The Enneagram and Integral Psychology

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Note: I’d wanted to read Ken Wilber’s Integral Psychology (affiliate link) for a while, and my certification process through the Enneagram Institute provided the opportunity. This post is an excerpt of my essay on the book, so it’s a bit heady in places, but I wanted to share it because it offers some cool insights into what’s going on in our brains.

In his book Integral Psychology, Ken Wilber provides an overview of his in-depth investigation into the human experience, gathering the premodern, modern and postmodern frameworks of the psyche and its spiritual sources into what he refers to as an integral embrace. The book is an attempt to honor “every legitimate aspect of human consciousness,” creating a multi-level, whole-being approach to psychology that he calls the “all-quadrant, all-level approach.”

By this, he means joining the internal, subjective perspectives that make up the “I” and “We” of life with the external, objective perspectives of “It” and “Its.” As human beings grow and develop, they move along the Great Nest, sometimes also referred to as the Great Chain of Being. This Nest moves outward in consciousness from mind to body to soul to spirit. There are many independent developmental lines going at once, so that no one is at just one level in all areas of life. A person’s cognitive and spiritual lines, for instance, may be at the soul level, while her moral line rests at the mind level.

How does Wilber’s work compare to the Enneagram of Personality as taught by Riso and Hudson? How does it contrast?

The Great Nest

It is interesting that Wilber describes nine basic levels of the Great Nest, as well as nine correlating milestones (fulcrums) that a person goes through in the development process.

He identifies these levels:

sensorimotor – material self

phantasmic-emotional – bodyego

representational mind – persona

rule/role mind – persona

formal-reflexive – ego

vison-logic – centaur (merged body and mind; existential)

psychic – soul

subtle – soul

causal/non-dual – spirit

These levels are not cut off from each other cleanly; the persona, for example, flows into the ego.

This model initially suggested an inverse correlation to Riso and Hudson’s Levels of Development. However, it quickly becomes apparent that the Levels are about going from unhealth to health or vice versa, whereas Wilber’s levels describe only the forward ascent of human consciousness. The Enneagram is a comprehensive and specific model of psycho-spiritual development that homes in on the individual’s personality type, while Wilber’s model paints a necessarily broader picture of the evolution of human consciousness, as well as its history of separation and attempts at reunification of all four quadrants (discussed below).

As the Enneagram is a complete system in itself, yet resides “nested” within Wilber’s larger model, it could be said that the Enneagram is a holon within Integral Psychology’s holon.

Script Pathologies

Wilber does address pathologies, and it is here that he includes the upward or downward movement of the psyche – what he calls “differentiation” and “dissociation.” He goes on to note that “the level of the fulcrum helps determine the level of pathology.” A failure to differentiate and integrate at any fulcrum point results in dissociation – some form of pathology.

The pathology that seems most clearly aligned with Enneagram teaching is the concept of script pathologies: “In fulcrum 4 (typically ages 6-12)…the self begins to take the role of others…If something goes wrong at this general wave, we get a ‘script pathology’ – all of the false, misleading, and sometimes crippling scripts, stories and myths that the self learns.”

It also corresponds to the Enneagram Institute’s discussion of personality. Riso and Hudson explain that our personalities “develop defenses and compensations for where we have been hurt in childhood.” We master a limited set of self-images and behaviors that help us cope, but if used excessively, becomes the core of our personality’s dysfunction. And in The Enneagram Institute Professional Training Manual, every type overview page lists “Life Script” as an aspect of personality.

Subpersonalities and Levels of Development

The concept of subpersonalities is the aspect of Wilber’s model that actually maps best to the Levels of Development, though not by level but by concept. Subpersonalities include adult ego state, child ego state, superego, underdog, conscience and so on.

Subpersonalities can form at any of the fulcrums, and they can all be at different levels/Levels. A person may be at Level 4 most of the time, but what causes her to swing down from that “peg” to Level 5 or 6 (see below) is possibly a subpersonality moment, where the wound formed at a particular fulcrum gets activated.

Wilber gives this example:

“…a person is gripped by a child ego state (e.g. explosive temper tantrum, with egocentric demands, narcissistic worldview), which can blow through the personality, commandeer it for minutes or hours, and then pass as quickly as it came, returning the person to his or her more typical, average self (which may be otherwise quite highly evolved).”

This seems to align with the “bandwidth” understanding of the Levels and the variability of habitual behaviors outlined in The Wisdom of the Enneagram:

“It may be helpful to visualize the nine Levels of our type as a wooden pegboard with nine holes drilled in it…The placement of our peg represents the ‘center of gravity’ of our personality”. Riso and Hudson go on to explain that there is a rubber band attached to the peg, which stretches up or down along the Levels based on one’s level of stress or relaxation.

These subpersonalities may also be the catalyst for those glorious moments of grace that lift people beyond their baseline into a higher Level.

Wilber believes that various ego states and the superego are separate subpersonalities; that means they are all developing independently. The superego may be harsher or laxer for individuals of the same type, for instance, depending on how developed this subpersonality is in each person. This would align with Riso and Hudson’s assertion that as one gains awareness and presence, one develops upward and an “awakening” of true self occurs.

Three of the types have “fat” superegos—One, Two and Six—which calls into question Wilber’s idea of the superego having its own developmental line that is specific to each person. If that is true, why do these three types consistently have stronger superegos? If personality type is innate, then the superego’s developmental level has no bearing on what type one is. But perhaps these personality types all share currently undetermined factors that cause the superego’s developmental line to falter, to become or remain “fat.”

The Horizontal AND Vertical Enneagram

Wilber writes of “levels of existence” as represented by the Great Nest, which he considers a vertical structure. He then refers to the Enneagram as a horizontal typology that is useful in consciousness development. He goes on to write:

“But it should be understood that these ‘horizontal’ typologies are of a fundamentally different nature than the ‘vertical’ levels – namely, the latter are universal stages through which individuals pass in a normal course of development, whereas the former are types of personalities that may—or may not—be found at any of the stages.”

To solve what he perceives as the Enneagram’s horizontal limitation, Wilber pairs it with Spiral Dynamics to add in the vertical element: “… you can have Enneagram type 3 at the purple level, the red level, the blue level … Nine types at eight levels gives us a typology of seventy-two different personality types—and you can start to see what a truly multidimensional psychology might look like!”

Strictly speaking, the Enneagram system would not consider these 72 distinctly “different personality types” but nine personality types with nine possible levels of development. But this is nonetheless a brilliant synthesis of the horizontal and vertical, and one that Riso had already worked out. He had recognized that “The nine personality types alone are merely a set of ‘horizontal’ categories …”

Riso and Hudson then refer to Ken Wilber’s understanding of the need for both horizontal and vertical dimensions and explain that the Levels take that vertical dimension into account. “When he (Riso) accounted for the even finer nine Levels of Development, the Enneagram became a fully developed, two-dimensional model, vastly more capable of representing the complexity of human nature.”

So, it is clear that Wilber knew the basics of the Enneagram but did not know it as Riso and Hudson describe it. Still, he intuited the Levels as Riso had done in 1977.

It is also clear that Riso and Hudson’s model is much more “multidimensional” in its understanding of individual personality types than Wilber’s. This is not a criticism; Wilber’s goal in Integral Psychology is to unify the study of human consciousness throughout history, so his exploration of each aspect of that model cannot be exhaustive.

In a follow-up post, I’ll talk about what awareness means from these two perspectives and what an “Integral Enneagram” could look like.

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2 Comments

  1. Garrett on November 17, 2023 at 3:29 am

    Heath, this is really helpful. Reading about integral psychology in my MHC degree and completing my own Enneagram certification I have been trying to see how R/H and Wilber are examining similar phenomena of the personality from different angles.



  2. hhavlick on November 17, 2023 at 1:14 pm

    Garrett, I’m so glad this was helpful! Best wishes for your certification process!



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