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 expounded by Don Riso and Russ Hudson (my favorite Enneagram authors / theorists).
There are many similarities and overlaps between these two personality systems, as discussed in my posts: Myers-Briggs / MBTI-Enneagram Correlations and Healthy vs. Unhealthy Myers-Briggs-Enneagram Correlations. In this post, we will explore a few 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 about the effects of 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 compensating in extraverted situations).
Analytic vs. Holistic
Anyone who’s read Jung will know that, despite certain mystical tendencies, he had a rather critical and analytical mind. He was, after all, a practitioner of psycho-analysis. Myers-Briggs took it a step further by redefining Jung’s types in terms of four preference dichotomies (i.e., I-E, S-N, T-F, and J-P). Other theorists then reincorporated Jung’s original functions, with each type being analyzed in terms of a function hierarchy, or what we refer to as a “functional stack,” comprised of four functions (i.e., dominant, auxiliary, tertiary, inferior). This made it possible to analyze the types from multiple perspectives, both in terms of preferences and functions.
The Enneagram types are typically described in a more holistic or less structured manner than the Myers-Briggs types. Instead of being described in a part-by-part fashion (e.g., I, N, F, J), each type is assigned a nickname, which immediately imparts a holistic understanding (e.g., “The Peacemaker”) of that type. This has the advantage of conveying a wealth of information in a single concept, even for Enneagram newcomers. A potential disadvantage, however, is that if a particular nickname fails to resonate with readers, they may quickly lose interest in learning about that type. Type nicknames also have the potential to overshadow worthwhile details and nuances contained in lengthier expositions.
In short, there seems to be a trade-off between accuracy / analysis and the immediate sense of power and resonance engendered by a more holistic concept. Some Myers-Briggs theorists have taken to the practice of nicknaming the types or the functions (e.g., see my post, “Function Roles”: The Core Purpose of Each Function) in hopes of harnessing some of the energy and impact of the holistic approach. Likewise, Enneagram authors like Riso and Hudson have introduced additional labels, classifications, and theories that appeal to the analytical mind.
Healthy vs. Unhealthy Psychology
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 current Myers-Briggs model, each type has a dominant and inferior function. The dominant is the type’s most conscious function and represents its signature strength. The inferior function, which we discuss in great depth in our work, is largely unconscious but is the functional complement to the dominant; to some extent, it represents the “lost” or “repressed” part of the 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 less effective paths toward wholeness and integration.
Which Types are Most Attracted to these Frameworks?
Both of these personality frameworks are true and valuable 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.
Because Extraverted Intuition (Ne) is an open and explorative function, “NP” types may fail to feel a strong loyalty toward either system, perhaps seeing both taxonomies as having their own strengths and weaknesses. In fact, many NPs will use labels from both systems to describe themselves (e.g., INFP 4w5).