Enneagram vs Myers-Briggs: A Comprehensive Exploration

Sun Jul 16 2023

People are both similar and different. How we are similar and different can be described as personality. This quickly becomes complex and is a hotly debated area. Two popular frameworks for understanding personality are the Enneagram and Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). In this blog, we will delve into the depths of both systems.

people walking in opposite directions
TL;DR: Overview of the Enneagram vs Myers-Briggs
  • Enneagram and Myers-Briggs Comparison: Enneagram and Myers-Briggs are both personality systems, but they explore different facets. While Myers-Briggs focuses on cognitive functions and how we perceive and judge the world, Enneagram is about core fears, desires, and motivations.
  • Understanding Enneagram: Enneagram types are determined by fears and desires. It consists of nine distinct personality types, each showcasing a distinct way of thinking, feeling, and behaving.
  • Understanding Myers-Briggs: Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) categorizes personalities into 16 types based on four dichotomies: Extroversion vs. Introversion, Sensing vs. Intuition, Thinking vs. Feeling, and Judging vs. Perceiving.
  • Practical Applications: Both systems provide insight into personal and professional relationships, career paths, and personal growth strategies. While Myers-Briggs helps us understand how we process information and make decisions, Enneagram helps us understand our core motivations and emotional coping mechanisms.

The Enneagram: A Voyage Through Its Origin and Basics

The Enneagram is an ancient personality system believed to have roots in several spiritual and wisdom traditions. It presents a profound framework for self-understanding and serves as a roadmap for personal growth.

The Historical Roots of Enneagram

The Enneagram’s origins are a subject of much debate, with theories pointing to early Christianity, Sufism, and even more ancient roots in Babylonian or Pythagorean philosophies. Despite its elusive historical beginnings, the modern Enneagram of Personality owes much to the spiritual teacher G. I. Gurdjieff, psychiatrist Claudio Naranjo, and the author Oscar Ichazo. More on the Enneagram origins here.

Key Concepts and Structure of Enneagram

At the heart of the Enneagram system lies a nine-pointed geometric figure that maps out nine fundamental personality types. Each type is associated with a specific thinking, feeling, and behavior pattern.

The Nine Enneagram Types

The nine types of Enneagram are:

Each type offers a distinct lens through which individuals view the world and navigate their lives. The Enneagram further describes the direction of growth and stress, indicating that our behaviors can change based on our mental and emotional states.

Centers of Intelligence in Enneagram

Enneagram theory identifies three intelligence centers - the Gut, Heart, and Head centers. Each center encompasses three Enneagram types and represents a core human emotion. The Gut Center, related to instinct and autonomy, includes Types 8, 9, and 1. The Heart Center, associated with identity and image, comprises Types 2, 3, and 4. The Head Center, linked to thinking and fear, incorporates Types 5, 6, and 7.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)

MBTI, a popular and scientifically applied personality framework, traces its origins to the mid-20th century. The brainchild of Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers, MBTI, was heavily influenced by the psychological theories of Carl Jung.

The Emergence of MBTI

Katharine Briggs’s fascination with personality differences led to the inception of MBTI. She collaborated with her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers, to develop a personality inventory to help individuals better understand themselves and others. The MBTI, as we know it today, was formally published in 1962.

Foundational Elements of MBTI

The MBTI posits that our personalities are made up of preferences across four dimensions or dichotomies. These include:

  • Extraversion (E) or Introversion (I)
  • Sensing (S) or Intuition (N)
  • Thinking (T) or Feeling (F)
  • Judging (J) or Perceiving (P)

The Sixteen MBTI Types

From the combination of these dichotomies arise 16 distinctive MBTI personality types. Each type is denoted by a four-letter code, such as INTJ or ESFP, reflecting individual preferences.

The Eight Cognitive Functions of MBTI

The MBTI also introduces the concept of cognitive functions, which are mental processes that each personality type prefers to use. There are eight cognitive functions, composed of a combination of a dichotomy from Sensing-Intuition and Thinking-Feeling, along with an orientation from Extraversion-Introversion—for example, Extraverted Thinking (Te) or Introverted Intuition (Ni).

Enneagram vs Myers-Briggs: A Comparative Analysis

While both the Enneagram and MBTI are instrumental in personality understanding, they contrast in their approaches, depth of exploration, and interpretation of personality.

The Approach: Motivation vs Cognition

The Enneagram digs deep into an individual’s core motivations, desires, fears, and defenses, providing insights into why people behave the way they do. In contrast, MBTI concentrates on how people perceive the world and make decisions, focusing on cognitive processes more than underlying motivations.

The Depth: Dynamic vs Static

Another significant difference is the dynamic nature of the Enneagram against the relatively static nature of MBTI. In the Enneagram system, each type has varying degrees of health, and individuals may act more like other types when they’re growing or under stress. On the other hand, MBTI focuses on stable, inherent preferences and does not account for fluctuations in an individual’s behavior or personality under varying conditions.

The Intersection of Enneagram and MBTI

While Enneagram and MBTI are fundamentally different systems, they can intersect and complement each other, providing a richer, more nuanced understanding of personality. Some researchers have suggested correlations between specific Enneagram and MBTI types, but treating these as broad trends rather than strict rules is essential.

Choosing Between Enneagram and MBTI

Deciding which system to use primarily depends on the aspect of personality one aims to explore. The Enneagram, focusing on motivations and emotional coping mechanisms, can be particularly useful in personal development and therapeutic contexts. With its emphasis on cognitive processes, MBTI is often used in career counseling, team building, and enhancing interpersonal communication.

Conclusion: Enneagram vs Myers-Briggs

The Enneagram and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, rich in history and insights, offer unique lenses to understand and navigate the complexities of personality. They serve as complementary tools that, when used in conjunction, can provide a comprehensive picture of an individual’s personality.


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