An Enneagram Overview

Here are some thoughts on questions that people have asked about the Enneagram.  It’s an overview of the system along with reflection questions to get you to ask more questions about the Enneagram.


The Enneagram is a personality typology that describes nine ways of being in the world.  Some authors call them types, some strategies, I prefer styles which gives a little more wiggle room. There is, as they say in statistics, considerable inner-group variability.  That is, there is a lot of variety within each style.  There is also, of course, considerable inter-group variability.  While there is overlap among the nine styles, they are also different.

Nothing in life is simple.   Gordon Allport thought traits (personality generates behavior patterns that can be described as types) were hard-wired into the brain.  They actually exist, we’re not making this up.  Others say we are born with temperamental proclivities.  We have a tendency to perceive and respond a certain way.  Others (the behaviorists) would say what you are calling a type is simply a collection of behaviors.  Still others (the constructivists) would say that type exists only in the mind of the typist.  We are making this up.

I would lean toward the temperamental proclivities camp.  David Daniels writes about “innate propensities” and “structural proclivities.”  We are inclined to see the world and act in certain ways but are still free to choose what to think and do.


People ask whether we are more influenced by nature (what we are born with) or nurture (what we are born into).  As Hegel would have predicted, psychology has swung from thesis to antithesis to synthesis.  Biological psychologists said we are influenced mostly by nature (as high as 90%).  Then radical behavioral psychologists said we are completely influenced by nurture (100%).  Then interactionist psychologists said we are influenced by both nature and nurture (50/50%).  So the answer to the question of whether we are more influenced by nature or nurture is “yes.”


The Enneagram describes traits, behaviors, and behavioral tendencies.  It also describes motivations which most Enneagram teachers like to point out.


I like to think of the values we are motivated by.  We usually have a hierarchy of values.  Some are more important than others.  You might ask yourself:

  • What gets you out of bed at the beginning of the day?
  • And at the end of the day, what made it a good day?  Or what made the day worthwhile?
    • Did you learn something? Help someone?  Make things right?  Get things done? Have a deep meaningful interaction?  Had fun?  Survived the day?  Didn’t get upset or upset anyone?  Defended the downtrodden?
  • What is your purpose, vocation, mission?   What are you here to do?
    • Some say they are here to fix things, love things, complete things, make things beautiful, intelligible, safe, fun, tell the truth, make things agreeable.
  • What aspect of humanity or the divine are you destined to manifest?  Your presence reminds us of what it means to be human (good, loving, productive, creative, wise, loyal, imaginative, just, peaceful.)  You reveal certain aspects of God to us that we otherwise might not experience (see above.)
  • What is your legacy?  In the tapestry of history, your cohort, your family, what piece does your thread add?  Or what role did you play in the unfolding of being?
  • What do you really desire?  And where does your desire meet the world’s needs?


We want to promulgate or share our values with others since we think they are really great.

  • What kind of world do you want to leave behind? 
    • Better, more loving, more efficient, more beautiful, more intelligible, safer, more delightful, more just, more inclusive?
  • What cultural institutions has your style created to enshrine your values?
    • Schools, libraries, science museums, art museums, symphony centers, hospitals, clinics, HR departments, CEO suites, banks to keep your money safe, investment banks to grow your money, court systems, entertainment venues, travel agencies, ecumenical organizations, accounting firms, sports venues for gladiators, computer centers for geeks.   You get the idea.


Many traditions, including the Enneagram, describe the true self (who we are born to be) and the false self (who we are conditioned to be).   The true self is our core, given, authentic or gifted self.  The false self is our defensive, distorted, compensating, exaggerated, caricature, idealized self.

If Carl Rogers were our parent and we were loved unconditionally for who we are or Heinz Kohut was our father who empathically mirrored us as we are, then there would be no need to be other than who we are because we’re OK as is.

Unfortunately, our culture, religion, educational system, parents, siblings, don’t think we’re so great as is.  For our own good, they think we need to be educated or conditioned to be the way we should be.  Not knowing any better, we go along with the program and construct an idealized self – the self we think we should be in order to be safe, loved, accepted.

So, what happened to your core self, your original goodness.   What happened that you formed a personality around your core to protect it?

  • Was there one traumatic hurtful event? Or a series of minor assaults?  What was the hurt or wounding, or vulnerability that you wanted to make sure wouldn’t happen to you again?
  • What are you afraid of? And how do you protect yourself from this?
    • Are you afraid of criticism, rejection, failure, being abandoned, looking foolish, being betrayed, limited and bored, being weak and taken advantage of, conflict?

We develop an idealized self-image to present ourselves the way we think others want to see us and how we want to see ourselves.  You will love me if you see me as good, helpful, successful, special, wise, faithful, upbeat, strong, accommodating.


As we over-emphasize a certain part of ourselves (think of a caricature with big ears, chin, nose, etc.), we overlook or minimize opposing parts of ourselves.  These are distrusted, disliked, despised parts.   Our shadow.  We repress these characteristics and then project them onto others.  Fortunately, there are nine recycling bins in which to put our discarded personality parts.


We can use a variety of defenses to wall off our unacceptable parts.  They keep them out of our awareness and they keep others away from us.  Think of a turtle’s shell, a porcupine’s quills, a skunk’s odor, a dear’s camouflage, a lion’s roar.   Sometimes our defenses are a little over-kill and can stay around longer than we really need them.  (Think of skunks, again.)

  • So, what do you fear?  What makes you anxious?   And what happens when you feel anxious?  That’s when your defenses pop up.  If we avoid what makes us anxious, our anxiety goes down.  That’s called negative reinforcement.  Afraid of dogs, avoid them.  Afraid of heights, stay on the ground.  Afraid of girls, boys, math, avoid them.  So, what do you avoid thinking, feeling, doing? 
  • What are you afraid will happen if you let your unacceptable parts out?  What do you do to keep that part of you locked up and out of view?
  • You might want to make friends with your demons, monsters, and isolated parts. There are all kinds of myths about doing so: Beauty and the Beast, Tame Your Dragon, Schrek, Donkey, and the Dragon, the Furies and Eumenides in Greek mythology, the Seven Samurai in Japanese film, and the Magnificent Seven in the Western version.  Befriending our supposed enemy turns them into our ally.


Idols and idealized self-images have much in common.  Both promise to save us from what we fear; both exact a certain price (give me your first fruits, first born, true self, etc.), and both renege on their promises.   They don’t deliver.

  • What is your idol or addiction?  Perfectionism?  Co-dependency? Workaholism? Uniqueism?  Intellectualism? Fanaticism?  Hedonism?   Vindication? Pacifism?
  • What does your idol promise you?  Protection from criticism, rejection, failure, etc.?
  • What do you have to sacrifice and give up for your idol?  Pleasure? Your own needs?  Relaxation? Being ordinary?  Your feelings?  Your inner authority?  Being rooted?  Being vulnerable? Being assertive?
  • How does the strategy of your idol get in the way of what you really want?
    • For example, if you really want to be known and accepted for who you are, how does not revealing yourself get in the way of this?
  • And, ironically, how does your defensive strategy bring about the very thing you are trying to avoid?  The damnable thing about neuroses is they engender the very thing we are trying to escape.
    • For example, if you want to avoid criticism, does being pedantic or judgmental of others bring about their being defensive and then critical of you?
    • Or if you want to avoid rejection, does being smothering lead others to push you away?
    • If you want to be accepted for who you are, does being too slick, polished, and accomplished encourage people to admire your accomplishments instead of loving you?
    • If you want to belong and be understood, does being special lead people to misunderstand you since no one is like you?
    • If you want to avoid emptiness, does being too intellectual lead to feeling empty since you misplaced your emotions and body?
    • If you want to feel safe, does being paranoid lead to people talking behind your back and wanting to put you away?
    • If you want to avoid pain, does surrounding yourself with too many balloons lead people to want to pop them, thus raining on your parade?
    • If you want to be invulnerable, does being aggressive lead to others ganging up on you and attacking you?
    • If you want to be noticed and cared for, does being in the background lead people to overlook you?

I like the Enneagram because it provides a framework on which to hang the various pieces of the personality puzzle.  It is, indeed, a useful fiction.   Stay tuned for more reflections.

Integrating Our Polarities using the 4 R’s: Recognize, Re-frame, Re-own, Re-Cycle

by Jerome Wagner, Ph.D.

When we over-identify or over-idealize certain aspects of our personality, we tend to disavow any opposite attributes. For example if you think of yourself as right and exact, then you don’t want to consider yourself wrong or messy nor do you want others to think of you in this way. Or if you think of yourself as strong and tough, you don’t want to appear to yourself or others as weak and wimpy.

To avoid these unacceptable parts of ourselves, we put them in the basement (our unconscious) where we can forget about them. This is called repression.  Splitting is a variation on this maneuver. Instead of being a whole me, we become the good me and the bad me, like Jeckle and Hyde.

These defensive techniques create divisions within ourselves.

If relics in the basement start to offend us, we can go a step further and throw our garbage out. For example if you think of yourself as wise and perceptive and find looking foolish quite intolerable, you can cast out your foolishness and then find yourself surrounded by a confederacy of dunces. This is called projection. Instead of being a neurotic among neurotics or a sinner among sinners, you are a rose among thorns, or a good me surrounded by not-so-good you’s,

The process of projective identification goes a little beyond projection. Instead of simply throwing our trash out and leaving it in others with a good riddance, we put our unsavory characteristics in others, then sanitize and civilize our offensive behaviors in the garbage bin — or cajole others into cleaning up their acts. For example if you project your inner rebel or delinquent onto others, then you will have to police them, reform them, excommunicate them, or throw them in jail. Now, not only have you gotten rid of your demons, you’ve found something to do in your spare time!

These defensive strategies create divisions between ourselves and others.

We can work on our inner and outer splits by practicing the 3 R’s + 1.

If we can re-cognize, re-frame, and re-own our unseemly parts, we might find some valuable assets tossed out with our garbage, and re-cycle them. We will gain an inner integration and wholesome connections with other people, both of which lead to an increase of energy since we are no longer divided against ourselves and others.

To make friends with our inner polarities, we may need to reframe their attributes. For example if you think of yourself as efficient and not lazy, then you may need to reframe laziness as “creative leisure,” a time and process during which new inspirations arise.

A paradoxical quality of polarities is the more we push them to an extreme, the more they run into and become their opposite. Jung called this enantiodromia. For example the more you try to become free and keep all your options open, ironically the more un-free and rigid you become as you compulsively try to avoid any limitations.

Finally, if we can find an overarching construct that embraces and enfolds both polarities, a synthesis that resolves our thesis and antithesis, then we can be enlivened by the creative tension between the two poles. For example if you think of yourself as special and refined and not common and pedestrian, you might find living a life of “simple elegance” a congenial way to express both of your polarities.

Let’s see how each style might practice the 4 R’s: recognizing, reframing, reowning, and recycling their polarities.





The following is a list of some characteristics that ONES identify with.  They are opposed by the characteristics ONES dis-identify with.

good (very) bad
upright licentious
moral immoral
principled law breaker
honest dishonest
high standards mediocre
integrity phony
zealous apathetic
hard working lazy
serious playful
responsible irresponsible
persevering fickle
exact imprecise
meticulous sloppy
committed uninvolved
sober frivolous
careful careless
critical tolerant
conscientious slip shod
on time tardy
striving aimless
correct incorrect
right wrong
intense relaxed
altruistic selfish
strict forgiving
discriminating indiscriminate
organized disorganized
earnest insincere
an improver complacent


When ONES project their “NOT ME” characteristics onto others, they find themselves surrounded by messy, lazy, irresponsible, unprincipled laggards like ourselves.  So ONES have their work cut out for them organizing, disciplining, and getting us into line.  And it’s no wonder they need to stay in control and can’t let up, lighten up, or hand things over to us.  Would you turn the world over to a group of aimless, careless, fickle, slip shod slackers?  This is why ONES have to work overtime to cover for our complacency.  And it’s why they stay angry and resentful because we’re not doing our part.

ONES need to befriend their shadow side and discover what’s good about being messy, lazy, and irresponsible.  Or maybe they need to reframe these qualities as spontaneous, relaxed, and serendipitous.  The playful little hedonist in them can offer them some fun and enjoyment.  What can unprincipled people do that principled people can’t do?  They can do what they want instead of what they should!

ONES need to reframe the characteristics in the NOT-ME column to find the iron beneath the rust.  As long as they continue giving a bad reputation to their NOT-ME qualities, they’re not going to want to go near them.  If they can find the complimentary contribution their NOT-ME attributes bring to their whole self, they might be more willing to embrace them and integrate them into their sense of themselves.

They can also practice some Hegelian dialectics.  Their ME characteristics represent their thesis; their NOT-ME qualities embody their antithesis; creatively combining the two gives them their synthesis.  So ONES need to step back and get a little distance from their dichotomous dilemma and come up with a self-concept that will include both sides of their polarity.  For example ONES might imagine themselves as being “seriously playful” or “playfully serious;”  or they can think of themselves as “discerners” which allows them to be both discriminating and accepting;  or they are “flowing upright” or “gliding precision” permitting them to be both flexible and firm.

The trick is to hold onto both ends of the polarity and encourage both energies to flow into a creative synthesis.  Enantiodromia is a principle Jung discovered in nature that he applied to personality.  This is the process whereby things run into their opposites.  If you put a hot plate next to a cold one, both will become warm; high water runs into low water until they reach a medium depth, as was demonstrated in the flooding in New Orleans.  If you push something to its extreme, it runs into its opposite.  So you can become so good (righteous) you become bad (self-righteous).  Or if you take sloppiness to its extreme, you get order.  This is chaos theory.  The exquisite layering and ordering of rocks along a shore is brought about by the random action of wind and waves.

ONES achieve balance when they access in themselves the adaptive qualities of the SEVEN and FOUR styles. It is ironic that many of these qualities are disguised beneath the grotesqueries in the NOT-ME column.  Because ONES distort them, they don’t want to approach them.  For example what ONES are calling careless, irresponsible, and frivolous might be the SEVEN characteristics of carefree, spontaneous, and child-like.  Or what ONES perceive as fickle, imprecise, and law breaking might be the FOUR qualities of flowing emotions, intuition, and freedom from convention.

For fullness sake, ONES need to take another look at their NON-ME dimension to give themselves more breadth and depth.





Those characteristics that are congruent with the TWOS’ self-image are found in the ME column.  Characteristics that are antithetical to their self-image, that are repressed or projected out of their self, can be found in the NOT-ME column.

helpful (very) selfish
needed needy
indispensable useless
generous stingy
supportive destructive
thoughtful thoughtless
sympathetic heartless
friendly detached
nurturing withholding
compassionate violent
thoughtful insensitive
soft hearted unsentimental
caring cruel
loving hateful
tender tough
empathic confrontational
affirming indifferent
self sacrificing self centered
relational loner
feeling heady
welcoming imposing
kind mean
available aloof
warm cold
fuzzy prickly
available unavailable
people-loving thing-loving
other-oriented self-oriented
good listener judgmental
complimentary critical


When TWOS engage in projection and projective identification, they find themselves surrounded by needy, selfish, uncaring, detached, thoughtless individuals like ourselves.  It’s no wonder TWOS despair of getting their needs met and don’t bother to ask!  To get any blood from this crowd of turnips, TWOS have to hug, warm, and love them up, make sure others get their needs met first, and then maybe they’ll toss a crumb of attention towards the TWOS.

Notice that the characteristics in the ME column resonate with a moving towards tendency while the characteristics in the NOT-ME column contain the energy of moving against (such as, destructive, heartless, and tough,) and moving away from (such as, stingy, aloof, and cold.)  TWOS have trouble connecting with these interpersonal movements because they’ve given them away to others.

For balance, TWOS shift to the high sides of the EIGHT and FOUR paradigms under relaxed and stressful conditions, respectively.  EIGHT energy tends to move against while FOUR energy tends to move away from.  To complement their own moving towards energy, TWOS can access in themselves these EIGHT and FOUR strategies.  But since they’ve given these approaches a bad reputation, they will probably feel uncomfortable about and resist going in those directions.

TWOS will want to befriend the angry, callous, selfish, needy parts of themselves and discover that it’s all right to set boundaries, say no, step back, and care for themselves.  This is the high side of the EIGHT paradigm.  They may have to re-label the selfish part of themselves as self caring, the inconsiderate part as independent, and the unavailable part as present to themselves.  The high side of the FOUR allows, even encourages, this search for thine own true self.  TWOS might find that their aloof, detached, uncaring qualities really do have a positive intention, which is to love themselves as much as they love others.

TWOS require an over-arching concept of themselves which encompasses both sides of their ME/NOT-ME polarity.  The expression “wounded healer” catches both dimensions as does “interdependent”, “mutual caring”, and “AC-DC” which means that the energy of the universe is an alternating current.  It flows back and forth, allowing both giving and receiving vs. “DC” direct current that only flows one way – outward.






Those characteristics that are congruent with the THREES’ self image are found in the ME column and those elements that are deemed incongruent are in the NOT ME list.


professional amateur
organized disorganized
productive idle
industrious lazy
successful failure
cheerleader wallflower
youthful stuffy
enthusiastic depressed
motivated bored
on the go slow motion
promoter wait and see
salesperson sit on the shelf
pragmatic head in the clouds
political unsavvy
upwardly mobile back water
efficient ineffective
competent inadequate
goal oriented disoriented
team player loner
popular geek
entrepreneur ambitionless
executive invisible follower
achieving nothing to show
important nobody
accomplished unfinished
looking good slob
self assured diffident
cutting edge outmoded
multi-tasking over-focused
bottom line bogged in trivia


One way to avoid failure is to project it onto others.  It’s not the THREES’ fault that the undertaking didn’t succeed; other people didn’t do their part.   THREES cast their own inefficiency and failure onto others, then find themselves surrounded by disorganized ineffective workers and lament:  “How can I soar with the eagles when I’m surrounded by a bunch of turkeys like you?”

When THREES engage in projection and projective identification, they find themselves surrounded by lazy, slow, unmotivated, inadequate failures such as ourselves.  It’s no wonder they are hesitant to take a day off and hand the corporation over to us.  There’s not much chance that anything will be accomplished or finished by this group of idle, ineffective, unambitious losers.

It’s also not surprising that THREES take over the reigns and become leaders, CEOs, managers, trend-setters.  Who else is going to do it?   Some disoriented diffident wallflower?  You can see why THREES become cheerleaders to get some life into us deadheads.  Or why they go into the motivational business to help us get our lives energized and desks organized.

THREES need to make friends with the slow, unpopular, shy person inside them.  They might discover that geeks are not so concerned about what other people think but are more passionate about their own pursuits.  Or they might find out that people who are lazy have time to enjoy themselves and their friends.  By slowing down, the smell of roses and coffee catches up to them.

The THREES’ paradigm gets balance and breadth by including the perspectives of Styles SIX and NINE.  The useful qualities of these other two approaches are buried under the debris of the NOT ME column.  When THREES dig for the positive intentions of the attributions in their shadow side, they find some of the strengths of the high sides of SIXES and NINES.

For example if you back off the exaggerated distortion found in over-focused and bogged in trivia, you find the SIXES’ attention to detail and nuances, their appreciation for the multiple consequences of their behavior, and the subsequent need for careful consideration and preparation before acting.  The SIXES’ prudence plus the THREES’ enthusiasm lead to effective action and goal-attainment.

Or if you query what’s good about being idle or in the backwater or sitting on the shelf  or being in slow motion, you might discover the NINES’ appreciation for being as well as doing, and the finish-line advantage of the tortoise over the hare.  But who would want to slow down if that means being bored and depressed?  On the other hand, if slowing down leads to feeling content and calm, that’s not so bad.

Also, if you ask which category is more in need of relationships, the ME or the NOT ME, it becomes clear that the NOT ME’s need people more than the successful, accomplished, upwardly mobile winners.  Ironically THREES believe that people will like them and want to relate to them only when they exhibit the characteristics under the ME column.  In fact they appear to not need relationships when they are so successful and self-sufficient and people are more likely to use them for their skills than connect with them for their friendship.

THREES could do with a comprehensive self-concept that includes both sides of their polarity.  While each person needs to fashion their own unique image of themselves, some starter suggestions might be: “capable and honest,” “charismatic tortoise,” “effective layperson,”  “relaxedly resourceful,” etc.





Some characteristics that fall into the FOURS’ self-image of ME and the opposite qualities that are buried in their shadow or NOT ME are the following.


romantic utilitarian
intuitive obtuse
symbolic concrete
artistic logical
creative stagnant
sensitive rough
original banal
refined crude
deep feeling shallow
intense dull
nostalgic here and now
authentic copy
special ordinary
dramatic matter of fact
ritualizing trivializing
aesthetic boorish
good taste crass
yearning having
melancholic light hearted
misunderstood easy to know
mysterious predictable
passionate pedestrian
unique common
introspective thoughtless
classy tasteless
spiritual mundane
exciting boring
imaginative literal-minded
elite trendy


Surrounded by rude, crude, unrefined, superficial boors like ourselves, no wonder FOURS feel like aristocrats in exile.  How could a bunch of tasteless, obtuse, crass commoners ever possibly understand them?  And who wouldn’t want to stay aloof from this crowd?   FOURS are understandably reluctant to cast their pearls before such swine.

Before FOURS can relate to us, they need to give us some culture, sophistication, elegance, and depth.  So you find FOURS performing or cultivating the arts or, at least, teaching manners to refine our brutish instincts.

FOURS need to get back in touch with their ordinariness.  It is their commonality with others that connects them to humanity.  Ordinary people don’t have to worry about fitting in or be so concerned about what other people think of them.  Paradoxically ordinary people can be themselves more easily than special people can.

Broadening their own perspective by accessing some ONE and TWO characteristics is a way FOURS can achieve equilibrium in their system.  Some of the qualities of the ONE and TWO styles can be found in the FOURS’ shadow, but they are framed in a way that does not encourage emulation.  Who wants to be matter-of fact, trivializing, and literal-minded?  On the other hand, being reality-oriented, sensitive to details, and exact are not bad traits to possess.  And this focused approach of the ONE style complements the FOURS’ intuitive and global perspective.  Being common, concrete, and shallow doesn’t sound too flattering.  However if you reframe those elements, you have the approachable, practical, all-encompassing empathy of the enlightened TWO.

FOURS tend to move away from situations and others.  They can be aloof and standoffish until they have a sense that others “get” them and don’t misunderstand them.  ONES tend to move against by critiquing the world and then moving in to fix it.  But FOURS may not want to channel their emotional reactions into behavioral actions if they think of ONES as being rough, crude, and boorish.  Instead of backing up, feeling overwhelmed, and being moved, FOURS need to focus their energy, take action, and do some moving as ONES are want to do.  TWOS tend to move toward others in affiliation and support.  If FOURS perceive TWOS as being common, concrete, and matter of fact, they may resist getting close to people through empathic, generous deeds.  On the other hand, when they experience that simple love brings about the very connectedness they are seeking, they won’t be so afraid of being ordinary.

What overarching self-image would allow FOURS to be both extraordinary and ordinary, so they can be inclusive of all the elements in both their ME and NOT ME boundaries?  Someone with elegant simplicity possesses both polarities.





 Some attributes that fit the FIVES’ idealized sense of themselves and their opposing shadow elements include the following:


wise foolish
observant inattentive
quiet loud
respectful intrusive
private transparent
concise garrulous
circumspect audacious
thoughtful impulsive
objective biased
cool hot
intellectual emotional
informed uninformed
contained out there
dispassionate passionate
complex simplistic
reflective active
synthetic myopic
undemonstrative gushy
removed available
reasonable romantic
thrifty generous
even-tempered impetuous
shy sociable
tweedy trendy
independent dependent
self-sufficient needy
pithy wordy
dry mushy
abstract concrete
polite pushy


It’s no wonder FIVES are quiet and reserved, surrounded as they are by loud, garrulous, biased louts.  And it’s not surprising that they are reluctant to speak up and ask for what they want.  What kind of conversations can you expect to have with uninformed, simplistic, myopic fools?  Time is more profitably spent in your room, reading a book.

Since FIVES are surrounded by hot-headed fools, they need to calm them down by reasoning with them, throwing cold water on them to put out their passions, or moving far enough away to get out of their reach.  FIVES might become professional teachers, researchers, therapists, mediators, or lone rangers.

Notice that FIVES’ feelings have been placed into the NOT ME zone and so are not very available to help them either move towards people in affection or move against others in assertion.  What’s left in the ME column are dispositions that help them move away from the world in a Spock-like logical manner.

Balance flows into the FIVES’ system when they connect with the resourceful features of the EIGHT and SEVEN styles.  But those resources are hidden beneath the repulsive wrappings FIVES have given them.  For example FIVES probably won’t want to shift to the EIGHT direction of moving against because then they’ll be audacious, loud, pushy, and impetuous.  Not much good will come from that.  On the other hand if they extract the precious minerals from the dross they’ve imagined, they can then be brave, articulate, assertive, and proactive.

And who would want to move in the direction of the SEVEN style if that meant looking foolish, garrulous, gushy, and out there?  On the other hand, moving towards doesn’t sound so bad if it’s phrased as serendipitous, sociable, affectionate, and explorative.

So FIVES need to get to know (and love) the passionate foolish little adventurer in them.  They need to befriend and embrace their inner idiot who doesn’t know everything and who feels afraid and sad and mad and glad.  In the original Greek and Latin, idios meant common (as in layperson) and ignorant (as in idiot). It also meant ones own (as in idiosyncratic).  How ironic that FIVES might find their real self and their connecting self by being an idios, a common fool, the condition they’re most trying to avoid.

FIVES need a synthesizing self-concept that incorporates both their thesis (ME) and antithesis (NOT-ME) characteristics.  A possibility is the “wise fool” or the “court jester,” the medieval trickster who could cleverly make observant, honest, and unflattering remarks to royalty and still come away with his or her head.  Being a “learner” allows FIVES to value knowing as well as not-knowing.  Or the notion of “researcher” gives FIVES room to gather as well as disseminate data, sharing what they have collected.





The characteristics in the following columns contrast the SIXES’ sense of what fits their idealized self-image and so is fostered (ME) with what is incongruent with their self-concept and so must be excluded (NOT ME).


cautious reckless
security seeking adventuresome
careful careless
traditional liberal
obedient rebellious
responsible irresponsible
sensible outrageous
God fearing hell raiser
faithful fickle
fearful brave
worrisome carefree
reliable unaccountable
respectful disrespectful
prudent immoderate
vigilant negligent
suspicious trusting
skeptical gullible
indecisive decisive
legal outlaw
dutiful delinquent
detailed unobservant
wary naive
hesitant impulsive
consistent inconsistent
orthodox unorthodox
loyal betrayer
cautious foolhardy
cooperative difficult
prepared ill-equipped
true blue ambiguous


Since SIXES’ fear has two faces, read the columns as they appear for Phobic SIXES, and reverse the columns for Counter-Phobic SIXES.  That is, what is ME for Phobic SIXES is NOT-ME for counter-phobic SIXES and vice versa.  To create further doubt and confusion, many SIXES say they recognize both Phobic and Counter-Phobic tendencies in themselves.  Consequently SIXES may vacillate between the two columns, keeping both themselves and their opponents off balance and off guard.

When SIXES project out their hostility, their inner rebel, and their desire for autonomy, they find themselves surrounded by a group of reckless, careless, irresponsible, delinquent, hell raising outlaws!  No wonder Fearful SIXES are wary of and want to contain this crowd of hellions. You either need to teach them the rules of the road, keep them closely monitored, or lock them up.   You certainly don’t want to let them out of your sight.  It’s not surprising that SIXES would become police officers, military personnel, IRS and CIA agents, probation officers, code inspectors, environmental protection agents, bishops, etc.

Fearful SIXES need to re-own some of their “rebellious” qualities.   They might discover that this allegedly aberrant part of them is really the internal forum of their conscience that is quite trustworthy and law-abiding.  They might also find some of the easy-going as well as the assertive parts of themselves secreted away in their shadow side.

Counter-Fearful SIXES, on the other hand, need to re-own some of their “orthodox” characteristics.  They might find that some outer authorities are trustworthy and are not so in need of provoking.  Staying with their fear instead of impulsively pushing through it, might prove more effective than getting over it as quickly as possible.  And being cooperative can sometimes lead to safety and security more reliably than being combative.

Counter-Fearful SIXES may have projected their own worrisomeness, wariness, and hesitancy onto their caretakers.  A fearful, cautious authority figure does not inspire trust.  Counter-Phobic SIXES may need to reframe these characteristics in themselves and in others as being “aware,” “discerning,” and “considerate.”

SIXES tend to move toward people if they assess them as being on their side.  It is difficult for SIXES to move away from others for then they might lose sight of their antagonists.  So while it might be relaxing and balancing for SIXES to naturally move to the NINES’ perspective under safe circumstances as the Enneagram suggests, they will probably be reluctant to do so if they construe this position to be ill-equipped, negligent, unaccountable, etc.  Before they allow themselves to experience the NINES’ strategy of moving away from, they may need to reframe it as “calmly attentive,” “sufficiently prepared” and “dependable.”

Under stressful conditions it is sometimes useful for SIXES to move to the THREE style to mobilize their assertive moving against energy and direct it confidently and single-mindedly (vs. interfered with by conflicts and doubts) toward their goals.  But if THREES are seen as reckless, outrageous, and a mixed bag of tricks, SIXES will understandably be reluctant to go there.  By making friends with their own aggressive energy, SIXES might project less of it out and so the world will seem less threatening.

SIXES need to enlarge their self-concept to include both their ME and NOT-ME elements.  Being a Devil’s Advocate allows them to be both on someone’s side and gives them permission to challenge others.  A conscientious objector can also be among the loyal opposition.






Some qualities that are included (ME) and excluded (NOT-ME) from the SEVENS’ sense of themselves are the following.


cheerful gloomy
optimistic pessimistic
enthusiastic flat
lively dull
playful serious
light-hearted heavy
spontaneous predictable
planner plodder
diversified stuck
bright dim
up down
entertaining boring
fascinated uninterested
positive negative
many possibilities limited
stimulating deadening
take flight pedestrian
joyful depressed
gregarious reserved
appreciative take for granted
funny humorless
adventurous afraid
inventive trapped
charming aloof
multi-talented modest
alert asleep
raconteur reticent
sensual repressed
resourceful at a loss
ingénue jaded


As SEVENS project unto others their unacceptable characteristics, they find themselves surrounded by boring, depressed, uninteresting, reserved, humorless plodders.  No wonder they have to spend so much time and energy cheering us up and no surprise they are so concerned about being bored, restricted and pulled down.  Who wouldn’t be, surrounded by such dour sourpusses?  The morose molasses-mired mob they have to live with would slow or bring anybody down.

It makes sense that SEVENS would become entertainers, cheer-er-uppers, inspirational gurus, etc.  SEVENS have poured their misery, sadness, and heaviness into people around them and now process their own pain by trying to relieve and lighten it in others.

So SEVENS need to find out what is good about being still, limited, dim, and dull.  Perhaps this allows others’ light or divine inspiration to shine into their darkness, a light they otherwise wouldn’t see because of their own brilliance.  Or they might come to appreciate the pleasures of still wine as much as the delights of effervescent champagne.

When the SEVENS’ psyche searches for balance, it naturally goes to the high side of the FIVE and ONE styles.  Some of the strengths of these styles can be found encrusted in the dross of their rejected characteristics.  For example, beneath the boring descriptives of reserved, aloof, reticent, and flat lie the FIVE dispositions of reflection, objective attitude, quiet, and level which balance the SEVENS’ bias toward impulsivity, pleasure, noise, and soaring.

And badmouthed as serious, predictable, and plodders are the ONES’ virtues of sobriety, responsibility, and stick-to-it-iveness which correct the SEVENS leaning towards gluttony, changeableness, and flight from projects that involve drudgery.

SEVENS are naturally attracted to and move towards the delights of the world.  Moving away or stepping back from a situation becomes difficult because they’ve projected away that movement and made it unappealing by labeling it depressed, stuck, aloof, etc.   SEVENS might find the FIVES’ virtue of non-attachment a useful counter-balance to their gluttonous addictions.

Moving against the situation doesn’t look too attractive, either, when you call it jaded, plodding, pedestrian, negative, etc.  The ONES’ tenacity in plowing ahead, staying the course, finishing the race are all helpful corrections to the SEVENS’ impulse to jump ship, change plans, and do something else in the face of adversity.

SEVENS need an over-arching concept of themselves that will allow them to honor both sides of their polarities – something like “grounded vitality,” “stand-up guru,” or “elevator” (that goes down as well as up).





Those characteristics that fit the EIGHTS’ self image of being powerful and capable fall within the ego realm of ME.   Characteristics that are antithetical or opposed to their self-image are placed outside their ego boundary and fall into the category of NOT- ME.


strong weak
independent dependent
blunt indirect
forceful indecisive
confident diffident
high energy phlegmatic
fair unjust
assertive submissive
leader follower
tough tender
hard soft
courageous cowardly
aggressive sissy
own person deferential
unlimited bounded
no nonsense beat around the bush
influential not listened to
street-wise taken advantage of
competent unresourceful
own person lackey
magnanimous mean
protector victim
self-directed other-directed
direct double-talk
stand up for rights wimpy
definite iffy
risk-taker avoider
fearless fearful
invincible vulnerable
tenacious quitter


When EIGHTS project onto others their unacceptable qualities, they find themselves surrounded by wimps with all the deficits in their NOT-ME column.  Given the attributes of these characters, it’s not surprising that EIGHTS are loath to hand over power to a group of soft, deferential, needy, unresourceful lackeys like us.  When it comes to taking over a conversation, a company, or a country, who is going to stop them?  Certainly not a bunch of sissy, fearful, deferential saps.  As P.T. Barnum said:  “There’s a sucker born every minute.”  So it’s not surprising that EIGHTS might presume to take advantage of submissive, manipulable, pushover followers.

When the EIGHTS’ spontaneous moving against approach broadens to get balance, it naturally includes the strengths and points of view of the TWO (moving towards) and FIVE (moving away from) paradigms.  This equilibrium becomes difficult when EIGHTS project away these trends and give them a bad reputation besides.  It’s hard to identify with the gifts of the TWO when you’ve disidentified with your own tenderness and softness.  And who wants to be like someone who is seen as weak, dependent, and otherdirected?

EIGHTS need to befriend the vulnerable, fearful little person in them instead of yelling at him or her to toughen up.  They then discover that when they are weak, they can experience the support of others and the strength of a higher power. They find that, ironically, when they are soft, tender, and dependent, people move close to them and want to be with them vs. running from the room in terror.  People who are aggressive, competent, and influential (those with characteristics in the EIGHTS’ ME column) don’t need relationships nearly as much as people who are wimpy, diffident, and powerless (those living in the EIGHTS’ NOT ME column).  On the other glove, as the heavyweight prizefighter Muhammad Ali once remarked: “The strongest person in the world is also the loneliest.”  Those who are followers don’t have to do everything alone.

Also, who wants to move away from or stand back to get perspective when that is labeled as diffident, fearful, or avoiding?  Judging FIVES from this frame of mind makes it difficult to recognize and identify with their gifts of discernment, prudence, and calm dispassion.

EIGHTS need to take advantage of their already expansive nature and broaden their self-concept even more to include their NOT ME as well as their ME characteristics.  They might think of themselves as being “fair lovers” or as “bringing justice in a velvet glove” or as being “just and compassionate” or a “servant leader” or “philosopher king or queen.”





 In the NINES’ style some qualities fit within their ego boundary (ME) and some characteristics don’t belong (NOT-ME).  For example:


content upset
laid back ambitious
comfortable edgy
calm hassled
peaceful warrior
open minded opinionated
blend in stand out
laissez faire pushy
low key intense
diplomatic judgmental
allowing controlling
accommodating demanding
unpretentious show off
patient frantic
live and let live change agent
go with the flow goal oriented
outer directed inner directed
inclusive exclusive
procrastinating timely
asleep alert
distracted focused
tolerant bigoted
mediator troublemaker
placid emotionally expressive
stable erratic
unpretentious flamboyant
ecumenical prejudiced
creature of habit unpredictable
enduring explosive
nice nasty


When NINES throw away their unacceptable parts, they find themselves surrounded by irritable, opinionated, harsh, demanding, impatient, pushy people.  No wonder they want to avoid conflict with us and no wonder they are slow to express their opinions or preferences.  What chance do you have being heard by a bunch of bigoted, edgy, judgmental troublemakers?  Or who would want to stir up this nest of hornets?

Notice how the NINES have deposited their anger and assertion into others thereby making these resources unavailable to themselves.  There is considerable focused energy in being alert, intense, ambitious, and goal oriented.  As NINES identify more and more with their moving away from, laid back, other oriented persona, they lose touch with their proactive inner director and change agent.  Yet these are the adaptive qualities of the moving against THREE style that NINES need for balance.  Also NINES place these characteristics in a bad light by seeing them as ambitious, pushy, frantic, etc.

They need to rediscover what is good about being opinionated and pushy.  For example, opinionated pushy people know what they want and go after it.  Perhaps these characteristics need to be relabeled as “single-minded” and “determined.”  That doesn’t sound so bad.

NINES are afraid they won’t be liked or tolerated if they are too intense or too demanding.  If they ask for what they want, they may upset the harmony of the universe.  In fact the cosmos is quite capable of honoring their active force as well as their passive force – even though their caretakers may have gotten anxious around their energy.

For balance NINES can also access the SIXES’ resourceful features.  But they will be reluctant to move in that direction if they perceive phobic SIXES as being bigoted and prejudiced and counter-phobic SIXES as edgy and explosive.  NINES need to get in touch with their affiliative tendencies and move towards the center of the group as opposed to drifting to the fringe and remaining marginally involved.

To embrace both sides of their polarities, NINES need to find an all-inclusive ecumenical self-image.  Perhaps they might think of themselves as being “peaceful warriors” or having “effortless purpose” or expressing “open minded opinions.”

[These and other suggestions can be found in Jerry Wagner’s book: Nine Lenses on the World: the Enneagram Perspective]



Enneagram Styles and Cyclical Psychodynamics: Irony of Ironies

by Jerome Wagner, Ph.D.

It’s always nice to discover that some of your ideas are not totally out in left field, not that there’s anything wrong with being in left field.  I was recently reading a wonderful 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.  And, irony of ironies, the very behavior we employ to ward off the humiliations and contempt we experienced when younger, now bring about the very state of affairs we are trying to avoid.

Don’t be afraid of the phrase “cyclical psychodynamics” obscure as it may sound.  It expresses Wachtel’s upgrading of classical psychodynamics (which is an updating of Freud’s even more classical psychoanalysis.)  The old school said we learn patterns of interacting when we are very young and those patterns get set in stone (or rather in neurons).  They get isolated from new experiences and so don’t change with experience.  We are incarcerated babies in grown-up bodies.

Cyclical psychodynamics says we repeat those archaic patterns in our current relationships but do so in creative ways which are influenced by people we are currently interacting with.  So we can be stuck in our ways but experience can modify our manners.  We can re-wire our neural connections and interact in new, more effective ways.

Wachtel also explores cyclical psychodynamics in his earlier books Psychoanalysis, Behavior Therapy, and the Relational World (1997) and Relational Theory and the Practice of Psychotherapy (2008).

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 wrote in my book Nine Lenses on the World (2010) about how our Enneastyle strategies are over-compensations for the maladaptive beliefs we may have about ourselves and others and how these defensive strategies actually bring about the very condition we are trying to avoid.  Voila!  Cyclical Psychodynamics.

Here are some extended quotes from Wachtel describing his theory.   After them I’d like to 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: ironically our defensive Enneastyle tactics often bring about the very thing we fear and are trying to avoid.  The following 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
  • 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 censure, anger, and avoidance from others.  This confirms the belief the world is imperfect and not the way it should be.

If you anticipate being wrong (or wronged), your defenses will attempt to prove that you are right and the other person is incorrect.  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, appointing their judges.  They will interpret others’ responses as attacks and their righteousness will rise up, proving they are right and others are mistaken.  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 from 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 indispensable, then dependent people might be willing accomplices.  You would reinforce their dependency by serving 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 aggravates the TWO’s schema that people don’t appreciate them enough and so they try harder to please.  Thus a vicious circle is established.

Or you may try to solicit an EIGHT or a FIVE to be an accomplice which would be disastrous since neither will admit to needing your help.  Rejection now!

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 admire them.

If you need to be successful to feel worthwhile, then you need to perform so others will applaud 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 inefficient 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 prone 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.  Or, at least, I will make such an impression on you, that you will never forget me.

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 disposition generally brings about misunderstanding and distancing instead of empathy and connection.  This confirms their 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 they fear most: being left.  Like all of our defensive strategies, FOURS regrettably get what they ask for.

Style Five:          

Valuing privacy and their own personal space, and taking pride in their knowledge and 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.  Being socially awkward and avoiding others may lead to FIVES’ looking odd.  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 speaking.  Or you can be so pedantic that people don’t know what the hell you are talking about and so lose interest.

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.

Paradoxically the FIVES’ defensive strategy brings about what they are tying to avoid.  And if FIVES’ deep down desire is for intimacy, like every other human, then hiding out in their room or keeping people at arms’ length are probably not the ideal behaviors to bring about closeness.

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 others’ 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 caught 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 situation you are attempting to avoid.

Anxiety can be contagious.  Children can catch if from their parents. Or think of mass hysteria where bystanders catch it from each other.  By infecting others with their anxiety, SIXES intensify and spread their fear that the world is dangerous.

A suspicious paranoid attitude generally 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 – customarily creates two embattled sides: your friends and your enemies. Part of SIXES’ auditioning process is to assess who’s for them and who’s against them.  And, ironically, this friend/foe dichotomy generates enemies, perpetuating the drama that the world is perilous.

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.  Initially 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 and limiting.

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 the epistle-writer 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.  On the playground 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.

In order to clear the air, EIGHTS invite others to step into their ring and duke it out. Their belief is that anger reveals who the other really is.  It might also lead to the EIGHTS’ being knocked out, though this is not in their playbook.

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 into submission by intimidation may not be the best approach for establishing mutual 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 (“It doesn’t matter”) and having to assert themselves “All will be well”).

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 express their needs, others won’t realize what they want or will assume they don’t have any particular needs and so will overlook 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 what you want sustains relationships; it doesn’t destroy them or rend the fabric of the universe.

Cyclical psychodynamics theorizes how we keep our old not-so-satisfying interactions going.  Neurosis is not just doing the same thing over and over, thinking something new will happen.  Neurosis also involves auditioning accomplices to keep our narrative playing.  This is usually done out of everyone’s awareness.  Recognizing how we keep our drama on the road gives us an opportunity to end the long and not-so-successful run or at least to alter the lines and ending.

The Enneagram shows how this process proceeds in nine different players.  With the benefit of awareness, we can revise our script and rewire our neurons, thus allowing the show to go on and prosper.  And that’s no irony.


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.

Enneagram Styles And The Cognitive Theory Of George Kelly

by Jerome Wagner, Ph.D.

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.

A Comparison of the Nine Enneagram Personality Styles and Theodore Millons’ Eight Personality Patterns

by Jerome Wagner, Ph.D.

There are several congenial correlations between the nine styles of the Enneagram and the eight personality patterns proposed by Theodore Millon, Ph.D. (1969) who is an influential personality theorist, personality and clinical test developer, and a member of the task force that formulated one of the earliest versions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association. Since the correlations are in the direction one would expect, given the dynamics of each typology, the results provide some concurrent validity for both systems.

Millon devised a typology which defines eight personality patterns. His formulation of the genesis of these personality patterns parallels in many ways the Enneagram conception of the development of ego-fixations, particularly along the lines of Claudio Naranjo’s theorizing (1994). Millon suggests that personality patterns result from an interaction between our genetic dispositions and temperament and our social environment which reinforces, punishes, or ignores our behavioral experiments.  Nature + nurture = personality.

In the first years of life, children engage in a wide variety of spontaneous behaviors. Although they display certain characteristics consonant with their innate or constitutional  dispositions, their way of reacting to others and coping with their environment tends, at first, to be capricious and unpredictable; flexibility and changeability characterize their moods, attitudes, and behaviors. This seemingly random behavior serves an exploratory function; each child is ‘trying out’ and testing during this period alternative modes for coping with his environment.  As time progresses, the child learns which techniques ‘work,’ that is, which of these varied behaviors enable him to achieve his desires and avoid discomforts.  Endowed with a distinctive pattern of capacities, energies and temperaments, which serve as base, he learns specific preferences among activities and goals and, perhaps of greater importance, learns that certain types of behaviors and strategies are especially successful for him in obtaining these goals. In his interaction with parents, siblings, and peers, he learns to discriminate which goals are permissible, which are rewarded and which are not.

Throughout these years, then, a shaping process has taken place in which the range of initially diverse behaviors becomes narrowed, selective and, finally, crystallized into particular preferred modes of seeking and achieving. In time, these behaviors persist and become accentuated; not only are they highly resistant to extinction but they are reinforced by the restrictions and repetitions of a limited social environment, and are perpetuated and intensified by the child’s own perceptions, needs, and actions. Thus, given a continuity in basic biological equipment, and a narrow band of experiences for learning behavioral alternatives, the child develops a distinctive pattern of characteristics that are deeply etched, cannot be eradicated easily and pervade every facet of his functioning. In short, these characteristics are the essence and sum of his personality, his automatic way of perceiving, feeling, thinking and behaving.  (Millon, 1969, p. 221)

Millon describes a personality pattern as:

…those intrinsic and pervasive modes of functioning which emerge from the entire matrix of the individual’s developmental history, and which now characterize his perceptions and ways of dealing with his environment.  We have chosen the term pattern for two reasons: first, to focus on the fact that these behaviors and attitudes derive from the constant and pervasive interaction of both biological dispositions and learned experience; and second, to denote the fact that these personality characteristics are not just a potpourri of unrelated behavior tendencies, but a tightly knit organization of needs, attitudes and behaviors. People may start out in life with random and diverse reactions, but the repetitive sequence of reinforcing experiences to which they are exposed gradually narrows their repertoire to certain habitual strategies, perceptions and behavior which become prepotent, and come to characterize their distinctive and consistent way of relating to the world.  (Millon, 1969, p. 221)

In Millon’s theory the individual’s personality pattern becomes the foundation for his or her capacity to function in a mentally healthy or unhealthy way:

When an individual displays an ability to cope with his environment in a flexible and adaptive manner and when his characteristic perceptions and behaviors foster increments in personal gratification, then he may be said to possess a normal and healthy personality pattern.  Conversely, when average responsibilities and everyday relationships are responded to inflexibly or defectively, or when the individual’s characteristic perceptions and behaviors foster increments in personal discomfort or curtail his opportunities to learn and grow, then a pathological personality pattern may be said to exist. (Millon, 1969, p. 222).

I think many Enneagram theorists would agree that health involves being flexible and adaptable enough to access the internal resources of all nine Enneagram styles to bring them to bear on whatever environmental exigencies are present.  We have many tools in our toolkit, not just a hammer, to deal with our problems. Or to use another analogy, given the requirements of the situation, we have nine players on our inner team that we can bring into the game instead of just the two or three with whom we are most familiar and comfortable.

Sometimes we are required to be exact as when performing brain surgery; sometimes we need to be unfocused and brooding to allow a new solution to arise from our unconscious.  There are times when we need to bring force to bear on a situation when justice requires an intervention; there are times when we need to go with the flow, allowing nature to take its course. Sometimes we need to keep the law to avoid intersection collisions; sometimes we need to break the law to overcome tyranny. Sometimes we need to use our head; and sometimes our heart. There is a time to be serious and a time to play; a time to weep and a time to rejoice.

The Study

Some time ago (Wagner, 1981) I conducted a research project comparing the nine Enneagram styles with Theodore Millon’s (1969) eight personality types.  While it’s not easy squeezing nine into eight, I did find some significant correlations between the two systems with each Enneagram style showing a distinct profile of Millon’s eight patterns. Among other things, the differences help tease out how Enneagram look-alikes are not-alike. And even though the study was done in the past, the comparisons should still hold up in the present.

The sample consisted of 390 subjects, combined from various groups.  There were 311 women and 79 men, with ages ranging from 19-82. The age distribution of the sample followed a bell curve with most of the subjects in the 20-60 age range.

For this study I constructed a 135 item Enneagram Personality Inventory, (Wagner, 1981) to assess Enneagram styles and used the 150 item Millon-Illinois Self-Report Inventory (Millon, 1974) to determine Millon’s types. The MISRI was designed for nonclinical normal adults. Millon went on to develop the Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory (MCMI) to measure a more pathological clinical population.

I eventually developed a questionnaire, the Wagner Enneagram Personality Style Scales (1999) with much more robust reliability and validity.

Even with the lower reliability and validity of these early instruments, all of the differences among the Enneagram types and Millon scales were significantly different beyond the .0001 level except on Millon’s active-ambivalent scale 8 which at .05 was still statistically significant. Apparently a little ambivalence shows up even in testing.

I’ll give a brief summary of Millon’s theory of types along with his description of the eight patterns and then show how the Enneagram styles scored in his system.

Millon’s Types

Millon describes eight personality patterns based on whether we seek comfort and satisfaction (positive reinforcement) or attempt to avoid emotional pain and distress (negative reinforcement); whether we seek satisfactions from outside or within ourselves; and whether we actively or passively go about maximizing rewards and minimizing pain. Individuals who seem aroused and attentive, arranging and manipulating life events to achieve gratification and avoid discomfort, display an active pattern; those who seem apathetic, restrained, yielding, resigned, or seemingly content to allow events to take their own course without personal regulation or control, possess a passive pattern.

Detached types  are those persons who fail to seek positive reinforcements and who experience few rewards or satisfactions in life, be it from self or others.

1. Passive-detached/apathetic/asocial personalities seek neither to gain positive reinforcements nor to avoid negative reinforcements. Their self-image is “I am complacent “and their interpersonal attitude is indifference. They may come from an impersonal family background and their temperamental disposition is phlegmatic or anhedonic.

High scorers tend to keep to themselves, appearing rather quiet and unemotional. They are undemanding, even-handed, fair-minded and not easily excited. They tend not to get emotionally involved with others and do not often feel strongly about things. They do not avoid other people, but simply feel indifferent about having others around.

2. Active-detached/sensitive/avoidant personalities do not seek positive reinforcements from others or from themselves but do seek to avoid negative ones. Their self-image is “I am alienated” and their interpersonal attitude is distrustful. They may have experienced parental rejection and deprecation in their family background and their temperamental disposition is threctic, representing a fearfulness and vulnerability to threat,  sensitivity to stimulation, and tenseness and hyperirritability.

High scorers tend to be quite shy or socially ill-at-ease with others. These persons would like to be close to people but have learned that it is better to maintain one’s distance and not to trust the friendship of others. Although they often feel lonely, they avoid close interpersonal contact, often fearing rejection and tending to keep their sometimes very strong feelings to themselves. They may be tense and cranky and withdrawing and can provoke hostile and rejecting attitudes from others.

Dependent types are those individuals who experience reinforcements from sources other than themselves and who measure their satisfactions or discomforts by how others react to or feel about them.

3. Passive-dependent/cooperative/submissive personalities wait for others to provide reinforcements. Their self-image is “I am inadequate” and their interpersonal attitude is compliance.  They may have had over-protective parents and their temperament is a combination of melancholic and threctic.

High scorers tend to be soft-hearted, sentimental and kindly in relationships with others. They are extremely reluctant to assert themselves, however, and avoid taking initiative or assuming a leadership role.  They are inclined to be quite dependent on others, preferring to let them take the lead and give direction.  It is typical of them to “play down” their own achievements and to underestimate their abilities. They present a gentle, sad, fearful visage and style that provokes warmth and over-protection from others.

4. Active-dependent /sociable/gregarious personalities manipulate and seduce others to provide reinforcements for them. Their self-image is “I am sociable” and their interpersonal attitude is seductive. In their families they experienced irregular positive reinforcements of good behaviors and no negative reinforcement for bad behavior. There was a variety of sources of gratification. Millon did not assign a temperamental label for this pattern – though sanguine might describe this approach.

High scorers are talkative, socially charming and frequently dramatic or emotionally expressive.  They tend to have strong, but usually brief relationships with others. These persons always look for new excitements and interesting experiences. They often find themselves becoming bored with routine and longstanding relationships. They are active and responsive and provoke varied and stimulating reactions from others.

Independent types are persons who experience reinforcements primarily from themselves, whose gratification is gauged primarily in terms of their own values and desires with little reference to the concerns and wishes of others.

5. Passive-independent/self-assured/narcissistic personalities are self-satisfied and content to leave matters be. Their self image is “I am admirable” and their interpersonal attitude is exploitive. Pampered and indulged, they experienced non-contingent positive reinforcement in their families. Here, again, Millon assigns no temperamental disposition, though sanguine might fit.

High scorers tend to be quite confident in their abilities and are often seen by others as self-centered and egocentric. They rarely doubt their own self-worth and act in a self-assured manner.  These persons tend to take others for granted and often do not share or concern themselves with the needs of those to whom they relate.

6. Active-independent/assertive/aggressive personalities seek to arrogate more power to themselves. Their self image is “I am assertive” and their interpersonal attitude is vindictive. They may have experienced non-contingent punishment in their families and their temperament is choleric and parmic, representing a fearless, aggressive, thick-skinned approach to life.

High scorers are strong-willed and tough minded, tending to lead and dominate others. They frequently question the abilities of others and prefer to take over responsibility and direction in most situations. They are often blunt and unkind, tending to be impatient with the problems of weaknesses of others.   They are both suspicious of others and confident in their powers of self-sufficiency. Their acting out, aggressive, impulsive, intrusive, and incorrigible behavior provokes aggression from others.

Ambivalent types are those who have conflicting attitudes about dependence and independence, who experience considerable conflict over whether to be guided by what others say and wish or to follow their own opposing desires and needs.

7. Passive-ambivalent/disciplined/conforming personalities submerge their desire for independence and behave in an overly acquiescent manner. They are dependent on the outside and independent on the inside. Their self image is “I am conscientious” and their interpersonal attitude is respectful. They had over-controlling parents who scheduled them and experienced regular contingent punishment. Their temperament is a combination of threctic-choleric-anhedonic.

High scorers are very serious-minded, efficient, and rule-conscious persons who try to do the “right” and “proper” things. They tend to keep their emotions under check and dislike “showy” people. They prefer to live their lives in a very orderly and well-planned fashion, avoiding unpredictable and unexpected situations. They restrain their anger out of fear. They know what they should not do, but not what they can do.

8. Active-ambivalent/unpredictable/negativistic personalities vacillate erratic-ally from a position of dependence to a position of independence. Their self image is “I am discontented” and their interpersonal attitude is vacillation.  They experienced parental inconsistency and so were unable to predict the consequences of their behavior. Their temperament is a combination of threctic-melancholic-choleric.

High scorers tend to be discontent and pessimistic. They often find themselves behaving unpredictably: sometimes being out-going and enthusiastic; then changing quickly to the opposite. They often feel guilt about their moodiness, apologize to the people involved, but soon are just as moody as ever.   As children who were difficult to schedule, irritable, sullen, peevish, testy, fretful, and nervous, they provoked confusion and vacillation in their parents and now, as adults, in others.

Enneagram Types

Now let’s take the Enneagram styles in turn and see how they correlated with Millon’s types.  Each Enneatype has a distinct configuration of Millon’s patterns.

Enneagram Style One (N=71) practically paralleled the pattern of all the Enneagram types averaged together (N=390).  In the graphs, the dotted line is the average of all the Enneatypes while the solid line is the average of each particular Enneagram type.  Ones scored highest on Millon’s passive-ambivalent scale (7), which is his disciplined or conforming pattern.  These individuals are described by Millon as being serious-minded, efficient, and rule-conscious persons who try to do the “right” and “proper” things.  They are perfectionistic, compulsive, legalistic, righteous, and moralistic.  They adopt a “good boy,” “good girl” image.  In their childhood they were taught a deep sense of responsibility to others and a feeling of guilt when these responsibilities have not been met.  As youngsters they were moralized to inhibit their natural inclinations toward frivolous play and impulse gratification.  These are all remarkable One-like characterizations.

Enneagram Style Two (N=83) scored highest on Millon’s passive-dependent personality scale (3).  This is the cooperative or submissive type of person.  High scorers tend to be soft-hearted, sentimental, and kindly in their relationships with others.  They are inclined to be dependent on others for approval.  Twos also scored higher on Millon’s active-dependent scale (4).  By their helping behavior, they are actively trying to solicit the approval of others.  Twos scored lower on Millon’s independent personality scales (Millon 5 and 6) and were also less detached (Millon scales 1 and 2) than the average Enneatype.

Enneagram Style Three (N=28) scored highest on Millon’s passive-independent/self-assured/narcissistic personality pattern (5). High scorers here tend to be quite confident in their abilities and are often seen by others as self-centered and egocentric. They convey a calm, self-assured quality in their social behavior which is sometimes perceived by others as immodest, haughty, cocksure, and arrogant. They exaggerate their powers, transform failure into success, and inflate their self worth. Threes also scored high on Millon’s active independent/gregarious/sociable scale (6). High scorers here are talkative, socially charming, and frequently dramatic or emotionally expressive. Not surprisingly, threes scored low on Millon’s detached patterns (1 and 2) since they move towards and against, not away from people.

Enneagram Style Four (N=28) scored highest on the passive/dependent scale (3).  They are dependent on others’ approval and acceptance, but tend to stand off, waiting for others to notice them and invite them into the group.  They are also high on the active/dependent scale (4). Through their suffering and specialness, they seek to draw others to them. Fours scored low on the independent scales (Millon 5 and 6). They were lower than the average on Millon’s scale 7, the disciplined style.  Fours want to be original, not conforming.  Some of the Fours scored high on Millon’s active-detached scale (2), the sensitive personality. These Fours (like Fives) actively avoid involvement to keep from being misunderstood and hurt.

Enneagram Style Five (N=59) scored higher than the average Enneatypes on Millon’s detached patterns (1 and 2) and lower on Millon’s styles 4 (gregarious), 5 (self-assured) and 6 (assertive). High scorers on the passive-detached/apathetic pattern (Millon 1) tend to keep to themselves, appearing rather quiet and unemotional. They are even-handed, fair-minded, and not easily excited. They tend not to get emotionally involved with others and do not often feel strongly about things. As we shall see, Fives share some of this pattern with their look-alike Nines. Where they differ is their higher elevation on Millon’s style 2 the active-detached/avoidant pattern. High scorers on this scale tend to be shy or socially ill-at-ease with others. These persons would like to be close to people but have learned that it is better to maintain one’s distance and not to trust the friendship of others. This is in contrast to passive-detached asocial individuals (Millon scale 1) who do not avoid other people, but simply feel indifferent about having others around. Avoidant personalities (Millon scale 2) are highly alert to social stimuli and are oversensitive to the moods and feelings of others, especially those which portend rejection and humiliation. While passive-detached personalities (Nines) tend to drift to the shore, active-detached personalities (Fives) head for the hills.

Enneagram Style Six (N=38) scored higher than the average on both the passive and active detached scales (1 and 2) and on the passive-dependent scale (Millon 3) where they competed with the Twos for the highest scores on this cooperative/submissive/compliant scale. Sixes (at least the fearful variety) want to belong in the group and want to be aligned with authority. Sixes were lower than average on the gregarious, self-assured, and assertive scales (Millon 4, 5, 6) and appeared the least aggressive of all the types. In contrast to their Five neighbors, Sixes were less passively-detached Millon scale 1), but more actively-detached (Millon scale 2). Perhaps their fear makes them even more wary and cautious than their hyper-alert neighbors. Sixes were more gregarious (Millon scale 4) but noticeably less self-assured (Millon scale 5) than Fives.

Enneagram Style Seven (N=19) came out less detached (Millon 1 and 2), dependent (Millon 3), and disciplined (Millon 7) than the other Enneagram styles and more gregarious, self-assured, and assertive (Millon 4, 5, 6). This appears to reflect the Sevens’ self-image of “I am O.K.,” their outgoing nature, their liking for parties and social events, and their tendency towards gluttony which would not lead them to a high disciplined score. Interestingly and fittingly the different groups that made up the Seven sample had the most variability amongst themselves of all the Enneagram types. This might have been due to the small sample size or this is what tracking a collection of butterflies looks like.

Enneagram Style Eight (N=39) profile came out almost the opposite of the other Enneagram types – giving new meaning to the term oppositional character.  Eights were decidedly less detached (Millon scales 1 and 2), dependent (Millon scale 3), and conforming (Millon scale 7), while being more gregarious, self-assured, and assertive (Millon scales 4, 5, 6) than the average Enneatype. They displayed a 5 (passive independent), 4 (active dependent), 6 (active independent) pattern for their highest scales but were by far the highest scorers among the Enneagram types on the active independent assertive scale 6. Millon describes high scorers on this scale as strong-willed and tough-minded, tending to lead and dominate others. They frequently question the abilities of others and prefer to take over responsibility and direction in most situations. They are often blunt and unkind and are driven by a need to assert their own superiority. Independence for them stems not so much from a belief in self-worth, as from a fear and mistrust of others. They feel secure only when they are independent of those who may harm and humiliate them. These and further descriptions of the active-independent personality read like they are taken directly from the Eight’s playbook.

Enneagram Style Nine (N=25) profile, in contrast to the Eights but like the Ones, followed the general overall pattern of all the other styles. Apparently even on personality inventories, Nines do not like to differentiate themselves from others. The Nine profile has an affinity to the Enneagram type Five and Six configurations. Like the Fives and Sixes, Nines scored higher on the detached scales (Millon scales 1 and 2). They scored higher on the passive-dependent scale (Millon scale 3) than the average – more so than the Fives but less so than the Sixes. Nines scored lower than the average on the gregarious, self-assured, and assertive scales (Millon 4, 5, and 6). They were more gregarious and assertive than Enneatypes Five and Six and more self-assured than Sixes but less assured than Fives.  Nines, Fives, and Sixes show different elevations in their scales which might help in differentiating them.  Not surprisingly Nines scored lower than the average on the disciplined personality scale (Millon 7). Nines tend to be more “whatever”, relaxed, and loose rather than rigid, uptight, and driven.

As can be seen in the accompanying figures, each Enneagram style has a profile distinct from all the other Enneatypes on Millon’s typology, providing some confirmation that there might indeed be nine distinct Enneagram styles.  Also the correlations among the Enneagram and Millon types are, for the most part, congenial by being in the direction one would expect.  For example Ones are disciplined while Nines, not so much.  This yields some concurrent validity to both systems. These varying profiles also point to some underlying dissimilarities among Enneatype look-alikes.

Enneagram Look-Alikes

Even a cursory knowledge of Millon’s patterns might be useful in distinguishing between Enneagram look-alikes.

Ones and Sixes look alike in that both are conscientious, responsible, rule-abiding, accountable, etc.
But Sixes are more asocial and avoidant and more cooperative than Ones.  And they are less sociable, self-assured, and assertive than Ones. Ones have an edge, however, on being disciplined.

Twos and Sevens look alike when Twos try to cheer you up if they can’t help you and Sevens try to help you if they can’t cheer you up.
Twos and Sevens are about the same when it comes to being asocial and avoidant. Both are below average. But Twos are much more cooperative and much less assertive than Sevens. And they are more disciplined.

Threes and Eights are both problem/solution/action oriented, assertive, energetic, etc.
Both are much less detached than the other Enneatypes. But Threes are more dependent and submissive than Eights; both are equally self-assured but Eights are more aggressive. Threes are considerably more disciplined and less unpredictable. So Eights would be more: “Let’s step on it;” while Threes would be: “Let’s calibrate it.”

Fours and Sevens look alike when Fours are on the manic side of their mood swings though Sevens might decline the invitation to swing down to the melancholy side.
Fours tend to be a little more sensitive than Sevens but not as much as one might expect. Fours are more passive-dependent/cooperative than Sevens but just about as active-dependent/gregarious as Sevens. Fours are less assertive but more disciplined and unpredictable than Sevens.

Fives and Nines are alike in that both are on the sidelines. However Nines have drifted there, while Fives have headed there.
While both Fives and Nines are more detached than the other Enneagram styles, Fives are more asocial and a little more avoidant than Nines. Nines are more submissive than Fives and are more gregarious but a little less self-assured.  Fives are more disciplined than Nines and not as unpredictable.

Readers are invited to explore these Enneagram-Millon profiles to see how Enneatypes differ in their underlying dynamics even though they may look alike on the surface.


Millon, T. (1969)  Modern psychopathology.  Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Co.

Millon, T. (1974)  Millon-Illinois Self-Report Inventory (MISRI).  Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Co.

Naranjo, C. (1994) Character and neurosis: An integrative view. Nevada City, CA: Gateways/IDHHB.

Wagner, J. (1981) A descriptive, reliability, and validity study of the Enneagram personality typology.    Ph.D., 1981, Loyola University, Chicago.  41/11A. GAX 81-09973.

Wagner, J. (1999) Wagner Enneagram Personality Style Scales: Los Angeles: Western Psychological Services.


Narcissism and Enneagram Styles

by Jerome Wagner, Ph.D.

There is some debate about which Enneagram styles display narcissistic tendencies.  Some put Sevens in the narcissistic category; some put Threes in that basket; some say any Enneagram type can manifest narcissistic leanings.  I propose to completely unresolve this issue by presenting some theories about the origins or etiology of narcissism, quoting some theories about which Enneagram styles might express narcissistic tendencies, and in conclusion drawing some inconclusions.

Who Was Narcissus?

Narcissus was a physically perfect young man, the object of desire among the nymphs, for whom he showed no interest.  One nymph, Echo, loved him deeply and one day approached him and was rudely rejected.  In her sham and grief, she perished, fading away, leaving behind only her responsive voice.  The Gods, in deciding to grant the nymphs’ wish for revenge, contrived that Narcissus would also experience the feelings of an unreciprocated love.  One day, looking into a clear mountain pool, Narcissus espied his own image and immediately fell in love, thinking that he was looking at a beautiful water spirit.  Unable to tear himself away from this mirror image, and unable to evoke a response from the reflection, which disappeared every time he attempted to embrace it, he gradually pined away and died. (1986)

What Does a Narcissist Look Like?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR) (2000) gives the following diagnostic criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder:

A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:

  1. Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
  2. Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
  3. Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
  4. Requires excessive admiration
  5. Has a sense of entitlement, e.g., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
  6. Is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
  7. Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
  8. Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her
  9. Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.

What Are Some Theories of Narcissism?

Healthy narcissism is the ability to love yourself and to regard yourself positively.  It is critical for the development of self-esteem.  Narcissistic manifestations are displayed in varied ways across the life cycle and across cultures and need to be evaluated in context before being deemed pathological.  For example, we might be properly delighted when a three-year old spontaneously stands before a group and begins to sing and dance.  On the other hand a thirty-year old performing at every opportunity to get attention and admiration might be considered a bit exhibitionistic and grandiose.

Individuals with excessive narcissism have difficulty maintaining a realistic concept of their own self-worth.  On the one hand they have an inflated and grandiose sense of self-importance.  On the other hand, they may experience a profound sense of worthlessness and propensity toward shame. Their grandiose fantasies of magnificent achievements and their posture of superiority over and contempt for others are compensatory defenses to cover their feelings of unlovableness and vulnerability.

People struggling with narcissistic issues have an excessive need to attain outside support for their self-esteem.  Other people function to inflate and shore up the narcissist’s esteem. This inability to provide an inner support leads to a self-centeredness and arrogance that obscures a subjective experience of emptiness, inferiority, and shame.  The experience of shame is different from that of guilt, which reflects the belief that one has committed a wrongdoing. Shame is the experience of being exposed as not good enough or weak or small.  With guilt the inner voice is within the self (the superego); with shame, the audience is outside the self.  You are losing to the competition and everyone can see it.

Narcissistic individuals have relationships with others that are often superficial and shallow, lack emotional depth, and are not mutual.  They may have little capacity for empathy, can be insensitive to others’ needs, and are exploitative in their behavior.  Remorse and gratitude are frequently absent from their response repertoire.  They may seek out associations with individuals whom they perceive as perfect, basking in the glory of their intelligence, success, or fame.  This is what Heinz Kohut meant by “idealizing” the other in relationships.  Or they may search for admirers who can gratify their need for affirmation.  Kohut described this as seeking “mirroring.”  Relationships become organized around the person’s needs for attention, with little acknowledgment that others may have needs and interests markedly different from their own.

Psychodynamically oriented theorists have offered their opinions about the etiology of narcissism.  Freud, whose drive model has us pushed from within by sexual and aggressive impulses, attributed narcissistic problems to a withdrawal of libido from the outer world into the ego.  The individual retreats from attachments to others to a state of self-absorption. This may be caused by trauma or by frustrations in relationships with others.  He thought an infant normally evolves from a stage of autoeroticism or self-love to a love for others.

Heinz Kohut, whose interpersonal model has us influenced by our caretakers, thought about pathology in terms of environmental deficits, provisions that were lacking as we were growing up.  If our early relationships didn’t provide us with adequate mirroring or someone to look up to or someone to feel similar to, then we lack the validation, admiration, and modeling necessary for the development of healthy self-esteem.  We then become vulnerable to feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy and turn to others for affirmation.  When we receive adequate mirroring, idealizing, and twinning, then the natural grandiose omnipotence of the two-year old eventually gets toned down to the healthy self-respect and self-efficacy of the twenty-year old.

Which Enneagram Styles Are Narcissistic?

Relying on Theodore Millon’s description of the narcissistic personality, Claudio Naranjo (1994) refers to Enneastyle Seven as the narcissist.

According to Millon (1981), narcissism conveys a calm and self-assured quality in social behavior. The narcissist’s seemingly untroubled and self-satisfied air is viewed by some as a sign of confident equanimity. For others these behaviors reflect immodesty, presumptuousness, pretentiousness, and a haughty, snobbish, cocksure, and arrogant way of relating to people.

Narcissists are cognitively expansive and place few limits on either their fantasies or rationalizations.  Their imagination is left to run free of the constraints of reality or the views of others.  Or as a Seven recently said: “I’ve never felt constrained by logic.”  Narcissists experience a pervasive sense of well being in their everyday life, of buoyancy of mood and an optimism of outlook.  Their affect, though based often on their semi-grandiose distortion of reality, is generally relaxed if not cheerful and carefree.  Should the balloon burst, however, there is a rapid turn to either an edgy irritability and annoyance with others (a trip over to the downside of the One Enneastyle) or to repeated bouts of dejection that are characterized by feeling humiliated and empty (a visit to the downside of the Five Enneastyle.)

Many of these characterizations of narcissism fit the Seven Style.

Naranjo also attributes some narcissistic tendencies to Enneastyle Three which he labels the “Marketing Personality,” using the typology of Erich Fromm.   In his presentation of the Three, Naranjo quotes Karen Horney’s description of the narcissist:

“I take (narcissism) here in its original descriptive sense of being in love with one’s idealized image.  More precisely the person is his idealized self and seems to adore it.  This basic attitude gives him the buoyancy or the resiliency entirely lacking in other groups.  It gives him a seeming abundance of self-confidence….He has no (conscious) doubt; he is the anointed, the man of destiny, the prophet, the great giver, the benefactor of mankind.  All of this contains a grain of truth.  He often is gifted beyond average, with early and easily-won distinctions, and sometimes was the favored and admired child.  This unquestioned belief in his greatness and uniqueness is the key to understanding him.  His buoyancy and perennial youthfulness stem from this source.  So does his often-fascinating charm.  Yet clearly, his gifts notwithstanding, he stands on precarious ground.  He may speak incessantly of his exploits or of his wonderful qualities and needs endless confirmation of his estimate of himself in the form of admiration and devotion.  His feeling of mastery lies in his conviction that there is nothing he cannot do and no one he cannot win.” (1991)

These descriptions certainly resonate with some characteristics of the Three.

What Are Some Conclusions?

So which Enneagram style is the narcissist?  The Seven?  The Three?  Both?  Neither?  Or can any Enneagram style be narcissistic?  I think it depends on whether you consider narcissism from a developmental perspective or from a characterological perspective.  Although, this is probably a false dichotomy since character and development interact.

If you think of narcissism as developing around ages 3-4 in the late rapprochement-early object constancy stage (using Margaret Mahler’s object-relations timeline) or even earlier as Kohut suggests, then narcissism is a defensive life-style that might be deployed by any Enneagram style since we all had those same needs in our early years and anyone’s development may have been arrested at that time.  So Sevens and Threes wouldn’t have any exclusive claims on this disorder.  They just might manifest it in their characteristic ways.

If you think of narcissism as a characterological issue, then certain genetic or temperamental dispositions might have lead to a narcissistic solution (7,3) to one’s developmental vicissitudes as opposed to a schizoid solution (5) or an aggressive solution (8) or a depressive solution (4),  or a paranoid solution (6), or a histrionic solution (2) or a dependent solution (9) or an obsessive-compulsive solution (1).  All of these solutions are found in the DSM-IV-TR’s section on Axis II Personality Disorders.

Object-relations theorists would remind us that these disorders likely originate during particular periods of our developmental journey.

I think there are enough varying theories about the etiology and portrayal of narcissism that you could probably argue for any position you’d like.   The Enneagram theory developed without the assistance of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual and the DSM didn’t know about the Enneagram types when it was formulated.   So any compatibilities and overlap between the two systems may lie as much in the mind of the correlator as in the individuals being diagnosed.

My slightly skeptical stance also suspects that any research would only confirm the paradigm of the researcher.  Any measures of narcissism would be based on the test constructor’s theory of narcissism just as Enneagram assessments are based on the premises of Enneagram inventory constructors.  So given the somewhat subjective status of our knowledge of narcissism and the Enneagram, I would be cautious and humble about declaring who’s a narcissist and who isn’t.  My own narcissism inclines me to believe, of course, that this conclusion is the correct one.


American Psychiatric Association (2000). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision.  Washington, D.C.:  American Psychiatric Press.

Cooper, A.M. (1986).  Narcissism.  In Essential Papers on Narcissism, ed. A.P. Morrison, p. 112. New York: New York University Press.

Horney, Karen (1991).  Neurosis and Human Growth.  New York: W.W. Norton & Co.

Millon, Theodore (1981). Disorders of Personality: DSM-III Axis II.  New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Naranjo, Claudio (1994).  Character and Neurosis.  Nevada City, CA: Gateways/IDHHB.

History of the Enneagram

by Jerome Wagner, Ph.D.

A recently popularized typology which is moving into the mainstream in personal growth, therapy, spirituality, education and business arenas is the ENNEAGRAM (Any-a-gram). In Greek Ennea means nine and gram means point . The word refers to a circle inscribed by nine points which is used as a symbol to arrange and depict nine personality styles. In its current formulations, the Enneagram brings together insights of perennial wisdom and findings of modern psychology. The Enneagram figure is derived from arithmology while the nine personality styles are validated by experiential observations.

The roots of the Enneagram are disputed. Some authors believe they have found variations of the Enneagram symbol in the sacred geometry of the Pythagorians who 4000 years ago were interested in the deeper meaning and significance of numbers. This line of mystical mathematics was passed on through Plato, his disciple Plotinus, and subsequent neo-Platonists.

Some believe this tradition found its way into esoteric Judaism through Philo, a Jewish neo-Platonist philosopher, where it later appears as the Tree of Life in the Cabalistic symbolism of ninefoldness.

Variations of this symbol also appear in Islamic Sufi traditions, perhaps arriving there through the Arabian philosopher al-Ghazzali. Around the fourteenth century the Naqshbandi Order of Sufism, variously known as the “Brotherhood of the Bees” (because they collected and stored knowledge) and the “Symbolists” (because they taught through symbols) is said to have preserved and passed on the Enneagram symbol.

Speculation has it the Enneagram found its way into esoteric Christianity through Pseudo-Dionysius (who was influenced by the neo-Platonists) and through the mystic Ramon Lull (who was influenced by his Islamic studies.)

On the frontispiece of a textbook written in the seventeenth century by the Jesuit mathematician and student of arithmology Athanasius Kircher, an Enneagram-like figure appears.

More recently George Gurdjieff (1879-1949), a Russian teacher of esoteric knowledge and a contemporary of Freud, used the Enneagram to explain the laws involved in the creation and unfolding of all the aspects of the universe. He alludes to his introduction to the Enneagram in the 1920’s during his visit to the Sufi Sarmouni monastery in Afghanistan. This is the site of the Naqshbandi Order mentioned earlier. Quite appropriately, it is located near a great East-West trade route, where not only goods but also ideas crossed regularly.

In yet another culture and part of the globe, the Enneagram was taught by Oscar Ichazo (1976; 1982) as part of his Arica Training in South America. He found that the Enneagram (or Enneagon, as he calls the nine-sided figure) organizes comprehensively the various laws operating in the human person. So while Gurdjieff applied the Enneagram’s process to all of reality, including a rudimentary application to the human person, Ichazo made use of the Enneagram figure and dynamics to explain more fully the functioning of the human psyche. Ichazo claims to have arrived at his understanding of the Enneagram through his own independent studies and research.

Claudio Naranjo (1990; 1994), a Chilean psychologist, learned the tradition from Oscar Ichazo and brought the Enneagram further into Western psychology by reframing its concepts in contemporary psychological language. Naranjo elaborated and codified Ichazo’s explorations of the human personality still further.

In the early 1970’s Robert Ochs, S.J. and Helen Palmer (1988; 1995) studied the Enneagram system of personality with Naranjo. Through Ochs the Enneagram was introduced to various Christian communities, where Jerome Wagner, Maria Beesing, Robert Nogosek, and Patrick O’Leary (1984), Don Riso (1987; 1990), Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert (1990; 1992), Kathleen Hurley and Ted Donson (1991; 1993), Suzanne Zuercher (1992; 1993), et. al. became acquainted with it. These and other authors promulgated the Enneagram to a broader spiritual, psychological, educational, business and commercial audience.

While the trail of the Enneagram grows less distinct before Ichazo, and the exact transmission of the symbol remains unclear, what becomes evident is that the parameters of the person as viewed through the lens of the Enneagram theory have been recognized in some fashion across ages and centuries and across cultures, races, and genders. The Enneagram taps into something universal in the nature and functioning of human beings. The fact that people from such varied places as Africa, Japan, Korea, India, Europe, North and South America, Russia, et. al., can recognize these nine styles in their native cultures speaks to the generalizability of the Enneagram system.

Values and Visions

by Jerome Wagner, Ph.D.

At the heart of each person’s style lie certain strengths and capabilities that enable us to survive and thrive. We experience these energizers as values or ideals. While all of these strengths and values are virtually or potentially present in our core self and while we are capable of appreciating and actualizing all of them, temperamentally we favor some over others and our values stack into a hierarchy, with one or a few being more potent than others. These values are the motivating and organizing tendencies that become central for each personality style, guiding our energies, perceptions, attitudes, emotional responses, and behaviors. They lie at the root of who we are and who we are striving to become.

To discover what are your cardinal value tendencies, you might reflect on what you would do if you only had one year to live. Where you put your time and energy tells you what you value.

Values orient and focus our vision.  They tell us what’s important, what to organize our life around, what to live for.

From the Enneagram perspective there are nine sets of values and visions that appear as the following styles:

Style One: You value and are attracted to goodness. You envision making the world a better place to live in. You want to realize all of your potentials and help others actualize theirs.

Style Two: You value and are attracted to love. You envision making the world a more loving place to live in. You want to foster relationships

Style Three: You are attracted to and value productivity, industry, competence. You envision making the world more productive, organized, efficient and smooth running. You want to really make it a cosmos, a harmonious and orderly system.

Style Four: You are highly individual and value originality and uniqueness. You envision putting your personal touch on everything you are involved in. You also value beauty and want to make the world a more beautiful place to live in.

Style Five: You value and are attracted to wisdom, understanding, knowledge, truth. You envision discovering what is real, understanding the world, and making it more intelligible. You want to make the world a more enlightened place.

Style Six: You are attracted to and value loyalty. You stand by your commitments. You envision making the world a safer, more secure, more reliable, more trustworthy place to live in.

Style Seven: You want to enjoy life and experience all its possibilities. You value joy and were born to play. You envision making the world a more delightful place to live in.

Style Eight: You are attracted to, appreciate, and effectively use power. You envision using your strength to influence others and bring about a more just world where power and resources are equitably distributed. You want to live life fully and freely.

Style Nine: You value and seek peace, harmony, unity. You seek to make the world a more harmonious ecumenical place to live in. You want to feel at one and at home.

Values and Proficiencies

by Jerome Wagner, Ph.D.

Our values and visions give us an intuitive perceptual and behavioral edge. Each of the nine styles possesses an intuitive capacity to see certain realities very clearly and demonstrates a particular facility in their valued domain.

  1. The Good Person has high standards and ideals, intuitively senses how things could be, recognizes where they currently are, and instinctively nudges reality from a less perfect to a more perfect state. They naturally strive for excellence.
  2. The Loving Person is naturally empathic, sensitive to others’ needs, and generous with their time and energy.
  3. The Effective Person is naturally well organized, knows how to set goals and work towards them, and accomplishes things efficiently. They have an uncanny sense for packaging and marketing their image and product.
  4. The Sensitive Person has an aesthetic sense for appreciating and expressing beauty. They have an innate sense for quality. Their sensibility easily puts them in touch with their own and others’ moods. They are particularly attuned to pain and suffering.
  5. The Wise Person can easily detach and be observant. They naturally analyze to get to the heart of the matter and synthesize to get the whole picture.
  6. The Loyal Person gives their word and keeps it. They hold tenaciously to what they believe in and have committed themselves to. They intuitively sense what might go wrong. They have a sixth sense for danger.
  7. The Joyful Person can facilely find the good in everything. They intuitively sense what might go right. They possess a natural childlike responsiveness, optimism and spontaneity. They are also adept at seeing into the future and visioning possibilities.
  8. The Powerful Person intuitively senses where power resides. They understand power and know how to get, keep, and use it. Sensitive to justice and injustice, they are naturally self assured, magnanimous, and protectors of the underdog.
  9. The Peaceful Person has an intuitive sense for when things fit together. They are natural conciliators and easily go with the flow. They have an uncanny ability to merge with the people around them.

A 3-V View of The Enneagram: Values, Visions, and Vulnerabilities

by Jerome Wagner, Ph.D.

When I was first introduced to the Enneagram, we got only the bad stuff — the distortions, fixations, compulsions, exaggerations, vices, bad breath, etc. When I, in turn, presented the Enneagram styles this way, people would ask: “Isn’t there anything good about any of these types?” Apparently there wasn’t.

So I started to wonder: “Well, what is good about these styles?” Is there something at the core of each style that maybe got distorted by its exaggerated expression? I always liked the ancient Greek notion of sin or fault as hamartia, missing the mark. If you aim at a target, but your arrow or gun barrel is bent, you’ll miss the target.

Sin or disorder is being “bent.” Bent doesn’t describe the first state of anything. It implies there was a previous condition. And bent contains possibilities of a future condition: being restored to the original state, remaining the same, or becoming more bent to the point of breaking.

Evil isn’t a separate entity. It’s the corruption of an original good which is susceptible to a possible redemption. Sin and disorder are theological and psychological labels, respectively, for this corruption.

On the psychological disorder side, Andras Angyal (1965), a neo-psychoanalytic therapist, had this to say about neurosis:

The essentially personal healthy features exist not beside but within the neurosis; each neurotic manifestation is a distorted expression of an individually shaped healthy trend. The distortion must be clearly seen and acknowledged, but the healthy core must be found within the distortion itself. (p.228)

When the neurosis is discovered to be an exaggerated version of health, the patient feels less shame and more hopeful.

So what got distorted in the Enneagram styles? What’s the healthy core that ended up misshapen? To know who you really are, go back the way you came. Start with the exaggerated, bent expression of the self and trace it back to its original state.

What does each style really want? What’s of value and importance to each style? And what caused the original valued quality or state to be distorted? The answer to the first two questions leads to the values of each style; the response to the last question points to the vulnerabilities of each style.


If we use a theological paradigm to consider human nature, we might say that each of us is an epiphany of the Divine. From a spiritual point of view, Divinity descends and shows itself through earthly manifestations. While each person, as a child of God, contains all of the characteristics of Divinity, it is our destiny to manifest one or a few of God’s features in a particularly clear fashion. Just as we often say of our human lineage: “She is just like her father;” or “He is just like his mother;” and then go on to specify: “He has his father’s humor;” or “She has her mother’s kindness;” so can we comment about our Divine parentage.

In most religious traditions, God has been variously characterized as Good, Loving, Creator, Original, Wise, Loyal, Joyful, Powerful, Peaceful, etc. While every human person possesses these facets of Divinity, some types are particularly attracted to and spontaneously show forth certain of these attributes. For example, some people are naturally inclined towards being good and perfect as their heavenly father is perfect; while others naturally manifest and are drawn to being loving, or productive, or unique, or wise, or faithful, or playful, or strong, or harmonious.

The Enneagram paradigm sorts the characteristics of Divinity into nine clusters. This is a convention of the system and doesn’t imply it is the only way of thinking about God and certainly doesn’t intend to tell God this is the only way she, he, it, or they can appear. For example, other paradigms prefer to conceptualize God in terms of three or four or ninety-nine.

From a psychological phenomenological point of view, human nature shows up in different ways of being in the world with differing worldviews and accompanying ways of experiencing, perceiving, understanding, evaluating, and responding to the world.

From the Enneagram perspective, these differing ways of living can be grouped into nine lifestyles, again with the disclaimer that other systems might prefer to sort people into five types or eight types or sixteen types or no types.

In the 1920’s Eduard Spranger wrote a book Types of Men (1928) expressing his view that people are best understood through the study of their values. Forty years later Gordon Allport, the father of personality psychology, proposed that our personal values are the basis of our philosophy of life. Using Spranger’s list of six values, Allport, Vernon, and Lindzey (1960) constructed a Study of Values inventory. Spranger’s types are remarkably similar to six Enneatypes. His Social Person is like the Enneagram’s Style Two; his Economic Person mimics Style Three; the Aesthetic Person resonates with Style Four; the Theoretical Person resembles Style Five; the Political Person sounds like Style Eight; and his Religious Person blends into Style Nine. Spranger didn’t catalog the Enneagram’s One, Six, and Seven styles, thus missing out on dedication, security, and fun!

Our motivations and perspectives are influenced by the values we are attracted to and prize. At the heart of each person’s orientation to the world lie certain aptitudes and abilities. We experience these energizing talents as values or ideals. While all of these endowments and values are present as potentialities in our core self and while we are capable of appreciating and actualizing all of them, temperamentally we favor some over others and our values stack into a hierarchy, with one or a few being more potent than others. These values are the motivating and organizing tendencies that become central for each person, guiding our energies, perceptions, attitudes, emotional responses, and behaviors. We organize our life around these values which lie at the root of who we are and who we are striving to become.

Values and Visions

Values orient and focus our vision. They tell us what’s important and what to live for; they give our lives direction and purpose. From the Enneagram perspective, there are nine sets of values and visions that are at the core of our bent or distorting personality styles.

Style One: What do perfectionistists really want? They want to be good persons. They value and are attracted to goodness. They want to realize all their potentials and help others actualize theirs. They envision making the world a better place to live in.

Style Two: What do helpers really want? They want to be loving. They want to nurture others and foster relationships. They value and are attracted to love. They envision making the world a more loving place to live in.

Style Three: What do achievers really want? They are attracted to and value productivity, industry, competence. They envision making the world more productive, organized, efficient and smooth running. They want to really make it a cosmos, a harmonious and orderly system.

Style Four: What do people who aspire to be special really want? They want to be unique individuals who value originality. They envision putting their personal touch on everything they are involved in. They also value beauty and want to make the world a more beautiful place to live in.

Style Five: What do intellectuals really want? They value and are attracted to wisdom, understanding, knowledge, truth. They want to make the world a more enlightened place by discovering what is real and true and making it more intelligible.

Style Six: What do a fearful people really want? They want to make the world a safer, more secure, more reliable, more trustworthy place to live in. They are attracted to and value loyalty and stand by their commitments.

Style Seven: What do epicures really want? They want to enjoy life and experience all its possibilities. They value joy and variety. They envision making the world a more delightful place to live in.

Style Eight: What do bullies and bosses really want? They want to live life fully and freely. They are attracted to, appreciate, and effectively use power. They envision using their strength to influence others and bring about a more just world where power and resources are equitably distributed.

Style Nine: What do peacemakers really want? They want to feel at one and at home. They value peace, harmony, and unity. They envision making the world a more harmonious, ecumenical, and comfortable place to live in.

So what happened to these healthy core values that got them distorted into exaggerated caricatures of themselves? To answer this we need to look at our vulnerabilities.

Values and Vulnerabilities

Vulnerabilities are the tender underbelly of our values. We are most sensitive around those areas where we are naturally gifted and which we most prize. Where our strengths are, there lie our weaknesses. When our values are assailed, discounted, derided, or in any way violated, we feel threatened and frightened. When our strengths are challenged, impugned, distrusted, or dismissed, we feel anxious, guilty, ashamed, and angry.

Every person shares common human needs such as those for security, consistency, esteem, acceptance, etc. When these basic needs are satisfied, then higher needs for self actualization and self transcendence come to the fore and attract our energy.

If certain basic needs are not attended to and fulfilled, then we experience vulnerability around them, accompanied by loss, hurt, fear, and anger. Our energy gathers around these needs to proactively get them met or to reactively shield them, making sure we don’t get re-traumatized or neglected again. The anxiety we experience around our area of vulnerability remains with us throughout our lives and, to a greater or lesser extent, so do the defenses we’ve developed to guard our vulnerable areas to assure we won’t get hurt that same way. Just as our body forms a hard protective scab around a physical wound, so does our personality style form as a protective covering around our emotional vulnerabilities.

Part of our defensive fortification system involves magnifying and exaggerating our strengths. If our strength lies on the sea, we increase our navy; if our strength lies on land, we bulk up our army; if our advantage lies in the air, we buy more planes. Or we double the width of our walls, moats, head size, waist-line, etc. Under attack we become more perfect, helping, successful, special, distant, faithful, scattered, aggressive, automatic, etc.

Take Clare, for example, who identifies herself as a ONE. When she was in the first grade, her teacher told the class to draw a picture of a person and fill it in with their favorite color. Clare really liked orange and so she colored her picture of a little girl orange. When she looked at her creation, she said: “I like this.” “This is good.” Apparently Yahweh had the same reaction when s/he stood back and reflected on the universe. So the ONES’ spontaneous judgment coming from their authentic self is: “It’s good!”

The teacher asked the class to hand in their pictures and began looking through them. Clare hoped she would like her drawing and maybe even show it to the class. Sure enough that’s just what the teacher did. She held up Clare’s picture and asked the class if they had ever seen an orange person. Wasn’t it odd that someone would draw a person orange? Why would anyone draw an orange person? She then put Clare’s picture down and went through some other drawings.

So now Clare felt ashamed, having been publicly humiliated. There are several ways she could have responded to this event, depending on how resilient she was and depending on what personality style she might be. If she were an EIGHT, she could put out a contract on the teacher and that would be the end of the matter. If she were a SIX, she could call her father, or better, her father’s attorney. If she were a TWO she could ask the teacher if she could stay after school and clean the boards for her. As a ONE she could decide to roll with the punches and affirm that she herself was O.K. and that the teacher was having a bad day. Actually the teacher had many bad days and was fired at the end of the year. But the injury was done.

As a little ONE, Clare decided that she would do all she could to make sure she wouldn’t be hurt this way again. At first the locus of evaluation was inside her and she considered her work to be good. Since the locus of evaluation had been removed from her and now resided in the teacher, she had to ascertain what were the expectations of her teacher so she could live up to them. The next time the teacher said color your figure with your favorite color, Clare would inquire: “Just what colors did you have in mind?” What are your expectations for this picture or this paper? What is the job description for this position? What are the standard operating procedures of this company that I’m expected to comply with?”

Also Clare would scrutinize her work over and over to make sure it was high quality and up to standards. Actually her standards became higher than anyone else’s and so any external criticism of her productions would pale in comparison to her own critical appraisals. In short, Clare was becoming a little perfectionist, adhering to the maxim: “If you’re perfect, you can’t be criticized.”

What have other authors said about vulnerabilities?

Vulnerabilities and Interpersonal Relations

Michael Balint, a British object relations analyst, labels these areas of sensitivity basic faults (1979). D.W. Winnicott, a fellow object relations theorist, calls them primary agonies (1986). Susan Nathanson Elkind (1992) refers to them as primary vulnerabilities.

One broad area these vulnerabilities touch is our sense of self. We want to experience ourselves as whole, lively, cohesive, continuous, and worthwhile. We feel vulnerable and anxious when we experience our self as partial, deflated, fragmented, disintegrated, diffused, or worthless.

Another general area of vulnerability has to do with our relationships. We seek to maintain, preserve, and enhance the bonds and connections we have with significant other people in our lives. We feel vulnerable and anxious when we experience separation, abandonment, neglect, rejection, betrayal, or being unwanted.

Since we are selves-in-relation, we want to remain in relationship while striving to separate and individuate our selves. Throughout our lives we seek to balance this polarity of autonomy and communion.

The areas of vulnerability which each of us are susceptible to result from the interaction between our innate inheritance (our temperament, constitution, character, biological endowment) and our environment (mainly represented by our primary caretakers.)

Through the interactions between what we bring with us into the world and who and what we meet in the world, we learn which behaviors, feelings, thoughts and images will preserve and enhance our connections to others, maintain a coherent sense of ourselves, and nurture and protect those values we are naturally attracted to. These mental inner object relations or representations of self-other-interactions become templates or maps for guiding our relationships for the rest of our lives.

All of us share these basic human needs and we are all exposed to these primary vulnerabilities. How acute, disturbing, disruptive, and anxiety provoking they become depends on our nervous system and how we were raised.

If our constitution is basically healthy and hearty, we can negotiate these vulnerabilities and remain whole and connected.

When we are born into an “average expectable environment” and our parents or caretakers are “good enough,” we will still experience these primary vulnerabilities but will do so in the company of loving advocates and guides. And we can negotiate these vulnerabilities with resilience and confidence and a tolerable dose of anxiety.

But if our constitution is enfeebled and/or our parents had their own share of primary vulnerabilities that they weren’t equipped to deal with, then we will be exposed to these vulnerable areas without someone to help us through them, someone who holds us and processes these vulnerabilities for us until we learn to do it for ourselves.

Being healthy doesn’t mean being without needs and vulnerabilities. It involves recognizing and acknowledging our needs and then effectively negotiating to get them met. A less resourceful approach is to build a battlement around our vulnerable areas, which keeps us safe and secure, but doesn’t get our needs met. People living in fortresses eventually run out of supplies or become bored to death.

In some spiritual traditions, such as those congenial to the Enneagram, this resourceful self is called our essence while the less-resourceful self is called personality. Essence is our original self; personality is our compensatory caricature self.

Essence is proactive, leading us toward our values. Personality is reactive, putting up protective barriers around our primary vulnerabilities to make sure we don’t get hurt again.

Much “inner child” work has to do with uncovering and healing the wounds and vulnerabilities we sustained and endured as we were growing up. We discover where the child within us is hiding, how she hides herself, what she is hiding from, and what she really needs for herself. By suggesting where our sensitivities lie, the Enneagram model can be a useful guide in our search for and reconnection with our inner child with his or her fears, vulnerabilities and defenses.

Vulnerabilities and Personality Styles

The Enneagram perspective points to nine clusters of primary vulnerabilities that naturally accompany nine sets of values. The values, vulnerabilities, and compensatory strategies of the nine personality paradigms are summarized below. A fuller description of how each type deals with these vulnerabilities will follow.

One Sore Spots — 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.

Two Sore Spots — 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.

Three Sore Spots — 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.

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

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

Six Sore Spots — 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.

Seven Sore Spots — Valuing enjoyment, freedom, and variety and taking pride in being upbeat and resourceful, SEVENS are brought down when their options are limited. They are deflated 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 experience as much as life has to offer.

Eight Sore Spots — 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, won’t feel weak, and won’t be taken advantage of.

Nine Sore Spots — 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 — which might disrupt the flow of the universe.

To summarize what we’ve said so far: Values tell us what’s important to us and what to look for. Vulnerabilities tell us what’s threatening to us and what to look out for. Both influence and guide our vision or world view, our outlook on and orientation to the world.

When we are motivated by and focused on what we genuinely value, our vision tends to be clear, adaptive, and aligned with reality. Our values intuitively lead us to what is really there.

When we are focused on our vulnerabilities and what we are afraid of, our perceptions are more likely to be opaque, maladaptive, and distorting of reality. We fantasize what we are afraid is there or what we expect to be there.

Let’s look more closely at the vulnerabilities and defensive maneuvers of the nine styles and see what the Enneagram suggests are more effective responses to perceived danger and threats.

Style One: the Good Person

The primary vulnerability for ONES, the interpersonal transaction they are most sensitized to, is being criticized. Being found at fault is hurtful, shameful, threatening, damaging, and the pain ONES most want to escape. To avoid being censured, with the wounding and possible rejection it entails, is the raison d’être of their personality.

ONES are also quite sensitive about being wronged as well as being wrong. Their radar scans for any signs of injustice towards others or themselves.

When this area of vulnerability is touched, some underlying maladaptive schemas may get triggered:

“I’m never good enough.”

“I’m not perfect.”

“I’m wrong.”

“I’m the worst ever.”

“I’m not deserving.”

“I must work hard.”

“If things are easy, they’re not worthwhile.”

“Process is bad. Only a perfect product is good.”

When ONES’ assess that they are not right or good enough, or when their inner censors pick up the scent of being judged to be wrong, their panoply of defensive maneuvers goes into action. The banner of their idealized self image “I am right” is unfurled and waved in your face; their righteous anger and resentment come front and center to energize them and guard the gates of their self-esteem; their defense mechanism of reaction formation is deployed to insure they do the right thing and to assure that they are right and you are wrong; they cover their flanks and screen their awareness lest any unacceptable faults enter their field of consciousness.

We can tell when our area of primary vulnerability has been breached when we mobilize for war with minimal provocations.

At this time of perceived maximum threat, the Enneagram suggests that ONES need to shift out of the “red alert” sounded by their ego and shift into their essence. They need to stay centered in their real self in the here and now, switch from critical judgmental mode to aware and discerning mode, and remind themselves to remain serene. From this objective resourceful state they have a clear perspective and multiple options to care for their primary vulnerability. Acting from their stressed-out less-resourceful subjective state gives them a distorted view and limited emotional and behavioral responses to protect their vulnerable self.

ONES need to remember that what they really need and want is to be accepted for who they are and all they bring, to feel good and right about themselves, and to be respected and loved. While their defensive strategies keep them safe and guarded against criticism, they don’t guarantee their deeper desires will be met. Ironically their angry “I am right” approach gets in the way of their real needs being satisfied and may even bring about the very thing they fear: more criticism and rejection. The more ONES proclaim their rightness, the more others take potshots at their faults.

Style Two: the Loving Person

Being alone and separate are touchy areas for TWOS. Because they value relationships and being connected, they are particularly sensitive to interpersonal interactions that they perceive to be rejecting, disconnecting, isolating, betraying, or abandoning. Criticism is interpreted as not being loved.

When their vulnerability to rejection is threatened, their maladaptive schemas are likely to arise.

“I’m not important.”

“I’m not useful.”

“I must make myself indispensable.”

“You are more important than I am.”

“I’m not enough without others.”

“If I connect with you, you’ll want to connect with me, and I’ll be validated.”

“I can’t count on or trust others; it’s all up to me.”

“Others’ needs must be met first before mine can be met.”

“It’s not OK to do things for myself.”

“I can’t be separate and independent and be loved and connected at the same time.”

Their defensive strategies are designed to assure that they won’t be rejected and left alone. If they sense any kind of disconnection or abandonment, their false personality takes over and trumpets their self- image of how helpful they are; their pride puffs them up and energizes them for service; they repress their needs and adapt themselves to the needs of others. “If I’m important to you and meet all of your needs, you won’t want to leave me.” Who in their right mind would want to disconnect their indispensable umbilical cord, iron lung, or kidney dialysis machine? TWOS make a living out of being selfobjects, to use Kohut’s terminology, doing for others what others need to internalize and do for themselves.

Paradoxically this very strategy necessitates the TWOS abandoning themselves by leaving their needs behind. Their reactive strategy brings about the very thing they are seeking to avoid. By helping and serving others before others have a chance to spontaneously express their affection for and affirmation of them, TWOS are never sure whether others really care for them or whether the TWOS have once again cajoled this connection and closeness.

And when TWOS are overly solicitous and smothering, others tend to push them away or move back from them. Thus the TWOS’ helping strategy backfires and they end up feeling rejected and abandoned, which is just what they dreaded all along.

So their defensive strategy doesn’t really get them what they want, which is to feel connected, cared for, loved, wanted, and needed for themselves not for what they can do for others.

If TWOS stay centered in their authentic self when their primary vulnerability is threatened, they can tolerate a give and take to occur. Their essence allows the alternating current of love to flow into them as well as out of them. The virtue of humility breaks open the soil of their psyche so it can soak in the caring that is available if only TWOS will drink it in. For grace to be received, TWOS must be open to it. Their inner freedom grants God and grace permission to enter into their real self and then be channeled to others. What God wills more than anything else is that we experience ourselves as loved and then spontaneously return that love.

Style Three: the Effective Person

Like ONES and TWOS, THREES report being sensitive and susceptible to criticism and rejection. They feel hurt when they are not paid attention to or don’t receive recognition. Failures in relationships are the ultimate failures for THREES. Their projects and performances are done to get admiration. And when approval is not evident, THREES interpret this as failure.

THREES also say they feel vulnerable when they are forced to be inactive (through lay offs, health problems, etc.). They then feel useless and not worth anything.

Intimations of failure are likely to trigger their maladaptive schemas.

“I’m not successful enough.”

“I can always be more successful.”

“I’m a failure.”

“I am what I do.”

“I must produce and achieve to be loved.”

“I must fulfill my role and meet others’ expectations.”

“To whom much is given, much is required.”

“I can’t trust other people.”

“I need to trick other people into believing in me.”

When THREES find themselves approaching any kind of failure experience, their defensive mechanisms go into high gear. Their self-image of being successful is highlighted, their marketing strategies pick up, and they deceive themselves and others into believing they are important because of all they can achieve. Since I perform well, please others, and accomplish great things, why would anyone want to reject me?

As THREES get anxious, their self recedes and their image and projects take center stage. Unfortunately this maneuver just prolongs the THREES’ doubt about whether they are loved and affirmed for themselves or for their productions. Their accomplishments, images, and roles come between their real self and others’ real selves.

Paradoxically their defensive approach is ultimately not successful because THREES can’t maintain their charade forever. Eventually others realize the person behind the mask is not present. Interacting through a persona or as a productive machine is not satisfying for either THREES or others. Relationships become distant and separation ensues.

Also THREES get so caught up in all their works and projects that they don’t have time to enjoy the relationships they do have.

And so their defensive maneuvers thwart their genuine needs to feel accepted and affirmed for being vs. for doing, to be liked and acknowledged for themselves, to be authentically responded to, and to have a life that has significance and meaning.

The hope provided by their essence enables THREES to remain truthful and bonded to themselves and others when their primary vulnerability is threatened. Their real self remains present and engaged and is thereby most effective. Only in genuine I-Thou relationships do their real selves get the belonging and affirmation they really desire –which they may have mistakenly sought through the achievements of their false selves, or it-it transactions.

As is the case with every other unsuccessful egoic approach, the way out of our dilemma is the route we least want to take. And so, paradoxically, the way to get unstuck for THREES is failure, the condition they most want to avoid. Yet an inordinate number of THREES say that experiencing failure was precisely what broke the trance of their compulsion. It shattered their successful image and allowed their real self to emerge. The failure of a marriage, the mental illness of a child, the bankruptcy of a company broke their quest for a perfect 300 game and splintered the successful illusion of their personality. While initially awful, failure ultimately brought freedom and peace.

Style Four: the Original Person

A primary vulnerability of all human beings is the fear of being abandoned or rejected. Some personality theorists would say this is the primary human vulnerability. Being abandoned is certainly what a helpless infant and child fears most and this anxiety diminishes very little in adults. It is the area of vulnerability that FOURS are most acutely sensitive to. They are fearful of being left out or left behind and are hurt by feeling neglected, ignored, and uncared for.

FOURS are also vulnerable to feeling flawed, defective, unwanted, and uninteresting. They report they are sensitive to being criticized about their style or taste and are hurt by any lack of recognition of their creativity.

When these areas of vulnerability are breached, the FOURS’ maladaptive schemas are likely to arise.

“I’m not special.”

“I’m lacking, deficient, flawed, missing something.”

“I’m not good enough.”

“I’m not loved or noticed enough.”

“I’m not worthy of being loved.”

“I’m different.”

“No one understands me.”

“I have to go it alone.”

“If I get what others have, I’ll find my real self.”

“A special love will make me whole, complete, valuable.”

Their defensive interpersonal style was established to protect them from being and feeling abandoned. If they fear they are about to be left behind, their self image that they are special and unique gets activated; their envy scans the environment and queries the mirror as to who is the fairest in the land; they repress their ordinariness in favor of becoming out of the ordinary, if not extraordinary. “If I’m special and impact your life in a memorable manner, you will never forget me.”

The ego strategy that FOURS devise to keep themselves from being abandoned leads them to abandon their authentic self which is the real basis of their feeling lost, unnoticed, and unwanted. They miss themselves. FOURS often devalue and reject themselves before others have a chance to. Having left themselves behind, they must seek outside to complete themselves.

As is the case with the “neurotic solutions” of other styles, the FOURS’ strategy of being very intense or very attached may paradoxically scare people away. Or they may reject others first before any suitors predictably abandon them. Tragically their defensive tactics frustrate their authentic desires to belong, to discover themselves, to be original, to be ordinary, and to feel connected to others.

If FOURS remain moored to their essence when their primary vulnerability is threatened, they will be authentic and they can engage the essences of others and feel related. If they move to envy, they contact their false personalities and the false selves of others and feel lonely. Their adaptive self keeps them attuned to reality instead of to their fantasies, while their virtue of equanimity leads them to their commonness that relates FOURS to all other creatures. Ironically, what they fear most, being ordinary, brings them to what they desire most, being connected.

Style Five: the Wise Person

Primary vulnerabilities for FIVES include feeling deprived and emptied; feeling intruded upon and engulfed; feeling exposed and foolish. FIVES report they are also sensitive to becoming too visible, being evaluated or put down, feeling inadequate and lost, being dependent, and living someone else’s life. These are the interpersonal events and early woundings their defensive style hopes to prevent from ever happening again.

If these sensibilities are piqued, the FIVES maladaptive schemas may become operable.

“I don’t understand well enough.”

“I don’t know how.”

“I can’t do it.”

“I’m out of it.”

“I’m inadequate.”

“I’m foolish.”

“I’m bad.”

“I can’t rely on others.”

“The world is non-negotiable.”

“I’m safe if I know enough, don’t feel, don’t get involved, and am left alone.”

FIVES’ hyper alert radar is continually scanning for any signs of invasion, encroachment, expectation, demand, deprivation, or ridicule. If any hint of these threats appears on their radar screen, they deploy their distancing and intellectualizing apparatus, become driven by their greedy grasping for knowledge and invisibility, avoid their feelings and involvement, detach, and move up and away from the scene as helicopter-like as they can.

Unfortunately, FIVES’ strategy brings about the very thing they’re trying to avoid. Since nature abhors a vacuum, as FIVES retreat, others follow. Their withdrawing invites further intrusions. Or if they remain a blank screen and say nothing, others will fill in the blank by projecting their own interpretations about what the FIVES are thinking, feeling, etc. And these projections could be worse than anything the FIVES might actually be imagining.

While the FIVES’ non-resourceful strategy keeps them hidden, at a distance, and safe, it doesn’t get their deeper needs for affiliation met. What FIVES really need and want is to be themselves in relationships, to connect with others without disowning themselves. They want interdependence not hyper-independence; they want privacy but not isolation. FIVES want to understand and be understood and to be appreciated for having knowledge. They want to feel competent — physically, socially, and emotionally as well as intellectually.

When they’re feeling vulnerable, FIVES need to remain centered in their essence (not to be confused with their cave), detaching themselves from their hiding place but staying connected to themselves while engaging with others. They need to shift from withholding to holding with. In other words they need to stay in the game, moving towards or against others instead of moving away from what is happening.

Style Six: the Loyal Person

The primary vulnerability for SIXES is being betrayed and caught off guard. SIXES got surprised, disappointed, and hurt enough times that they developed a personality style to protect them and guarantee they wouldn’t get caught off guard any more. Their wary lens searches for hidden intentions and looks over their shoulder to protect them from sneak attacks.

Betty, a SIX, related this incident that happened to her when she was a little girl. Her father came home one day and told her they were going to the ice cream parlor. Delighted, she excitedly followed him. They got in the car, drove past the ice cream store, and on to the dentist’s office! And you wonder why SIXES are suspicious, why they are ambivalent about trusting authorities, why they seek to know what others really mean, and why they get into the habit of second guessing.

Because Betty thought of herself as a loyal person, she valued being trustworthy and keeping her word. So she was particularly sensitive to any kind of betrayal or abuse of trust. She was disappointed and hurt by her father’s deceit and honed her personality style to make sure she wouldn’t be caught off guard like that again. Exaggerating her vigilant qualities, she cultivated a wary and cautious life style, probing others’ statements to discover what they really meant behind what they said. Like: “What do you mean, ice cream store?” Developing compensatory strengths around her primary vulnerability, Betty became a very loyal hyper-alert, employee.

SIXES also say they are just as sensitive to betraying others as they are to being betrayed. They can be harshly critical of themselves if they disclose others’ confidences or if they are unable to do something they promised to do.

Vulnerable to feelings of insecurity and reactive to inconsistencies in others, SIXES are sensitive to disruptions and a lack of order. They are fearful of being thrown out of the group or of being given responsibilities before they have the abilities. They don’t like to feel trapped and are sensitive to being deceived or treated unfairly and not being heard or listened to.

As these sensitive situations arise, so do the SIXES maladaptive schemas.

“I can’t trust myself.”

“I’m not sure of myself.”

“I doubt myself.”

“I’m ambivalent.”

“I’m vulnerable and damageable.”

“I might disintegrate.”

“The world is threatening and getting too close.”

“Being visible and exposed is dangerous.”

“Nothing is what it seems.”

“There is safety in numbers and structures.”

What SIXES really need and want is to feel safe and secure, to experience consistency, to belong to a group where they feel accepted and OK, to be listened to and have their side taken, to be connected even when they’re afraid.

While their defensive strategy appears to keep them safe, it really doesn’t secure the fulfillment of their deeper needs. Paradoxically their paranoia guarantees that people will begin talking behind their backs. Their fearfulness attracts predators and their doubts incline others to take over for them. The more tightly they constrict their borders, the more potential friends and allies they exclude. Their fears magnify and create dangers where there aren’t any.

And when SIXES sense danger, deception, or betrayal, they deploy their personality arsenal. They scan for enemies and hidden intentions; they heighten their worries and fears to be alert and prepared; they project their own untoward intentions onto others so they feel pure and so they’ll always know what’s coming their way — themselves; they embrace, avoid, or challenge authorities to feel safe.

In the moment their primary vulnerability is breached, when they fear they are being blind sided, caught off guard, or betrayed, SIXES need to seek the sanctuary of their essence where they are ultimately safe and secure, for nothing can disable their essence except their own self doubt. In their real self they find the courage to be and this fortitude provides a resourceful energy for SIXES, enabling them to feel their fears and deal with them calmly and directly.

Style Seven: the Joyful Person

SEVENS are particularly sensitive to being limited by having their options curtailed. They also have a great fear of being boring or being bored, like being in a routine job or a mundane relationship. SEVENS believe they should have it all – – or at least try it all. Feeling tied down, pinned down, or committed are quite anxiety provoking for SEVENS. Feeling trapped, immobilized, paralyzed, sick, or lifeless are variations of this stuck theme.

SEVENS also report they are very sensitive to pain, suffering, depression, hurt and other dysphoric feelings. They are vulnerable around a lack of hope or encouragement.

Their defense against being focused or contained is to scatter. It’s hard to capture a moving target like a wily coyote. SEVENS jump around in their fantasies and so earn the sobriquet “scatterbrained”; move around in their careers and become Jacks and Jackies of all trades; shuttle around in their relationships and become promiscuous; or travel around the globe and become nomads. Diffusing themselves through multiple interests and defusing others through humor are ways SEVENS keep from being bogged down.

Some of the SEVENS’ maladaptive schemas might appear when they’re feeling threatened.

“I’m not O.K. but I’d better appear O.K.”

“I’m limited and that’s terrible.”

“I must have options.”

“Freedom means keeping your options open.”

“Commitment is a trap.”

“More is better.”

“I’m entitled.”

“I have to plan.”

“The process is more important than the product.”

When SEVENS start to feel restricted, inadequate, and not all right, they trumpet their self-image of I’m O.K., activate their vice of gluttony, head “downtown” to avoid any unpleasantness or pain, and sublimate to the max.

Paradoxically, the pursuit of unlimited pleasures is in itself quite limiting. While SEVENS gain mobility, they lose stability; they get to travel but don’t have a home; they gain variety but miss out on depth; they have the Yin without the Yang. They live in a land of never-ending sun. How boring is that?

Like the rest of us, what SEVENS really want is to be happy. They want to be both free and committed; they want to have choices within commitments. While their defensive approach provides them with options, it may not give them satisfying long-term relationships.

When SEVENS are feeling vulnerable, they need to keep in touch with their true self by staying sober in the present, keeping focused, and trusting and remaining connected to whatever is real — which may include suffering and pain. True happiness, according to Aristotle, is a by-product of action. If sought directly, it is evanescent. It is experienced through persistently working with reality in the here and now.

Style Eight: the Powerful Person

The areas of vulnerability that EIGHTS are especially sensitive to are being unjustly and unfairly treated, being neglected, and feeling powerless. They don’t like feeling limited, dependent, subordinated, not in control. They want to do what they want, when they want.

Having to be docile in the presence of an incompetent or abusive authority is particularly onerous and maddening. EIGHTS do not like to be figuratively bound and gagged around people they don’t respect. Quite the contrary their style is designed to prevent this from happening. EIGHTS feel better speaking their mind, stating their objections, and making their observations of ineptitude even if it means getting fired, divorced, ostracized, etc. They would rather form a new corporation, relationship, or gang.

Their approach to not being heard or paid attention to is not the coward’s way of withdrawing to the sidelines, hoping to be seen, nor the diplomat’s way of subtle negotiation and compromise. EIGHTS get heard because they are forceful and persuasive. If you didn’t hear them the first time, they’ll tell you again and keep telling you until you acknowledge their position.

Or they cause a commotion. Embarrassment and intimidation can be the EIGHTS’ manner of communicating. For example if the garbage in their neighborhood is not being picked up promptly, they might first write a letter to their alderman. However, if there were no response, the EIGHTS would then organize all the neighbors to collect their garbage, dump it on the alderman’s lawn, and picket his or her house until humiliation and bad publicity prompted action. Victory does not belong to the subtle.

When adversity arrives, some of the EIGHTS’ maladaptive schemas may arrive with it.

“It’s not O.K. to be weak.”

“It’s not O.K. to be afraid.”

“It’s not O.K. to admit I can’t do it.”

“I can only trust and count on myself.”

“The world is hostile, tough, and harsh.”

“I’m in danger.”

“Life is a struggle. I must fight to live.”

“Only the strong survive.”

The EIGHTS’ style of life is an attempt to guarantee they will not be treated unjustly or unfairly again. They become the justice makers, meting out rewards and punishments. Standing up for themselves and for the disenfranchised, they don’t permit any power to be taken from them without a fight. They follow an “eye for an eye” diplomatic policy, deploying vengeance as a way of restoring equity, the balance of power.

What EIGHTS eventually discover is that their aggressive approach to life brings about the very things they fear. Anger begets anger; aggression leads to retaliation; power plays invite counter-maneuvers; dictators provoke revolutions; the world does indeed come to be hostile and dangerous. If EIGHTS become too sociopathic, they are put in prison where their worst fears of being limited and not in control are realized.

What EIGHTS really need and want is to feel in control of themselves and their surroundings, to be respected, accepted, and approved of, to be treated justly and equitably, to be persons of integrity and honor, to be self-determined and their own person, to be spoken up for. Their defensive strategies might keep them in charge and in their castle, but they don’t necessarily bring them respect, compassion, or companionship.

When they are feeling threatened, EIGHTS need to stay centered in their essence instead of shifting into their street-fighter personality. Their real self exudes an aura of innocence: “Why would anyone want to hurt me and why would I want to hurt anyone?” Allowing justice to be administered by a power higher than themselves and entrusting themselves to this authority, they find they are powerful in ways they never imagined.

Style Nine: the Peaceful Person

The early wounding that NINES experienced resulted from their perception that they didn’t matter, weren’t that important, and weren’t worth being noticed or cared about. NINES say they are sensitive to being neglected, feeling shamed, crushed, or left defenseless. They are sensitive to conflict, confrontation, disharmony, and to being criticized or punished for hurting others out of anger.

Instead of facing this painful reality that, apparently, they didn’t matter that much to their parents since their parents didn’t show them much attention, NINES assumed the less painful stance of resignation. They took the attitude of: So what? It doesn’t matter (which is less painful than I don’t matter.) What’s the difference? Why make a big deal out of anything? Life is short, anyway. So NINES resigned themselves and settled in for the duration. They turned down their energy, lowered their expectations, and began their long hibernation.

NINES weren’t listened to and so they learned to not listen to themselves and their needs, preferences, wants, feelings, and own ideas. No one asked them what they thought, valued, or wanted and so they subsequently forget to ask themselves. As adults, NINES often don’t know what kind of person they would like to be, what kind of work they might like to pursue, or what kind of partner they prefer to marry.

When their sensibilities are stepped on, the NINES’ maladaptive schemas surface.

“I don’t matter.”

“I’m not important.”

“I’m not cared for.”

“It’s not O.K. to be upset.”

“I shouldn’t stand out.”

“It’s more important to be nice than to be true to myself.”

“It’s not O.K. to show anger because conflict destroys.”

“I must avoid my feelings or I’ll go to pieces.”

“Everything is the same. Nothing matters.”

“If I’m not here, I’m safe.”

Whenever their desires and wants become figural, the NINES’ automatic response comes into play to push them into the background. They defocus, distract themselves, become indolent, avoid conflict, and fall asleep.

And, as we have seen with every other type, the NINES’ defensive strategy eventually creates the very situation it sought to avoid. The more NINES blend into the background, the more non-descript and bland they become, the more they go unnoticed and neglected. Procrastination makes matters worse and eventually heightens conflict. Ignoring a tumor doesn’t cure it; it grows through neglect.

While their ego’s solution might keep them calm, it doesn’t bring them what they really want and need which is to be loved, cared for, and noticed. Also, along with garnering esteem in the eyes of others, NINES need self-acceptance and self-esteem. They want to be at peace with their inner feelings, especially their angry ones. They want to be proactive and speak up for themselves. And, while doing so, they want to maintain their sense of union and harmony. They want to experience inter-being.

What NINES need to do when their vulnerability is breached is stay in touch with their essential feelings, preferences, and values, let them emerge, and act on them. They need to trust that their passions will not irrevocably disturb the harmony of the spheres. Actually their desires are part of the energy system of the universe that keeps it evolving through a process of differentiation and integration. NINES need to honor both the polarizing as well as the harmonizing dimensions of the evolutionary process.


The following chart summarizes this 3-V look at the Enneagram. Well, actually, it’s up to 4-V’s now, since I added Virtues and Vices.

We are motivated by and attracted to certain values that we prize and want to promulgate. When others are not so enamored of our values, we can feel hurt and sensitive around our trampled treasures. Vulnerabilities are the tender underbelly of our values.

If we deal with our vulnerabilities in resourceful ways, our values are projected as ideals which inform our visions of how we would like to be and how we would like the world to be. These visions contain adaptive cognitive schemas that are accompanied by adaptive emotional schemas or virtues. Our visions and virtues lead to the actualization of our authentic self.

When we react to our vulnerabilities in a defensive manner, our values appear as idealizations, exaggerated self images of how we think we should be in order to survive. These idealized self images are distortions of our genuine values and give rise to maladaptive cognitive schemas about who we are and what the world is like. These warping visions get energized by vices, the distorted expression of our life energy. The combinations of wrong ideas plus bad vibes represent the ego’s attempt to maintain the integrity of the self. Ironically, though, it’s the personality that gets preserved while the genuine self remains hidden.


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