Bias Awareness

The Enneagram is about many things, but one central component is bias. After studying the Enneagram for a while, a certain unanticipated (and perhaps unwelcome) humility enters. We become aware of our bias. So I think I will share some of my biases (especially for the Sixes among you who want full disclosure). Here are some of mine and some of the consequences that flow from them.

I'm a Seven, a white educated male, a Catholic and with my Danish name also goes an Irish heritage that places a great deal of emphasis on imagination. So when you read my book, Parables and the Enneagram, note that it is no accident I would choose the imaginative literary form of Parable as my suggestion as to what will help you with your (and me with my) Enneagram style. My bias, my belief, my educated conviction (and it would be a labyrinth to try to tease out the percentage of each) is that our Enneagram trances can be broken with the power of imagination. I point out that all spiritual masters use stories rather than just exhortation. I also point out that the best communication for the sake of change that money can buy is on television advertising and all the smart money is on imagination. There are no professors giving lectures on why you should buy Fords or Tylenol.

I think one other important way our trances are broken is by either rude or polite interruption of other people. In more spiritual terms, it is in community (Church is one form) that we gradually find out that our way of seeing things has to yield to the visions of others, even if they, too, are distorted. (But communities have a collective bias and these can be terrible, like the shared prejudice of Nazi Germany or the fixation of many Fundamentalist groups).

Scripture is one traditional way of challenging our views. But without a community, the usual tendency is to distort the book to make it say what we want. Most religions use community and sacred writings to correct each other. (The Enneagram often functions like an orthodoxy because it is so effective as a means of correcting personal and communal distortion trances. For example, if a leader is excessively rigid and rigorous, an explanation of the One fixation can be helpful. Or if a corporation is too timid, a gentle introduction to style Six might change a corporate culture).

Now that I've come clean, let me tell you some of the other biases of the books that I will be recommending.

Palmer and Naranjo come from a Buddhist/esoteric tradition. In Palmer's The Enneagram and Enneagram and Love and Work and in Naranjo's Character and Neurosis, they both teach publicly that the only (and only is not too strong a word, they emphasize it a great deal) way to get rid of the distorted world-view is by strengthening the Inner Observer so we can tell when our distortion is coming to the fore. Technically this is called Vipassana meditation and if you want a fine cassette series on how to do it, I recommend Silence and Awareness. But there are lots of other books on how to do this traditional Buddhist meditation. It is simple to learn and hard, hard, hard to do with any perseverance for some types although Fives love it.

Riso says that the Enneagram information alone is transformative. His books reflect this conviction. In his new revised Personality Types he has more than 100 adjectives describing each type with more and more detail, dissecting each type into nine levels of development. He says "Personal growth consists to a great degree with becoming aware of the patterns that we have inherited from our parents and early caretakers. With increased consciousness, we can find better, more effective, and more satisfying ways to live." So to encourage transformation, he describes types more carefully.

Tom Condon uses the Enneagram only as a map. He doesn't claim any transformative power for the map. He uses the tools of change he has developed in NLP. His NLP and Hypnosis training makes him suspicious of much of spiritual conversion material. His tools bring about small incremental changes. He says the wholesale changes snap back or the compulsion just takes another form. He uses the tools of Ericksonian hypnotherapy to that end. His audio cassette package, Waking from Trances, is excellent as a description of how our styles are trances.

Patrick O'Leary comes from a scientific approach, does not like the term trance (mostly because of popular connotations) and tries to present the Enneagram as objectively (i.e., behaviorally) as possible. But he doesn't claim much transformative power for the information. The change comes from elsewhere.

A few teachers say that you should learn from many teachers because each teacher will have his or her own bias. That is self-evident, but far less important than the degree of the trance of the teacher. I'd much sooner learn from three healthy Fives than one each unhealthy Two, Seven, Nine and Four.

Your Enneagram style is much more than a trance. And I get to that in other lessons.


Trances People Live, (Dr. Steven Wolinsky) is a detailed account of how trances are the necessary prerequisite for neurotic behavior. You and I can't do unhealthy behavior without going into a trance first! This is a great book on this one point. Really helpful for therapists who are in the trance-breaking business.

Waking from Trances (Tom Condon) is a fine introduction to the Enneagram from the viewpoint of the Enneagram style-as-trance.


  1. Discuss how you and the person closest to you differ in the way you look at things. Then intensify: how do you and the person with whom you have the most conflict differ in the way you see things.
  2. Try fasting, a traditional exercise in most religions, and see how it changes your trance. What do you see outside yourself and what do you notice about your inward view of the world that is different?
  3. What groups tend to exercise an influence on your trance? When?