Monday, December 28, 2009

My Beef with the Tritype theory

Okay, I've been meaning to write this for awhile, but I finally got motivated when I was asked why I didn't like the tritype theory. So, here it is. For those of you who don't know, the tritype theory originally started as a variation of Ichazo's trifix theory but has since branched out, and been renamed tritype. Ichazo's theory, as I understand it, was based on fixations stemming from object relations. The key point to take away from this is that for Ichazo, each is related to some sort of early childhood relationship: father, mother and siblings (or peers) which then influences our reactions. In tritype, it's a lot more compartmentalized. It's a series of strategies, and operates as a dominant approach with a "plan b" and "plan c" that one works through. A quick websearch brought me to Crooner's explanation here which makes the important distinction: a series of complex interrelated responses based on fixation (trifix) versus choosing among three possible strategies, albeit with one that's usually "at the wheel."

In this entry, I will critique the tritype theory on three fronts: (1)the theory itself (2)the credibility of the Fauvres research and (3)the misuse of it since it went public at the International Enneagram Association conference a couple of summers ago.

The Theory Itself.

First, is the theory itself. One problem is that it shows a level of compartmentalization that seems contrary to how personality actually works. For example, suppose I move to a new city and am having trouble making friends. I'm lonely, I'm depressed. My four fixation is just getting in the way. Under their theory, I would initially "shelve" my other two tritypes (let's say, for the sake of argument, it's 4-5-1) and stick to my main strategy-- four. Okay, not working. Let's check that off the list. How about five? All right, still not working, now I'm going to apply One. Human beings aren't cars though. We don't have gears that we switch depending on the terrain. We bring our own psychological baggage throughout life, pick up some along the way, resolve others, all grounded in some sort of core constant that is the self. We're the sum of our experiences and our temperament's specific take on those experiences.

The other problem, and this is admittedly partly my preference in terms of which enneagram "camp" I fall into, is that it seems you're looking at a cognitive versus a psychodynamic approach, with the tritype theory opting for a more cognitive theory and Ichazo's being more related to the psychodynamic approach. Admittedly, there are some enneagram authors (Helen Palmer, for example) that incorporate a lot of cognitive theories into their understanding of the enneagram, though I'm partial to the more psychodynamic approach found in Maitri. The big problem is that if it's a strategy, you're actually moving far from fixations on a couple of levels. One is that with a fixation, you can't just choose when to have it and when it isn't working. By virtue of being a fixation, you're going to have a hard time not resorting to it especially when it isn't working.

This leads me to a second point: the development of enneagram (tri)type as strategy is what makes it more of a cognitive process. Even when it's automatic, it something that is much closer to consciousness than a fixation, and in practice ought to resemble something akin to the "automatic thoughts" that cognitive-behavioral therapists such as Beck have written about. It presumes there was a time that you didn't have it, but it became automatic in response to some sort of demand at some point in your life, and now needs to be recognized and harnessed. There are a couple of implications to this: (1)in terms of inner growth, it really ought to be the difference between short term cognitive behavioral therapy and long term psychoanalysis. In other words, if it is something that is a strategy based on attitudes, presumably recognizing those attitudes or strategies and becoming more conscious of them should quickly lead to an improvement in one's functioning, happiness and well-being since these aren't things that are deeply ingrained fixations but are simply approaches to problem solving. Once you realize a strategy doesn't work, it seems like it ought to be easy to change it, or at least switch gears more quickly and more consciously. However, this doesn't seem to be the case for most people (which I'll get into). (2)As a cognitive theory that says we're operating strategically, it actually runs contrary to a lot of fundamentals of the enneagram theory. If you acknowledge that a key component of the enneagram theory is (essentially) approaches to problem solving, why do we really need to be even thinking about passions? Who cares if the passion of six is fear? It's really just a strategy and we employ another strategy. However, by approaching it this way, you're actually moving away from the foundation of the enneagram theory and into something that is much closer to, say, Myers-Briggs.

Competency Concerns

This brings me to my next concern. Such a radical re-working of the enneagram theory warrants, in the very least, a book explaining one's theory, research methodology and findings. Despite the fact that the tritype theory caught on like wildfire, and despite the fact that it's now been a year and a half since they released their theory, the Fauvres have yet to publish such a work. Considering the glut of enneagram literature on the market, some of which varies wildly in quality, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that it's not exactly a hard sell to get a publisher to back an enneagram book, especially one with a new take on the theory.

This brings me to another concern: the apparent lack of thoroughness in their work. I have the Fauvres' book containing their preliminary research from their enneastyle quiz, in which they ask a series of questions about one's self-image and use it to determine type. The information on their testing methodology is vague at best, and often their answers show no greater within group similarities than between group similarities, nor does there seem to be a unifying thread for any specific type. In some cases, there are a few types that answer the same (or in a similar) way, in other cases, the answers are so specific that they were obviously only given by one individual--and in one case, by an individual who clearly misunderstood the question. Since the Fauvres have been the only ones to conduct the research on tritype, and their research on previous theories has been subpar, it makes their work suspect.

This is only intensified by the general inattention to details and technical concerns with their business. When I first took the enneastyle and enneacards tests, there was a problem with their payment processing where it charged my card but I couldn't take the test. I had to email David and get him to let me take it manually. So, I filled out my answers. I tried to submit them. The site still didn't recognize it as a valid transaction. So, I emailed David and he re-set it. The same thing happened. I emailed yet again. David grew frustrated, so I said, "why don't I just email my answers to you?" At which point, he gave me Katherine's email address. She was very nice, and very helpful (although she was torn on two types for me and made a major typo by suggesting the same type twice, saying "if you're a four, you're a 4w3, and if you're a six, you're a 4w3")and does, in general, seem to be a nice person. Over a year passed. I wanted to take the subtypes test. I took it. Same payment problem. I emailed David, who reset it, and luckily he only had to reset it once. A few months later, on EIDB, I saw a post from a user who had also tried to purchase one of their tests and ran into the same problem as me, and wasn't sure what was going on. I explained it to him, and told him to email them.

Point being, customers actually being able to use the product they've purchased seems like one of those basic things that should be attended to. Letting something like that go unrepaired for such a long time isn't just a minor detail, it's a serious problem in how one runs a business. So, if somebody is going to overlook those kind of major problems, you have to wonder about the quality of their research. Personality research is probably one of the most meticulous, detail-oriented things you can do. From setting up your study to statistical analysis, it requires an incredibe amount of conscientiousness in one's work, and when you see someone letting the major stuff slide, you have to wonder how careful they are with their data. In the very least, their findings should be published so that they can be evaluated, though some sort of replication by other enneagram authors would be ideal.

The Misuse of the Tritype.

Then, there's my third concern: the misuse of the tritype. There are a few problems with this.

The first is that it's kind of dangerous for newbies. A lot of people who have never bought a single enneagram book will look at her site and say, "oh wow, I have three types? Cool, I don't have to decide now!" Unfortunately, most of these people don't know very much about the enneagram at all. These are people who think they're fives because they're intellectuals, or fours because they like to hang out at goth clubs. They know nothing about, say, the passions or the holy ideas. For people like that, what they really need is to first get clear on their type and work through their issues.

The second is the opposite problem: being continually in the "searching" mode. Some people will get so caught up with trying to figure out their tritype that they don't work on the core issues of their type. It's already a pitfall with typology. I've been guilty of it myself--spending too much time in the questing mode and distracting myself from tackling the core issues of my type--but it gets further complicated when you bring another two possible enneagram types into the mix.

A third problem, though, is that it seems strange to me that no one ever seems to be upset with the typings Katherine gives them. You know, when I had a series of phone sessions with enneagram author, Jerome Wagner, I got irritated and frustrated by his typing of me as a four and his insistence that it was the correct type, even when I argued fervently against it. However, to his credit, that displayed a certain amount of conviction and I knew he wasn't just mirroring me: like it or not, that's the type he thought I was. Still, I've seen so many people go to Katherine's sessions and never come away, disgusted, saying, for example, "what bullshit, I do not have one in my tritype!" Sure, some of that could indicate she's collaborative, but it seems odd that most people seem so pleased with her typing of them.

Which brings me to the fourth and final problem I'd like to bring up. The tritype, rather than being used for self-improvement, often seems to mostly serve as an identity--a way for people to invest the whole of their selves into the system, and account for every difference, no matter how small, between people of the same type. Rather than approaching the enneagram as a tool, it becomes a club, a way of further refining to the point where there is no part of the self left unexplained by the system, nothing to be chocked up to individual differences. This, however, seems to intesify the ego rather than provide a mechanism to deal with it.

In Conclusion.

The idea of us each having a connection to one of the triads is not unappealing. There does seem to be something that is there. I've noticed that when I'm confused about someone's type, it's often along triad lines: seeming like either a 1, 3 or 6 for example. However, if there is, it likely is not in the way that the tritype theory conceives of it. Furthermore, due to the competency concerns I brought up, it seems that a thorough analysis of the theory and the associated research is essential before fully accepting their idea as an addition to the enneagram theory.