The Power of the Enneagram: An Interview with Dr. David Daniels

Today I bring to you David Daniels, M.D., author of Essential Enneagram: The Definitive Personality Test and Self-Discovery Guide — Revised & Updated, clinical professor of psychiatry at Stanford University Medical School and leading developer of the Enneagram system of personality types. The original release of the Essential Enneagram sold over 100,000 copies and has been translated into over 10 languages. The new updated and revised Essential Enneagram has much new material and practices for what to do after you discover your type.

Today Dr. Daniels talks to us about what the Enneagram is and how it might serve as a guide to greater well-being.

Elisha: I became familiar with the Enneagram many years ago and have come to understand my personality disposition as a 7. I was astonished when I read in your book how accurate it was for me. It said that the ultimate goal of a 7 was “to realize that in order to experience life fully we must be consciously present in the here and now and that we support and sustain ourselves and others by cultivating this conscious presence.” However, while the Enneagram has been widely distributed, many people are still unfamiliar with it. Can you give us a brief overview as to what it is?

Dr. Daniels: The Enneagram is a powerful and dynamic personality system that describes nine distinct and fundamentally different patterns of thinking, feeling and acting (“ennea” is simply Greek for nine). We each view the world through a set of lenses or filters that limit our experience and perspective. We see a slice of reality, but not the full 360-degree view. Each one of us developed one of these nine sets of filters or patterns over our mind, heart, and body to protect aspects of our essential self that felt threatened as we were growing up. Underneath each pattern or Enneagram type is a basic proposition (or belief) about what we need in life to meet our basic needs for love, security and worth. These underlying beliefs shape our focus of attention and how we direct our energy. While a necessary stage in our development, these patterns continue to operate, mostly non-consciously, even though they mostly no longer serve us. Discovering these patterns provides an effective path o freedom and fulfillment.

Elisha: Why the Enneagram? Aren’t there already too many personality typologies out there?

Dr. Daniels: The Enneagram gets to our core motivation and adaptive strategy mostly outmoded in adulthood; it gets to our pattern of attention and driving energy that limits us and even “owns us” causing tension, distress, and conflict; it provides a link to our spiritual life and the integration of our higher qualities into our lives; it honors all three centers of intelligence of body, mind , and heart; and it helps us live in more joy and freedom. I know of no typology that does all of these.

Elisha: You write a monthly column to answer questions about how the Enneagram can be helpful in personal development, relationships and life situations. What are some of the most common questions you receive?

Dr. Daniels: The theme of most questions is about relationships. I receive questions saying how do I relate to my wife, daughter, husband now that I know our types? What can I do to be more heart felt? How do I soften/increase my intensity? What is the best way to work with a (name the type)? How can I better manage my anger/anxiety? What will bring us closer together in harmony now that we know our types? And mostly these are asked from a place of truly wanting to know and develop.

Elisha: Lately, there have been a number of books out that have been talking about how to incline our minds toward the good in order to cultivate greater well-being. How would you use the Enneagram to cultivate a connection with our a sense of Joy and Happiness?

Dr. Daniels: The Enneagram helps us change the way we relate to others and ourselves. Knowing that others view the world through a different set of filters increases compassion and understanding of differences. As we discover our Enneagram personality type and see what we are filtering out, we discover more about our original whole self. We also come to understand more about the non-conscious motivation from which we operate. We experience our strengths or blessing and can build upon them. We become less reactive and defensive as we understand ourselves. We develop more free energy. The Enneagram can liberate us from much pain and suffering bringing more joy and deep fulfillment. We simply need to become more mindful and aware in a non-judgmental way in order to explore and release from our pattern.

Elisha: If you were sitting across the table from someone who was having difficulty in life right now, how would you advise them to use the Enneagram to help themselves today?

Dr. Daniels: I would first ask if the person knew the Enneagram and what work they had done in the realm of personal development. And of course this all would depend upon how well I knew the person, the degree of suffering, and the person’s desire and ability to really listen non-judgmentally and change. If the person were new to the Enneagram I would recommend The Essential Enneagram if the distress was not too great. I would show how the Enneagram profoundly helps lives, perhaps using myself as an example. If the person knew the Enneagram I would work with them to become more self-observant, mindful and aware and to be as non-judgmental as possible. Then we could readily explore the basis of the distress, what old beliefs were running and ruining their life, and the process of releasing from the old core beliefs.  

Thank you so much Dr. Daniels!

As always, please share your thoughts, questions and stories below. Your interaction around this material creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Reposted from Elisha Goldstein’s Mindfulness Blog on

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