Enneagram means “nine-pointed figure” in Greek. This method, born a century ago, aims to define nine ways of being, nine types of personalities. According to its promoters, this “tool” improves self-knowledge and helps to better relate to others. In the Christian environment, it is widely diffused in spiritual centers.
The recent publication of Sister Anne Lécu’s book (1), which is an indictment against this “device”, arouses many reactions and questions the relevance, for Christians, of using the enneagram. The nun, aware of the issue of abuse, wants to be a “pebble in the shoe” of those who support the enneagram without questioning its nature, its foundations and its potential abuses.
Rather than entering into a purely theoretical debate, we wanted to organize a meeting between Anne Lécu and Odile Cavaro, a practitioner who organizes, among other things, enneagram courses. With, for us, the desire to enlighten Christians who have heard of this method and who would like to know more.
This dialogue raises other questions, which go beyond the scope of this interview. Can we and should we use, in a Christian environment, tools from personal development? What discernment to operate? Can these tools be imported and evangelized so that the believer can benefit from them? Do they not feed a confusion between the psychological domain and the spiritual domain, the terrible consequences of which are constantly being measured in the cases of abuse which shake the Church? Vigilance is needed more than ever.
What is the enneagram?
Odile Cavaro: It is one tool among others – I really insist on this point – which allows us to shed light on our deep motivations. There are nine major families or gateways that I can summarize in broad strokes. Anyone who uses door number 1 is driven by the desire to improve things and thinks that we can always do better. Someone from Family #2 has a strong need to help. Door n° 3 brings together those who want to please; they deploy all their energy and efficiency to achieve this goal. Number 4 concerns people sensitive to beauty, to the depth of what is free, unique. Number 5 brings together those who need to understand things thoroughly; they value knowledge and precision. Door number 6 is that of a person who places loyalty, integrity and reliability above all else: “You must be able to count on me”. No. 7 is for those who see the glass as half full, who have the ability to bounce back; they are very active as long as they experience pleasure. Family #8 members need to protect others; they are fighters for justice. Door n° 9 concerns those who will have at heart to create a climate of peace and harmony, where everyone finds their place.
How does it work?
O. C. : Each of the nine types maintains links of familiarity with other profiles, thus revealing our qualities but also our weaknesses. For example, if a person recognizes himself in n° 6 (reliability and loyalty), he maintains links with n° 9 (the desire for harmony) and n° 3 (to please)… The enneagram is a school of humility, because it reveals our talents and our limits. It is also a school of benevolence because, instead of judging others because they don’t work like me, I learn to understand them better, and therefore to better welcome them as they are.
What do you think, Anne Lécu?
Anne Lecu: The basic problem with the enneagram is that it has no serious scientific or psychological basis. It does not find its origin in an alleged ancestral wisdom, neither of ancient Egypt, nor of the Sufi world, nor even of the Fathers of the Church, as some claim. It was invented at the beginning of the 20th century by a Russian guru named Gurdjieff, who explained to his disciples that humans work like machines. His goal was to learn to analyze his own functioning in order to free himself from it, and to understand the behavior of others in order to manipulate them – it’s written in black and white! He teaches that the enneagram explains everything that exists in the world. Later, its South American popularizers plastered each issue with psychopathological categories, borrowed from the North American psychiatry textbook. They argue that we are formed from a childhood wound and that our behavior is dictated by an overreaction to it…
How is this problematic for you?
A. L. : The enneagram has a totalizing aim which claims to map the human soul. It forces us to put on glasses that encourage us to look at the world through these nine “cages”. It’s a system closed in on itself that risks freezing people into a behavior they can no longer get rid of. Not to mention those who, in order to have an ascendancy or a hold on those around them, label others according to their alleged enneatype.
O. C. : On this last point, I always warn trainees about the temptation to type others, it is dangerously simplistic. In the same way, I abstain from giving indications on the type to which a person could belong. It is up to them to lead their own reflection based on the elements that I provide and the questions that I answer – without any obligation to come up with a precise figure.
What about the origins of the enneagram?
O. C. : The enneagram is obviously not a science. It was built from a fine observation of man and his behavior. As for Gurdjieff, he is a problematic personality but it is too easy to reduce the enneagram to his only figure. His contribution remains minimal. The tool has come a long way since its inception a hundred years ago and is still in development. It is no longer taught today as it was forty years ago.
And on the psychopathological dimension?
O. C. : I agree with Anne Lecu. I myself am very reserved on an interpretation of the enneagram based on childhood traumas. The recent contribution of neuroscience teaches us that the formation of a personality is very complex…
Do you think the enneagram has anything to do for a Christian?
A. L. : Absolutely not (laughs)! I must confess to you my bewilderment when I read publications dealing with the enneatype of Pope Francis, that of the characters of the Bible, even of the Trinity! The enneagram is not spiritually neutral. It belongs to the gnoses (heresies condemned by the Church in the 2nd century which base salvation on the knowledge of divine things, reserved for a few initiates, editor’s note), as recalled by a Vatican document on new age thought, published in 2003 ( 2). Many Catholics are unaware of its esoteric origins…
O. C. : It is important to put things in their place: the enneagram is not a Christian tool, nor a spiritual tool. It provides us with a better knowledge of ourselves and a better understanding of our relationships. Whether I make connections with my faith is up to me personally. It is totally compatible with the Christian faith insofar as it teaches me to be more tolerant, more charitable towards my neighbour, being less judgmental and more benevolent.
A. L. : I get testimonials that do not go in this direction. I think of this community whose members have been trained in the enneagram. A nun testifies how this has systemically damaged the sisterhood. Each allows herself to give “wise” advice to others, which creates a climate of suspicion and permanent judgment…
O. C. : Hence the importance of keeping to the ethical framework: not typing others. It is not because there are drifts and abuses that the tool is bad in itself. I can use a hammer to drive in a nail or to hit my neighbour’s head… A nun recently confided to me how much this tool had allowed her to reduce her expectations and her level of demand vis-à-vis herself and of his sisters, and therefore to develop more peaceful relationships.
What would you say to someone who wants to sign up for an internship to make up their own mind?
O. C. : It would be a shame to deprive yourself of such a tool. Christ himself tells us: “Love your neighbor as yourself. It’s the project of a lifetime! Before registering for a course, find out first about the speaker, his training and his way of approaching the enneagram. Consult the Internet, call him directly, contact people who have undergone his training. In this area, as in others, nothing beats word of mouth.
A. L. : I just think it’s best not to do an enneagram course. Doing an internship insidiously puts a kind of filter in your head that leads you to look at the world through nine boxes. Multiplying in-depth courses is even more worrying because we lock ourselves into this logic.
Anne Lécu is a Dominican nun and doctor, she has just published the book The Enneagram is neither catho nor kosher. / EMELINE SAUSER FOR THE CROSS
Anne Lécu, watch on abuses in the Church
Anne Lécu is a Dominican nun, general practitioner at the women’s prison of Fleury-Mérogis (Essonne). She is a member of the cell “Sectarian influence and excesses in the Catholic Church” of the Conference of Bishops of France. Noting the spread of the enneagram in Christian circles, she became interested in this “device” within the framework of a university diploma on influence. The Miviludes, the government organization for the fight against sectarian aberrations, alerted by the inflation of these training courses in companies, encouraged the nun to deepen the study. Anne Lécu has just published the results of her research in her book The Enneagram is neither catho nor kosher (Éditions du Cerf).
Odile Cavaro uses the enneagram among other tools during her training in human relations. / EMELINE SAUSER FOR THE CROSS
Odile Cavaro, trainer in human relations
Trainer in human relations, Odile Cavaro offers the enneagram and other tools (communication, active listening, management of emotions and conflicts) to denominational associations or not. For the Christian part, this diocesan delegate to the diaconate in Charente-Maritime (with her husband deacon and country doctor) intervenes in particular with Secours Catholique, Catholic Family Associations, the Congregation of the Daughters of the Heart of Mary, the Ignatian Spiritual Center Sainte-Ursule in Indre-et-Loire… Trained at the French Enneagram Institute, she estimates that she has introduced around 700 people to this tool.