Levels of Integration in the Enneagram

Why do we see such diversity in the behavior of people with the same Enneagram type? And why are we prone to act differently depending on what ‘mood’ or life situation we are in?  To  answer these questions, let us take a look at Don Riso’s Levels of Development.

Also known as Levels of Health, this concept is a key contribution to the Enneagram literature by a well-respected Enneagram teacher, Don Riso. The concept deals with how strong an individual is identified with their personality or ego structure.

Riso has drawn up a cylinder-shaped diagram with nine layers on top of each other. The layers refer to one’s level of consciousness and indicate to what degree they are able to stay in the present moment or keep the focus on the here & now. Everyone has an anchor point on this scale which shows how liberated or ego-bound they are.

Three ranges and nine levels

Riso’s diagram has three ranges (average, low, high) with each range further divided into three additional levels.

The average range is where most of us operate – this is what’s considered as ’normal behavior’. Below is the unhealthy range indicating dysfunctional and destructive behavioral patterns. Those who operate in the healthy range are less bound by the habits and mechanisms of their ego-structure. This spectrum refers to highly effective mode of functioning.

In Riso’s diagram the levels 1 through 3 belong to the healthy range, levels 4 through 6 the normal range, and levels 7 through 9 to the deeply dysfunctional manifestations of the type.

Some Enneagram teachers refer to the above Unhealthy Levels (9, 8, 7) as the range where people are mainly stabilizing their ego structures, the Average Levels (6, 5, 4) as the ’Journey to Presence’, and the Healthy Levels (3,2,1) as the ’Journey with Presence’.

Unhealthy range

In this range, one’s behavior is driven by the core fear or reactivity of their Enneagram type, which often leads to acting out in a destructive way. One becomes identified with their personality structure and is often out of touch with reality. In this range one has little ability to access other types. In short, this is where one is ’trapped by their type’.

Average range

Here, one’s core issues still motivate and drive the behavior but one tends to be less reactive. The wings and alternative points are more accessible but any successful move requires consciousness.

Liberated or highly integrated range

Here, one comes to understand and is able to move beyond the limitations of their core Enneagram type. The core themes, fears and motivations are moderated significantly. One is able to move towards wings, access the lines of ‘stretch and release’, and holds the core type more lightly and fluidly. There is a sense of ’letting go’ of core concerns and fears.

So how static or fixed is the anchor point?

Good news is that it is not fixed.

On the one hand, as we invest in self-development our overall state of mental health will grow. The anchor point indicates the degree of self-mastery we’ve achieved so far in the personal journey. This is the baseline we always return to when things are normal.

For instance, one may have operated in the range between level 5 through 7 earlier in their life, but now they are operating at levels 4 through 6.

On the other hand, our level of operation also fluctuates throughout the day – it tends to move up and down around the anchor point, depending to the challenges and circumstances we face. Fear of an important exam, for example, can negatively impact our default level of operation.

By letting go of the habits that no longer serve us, we can begin moving up that ladder – in order to realize our fullest potential. And this is where the Enneagram can kick-start profound changes in our life.

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