy speculating on the types of public figures, but I always hold that it is speculative. Whether others either agree or disagree with my ideas, I am most interested in their reasons and sources of data. I often learn something I didn’t fully consider. For example, with Obama, while I do think (emphasis on “think,” rather than “know”), he’s a 9 with a 1 wing (and have good reasons for this), I also think a very good case can be made for him as a 3 or a 5. I thought through this, think 9 is a better fit (social subtype 9) and think there are strong reasons to eliminate 5 and 3. Yet, I still think these could be possible. So, I can have a healthy conversation with someone who disagrees with me, as long as their reasoning is sound and they don’t take the position: “I’m right; you’re wrong.”

Issue 3: Purported “Enneagram teachers” who don’t know the Enneagram accurately who are disseminating it to others

This issue has arisen in so many places around the world (including the US), and of course has to do with the increasingly widespread use of the Enneagram. Fifteen years ago, most people who worked with the Enneagram (specifically, the Enneagram of personality with its roots from Ichazo to Naranjo and then to others) had certified with Riso-Hudson, Palmer-Daniels, Hurley-Donson (their roots were a combination of Guerjieff and Naranjo, to some degree), Jerry Wagner, or Claudio Naranjo. Most had trained with only one of these “schools,” with some having learned it (and in many cases, learned it well) on their own through reading, reflection, and some shorter training with a number of different Enneagram teachers who knew the Enneagram well. During this period, there was limited infusion of Guerjieff and Ichazo, Guerjieff because his “followers” did not (and many still do not) think those of us from the Naranjo roots are using the system correctly. Ichazo-learners of the Enneagram stayed more to themselves, did not singly focus on the Enneagram, and Ichazo began working with what we now know as Tritypes – that is, the idea that we have a type within each center of Intelligence – and did not encourage people he trained to go into the public zone with their knowledge.

Over the last decade, this has changed, which is both very useful for the Enneagram and also generate the concerns related to issue 3. More and more people have heard of and know the Enneagram, which is wonderful. At the same time, how are they learning it, from whom are they learning it, and are they learning it accurately? Learning it accurately obviously has to do with the “teacher” or mode or learning, but also with the learner. What I am experiencing both inside and outside the US is some incorrect learning, which I think is 65% the teaching and 35% how the learner is processing what they taught. There are so many ways in which this arises, so let me discuss two examples, though there are many, many more.

Example 1: Inadequately trained Enneagram teachers
When I was in Hong Kong three years ago doing a Train-the-Trainer program on my first book, Bringing Out the Best in Yourself at Work, a woman from mainland China whom I didn’t know contacted me prior to my going there asking to have dinner with me the night before the program began. I said yes, we had dinner, and she told me two things: (1) she was a 7 (however, she was most clearly a counterphobic 6, which became very clear as the T-the-T progressed, although everyone saw this except her), and (2) she was planning to write an Enneagram book and wanted my help with this. When I asked her how she had learned the Enneagram, she replied that she had read one book (author I didn’t know) and when I asked her how she planned to write a book when she didn’t have a deep or strong knowledge of the Enneagram (I said it more nicely than this), she replied that it didn’t matter because she was simply going to cut and paste from the work of other Enneagram authors, including me!

Example 2: Mislearning the 27 Enneagram Subtypes
Almost everywhere I go, there is a fascination (and rightly so!) with the 27 Enneagram Subtypes. And, everywhere I go, there are always people who think they know the Subtypes accurately but have it mostly or entirely wrong. For example (and this is a common misperception), I’ve heard more than a few times that people are being taught that (1) the “dominant” subtype is where we are getting our needs met and (2) the “dormant” subtype is the area in which needs are not being met at all.

Here’s the problem with this teaching. The subtypes are “neurotic” ways of getting our needs met. In other words, our subtype is the intersection of the passion of our type and our primary instinctual need (self-preservation, social or sexual, also called one-to-one), and our subtype behavior is continuous, repetitive, and largely unconscious. The “dominant” subtype behavior is by definition, neurotic, since if the need were being met, we would not continue it so habitually or so frequently. The example of hunger is useful here. A non-neurotic relationship to food is that a person feels hunger, eats, and then is satisfied or full. The person no longer needs to eat until his or her physical need for hunger rises again (which is not right after eating, since the person is satisfied). A neurotic relationship to food is when a person repeatedly over-eats or under-eats, being out of touch with the body’s need for food. In these cases, food often represents something other than nutrition for the person and thus, it is a neurotic need until the individual examines his or her relationship to food.

Similarly, our “dormant” subtype, the one that is least activated (self-preservation, social, or sexual) does not mean we are getting none of our needs met in this area. Obviously, if one’s self-preserving instinct is the “dormant” subtype, it doesn’t mean that the person is penniless, does not have shelter, doesn’t eat well, or doesn’t pay bills and taxes!

I’ve even heard people say that a “teacher” has told them that they should develop the subtype that is “dormant,” using the subtype for the ennea-type. Ouch! This is just one more way of not getting our true needs met, which is really one of the main points of knowing our main subtype(s): what real needs do we have in each of the three instinctual arenas (self-preservation, social, and one-to-one) and how can we get these true needs met?

More on Subtypes
Here’s the Claudio Naranjo theory that I learned in Germany 1+ years ago: Most of us have 2 “awake” subtypes and a third that is “asleep.” With the 2 awake subtypes one may be dominant (most common) or both may be equal (can happen) or they may alternate at different points in our life (happens to quite a few people). Claudio says we should think like this: there are really 6 versions of subtypes for each type: SP-Social; SP- 1-1; Social-SP; Social-1-1; 1-1;SP; and 1-1-Social. So there are really more than 9 characters or even 27 characters; there are 6 X9 or 54!

Why We Need Claudio Naranjo (and Other Teachers) More Than Ever
It’s really about honoring the integrity of the Enneagram system, making sure we have the “basics” down and then helping to evolve the system in a grounded and experienced-based way. It’s about honoring the psychological and spiritual roots of the Enneagram, so that in this, the modern usage, the Enneagram can thrive and flourish.

We need to expose ourselves to the work of the many teachers who have been studying and using the Enneagram with real people. We need to understand and respectfully use the work of Claudio Naranjo, Helen Palmer, Don Riso, David Daniels, and Russ Hudson. Try to get exposed to the work of Jerry Wagner, Tom Condon, Michael Goldberg, Lynette Sheppard, Peter O’Hanrahan, Terry Saracino, Mary Bast, Bea Chestnut, and Uranio Paes. And there are numerous others, all over the world.

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Anne Wotring PhD
11 years ago

Thanks very much, Ginger. I am also impressed with the “Brain Group” research undertaken by Jack Killen, MD, Dan Seigel, MD, David Daniels, MD to name the neurobiology of each type.

11 years ago

I am afraid that I agree with you that part of the problem is the teachers, even Claudio Naranjo. Many prominent teachers of the Enneagram have stated with authority in books, articles and lectures that Obama is a Type 3 (http://enneagrammonthly.com/2011/10/16/611/) or that Hitler is a Type 6. And, of course, none of them met, truly know the inner motivations and spoke at length with Hitler or Obama. With this sort of speculation on a public figure, there is no certainty to this accuracy of these Typings, Now, other teachers and their students now argue that maybe Obama is a… Read more »

Charles Miller
Charles Miller
11 years ago

Hi Ginger,

Wonderful post. You have the courage to be clear and speak truth.

Thanks so much!

Charles Miller

Arthur Kranz
11 years ago

Many prominent teachers of the Enneagram have stated with authority in books, articles and lectures that Obama is a Type 3 (http://enneagrammonthly.com/2011/10/16/611/) or that Hitler is a Type 6. And, of course, none of them met, truly know the inner motivations and spoke at length with Hitler or Obama. With this sort of speculation on a public figure by role models and there being no certainty to the accuracy of their Typings of these public and historical figures, I find not surprising that their students have similar discussions or that other teachers and their students now argue that maybe Obama… Read more »

11 years ago

One of my favorite teachers and contributors to the Enneagram who Ginger doesn’t mention or list is current IEA President Mario Sikora. Mario has been trying to bring insights from science, and more logical rigor to the Enneagram. The fact that 9 different Enneagram teachers can each come up with almost as many different types for Obama suggests to me that the Enneagram currently lacks significant rigor and consistency in fundamental definitions and taxonomy. Mario’s approach to the instincts is IMO of particular significance because it is grounded in careful observation and supported by insights from evolutionary psychology. Currently, few… Read more »

AJW Media
11 years ago

Well now….I have so many thoughts… and I wrote them down, now I have to decide what my Enneagram Six Counter type wants to say to the world on this. lol

9 years ago

What is naranjo type?

8 years ago

Great discussion. Thanks! I prefer to see ALL systems of thought as models; models that are useful, as long as they are useful. I appreciate all the insight that the Enneagram provides. Yet to try to ascribe it the mathematical rigor even of Newtons Laws would be nuts. And we know what happened to Newtons Laws post Einstein and Quantum mechanics.  It seems that typing personalities, in a less rigorous manner, more as a picture of the many faces of humanity, will go a long way to help us to understand ourselves and one another. But when we get dogmatic… Read more »

8 years ago

이상 특수형 에 More on Subtypes Here’s the Claudio Naranjo theory that I learned in Germany 1+ years ago: Most of us have 2 “awake” subtypes and a third that is “asleep.” 여기서 나는 몇 년 전 독일 1 에서 배운 것을 클라우디오 나란 이론 입니다 : 우리의 대부분은 둘 하위유형은 ” 각성awake” 의 3번째 하위 유형이 “자고asleep” 있다. , With the 2 awake subtypes one may be dominant (most common) or both may be equal (can happen) or they may alternate at different points in our life (happens to quite a few people). 둘 깨어있는 하위유형은 하나가 지배적 (… Read more »

8 years ago

There are about 6.3 billion people on earth. That allows seven hundred million persons for each type. Deciding which box someone else fits in can only be self-serving. The Enneagram is a study not a fact. .Still, speculating is part of the learning process that  does not get in the way until it becomes judgment.

luchi Fernandez
4 years ago

I would add Mario Sikora’s investigation about the instincts. For a long time I thought and was told I was a social instinct and with Mario’s help I finally realized I was SP. I admire Mario’s work, as well as yours, because he is a critical thinker. I agree 100% with you Ginger that we can’t be sure of somebody’s type without really knowing which is their motivation. Although, some schools for certification they ask you to write essays explaining your motives to think somebody is a certain type. But I guess it must be as you said “think”. Thank… Read more »

Ashkan Rashedi
1 year ago

Thanks Ginger. Enjoyed reading this article. Going to read it again later and keep thinking about the points discussed. Not sure if you are checking comments or answering them, but it is interesting to know how would you write this article after almost 10 years passed.

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