Steps to a Unified Model of the Enneagram
Fabien & Patricia Chabreuil

The Problem

As enthusiastic teachers of the Enneagram, we find ourselves confronted with a problem that is both theoretical and practical. It makes us uncomfortable at the personal level and embarrassed in our professional lives.

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First, let's look at a theoretical situation in which the Enneagram community finds itself today.

As soon as new Enneagram fans leave their first teacher or school and encounter presentations on the Enneagram done by others, they come face-to-face with a series of contradictions between the various schools. Some of these contradictions are implied subtly, others are expressed clearly and even crudely.

Here is an inventory of the most blatant oppositions we have come across:

  • some people see the concept of wings as valid, others don't (e.g., Patrick O'Leary);
  • some use the arrows (disintegration one way, integration the other), others use lines without arrows (disintegration and/or integration both ways), others ignore the concept;
  • some see Kathleen Hurley and Theodorre Donson's concept of repressed center as fundamental, others don't;
  • some use the concept of instinctual sub-types, others don't;
  • some agree with Don Richard Riso's nine Levels of Development, others don't.

To these disagreements, we can add the centers' names and functions as well as differences, sometimes major, in the description of the nine types-differences which may or may not result from the preceding divergences.

At this point, what is left of the Enneagram? What would you think if we were to propose this new logo for the IEA:

IEA new logo :-)

But then, why would we still call our model the Enneagram? And what relationship would it have with the Enneagram symbol displayed on all of our documents?

Differences between various schools and teachers are normal and can be a source of enrichment, but this is not what we're talking about. We see genuine contradictions and disagreements on fundamental points of our model. Fascinated by the richness and potential of the Enneagram, there is a tendency to be self-indulgent and to talk about diversity as something always positive in and of itself. However, in the outside world, people who are fond of logic and of the scientific method are rather taken aback by these inconsistencies.

We believe this situation to be dangerous for the Enneagram's survival and development. How can we be considered serious professionals if we cannot reach an agreement on the basic concepts of our model? Does the Enneagram community wish for the Enneagram to be the psychology of the 21st century?-or its popular astrology?

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A practice without a priori only reinforces the confusion.

We teach Enneagram workshops. It is easy and tempting to focus only on the enthusiastic students who agree with our teaching. This can only comfort us in the quality of our practice and the validity of our statements.

But, if we take a closer and somewhat less self-centered look, we realize three things:

  1. Some of our students use the totality of the model that we teach; for them, it works perfectly and makes immediate sense.
  2. Others use the model but neglect certain aspects that are not relevant for them. Sometimes, this attitude can be explained away as a lack of self-knowledge, but this is not always the case.
  3. Though the people who participate in our introductory workshops obviously have a strong interest in the arduous work leading to self-knowledge, in spite of the discovery of their type in the workshop, a certain percentage of them do not feel the need to deepen their understanding of the Enneagram. Of course, one will find a number of reasons-personal, economic, relational, etc, for this situation. Nevertheless, it cannot be ignored that the Enneagram model has not appeared sufficiently pertinent to them.

We believe that every Enneagram teacher can observe the same phenomenon and ask the same questions.

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During the last two years, we have been involved in research aimed at resolving this theoretical and practical difficulty. We have been evaluating our observations and incorporating them into an Enneagram model that accounts for the functioning of the human personality in a more comprehensive way.

From the beginning, we have not felt attached to a specific school. Each school has contributed interesting and valuable ideas, and find their members to be creative, honest and competent people. We have been moved by the idea that the contributions of various authors express different and complementary parts of reality; for this reason, we have called our project "The Unified Model of the Enneagram."

Here are some of our preliminary results.

The Unified Model of the Enneagram

The Unified Model of the Enneagram sees personality as the result of three distinct and thus stackable typologies:

  1. the preferred center typology
  2. the repressed center typology
  3. the instinctive center typology.

Preferred Center Typology

This is the Enneagram's traditional typology. It is well known to readers of the Enneagram Monthly, so we will review it only briefly.

Each type is characterized by:

  1. a preference for one of the centers: instinctive (89 and 1), emotional (23 and 4), or mental (56 and 7), and
  2. the inward and/or outward use of this center's energy.

In the instinctive center, the 8 uses this center's energy to act upon the surrounding world; the 1 wants to act on himself and control himself; and the 9 hesitates between the inward or outward use of the center and therefore has difficulty using it appropriately.

In the emotional center, the 2 uses the center's energy to gain access to the emotions, desires and needs of others; the 4 is interested in living his or her own emotions; and the 3 hesitates between the inward and outward use of the center and thus has difficulty using it appropriately.

In the mental center, the 5 uses the preferred center's energy outwardly to accumulate information on the external world; he doesn't know himself-neither his thoughts, nor his emotions, nor his body; the 7 is centered on himself; he uses his energy inwardly for his own pleasure, building plans for his own enjoyment; and the 6 hesitates between the inward and outward use of the center and thus has difficulty using it appropriately.

Preferred center use

This two-level sorting determines nine types that can be characterized more precisely with the help of a passion, a virtue, a compulsion, a fixation, a basic belief and the loss of a major spiritual attribute.

The preferred center is inborn and remains constant during the entire life.

Repressed center typology

The concept of repressed center was formulated clearly for the first time by Kathy Hurley and Theodorre Donson, based on information presented in Beesing, Nogosek and O'Leary's well-known book (based on Oscar Ichazo's theory), and in Maurice Nicoll's writings.

In their fascinating book, My Best Self, Kathy and Theodorre define the repressed center as the one that, following an original wounding, "we dislike the most, understand the least and avoid with great cunning and agility" (p. 128). For them, the repressed center "silently controls our personality."

Kathy and Theodorre think that each type not only prefers one of the centers, but also represses one specific center. Thus they end up, for each type, with a hierarchy of the centers:

  1. the preferred center which is overvalued,
  2. the second center or support center which is at the service of the preferred center, and
  3. the repressed center which is undervalued.

Therefore, they keep the nine type structure, although they accept two possible hierarchies for the 36 and 9 types, ending up with 12 possible combinations. They are represented in the diagram below using the following notation:

I = instinctive center; E = emotional center; M = mental center.
i = preferred center's inward use; o = preferred center's outward use; i/o = looking for balance between the inward and outward use of the preferred center.

Enneagram (Hurley-Donson model)

In order to explain our vision of the repressed center, we have to critically analyze Hurley and Donson's model. It is because we found their approach to the Enneagram enlightening that we have analyzed and studied it carefully. We consider our work not a disproof but a furthering of their contribution.

The missing combinations

The preferred center typology, combined with the inward and/or outward use of this center's energy, is sufficient to determine nine types. When Hurley and Donson introduced the repressed center, they had to assume that each type obligatorily repressed one center. For example, according to them, a 1 automatically represses the mental center and obeys the following hierarchy:

inward use of the instinctive center [preferred center]
emotional center [support center]
mental center [repressed center]

Hurley and Donson state the existence of this hierarchy but do not justify it. Why would a 1 obligatorily repress the mental center? Why could the following combination not exist:

inward use of the instinctive center [preferred center]
mental center [support center]
emotional center [repressed center]

Since Hurley and Donson concede that there are two possible hierarchies for each type in the 369 triangle, we now have 12 types. Bye-bye Enneagram, hello dodecagram:

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Preferred center I-i E-o E-i/o E-i/o E-i M-o M-i/o M-i/o M-i I-o I-i/o I-i/o
Support center E I M
Repressed center M M E E I I M M E E I I

Six other combinations are possible following the same logic. These would still correspond to the Enneagram types as defined by the preferred center and its use, but by inverting the hierarchy of the second and the third center (as they are defined in Hurley and Donson's model). In order to distinguish these combinations from the others, we added the Greek letter μ (pronounced mu) to the type number.

  1 μ 2 μ 4 μ 5 μ 7 μ 8 μ
Preferred center I-i E-o E-i M-o M-i I-o
Support center M M I I E E
Repressed center E I M E I M

If we observe attentively, and interrogate the people who find themselves described imperfectly in the current model of the Enneagram, we find exemplars of these new types: 1s and 2s who use their mental center better than is usually described, 4s and 5s with good instinctive capabilities, and 7s and 8s more emotional than one would expect. Here we are then with 18 types.

How do we integrate them in the Enneagram model?

The Circular Law

The circular law was formulated in 1997 by one of our students, Patrick Alexandrine.

Let's examine the integration of the types situated on the inner hexagon in correlation with Hurley and Donson's hierarchy of the centers.

5 8 2   4 1 7   5
M I E   E I M   M
E M I   M E I   E
I E M   I M E   I

Studying this table, one comes up with three interesting observations:

  • Integration takes place while respecting the direction of use of the centers' energy: outward (5 -> 8 -> 2), then inward (4 -> 1 -> 7).
  • In each of the triads, integration takes place through a circular permutation of the centers: the third becomes the first, the first becomes the second and the second becomes the third.
  • The points 2 and 7 represent a break in the permutation. The preferred center remains the same, but its direction of use changes from the outward to the inward (2 -> 4), or from the inward to the outward (7 -> 5).
Interpretation of the Circular Law

It is our opinion that the circular law is not a simple mathematical coincidence:

  • It seems reasonable to us that integration would take place by connecting to one's repressed center, thus correcting the main imbalance of one's type. For example, the 5 who prefers the mental and represses the instinctive, integrates to 8 who prefers the instinctive and has the mental as support center.
  • The break, or the exceptions, of points 2 and 7 can be explained by the fact that these two types appear to be characterized by a wasting of their preferred center: the 2 is unable to focus the outward use of his emotional center on only one relationship, just as the 7 is unable to focus the inward use of his mental center on only one idea. Thus, 2s and 7s have something major to learn as a priority about their preferred center. During their integration, they retain their preferred center but change its direction of use.
The 18 Types

Using the circular law, one can place the 18 possible hierarchies of centers on two Enneagrams differing only in the direction of the arrows. We offer to call the first, which corresponds to the usual model, by the Greek letter α (pronounced alpha) and the one integrating the new types by the Greek letter μ (pronounced mu).

Hierarchy of centers

For example, a person stating that his ego is a type 7 indicates his preferred center: mental used inward.

If he is 7 α, the hierarchy of the centers is M-i, I, E: he is extremely active; he gets involved in the realization of some of his plans; though he looks comfortable relating to people, he avoids all real emotional commitment. The integration takes place in 5 α by giving up his superficial jumping from project to project, by deepening his ideas and by learning to concentrate until he reaches consequential knowledge in one field. Disintegration at 1 α makes him rigid, irascible and persnickety.

If he is a 7 μ, the hierarchy of center is M-i, E, I: he is aware of his inner emotions and he often knows that his optimism is a defense; he is more involved in relationships and includes others in his quest for pleasure; he has a very difficult time acting and materializing his plans. Integration takes place in 1 μ by acting in the name of his values and by being responsible even at the cost of sacrificing his own pleasure. Disintegration at 5 μ draws him towards isolation, stinginess and a sterile accumulation of information.

This model resolves some differences among authors referring to the use of the Enneagram lines. However, in our opinion, the most important point does not lie here. It is that this model explains our observations surprisingly well: the μ types that we have observed use the Enneagram arrows in a way opposed to that usually described.

Our generalization of the repressed center model has the following advantages:

  • finer description of the human personality, each type existing in two variations according to the hierarchy between the second and third centers;
  • use of the arrows in both directions in a way that conforms more with people's experiences, while keeping an expected structure;
  • better understanding of a number of confusions between types, particularly the personalities of the triangle, some of which have never been explained before (for example, the hierarchy of the centers makes it possible for a 6 α to look like a 2 α or a 4 μ and for a 6 μ to look like a 1 α or a 8 μ);
  • resolution of some oddities: for example, in the world of business, Helen Palmer finds 5s who behave like 8s, and 4s who behave like 3s. This fits our experience-we believe these to be 5 μ and 4 μ who have the instinctive center second, and not 5 α and strong>4 α who repress it.

We believe that the repressed center is determined during the first years of life and stays that way for the rest of one's existence.

A complete description of all the consequences of this model goes well beyond the scope of a simple article. We are currently finalizing it. We hope that the data offered here will be sufficient to stimulate the readers' observation and reflections.

Instinctive Center Typology

The instinctive center typology describes three ways to use the instinctive center: self-preserving, social and sexual (read the fascinating articles by Peter O'Hanrahan on the subject in this and the previous 3 issues of the EM).

The instinctive type is acquired and can vary during one's life. It is presumed that the instinctive type is determined by our reaction to education and the environment. It is probable that this third typology is not totally independent from the repressed center typology, and that some combinations are at least more frequent that others. For example, it seems to us that the μ is more often than not a social subtype, called "sacrifice."


The triple typology we just surveyed is one of the foundations of the Unified Model of the Enneagram. Other ongoing studies in the field will be the object of articles as they progress.

Our purpose in presenting this work is not to create a new school of thought concerning the Enneagram. Our community doesn't need that and rather suffers of an overload in this area. The ideas introduced here are to be the object of discussion, and, if possible, cooperation. Do not hesitate to contact us to tell us about your observations, comments, criticism or agreement. All of them will be useful and gratefully received.