The Enneagram, Addictions Treatment,
and the Levels of Development
By Michael Naylor, M.ED, CCS, LADC, ET
From The Enneagram Monthly May 2008, Issue 148.
Norman Ouellet’s article in the Enneagram Monthly (Jan. & Feb. 2008) discussed the completion of the 12 Steps
of Alcoholics Anonymous in relation to a recovering alcoholics concurrent ascendance up the Riso-Hudson
Levels of Development. I was inspired by this article to share my experience as a Addiction’s counselor with over
24 years in the field, as a recovering individual with 26 years, and as an Authorized Riso-Hudson Enneagram
Teacher who has utilized the Enneagram personally and professionally since 1995.
I hope that this writing inspires others to begin utilizing the Enneagram to assist individuals in the process of
recovery from their addictions, and to more skillfully navigate the difficult stages of growth that they will
encounter as they move in the direction of positive growth. My experience shows that although AA and NA has
helped many individuals to get sober and clean, over 90% who attempt recovery do not succeed. When
individuals with short or long-term sobriety relapse, there is often a common refrain that is invoked: “They just
didn’t want to stay sober. They are not willing to go to any lengths for their recovery.” Nothing could be further
from the truth.
The reality is every individual who makes the attempt to gain sobriety has a deep desire to succeed. What they
often lack is the wisdom needed to do so. Our task as teachers and guides is to assist these individuals in
staying in touch with the soul longing that brought them to AA/NA in the first place. This translates into teaching
them how their particular Type falls asleep, goes unconscious, and relapses into addiction. (The Enneagram
Levels of Development map this movement into relapse precisely.) It also means teaching them how to access
‘presence’1 so that they no longer feel the need to engage in addictive behaviors that substitute for
experiencing genuine well being.
The teachings of the Enneagram allow us to both identify the individual ways that we forget and also how we can
remember who we really are. This is why I see the Enneagram as providing a hand-in-glove fit with Alcoholics
Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, or any other system of transformational change.
In this article I’ll talk about how the Enneagram can be used to support recovery, and how the Riso-Hudson
Levels of Development assist this process. I’ll also provide an extended example of the Type Eight’s recovery
journey through the levels. Let’s take a brief look at the Riso-Hudson Levels of Development:
• 1 Level of Liberation: Ego Transcended — Balance & Freedom—Living as Essence, Self Realized and
• 2 Level of Psychological Capacity: Ego is Identified with as the basis of a Particular Mode of Being—Living
• 3 Level of Social Gift: Ego Operating in a Constructive Way, Successfully Sublimating—Moving towards
• 4 Level of Fixation: Losing Contact with Presence and Awareness, the Beginning of “Sleep” — A Social
Role/Identity develops—Basic Fear is intruding more.
• 5 Level of Interpersonal Conflict: Ego Controlling Environment to get its needs met — Manipulative &
Defended—Basic Fear is activated strongly.
• 6 Level of Overcompensation: Ego Inflation, Aggressive defense of Ego-Identity. Demanding that
others/reality support the ego-agenda
• 7 Level of Violation: Ego willing to violate self and others to maintain itself. Abusive, Devaluing, Desperate
(Serious pathology arises)
• 8 Level of Delusion and Compulsion: Ego-self out of Control and Out of Touch with Reality (Major
• 9 Level of Pathological Destructiveness: Extreme Pathology or death (Psychosis)
Levels in Early Recovery
When a man or woman arrives in Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, they are often operating at
Level 6 or 7 (Overcompensation and Violation) on the Riso-Hudson continuum. Captured in the unconscious
dynamics of their personality, they are hooked by the compulsion of their substance use. In AA/NA they will
journey through the 12- Steps as a fundamental strategy for maintaining sobriety. In a nutshell they will admit
their powerlessness over addictive substances, take a personal inventory of their addiction history and begin to
make amends to those they’ve hurt, start a spiritual practice of prayer and meditation, and begin supporting
other addicted individuals in their efforts to remain clean and sober. This first journey through the 12 Steps
initiates the process of learning to take responsibility for and begin healing one’s unconscious self-destructive
patterns. But this is only the very tip of the iceberg, and by no means creates a revolution such that one
suddenly jumps from Level 6 or Level 7 of emotional reactivity and unconsciousness to Level 1, where one is a
fully conscious human being.
As referenced in the above chart, Level 1 is living as Essence and is self-realized. Level 2 is a journey with
Essence. Level 3 is a journey towards Essence. Level 4 is a peaceful day without Essence, that is, we are
running on automatic pilot, and the more negative manifestations of our personality are not interfering. The
movement into the Healthy Levels (L1-L3) often takes many years of self- observation, counseling, spiritual
practice, and many rounds through the 12 Steps.
All of this suggests a process in which an individual, as they ascend the Levels towards health, sheds layers of
distortion and begins to actually observe themselves with more clarity and compassion (L4). They learn to step
outside the magnetic pull of their personality habits, wherein “presence” can arise and inform a direction. But the
journey to essence (L1-L3) is rarely sudden. There are many wonderful recovering individuals with years of
sobriety who find themselves frustrated and stranded at Level 5 and Level 4, and although their lives have
greatly stabilized, they lack the knowledge necessary (which is found in the Enneagram) to move beyond their
present Level. Over time they can experience stagnation and become disenchanted, angry, bored, stuck,
unhappy, self- condemning, and then relapse. The Enneagram provides the map through these stages of
stagnation (which are really stages of transformation) that they will invariably experience in recovery, thus
deterring relapse. As the Enneagram is incorporated into addiction treatment and recovery the percentages of
those successfully maintaining sobriety will increase exponentially. It is then, I believe, that we will witness a long
awaited revolution in addiction treatment.
The Power of Discovering your Type
It has been my experience that when an individual in addiction recovery discovers their type, a bright light of self-
recognition turns on. Suddenly they see that the difficulties they’ve gone through via their experience with
addiction have a fundamental sanity and logic to them. They understand they’ve been struggling to reach
something heretofore they hadn’t been able to comprehend or describe. But with a clear description of their type’
s psychic structure (core fear, desire, inner critic voice, emotional habit and mental fixation2, etc. ) along with the
Levels of expression of their type, they glimpse what their heart has wanted all along, which is the stuff of Levels
1-3. They realize that many of their self-destructive actions center around a loss of connection with the healthy
levels. It’s as if a cooling breath of fresh air has entered their life story, and freedom to see themselves with
compassion and forgiveness has begun. For many this is the start of tremendous healing, and wakes up the
real passion to thrive, grow and optimize themselves. With the Enneagram as a map, a clear path home has
been laid before them. They’ve seen the outline of their essential self, and they like and want what they see.
A Journey with the Type Eight
In discussing the potential use of the Enneagram in addiction treatment, I will utilize keywords from the Riso-
Hudson Levels of Development to provide an example of a Hypothetical Type Eight’s journey through the
Levels. We’ll call him “Jack,” the Challenger, known for being powerful, dynamic, self-confident, assertive, willful,
• Level 1: Heroic and Self-Surrendering (Open hearted and strong, magnanimous and present)
• Level 2: Strong and Self-Reliant (Vigorous and action-oriented, can-do people)
• Level 3: Leading and Self-Confident (Inspired to bring out the strengths of others)
• Level 4: Enterprising and Pragmatic (Self-concerns for having enough resources begin to dominate,
emotional sensitivity is guarded. “Presence” has disappeared. Begin to be driven by the Fear of being violated
• Level 5: Dominating and Self-Glorifying (Willful and proud, they want others to know they are in
charge, that they are important. Demand respect and loyalty. Are boastful.)
• Level 6: Intimidating and Confrontational (Fearing disloyalty, they pressure others to do what they
want through threats and oppression. Push others to the limit).
• Level 7: Dictatorial and Ruthless (Feel betrayed and unable to trust anyone, protect themselves at any
cost. Others are objects for them to manipulate.)
• Level 8: Terrorizing and Megalomaniacal (Attack others before they can be attacked.)
• Level 9: Destructive and Sociopathic
As a Type Eight Jack has inherited a core fear4: of being violated and harmed, and of losing his power to
control his environment. He grew up in a abusive household in which his life was literally at risk. In response to
his traumatic childhood he became a raging alcoholic at a young age—a real terror at Level 7 (L7)—ruthless
and full of anger. But Jack was also a fighter, one with hands-on experience in saving his own life as a child, and
his little brother’s life. He survived where others would have been destroyed.
Jack found his way into AA recovery and there, got sober. He was very angry and aggressive in the early stages
of his recovery (L6-intimidating), yet remained sober. In addition, he continuously struggled with his core fear
that others might harm or betray him (L6). However, he hung in and by working the Steps of recovery, his
overwhelming fear that he was going to be violated or harmed if he didn’t threaten and take control of people or
situations (L6) became less pervasive. With growth, he began moving to a Level of more freedom where his
intimidation actions turned to boastfulness and demands for self-respect (L5). In time he became an addiction’s
counselor. Now after 20 years of recovery in AA he has secured his position around Level 4 and 5 (that is, his
center of gravity is located here5) and he is a skilled strategist in promoting his career. He can function with
strength and independence. He has worked the steps of Alcoholics Anonymous dozens of times, and on his best
days “presence” arises and he taps into Level 3 (Self-confident, empowering of others), where he can express
his finer gifts. Then he empowers the most troubled and traumatized to get sober. (Level 3 gifts). This shows up
specifically in his work as an addiction’s counselor and in his work with other AA members struggling to get
But these finer moments are hard to maintain because he is not truly conscious of how to arrived in this zone.
He lacks real understanding of the dynamics of his personality and how it can take him up and down the Levels
of Development. Without knowledge of the Enneagram this remains unmapped, foreign territory, and the
lightening quick machinations of his fixated personality still has a strong magnetic pull on his attention. On bad
days he can slide down to Level 6 (Confrontational/ Intimidating), or to Level 7 where, filled with paranoia and
suspicious of disloyal attacks, he becomes threatening. He then wears the mask of the Dictator, and you better
not cross him. The good news is that he doesn’t stay here long.
Jack faces a dilemma that many face after 20 years sobriety. On the one hand his life is more stable, he is
successful in his counseling business, he helps and empowers people to get sober, but something is missing. In
his quietest moments it creeps up on him. He still has unexpected rages he cannot explain. On the personal
level he struggles mightily with intimacy, as his need to be in power blocks people’s access to his vulnerable
loving side. Repeatedly he finds that as issues involving loyalty, betrayal or lack of respect (L5 and L6 issues)
are triggered he pushes his partner away, she complaining that he is insensitive to her needs, treats her like an
object, and is obsessed with trying to control everything (L5-L6 habits of self-protection). Jack can’t help it: it’s
his way or the highway. Still he thinks of himself as a feeling and open-hearted person (L3 & L2 moments of
presence, and surely indicative of his deeper wish), but his capacity to be vulnerable with other staff members
hedge on one criteria: that his staff agree with whatever approach he deems correct to follow in the treatment of
a client (L5—Self-glorifying, Dominating.). Unwittingly, any time staff (or loved ones) challenge his approach or
procedures he immediately goes on a fierce defensive, his reactive nature instantly ignited, as he is compelled
to challenge their ideas by being confrontational & intimidating (L6). Caught in his obsession to be in charge,
and his core fear of being violated, he cannot receive the help offered him (L5-6). There is a quiet desperation
arising in him and he knows it but tells no one: he is stuck and can go no further. He has worked the 12 steps
and runs a good recovery program, but he has reached a wall, one that he must break through or two options
await him: relapse or suicide.
He is so identified with the role of being “the strong one” that he cannot surrender to how his heart truly feels.
Instead of quietly admitting “My life is not working, I’m pushing everyone away and I can’t seem to stop this”, he
cannot slow down long enough to gain meditative calm so as to begin sensing this sacred part of him, his heart.
Instead, he finds himself hyped up, on the go, driven by workaholism. He blows through his counseling staff with
fierce intensity. His body is wearing down with a thousand ailments, all the result of high stress and no relief.
Addicted to Type Eight “intensity” resulting from his habit of continually challenging his environment, attacking
and protecting himself from it, he is unable to sense his core fear (which is the driving force of his addiction), or
notice when this live wire of vulnerability is being “touched”. Nor can he stop the angry reactions that flare up in
the night sky of his psyche. The fact that he offends so many and can’t stop it, barely reaches him. He cannot
bear to see it, nor feel the hurt of it. Instinctively he covers the pain with a Type Eight rational: “They can’t
handle the truth. They’re a bunch of wimps. I don’t need them. They don’t deserve to be in my company.” (L5)
Until Jack knows what to observe, and the meaning of his self-observations related to where he is at on the
Levels of Development, and gains enough presence to not “act out” his reactivity, nothing will change.
Sobriety allows Jack to make better decisions, and to be much less destructive. For the most part he has left
Level 7 behind, where being a ruthless dictator with a no-holds-barred approach to reality has completely
disappeared from his life. Sobriety has allowed him to strengthen his social identity as the strong one (L4-the
Rock), as the one who is in control and gets the job done, who welcomes challenges and goes nose to nose with
them skillfully. But at Level 5 he often takes disagreement as a threat to his security, and is particularly
threatened by those who are not afraid of his potential angry ranting or confrontational explosions, or who have
an equal intelligence and are not afraid to express it.
Still, due to sobriety, Jack is smarter about getting want he wants, and protecting his territory, and asserting
himself skillfully, thus averting many unnecessary clashes (L4—pragmatic /enterprising). He has better access
to the Type Eight “savvy” (L4 skills) and is a more skillful defender of his personal space, and better at keeping
a strong boundary up against unwanted intrusion. On his good days his inherent “practical intuition” helps him
deliver his capacities in the world (L4). His pragmatic understanding of power gives him the ability to work
political circles to activate the power he seeks for his projects.
Healing for Jack
Working the 12 steps of AA recovery helps Jack stay at Level 4 and 5, and avoid more frequent slides down the
Levels. But moving into Level 3 requires a sincere commitment to spiritual practices that engage “presence”
more deliberately (This is not to say that he hasn’t had moments of Level 3 presence due to his attention to his
recovery program.). An important ally for his growth will be knowledge of his Type’s Achilles heal, his
unconscious habit of succumbing to his core fear of being violated and losing control of his life. As he begins to
“observe” the arising of his core fear, and learns to sit with it and not react to it, his capacity to sense thru the
fear to his inner strength will ensue. As his unconscious reactivity quiets and he senses the inner states that
activate his need to protect himself, his heart will begin to naturally open (L3). Along with it may be grief over
how defended he has been, or sorrow over the emotional shocks that shaped his defensiveness. Understanding
the map of his travels up and down the Levels will provide him with invaluable knowledge about his state of
presence. Clearly understanding and observing how his reactivity takes him down the Levels when loyalty issues
arise, and how it impacts others when he reacts (scares them and pushes them away, or ignites them into full
battle mode), will further allow him to disengage this reactivity.
With knowledge of his Type’s inner dynamics, he will see that admitting vulnerability has become his unwitting
enemy, and that opening his heart to his fear is instinctively avoided. He will begin to notice that resisting the
urge to intensify his experience6 by confronting others is no man’s land for him, like walking into a cage of lions
unarmed. And that showing vulnerability, or anything other than the mask of “I’m in charge here, I know what I’m
doing, do not even think of messing with me” is his Achilles heel. With time he will see and sense that his
inherent courage which could be used to promote positive action often turns into vengeance, protection and
blame, attack and battle, manipulation to acquire power over others. As he restrains himself from engaging in
battle, a true sense of inner “strength” and “indestructible courage” will emerge. Now he is stepping into Level 3
“presence” by observing the subtleties of his unconscious personality dynamics and resisting acting upon them.
This is the path of relapse prevention for Jack. Staying conscious to his inner dynamics is the fundamental key
to keeping his drug cravings hermetically sealed away from him. Once he falls prey to his reactivity and goes
unconscious, the dungeon doors of his addiction creak open, and his cravings seep into his consciousness until
the desire to take a drink of drug makes perfect sense. At the unconscious levels he will forget where his
substance use always takes him, and instead he will fall prey to euphoric recall, he only able to remember the
thin strand of happy moments that have existed in his substance using days.
If Jack had the space within himself to humbly reside in his intense feelings, if he understood the Enneagram
map of his reactivity, if he was aware enough to observe and sense into the reactive fire of emotion and
paranoia without acting on it, he would arrive at a point of “objectivity” and “presence.” From here taking a drink
or a drug would make no sense, nor would it be an option. Now present, he could see the true and objective
things that could be done without the firestorm of his personality intruding and whipping up a war, thus placing
himself in the position of the defender and susceptible to falling into familiar patterns of addiction. As soon as his
reactivity pattern is seen without judgment and condemnation, the doorway to his freedom will further open, and
being more present to his experience, healing choices are self-evident.
As can be seen by the example of the Type Eight’s journey up the Levels, the path of addiction recovery is not
easy by any means, and requires patience, much support, loving kindness, intelligence and skillfulness. The
Enneagram provides both essential knowledge and a map for transforming the emotional and mental habits that
inhibit the full and joyful expression of the individual, and keep their addictive behavior in place. It is my sincere
hope that this tool begins to find its way into the addiction field, both in 12-Step programs, and into the treatment
plans of addiction providers. The precision and efficiency that the Enneagram provides for understanding the
specific pathways to health that each Type needs could greatly increase the success rates of those striving to
become addiction free. `
• 1 “Essence” or “Presence” could be defined as living in direct connection with what is truest and most
genuine within us, unfettered by our social and childhood conditioning which caused us to abandon or hide our
• 2 See Understanding the Enneagram by Riso and Hudson, pgs. 112-119 for understanding of these
• 3 See The Wisdom of the Enneagram, pg. 296 for Levels of Development in the Type Eight.
• 4 I am utilizing the Riso-Hudson structure for identifying the fixated personality dynamics of each type
eloquently described in The Wisdom of the Enneagram, Understanding the Enneagram, and Personality Types.
• 5 See The Wisdom of the Enneagram, p. 77-79 for more discussion on the center of gravity.
• 6 The emotional passion of the Eight is called “Lust.” In Understanding the Enneagram, Riso and Hudson
say “The Passion of Lust is not primarily sexual lust, but it might better be understood as an addiction to
intensity.” (p. 57)
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|The Enneagram, Addictions Treatment, and
the Levels of Development
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