A conversation with Fabien & Patricia Chabreuil (Part 1)
Andrea Isaacs et Jack Labanauskas (Translation from the French by Anjali Crawford)
Enneagram Monthly: During our visit with you this past April, we were impressed with the comprehensive Enneagram training that you have in France.
Patricia Chabreuil: We offer ten different courses. Participants can pursue their study of the Enneagram anywhere from two days to two years. We begin with an introductory weekend course during which participants discover their types and learn the fundamentals of the Enneagram model: the centers, the passions, the fixations, and the compulsions, etc.
Fabien Chabreuil: Then, taking into account that everyone has their own learning style, timing, and objectives for studying the Enneagram, we work out a program. To us, it seems ineffective to ask that everyone take the same classes in the same order. Therefore, eight of the ten courses can be taken as a whole or individually, and in any order that suits the learner. For those who want to pursue a certification program, there is a final course that perfects, reinforces, and validates their studies.
EM: Would you describe what is covered in your courses?
PC: Our courses are divided into three major categories. The first is designed to deepen one’s knowledge of the Enneagram model with information on the instinctual subtypes, the hierarchy of the three centers, the alpha/mu variants, the processes of integration and disintegration, the impact that the type has on our perception of our parents, and a comparison of the Enneagram with other psychological systems, such as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), Horney’s typology, Myers-Briggs, and Transactional Analysis (TA).
FC: Along with a lot of other wonderful things! Even though there’s a lot of material, we think it’s important to keep this part of the training brief compared to the other two parts.
EM: That’s quite a trick.
FC: It’s a point to which we attach a lot of importance for two reasons. First of all, we consider that a type can be defined by understanding how nine concepts fit together: the preferred center and its inward or outward usage, the alpha/mu variant, the compulsion, the vice-to-virtue pair of opposites, the movement from fixation to the holy idea, and the principal defense mechanism. As you know, one can add a lot of information and examples, and we don’t refrain from doing so. But, it is important that we and our students keep in mind the fundamental characteristics of the type-these nine concepts-in order to preserve the universality of the Enneagram and to ensure that the description of a type remain valid regardless of the culture or the time in history.
EM: That’s a good point. Otherwise every country and time period would have different descriptions of the types, and that would certainly add a lot of confusion to the field.
FC: That’s right. Let us draw a parallel. If you re-read Othello, you’ll see that the psychological description of the characters is both incredibly accurate and extremely simple. If Shakespeare had added a lot of details, we would have a less-than-interesting story about a Moorish general in Venice in the seventeenth century. It’s the simplicity of the characters that results in our having that timeless portrayal of jealousy, vengeance, and manipulation that still deeply touches our soul nearly 400 years later. It’s the same with the Enneagram.
PC: The second reason for keeping the descriptive part of our training brief has to do with the real objective for doing extensive study or training in the Enneagram. One can always talk more about the Enneagram. It’s a big temptation because there is so much to say about it. And I use "temptation" in the spiritual sense of the word. It’s a narcissistic temptation of the ego to talk about itself because as soon as one starts talking a lot about the ego, the ego remains intact and even gets reinforced. This is not why our students come to study. They come to take up the work of letting go of their egos’ automatic responses to life.
EM: You say this part of your training is relatively short, but you certainly cover a lot of ground in this one category! Some people study the Enneagram for years and never get around to learning about the subtypes.
FC: The category covers several courses, but you’re right, it’s a lot of material. We have a belief about learning: the brain learns quickly or not at all. When the pace of learning is slow, your brain gets bored and it starts to think about other things, like your next vacation or your taxes. Of course, what your brain thinks about depends on your type! But afterwards, it has difficulty reapplying itself to the subject and reconnecting with the information already acquired. A quick pace is the secret to concentration, and concentration is the secret to memorizing and integrating the information.
PC: There is something else that relates to making progress. You can’t liberate yourself from your ego with one weekend of study per month, or even a class per week. It takes daily work. During our coursework, we share methods, techniques, insights, feedback and experiences with our students. When we know they have integrated the information, we leave with them the individual responsibility and the freedom of a daily practice, rather than repeat the same techniques in the group setting.
EM: That makes good sense. The ego is formidably defended, even if we give it our complete attention. But, let’s backtrack a moment. For readers not familiar with your theory of the alpha and mu types ["Steps to a Unified Model of the Enneagram," EM, November ’98], would you summarize it again for us?
FC: Yes, this concept is actually studied within the first category of our training. It’s an idea that is completely logical. If one of the three centers—mental, emotional, or instinctive-is preferred, why should the other two centers be used equally? This questioning leads to the understanding that within each type, one center is repressed. In other words, the use of a particular center is avoided due to the association of varying degrees of trauma in early childhood. Kathy Hurley and Theodorre Donson were the first ones to write about this idea and bring clarity to the concept. I recall the moment when I read their book, My Best Self, and realized how pertinent and clear this idea was. It transformed our perception of the Enneagram. It was a revelation.
PC: Yes. For us, there was one level of understanding the Enneagram before hearing about this idea, and quite another one afterwards. We cannot think of Kathy and Theodorre without a lot of gratitude.
FC: You only need to look around you to verify this hypothesis of the repressed center. But then, new questions arise. Which center is repressed? How can we access such a deep insight? Kathy and Theodorre say that the repressed center is the one that "we dislike the most, understand the least, and avoid with great cunning and agility." Above all, our ego abhors two things: renouncing the preferred center and using the repressed center.
It is for this reason, that even with a good deal of introspection and self-observation, it is very often difficult to identify our repressed center. Consequently, at first we rallied behind the idea that each Enneagram type was repressing a specific center, for example, that a One would forcefully repress the mental center. And then, as it should be, our students became our teachers. Many of them told us that the presumed hierarchy of the use of the centers didn’t seem to apply to them.
PC: There comes a point in time when it’s no longer possible to ignore the vox populi-we could not believe that these people didn’t know themselves well or were not sufficiently self-observant. Therefore, we wanted to put this to a test and spent nearly two years studying this subject in ourselves and with our students. We have tested and developed methods allowing us to discover indirectly the center that was repressed before verifying it by self-observation. We came to the conclusion that each type has two variations, dependent on which center has been repressed. We have named these variants α (the first Greek letter, pronounced "alpha") and μ (the twelfth Greek letter, pronounced "mu"). This was only an expansion based on what Kathy and Theodorre had already perceived as a truism for types Three, Six, and Nine. (Their theory states that types Three, Six and Nine have two options for the hierarchy of their centers, whereas the other six types each have one possible hierarchy.) The result is depicted in Figure A.
In the vertical list next to each type, the first (top) letter represents the preferred center and the third one the repressed center (the tertiary center, the one which is least well used or used very little or not at all)
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.
Figure A - The Centers Hierarchy
© Institut Français de l'Ennéagramme, Paris, 1998
EM: According to this diagram, it appears that you use a model that contains eighteen types—nine alpha types and nine mu types. Is that the idea?
FC: Not exactly. There are eighteen variants but only nine types. Each of the types exists in two variations according to the centers’ hierarchy. That which brings the two variants together within a particular type is more important than that which separates them. The traditional description of each type remains intact of course. The variant only serves to introduce nuances that explain certain differences that we recognize among individuals of the same type.
EM: Would you give us an example?
PC: Of course. Whether he is alpha or mu, a One is a One—someone who prefers the instinctive center and turns this energy inward so that he has an impact on himself, who works and acts in order to be a "good person," someone who is correct and proper. He lives the passion of anger and the fixation of perfectionism, etc.
Within this framework, the One-alpha has the emotional center as his secondary center. He is more conscious of emotions, and consequently is more likely to take into account the other person. If all goes rather well, it can temper his directness and aggressiveness. But at the same time, he asks himself if these emotions are correct, and this doubt generates anxiety and a great sensitivity to criticism. He represses the mental center. Therefore, he can decide and act without preliminary reflections; he doubts himself and hardly trusts the others.
FC: Keep in mind that the repressed center is either used very little or not at all, or used within the context of its most negative aspects.
EM: How is the One-mu different?
PC: A One-mu has the mental center as his secondary center. He is more objective and analytical, and has better planning capabilities. When things are going well, the One-mu has more finely-shaded opinions, but when things aren’t going well, the mental center allows him to logically justify his values through a process of rationalization which makes him more sure of himself and more uncompromising. The repression of the emotional center makes the One-mu equally hard on others as he is on himself and pushes him toward acting in a manner that can be very cold or aggressive.
FC: These descriptions are merely tendencies. The effect of the variant depends on the level of integration of the individual, and on the degree of trauma suffered by the repressed center. It’s the work of self-observation that, little by little, begins to make clear the real impact of the repressed center.
EM: I notice that the Enneagram Mu diagram has the arrows moving in the opposite direction from the Alpha diagram. Why is that?
FC: The arrows are a historically recent addition to the Enneagram model, and today they are being contested more and more. We have discovered that, according to which variant is active in the type, the movements toward integration or disintegration work in opposition.
EM: What do you mean by that?
PC: Let’s return to the example of the One. The One-alpha moves toward Four-alpha in disintegration. He feels misunderstood and blames himself for his imperfections. He is envious of others who seem to act better than he does. He withdraws into himself and becomes melancholic and depressed. On the other hand, the One-alpha integrates in the direction of Seven-alpha, and he starts to take life less seriously, becomes calmer and more optimistic, less opinionated, and more creative. He begins to think more about the consequences of his actions.
By contrast, the movement toward Seven or Four is the opposite for the One-mu. In disintegration, the One-mu moves toward Seven-mu (not Four). He begins to fear suffering and either takes less action or his attention seems more dispersed. He judges others as being accountable for his own problems and holds them responsible, at times denouncing them with icy sarcasm. In keeping with this opposition, the One-mu moves toward Four-mu in integration. Discovering his emotions and the need to take care of himself, he becomes more compassionate toward others, more creative, and more authentic.
FC: In the end, with the exception of points Two-alpha, Seven-alpha, Five-mu and Four-mu [see the explanation in the November ’98 EM or read the article on the this website], each type self-integrates by connecting with its repressed center.
EM: Thank you for this recap of the alpha/mu variants. Would you give us a short description of Transactional Analysis and how you see its role in working with the Enneagram?
FC: Fortunately, neither Patricia nor I are Nines! A brief description cannot do Transactional Analysis (TA) justice because it is totally impossible to summarize in a few words an approach that is so refined and rich. TA specialists will be furious, but we don’t fear conflict, so let us have a try!
Transactional Analysis was developed by Eric Berne. It dissects the personality into three ego-states called the Parent, the Adult, and the Child. TA studies the interaction of these parts within the personality and when communicating with others. TA identifies when these interactions are pathological and has methods for rendering them healthier.
PC: Overall, that’s the idea! The connection between the Enneagram types and the various ego-states as described in TA is simple and obvious. You might say that the Seven prefers the state of the Child, more precisely the Free Child, that the Two prefers what in TA is called the Nurturing Parent, etc. This comparison doesn’t contribute much to the Enneagram or to TA, except to recognize that there are points in common.
There is another aspect of TA that is more promising. TA defines what it calls "permissions" that the child should have received during infancy, which if absent or not perceived will create a deficiency later in life. Some examples of these permissions are "You’re important," "Feel," or "Experiment." As a young child, each type lacked some specific permissions, and knowing them offers an effective way of working on the limitations of type.
FC: There is something else about TA. It’s a Five-ish paradigm.
EM: How is it Five-ish?
FC: It is quite common in the Enneagram world to ascribe a particular type to a country, a culture, or a business. In the same way, one can assign a type to psychological theories and methods. Among those that we’re familiar with, we associate NLP with type Three, psychoanalysis and TA with Five, the client-centered therapy of Carl Rogers with Nine, etc. To recognize the typology of a theory allows one to assess if a person will be comfortable with a particular method—and to be able to use it effectively. These are not always the same thing!
Because TA is Five-ish, members of the mental center (Fives, Sixes, and Sevens) adore it. For them, TA is often a good start for working on personal growth, while many mental types would refuse a method that plays more on emotions, such as Gestalt therapy. But for mental types, working within TA may not be sufficient; they will probably need to complement that work with a method that is more emotional or instinctive.
We like to view the Enneagram as a compass that allows us to choose at every moment the most appropriate method of psychological and spiritual development.
PC: Yes, in contrast to the Five, a Two is likely to find TA quite…shall we say, analytical and even cold. But it might be extremely useful for a Two in doing personal growth work, especially when issues can be helped by reconnecting with the mental center and reinforcing its use.
Everyone knows there’s no such thing as the "best" therapy—one that can treat everyone and every problem. It doesn’t exist. Each method brings something that can be of value if it is used at the right moment. We dream about a network of therapists of different disciplines joining forces; they would share their practices and use the Enneagram to select at any moment the best method for their clients, intervening with a particular method at just the right time.
FC: If there are any folks out there that don’t know that Ones and Sevens are idealists, they know now. [For our readers’ information: Fabien is a Seven-mu and Patricia is a One-alpha.]
EM: Hmmm, so it would be "perfectly amusing" to switch subjects and ask you about your NLP training program, yes? Tell us about your work in that area.
FC: We have taught NLP for more than ten years now, and we are specialists in using it as a therapeutic tool; to that end, we train therapists. We offer an intensive two-year program. We use the Enneagram a lot in order for our students to identify the problems and the functioning of their clients and, most of all, to become conscious of their own filters of perception so that they don’t impose or project them on their clients. The opposite, however, is not true. In our Enneagram program, we use NLP only moderately—as one psychological technique among others.
PC: As we said earlier, NLP is Three-ish. Practitioners of NLP always have an objective in mind. In their view, the relational is often more important than the emotional. Moreover, a basic belief of NLP is that there is no failure, only information.
Therefore, one can teach NLP as a Three-ish technique geared towards disintegration (deceit and workaholism) or geared towards integration (truthfulness and efficiency). They both exist. Our knowledge of the Enneagram helps us build an NLP training that is even more ethical and more respectful of people.
FC: The Enneagram has also helped us to develop therapeutic interventions in NLP that are equally useful as part of a psychological path as well as a spiritual path.
EM: Could you clarify that point for us?
FC: We believe that there are two kinds of work on oneself. We use the model shown in Figure B.
Figure B - Psychological and Spiritual Development
© Institut Français de l'Ennéagramme, Paris, 1996
The first is the work from a psychological point of view. It’s about a person becoming comfortable in the world—about gaining security, integrating in social or professional groups, and being successful in intimate relationships. This is work at the level of the ego, essentially related to the instincts: self-preservation, social, and sexual. Likewise, there is work that is more spiritual, that consists of balancing the centers and of freeing oneself from the grip of compulsion, passions, and fixations. A positive and useful action that helps the ego adapt in the world can be harmful for spiritual development.
EM: Of course, if we make ourselves comfortable with our ego, there’s that much less incentive to go beyond it. Can you describe this dynamic with an example?
PC: If a Two is exhausted because she spent too much energy helping others, one valid intervention might be to convince him to get some rest in order to be more helpful later. And it works. It is easy enough to get a Two to accept this reasoning, and he slows down as a result. It’s a psychologically effective action, but it utilizes, validates, and therefore reinforces the compulsive behavior, and hence goes against the ascending direction of the arrow which represents the liberation from the automatic behavior of the ego.
FC: Let’s take another example. Let’s say that someone is suffering from lack of self-esteem because, in the inner dialog of the person, she is constantly repeating "I am stupid." With NLP techniques, in a few minutes, that internal monologue can be permanently transformed into "I am OK." The effect of such an intervention on the person’s self-assurance is positive; however, one automated way of thinking has been replaced by another which is just as automatic. Such an approach confirms the status quo.
With our students, we insist that they design interventions that are simultaneously effective on the psychological plane, and liberating on the spiritual plane—that they take care of a client’s needs in the present moment while at the same time facilitating a shift toward essence.
Of course, this does not mean the types of interventions mentioned in the previous examples are necessarily flawed. Therapeutic priorities may first require ensuring a level of comfort and survival for the client. A therapist has to make the best choice on a case-by-case basis with the information available at the time.