Patterns of behavior, feeling, and thought have been observed and documented over the centuries and around the world. Among the resulting theories is one describing nine distinct personality types. The prefix "ennea" means "nine" and is used to name the figure called the Enneagram. The Enneagram of Personality Types helps us more easily remember the nine types, their descriptions, and the possibilities for character growth and decay. It illuminates our strengths as well as our weaknesses and is a symbolic reminder of the whole of human potential.
Personality theory generally acknowledges temperament as each of our starting points. "We each possess an essential nature that is qualitatively different from our acquired personality." Helen Palmer writes in The Enneagram: Understanding Yourself and the Others in Your Life, "Essence has been described as what is 'one's own,' the potentials with which we were born, rather than what we have acquired through our education, our ideas, or our beliefs. In essence, we are like young children: there is no conflict between our thoughts, or our emotions, or our instincts. We act correctly and without hesitation to maintain well-being, stemming from an undefended trust in the environment and in other people."
Personality suggests some lost aspect of that essence, some movement away from the strengths reflected in the nine points of the Enneagram. Our personality developed as we lost trust, as we tried to compensate for what we were missing, as we put our innate qualities in service not for the building of character but for the construction of ego agendas.
Renee Baron and Elizabeth Wagele explain in The Enneagram Made Easy: Discover the 9 Types of People, "The Enneagram teaches that early in life we learned to feel safe and to cope with our family situations and personal circumstances by developing a strategy based on our natural talents and abilities." Our strategy at one time might have felt right, might have been well thought out, might have made sense when we really had little control over what happened in our environment. Eventually, however, repetition would just turn it into unconscious habit.
But habits don't require a great deal of presence. Circumstances might call for and actually benefit from other strategies, strategies including the lowering of our defenses! "By working with the Enneagram, we develop a deeper understanding of others and learn alternatives to our own patterns of behavior," say Baron and Wagele. "We break free from worn-out coping strategies and begin to see life from a broader point of view."
The descriptions of the types provide mirrors that help us begin the self reflection process, something sorely lacking in an age where so many of us are just sleep walking through life. This awareness and practice are the keys to developing the weaker aspects of ourselves, something not only in our best interest to do, but something that is our birthright.
Additional information can be found on the Wikipedia page on Enneagram of Personality.