Monday, December 19, 2005

Book Review: Personality Types

There are many personality typing models around. You may have heard, for example, of the Meyers-Briggs personality types. Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson's book Personality Types: Using the Enneagram for Self-Discovery introduces the Enneagram. The word ennea is the Greek word for nine. The term enneagram, then, means 'diagram of nine'. The Enneagram identifies nine main personality types. Once you have identified which type best describes you it is given a number and can be located on the enneagram (pictured below). Each personality type can range from healthy to unhealthy and Riso and Hudson provide detailed personality profiles for each type and subtype from healthy to unhealthy. Each personality type is connected by a line to two other personality types. Travelling in one direction represented by a line leads to disintegration of the personality and travelling in the other direction leads to integration. For example, if you were a Type 7 you would be connected to Type 5 (a Type 7's direction of disintegration) in one direction and Type 1 (a Type 7's direction of integration) in the other direction. According to Riso and Hudson, each type of personality has a particular Basic Fear that needs to be dealt with. For example, Type 2 has a basic fear 'of being unwanted and unworthy of being loved'. This basic fear leads to a basic desire 'to be loved unconditionally'. The Type 2 person has a choice to either give in to their basic fear and spiral towards more unhealthy ways of satisfying the basic desire or can resist their natural impulse and move toward self-actualisation by letting 'go of their identification with a particular self-image' that leads them to believe 'that they are not allowed to take care of themselves and their own needs.' A similar process occurs for each of the nine personality types. The Enneagram is a very complex model of personality and is unrelenting in its honesty about the human condition and what needs to be done to move toward psychological health. It is richly dynamic and avoids over-simplification of personality and its challenges. It not only suggests one's personality type but indicates the direction one needs to go to grow and mature. No brief description can do the Enneagram justice. Riso and Hudson do an excellent job of explaining the model and have contributed a number of unique insights to the model. Included in their discussion is a survey of the origins of the enneagram symbol which is shrouded in considerable mystery, and the process of the development of the contemporary personality types. The Enneagram is not without controversy. It is primarily based on clinical observation by those who practice it and there is considerable variation amongst writers regarding the detail of the model. Almost no formal empirical research has been carried out on it. One study has been done in collaboration with the authors of this book which claims that the personality types are 'real and objective'. Robert Carroll suggests that the Enneagram is similar to astrology in its vagueness and flexible application by the imagination. According to the Wikipedia article on the Enneagram, the 'The Pontifical Council for Culture and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue of the Roman Catholic Church has ... expressed concerns about the Enneagram when used in a religious context because it is claimed that it "introduces an ambiguity in the doctrine and the life of the Christian faith".' Other Christians have also raised concerns over the Enneagram believing that it has its roots in occultism and tends toward New Age ideology. Riso and Hudson attempt to deal with some of these issues in the discussion of the Enneagram's history and development. Others, for example, Clarence Thomson, suggest that criticisms of the Enneagram are based on incorrect information, old information, or misunderstanding. So, what are we to make of it? I still don't know enough about the model to say. Because it is controversial and there are so many opinions about it, I think it is important to approach the Enneagram with caution, healthy skepticism and consideration of different points of view. If you wish to read an authoritative source on the Enneagram to help you make up your mind, then Riso and Hudson's book is a good place to start. Just make sure it is not the only source of information you rely on in making your decision. More information is provided in the Related Links section below. Finally, Evan Howard gives what may be the best advice on spiritual formation:

If we in spiritual formation intend to lead people into ever-increasing unity and conformity with the living God revealed in Jesus Christ, we are at our best and generally safest when we lead Christians with teaching and practices that are distinctive to the Christian tradition: Christian spiritual formation...

The blessings of spirituality have arrived, and resources to pursue the spiritual life abound. But therein lies a caution. When we are more interested in the fascinating resources than in pursuing relationship with God, when we use the right words to avoid the real Spirit, or when we pursue the experience of God more than the God of the experience, we are not yet practicing Christian spiritual formation.

Related Links


  1. If it's true that as a believer I become a new creation, old things have past away and all things become new, then I have have new DNA based on Kingdom Seed (Matt. 13:19), the word of God. Mere man in all his feeble attempts outside the realm of the Holy Spirit (Jn. 3:8) cannot hope to categorize me. Far to many believers don't renew their minds according to the Word, instead they want to use spiritual sounding secular understandings to understand what should be understood best according to the teachings of Christ. He gave us detailed understanding in how we should think, what we should seek after, what we should reject, it's all in Red in the Gospels.

  2. 1) What evidence is there that your DNA changes following conversion?

    2) Are you suggesting that there is no more to lean about human nature other than what the Bible states?