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The Enneagram: Understanding Yourself & Others in Your Life

The Enneagram: Understanding Yourself & Others in Your Life

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by Helen Palmer

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It would be impossible for most of us to spend a day without coming into direct or indirect contact with dozens of people family, friends, people in the street, at the office, on television, in our fantasies and fears. Our relationships with others are the most changeable, infuriating, pleasurable and mystifying elements in our lives.


It would be impossible for most of us to spend a day without coming into direct or indirect contact with dozens of people family, friends, people in the street, at the office, on television, in our fantasies and fears. Our relationships with others are the most changeable, infuriating, pleasurable and mystifying elements in our lives.

Personality types, based on the ancient system of the Enneagram, will help you to enjoy more satisfying and fulfilling relationships in all areas of your life by introducing you to the nine basic personality types inherent in human nature. This knowledge will help you better understand how others think and why they behave as they do, as well as increasing your awareness of your own individual personality.

Written by the leading world authority on the Enneagram, it offers a framework for understanding ourselves and those around us, as well as a wealth of practical insights for anyone interested in psychology, counselling, teaching, social work, journalism and personal management.

Editorial Reviews

San Francisco Chronicle
Provides help in understanding the good qualities of a more evolved life.
Training and Development Journal
Palmer’s historical and clinical accounting is solid and her reasoning insightful. The Enneagram system can help us understand people as they see themselves.
Yoga Journal
Explores the mysteries of personality and points the way to the cultivation of extraordinary abilities.
New Realities Magazine
A book for both the psychologically sophisticated and for ordinary people as well.
American Humanistic Psychology Review
[Palmer’s] focus on the practical import of this unique personality system gives her book special power, the power to transform.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
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Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.93(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Backround of the System and an Introduction to Type

The Enneagram is an ancient Sufi teaching that describes nine different personality types and their interrelationships. The teaching can help us to recognize our own type and how to cope with our issues; understand our work associates, lovers, family, and friends; and to appreciate the predisposition that each type has for higher human capacities such as empathy, omniscience, and love. This book can further your own self-understanding, help you work out your relationships with other people, and acquaint you with the higher abilities that are particular to your type of mind.

The Enneagram is part of a teaching tradition that views personality preoccupations as teachers, or indicators of latent abilities that unfold during the development of higher consciousness. The diagrams that appear in this book are a partial view of a more complete model that describes the levels of humanity's possible evolution from personality through a range of unusual human potentials, such as empathy, omniscience, and love. It is vital that this larger context not be overlooked by focusing attention on the nine character types, because the complete Enneagram is one of the very few models of consciousness that addresses the relationship between personality and other levels of human capability. The power of the system lies in the fact that ordinary patterns of personality, those very habits of heart and mind that wetend to dismiss as merely neurotic, are seen as potential access points into higher states of awareness.

We can easily recognize the value in the Enneagrams that describe personality because a great deal of our attention is focused on the thoughts and feelings that we identify as our self. If, however, our own unique personality, or what each of us thinks of as "myself," is in fact only one aspect in a continuum of human development, then our own thoughts and feelings must in some way constitute a staging ground for understanding the next phase of our own unfolding. From this expanded psychological perspective, our neurotic trends can be seen as teachers and as good friends who lead us honorably forward to our next phase of development. And if, as the Enneagram suggests, our personality is a stepping-stone to a greater consciousness, then gaining a working understanding of our own preoccupations takes on a double purpose. First, it makes us more effective and happier as a person; and second, we learn how to set the personality aside in order to allow the next phase of consciousness to unfold.

The Oral Tradition

The Enneagram of types is part of an oral teaching tradition, and the material is still best transmitted by seeing and hearing groups of people of the same type speak about their lives. Seeing and hearing a group of articulate and willing people express a similar point of view transmits far more of the power of the system than can possibly be conveyed by a mere written record of their words. After about an hour a group of people who start out looking physically very different begin to seem the same. The viewer can sense the similarities in physical holding patterns, emotional tone, the tension points in the face, and the quality of personal emanation that are the more subtle signs of type. The auditorium fills with a definite presence as the character unfolds. There is a unique feel to each of the types, a distinguishing quality, a presence in the hall.

A group of the same type can initially appear to have nothing in common, because the viewer is paying attention to their differences in sex, age, race, profession, and personal style. Within an hour, however, they begin to look the same: their histories, their choices, their preferences, their goals. What they avoid and what they dream begin to seem the same. They even start to look alike, once your attention shifts from the surface features of apparel and a personable smile. When your attention shifts from surface cues, you can recognize type by filling into an appreciation of the aspirations and the difficulties that the members of a type will share.

The world looks very different to each of the nine, and by lending yourself to the way that others feel within themselves, you can shift out of your own point of view into a true understanding of who the people in your life really are, rather than what your ideas about them might lead you to believe. By lending yourself to the ways of others, a sense of compassion for their situations opens. When you see the world from the point of view of other types of mind, you are immediately made aware that each type is limited by a systematic bias.

I am always moved by the power of this teaching when I recognize the central patterns of my own life in the stories of a group of my similars. They are contemporary stories that take place in ad agencies and supermarkets and college classrooms and meditation halls. They are told by people who have my thought patterns and are living out their stories in the way that I live mine. I know that I can count on them for information, for counsel, for the revelation of what they have found out about themselves.

What makes the the telling of personal history stunning is that the self-disclosure of profoundly intimate material is given with the intention of putting oneself aside. The intention behind telling your own story is, of course, to get some clarity about the patterns that drive your life, but in this case, the goal of self-understanding is to learn to observe these patterns internally, detach attention from them, and eventually set the personality aside. The "setting aside" implied by a system that encompasses several states of consciousness means more than simply working a problem through until the suffering is gone. Setting the personality aside means being able to detach attention from thoughts and feelings, so that other perceptions can come into awareness...

The Dynamic Enneagram. Copyright © by Helen Palmer. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Helen Palmer conducts extended workshops, seminars, and training sessions on the Enneagram in the San Francisco Bay Area and around the country. She is the author of The Enneagram in Love and Work

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The Enneagram: Understanding Yourself & Others in Your Life 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
ddalex More than 1 year ago
I found this book in the self help section of the book store back in 1997 and it changed my life. It was the first time I grasped that others see things differently from me. The book is about the filters/lenses through which we naturally perceive the world. It isn't a book about personality. It demonstrates nine ways of seeing the world and, by understanding those nine ways, we can understand and get along better with others. After reading this book, follow it up with 'The Enneagram In Love and Work' also by Palmer.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Not the best personality book that I have read. It seems hard to apply the personalities to described in the book to people in every day real life. Each person seems to almost be a little bit of each personality.