New Vision of the Enneagram and Levels of Development

This installment of missing the mark on the enneagram will focus on ‘levels of development. Essentially this conceptualization views the enneagram in 3D in order to explain how healthy or more spiritually developed mindsets will view the world. A new way to map out growth and decline in the personality enneagram. The ‘levels of development” was introduced by a former Jesuit Don Riso in the 1970s and made popular in the book Personality Types (Riso and Hudson 1996). This post makes a concise argument that the presentation of the levels of development rather than the theory itself creates two misconceptions. First is that the cylinder (Figure Below) means, visually, there is the same division in healthy individuals as other levels. This leads to the second problem of essentialization of categories at all levels the notion that I am a number. The idea of growth in the enneagram is to move out of the fixation of the nine types to unity rather than just a higher level of understanding. Thus, a new visualization can illustrate more clearly the ideas underlying the enneagram.

In the initial conception, Riso attempted to figure out why a particular type with the same underlying motivation can act in opposite ways. For instance enneagram Type 8 (E8) at healthy levels may be a great protector and self-sacrificing while unhealthy E8s are terrified, tyrannical, and destructive of everything around them. To combat this seemingly contradictory behavior from E8s and other types the ‘levels of development’ were created. It splits each type into three groups based on the overall attitude of the person and type description: high, average, and low functioning. In turn, they are also split into three groups for a total of nine groups (see figure below).

Levels of Development Riso and Hudson

While there is nothing obviously wrong with this picture it is missing a major aspect of spiritual or psychological growth. The 4thth way school (where the enneagram symbol first appeared in 1916, ) and many religious traditions teach that separation or scattering denotes decline. While coming together (Harmony) being fully human or truly free denotes integration and vision. Often illustrated in the top-of-a-mountain metaphor. The following three examples are common themes of growth or decline.

Man is a machine, but a very peculiar machine. He is a machine which, in right circumstances, and with right treatment, can know that he is a machine, and having fully realized this, he may find the ways to cease to be a machine.
First of all, what man must know is that he is not one; he is many. He has not one permanent and unchangeable “I” or Ego. He is always different. One moment he is one, another moment he is another, the third moment he is a third, and so on, almost without end.”

– P.D. Ouspensky (4th way student and Independent Thinker)

Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters

  • Matthew 12:30 NIV

E Pluribus Unum” Trans: Out of Many One – Motto of the United States Until 1956. Used in Ancient times including Virgil and Cicero until the present day.

The figure above has words but not a geometric shape that denotes this basic tenant.  In common enneagram parlance direction in integration (heaven) and disintegration (hell) are the two extremes with the higher aim the goal. Yet level is the same distance as level 9 from the other enneagram points.

Rather than using a cylinder something closers to Dante’s inferno or pathways up a mountain giving closer access to all the 9 virtues of the Enneagram.  While disintegration goes into isolated hills far removed from different parts of ourselves. The first figure below denotes the differentiation complexity of navigating life. Pathways are hidden and obvious and eventually movement to unity.

Image by Harryarts on Freepik

This addresses the second issue of essentialization of enneagram types. It is the “box you are trying to get out of” to paraphrase Russ Hudson. The cylinder figure still has that aesthetic of being one type still separated at that highest level. Not the integration so commonly found in psychological or spiritual traditions. In addition, the dynamic nature of the enneagram spinning through time and space is captured better with slippery slopes and unmarked paths than with antiseptic geometric objects alone.

New Levels of Development Enneagram

While this last visual representation might also seem a bit too simple combining it with the messy real-life depicted mountain figure should help understand the unifying aspects of the level of development. Not just higher in one respect but with improved functioning and access to all the energies of the enneagram.


Riso and Hudson, Personality Types

P. D. Ouspensky, The Psychology of Man’s Possible Evolution

Bible NIV

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