By Dr. A.J. Drenth
I’m sometimes surprised by the number of Personality Junkie readers who are familiar with both the Myers-Briggs/MBTI and the Enneagram. Becoming well-acquainted with both frameworks certainly requires a good deal of time and effort. Although most of my writing has centered on the framework proffered by Jung and Myers-Briggs, I have also studied the Enneagram extensively, particularly as propounded by Don Riso and Russ Hudson (my favorite Enneagram authors / theorists).
There are many similarities between these two personality systems. I have already written about the Myers-Briggs/MBTI-Enneagram correlations, as well as healthy Enneagram-Myers-Briggs/MBTI correlations with respect to the inferior function. In this post, I will highlight what I see as some of the key differences between these two frameworks.
Nurture (Enneagram) vs. Nature (Myers-Briggs/MBTI)
One of the most foundational differences between these systems is their underlying assumptions regarding the role of nature and nurture in personality. The Enneagram leans more toward the nurture side of things, suggesting that types emerge as a response to early childhood experiences. Riso and Hudson have even gone so far as to purport which parent (i.e., mother, father, or both) each type has identified or disidentified with.
To my knowledge, neither Jung nor Myers-Briggs wrote extensively on nurture or parenting. Jung, in particular, seemed to view type as largely inborn, with nurture being responsible for what he called “compensations” (e.g., introverts learning to compensate in extraverted situations).
Normal/Healthy vs. Abnormal/Unhealthy Personality
Both Jung and the Enneagram describe normal or healthy versions of the types. Riso and Hudson describe each of the Enneagram types according to seven levels of type development. Similarly, in my eBook, The 16 Personality Types, I have outlined three phases of type development for each type.
Despite these similarities, the proposed origins of psychological health and dysfunction are somewhat different between these frameworks. The Enneagram sees each type as having a core vice (e.g., avarice, envy, pride), which is thought to contribute to the type’s propensity for certain types of dysfunction.
According to the Jungian framework, each type has a dominant and inferior function. The dominant is the type’s most conscious function and represents its signature strengths. The inferior is largely unconscious but is the functional complement to the dominant; we might even call it the “lost” or “repressed” self. So in order for an individual to experience wholeness, the inferior must somehow be reclaimed and integrated with its dominant partner. Unfortunately, this process of reconciliation is typically far more difficult than it might initially seem and entails no small amount of pain and dysfunction.
The Enneagram also discusses “directions of integration” and disintegration. While using different terminology, it seems similar to the Jungian framework in this respect, essentially suggesting that there are effective and ineffective paths toward wholeness and integration.
Which Types are Most Attracted to these Frameworks?
Both of these personality frameworks are true to a certain extent. Otherwise, they wouldn’t resonate with so many people. And despite their differences, they actually have much in common, especially in their current iterations.
With that said, some folks will tend to gravitate more toward one system versus the other. Perhaps the strongest predictor is the extent to which the personality type descriptions “ring true” in one system versus the other. For me personally, I experienced a stronger match with the INTP type than with any of the Enneagram types (my closest Enneagram match is probably the 5w4).
Because Extraverted Intuition (Ne) is a rather non-discriminating function, many NPs may fail to feel a strong loyalty toward either system. They may feel the both systems have their strengths and weaknesses. In fact, many NPs will use labels from both systems to describe themselves (e.g., INFP 4w5).
Another predictor is an individual’s preferred function pairs. As explained in my eBook, My True Type, Fi-Te types (i.e., TJs and especially FPs) tend to gravitate toward nurture-based explanations. They see external circumstances (Te) as powerfully influencing the development of the individual (Fi). Considering this bent toward nurture over nature, they are apt to find the basic Enneagram theory more appealing.*
*Note: One could of course object to this by pointing out that Isabel Myers was herself an INFP. But in many respects, her efforts could be understood as deriving from her inferior function’s (Te) quest for a logical and objective framework, one that could help individuals identify their best-fit career in the modern economy (Te). INFPs guided primarily by their top two functions (Fi and Ne) are sure to find something of interest in the Enneagram.