The Enneagram & The MBTI: Introduction


Understanding our personality type is only part of the journey to self-discovery. We can study every Enneagram and MBTI book, lecture, and theory out there. But, without personally engaging with the knowledge we learn, we remain ignorant of the deepest truths about ourselves. And where we are ignorant, danger awaits.  

The Enneagram offers a unique lens that fulfills this missing piece of understanding. It gives us access to a secret doorway that allows us to understand our own past, and see how our past affects our present and determines our future.

Without understanding our history, we are bound to the fate that our pasts write for us. 

The MBTI, however, gives us a structure to identify what motivates our behavior. And it allows us to organize the chaotic times of our past and bring desirable order to the present. 

But what happens when we combine these two systems? Together, the hardware of the MBTI threaded with the software of the Enneagram enables a rare synergy. We gain the freedom to become powerful agents in the world, rooted firmly in an understanding of our own history, identity, and destiny. Understanding where our nurture and nature join together is the key to our liberty.  

But, as of this moment, there is no widely agreed-upon unifying theory between the Enneagram and the MBTI (or of that for the Four Sides Dynamics). Unity is hard. So is accuracy. But without unity and accuracy, mining the jeweled caves of these systems becomes impossible. Suffice it to say, we are missing out. 

Is our failure to reconcile these different models simply a result of our ignorance?  “Yes” would be the short answer. But the reality is that different systems are hard to combine. Systems are built from different minds, and with different goals in mind. The Enneagram and MBTI are no exception.

And yet, if we seriously study them, we can’t help but feel some meaningful connection between them. Wisdom tells us we should trust our gut. 

IF there is any truth in the Enneagram and the MBTI, THEN there is a deep link between both systems. There is unification on some level. But how deep is this level? This set of four articles aims to find out.    

The Foundation Of Our Conversation

Our first task is to establish a few core principles of the Enneagram, as well as build the foundation for comparing the Enneagram to the MBTI. From this foundation, our investigation will flow easily.

1. We Are All The Types

In his book, The Wisdom of the Enneagram, Don Riso writes:

“You have all nine types in you . . . To explore them all and see them all operating in you is to see the full spectrum of human nature.”

The Enneagram theory explains how the human spirit is revealed through behavior. And what the distinct “spirits” are individually. The nine Enneagram types are said to encapsulate the full spectrum of human expression. Though you and I have access to all nine, there will be only one that speaks most deeply with us.

2. We All Have A Wound

While the Enneagram celebrates the nine different types, the theory does not shy away from the truth of how we each got our type. Our types are built upon childhood trauma.

There will be different intensities to this trauma. And we will identify more or less strongly with our type based on how affecting our childhood experiences were. Some of us have merged so completely with our persona that we can no longer distinguish our true identity from our learned one. Others of us are more fortunate.

But, when we wake up to the fact we aren’t acting from the deep well of our authentic self, we can begin the search for it.

Regardless of how much we suffered or didn’t suffer early on, we all have a wound somewhere. This wound calls us to the most important journey of our lives. If we accept its call, we will find who, what, and why we are. But, until we accept it, we remain asleep. And while asleep, our wounds will rule us every waking moment. Every day, we are either compensating for, giving in to, or healing the wound that we carry with us. 

Do you want to be asleep or awake? 

And as we have an individual wound unique to our type, there are also common wounds shared between types. These “common wounds” belong to each of the three Triads within the Enneagram.

Those in the Gut Triad are trying to compensate for the wound of anger (or resistance). Those in the Heart Triad are trying to compensate for the wound shame. And those in the Head Triad are trying to compensate for the wound of fear.

The key takeaway is that the deepest hurts that developed within us in childhood are also the marker for our type and Triad on the Enneagram. Wherever our wound is, there is our type.

3. Inward And Outwardness = Extraverted And Introverted Functions?

One of the most compelling links between the Enneagram and the MBTI is the direction of energy flow in the Enneagram as it correlates with the extraverted/introverted binary of the MBTI.

In the MBTI, there are introverts and extraverts. In the Enneagram, we compensate for our wound (which is also our type) by directing our energy:

1) Toward the world — others, physical environment, etc.

2) Toward ourselves — introspection, imagination, escapism, etc.

3) Or toward both the world and ourselves — a mix of inward and outward.

The direction of our compensation is usually opposite to the direction of the wound. This implies that a type who moves outward in the Enneagram likely has their primary wound sourced internally, and vice versa.

Gut Triad (Anger)
Type 8 — Outward
Type 9 — Mixed
Type 1 — Inward

Heart Triad (Shame)
Type 2 — Outward
Type 3 — Mixed
Type 4 — Inward

Head Triad (Fear)
Type 5 — Inward
Type 6 — Mixed
Type 7 — Outward

What does this have to do with the MBTI? Does this mean that the Eight, Seven, and Two will always be extraverted types on the MBTI? Not necessarily.

It means anyone who is an Eight, Seven, or Two (outward focus) also has a related extraverted function high in their stack. This function is directly tied to their Enneagram type.

For example, take the ISFJ — a notorious introvert. The ISFJ has the possibility of being a Two on the Enneagram. But the Two compensates for its wound by going outward, toward others. How does this work?

Extraverted Feeling (Fe), the ISFJ’s auxiliary (Parent) function, is the function most associated with the Two’s tendencies. Even though the direction of energy is moving outward for the Two, the Two can still be introverted (ISFJ).

Introverted types in the MBTI types can be outward focused on the Enneagram. And vice versa.

4. “Soft” Science

Enneagram theorists are fully aware that the Enneagram model is not an exact or hard science. The Enneagram system is built on our behavior, history, and root motivations, rather than biological cognition. There is more room for flexibility within the Enneagram than within the MBTI. Ultimately, the MBTI is a neurological model. The Enneagram is not.

But “soft” does not mean ineffective. “Soft” means that the Enneagram does not look so much to our nature, but to our nurture to map our psyche. Of course, nature and nurture are related at a fundamental level. A tree that survives by contorting around other trees to get light is still a tree.

But, just because the Enneagram primarily examines nurture does not mean it ignores nature. An ISFJ will (probably) never be an Eight on the Enneagram, no matter what kind of childhood they had. The implication of this is extremely important to consider.

Nurture has a profound impact on the forming of our psyches, but it cannot change our deepest biological structures. But it can change the way that structure is expressed. An ISFJ can and often will be another type besides the Two.

The Enneagram measures this: the expression of our nature as affected by our nurture.

5. But Really, What About The Wings?

The Wing types may be the most popular piece of the Enneagram puzzle. A Wing type is similar to a sub-personality, or a secondary characteristic. 

In the Enneagram, each type has access to two “Wings”. The wings are the two types that surround the type on the Enneagram figure. 

For type Three, the possible wings are the Two or Four. For type Six, Five or Seven. And for type Nine, Eight or One. The theory goes that every type will feel a pull to at least one, if not both, of its wings. 

6. Criterion 

The Enneagram is very complex. With the Wing types, stressed and secured modifications, Hornevian Groups, Instinctual Variants, and many other vectors, it becomes richer with colorful layers upon further study. But there’s also a lot to it.

We will be looking at some of these vectors throughout this series, but our primary objective is to ignite a conversation to build a bridge between these two theories. This means that if the Enneagram and MBTI models are two houses, our focus will be on constructing the major building blocks of their foundations. And not their peripheral doors, windows, and backyards. There will be time to build upon them later.

The criterion for establishing links between the types of the two systems will be as follows:

  1. The wound of each type (and each triad) as it relates to the lower functions of the MBTI types.

2. The direction of energy that each type exhibits as it relates to extraverted/introverted types and functions in the MBTI.

3. The cognitive functions and cognitive attitudes as they relate to the behavioral tendencies of the correlating Enneagram types.

We will go through each Enneagram type and, using the above criteria, examine which MBTI type(s) will most likely land in that Enneagram type and why.

Each of the remaining three articles will focus on one of the Triads, and discuss links between the three types within that Triad. We look forward to seeing you there.

A parting question to consider:

  • How, if at all, are Cognitive Focus and the theory of Wing types specifically related?

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