Using the Enneagram with Judith Searle


© 1999 by Elizabeth Rich

On the weekend of April 30, I went to the first presentation of Judith Searle's new Enneagram workshop, "Using the Enneagram to Create Characters," in New York City. Judith, who is a professional actor, published novelist, editor, and teacher of writing, realized what a powerful tool the Enneagram could be for actors and writers. Even though she envisioned this 2 1/2-day workshop as an introduction to the Enneagram for actors and writers, I think it deserves a much broader audience.

I have been a student of the Enneagram for about five years. I am most decidedly a type Eight and my approach to the Enneagram has been rather dilettantish. Judith is a One and her many original contributions to the Enneagram Monthly over the past few years reflect her commitment to learning and experiencing all she can about the subject.

Dilettante of the Enneagram that I am, I nevertheless find myself applying my superficial knowledge of the nine types every time I read a book or see a movie. Therefore Judith's workshop, serving up the fruits of her intellectual rigor in identifying Enneagram types from a wide array of novels and films, promised to be a real treat.

At this workshop, most of the participants were unfamiliar with the Enneagram. Judith first had to acquaint them with the system in general and the basic characteristics of the nine types. Then she moved on to describe each of the types in detail and demonstrate healthy, average, and unhealthy behaviors of each one through extensive film examples (about six for each type, an even mix of males and females);. She used literary examples of interior monologue from well-known novels (two examples for each type: one with a male protagonist, the other with a female) to show what it feels like to be each type.

Judith got my attention right away by starting with type Eight. I confess to having a little chip on my shoulder about the cavalier way Eights are often generalized and dismissed by Enneagram teachers and writers. "Typical Eights are Saddam Hussein and Idi Amin." Much laughter in the room. As though all Eights were men--and sociopaths at that. I certainly don't feel those lunatics represent me.

When Judith got to her Eight literary examples and film clips, I was gratified that she had given female Eights a fair showing. Out of four female examples, two were healthy Eights and two were hell on wheels.

For the literary example, Judith chose one of my favorite private detectives, V.I. Warshawski, the main character in a series of novels by Sara Paretsky. From the novel Blood Shot, Judith pulled out some nicely nuanced excerpts of Warshawski as a healthy Eight with some depth and complexity.

The first female Eight in the film clips, however, did have a passing resemblance to Saddam--but without his absolute power. The example was from a TV movie I had never seen called The Late Shift, starring Kathy Bates as an Eight of less-than-average health. The film was based on a true story of Helen Kushnik, who started out as Jay Leno's manager, and became producer of The Tonight Show when he took over the show from Johnny Carson. She apparently got delusions of grandeur and operated by brow-beating everyone, including Leno. When her brow-beatings degenerated into towering rampages, she was finally thrown out of her job. In reality, she was a bully in the grand tradition and I noticed that the TV movie (wisely) wasn't made until after her death.

Before I could get too sulky about Saddam raising his ugly karma, Judith came up with an example all female Eights would applaud--a foreign film that won the Academy Award a few years ago, Antonia's Line. Antonia is a healthy Eight and Judith has clipped some of the best scenes that show how wonderful Eights can be. Now, if only Antonia could knock Saddam out of everyone's mind when the Eight type is mentioned, we'd be getting somewhere.

The third female Eight film clip was from The Last Seduction, with Linda Fiorentino playing a duplicitous and murderous Eight who is all the more horrifying for her manipulative charm and sense of humor.

I have just given you a taste of how Judith has brought my type alive through some of her literary and film examples. It wouldn't be fair to be specific about the examples that she uses for other types, especially since the value of the workshop is the combination of the examples with Judith's gifted analyses. I can't resist, however, saying that my favorite video clip was a scene from The Accidental Tourist, showing William Hurt as the very essence of a Five through his facial reactions to an overly friendly fellow airplane passenger.

The sheer volume of Judith's literary examples and film clips for each type represents a staggering amount of research and work. But I found that demonstrating the nine types through such a method is one of the most enriching ways to learn and broaden one's understanding of the Enneagram. She also gives each workshop participant a 111-page workbook including not only summaries of the nine types but literary examples of each (including her analyses of the excerpts). Since she delivers so much material in such a short time, it is very helpful to be able to review this material in a leisurely fashion.

I have always marveled at how some actors can make a character so believable, while others simply make me dismiss them out-of-hand. I often find myself thinking, "That character just wouldn't do that. This movie is ridiculous." In the last part of the workshop, focusing on the needs of actors and writers, Judith covers what she calls "creating a character arc." This is pay dirt for any actor or writer who wants to create complex characters who will live for an audience or a reader. Even small parts can become memorable by fleshing out the type through the right body language and emotional emphasis. Even though I'm not an actor, I found this segment of the workshop fascinating.

Remember Judi Dench as Queen Elizabeth in Shakespeare in Love? Not a big part, but unforgettable in Dench's perfect embodiment of regal essence. Judith's film examples--nearly all showing actors cast close to their own Enneagram types--demonstrate how actors can shine when playing a role in their home type.

Judith covered an enormous amount of material in this workshop. Having been to Enneagram workshops that used panels to demonstrate types, I think that the use of literary examples and film clips is a more effective teaching method because it can add more depth and complexity. I say "can" because the effectiveness depends on choosing the perfect literary and film examples for each type. Judith's special talent is in choosing a rich array of examples with perfect pitch for types, and in her insightful and eloquent analyses of these examples.

Because I was familiar with the basics of the Enneagram, I hope that Judith can develop two levels of this workshop--one for beginners and one for advanced. Nevertheless, even sitting through a repetition of the basic characteristics is worthwhile for the pleasure of experiencing Judith's literary and film presentations of the types. I highly recommend the workshop.


The above article was published in the July/August 1999 issue of Enneagram Monthly.