07/16/2011 11:13 am ET | Updated Sep 15, 2011

The Enneagram: A Guide to Understanding Yourself and The People Around You

Have you ever looked at the people you know and work with and wondered why they behave the way they do? Why one person would give you the shirt off their back if you needed it, and another person would argue the importance of having a shirt at all? Why would yet another type of person be chronically over-committed, habitually complain about it and yet persist in cramming still more things into their already-overflowing calendar? What do these very different kinds of people want and how can they be reached? The answer to these questions can be found by using a 9-point system called the Enneagram.

In the study of human behavior there are many ways of identifying and discussing it, and most of them involve diagnosing pathological behavior, using terms such as schizophrenic, anti-social personality and so forth. While identifying pathology is an important part of understanding human behavior, it certainly does not explain it in its entirety. Humans, being what they are, present with an often confounding array of behavioral traits and emotional states. The Enneagram gives the user a "road map" and a system of language with which to understand and talk about them.

What Does The Enneagram Look Like?

There are nine basic types in the Enneagram system, and they are as follows:

  1. The Perfectionist
  2. The Giver
  3. The Achiever
  4. The Romantic
  5. The Observer
  6. The Doubter
  7. The Dreamer
  8. The Leader
  9. The Diplomat

To determine your Enneagram type, you simply need to read the descriptions of each one and select the number that best describes you and your behavioral style. For a quick and easy reference guide to help you get started, I refer you to

It is important to understand, as you explore this system, that we each possess all of the nine types of Enneagram energy within us. However, there is one "home point" in which we spend the majority of our "psychological time."

The Enneagram is traditionally displayed as a diagram that takes the form of a clock face with the number nine in the customary 12 o'clock position, the number one in the customary 1 o'clock position and with the numbers 2-8 spread out evenly in clockwise order around the circle. There are intersecting lines inside the circle that actually form a 9-pointed geometric figure, or an enneagram, hence the name. These lines direct the Enneagram user to the interconnectedness of the various points, such as the "wings," which are the numbers on either side of the home point. They also indicate the "heart point" and the "stress point," which are the places where people's energies go when they are engaged in something or with someone that is either emotionally meaningful and important, or emotionally tense and demanding, respectively.

How Does The Enneagam Work?

At first blush, all this may seem quite complex and confusing, but once you have mastered the basics of navigating the system I think you'll find it quick, easy to use and very helpful.

Unfortunately the parameters of an article such as this do not provide sufficient bandwidth to discuss in detail every point on, or all the intricacies of, the Enneagram. However, we can select a point and use it as an exemplar.

Let's begin at the beginning with point one, "The Perfectionist."

"Ones" have extremely high expectations and very specific ideas and ideals about what's right and what's not. And with such exacting standards, they are not at all shy about telling those around them that they are "doing it wrong." Perfectionists have a powerful internal critic, and as hard as they can be on us it's nothing compared to the demands they make of themselves.

Ones have wings of "Nine - The Mediator" and "Two - The Giver." As a result, Ones want to help others do it right, and at the same time they may find they have difficulty letting go of unused objects, prioritizing tasks and knowing exactly who they are. The "heart point" of One is "Seven, The Dreamer," so when they interact with someone or something that is important to them they want to have fun. The "stress point" of One is "Four - The Romantic," so when a One is unhappy, they are intensely, dramatically and over the top unhappy.

So, is there perhaps a One in your life? You can see how understanding what makes them tick can go a long way to improving relationships with your One at home or at work.

The Enneagram Is An Empathy Enhancer

Understanding why people behave as they do goes a long way to averting misunderstandings and promoting compassion. If you know pretty predictably why and how someone is likely to respond in a given situation, you will be less inclined to personalize their behavior and misinterpret it. In fact, you can laugh about your disparate "habits of attention" and find ways to productively interact with any psychologically healthy individual, no matter how different your styles of reaction and expression may be. This kind of empathy can seal a business deal, cement a friendship, sensitively shape your parenting style and make or break your most intimate relationships.

There have been many books written on the Enneagram or you may refer to the information on my website. Congratulations on choosing to seek out ways to better understand your fellow beings, the side effects of which, by the way, will be greater personal success and happiness. The Enneagram is an incredibly powerful and useful tool for constructively interacting with those in the world around you and for greater comprehension of the most important, and possibility most confusing person of all, yourself!

Dr. Cochran is a transpersonal psychologist and licensed clinical social worker with more than 30 years of clinical experience. Dr. Cochran works with her partner, medical doctor David J. Waggoner, MD, at the Saratoga Family Health Center, where she takes a whole person approach to mental health and wellness.

Join Dr. Cochran on July 16th - Using the Enneagram as a tool in understanding yourself and your relationships House of Intuition, 2237 Sunset Blvd., (Silver Lake) Los Angeles CA, July 16th 7:00 - 9:00PM (213) 413-8300.

Dr. Cochran is also author of "What Are You Afraid Of", Nayogi and the Secrets of the Universe and "Sylvia and the Magic Power Sticks" Dr. Cochran hosts radio programs; Whole Brain Thinking: Wisdom, Love, Magic Visit: and