To Find Self, Take A Number

JEAN SELIGMANN WITH NADINE JOSEPH IN PALO ALTO

Are you a one -- a perfectionist, critical of yourself but secretly convinced you're ethically superior? Or could you be a Nine -- a gentle peacemaker who may be too agreeable and self-effacing? If you can link those numerals with those traits, you're in on the Enneagram, a personality-typing system that could soon become the trendiest way to look at the world. And not only in self-help circles.

Studying the Enneagram (pronounced "any-a-gram"), its enthusiasts say, helps them better understand themselves and others by providing a guide to people's differing emotional makeups and their various strategies for facing life. But unlike astrological signs, Enneagram categories are based on human psychology, not the stars. Now, after lurking on the fringes of mysticism and pop psychology for more than 20 years, the Enneagram is turning mainstream and respectable. Last year the Stanford University School of Business course called "Personality, Self-Awareness and Leadership" focused on the Enneagram for the first time; the class proved so popular that it will be expanded from 40 to 50 students next winter. The CIA now uses the Enneagram to help agents understand the behavior of individual world leaders. The U.S. Postal Service recently turned to the Enneagram to help employees resolve conflicts. Clergy from the Vatican signed up for an Enneagram seminar last year. And last month the First International Enneagram Conference, with 1,400 participants who came to Palo Alto, Calif., from as far away as Japan, was cosponsored by Stanford Medical School's department of psychiatry.

The star-shaped Enneagram (Greek for "nine" and "drawing") groups human emotions and behavior -- negative and positive -- into nine personality types. According to the Enneagram theory, personality develops as a result of early childhood experiences, and undesirable traits can be modified once they are understood through exploration and study. A Two (the giver), for example, will always remain a Two, but he or she can move from being a coercive manipulator to a caring helper. Similarly, an Eight stays an Eight but can grow from a ruthless tyrant into a magnanimous hero. Adherents can undertake the transformation themselves by delving into one of the 30 books on the topic (which have sold more than 1 million copies) or taking the training courses and workshops that are proliferating around the country. Two hotbeds of Enneagram fever are a New York consulting firm called Enneagram Personality Types, run by prolific author Don Richard Riso, and the Berkeley, Calif., Center for Enneagram Studies, headed by pioneering Enneagram teacher and author Helen Palmer.

Unlike other popular self-help crazes, the Enneagram philosophy has no media-courting leaders, celebrity boosters or profiteers. And while the movement does have spiritual aspects, practitioners insist it's not a religion. Indeed, few of the Jews, Roman Catholics (including nuns and priests), Muslims, Buddhists and many atheists who attended the Stanford conference seemed like cult types. "I've never followed a guru or a baba," declared Oakland accountant Joyce Speakman, 46. "I could never be a woman who runs with wolves."

Practitioners say the Enneagram lets them see what makes themselves and others tick in the business world, as well as in personal relationships. Millington McCoy, a partner in a New York headhunting firm, calls the Enneagram "a powerful hiring tool" in finding the right person for an executive position. "Sometimes I catch myself being too demanding in my work or my marriage, but the Enneagram opens the door to compassion," says Karen Page, 32, a New York publishing executive. She now tries not to exhibit the rigidity or intolerance that can characterize Ones like her. But when she first read about those aspects of her type, she recalls, she threw the book across the room. "I asked my husband if I'm really like that," she says. "He just shrugged and said, "You kind of are'."

Not far down the road, speculates Arthur Hastings, who teaches at Palo Alto's Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, Enneagrams could become so much a part of mass culture that we'll be hearing songs like "I'm a Two From Kalamazoo" and reading personals ads that announce: "Four Seeking Eight." But just like gender, race and other classifications, the Enneagram already poses the risk of "typism." At the Stanford conference, one woman told a companion, "I still have to be more tolerant of Eights; they just get on my nerves." Others snidely referred to acting spacey as "Nining out." In response to such uncharitable attitudes, Stanford professor Michael Ray includes a section on Enneagram ethics in his course for M.B.A. candidates. "And remember," he warns, "there is no 10."

When relaxed, you take on positive traits of the personality type your arrow points toward. Under stress, you assume negative traits of the type whose arrow points toward you.

Conscientious, rational, critical, and rigid.

Empathetic, demonstrative,; can be intrusive and manipulative.

Competetive, efficient, Type A, obsessed with image.

Creative, melancholic, attracted to the unavailable.

Emotionally remote, detached from people and feelings; private, wise.

Plagued by doubt, loyal, fearful, always watching for signs of danger.

Sensual, cheery, childlike, reluctant to commit.

Authoritarian, combative, protective, take-charge, loves a good fight.

Patient, stable, comforting; may tune out reality with alcohol, food or TV.