What a fantastic ride into the dark corners of the mind it was. Subtle, touching, hilarious, enlightening – I was deeply impressed by the nine-day SAT retreat that I recently attended together with 41 others at the ZIST institute.

The SAT (Seekers After Truth) is a masterful example of the power of experiential learning, or more accurately the power of direct encounter.

The programme was created in the 70s by psychiatrist Claudio Naranjo, integrating the wisdom of spiritual traditions with modern psychology. Naranjo was particularly inspired by the teachings of his mentor Oscar Ichazo, and introduced the West to the Enneagram, a system of personality types, which Naranjo refined and completed.

At the heart of the system lies the idea that at some point in our lives we become separated from our true selves, triggered by the separation of birth and general life adversities. We get trapped in a vicious cycle of disconnection, fear and our attempts to adapt through pretence (social masques). We lose an inner sense of I-am-ness and develop a craving for “being”. With the Enneagram Naranjo distinguishes nine main strategies of how our personalities develop around this dynamic.

All of these strategies are appealing, but ultimately let us down because they disconnect us from others and ourselves. They lead us to respond to the world in repetitive, knee-jerk-like patterns, diminishing our creativity, responsiveness and well-being. Like the eye that can see, but can’t see itself, there is a sense of an unconsciousness of being unconscious. Our ego structure shapes our sense of reality so profoundly, that we are often blind to it.

Betina Waissman, Alain Vigneau, Cherif Chalakani, and Katrin Reuter helped us to explore our own blind spots by guiding us through a journey of mediation, group work, movement, psycho-drama, gestalt therapy and self-reflection. We learned about the workings of each type and through various experiential processes sought to loosen its grip on our own psyches. There were a lot of hugs and tears – and laughter.

Even though it was the in-the-moment experience that generated the true power of this process, its content and theory are also very insightful. I would like to share my notes on the characteristics of the nine types. For timing reasons some types were discussed more extensively than others, which is reflected in the varying length of the respective descriptions.

Type One – Perfectionism

  • Attention gets completely absorbed by faults, which fuels anger – the bigger picture is forgotten
  • Bodies are often awkward and rigid
  • Very strong, everything always needs to get better
  • Jekyll and Mr. Hide – morals, good behaviour rub against urges and impulses
  • Often very idealistic, seeking justice and working for a better world
  • Obedient to abstract authorities, rules, customs, norms, “Law and Order”

Type 2 – False Abundance

  • So full of themselves that they give and give but leave little space for others
  • Free, wild, undomesticated
  • In relationship it’s great at the beginning but then it gets lonely because for the 2 it’s all about them (“me, me, me” attitude)
  • They sell it as if you needed it, but it’s actually about their needs – there is something false
  • Very good at charming, seducing, surrounding themselves with people

Type 3 – (Self-)Deception

  • “I need to see myself in your eyes to exist”
  • Want to be the best at everything
  • Control emotions because losing their image seems like a big threat
  • “If I’m not my image, who am I?”
  • Self-deception
  • High achieving – exist because they produce – want to be recognised for it
  • Often don’t know what they want or feel because they are tuned into what others want
  • May wonder “why change?” (everything seems great) but they feel that there is something superficial to their lives
  • Can be like a chameleon
  • Love applause
  • Some are warm and focus on being successful within relationships – seek an important or interesting partner or many different relationships

Type 4 – Dissatisfaction

  • If I only… had a better family, lived in a different country, had a better body -> the ‘other’ is always better (envy)
  • They always find a way to lose in a given situation
  • In relationships they often cling to it despite it being dysfunctional -> good reason for suffering. An almost competitive sense of “I stay the victim and you are the torturer”
  • Regard solutions as superficial, instead prefer to go deeper and deeper
  • Problems, conflicts bring depth -> staying together despite conflicts, fights, hatred, anger
  • OR: taboo regarding aggression and then they are more sensitive: tears, fragility, victim, sick, whiny
  • Glass is always half-empty

Type 5 – Detachment

  • The world is so difficult, it’s better to keep myself to myself
  • If I get involved people will take the little bit I have
  • Quickly get tired of people – have an economy of their energy
  • Don’t share themselves with others as if they were ‘behind a window’
  • Their interest goes into the abstract world: “there will never be fulfilment in this chaotic world, so maybe I’ll find it in a higher world” – books, science, philosophy.
  • “Just leave me alone”
  • They seem to live well by themselves but there is a lack of vitality – life is about relationships so they won’t find true love towards themselves until they experience love from someone else
  • Most 5s like to sit in a castle by themselves but some like to have one person on their side

Type 6 – (Self-)Accusation

  • Our ego creates enemies: internal -> paranoia, permanent feeling of not being able to trust – others, the world or oneself, ones intuition, ones confidence
  • Creates a sphere of judgment (out of fear); attitude: ready for attack as a preparation for all the enemies in the world


  • “I will never do anything”, submission as to not to be attacked
  • They develop a warm, friendly demeanour


  • Worrying about (not) making mistakes
  • As if constantly watched by god’s eye
  • Self-accusation (they are often not aware of it but aware of feelings of guilt)
  • Often feel divided – left or right?
  • Fantasy that there is a monster inside, if they relax it comes out
  • Need for control -> we are all little monsters -> inner policeman, stops freedom and spontaneity (can be confused with perfectionists but 1s think they know what’s right, 6s are full of doubt)

Type 7 – Self-Indulgence

  • Search for pleasure to avoid pain
  • Bright side of life
  • Lack of depth
  • “It’s ok not to do so much, people take life too seriously. I want to play” (Peter Pan)
  • “The world has to feed me” but not demanding like a 4. 7s say “I want a little bit of everything”
  • Adventurers, mysterious, esoteric, far away is what often interests them but stays on the surface, like a cork at the surface of the water
  • Nothing is fulfilling
  • Collection of experiences but no integration of them
  • Lazy “It’s not necessary” -> disdain for discipline
  • Often very intelligent, quick-minded, because their mind can think ahead a lot (fantasies). This produces laziness because they’ve already “been there” in their mind, so why bother actually going there (i.e. read half a book and run a workshop on it)
  • Avoid conflicts and focus on positives
  • Avoid by going into fantasy or words (charlatanism) – i.e. when feelings come up they begin talking a lot as a way to distract
  • Get a little joy when their inventions/lies are being accepted as true
  • Creative, inventive minds
  • Need to realise that we cannot be complete if we don’t touch our pain

Type 8 – Rebellion

  • Avoidance of vulnerability through hardness
  • Search for strength, power, dominance
  • Often have experienced violence in their past -> “No one will ever dominate me again, now I will dominate”
  • They tolerate a lot and can be violent to others to achieve what they consider just
  • De-valuation of common justice – “society is hypocritical so why should I follow their rules?” (yes, there is hypocrisy, but an 8 leaves sensitivity and vulnerability buried so that they miss that there are other dimensions too)
  • Scared of being vulnerable
  • Some are obviously anti-social, don’t give a damn about conventions, provocative
  • Often popular, natural leaders
  • Take care of “their tribe”, protect
  • Possessive
  • Can be courageous, also in relationships, but don’t surrender

Type 9 – Self-Forgetting

  • Avoidance of going deep inside
  • Avoid conflicts by reducing the intensity of life
  • They normalise – everything is normal
  • Sometimes confuse themselves with 7s because of “everything is OK” attitude but don’t go for stimulation like 7s
  • Distract themselves with details
  • Good natured, friendly, in service of others (not in order to please but to include and to be included)
  • Giving, generous, often engaged in groups, charities, church groups
  • Find meaning through being there for others
  • Can give their life or parts of their life to others
  • Abnegation
  • Need to reduce intensity of own desires in order to abnegate and be in service to others
  • If they attend to own needs they feel selfish
  • Ingesting “stuff” as a distraction from own needs / anaesthetic: big appetite for food, experience, travelling, collecting things etc.
  • “Don’t rock the boat”

Each of these types then divides into three subtypes so that we are looking at 27 types in total, but this goes beyond the scope of this post and wasn’t part of the first module of the SAT programme (there are three more to follow).

If you are interested in learning more about Claudio Naranjo’s work and the Enneagram, you can find out more here.

© Ragnar Speicher