How the Levels of Development Show you Your Path of Growth

Updated: October 17, 2023
7 minutes read
There are nine stages of psychological health for each type – part 6 of the Enneagram Theory Series

Welcome to Part Six in our Enneagram Theory series!

In this series, usually I, Chris, chief editor and co-founder of Personality Path, go into the depths of how the Enneagram came to be and how it works. Today, however, we asked one of our guest writers to take over. Barbara Bean-Mellinger has written on the Enneagram for various outlets. This is her debut for Personality Path.

If you remember, in Part Five, we explored your Stress and Peace Points, also called arrows or lines.

This time, Barbara takes us into the depths of the Levels of Development – nine stages of psychological health each Enneagram type moves up and down on.

What you will learn

Do you ever wonder why you react to situations differently on some days than on others? I’ve often been perplexed by this.

For example, I recently received a call from an unhappy client. She didn’t like some elements of an advertorial I had written for her.

Just to be clear, an advertorial is an advertisement designed to look like an article. It’s not published without the business owner seeing it. The business gets to read the advertorial ahead of time and make changes. So, in my view, my client had no reason to be upset because the piece had not yet been published. I suggested we work through each point in the text and edit it as needed. She implied it was going to need more than editing.

Now, normally, as someone who relates to type Four of the Enneagram, I would have been upset by this point in the conversation. Type Four is not only prone to being emotional, but also very aware of their emotions and think about their emotions a lot. So, as I listened to my client, the little voice in the back of my mind was saying, “Aren’t you upset? Why aren’t you upset?”

When we ended the call, I laughed. The client had said what I wrote was “wrong.” What she meant, however, was that it didn’t go far enough; it required more explanation to be “right” in her mind and, she said, in the minds of her colleagues who would read it and judge her (no doubt her own Enneagram type was at play here). The truth was that she would have needed a full-length magazine article to say what she wanted to say;. I suggested we cut other content down to two points, which we could then elaborate on. To say she was happy would have been an overstatement. But she was “okay” with it.

And that was fine with me. Which was interesting, because in the past, the fact that I didn’t make a client completely happy would have ruined my day. Maybe even several days. But this time, I didn’t beat myself up over it. I knew she was being unreasonable and simply didn’t understand the format. It wasn’t my fault.

Wait, a Four – with their characteristically low self-esteem – saying ‘It wasn’t my fault,’ and actually meaning it? How could that be?

Succulent in a pot

Nine Levels for Every Enneagram Type

Enneagram types are not static. Just because someone relates to type Four, type Nine, or type Two, doesn’t mean they’re always going to behave the same way. People can exhibit different aspects of their Enneagram type in different days. What’s even more exciting is that we can consciously (or unconsciously) grow inside our Enneagram type, freeing ourselves from some of the negative aspects that come with our type, in order to focus on healthier ones. 

Once upon a time, the Enneagram just knew about the nine types, loosely defined. Then, in 1977, the psychologist Don Riso began to expand the types by identifying nine ‘Levels of Development’within each type that help people grow.(2)  He expanded his theory with his writing partner Russ Hudson, and their work has become an integral part of modern Enneagram theory. 

According to the Levels of Development, within each Enneagram type there are Healthy, Average, and Unhealthy levels. Each of these can then be divided into another three sub-levels. 

In the unhealthy levels, the person is dissatisfied with their life and may tend towards self-destructive behavior. For type Four, this could even include self-harm and suicide. 

The average levels involve the person trying to gain control over their emotions, at first overcompensating, but gradually developing balance in their interpersonal relationships. For example, type Four tends to feel envious of what others possess, so they can work on the melancholy which envy can cause. 

In the Healthy levels, the person works towards knowing and accepting who they are. In the case of type Four, it segues away from having the desire to be unique, channeling it instead into their creativity. By doing so, they experience the feeling of belonging that they were searching for.

To give you an example of what the levels look like, here they are for type Four:

The Nine Levels of Health for Type 4

The Unhealthy Spectrum

1 – Extremely unhealthy: You feel like you’ve wasted your whole life chasing after fantasies, like you have no identity at all. You may be entertaining thoughts of self-destructive behavior or even suicide, should no one come to ‘rescue’ you.

2 – Very unhealthy: You are so desperate to be unique that you hate everything about yourself that isn’t, as well as everyone else for failing to save you from your misery.2 – Very unhealthy: You are so desperate to be unique that you hate everything about yourself that isn’t, as well as everyone else for failing to save you from your misery.

3 – Unhealthy: You are afraid that you are wasting your life chasing dreams with nothing substantial ever coming from it. But rather than admit it, you wallow in self-pity and apathy.

The Average Spectrum

4 – Low average: You envy others for living stable and fulfilling lives, yet hate the thought of giving up your dreams to live such an ‘ordinary’ life. Your sensitivity turns into pretentiousness.

5 – Average: You define yourself through being different from everyone else, but worry that no one will ever recognize it. So you play hard to get, are self-conscious and melancholy, waiting for that special someone to come along and make you whole.

6 – High average: You are prized and seen for your individuality and imagination, and you like to intensify those feelings where possible. There’s still that ache inside you, though.

The Healthy Spectrum

7 – Healthier: You express your individuality through creativity, not through sheer ‘being different’. You can be subtle, confident, eloquent, and sensitive, and start to feel like you belong.

8 – Healthy: You are self-aware, but not so self-conscious anymore. Most of the time, you know who you are and don’t think you’re missing anything.

9 – Fully integrated: You have let go of the belief that something’s fundamentally wrong with you and someone needs to rescue you. You have found yourself and can enjoy your own and life’s beauty.

Succulents in pots viewed from above

Life on the Average Spectrum

Most of us, most of the time, live on the average levels (levels 4, 5, and 6). We’re neither at Level 1, the very best we could be, nor at Level 9, full of despair and hopelessness. I have only experienced Level 9 of type Four once in my life. I can assure you that I hope never having to go there again.

But I’m doing more than just hoping. I have consciously worked to help myself get healthier. At the time, I didn’t realize I was working on a Level of Development, of course. Looking at it now, the times I berated myself after any small amount of criticism, I was probably living on Level 7, being angry at myself and ashamed. Sometimes, I even felt the self-hatred of Level 8. 

A plant sapling in a vase filled with water

Choosing to Grow

Then, about two years ago, I got an email late at night. I saw it when I checked my email before bed, and the contents upset me so much that I couldn’t sleep all night. As is typical of type Four, I went over every offensive word in my mind, wallowing in each of them. 

I realized then how precariously I was living – one email from one person could alter my life for days. I knew that other people would have shrugged it off, maybe being upset at first, but forgetting about it by the next morning.

So I consciously took a step, albeit a baby step. I stopped reading emails before bed. In fact, I wouldn’t read them after 8 pm, sometimes even 6pm. What could I possibly need to know at night that couldn’t wait until morning? I know family and close friends will text or call, not email, if they need me.

Taking that one conscious step, and sticking to it, has freed me from a lot of unnecessary worry. I don’t even recall who that email was from back then, nor what was so upsetting about it. That means I stopped going over and over it in my mind. As a type Four, that is growth for sure.

Curious, I went back to the Levels of Development specific to type Four. I can see that these days I am rarely on the Unhealthy spectrum. Yet, should I veer into them again, I have no problem getting help if I need it, as I did before. 

These days, I am rarely melancholy. I have learned not to take everything personally, to realize and live the fact that while I cannot control other people’s actions, I can control my reactions to them. 

And that moment when I was able to laugh after the phone call with my client? I might have been on the healthy spectrum. I’m not there every day, but I am striving to go there more often through conscious actions and reactions. With more work, I’m confident I can get to a continuously healthy level, at least on most days. 

You can read a short introduction to the levels of development for each Enneagram type in our type descriptions.

You want to go deeper? Your Full Report goes into each of the nine levels and how you can start growing. If you haven’t gotten your Full Report yet, you can get it here.

This concludes part Six of our introductory series to the Enneagram. Next time, we will look at what the three Enneagram Stances tell you about how you go about getting what you want.

So stay tuned!

If you want to catch up on previous posts in this series, you can do that here:

Part 1: How Personality Forms

Part 2: Your Main Personality Type

Part 3: What Are Wings in the Enneagram

Part 4: How Enneagram Groups Show You What You Rely on the Most

Part 5: How Your Enneagram Type Changes Under Pressure and Relaxation

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