Dr. John S. Tamerin: Donald Trump and the Enneagram
Published Sunday, April 2, 2017
Everyone knows who Donald Trump is. Very few people have ever heard of the Enneagram. Trump has been on the planet for 70 years. The Enneagram, a fascinating model for understanding human personality, has its origins in the fourth century. So, it has been around for 1,700 years but is largely unknown.
More recently, the Enneagram was rediscovered and has been amplified and utilized in the later part of the 20th century, providing extraordinary insights into the human psyche.
In particular, the Enneagram is widely known and utilized as an aspect of Christian spiritual education. The meaning of the term Enneagram derives from the Greek word ennéa meaning “9” and grámma, meaning something “written” or “drawn.” It is represented by a nine-pointed geometric figure which describes nine distinct and different personality types.
Although I have practiced psychiatry and studied many theories of personality for over 40 years, I had not heard of the Enneagram until a few months ago when I was introduced to it by my friend, the Rev. Ian Cron, a prominent author, speaker and clergyman — wellknown in Greenwich — who presented a lecture at Christ Church on his fascinating book, “The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery.” Having observed Trump and having written about various aspects of his personality, I was amazed to discover the extraordinary insights the Enneagram provided into our president’s personality and his motivations, as well as his vulnerabilities.
As a psychiatrist I am mandated not to make a long-range medical diagnosis of President Trump, although many of my colleagues have done just that in recent months. On the other hand, there is absolutely no injunction against inviting you to read Ian Cron’s book or to visit Enneagram online and go directly to personality type Eight referred to as “The Challenger.” You will be amazed by the extraordinary insights this ancient instrument provides into the personality of our current commander-in-chief.
Let me begin by saying that although all of this was new to me, nothing I will say is original. It is well known to any serious student of the Enneagram. In fact, what I have to say can be found almost verbatim either on the internet under Enneagram type Eight or in Cron’s excellent book.
Now, let me introduce you to the Enneagram Type Eight (The Challenger). Eights come in three versions — “Healthy, Average and Unhealthy.” They often overlap. Eights are larger than life. They don’t merely fill a space. They own it. They are domineering, aggressive, confrontational, high-voltage people who ooze confidence, fearlessness and strength. Eights gain their energy from conflict and are always looking for a fight as a means of expressing and empowering themselves. Simply stated, they lust after intensity and want to be wherever the action is. Indeed, if they can’t find it, they create it. They have powerful instincts and strong physical appetites which they indulge without feelings of shame or guilt.
Eights often have a hard time working for anyone or within any existing system. They always retain an uneasy association with any hierarchical relationship that sees an Eight in any position other than the top position. This sometimes necessitates that the Eight opt out of the system entirely, assuming something of an outlaw mentality. Eights believe they can change reality, make up their own rules and expect others to follow them. Sadly, they may destroy as much as they create and often feel that people are merely objects to be
Eights are prone to anger and actually enjoy intimidating others who they see as “weak.” They feel little compunction about walking over anyone who stands in their way. Less healthy Eights are steamrollers, rarely diplomats. They are also dualistic thinkers. They see people as either good or bad. They absolutely believe their viewpoints or positions on issues are irrefutable and reject taking nuanced positions on anything because they believe that not having absolute certainty about your position represents weakness or, even worse, cowardice.
They have little patience with people who are indecisive. Jesus’ injunctions in the Sermon on the Mount have little resonance with their personalities. Hence, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” gains little compassion from an Eight. They are more likely to have contempt for people they perceive as weak, vulnerable or unsuccessful.
Because anger is so easy to go to, Eights tend to shoot first often without thinking through the situation or its consequences. Eights never apologize because that might suggest that they are not always in control. Lacking self-awareness, they are quick to blame others rather than owning up and taking any responsibility for their own mistakes. For many Eights expressing remorse represents weakness which to them is a cardinal sin. Betrayal of any sort is absolutely intolerable and will provoke an immediate and intense response.
It should be apparent that I have emphasized the negative aspects of being an Eight (i.e the unhealthy version). When an Eight’s energy is properly channeled, a constructive, healthy Eight can change the face of history. The Enneagram Institute cites a range of such constructive type Eights as Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson and Martin Luther King, Jr. However at the other extreme the Enneagram Institute cites other Eights such as Joseph Stalin, Saddam Hussein, Vladimir Putin “Tony Soprano” and Donald Trump.
To bring this full circle back to you, the reader, my hope is that this article has whetted your appetite to read and learn more about the Enneagram. It can be an extraordinary tool for learning more about yourself and the significant people in your life. The study guide for Ian’s book states “The Enneagram will help you understand differences and improve your relationships which will ultimately add joy and meaning to your life.”
If you want to learn more about yourself and the significant people in your life and how to more intelligently understand and more effectively relate to them, consider signing up for a pro bono course that will be offered at Christ Church Greenwich starting in the spring.
The Rev. Jennifer Owen, assistant to the rector, and I will facilitate the course.
Dr. John S. Tamerin lives and practices psychiatry in Greenwich. He is a clinical associate professor of Psychiatry at the Cornell/Weill School of Medicine.