I’ve been thinking lately about the Enneagram styles and their spots – sweet spots, blind spots, hot spots, and desired spots.

The sweet spot is like the sweet spot on a bat — that place on the bat that’s going to hit the ball out of the park.  The personality style sweet spot is what each style sees clearly, the intuitive edge, the adaptive schemas and strategies what all styles can learn from and use.  These are the values and visions that we move towards.

The blind spot is what we avoid.  Our shadow.  The opposite of our self-image or idealization.  These are the situations, thoughts, feelings, behaviors, etc. that make us anxious and so we avoid them.  This is what we move away from.

The hot spot represents those sensitivities and vulnerabilities that we experienced early on in our life that hurt us, embarrassed us, terrorized us, made us angry, etc.  These are the early wounding’s that we move against when they make us angry or move away from when they make us afraid, or sometimes move towards to make friends with our enemy.

One way to understand our Enneagram style is to think of it as a strategy to make sure we don’t get hurt again the way we were when we were younger.  Each Enneagram style is a protective strategy against primary vulnerabilities.  This is our defensive self.

The desired spot is what we really want and value, our genuine needs and aspirations.  This is our actualizing self.

Returning to the “hot spot,” the good news is our personality strategies do keep us from being hurt in the moment; the bad news is they tend to distort our perception of reality in order to do so and never give us an opportunity to revise our perceptions and behaviors through exposure to what we avoid; and the even worse news is our defensive strategies eventually bring about the very thing they’re trying to avoid.

For example, if you are sensitive to and fear abandonment, you will be looking out for it, will magnify it when you find it, and may even construe it where it doesn’t exist.  If you pass a person you know and they don’t say hello, you may take this as another incidence of abandonment — never mind they didn’t see you or were preoccupied with something, or worse, someone else.

You may then begin to act aloof out of hurt and a desire to protect yourself and then find other people not responding to you.  Your defensive aloof style brings about the very thing it is trying to avoid, rejection.

I recently read an instructive book by Paul Wachtel on Therapeutic Communication (2011) where he discussed his concept of cyclical psychodynamics describing how our current interactions with others maintain our not so useful thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.  He also discusses this phenomenon in two earlier books: Relational Theory and the Practice of Psychotherapy (2008) and Psychoanalysis, Behavior Therapy, and the Relational World (1997).  I was delighted to discover that I have been practicing cyclical psychodynamics without knowing it.  I’m reminded of the character in one of Moliere’s plays who was amazed to find that he was speaking prose all his life.

I’ll give some extended quotes from Wachtel recounting his cyclical psychodynamic theory and then muse about how cyclical psychodynamics might work in each of the Enneagram styles.

Our defenses protect us from anxiety in the immediate moment, but increasingly they become a way of perpetuating the very state of vulnerability they were designed to quell…. Or, as family therapists sometimes put it, the solution becomes the problem.   (2008, pgs 218-19)

A chief characteristic of the circular patterns described by cyclical psychodynamic theory is irony. With surprising regularity, the situation that the patient ends up in is precisely the one he is trying to avoid; in many instances, he does not aim for the consequences he encounters; he produces them despite – yet because of – his vigorous efforts to prevent them. (2011, pg. 75)

The cyclical psychodynamic account of how we repeat problematic patterns does not typically posit an intention to reproduce the offending situation.  The intention, rather, is quite the opposite – to prevent the repetition.  The irony in what ensues lies in how, by the very act of carrying out that intention, the patient contributes to the outcome he is trying to avoid. (2011, pg. 76)

People live in contexts, and our behavior, both adaptive and maladaptive, is always in relation to someone or something….Understanding how people change requires understanding that in an odd way a neurosis is a joint activity, a cooperative venture of a most peculiar sort.  If one looks closely at the neurotic patterns in which the patient is entangled, one invariably finds that the maintenance of those patterns proceeds with the assistance of other people….To keep a neurosis going, one needs help.  Every neurosis requires accomplices….Indeed, it is only when one understands how others are drawn into the pattern as accomplices, how they are induced to interact in ways that confirm neurotic expectations and perceptions, that one appreciated fully both the depth of the patient’s dilemma and what is required to bring about change.  (2011, pg. 77)

The people who play the role of accomplice in our lives are not necessarily malicious; most often they are not even aware that they are playing such a role.  But their participation is crucial.  Focus in the therapeutic work on how patients induce others to play a complementary role in their neuroses is in many instances the key element in understanding how the patient’s difficulties are perpetuated….The process whereby others are continually recruited into a persisting maladaptive pattern is the neurosis.  (2011, pgs. 77-78)

The kind of experiences we have early in life, and our way of dealing with these experiences, strongly influences what further experiences we will encounter, as well as how we perceive those experiences and how we deal with them.

For example, the two-year-old who has developed an engaging and playful manner is far more likely to evoke friendly interest and attention on the part of adults than is the child who is rather quiet and withdrawn.  The latter will typically encounter a less rich interpersonal environment, which will further decrease the likelihood that he will drastically change.   Similarly, the former is likely to continually learn that other people are fun and are eager to interact with him; and his pattern, too, is likely to become more firmly fixed as he grows.  Further, not only will the two children tend to evoke different behavior from others, they will also interpret differently the same reaction from another person.  Thus, the playful child may experience a silent or grumpy response from another as a kind of game and may continue to interact until perhaps he does elicit an appreciative response.  The quieter child, not used to much interaction, will readily accept the initial response as a signal to back off.

If we look at the two children as adults, we may perhaps find the difference between them still evident: one outgoing, cheerful, and expecting the best of people; the other rather shy, and unsure that anyone is interested.  A childhood pattern has persisted into adulthood.  Yet we really don’t understand the developmental process unless we see how, successively, teachers, playmates, girlfriends, and colleagues have been drawn in as “accomplices” in maintaining the persistent pattern.  And, I would suggest, we don’t understand the possibilities for change unless we realize that even now there are such “accomplices,” and that if they stopped playing their role in the process, it would be likely eventually to alter.  (1997, pg. 52)

How (other people) behave toward us is very much influenced by how we behave toward them, and hence by how we initially perceive them.  Thus, our initial (in a sense distorted) picture of another person can end up being a fairly accurate predictor of how he or she will act toward us; because, based on our expectation that that person will be hostile, or accepting, or sexual, we are likely to act in such a way as to eventually draw such behavior from the person and thus have our (initially inaccurate) perception “confirmed.”  Our tendency to enter the next relationship with the same assumption and perceptual bias is then strengthened, and the whole process likely to be repeated again.  (1997, pg. 54)

My own observations are similar: paradoxically our defensive Enneastyle tactics often bring about the very thing we fear and are trying to avoid.  Here is a summary of what each Enneagram style values, what they are particularly sensitive to (the tender underside of what they value and where an early wounding may have occurred), their protective strategy, how they might go about eliciting “accomplices” to validate their perceptions, and how their defensive strategy brings about and repeats the very situation they are trying to avoid.


Style One:

Valuing being good and taking pride in being right, ONES are especially sensitive to criticism and being told they are wrong.  Their perfectionist style is a way of assuring they won’t be criticized.  You can’t criticize them if they’re perfect or blame them as long as they’re trying really hard.

Ironically the very maneuvers ONES engage in to avoid being criticized and to avoid being wrong, bring about their being criticized.

Being overly perfectionistic, pedantic, exacting, and critical frequently elicit criticism, anger, and avoidance from others.  This confirms the belief the world is critical and not the way it should be.

If you anticipate being wrong, your defenses will attempt to prove that you are right and the other person is wrong.  This will provoke others into defending themselves by demonstrating they are right and you are wrong.  When you pull others into your right-wrong filter and insist on being right, others will react to prove you wrong.  Your superego takes on their superego and the contest of who is right and who is wrong is begun.

If ONES anticipate that others will have high expectations of them and will be critical and rejecting of them when they don’t come up to those standards, they will subtly maneuver others to be critical of them.  They will interpret others’ responses as attacks and their righteousness will rise up. ONES will then feel resentful that they can never get it right enough and never satisfy others’ expectations.

Style Two:

Valuing relationships and taking pride in being loving and generous, TWOS are easily hurt by rejection and by a lack of attention and appreciation shown them.  They are sensitive to feeling useless and unneeded.  Their rescuing style is an attempt to gain recognition, gratitude, and acceptance and to make themselves necessary and important in the lives of others.

Ironically, being too nurturing and smothering often elicits pushing-away behavior in others instead of the hoped for coming-closer behavior.  This confirms the belief that getting one’s own needs met is unacceptable and unlikely.

If your worth depends on helping, you need to solicit helpees.  If you want to be helpful, then dependent people might be willing accomplices.  You would reinforce their dependency by helping them and they will simultaneously reinforce your self-image as a helper.

However others might not want to turn down a TWO’s offer of help because they know it would disappoint TWOS, hurt their self-image, and may elicit a pouting indignant response.  So others say “yes” when they don’t really want help and then they don’t appreciate the TWO’s help and don’t say “Thank you.”    This then provokes the TWO’s schema that people don’t appreciate them enough and so they try harder to please.  Thus a vicious circle is established.

If you can’t find genuinely needy people, you will need to create them – which is what advertising is all about.  You need to convince others that they have problems and you have solutions.  If you get too many customers, you may not be able to deliver because your to-do or, rather, to-help list is too full.  You might then feel worthless – which is the very thing you are trying to avoid

Style Three:

Valuing success and taking pride in their accomplishments, THREES are hurt by rejection and failure.  Their achieving style is an attempt to be successful and to maintain relationships through performing and doing for others. Their concern about image and looking good has to do with getting people to like them.

If you need to be successful to feel worthwhile, then you need to perform so others will admire you.  You have to create an approving audience, either in your head or in your theater.  Groupies are usually easy enough to find.  But do they admire your performance and appearance instead of you?  Or do they bask in your accomplishments to feel good about themselves?  Have you manipulated admiration from them?

An overly achieving, mechanical style frequently turns other people off or encourages them to interact with the persona or role instead of with the real person.  This confirms the THREE’s belief that performance, not genuineness, pays off.

THREES promote their accomplishments and then get praised for their successes thereby reinforcing this pattern.  Others aren’t offered an opportunity to interact with the THREES’ authentic self.  Also others are usually only given the opportunity to respond to THREES positive achievements and not to anything negative or troubling in them.  Success is rewarded; failure is distained.  Ironically THREES want to avoid failure but end up feeling like failures as real persons in real relationships.

Style Four:         

Valuing relationships and belonging and taking pride in being special, FOURS are easily hurt by feeling abandoned, left out, or going unnoticed.  They are sensitive to feeling flawed, undesirable, and unwanted.  Their style of being special is an attempt to get others to notice them and keep others connected to them.

FOURS feel misunderstood and fear being abandoned.  To play out their fears, FOURS need to audition people for their drama.  They set up an accordion relationship where they pull others in, then push them away.  Both longing for intimacy and fearing it, FOURS entice then rebuff their companions.  This “come here; go away,” “I hate you, don’t leave me” confuses others leaving FOURS feeling misunderstood.  The FOURS’ Sturm und Drang eventually becomes too much for the antagonist who then leaves the relationship.

FOURS attempts to be special bring about the very situation they dread: being abandoned.  An overly sensitive, refined, precious, entitled, easily misunderstood attitude generally brings about misunderstanding and distancing instead of empathy and connection.  This confirms the maladaptive schema of being unlovable.

To validate their fears of being abandoned, FOURS need to select people who will abandon them.  They can find people who are unavailable or who have an avoidant personality.  They will eventually leave FOURS just as they’d leave anybody else.  If FOURS have something of an ambivalent attachment pattern themselves, they might doubt that people would want to be with them and then cling to others or demand that they be with the FOUR.  Either of those strategies, clinging or claiming, will probably bring about what you fear most: being left.

Style Five:          

Valuing privacy and their own personal space, and taking pride in their understanding, FIVES are easily spooked by being invaded, having demands and expectations put on them, being deprived, belittled, or ridiculed.  Their knowing and loner style is an attempt to ward off intrusions, be self-sufficient, and avoid looking foolish.

FIVES don’t want to look foolish, be intruded or encroached upon, be smothered, or be emptied.  Acting socially awkward and avoiding others may lead to FIVES’ looking foolish.  By moving away from instead of against, FIVES bring about the very thing they fear: being put upon.  If you are sensitive to demands being put on you, then not saying “no” or assertively setting limits will probably lead to demands being put on you because you offer no resistance.  Just disappearing may lead to others tracking you down.  By not being assertive and setting boundaries, others may not get that they aren’t welcome until FIVES freeze them out or disappear.  By not saying “no,” FIVES give up the possibility of later saying “yes.”

Keeping quiet and withdrawing provokes intruding and projecting behavior from others.  Nature abhors a vacuum, so people move into the space vacated.

If your concern is that others are not interested in what you have to say, not saying anything will probably lead to people not listening to you, since you’re not saying anything.

Being silent can either be interpreted as: “She must be thinking something brilliant;” or “He must have nothing to say.”  The latter confirms the belief that others are uninterested and FIVES have nothing to offer them.

Style Six:

Valuing fidelity, consistency, and security and taking pride in being loyal, SIXES are scared by perceived threats and challenges.  They are vulnerable to being caught off guard and to the misuse of authority.   Their phobic style (loyal and dependent) or counter-phobic style (rebellious and independent) are two sides of the same coin which seeks to purchase safety and security.

SIXES fear being hurt, caught off guard, invaded by unfriendly forces (people or germs), or getting found breaking the law

By appearing fearful (phobic SIXES) or by threatening others (counter-phobic SIXES) SIXES may invite attack either from predators looking for a victim or from innocent bystanders wondering why they are being confronted. An overly-fearful strategy might encourage others to take advantage of you.  The very thing you are trying to avoid.  A counter-phobic attacking approach might provoke others to attack or challenge you, the very thing you are trying to avoid.

Anxiety can be contagious.  Children can catch if from their parents, or think of mass hysteria where we catch it from each other.  By infecting others with their anxiety, SIXES increase their fear the world is dangerous.

A suspicious paranoid attitude usually elicits hostile or plotting behavior from others.  Thinking that people are talking behind your back usually leads to their talking behind your back.  This confirms the maladaptive schema that the world is a dangerous place and is out to get you.

Starting off with the belief that there are only two sides — those that are on your side and those that are against you – generally creates two embattled sides: your friends and your enemies. And you need to be alert to figure out who’s for you and who’s against you.

Style Seven:

Valuing enjoyment, freedom, and variety and taking pride in being upbeat and resourceful, SEVENS are brought down by having their options limited.  They are wounded by having their balloons burst, parades rained on, and parties pooped.  Their sunny-side-up style is an attempt to stay on the high side of life and to experience as much as life has to offer.

SEVENS fear boredom and having their options limited.  By constantly seeking novelty and new experiences, SEVENS wear out their companions who seek to rest – which SEVENS interpret as being tiresome.  SEVENS’ restlessness brings about the very thing they fear: inactivity.  Ironically SEVENS might be attracted to grounded stable individuals whom they will eventually find to be tedious, staid, B-O-R-I-N-G.

SEVENS want to be up.  Because the universe and human systems seek balance, the more bubbly SEVENS become, the more others become still.  The yin of optimism flows into the yang of pessimism, eventually leading to the resolution of realism.  But SEVENS may release their tether to reality long before balance wins out.  Ironically constantly seeking novelty becomes tedious.

People who are compulsively cheerful and enthusiastic often elicit limiting and depressing responses from others as they attempt to “ground” or “shoot down” the high-flying optimist.  This confirms the SEVENS’ maladaptive fear that others are going to rain on their parade and pop their balloons

A fear of being limited or ensnarled may paradoxically lead to being tied down to always having to change.  If others can’t keep up with your flights of fancy and adventures, you might find yourself alone and bored and experiencing the very condition you are trying to avoid: FOMO, the Fear of Missing Out.

Style Eight:        

Valuing justice and autonomy and taking pride in being strong, EIGHTS are particularly irked by being neglected, being unjustly treated, and feeling powerless   Their powerful style is their way of being in charge and guaranteeing they will be heard and won’t feel weak or be taken advantage of.

EIGHTS fear being weak and vulnerable.  Ironically being strong leaves them weak because by being super independent, they forego the support of others and no man (or woman) is an island.  When Paul wrote: “When I am weak, then I am strong,” his weakness made room for Yahweh’s strength.  Dictators eventually get toppled and in the meantime live in fear of being felled.  Humiliating others and intimidating them eventually lead to uprising and retaliation.  Cooperation leads to cooperation.  A lack of trust in others leaves one alone and vulnerable.

Aggressive stances and behaviors, while intending to instill fear in others, can just as likely elicit aggressive behavior in others.  The less strong frequently try to fight the more strong as a way of proving themselves.  This helps confirm the EIGHTS’ belief that the world is hostile.

If you have the belief that people are unfair and abusive, then you will tend to interpret people’s actions toward you as unjust and punishing and you will react in an aggressive manner which could elicit either a flight response (they are afraid of you) or fight response (they want to beat you, literally or figuratively).  If you want to be in relation with others, then scaring them by intimidation may not be the best approach for establishing intimate relationships.

Style Nine:

Valuing unity and harmony and taking pride in being settled, NINES are especially wary of, and torn apart by conflict.   They are easily hurt by neglect.  Their relaxed, resigned style is an attempt to defend against feeling uncared for and having to assert themselves.

NINES fear conflict and anger.  Ironically by avoiding conflict they ultimately bring it about.  Their passivity leads to reactivity in others.  NINES’ indifference either brings about confrontation or neglect – the two things NINES don’t want.  Systems seek balance.  Inaction invites over-action.

NINES believe the universe is uncaring about their needs and so they settle for whatever they can get.  However if they don’t know what they need and don’t put their needs out there, others won’t know what they want or will assume they don’t have any particular needs and so will ignore them.  The NINES’ strategy for avoiding conflict brings about one of the things they anticipate: their needs not being met.

You get what you ask for.  If you don’t ask for anything, you don’t get anything. When you don’t express your needs, other people assume you don’t need anything and so don’t offer you anything.   People seem cold and uncaring and this confirms the belief the world is indifferent.

If you start out saying it doesn’t matter and settling for whatever you can get, others may not give you much and you will feel uncared for.  If you stay in the background, echoing the Five’s motto of “When in doubt, hide out,” people won’t notice you, thus confirming your belief that people overlook you.  Your genuine human needs lie near the core of who you are.  Expressing them establishes relationships; it doesn’t destroy them.

Another way of thinking about cyclical psychodynamics is George Kelly’s (1963) metaphor that we are all junior scientists.   We come up with hypotheses (beliefs, constructs, interpretations) to explain repetitions in our experience and ultimately to predict and control our environment, particularly our social environment.

If we are good scientists, we put our hypothesis to the test by running an experiment, collecting data, and either confirming or disconfirming our hypothesis.

If we are bad scientists, we really favor our hypothesis and so skew our experiment and data to confirm our hunch.  So if you want the rat to run down the left fork of your maze, you subtlety stroke the left side of the rat as you place him in your maze.  If you believe men are hostile toward women or women are hostile toward men, you will run your experiment by irritating the opposite sex, provoking their anger, and then tallying the number of hostile responses you collect.  All this is done “objectively,” allowing you to conclude that “This is the way it is.”   Actually it’s more the way you carried out your experiment and massaged the data to validate your beloved hypothesis.

When we are on the high side of our Enneagram style, we are objective scientists open to the data we find.  When we are on the low side of our style, we are prejudiced scientists, maximizing the evidence that confirms our belief and minimizing the data that disconfirm our assumption. We are practicing what Piaget calls assimilation, squeezing the data into our preexisting schema, vs. accommodation, modifying our schema to fit the data.

The Enneagram reveals our adaptive and maladaptive schemas.  Cyclical psychodynamics exposes how we perpetuate those schemas.  Like unconsciously biased scientists, we select our subjects, run our experiments, and massage the data.  When we are aware of what we are up to, we have a better chance of changing what we are doing.  If we change our assumptions, we may get different behaviors and results.


Kelly, G. (1963). A theory of personality: the psychology of personal contructs.  New York: W.W. Norton.

Wachtel, P. (1997). Psychoanalysis, behavior therapy, and the relational world. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.

Wachtel, P. (2008). Relational theory and the practice of psychotherapy.  New York: Guilford Press.

Wachtel, P. (2011). Therapeutic communication, 2nd ed.  New York: Guilford Press.

Wagner, J. (2010). Nine lenses on the world: the Enneagram perspective. Evanston, IL: NineLens Press.

George Kelly (1963) has been called the father of cognitive psychotherapy along with Aaron Beck, Albert Ellis, maybe the Greek philosopher Epictetus, who in the first century AD said it is not the event itself that determines our behavior but how we perceive the event, and even Evagrius, the fourth century monk who cataloged eight logismoi ,a combination of thoughts and passions, which were later condensed into the Seven Capital Sins.  How this paternity suit will be settled is not clear but, at least, Kelly is named as one of the fathers.

He developed his theory of personality and therapy in the middle of Kansas (where he was born) and in the middle of Ohio (where he taught at Ohio State) rather independently of other systems such as psychoanalysis and behaviorism.

Kelly’s metaphor, or construct, is we are all junior scientists trying to figure out our world so we can predict and control our environment and the reactions our behavior will elicit from the environment (mostly our social environment.)

Kelly falls into the modernist correspondence tradition of critical realism which states we are continually updating our constructs or schemas or maps to approximate reality.   As scientists we revise our hypotheses to fit the data.  The postmodernist constructivist tradition, in contrast, says we can only be aware of the world as it appears in our mind (phenomena), not the world as it is in itself (noumena).  So we create our world rather than discover the world.  As artists we fashion a world congenial to our liking.

Kelly lays out his theory with a fundamental postulate and a set of corollaries that approximate unintelligibility.  However when his logical English is translated into conversational English, it makes a lot of sense.

For example his Fundamental Postulate starts with the premise: “A person’s processes are psychologically channelized by the ways in which he or she anticipates events.”   Say what?

Translation: our behavior and thoughts are guided in certain directions by the personal constructs used to predict future events. Personality is the collection of constructs that constitute a person’s construct system at any given time. We are the way we construe ourselves, our relations to others, and our relations to the world.

We look for repetitions around us and then formulate constructs or representations to map our world.  The mind looks for order and then imposes that order in the form of templates on our experiences and the world. Like scientists we develop theories and hypotheses that will help predict future events, thus reducing uncertainty.  We then run experiments to test our hypotheses.  If our predictions about reality are confirmed, the construct is useful and we use it again.  If it is not confirmed, the construct is revised or abandoned.  Or, if we’re neurotic — that is, a poor scientist — we keep it anyway.

I’d like to go through a few of Kelly’s corollaries and trace how they show up in the Enneagram styles.  I’ve done some of this in my book Nine Lenses on the World, the Enneagram Perspective (2010). I leave it to the reader to decide whether, in linking Kelly and the Enneagram, I am approximating reality in the correspondence tradition or just making it up in the constructivist tradition.

Kelly begins with his corollary of Constructive Alternativism.  We are free to construe reality any way we wish, but then we are determined by our belief system.  We’re not stuck with our hypotheses or the way we are.  We can change our belief system; but once inside our construct system we are constrained by the rules of that particular paradigm.   So if you believe the world is flat, when you come up to the edge of your world, you will stop and pull back.  If you believe the earth is round, you can keep going without fear of falling off.

Each Enneagram style lives within a paradigm or worldview which provides a set of rules about what to look for and what to look out for;  what to pay attention to and what to ignore;  what to do and what you’re not allowed to do.  You can put yourself inside any Enneagram style.  But once inside, you are governed and constrained by the customs of that style. For example:

ONES say, because of the rules of their paradigm, they can never do what they want to do as long as there is something they should be doing.   SEVENS, with a different paradigm and set of rules, always do what they want to do first, making sure they get it in before undertaking what they have to do.  “Life is short, eat dessert first.”

TWOS say they find it impossible to make demands on people, because they are supposed to give and not to ask.   EIGHTS, on the other hand, have little difficulty demanding what is their due — or even what’s not their due, for that matter.  They take because their precept says don’t be taken.

THREES say they just can’t expect things to happen; they have to get organized and get going.  “Don’t just stand there, do something.”  Their rules say: work as efficiently as you can.  NINES say they prefer to just let things happen.  “Don’t just do something, stand there.”  Their instructions say: expend as little energy as possible.

FOURS find it unthinkable to be plain and ordinary.  Their paradigm says they have to be distinctive and unique.  It’s no big deal to NINES.  Their norms tell them to lay low and not stand out.

FIVES say they find it difficult to connect with and express their feelings.  They also don’t see much logic or value in doing so.  Their paradigm directs them to their head.  FIVES are clear thinkers but vague feelers.  FOURS find it difficult to detach from their feelings and can’t imagine life being worthwhile without them.  TWOS also have no trouble feeling but would like to think straight. Their paradigms lead them to their hearts.

SIXES find it difficult and dangerous to relax or take their mind off their problems.  Their rules say:  “Don’t get caught off guard or blind-sided.”   NINES prefer not to look at their problems.  Their paradigm says:  “The problem will go away if you don’t give it any energy.”   SEVENS say “What problems?”  because their strategy is to find the positive in the problematic.

SEVENS can’t do only one thing for a long period of time because their paradigm says: “Keep your options open, don’t get tied down, and avoid being bored.”  SIXES and ONES prefer to work single-mindedly because their guidelines work best with routines and set procedures.

EIGHTS and COUNTER-PHOBIC SIXES won’t show their vulnerability lest you hurt them.  Their strategy is to be tough and independent.  PHOBIC SIXES expose their vulnerability and weakness so you won’t feel threatened by them or hurt them.  Their approach is to be dependent.

NINES can’t quite get it together since their paradigm tells them to take it easy. THREES can’t not get it together because their paradigm is always announcing “It’s show time!”

Kelly’s Commonality Corollary states that:  “To the extent that one person employs a construction of experience which is similar to that employed by another, his psychological processes are similar to the other person.”   So it is not common experiences that make people similar but the fact that they construe their experiences in a similar way.

The nine Enneagram types share the commonality that they tend to construe or interpret experience in a way that is similar to their fellow Enneatypes.   Eights share a common world view that differs from the worldview of, say, Twos.

Thomas Kuhn (1996) writes about paradigms and science.  What he says about scientists accords remarkably well with Enneagram types.

Science, he proposes, is a very subjective enterprise.  Most researchers (Enneagram types) share a common set of assumptions or beliefs about their subject matter.  In Kuhn’s view a paradigm is “the entire constellation of beliefs, values, and techniques shared by the members of a given scientific community (Enneagram style).”  For those scientists (Enneagram types) accepting a given paradigm, it becomes the way of looking at and analyzing the subject matter of their science.  Once a paradigm is accepted, the activities of those accepting it become a matter of exploring the implications of that paradigm.

While following a paradigm, scientists (Enneagram styles) explore in depth the problems defined by the paradigm and utilize the methods suggested by the paradigm while exploring those problems.  According to Kuhn there are rules that limit both the nature of acceptable solutions and the steps by which they are to be obtained.

Although a paradigm restricts the range of phenomena scientists (Enneagram types) examine, it does guarantee that certain phenomena are studied thoroughly, namely those the paradigm focuses on.  But this might blind scientists (Enneagram types) to other phenomena and perhaps better explanations for what they are studying.  A paradigm, then, determines what constitutes a research problem and how the solution to that problem is sought.

For example, a psychoanalytic paradigm would instruct its practitioners to look inside the person for long-ago, deep-seated conflicts that need to be understood and felt; while a behavioral paradigm would have its adherents look outside the person to discover what reinforcers in the present environment are maintaining the person’s behaviors.   While psychoanalysts are perfecting their paradigm, they might overlook what’s happening now.  And while behaviorists are refining their paradigm, they might miss or be forbidden to consider what’s going on inside the person.  Both could use a bigger paradigm – which is what integrative approaches to psychotherapy are concocting.

Enneagram styles share a common paradigm that tells them what to look for.  What is important to you?  What do you value?

1. What’s right and what’s wrong?

2. What do others need? Who needs what?

3. What will work and what will be successful?

4. What’s unique and what is missing?

5. What’s the big picture and where are the connections?

6. What can go wrong and where is the exit?

7. What can go right and what are the options?

8.  Who has the power and who has the leverage?

9. Where is the harmony and where is the consensus?

Each Enneagram style or paradigm also cautions what to look out for.   What might touch the vulnerability or sensitivity of the style?

  1. Criticism, judgments, being wrong(ed)
  2. Rejection, isolation, lack of appreciation
  3. Failure, rejection, not being admired
  4. Being left out, abandoned, being inauthentic
  5. Being invaded, emptied, looking foolish, being exposed
  6. Betrayal, inconsistency, being threatened
  7. Limitations, pain, boredom, being trapped
  8. Weakness, injustice, being subordinated
  9. Conflict, confrontation, being neglected

Each of the Enneagram paradigms specifies what the problem is and what to do about it.

  1. The problem is you, others, and the world are imperfect.   The solution is critique and fix them.
  2. The problem is you’re not needed nor appreciated enough and the world is needy.  The solution is love more.
  3. The problem is you’re not admired enough and the world is inefficient.  The solution is keep working and moving.
  4. The problem is the world is ugly and abandoning.  The solution is make the more beautiful and yourself more special.
  5. The problem is the world is intrusive and withholding and it doesn’t make much sense.  The solution is hide out and try to understand it.
  6. The problem is the world is dangerous and unpredictable.  The solution is make laws to regulate it and find an authority to enforce them.  Or be wary of the world and authorities.
  7. The problem is the world can be limiting, dark, and painful.  The solution is find options, lighten things up, and seek pleasure.
  8. The problem is the world is hostile and unfair.  The solution is get them before they get you and enforce your justice on the world.
  9. The problem is the world is conflicted and neglecting.   The solution is calm it down and settle for what you can get.

Kelly’s Individuality Corollary states that: “Persons differ from each other in their construction of events.”  We are free to construe events as we wish.  And how we construe the world is what makes each person unique.  So each person within each Enneagram style is going to make sense of the world in her and his own unique way.  We are all different, as Fours are want to remind us.

In short we have some things in common with everyone: we all make interpretations of the world; everyone has a construct system.  We have some things in common with some other people: different types construe or interpret the world in a similar way.  We have some things in common with no one:  each individual has his or her own unique construct system.

A construct has a Range of Convenience which includes all the events to which the construct is relevant.  No construct is infinitely useful.  All have their boundaries. The range of convenience of a construct like “height” does not include weight, temperature, gender, age, etc.

Each Enneagram style has a range of convenience within which it can predict and control certain realities quite well.  Outside the range of convenience of the style, things get a little fuzzy and awkward.

For example the Range of Convenience of the Five’s paradigm is really good for intellectual ideas, comprehensive systems, and objective analysis but feelings and sensations might fall outside the range of their paradigm and so they need to employ another paradigm, like the Two’s or Four’s, or One’s, for example, to take into account their own and others, feelings and gut reactions.

The range of convenience for the One’s paradigm may involve serious things but might not be so useful for playful things.   When it’s time to have fun, the One might want to get inside the Seven’s paradigm and indulge in a little divergent thinking instead of convergent thinking.

The Eight’s paradigm covers the tough territory.  They might want to try on the Two’s paradigm when they are in tender terrain.

The Nine’s paradigm prepares them to be calm, relaxed, comfortable, and open to the flow.   To get out of the starting gate quickly and head determinedly toward the finish line, they might profit more from the Three’s paradigm to focus their goal and get them to it efficiently and quickly.

The Three’s pragmatic, utilitarian paradigm helps them consider whatever it takes to win.  The Six’s paradigm might keep them within the law and bring in considerations of loyalty and commitment.

The Six’s paradigm prepares them for the worst case scenario.  Their paradigm covers what can go wrong.  They could use the Nine’s paradigm to live with the worst, or the Seven’s paradigm to imagine the best.

The Four’s paradigm covers the tragic side of life: suffering, disappointment, death.   The Seven’s paradigm takes in the comedic side of life: joy, life, satisfaction.

If the rules and range of convenience of your paradigm or Enneagram style don’t solve your problems or meet all your needs, try the paradigm of another style.  The solution might be found there.   What’s difficult or almost impossible to do within your paradigm might be relatively easy for another paradigm.  We’re free to change constructs and paradigms.

As Einstein said, you can’t solve a problem using the same paradigm that created the problem in the first place.

And sometimes the solution of our Enneagram style itself becomes the problem.  So Fours might solve their problem of fearing being misunderstood by being aloof.  But then they leave themselves open to being left behind and abandoned.   Their solution brings about the very situation they really fear the most.

A construct also has a Focus of Convenience where the construct is maximally pertinent.  Each Enneagram style has a particular focus of attention that gives them an intuitive edge.  Each style sees some things clearly and more quickly than other styles because they are practiced in scanning for certain things.  Experts know what they’re looking for.  That’s why we go to specialists.  Think about what you look for when you enter a room.

ONES notice flaws, imperfections, and what’s wrong, when they enter a room.  ONES will give you the right word as you’re fumbling to say something.

TWOS will sense who is hurting and who needs what.  They may know what you need even before you do.  At the moment you realize you are thirsty, a TWO is handing you a drink of water.

THREES pick up how others expect them to be.  They intuitively sense what role to play or how to look and act when they enter a room.  They can also tell you how to efficiently write that paper you’ve been mulling over for months.

FOURS pick up rejection, disapproval, and being abandoned before anyone else senses this.  They will also be attuned to the aesthetics of the room and the feeling tone of the group gathered in the room, being particularly sensitive to any suffering in the room.  If there is any hidden feeling or communication between you and them, FOURS will intuit it.

FIVES will sense any expectations and demands put on them or any subtle intrusions or invasions of their space more acutely than others will.  As you are about to ask for volunteers for your project, you will become aware that the FIVES have left the building.

SIXES will sense any danger lurking in the room.  They are scanning for and can detect potentially threatening people or objects.  If you bring a hidden agenda, SIXES will be alert to it.

SEVENS will pick up and gravitate towards where the fun and excitement is.  They will notice the novel and potentially interesting and entertaining features in the people and objects in the room.  If not the first to suggest it, SEVENS will second any “Let’s have a party.”

EIGHTS will sense who has power in the room, those they may have to deal with as competitors for taking over the room.  If they sense a vacuum of power, authority, or safety in the room, they immediately move to take control so they feel secure.  As you are about to take charge, you may find yourself being relegated to the back of the hall by an EIGHT.

NINES can merge with people in the room and sense what it is like to be inside the skin of the other person.  They easily empathize with others’ experience.  This gives them an intuitive grasp of others’ needs, wants, thoughts, etc.   They can also sense harmony, when things are fitting together, as well as disharmony, where there is conflict.  But as the level of conflict in the room rises, the level of NINES’ awareness drops, occasionally to the point of falling sleep.

Kelly’s Dichotomy Corollary states that: “a person’s construction system is composed of a finite number of dichotomous constructs.”  All constructs are bipolar.  You can’t know tall without short.  Jung’s liking for polarities fits in here.  Following are some dichotomies that Enneagram types might employ.

  1.  Good-Bad
  1. Loving-Hateful
  1. Success-Failure
  1. Original-Copy
  1. Wise-Foolish
  1. Safe-Dangerous
  1. Fun-Boring
  1. Strong-Weak
  1. Harmonious-Conflictual

We can get stuck in our bi-polar framework or constructs when we evaluate situations.  It might be helpful to use a dichotomy from another style and see if that frees us up to make different choices.

If a One is caught in the dilemma of right-wrong, they might try framing their choice as “Is it loving or not loving?”

A Five caught between the horns of the dilemma of wise-fool, might try “Is it just or unjust?”

A Three, assessing whether their choice is popular-unpopular, might ask: “Is it faithful or not faithful?”

A Nine, asking whether this situation is calming or upsetting, might re-categorize as:  “Is it fun or not fun.”

An Eight, assessing whether this choice will make me look weak or strong, might inquire: “Will this option lead to something meaningful or trivial,” like a Four might ask.

A Four, asking whether this is special or common, might use the One’s dichotomy: “Is this responsible or irresponsible?”

Next time you’re considering your options, notice which dichotomies you use to frame your decision.  Try using someone else’s dichotomy and see if that frees up your decision-making process.

Kelly’s Organization Corollary states that “each person characteristically evolves, for his or her convenience in anticipating events, a construction system embracing ordinal relationships between constructs.”  The answer to that “Say what?” question is: people differ in how they organize their constructs in order to reduce contradictions and increase their predictive efficiency.

Personal constructs are arranged in a hierarchy, some being more comprehensive than others. There are superordinate and subordinate constructs.   For example good-bad might subsume intelligent-stupid in the Ones’ hierarchy while intelligent-stupid would subsume good-bad in the Fives’ hierarchy.

Ones will have at the top of their hierarchy whether something is right or wrong and at the bottom whether it is pleasurable or painful.   This likely would be reversed in the Sevens’ hierarchy.

Nines might have at the top of their pecking order whether something is agreeable or argumentative and may have toward the bottom whether it is beautiful or ugly which Fours would have at the top.

Eights would have independent-dependent at the top of their hierarchy while safe-dangerous would be at the bottom in contrast to Sixes who are likely to have that construct at the top.

Twos are likely to have generous-selfish at the top of their hierarchy while reasonable-unreasonable might be at the bottom.   You would find this construct atop the Five’s hierarchy.

Authentic-inauthentic could be the Fours’ superordinate construct while efficient-inefficient would be subordinate.  The reverse might be true for the Three’s construction system.

To determine what is your most basic construct, keep asking yourself why is this construct so important to you?   When you run out of answers, you may have hit the bottom line.  Neimeyer (1985) used the example of a woman who described herself as “businesslike” as opposed to”emotional.”  When asked why she chose to be viewed as business like, she said she regarded it as a “mature approach to life” as opposed to an “unstable” one.  When asked why mature, she said it meant “being in control” as opposed to “being controlled by others.”   When asked why it was important to be in control, she answered her very “survival” depended on it and the opposite of that was “death.”  That’s about as bottom line as you can get.

You might try playing around with and rearranging your hierarchy and notice what changes that makes.  It might give you a new perspective.

On the note of playing around, I’d like to end by mentioning Kelly’s technique of fixed-role therapy.  Early on in his career, Kelly coached dramatics in a junior college (in the middle of Iowa this time). Later, as a therapist, he presented his clients with a personality sketch and asked them to act it out, just as an actor or actress would play a part in a play.  To enhance the development of new constructs, the personality of the person the client was asked to play was markedly different from the client’s own personality.  So for a week or so, the client was instructed to act “as if” she were the person in the role she was playing.

Kelly suggested that neurotics have lost their ability to make-believe while healthy people make-believe all the time.  So in the spirit of healthy integration, write out your description of an Enneagram style you would like to emulate, pretend you are that type, and spend a week trying on that role.  Then try on another style.   At the end of your experiments, you will have nine different outfits to wear and nine perspectives on the world.


Kelly, G.A. (1963).  A theory of personality: The psychology of personal constructs.  New York: Norton.

Kuhn, T.S. (1996).  The structure of scientific revolutions (3rd ed.).  Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Neimeyer, R.A. (1985).  Personal constructs in clinical practice.  In P.C. Kendall (Ed), Advances in cognitive-behavioral research and therapy.  (Vol. 4, pp.275-339).  New York: Academic Press.

Wagner, J.P.  (2010). Nine lenses on the world: The Enneagram perspective.  Evanston: NineLens Press.

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