Enneagram Integration and disintegration
There are many opinions about the arrows of the Enneagram, the famous arrows of integration and disintegration. According to some, the specific directions of stress and integration are a “myth debunked”. According to others, the directions of the arrows are always relevant. So what about it?
As often the explanation is certainly in the middle. I am not doing type 9, but I really like the analysis of Cicci Lyckow Bäckman (Sweden, 2022, “stress, change, disintegration and growth“) who considers that yes, every individual potentially moves in both directions , but that does not take away the deep meaning of each of these lines. It all depends on the filter we use to understand these inner arrows.
Basically, there are two camps in this discussion. One where we can move back and forth in both “stress” and “growth.” And the one where the specific direction of the arrows has meaning.
Reminders on the Disintegration and on the Enneagram Integration
The lines and arrows represent the movement that each of the 9 personality types performs in certain situations or in particular circumstances (Stress, discouragement, loss of control or conversely fulfillment, maturity, etc.). This is where the confusion arises, because early in the development of the Enneagram it was thought that there was a “right” arrow (arrow of integration) and a “bad” arrow (arrow of disintegration) to which you were heading. The integration arrow and the decay arrow as indicated in the diagram below.
Thus type 3 integrated into 6, becoming more loyal with others, also putting his efficiency at their service. Or he could disintegrate into a 9, losing hope and becoming apathetic, passive-aggressive.
It has been suggested that when we move towards the “right” arrow, we become more developed humans. And that when we travel along the “wrong” arrow, we jeopardize our development.
Originally, the arrow of integration represents the forces that we must develop in order to balance the limits of our main personality type. When we integrate the resources provided by our type of integration, we gain a broader perspective, we can take on more challenges with ease, and we find ourselves staying calm under pressure.
However, we rarely head for either arrow consciously. More often, we move towards them with a limited level of awareness. Why is that?
When the adaptive strategies of our primary type are unable to handle the situation we find ourselves in, our subconscious mind naturally seeks other ways to protect us and meet our needs. Basically, you’re like, “OK, my usual strategies aren’t working, what else can I try?”
But today some schools (of thoughts) consider that we potentially move on the 2 arrows. Thus a 3 can capture the strengths of a 9 or a 6 just as well as its weaknesses.
Moreover, as Katherine Fauvre (US, 2019, Errors in the transmission of the enneagram, wing types, and lines of connection) points out, “Naranjo declared in 1996 that he had been misquoted when teaching his Arrows hypothesis in an early SAT (Seekers After Truth) group in the 1970s”. This misquote went around the world. He would have corrected it in his first Enneagram Intensive at Bolder Colorado in 1996. By stating that he never meant to suggest that we move to one line positively and the other negatively. But rather that we move towards the two connection lines, all the time. He would have the same consideration for the wings. Namely that our type is simply the tension between our two wings. I write “would” because if I refer to his first book published in 2012 (Cl. Naranjo, Enneagram, character and neurosis), (Correct me if I’m wrong), Naranjo does not specify it.
For my part, conceptually I am not convinced by this new approach. Effectively we can move just as well on the line of integration or disintegration. But this is valid for the other 8 lines other than our enneatype. Is it not the quintessence sought in the enneagram to be able to develop by integrating the strengths and virtues of each of the 9 enneatypes? And conversely, don’t we sometimes have dysfunctional behaviors typical of each enneatype? However, these behaviors are not all compulsive. This compulsion which remains the founding base of each enneatype. The reasoning is also valid for the wings. The enneagram is dynamic, and does not lock us into a box. We therefore need the 2 specific inner arrows, but as we need the other arrows.
Example of type 3
Personally, doing type 3, when I find myself in a situation where I feel that I have tried everything, that I am discouraged, disillusioned so I change my strategy. The strategy I adopted before becoming aware of it was always the same. I was becoming passive-aggressive. So I let the person or the situation take the lead, I no longer offered any solution, I even pushed in the direction that seemed wrong to me. I procrastinated. Now that I’m well aware of it, I leave the choice to myself. I no longer do it automatically, but in full consciousness. By taking responsibility for my choice. I have been able to verify this throughout my coaching for 20 years with my clients regardless of the enneatype.
However, this did not prevent me, as a 3, from understanding the strengths of type 9, and from letting go in certain situations, but in a benevolent way. And accept the risk of failure, because I can’t control everything. On the contrary, failure can become something beautiful that brings two people together in a framework of resilience, loyalty and sharing.
The key is to observe, when we feel under pressure, the strategies we can adopt to manage the situation.
The dynamics of integration
Integration or disintegration phases can be punctual, on the spot or over a day, or can persist much longer.
Stress leads to increased pressure or momentary ego provocation. But the psychological balance can be compromised, and disintegration can set in over the longer term. We can fall into depression. Or we feel increasingly abused by others or the world at large. Our defenses wear down and we do worse, mentally and emotionally without necessarily realizing it. The identification of the ego becomes stronger and we change our coping strategy. Conversely, in the direction of integration, our psychological balance is increased and we identify less with our ego.
Disintegration is the mechanism by which, under the effect of negative stress, a guy becomes more and more in the grip of his compulsion. At first, the person manifests the most negative aspects of his type. Then it adds weaknesses, defects of the disintegration type.
The integration movement can also be brief or, on the contrary, be established in a more lasting way. It will then mark a major improvement in the person.
Do not confuse integration with development
We must not confuse the levels of integration and the levels of development. Levels of integration or disintegration refer to the degree of use of compulsive behaviors and thoughts, conscious or not.
Levels of development refer to the degree of self-mastery people have achieved so far in their journey of personal development in life. It is also a time-limited measure and will change as people invest in their personal growth, but also as their situation becomes more or less difficult. The level of development includes of course the level of integration of the person, but not only
At a high level of integration, we move into the Enneagram Center, able to “play” behind the scenes, the lines of stretch and release, holding your base type more lightly and fluidly. This tends to moderate the core motivations, behaviors, and fears of an individual’s primary enneagram type. So individuals with high integration may be more difficult to type.
Identify the level of development
Our Enneagram Institute of Lyon has set up a questionnaire which makes it possible to measure the level of development of a person. The questionnaire globally measures self-control, levels of consciousness and lucidity. This according to three levels of development. While all people can switch between high and low integration behaviors depending on their context and level of tension, there is likely to be a concentration of energy and behavior at a particular level of development, at one point.
At a high level of development, there is a sense of “letting go” of core fears and concerns as people understand and move beyond the limits of their enneatype base.
At a moderate level of development, this feeling of letting go is mitigated by reactive, automatic behaviors and thoughts, typical of our enneatype. The ego largely takes over the direction of our motivations.
At a low level of development, we can say that we are “type-trapped” with a lot of behaviors motivated by fear and our compulsions. We have little ability to access other types.
Levels help explain (in addition to wings and subtypes) the differences between people of the same type as well as how people change for better or worse. Thus, they can also help therapists and counselors identify what is really going on with clients and suggest solutions to problems they are having.
To fully understand a person, it is necessary to perceive where they are on the continuum of these levels of development. In other words, one must assess whether a person is in their range of low, moderate, or high functioning. This is important because, for example, two people of the same enneatype will differ considerably if one is in a good psychological balance and the other is not.
At each level, significant psychological changes occur. For example, at the average level, the person tries to manipulate himself and others to meet his psychological needs. This invariably creates interpersonal conflict. The person has also fully identified with the ego and sees only that. The ego must therefore be more and more defended and inflated so that the person feels safe and keeps his identity intact. If that doesn’t work and the anxiety increases, it can move to the low level. His behavior will become more intrusive and aggressive as he continues to pursue his ego agenda. And this regardless of the impact on the people around him.
On the other hand, the movement towards the higher level, makes us present and awake in our minds, our hearts and our bodies. As we become more present, we become less obsessed with the defensive structures of our personality. We are more in tune and open to ourselves and our environment. We see our personality objectively in action and act on our automatic patterns.
IEL study (Institut Ennéagramme de Lyon)
The questionnaire measures levels of ego assertion and any potential incongruence there may be. This approach, different of the Don Riso’s assessment according to me, is new in the enneagram, and needs to be explored much more in depth. But the first results are promising.
% of people believing they are assertive (according to the age and male/female)
63% of people in our study (IEL Nov. 2022 study, out of 94 people), consider themselves to be assertive through our questionnaire. But almost half of them are not congruent, and show behaviors that may be dysfunctional. In this case, aggressive and manipulative behaviors are largely underestimated. Our ego tells us what it wants. An in-depth discussion with the person makes it possible to confirm a moderate or even low level of development and to target very specific actions linked to the person’s enneatype.
% of people really assertive (according to the age and male/female)
Ultimately, the goal is for each of us to “move” through the Enneagram, integrating what each type symbolizes and acquiring the wholesome potentials of all types. The ideal is to become a balanced and fully functional person who can draw on the power (virtues) of everyone, according to their needs. Each of the Enneagram types symbolizes different important aspects of what we need to achieve our goals. The personality type we start life with is therefore ultimately less important than how well (or badly) we use our type as a starting point for our personal development and self-realization.
In the context of the enneagram, the identification of our level of development becomes key to achieving our personal or spiritual fulfillment, or professional performance. The link between our potentially dysfunctional behaviors can then be related to our enneatype, even more effectively. It becomes a precious help for the person in search of development as well as the psychotherapist or the coach.