I have enjoyed learning about and working with the Enneagram for the past couple of decades because it explains—amazingly accurately—so much about how we humans actually function. I’ve gotten to know myself much better as a result and have learned to curb some tendencies and to live with some shortcomings. Best of all, I’ve learned to laugh at myself, at least a little. I’ve also gotten to know others on a deeper level as a result of using the Enneagram.
But sometimes I think we ask too much—or expect too much—of the Enneagram. As comprehensive a tool as it is, the Enneagram can’t and doesn’t explain everything there is to know about us. It is not the personality equivalent of a Theory of Everything.
One aspect of the Enneagram that has become increasingly popular over the past 10 years is identifying the so-called Instinctual Variants, and more recently Instinctual Variant Stacking. The concept seems to have originated with Oscar Ichazo, but it has been considerably expanded and given greater significance than it once had. The purpose of the Instinctual Variants, and the stacking thereof, appears to be to try to explain the differences within types. (This is what I’ve read, not just my interpretation.)
Well, of course there are differences within types. And there are all kinds of things that could explain them, most of which have nothing at all to do with the Enneagram. More than 10 years ago, my partner in crime Elizabeth Libbey and I devoted a great deal of time and effort reviewing a large portion of Enneagram literature and looking at how the Enneagram maps onto or corresponds with other psychological, sociological, and neurological research. We found a solid basis for the Stances (Aggressive, Compliant, and Withdrawing), but nothing comparable in regard to the Instinctual Variants. In fact, I came across research results that flatly contradict that what the Enneagram community considers “Instincts” have anything whatsoever to do with actual biological instincts. That’s why I don’t write about that particular topic here.
Trying to fit all the disjointed, fractured, and misshapen pieces of us inside the Enneagram doesn’t seem realistic or useful to me. And I wonder if that isn’t what turns some people off about personality typing systems. I think that who we are is much more complex and mysterious—and ultimately unknowable. I also think that’s a good thing!