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Understanding the Levels of Development

levels of developmentWe all have times when we’re at our best – attentive, resilient, and able to handle whatever comes our way. We also have times when every little thing bugs us, and we find ourselves caught up in conflict at the drop of a hat.

Most Enneagram teachers, including us, believe that we each have a personality type that is probably set from an early age. Our Enneagram type gives us a core motivation and a way we desire to exist in the world. Sometimes, those of us who share an Enneagram type will also share similar ways of behaving in our environments. However, we also see a great deal of variation in how people with the same type behave, and in how we ourselves behave at different points in our life.

One of our Enneagram teachers, Don Riso (joined later by Russ Hudson), described much of this variation through the Levels of Development. Riso identified that each of the Enneagram types has nine different Levels of Health at which they can exist. All of us have days where we’re “on our game,” with an awareness and ability to respond to circumstances in a way that’s empowering. On the other hand, sometimes we have days that are more difficult, and say or do things we later regret. These Levels represent a range of attitudes and behaviors that exist in all of us, over the course of years or even in the same day! Understanding the Levels of Development helps us stay aware of how we’re doing, and catch ourselves when we dip lower than we’d like to.

Below is a brief summary of how The Enneagram Institute summarizes Healthy, Average, and Unhealthy Levels:

The Healthy Levels (Levels One, Two, and Three) – At the Healthy Levels of Development, we’re able to approach situations with awareness and compassion for ourselves and others. We have the ability to make decisions that are effective and beneficial. We embody our Enneagram type’s most positive qualities. When operating healthfully, we find ourselves acting and behaving in ways that contribute positively to our own lives and our communities around us. Most of us hope to attain the strong awareness and psychological health of Levels One-Three, and through our personal growth work and practices we can establish a baseline of functioning at these Levels.

The Average Levels (Levels Four, Five, and Six) – Average Levels of Development tend to encompass much of our everyday functioning. At these Levels, we’re often feeling good and managing our lives, but we don’t have the same degree of awareness as we do in the Healthy Levels. Riso and Hudson describe us as starting to operate on autopilot at these Levels, and our decisions are based on what we feel like we need to get our type’s motivations met. When we face challenges at Average Levels, we make decisions less mindfully, often saying and doing things to try to gain control over situations. These decisions may not be the best in the long term, and can cause strain on our relationships. The good news is, at Average Levels we still maintain some level of self-awareness, and respond to personal growth practices that help us regain healthy psychological functioning.

The Unhealthy Levels (Levels Seven, Eight, and Nine) – When we function at Unhealthy Levels, we lack self-awareness and make decisions completely on autopilot. At this point, our decisions have the potential to be destructive to ourselves and others. The good news is, most of us don’t operate here long-term. When someone stays in the Unhealthy Levels, it’s usually a reaction to severe crisis or trauma. At these Levels, we benefit from receiving support from a therapist or other trained professional.

It’s possible for all of us to learn to operate in a place that is psychologically healthy and aware! Through a combination of developing regular practices that challenge and inspire us, and finding a team of supporters in our goals, we can develop the attentiveness, functionality, and flexibility that characterize a shift up the Levels.

To learn more about how the Levels of Development work in all nine types, we recommend reading Personality Types, by Don Riso with Russ Hudson, or attending our Journey of Growth (Levels) Enneagram Institute Authorized Workshop.