Karen Horney’s Three Trends (Moving Towards, Against, Away From) and the Enneagram Styles

by Jerome Wagner, Ph.D.

The vision of the International Enneagram Association (IEA) is to be the hub of a vibrant international Enneagram community. Part of its mission is to sponsor open and constructive interaction among various schools of Enneagram thought. This would be the 21st century virtual version of 14th century Samarkand, the site of a great East-West trade route and a melting pot of cultures and ideas where Bennett (1973) believed the Enneagram emerged.

With the intention of stimulating further dialogue and syntheses, this essay criss-crosses the theories of various Enneagram authors about how Karen Horney’s description of three interpersonal trends might relate to the nine Enneagram styles.

Karen Horney (1885-1952) is counted among the neo-psychoanalytic theorists who, along with Erik Erickson, Erich Fromm and others, complemented the traditional psychoanalytic biological orientation with an emphasis on culture and interpersonal relationships. Horney thought that basic anxiety brought about by insecurities in childhood were more fundamental in character development than conflicts between instincts and society or intrapsychic conflicts among the id, ego, and superego. Children develop ways of coping along three dimensions: a child can move toward people (compliance), against them (aggression), or away from them (withdrawal). And conflicts, dear to the hearts of all psychoanalytic practitioners, can arise among these three tendencies.

Horney writes about these three interpersonal trends in two of her books: Our Inner Conflicts (1945) and Neurosis and Human Growth (1950). These three maneuvers or gambits are complex human versions of the basic mechanisms of defense in the animal kingdom: submission, fight, and flight. Perhaps this instinctual-social basis is what makes these trends so universal.

All three trends are available to us and healthy persons are able to move in any of these directions when needed. What usually happens, though, is that we become comfortable and used to one of the trends and so the other two become less accessible. Try, for example, to hit someone as you are moving to embrace them, or to move away from and reach out to them at the same time. It’s also difficult to caress someone while you are punching them. Start moving backward and, while doing so, try hugging or slugging them. Not an easy negotiation.

As with the Enneagram styles or the old Greek notion of hamartia, we can exaggerate a good thing or miss the mark. At the core of each trend is a healthy striving to cooperate with others, to assertively set boundaries, and to step back to be with ourselves in solitude. When we overdo these maneuvers, or when they become defensive and reactive instead of proactive, we become compliant (the self-effacing solution), aggressive (the self-expansive solution), and detached (the resignation solution). Just as there is a high and low side to the Enneagram styles, so there is a healthy to distorted continuum with these three trends.

As far as I know Karen Horney never met the Enneagram. However the Enneagram has been introduced to Karen Horney through Claudio Naranjo (Maitri, 2000) who used some of her constructs, such as the “idealized self-image”, to conceptualize the structure of the Enneagram styles. Several Enneagram authors have also noted the similarities between Horney’s three trends and the nine types.

In their book The Enneagram: a Journey of Self Discovery (1984) Maria Beesing, Bob Nogosek, and Pat O’Leary group the Enneagram styles according to Dependent Types (2,6,7), Aggressive Types (8,3,1), and Withdrawing Types (5,9,4). They draw from the class notes of Tad Dunne (one of the early students of Bob Ochs, S.J.) who theorized that “the nine different kinds of ego consciousness in the Enneagram result from the intersecting of three distinct self concepts and three distinct preferred modes of behavior” (1984, p.100).

The three distinct self concepts are: a) I am bigger than the world; b) I must adjust to the world; and c) I am smaller than the world. The three distinct modes of behavior would be Horney’s a) moving against the world (aggressive behavior); b) moving towards the world (dependent behavior); and c) moving away from the world (withdrawing behavior). Intersecting the three self concepts and the three preferred modes of behavior creates the following graph:

To paraphrase Beesing, Nogosek, and O’Leary, the aggressive types (8,3,1) have the preferred mode of behavior of moving against people as a defense strategy to protect the self and one’s worth as a person. Since Eights believe they are bigger than the world, they move with an instinct of power against people. Because Threes think they must adjust to the world, their aggressive behavior is channeled into achievement. Ones express their aggressive behavior by being critical of themselves and their surroundings.

The dependent types (2,6,7) have a preferred behavior of moving toward people. They defend their self worth by becoming dependent on others through relationships. Since Twos have a self concept of being bigger than the world, they take the initiative in forming relationships. Since Sixes have a self concept that they must adjust to the world in order to be worthwhile, they place great importance on conforming to standards and laws already laid down. Sevens grew up feeling smaller than the world. For them to feel alive their environment needs to be full of good times and good cheer.

The withdrawing types (5,9,4) have a preferred behavior of moving away from people to enhance their sense of personal worth. Since Fives grew up with a self concept of being bigger than the world, their withdrawal from people has as its purpose to become an intellectual overseer of everything. Nines withdraw from the world to adjust to it because it does not offer much to them in appreciation or love. Because Fours have grown up thinking they are smaller than the world, they express their withdrawing behavior by feeling misunderstood and by rehearsing how to express themselves with originality and authenticity.

Tad Dunne further theorizes that ego consciousness is characterized by a false sense of reality, what life is really about. Those whose ego consciousness says “I am bigger than life” (8,2,5) see real life as in the “inner order,” as centered on themselves. Those saying “I must adjust to the world” (2,6,7) see real life as a harmony or integration between themselves and the outer world. Those saying “I am smaller than the world” see real life, or fulfillment, as centered outside themselves. To see how this dimension gets played out in the offensive, acceptive, and defensive types, read Chapter Three in The Enneagram: a Journey of Self Discovery (1984).

Jerry Wagner, in his Enneagram Spectrum Training and Certification course, places Horney’s three trends around the Enneagram circle in this same configuration, but theorizes from the inner dynamics or movements among the Enneagram types.

The Enneagram indicates options for movement. For example, we can approach a situation from our own point of view, from our security point of view (the style going against the direction of the arrow), or from our stress point of view (the style going with the direction of the arrow). When we have one option, we’re stuck; when we have two options, we have a dilemma; when we have three options, we have a choice. According to the Enneagram, we have a natural connection to these three points and so choices are available to us. And with choice comes the possibility of change.

Unfortunately change can be for better or for worse. So it is possible to shift to the high or low side of any Enneagram style (Wagner, 1996) and it is possible to move towards, against, or away from people and situations in a healthy or compulsive manner, depending on whether we aim for the high side of each style or miss the mark and hit the low side.

This arrangement gives each Enneagram style access to Horney’s three trends through its core, security, and stress points.

  • 1-7-4 (against, towards, away from)
  • 2-4-8 (towards, away from, against)
  • 3-6-9 (against, towards, away from)
  • 4-1-2 (away from, against, towards)
  • 5-8-7 (away from, against, towards)
  • 6-9-3 (towards, away from, against)
  • 7-5-1 (towards, away from, against)
  • 8-2-5 (against, towards, away from)
  • 9-3-6 (away from, against, towards)

The Ones’ paradigm and style inclines them to move against people. On their high side, Ones have an idealistic vision of how people and situations could be and they desire to move reality from where it is to where it has the potential to be. Ones move against the status quo, the present state, to raise it to a status meliore, a better state. On their downside Ones can react angrily and resentfully when reality falls short of perfection. They are quick to spot flaws, criticize, and fix things up. Their defense mechanism is reaction formation, doing the opposite of what they are desirous of doing. For example, when they feel like resting, they recall how much more they have to improve and push on.

When Ones shift to their relaxed or peak performance space Seven, they move towards people in an accepting, affirming, optimistic manner. They embrace reality as it is, allowing the chaff to grow up with the wheat. If they shift to the downside of the Seven style, they move towards pleasure and avoid pain, sometimes getting caught up in addictive behaviors. Or they appear overly friendly when reaction formation disguises their underlying anger and criticalness.

When Ones shift to their stress point Four, they move away from people in an adaptive manner which allows them to reflect on their own feelings and desires vs getting caught up in fixing other people’s faults. In stepping back they can attend to their own inner journey while being present to others’ suffering without having to intervene. When Ones move away from others in a non-adaptive manner, they withdraw because they feel depressed at being flawed and misunderstood, or not appreciated for all they have attempted.

The Twos’ paradigm and style leads them to move towards other people and situations. They value relationship, connection, support, building up. Their natural tendency is to affirm, embrace, and approve. If they over do this tendency, they may become cloying, co-dependent, and crippling, ironically, the opposite of what their best self intends. They become overly solicitous and flattering.

When Twos shift to their peak performance point Four, they move away from people, stepping back to allow others to stand on their own two feet. They also move inward to discover and develop their own creative sources and affirm their own agenda. When they shift to the downside of the Four, they move away from others because they feel hurt, misunderstood and underappreciated or because they feel special and priviledged because of all they have done for others.

When Twos shift to their stress point Eight, they move against others, setting boundaries and limits, expressing their own needs, and making requests of others. They are clear about who they are and what they are responsible for and challenge others to accept responsibility for themselves. When Twos overshoot the mark, they move against others in an aggressive rather than an assertive manner, imposing their services on others, becoming critical and domineering. They may fantasize or seek revenge for feeling used and taken advantage of. Or they might push others away, claiming they don’t need them.

The Threes’ paradigm and style contains characteristics of moving against. Threes are competitive, proactive, go-getters. They get things done by aggressively working towards their goals. They tackle problems and overcome obstacles with gusto. On their downside, Threes can get caught up in Type-A behavior where they over-work themselves and their team, raising the bar of competition along with their blood pressure.

When Threes shift to their peak performance point Six, they move towards others and are as loyal and committed to people as they are to projects. They move past roles and personas and connect their real self with others’ selves. When they move to the downside of Six, they become overly obedient to management or authority or lose themselves in the project team. They become the “organizational person” instead of an organized person.

When Threes shift to their stress point Nine, they move away from the situation. By slowing down and stepping back, they create room for their feelings and preferences to expand. They are more at peace and less driven. They give themselves the opportunity to be as well as do. When Threes shift to the downside of Nine, they grind to a halt and quit, resigning themselves to whatever happens. They move away from conflict and confrontation, neglecting themselves and what needs to be done.

The Fours’ paradigm and style naturally moves them away from the action. Their attention moves inward towards their subjective responses to objective happenings. They reflect on their feelings and impressions of reality. If they move too far back, they may stand aloof from others for fear they will be misunderstood. Or their interest in their subjective impressions supercedes their allegiance to outer reality. Their fantasies compensate for their disappointing contact with others.

When Fours shift to their peak performance point One, they move against the world, recognizing what needs to be done and assertively taking action. They become focused, persistent, dogged in their pursuit of what is right. If they go too much against others, they may become critical, overly righteous about their opinions and judgments, and arrogant in their idealism.

When Fours shift to their stress point Two, they move towards others with empathy and genuine compassion. They transcend themselves and connect with others. Their giving flows from a sense of inner fullness and creativity. When they go too far towards others, they become overly involved and lose their boundaries. They give in order to receive affirmation and approval.

The Five’s paradigm and style naturally inclines them to move away from people. They step back from the situation to take in the whole picture. Their sense of detachment lets things be. They prefer solitude, contemplative silence, and sacred space. When Fives move too far back, they can be distant and aloof. They step out of the game to be safe, then forget to step back in. They can become silent loners who are overly protective of their private space.

When Fives shift to their peak performance point Eight, they move against people with assertive self-assurance and confidence. They apply their knowledge instead of storing it up. They disclose rather than conceal themselves. They say what they want and actively work towards their goals. When Fives swing past assertion into aggression, they express their anger in a clumsy, sometimes contemptuous way, putting others down or being cruel instead of confrontive.

When Fives shift to their stress point Seven, they move towards people. They are gregarious, friendly, humorous, up-beat and out-there (in their Fivish way). They engage with others instead of disengaging. When Fives miss the mark and go to the downside of Seven, they seek pleasure and avoid pain. They would rather have fun than get something done (Eight). They avoid confrontation or anything that might provoke anger by smoothing things over or treating the situation lightly.

The Sixes’ paradigm and style leads them to move towards others. They are gracious hosts and hostesses. There is a nurturing protecting manner to Sixes’ loyalty and bonding. When Sixes overdo this trend, they can become overly fawning or conciliative. They want to appear friendly and non-threatening so others won’t feel afraid of them or need to attack them. They want to be close to and on the side of authority.

When Sixes’ shift to their peak performance point Nine, they move away from the situation. They step back and say “So what!” instead of being caught up in their fears which ask “What if?” They are relaxed and tolerant and trust that events will work out. When they miss the mark and go to the downside of the Nine style, they avoid conflict and move too far away from the fray. They detach and ruminate and doubt.

When Sixes shift to their stress point Three, they move against the world. They express their agenda and take action to bring it about. They get organized, proactive and own their assertive energy instead of projecting their anger onto others and then experiencing the world as a hostile and dangerous place to live in. When Sixes miss the mark and go to the downside of the Three style, they become busy instead of efficient and productive. They are aggressive in the pursuit and defense of their beliefs and become ruthless adversaries instead of ecumenical neighbors (Nines).

The Sevens’ paradigm and style naturally moves them towards others. Sevens are sociable and gregarious and enjoy being with people. They want to cheer people up and show others a good time. When they miss the mark and overdo their moving towards, they want all their encounters to be nice. They don’t want any discomfort and don’t want to be alone or bored.

When Sevens shift to their peak performance point Five, they move away from others. In solitude and contemplation, they make their own what they have been ingesting. They practice what self psychology calls transmuting internalization. They internalize and do for themselves what their external environment has been doing for them. Sevens can detach vs greedily gobbling up the goodies around them. When they move too far back, Sevens can get overly intellectual and distanced from their feelings and bodily-felt responses. They become remote instead of reflective.

When Sevens shift to their stress point One, they move against the situation. They discriminate, critique, and chew on what they are offered rather than swallowing everything whole in a gluttonous way. Their idealism keeps them actively engaged in their endeavors even though the work may become painful. When Sevens move too far into aggression, they become overly critical and angry that their fun-filled plans aren’t working out. Their anger seeps out as sarcasm or contempt or they might become piqued that they’re not getting what they want when they want it.

The Eights’ paradigm and style naturally leads them to move against people. Anger is the emotion that surfaces in them most readily. They challenge and confront the situation rather than back down from it. They speak their mind and make their wishes known. If they don’t like what’s happening, they do something about it. When Eights move beyond assertion to aggression, they can become intimidating and bullying. They get their way at others’ expense and can become vengeful and vindictive.

When Eights shift to their peak performance point Two, they move towards others with compassion, understanding, and empathy. They use their energy to build others up instead of wear them down. They approach others with tenderness, grace, and charm. When Eights exaggerate their moving towards tendency and go to the downside of the Two, they may make others dependent on them so they will be beholden to them. They manipulate others’ weaknesses, using their strength to attach people to themselves.

When Eights shift to their stress point Five, they move away from others. Moving to the high side of the Five, they are able to reflect before they act. The put a little lag between their impulse and its expression. They look before they leap. They are open to what is instead of approaching situations with biases and preconceptions. When Eights shift to the downside of Five, they become too detached from their feelings and from others. They can become cruel and unsympathetic. Or they can turn their strength against themselves, punishing themselves and withdrawing if they think they’ve been unjust.

The Nines’ paradigm and style leads them to move away from a situation. They allow things to happen and events to unfold at their own pace. Nines have a laissez-faire, hands-off stance towards the world. If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. When Nines overdo their moving away from tendency, they avoid conflict and confrontation and hope that benign neglect will solve their problems. They become too removed from the situation, put off doing what needs to be done, and conceal their real intentions – often even from themselves.

When Nines shift to their peak performance point Three, they move against the situation in a problem-focused, energetic, let’s-get-it-done fashion. They attack their problems rather than ignore them or lull them to sleep. They assertively express and work for what they want. When Nines overshoot the mark, they become overly busy and even compulsive. Their anger gets distracted into busy behavior or repetitious routines. They play competitive sports while their business plan lies dormant on their desk.

When Nines shift to their stress point Six, they move towards others. Their loyalty and commitment to others may get them moving, doing for others what they might never do for themselves. They find the courage to support themselves and their agenda. When Nines overshoot the mark and shift to the downside of Six, they become overly concerned about what others’ think. They want to get others on their side even if it means selling out on themselves. They side with external authority which may move them farther away from their inner authority and guide. They lose themselves in relationships and teams.

To give ourselves a choice, then, we can ask three questions in each situation:

1. What would it look like if I approached, embraced, or leaned into the problem or situation? How can I close the gap?

2. What would it look like if I attacked, confronted, or challenged the problem or situation? How can I clear away the obstacles?

3. What would it look like if I stepped back or away from the problem or situation? How can I get some distance?

Thomas Chou wrote an article “A Directional Theory of the Enneagram” in the January 2000 issue of the Enneagram Monthly where he described the surface and deep directions or motivations for the Enneagram types.

He, too, follows the layout proposed by Dunne, Beesing-O’Leary-Nogosek, and Wagner, but takes the dialogue between Horney and the Enneagram a layer deeper. For Chou, Horney’s surface triad “does not describe the end goals of each type, but rather the tactics used to reach the end goals.” The deep triad operates over a longer time frame and these deeper desires are more hidden in the subconscious.

On the surface the aggressive types (8,1,3) are prone to the negative emotions of anger and competition which move against others. They pursue their long-term goals by directly changing the environment. The compliant types (2,7,6) are prone to the positive emotions of affection and appreciation which move toward others. Instead of pursuing their goals by confronting obstacles, they adapt to obstacles. The withdrawn types (5,4,9) are prone to internalizing their emotions, whether positive or negative, thus keeping them away from others. They pursue their goals independently by minimizing direct interactions and finding the path of least resistance.

  • The One’s compulsion moves against others on the surface, but away from others underneath. While Ones may seem outwardly efficient and engaged, underneath they are thinking more about some ideal world that they are trying to create in the long term.
  • The Two’s compulsion moves toward others on the surface, but against them underneath. Twos can be warm, helpful, and seductive on the outside, while harboring a hidden agenda and a strong will. They claim to be helping others while denying the aggressive motives underneath.
  • The Three’s surface compulsion moves against people, while the underlying compulsion moves toward people. Threes seem pushy and competitive, while underneath they want the approval of others. They claim to be bold leaders while denying the deeper compulsion to follow the leadership of others.
  • The Four’s surface and deep compulsions both move away from others. This makes Fours the most introspective and individualistic type. They are free from real-world constraints but also can be self-absorbed and alienated.
  • The Five moves away from others on the surface, but against others underneath where they are not as detached as they seem. Their strong will leads them to want to be in control. Fives take ownership of the mental sphere.
  • The Six’s surface and deep compulsions both move toward others, making Sixes dependent on a stable external support. Wanting to trust the world, Sixes find the world treacherous and so develop defense techniques, such as skeptical thinking, seeking safety in groups, etc., against their own trusting nature.
  • The Seven embraces the world on the surface, but moves away from it underneath. While the Seven seems focused on enjoying the real world, their mind is actually attending to a fantasy of how things could be even better.
  • The Eight moves against others in both their surface and deep compulsions, making them the most aggressive type. Their will power, self-reliance, and possessive tendencies are evident to others. Their world of influence tends to be physical and worldly. Their doubly aggressive compulsion enables them to rise above obstacles to acquire a heroic stature.
  • The Nine moves away from others on the surface, but toward others underneath. Nines are caught in the conflict of wanting to detach from others while wanting to identify with them in the long term. They withdraw in non-threatening ways to allow themselves to reconnect later.

On this deeper level, Twos, Fives, and Eights are “power seekers” who move against others seeking a sense of control. When healthy, they empower others. Sevens, Fours, and Ones are “inspiration seekers” who move away from others to pursue their higher aspirations. When healthy, they inspire others. Threes, Sixes, and Nines are “approval seekers” who move toward others seeking to belong to the world. When healthy, they are approving.

Don Riso and Russ Hudson (Personality Types, 1987, revised 1996) have a different way of thinking about Karen Horney’s three trends and the Enneagram types. They expanded Horney’s three solutions by “looking at how each type responds not just to people, but to other elements of the total environment, both outer and inner. Thus, aggressive types may assert themselves against nature or against their own fears, and withdrawn types may withdraw from activities as well as from people. Most importantly, we have seen that compliant types are not necessarily compliant to other people, but they are compliant to the dictates of their superego, which had its genesis in other people, mainly their parents.” (1996, p. 443)

With these modifications of Horney’s theory, Riso and Hudson arrange her three trends according to the Enneagram’s feeling, thinking, and instinctive triads. Each triad is composed of an aggressive type, a compliant type, and a withdrawn type.

In the feeling triad:

Twos are compliant to the superego’s dictate to be always selfless and loving.

Threes are aggressive in the pursuit of their goals and in their competition with others.

Fours are withdrawn to protect their feelings and their fragile self-image.

In the thinking triad:

Fives are withdrawn, away from action, into the world of thought.

Sixes are compliant to the superego dictate to do what is expected of them.

Sevens are aggressive about engaging the environment and satisfying their appetites.

In the instinctive triad:

Eights are aggressive in asserting themselves against others and the environment.

Nines are withdrawn so that others will not disturb their inner peacefulness.

Ones are compliant to the ideals after which they strive.

Riso and Hudson find some intimations of the Enneagram styles in Horney’s clinical observations. In her descriptions of the aggressive types, she writes about the narcissistic, perfectionistic, and arrogant-vindictive types which would correspond to the Enneagram Three, Eight, and One. Riso and Hudson disagree with Horney’s listing the perfectionistic type as aggressive. They see see the perfectionistic type as complying with its superego rather than aggrandizing its ego.

They don’t think Horney worked out the variations of the complying types, those who move towards others. They find elements of the Two, Six, and Nine in her descriptions, but think the Nine is a more withdrawing type.

Within the withdrawing group, those who move away from people, Horney discusses the persistently resigned (Nine), the rebellious (Five), and the shallow-living (Four) types.

In their book What’s My Type? (1991), Kathy Hurley and Ted Donson consider Horney’s three trends as “three different ways to approach life’s problems: by seeking expansive solutions in an aggressive way, by seeking temperate solutions in a dependent way, and by seeking enlightented solutions in a withdrawing way.” (1991, p. 80).

For Hurley and Donson, the aggressive numbers in the Enneagram are the Three, Seven, and Eight, whose goal is to restructure the world, to effect change. The outer world is their arena of competence because they know how to get things done. They set the rules and expect people and circumstances to fall in line. The aggressive stance makes Threes energetic project-oriented people, gives Sevens the energy to remain in constant motion as well as the evasive stubborness to get what they want out of life, and focuses Eights on accomplishment.

The dependent numbers in the Enneagram are the Two, Six, and One. They are socially oriented people who feel, think, and act in relationship to others. They seek temperate solutions to life’s difficulties and make sure they process the reactions of people around them. They want to be thanked, reassured, and liked. The dependent stance allows Twos to look to other people’s reactions before determining their own response, increases the Sixes’ indecisiveness because they wait and see how others respond before they can decide what to do, and lets the world set the Ones’ agenda while Ones set the standards for how they will fulfill that agenda.

The withdrawing numbers in the Enneagram are the Four, Five, and Nine. They are overprotective of themselves, seeking to be independent and to discover enlightened solutions to life’s problems. Wary of others, they rely on their own inner strength. They consider themselves to be the final judge in all matters that concern them. The withdrawing stance has Fours look within themselves for what they value in life, moves Fives deep inside where they find the strength to carry them through life, and causes Nines to retreat within themselves to slumber in peace and inner tranquility.

Janet Levine in her book The Enneagram Intelligences (1999) groups Horney’s three trends according to the three centers: body, mental, and emotional, and labels them Defenders, Attachers, and Detachers. She describes these types as “three distinct modalities of being; three broad patterns of behavior; three primal, intuitive motivations driving how people operate in the world.” (1999, p. 17)

The Attachers, whose attention is outer-directed and who move toward people, make sense of, and operate in the world, through connection to people and relationships. Attachers live in an emotional environment. They want to know where they stand emotionally in relation to others. Their dominant issue is approval. They are motivated by how they feel about themselves, the feelings of others, and how they come across to others. Levine places Enneagram types Two, Three, and Four in this category.

The attention of Detachers is inner-directed and they move away from people. They make sense of, and operate in, the world from inside their head. The mental context is the Detachers’ environment. Making sense of the world through mental processes and activities are their central preoccupations. Their mental activities include imagining, conceptualizing, fantasizing, analyzing, and synthesizing. They generate ideas, question ideas, and connect ideas. Points Five, Six, and Seven belong here.

Levine describes the Defenders as having self-protective attention. They move (brush up) against people. They make sense of, and operate in, the world with an awareness of intrapersonal space and boundaries. The Defenders’ environment is a body-based context. Their mode of being is instinctual. They are aware of the boundaries around themselves and want to establish their space. Operating out of gut feelings, they make their presence felt and establish their boundaries by being confrontational and combative, stubborn and passive-aggressive, or critical and judgmental. Points Eight, Nine, and One are found here.

This has been a sampling of some authors about how Karen Horney’s three trends might correlate with the Enneagram styles. It’s meant to be illustrative, not exhaustive. Where do we go from here? More theories? While you certainly can never have enough paradigms, sooner or later hypotheses need to be checked against some evidence. Empiricism raises its scientific head.

There is an inventory, the Horney-Coolidge Type Indicator, designed by Frederick Coolidge, Ph.D. to measure Horney’s three types of people. It is a 57 item, three scale inventory, measured on a Likert scale ranging from hardly ever to nearly always fits me. It was normed on 630 people, 315 females and 315 males, with a median age of 21, ranging from 16 to 93 years. The internal scale reliabilities (alpha) and test-retest reliabilities range from .78 to .92, which is quite acceptable. Only a few validity studies are reported in the brief manual.

A factor analysis of the three scales revealed a three factor solution in each of the scales. The Compliant Type scale showed factors of altruism, need for relationships, and self-abasement. The Aggessive Type scale revealed factors of malevolence, power, and strength. And the Detachment Type scale produced the factors of need for aloneness, avoidance, and self-sufficiency.

Dr. Coolidge is very generously granting permission to duplicate his test for research purposes. He teaches in the psychology department of the University of Colorado and can be contacted at fcoolidg@mail.uccs.edu or at (719) 262-4146.

I haven’t used his instrument, yet, but having looked over the items, my reservation would be that his Compliant scale measures Twos, the Aggressive scale measures Eights, and the Detachment scale measures Fives, which are the Enneagram types that most clearly correspond to Horney’s three trends in the first place. I wonder whether the other six Enneagram types would as surely endorse any of these trends as measured by this inventory. Nonetheless it’s a start down the yellow brick road of research.

Perhaps the Enneagram community would like to participate in a research study that would extend across the various schools by taking the Horney-Coolidge Type Indicator, sending in the results of the inventory along with one’s Enneagram type and strength of conviction about one’s type to some hub where they can be collated and then disseminated back to the community. The central office of the IEA might be such a location or the Enneagram Monthly has expressed interest in coordinating research projects. Such a venture would be another venue besides international conferences for actualizing the vision and mission of the IEA.

Send your comments or suggestions to Jerry Wagner at jwagner@luc.edu.

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  • Bennett, J.G. Gurdjieff: making a new world. New York: Harper and Row, Colophon Books, 1973.
  • Chou, Thomas. “A directional theory of the Enneagram. Enneagram Monthly (57), January 2000.
  • Coolidge, Frederick. Horney-Coolidge Type Indicator. Psychology Dept., P.O. Box 7150, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, CO 80933-7150.
  • Horney, Karen. Our inner conflicts. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1945.
  • Neurosis and human growth. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1950.
  • Hurley, Kathleen, & Donson, T. What’s my type? San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991.
  • Levine, Janet. The Enneagram intelligences. Westport, CT: Bergin & Garvey, 1999.
  • Maitri, Susan. The Spiritual dimension of the enneagram. New York: Tarcher/Putnam, 2000.
  • Riso, Don, & Hudson, R. Personality types. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1987, 1996.
  • Wagner, Jerome. The Enneagram spectrum of personality styles: an introductory guide. Portland: Metamorphous Press, 1996.

The Enneagram and the Interpersonal Psychiatry of Harry Stack Sullivan

by Jerome Wagner, Ph.D.

While I am aware that looking for connections among ideas is a near pathological preoccupation for my type, I am nevertheless giving into the temptation to propose some interesting parallels between Harry Stack Sullivan’s theory of personality and the Enneagram theory of personality.

Sullivan’s Interpersonal Psychiatry

Sullivan called his approach an interpersonal theory of psychiatry because he believed psychiatry is the study of what goes on between people.  This is in contrast to Freud’s paradigm that focuses on what goes on inside people.  Freud’s is a drive model while Sullivan’s is an interpersonal model.  Freud postulated that the personality is made up of id, ego, and superego with the id being the source of the action.  We are driven by inner instinctual urges, especially sexual and aggressive ones, and our prime motivation is to maximize pleasure while minimizing pain.  We are pretty autonomous monads who cathect or connect to others who happen to meet our needs.  Instincts appear first, then relationships develop because they satisfy our needs.

For Sullivan, relationships are primary.  Personality is a hypothetical entity that cannot be observed or studied apart from interpersonal situations wherein it is made manifest.  The only way personality can be known is through the medium of interpersonal interactions.  Therefore the unit of study is not the individual person, but the interpersonal situation.  Since personality is defined by what it does in an interpersonal field, there is no I without a Thou, as Buber noted.

The Enneagram of Interpersonal Styles

The Enneagram, among other things, is a system of interpersonal styles.  It describes our interpersonal gambits and maneuvers.  Each style provides a template or paradigm for thinking about ourselves, others, and the kinds of interactions we’re allowed to have with others.  So our Enneagram styles, to varying degrees, set our interpersonal parameters by providing us with scripts for the roles we’re supposed to play.

To get a sense for how this works for you, reflect on the following questions.

What internal representation or image do you have of yourself and others?   And what kinds of interactions do you allow yourself to have with others?

Adopting the paradigms of other styles broadens our interpersonal repertoire.  For example, the Eights’ paradigm instructs them to be tough and hard-nosed.  Start with “No,” then, maybe, negotiate to “Yes.”  Adopting the Twos’ paradigm allows Eights to be compassionate and tender and helps them say “Yes.”   In contrast, the Twos’ paradigm tells them to be nice and accommodating.  They start and end with “Yes.”  The Eights’ paradigm allows them to establish interpersonal boundaries and gives them permission to say “No.”

How might you stretch your interpersonal boundaries? What don’t you allow yourself to do because of the constraints of your paradigm that you would be able to do if you followed the rules of some other paradigm?

Two Sources of Motivation

Sullivan proposed two sources of motivation: the pursuit of satisfactions and the pursuit of security.

On the one hand, we seek to maximize the satisfaction of mainly biological bodily needs.  The goal here is to reduce tension.  This is similar to Freud’s homeostatic hunch that humans want to maximize pleasure and minimize displeasure, a theory that Sevens shouldn’t find much fault with.

On the other hand, we desire to minimize insecurity that arises from cultural and social needs.  In Sullivan’s model, the main motive force of personality is the avoidance and reduction of anxiety.  We seek to avoid a greater anxiety by selecting a lesser anxiety.


Where does this anxiety come from?  According to Sullivan, it’s contagious.  We pick it up from our caretakers – usually our mother.  Infants are born with an empathic capacity to sense the attitudes and feelings of significant people around them, which leads them to experience two different states.

Infants experience euphoria when they sense approval from others.  A non-anxious persona is experienced as the good mother.  And the good me is the one who evokes approval, tenderness, and less anxiety in the other. This is accompanied by a sense of security and relaxation.

Infants experience dysphoria when they sense disapproval and derogation from others.  An anxious persona is experienced as the bad mother.  And the bad me is the one who evokes disapproval.  This is accompanied by mounting anxiety.

Sullivan describes one additional infant state, the non-me, which is felt as the unknown, the uncanny, the unintegrated because it is dreadful and repressed.  This state is accompanied by intense anxiety such as nightmares and schizophrenic experiences.  To avoid this much anxiety, we’ll just consider the good me and bad me states.

Anxiety, then, is caught from our caretakers.  It is an interpersonal phenomenon rooted in the expectation of derogation and rejection by others or by oneself.

Anxiety, in turn, arouses the need for security.

Enneagram Styles as Anxiety Reducers

Our Enneagram styles can be thought of as strategies to reduce others’ anxieties, thereby reducing our own.  So you might ask yourself:

What are you anxious about thinking, feeling, or doing because you believe it will make others anxious?

Or, what thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of yours might bring about derogation or rejection from others and so lead you to feel anxious?

For example:

As a One you might be afraid your spontaneity, anger, or flaws make others anxious and will bring about criticism.

As a Two you might be afraid your needs, desires, and personal agendas make others anxious and will bring about rejection.

As a Three you might be afraid your lack of success and accomplishments disappoint others and make them anxious and will lead to rejection.

As a Four you might be afraid your ordinariness, superficiality and deficiencies make others anxious and then they will abandon you.

As a Five you might be afraid your ignorance or existence make others anxious and will bring about ridicule and disparagement.

As a Six you might be afraid your own authority, decision making, and following your whims make others anxious and will lead to ostracism from the group.

As a Seven you might be afraid your seriousness and sadness make others anxious and will lead to your being left out of the party.

As an Eight you might be afraid your weakness, tenderness, and softness make others anxious and will lead to your being ignored or attacked.

As a Nine you might be afraid your energy, agendas, and conflicts make others anxious and will lead to further neglect.


I need to interject here that while Sullivan’s theory of personality and personality functioning is quite similar to the Enneagram’s dynamics, his terminology is the exact opposite!  What Sullivan calls “personality” is what the Enneagram means by essence or real self; and what Sullivan calls “self” is what the Enneagram describes as ego or false personality.  So I’m taking the liberty of altering his nomenclature.  When Sullivan speaks of “personality”, I’m going to call this “self.”  And when he speaks of “self,” I’m going to call this the “conditioned self,” which is similar to the Gurdjieffian and enneagramatic notion of ego or personality.  And I’m going to continue using multi-syllabic words to sound erudite.

In Sullivan’s theory, the self is the entire functioning of the person, our patterns of behavior and experience – the totality of who we are.  This is similar to what Gurdjieff means by essence. The conditioned self is made up of reflected appraisals — who others take us to be and subsequently who we take ourselves to be.  As children we come to appraise ourselves as we are appraised by others.  This is reminiscent of Gurdjieff’s notion of personality.

The Conditioned Self

The conditioned-self system is a complex organization of experiences derived from interactions with significant others.  It involves our strategies for avoiding anxiety and establishing security.  It focuses on actions that lead to approval or disapproval.  Conditioned-self dynamisms are created by anxiety and are systems of anxiety-diminishing behavior.

Security Operations

Sullivan talks about security operations.  These are the interpersonal maneuvers we use to terminate or diminish anxiety.  They are behaviors by which the child avoids derogation and abandonment, assuring the child of approval and social security, which reduce anxiety.  Security operations protect, maintain and enhance our self esteem.

What thoughts, feelings, and behaviors do you engage in to reduce anxiety?

For example:

Ones imagine themselves to be right, muster up anger to fuel their righteousness, and try to act to the best of their abilities to reduce anxiety.

Twos imagine themselves to be loving and generous, feel proud of their sacrifices, and act helpful.

Threes imagine themselves to be successful, feel confident, and act professional.

Fours imagine themselves to be special, but feel sad so they won’t threaten others, and act dramatic.

Fives imagine themselves to be wise, feel as little as possible, and act invisible.

Sixes imagine themselves to be loyal and courageous, feel fearful, and act indecisive.

Sevens imagine themselves to be fast and fun, feel excited, and act playful.

Eights imagine themselves to be strong, feel competent, and act decisive

Nines imagine themselves to be settled, feel calm, and act tomorrow.

Security operations perpetuate the shape the conditioned-self took during early childhood and so perpetuate its isolation within the total self. Any experience that threatens the form and direction of the conditioned self will provoke anxiety. And anxiety is the means by which the conditioned self limits and restricts awareness thereby maintaining its own form and direction.  The conditioned self, aided by anxiety, controls and circumscribes awareness through inhibiting learning anything new and different.  The conditioned self thus becomes an inferior caricature of what it might have been.

Defense Mechanisms

Through its security operations, the conditioned self has certain defense mechanisms at its service — such as selective inattention and dissociation.  Anxiety distracts, confuses, and restricts awareness.  (Angustia in Latin means narrow.)    When we’re anxious, our thoughts, affects, and behaviors get narrowed.

Selective attention or inattention restricts our acts and thoughts.  It interferes with observation and analysis, with recall and foresight.  In general it interferes with living and integration.  The conditioned self sees what it wants to see and is blind to what it doesn’t want to see.  Selective attention focuses our awareness on those actions that bring approval and win rewards and escape disapproval and punishment.  What is kept from awareness are interpersonal processes or feelings which are anxiety arousing.

Anxiety occurs when something happens which is not welcome to the self, not in harmony with earlier experiences of approval and disapproval. Selective attention steers us away from anxiety arousing events.

Dissociation (what Freud called repression) denies the entrance of these events into consciousness all together.

What areas of your life do you constrict or avoid?  And how do you keep yourself from being aware of what you’re avoiding?

For example:

As a One you might avoid your anger by turning it into resentment or projecting it onto an immoral, flawed world.

As a Two you might avoid your own needs by repressing them and projecting them onto needy others.

As a Three you might avoid failure by reframing it and/or projecting incompetence onto others.

As a Four you might avoid being ordinary by exaggerating your extraordinariness and projecting poor taste onto others.

As a Five you might avoid being empty and not knowing by constantly thinking and projecting ignorance onto others.

As a Six you might avoid being unruly by being rule-bound and projecting deviance onto others; or you might avoid your fears by acting them out before you feel them.

As a Seven you might avoid being sad or pained by only looking on the bright side and projecting gloom onto others.

As an Eight you might avoid weakness by denying it and projecting wimpiness onto others.

As a Nine, you might avoid conflict by burying it and spreading oil on troubled waters.

Mental Disorder

In Sullivan’s system, mental disorder refers to interpersonal processes either inadequate to the situation or excessively complex because of illusory persons also integrated in the situation.  Unresolved situations from the past color our perception of present situations and over-complicate action in them.  This is Sullivan’s description of transference.  We interpret our current relationships through the internal representations or schemas constructed from our earlier interactions.  We overlay our past templates on our present scenarios.  So we need to look at the lenses through which we perceive our interpersonal world (which the Enneagram helps us to do) and then interact more Zen-like with one real person at a time.

Sullivan makes the point that, paradoxically, more security may ensue from abandoning a complex security-seeking process than was ever achieved by it.

So you might ask yourself:

What current, not so effective, security-seeking interpersonal strategy might you give up?  And what interpersonal process can you substitute for it that will be more effective?

Alternate strategies might be found in the resourceful side of your own Enneagram style, your neighboring styles, your core and stress point styles, or any other style, to be completely democratic about it.

Mental Well-being

For Sullivan, mental health can be measured by the balance between the pursuit of satisfactions and security.  Life is lived between the needs for satisfaction and security.  Satisfaction leads to constructive integrations with others and the joyful exercise of functions.  Our ability to attain satisfactions according to socially approved patterns causes a feeling of well-being, self-approval, and security.  If satisfactions are not fulfilled, then we feel anxious, insecure, and uneasy.  Insecurity leads to non-constructive integrations and self-absorbed fantasy and illusion.

Now that I have expressed some of these parallels between Sullivan’s theory of interpersonal psychiatry and the Enneagram theory of personality styles, I feel much relieved, satisfied, and secure.  Hopefully your own euphoria has remained manageable.  For further reading I would suggest:

  • Evans III, F.B. (1996) Harry Stack Sullivan: Interpersonal theory and psychotherapy. New York: Routledge.
  • Greenberg, J., Mitchell, S. (1983) Object relations in psychoanalytic theory. New York: Harvard University Press.
  • Leary, T. (1957) Interpersonal diagnosis of personality. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
  • Mullahy, P. (1970) Psychoanalysis and interpersonal psychiatry: the contributions of Harry Stack Sullivan. New York: Science House.
  • Sullivan, H.S.

(1953) Conceptions of modern psychiatry. New York: W.W. Norton

(1953) The interpersonal theory of psychiatry. New York: W.W. Norton.

(1954) The psychiatric interview. New York: W.W. Norton.

(1956) Clinical studies in psychiatry. New York: W.W. Norton.

(1962) Schizophrenia as a human process. New York: W.W. Norton.

(1964) The fusion of psychiatry and social sciences. New York: W.W. Norton.

(1972) Personal psychopathology. New York: W.W. Norton.

Enneagram Styles As Personality Paradigms

by Jerome Wagner, Ph.D.

Enneagram styles operate as nine personality paradigms or world views. These paradigms become the organizing assumptions and core beliefs that influence and determine our perceptions, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. They are at the core of how we think and feel about our selves, about other people, and about the kinds of interactions we can imagine and allow ourselves to have with others. That is to say, they are at the heart of our interpersonal style.

Our mind likes and looks for regularities. Paradigms or schemas are based on and formed around the recurring patterns we notice. They help us make sense of our experiences and provide us with a predictive capacity to anticipate what’s going to happen next and what affect our behavior will have on our surroundings.

Our paradigms or schemas can be based on an objective appraisal of naturally occurring events in the world (adaptive schemas/divine ideas) or they can be based on a faulty construction of those events (maladaptive schemas/fixations). We fashion representational patterns of our experiences in our mind and act on these appraisals, assuming they are accurate. Having some structure or basis of interpretation is preferable to having none at all. Functioning with no paradigms leads to confusion, anxiety, inaction or random action. Employing inaccurate paradigms at least leads to ersatz certainty and predictable action. Though we may always see everything the same, and though we may only be going around in circles, at least we know what we’re going to see and where we’re going to end up!

In his book Future Edge (1992), Joel Barker provides numerous practical applications of paradigms. Drawing on ideas from cognitive and personality theories, he adroitly applies them in a business setting. His insights are also useful for understanding Enneagram dynamics


Barker observes that paradigms establish and define boundaries and inform us how to operate inside those boundaries in order to be successful. They provide us with rules for playing the game. We are experts as long as we can play the game by the rules of our paradigm. If we are given a new set of rules from another paradigm or if others won’t play according to our norms, we are back to ground zero and usually become angry, bewildered, confused and easily manipulated.

An example Barker uses is the extraordinary memory and brilliant play of chess masters. When an opponent is moving their chess pieces according to the rules of the game, chess masters can remember the position of the pieces with amazing accuracy because they know where the pieces should be moved. However when they are up against a computer moving the pieces in a random manner, the masters’ memory of the placement of the pieces is no better than anyone else’s.

So our personality paradigms make us masters in our own domain. Within the boundaries of our interpersonal style we are confident, comfortable, and relatively secure. People can’t compete with us on our own turf. We’ve worked the territory for years and our moves have become automatic. But if we’re taken into another’s domain, into their paradigm, we’re at their mercy. That’s why our interpersonal strategies and moves are designed to get others to play our game. When they won’t play our way, we get frustrated, confused, and won’t play any more. The insights of transactional analysis into the Games People Play (1964) are illuminating in this context.

How do these paradigm proficiencies show up in Enneagram styles?

ONES are masters at being correct and right and doing what they should do. If you want to know how to do something well, ask a ONE. Or if you want a good critique or good quality control, consult a ONE. In the game of ONE upmanship, ONES will come out right.

On the other hand ONES may feel at a loss if you ask them to come out and play with you. Or if principles and guilt don’t matter to you, the ONE won’t know how to deal with you or motivate you.

TWOS are masters at sensing people’s needs and accommodating themselves to meet those needs. If you want to learn how to empathize, how to help people and make them feel comfortable, ask a TWO. In the game of TWO upmanship, TWOS will come up more helpful.

On the other hand if you don’t need them, TWOS may not know how to relate to you. If you want to deal with them as an equal, they might become fearful. Or if you love them before they can do anything for you, they will become confused.

THREES are masters at getting things done, accomplishing tasks, and looking good. If you want to know how to organize reality and how to do things efficiently, consult a THREE. If you want to know how to sell yourself or your product or how to create the right image to be successful, ask a THREE. They’re often in the consulting business doing this, anyway. In the game of THREE upmanship, THREES will come out looking successful.

However if you don’t have any goals for them to achieve or if you don’t have anything for them to do for you, they may become dissatisfied and leave. Or if you want to relate to them personally on an emotional level and aren’t particularly impressed by, or interested in, their posturing or their achievements, they may not know how to be with you.

FOURS are masters of drama. They thrive in deep emotional waters where there are intense feelings and frequent squalls. They like intensity and stimulation and excitement to make them special. If you want to learn how to feel deeply and live life passionately, seek out a FOUR. If you want to appreciate and value suffering or if you want to attune yourself to the sufferings of others, ask a FOUR how to do it. In the game of FOUR upmanship, FOURS come out more sensitive or more hurt.

On the other hand if you relate to them in a detached intellectual manner, they may be out of their element, like a fish out of water. Or if you don’t think they’re particularly special, they’ll either try to make an impression on you so you’ll remember them or they’ll drop you and move on to a more discerning audience.

FIVES are master thinkers and observers. Their element is the world of clear and distinct ideas. They are at home in their head and feel secure and confident there. If you want to get the whole picture, if you want to synthesize what you know, or if you want to reduce what you know to its essence, consult a FIVE. If you want to know how to detach from your feelings or from your situation, ask a FIVE how to disassociate. In the game of FIVE upmanship, FIVES come out appearing wise.

However if you aren’t especially enamored of ideas but believe feelings or actions are where it’s at, or if you try to get FIVES out of their heads and into their feelings and bodies, then you may lead the FIVES into a state of inarticulate confusion.

SIXES are master worriers and loyalists. They live in a world of fear and intrigue. There are dangers all around that they are scanning for. They are especially sensitive to authority figures and the potential threat they may bring. If you want to find out what responsibility, loyalty and carrying out obligations is all about, ask a SIX. If you want to learn how to ferret out danger in your environment, observe a SIX. Or if you want to know how to discover whether an authority is trustworthy, ask a SIX what to look for. In the game of SIX upmanship, SIXES come out loyal.

On the other hand if you are a person exercising some authority over them or if you are not similarly alarmed by, or against, the enemies they perceive around them, they may translate you into the enemy camp.

SEVENS are master players, entertainers, story-tellers, adventurers, visionaries, bon vivants. If you want to know how to generate options — more than you could ever pursue — consult a SEVEN. If you want to learn how to enjoy life, how to find something good in everything, how to appreciate reality, ask a SEVEN. In the game of SEVEN upmanship, SEVENS come out smiling.

However if you believe in hard work or aren’t amused and delighted by their tales and adventures, you may find yourself considered a bore and left earthbound below by a soaring SEVEN. Limited decisions and repetitious tasks are not in the SEVENS ‘ rule book.

EIGHTS are power masters. They know how to get power, how to use it, how to keep it, and how to prevent others from having power over them. They understand the art of the deal and how to bring enough pressure to bear to get what they want. If you want to know something about power, how to confront a challenge, how to get things off your chest, how to sense phoniness, ask an EIGHT. In the game of EIGHT upmanship, EIGHTS come out on top.

But if you engage an EIGHT on the level of love, peace, and tenderness you might be met with a resisting finger or fist in your face. They can be confused by altruism and grace.

NINES are masters at negotiation, compromise, and resolving or avoiding conflict. They understand how to bring about harmony, how to reconcile opposing views, how to stay in the middle and blend into both sides, building a bridge over troubled waters. If you want to learn how to relax, how to let things go, how to go with the flow and not worry or make a big deal out of anything, consult a NINE. In the game of NINE upmanship, NINES come out settled.

On the other hand if you confront a NINE or try to push them into taking a position or taking action before they’re ready to, you may find a stubborn opponent. Also if you pay too much attention to them and inquire too forcefully into their needs and wants, they may not know how to respond to you.


Another feature of paradigms noted by Barker is how they facilitate our seeing certain realities particularly acutely. Paradigms provide us with a subtle vision, an intuitive edge, in our area of expertise or in the range of convenience of our

As George Kelly says in his book A Theory of Personality (1963): “A construct may be maximally useful for handling certain matters. The range of these matters is called its focus of convenience.”

If you substitute paradigm for construct, each personality paradigm may be maximally useful for handling certain matters. In other words each personality paradigm has a focus of convenience.

This focus of convenience is the marrow, the sweet spot, where the construct works best. It encompasses those aspects of reality that are most in focus; that arena the paradigm is most clear and explicit in elucidating; that part of the territory that falls within the beam of the spotlight. Surrounding areas might also be illuminated by the spotlight, but they won’t appear as sharp and highlighted. Areas more distant and remote from the focus will remain vague and shadowy or may not be seen at all. Other spotlights or paradigms may be needed to cast light on them.

Each of the types in the Enneagram spectrum has an intuitive sense about certain realities. Helen Palmer (1988) highlights these nine intuitive openings and shows how they can lead to subtler aspects of higher consciousness. The clarity or clairvoyance provided by paradigms is another way of interpreting this phenomenon.

From the Enneagram perspective, the nine personality paradigms search out and illumine particular aspects of reality or certain domains of the territory that are deemed important to them. We see some things more clearly than others, understand some things better than others, problem-solve certain issues more easily than others, are more competent in some areas than others are. And this is not necessarily because we are more intelligent, but because our spotlight enables us to see, grasp, and deal with certain realities more clearly and facilely.

As I write this about paradigms and their proficiencies, I’m reminded of the movie Groundhog Day in which the jaded hero is cursed to wake up each morning in the same place at the same time, doomed to repeat the same day. After several months of this repeating cycle, he has had the opportunity to meet everyone in town. People marvel at his divine-like knowledge of them. Whereupon he muses: “It’s not that God is omniscient. It’s just that s/he’s been around a long time!”

So it’s not that we’re mystically intuitive (though this may also be the case), we’ve just been looking for and looking at the same things most of our time. We see things before others do because we’ve spent our whole lives scanning for certain data.

When we enter a room, because our paradigm is telling us what is important, what to look for, and where to look for it, we may see things that other people with different paradigms simply don’t see because they’re looking in another direction or looking for something else. While we’re looking at the floor, they may be looking at the ceiling. We’re experts at carpets and they’re expert at chandeliers!

The nine paradigms’ perceptual acuities are in the following areas:

ONES notice flaws, imperfections, 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, 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. They are 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 readily and sensitively than others will. As you are about to ask for volunteers for your project, you will become aware that the FIVES have left the room.

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 protection in the room, they immediately move to take control so they feel safe. As you are about to take charge, you may find yourself being relegated to the back of the room 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 can become the other person. 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, all the way to the point of falling sleep.

So our paradigms provide us with a characteristic intuitive acuity of perception. At the same time, they give us a set of problem solving capabilities and skills that allow us to deal with certain situations and events quite well. We’re adept at manipulating particular realities because we’ve practiced doing so all our life.

The following proficiencies appear in these nine personality paradigms:

ONES are facile in manipulating ideals, procedures, rules, codes of ethics, and responsibilities. They are good at convergent thinking.

TWOS are adept at handling other’s needs and feelings and adjusting themselves to minister to others’ needs.

THREES are facile in juggling tasks, establishing priorities, setting goals, and implementing strategies.

FOURS have a trained aesthetic eye for patterns and coordinates. They are practiced in manipulating their own fantasies and feelings.

FIVES are facile in manipulating ideas, concepts, and categories.

SIXES handle catastrophes and emergencies surprisingly well because they’ve been preparing for them every day of their lives.

SEVENS manipulate plans, options, and alternatives. They are good at divergent thinking.

EIGHTS manage power easily. They are practiced in gaining the upper hand.

NINES handle conflict deftly by avoiding it, smoothing it over, reconciling opposites, and harmonizing dissonance.

We are especially acute, sensitive, and intuitive about those events that fall within the focus of convenience of our paradigm. Situations that do not fall within our focus of convenience are less clearly understood and less adroitly dealt with. Our personal paradigms work best within their range of convenience. We’re good at some things and clumsy in others. We’re clear headed and hearted about some issues and fuzzy and ambivalent about others. When we make contact with data and events that aren’t handled well by our paradigm, we may need to shift to another paradigm or style that is organized in such a way as to more effectively deal with the situation.

Viewing the world from the paradigms of our stress and core points, our neighboring points, or any other Enneagram point gives us an expanded perspective on the world and provides access to the cognitive, emotional, and behavioral strategies of other complementary ways of being in the world.

Barker, Joel. (1992). Future Edge. New York: Wm Morrow & Co.
Berne, Eric. (1964). Games People Play. New York: Grove Press.
Kelly, George. (1963). A Theory of Personality. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.
Palmer, Helen. (1988). The Enneagram. San Francisco: Harper & Row.

The material in this article is from Jerry Wagner’s book in process on Nine Personality Paradigms: the Enneagram Perspective.

How We Stay Stuck in Our Styles: Schema Maintenance, Avoidance, and Compensation

by Jerome Wagner, Ph.D.

Once we establish our personality styles or paradigms to help us apprehend and navigate around the world, we can either keep them pliant, flexible, accommodating, and up to date; or we can rigidly maintain them, assimilating everything into them, and suffer what Joel Barker (1992) calls paradigm paralysis and George Kelly (1963) labeled hardening of the categories.

There are many reasons why we might not want to change our personality paradigms once we have formed them. They’ve worked for us and we’ve become successful experts within their existing range. Outside the range of our paradigm, we’re back to average. The more adept we become within our style and the more we become invested in it, the more we have to lose by changing it.

Another reason for resisting change is that our identity has become intimately associated with our paradigm. We fear that, if we alter our paradigm, we will alter our sense of who we are and that will leave us feeling confused and lost. Holding onto our established identity and paradigm protects us from experiencing this existential anxiety.

We maintain our paradigms because they have become familiar and familial to us. We become accustomed to having them around. They feel comfortable and familiarity breeds complacency. Staying true to our schemas keeps us loyal to our family’s rules and roles. They give us a sense of belonging.

Efficiency, familiarity, comfort, and fit are some reasons why we hold onto our paradigms. How we hold onto our paradigms or schemas, even in the face of disconfirming evidence, requires some practice. For some insights into how our early schemas about our selves and the world are maintained, we can turn to the cognitive theories of Aaron Beck (1976) and one of his students, Jeffrey Young (1999), who has researched schema maintenance, schema avoidance, and schema compensation operations.


We maintain our paradigms by selective attention to information that confirms our schemas and by selective inattention to information that disconfirms our schemas.

For example, if you believe you are unlovable and people don’t want to be with you, you will pay attention to any slights, signs of boredom, and/or signs of inattention on the part of others. Since you are hyper vigilant about this, you will eventually find what you are looking for. Or if you don’t find it, you’ll make it up and believe you see it. On the other hand, you will diminish the importance of any signs of caring, attention, and interest that come your way. You will say: “That doesn’t count.” Or you will interpret others’ care to be manipulative or given under duress.

Schemas can also be maintained by self defeating behaviors. If you believe people don’t care about you, you will pick narcissistic individuals who really don’t care about you; or you might keep looking for unavailable people; or you may fall into a pattern of abusive relationships.

So we can use mental tricks to maintain our schemas and we can run faulty behavioral experiments finessing the data to confirm our hypotheses.

Here are what schema maintenance procedures look like when fanned out into the nine Enneagram styles.

ONES maintain their schema that the world and all within it need to be improved by paying attention to what’s wrong and what’s missing and by paying little attention to the good that is already there.

TWOS maintain their schema that they are helpers in a needy world by paying attention to the needs of others and by registering the approval and appreciation they receive for being helpful.

THREES maintain their schema that they are the efficiency experts in a disorganized world by noticing the inefficient attitudes and behaviors of those around them, by not paying attention to the work done and successes achieved without them, and by recording the rungs of the ladder they climb and the kudos they receive thanks to their accomplishments.

FOURS maintain their schema that they are aristocrats in exile, strangers in a strange land, tragically flawed, and imminently about to be abandoned, by noticing every lapse of attention shown them, every misunderstanding they receive, every flaw in themselves and every corresponding perfection in others, by comparing themselves with others and always coming up short, and by discounting others’ acceptance and love.

FIVES maintain their schema that the world is intrusive, withholding, and non-negotiable about both, by being overly perceptive of others’ demands and expectations, by being hypersensitive to others’ denying their requests, by feeling powerless about negotiating what they want, and then withdrawing as a default maneuver.

SIXES maintain their schema that the world is threatening and dangerous by looking for germs and enemies, imagining the worst, and by not paying attention to the times, places, and people where and with whom they felt accepted, safe, and secure.

SEVENS maintain their schema that they must have options and must always be “up” by focusing on the good times, remembering and anticipating pleasant events, moving from experience to experience so fleetingly that real satisfaction doesn’t occur so they must compulsively move on to the next pleasurable happening.

EIGHTS maintain their schema that the world is hostile and out to get them by noticing slights, abuses, and manipulations where there might not be any, and by downplaying or denying the sincere motivation of any affection or kindness shown them.

NINES maintain their schema that the world is indifferent and they had best resign themselves to this fact by telling themselves “what’s the difference,” by noticing the futility of any of their personal initiatives and interventions, and by not paying attention to the changes they affected by their actions.


Because schemas elicit such uncomfortable and painful thoughts and feelings as shame, guilt, fear, and anger when they are activated, we maintain our schemas by avoiding anything that would trigger their appearance. We can do this on a cognitive level through defense mechanisms that block the schemas from reaching consciousness. We repress them and go blank when asked to think about something that sets off the schema. Our intellect, imagination, and senses mysteriously fail us around this troubling material. For example if you ask TWOs what they need or ask THREEs where they’ve failed, you are likely to get a blank expression or at best a quizzical look.

Not only can we block an awareness of our schemas, we can also block out any feelings that might accompany our schemas. We go emotionally numb as well as cognitively blank.
This may involve a topical anesthesia. E.g., we might feel angry or happy or fearful; but we don’t feel sad. Or we may experience a general anesthesia by attenuating and numbing all our feelings. We might have a low grade chronic depression. If you ask a FIVE what they are feeling right now, you find out what they’re thinking or you get a pause ranging from a few moments to a few days while they figure out what they’re feeling.

Finally we can avoid our schemas on a behavioral level by refraining from activities that might activate our schema. If we are afraid of failing, we will avoid jobs, relationships, activities, etc. that might end up in failure. Maslow’s “Jonah complex” fits here. When Yahweh asked Jonah to be his spokesperson, Jonah demurred, believing himself to be too incompetent and unworthy to tell the Ninevites anything. He spent a lot of time in the belly of a whale to avoid finding out whether he could mediate or not. Better to stay with what you know than risk some dire results from what you don’t know. Agoraphobia (or spending time in the belly of a whale) would be an extreme instance of a behavioral avoidance to keep from activating schemas. If you ask ONEs or SIXes whether they were rebellious when they were teenagers, you are likely to get an “Of course not!” response, since such behavior is hardly befitting responsible, conscientious, law-abiding boys and girls.

Some schema avoidance maneuvers seen in the nine Enneagram paradigms are the following:

ONES avoid slacking off, doing anything sloppily, or doing what they really want for fear of being criticized and feeling guilty. They avoid play and relaxation. This keeps their perfection schema in place.

TWOS avoid expressing their own needs for fear of being judged as selfish and then having their needs and themselves rejected. This keeps their helping schema in place.

THREES avoid triggering their failure schema by eschewing any project that won’t turn out successful. By avoiding their own agenda and feelings, they stay suited up in their image or role and thereby keep their achievement schema in place.

FOURS avoid triggering their schema that they are flawed, unbefitting, and unacceptable by entering intimate relationships but then rejecting the other person before the other can accept or reject them. This keeps their troubled, special schema in place.

FIVES avoid activating their schema that they are inadequate and have nothing to contribute by not committing to projects or relationships, by withdrawing, and by remaining silent. This keeps their loner schema locked in place

SIXES avoid touching off their schemas of being cowards, unfaithful, heretical, or fragile, by avoiding their fears and their own convictions, and by staying close to authority figures and following the rules (if they are FEARFUL), or by staying away from authority figures and their beliefs, and impulsively acting against their fears instead of staying with their fears (if they are COUNTERFEARFUL). This keeps their fear schema in place.

SEVENS avoid their schemas of being unhappy or limited by not committing to careers or persons that would tie them down, by avoiding painful situations and feelings, and by not sitting still for too long. This keeps their pleasure schema in place.

EIGHTS avoid their schemas of being weak, vulnerable, and powerless by always staying on top and making sure they are never put in a one-down position. They avoid compassion and tenderness and embrace justice and might. This keeps their power schema in place.

NINES avoid activating their schema that they are unlovable and overlookable by not being passionate about themselves, their opinions, or their feelings. By not making a big deal out of their preferences or needs, they avoid ever being disappointed and hurt. This keeps their indifferent schema in place.


Finally we keep our paradigms or schemas in place by compensating for them, by doing the opposite of what we fear our schemas are really pointing to. So if we have a schema that believes we are a failure, we may cover this up and do the opposite by compulsively striving to be successful. Alfred Adler’s theories about the “inferiority complex” and “superiority complex” were the precursors of what cognitive therapists refer to as schema compensation. For example Adler himself, embarrassed by his club foot and feeling inferior to his older brother, compensated for his inferiority feelings by becoming a successful theoretician and social activist.

Through this process of reaction formation, we keep our underlying schema in place because it is never looked at, challenged, or experienced and so we are never able to disconfirm it because all our energy is going into proving its opposite and preventing the painful schema from surfacing.

You know you are over compensating when someone hits the underlying vulnerable schema you are attempting to cover up and a strong emotional reaction ensues. You may feel angry, hurt, embarrassed, humiliated, sad, or fearful when your “compensation button” gets pressed.

Paradoxically our over-compensating tactics often bring about the very thing we fear or are trying to avoid.

An example Young uses is the over compensation of narcissism for a basic sense and state of deprivation when younger. To compensate for feeling deprived when a youngster, the narcissist develops a sense of entitlement as an adult. I deserve this; I am owed this; and I shouldn’t have to do anything to earn it. What the narcissist really wants is to be loved and have her needs met by others. However the narcissistic behavior and attitude is often exaggerated since it is an over compensation, and the inflated sense of importance and entitlement alienates others who then choose not to be involved with the narcissist. So the narcissistic individual is again left alone at the pool with only his image to comfort him.

From the Enneagram perspective, each exaggerated personality style may be thought of as being an over compensation for some contrary underlying schema. Here is a summary of the over compensation tactics of each personality paradigm and how they can ironically elicit the very thing we fear.

Paradigm One:

Those who are exaggeratedly trying to be good and excellent at everything are compensating for underlying maladaptive beliefs that they are bad, unworthy, and imperfect.

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

Paradigm Two:

Those who are exaggeratedly trying to be helpful and generous are  compensating for underlying maladaptive schemas that they are selfish, undeserving of love and consideration, useless, and unimportant.

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

Paradigm Three:

Those who are exaggeratedly trying to achieve and be successful are compensating for underlying maladaptive beliefs that they are not acceptable in themselves; people don’t like them; they are failures as human beings.

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

Paradigm Four:

Those who are exaggeratedly trying to be special are compensating for underlying maladaptive schemas that they are nobody; they are flawed and ugly; and people don’t want to be around them.

An overly sensitive, refined, precious, entitled, easily misunderstood attitude generally brings about misunderstanding and distancing instead of empathy and connection. This confirms the maladaptive schema of being unlovable.

Paradigm Five:

Those who are exaggeratedly trying to know while remaining anonymous are compensating for underlying maladaptive schemas that they are ignorant, insignificant underdogs unable to represent themselves.

Keeping quiet and withdrawing provokes intruding and projecting behavior from others. Nature abhors a vacuum, so people move into the space vacated. Being silent can either be interpreted as: “She must be thinking something brilliant;” or “He must have nothing to say.” This confirms the belief that the world is intrusive or withholding and you have nothing to offer it.

Paradigm Six:

Those who are exaggeratedly trying to be loyal and dependent or rebellious and pseudo-independent are compensating for underlying maladaptive schemas that they are cowards; they are deserving of punishment for transgressing some rules; and they are living in a dangerous world.

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

Paradigm Seven:

Those who are exaggeratedly trying to be happy and O.K. are compensating for underlying maladaptive beliefs that they are not O.K.; they are limited; they are about to be overrun by depression; they are boring or are imminently about to be bored.

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 maladaptive fear that others are going to rain on your parade.

Paradigm Eight:

Those who are exaggeratedly trying to be powerful and strong are compensating for maladaptive underlying schemas that they are weak and vulnerable and the world is a hostile place.

An aggressive attitude and behavior can just as likely elicit aggressive behavior in others as the intended fearful behavior. The less strong frequently try to fight the more strong as a way of proving themselves. This helps confirm the belief that the world is hostile.

Paradigm Nine:

Those who are exaggeratedly trying to be settled are compensating for maladaptive underlying assumptions that they don’t fit in; they are unwanted and neglected; they don’t matter.

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.

We stay stuck in our style when, instead of examining our paradigms and adjusting them as circumstances require thereby giving us maximally effective outlooks and responses, we forget or deny we’re wearing lenses, refuse to get our prescriptions checked as needed, look at the world through a narrowed outmoded perspective and consequently respond in stereotypical behaviors.

The Enneagram is a useful lens and schema checker offering us more varied and resourceful filters and pliant paradigms.

Barker, Joel. (1992). Future Edge. New York: Wm Morrow & Co.

Beck, Aaron. (1976). Cognitive Therapy and the Emotional Disorders. New York: Meridian.

Kelly, George. (1963). A Theory of Personality. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.

Young, Jeffrey. (1999). Cognitive Therapy for Personality Disorders: a Schema-Focused Approach. Sarasota: Professional Resources Press.

This article is taken from Jerry Wagner’s book in process on The Enneagram Perspective: Nine Personality Paradigms.

The Enneagram and the Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler

by Jerome Wagner, Ph.D.

When I first read Adler, I was struck by how several of his ideas resonated with Enneagram theory.  In this essay I’ll give a brief overview of Adler’s take on personality and then  focus on those parts of his psychology that complement certain Enneagram dynamics and how I believe they differ.

Adler’s work has become so much a part of mainstream psychology that we forget he was the first to crystallize these ideas.  For example Adler has been called the father of ego psychology, the father of humanistic psychology, the father of cognitive therapy, and the father of family therapy.  He’s been a very fecund father!

Adler and Freud

Even though Adler’s approach was different from Freud’s, he was asked to join the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society and became its president a year before officially breaking off from the group.

Actually, the differences between Adler and Freud were quite extensive.  While Freud viewed the mind as consisting of warring factions leading to inevitable conflict, Adler envisioned the mind as an integrated whole.  He chose to call his approach Individual Psychology from the Latin individuum, meaning undivided.  He also emphasized the individual person rather than types of people which would not make him too keen on the Enneagram.

Freud emphasized the unconscious mind and irrational thinking and considered biological motives to be primary.  For him the goal of therapy was to discover repressed early memories.  Hence Freud referred to his method as depth psychology.  Adler emphasized the conscious mind and common sense and thought social motives and relationships were primary.  He focused on family dynamics (such as birth order) and established the first child guidance clinics.  For Adler the goal of therapy was to encourage a lifestyle that incorporates social interest.  So Adler’s approach might be referred to as surface or context psychology.

While Freud was quite pessimistic about human nature, espousing a Hobbesian Darwinian philosophy, Adler was more optimistic, following a Rousseauian humanistic philosophy.

Freud thought that personality was determined by heredity and environmental factors.  We are influenced by our past. So if you want to know who you are and why you are doing what you’re doing, retrace your steps to see how you got here.  Adler believed that humans are free to determine their own personality; they have a creative self.   If you want to know who you are and what you’re doing now, look forward.  What are your future goals and ambitions?  Freud endorsed efficient causality that pushes us from behind; Adler (like Jung) emphasized final causality that pulls us from ahead.

Freud maximized the importance of sex; Adler minimized the importance of sex and — like Fritz Perls, another defector from the analytic tradition — accentuated the aggressive instinct.

Freud analyzed dreams to detect the contents of the unconscious mind.  Adler analyzed dreams to learn about current lifestyles.

Adler’s Individual Psychology

No doubt reflecting on his own life where he experienced rickets as a child and competition with his athletic older brother, Adler observed that human beings feel inferior and these feelings are the motivating force behind all personal striving and accomplishments.  We start small and work our way up.  I recall taking my daughter to the Taste of Chicago when she was a little girl.  Having ingested about 15000 calories myself and feeling quite content, I asked her how she was enjoying the day.  She remarked that all she could see was knees.  Adler may have been on to something.

To compensate for these inferiority feelings, we strive for superiority.  This doesn’t mean becoming better than others; it means going from below to above, from minus to plus.  It means expressing this great upward drive, this striving for perfection.  Eventually Adler enlarged this striving for an ideal self as striving to create a superior or perfect society to go along with it.

Adler’s striving for perfection or reaching for one’s ideal self is a positive healthy motivating force in every person.  It is based on the meaning and values we create for our life and then seek to live out.  This is the self we want to be and is on the resourceful end of the Enneagram style continuum.

This is in contrast to Karen Horney’s idealized self-image which is more a neurotic or default motivation.  In this case we don’t believe our real self is acceptable and consequently we fashion an idolized self we think we should be so we will be up to standard.  This idealized self is ironically on the non-resourceful low end of the Enneagram style continuum.

Adler’s ideal self also differs from the actualizing self of his humanist colleagues Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers, who saw the actualizing tendency as becoming who you are or becoming what your inherent potentialities actually suit you to be, Adler viewed individuals as becoming other than who they were, as overcoming real or imagined inferiorities.  So Adler has an idealist version of development while Maslow and Rogers have an actualization version.

To get a feel for the actualization version, remember a time when you had a clear sense of who you were and then attempted to function consistently with that sense.  On the other hand, if you remember a time when you were dissatisfied with your talents and actively tried to transcend them to reach a higher level of functioning, you get the gist of Adler’s perfection version.

Adler borrowed from the “as if” philosophy of Hans Vaihinger to support his idealist vision of development.  Vaihinger’s epistemology said we can only be certain of the subjective conscious elements provided by our sensations; and since we experience the physical world only indirectly through our sensations, to make sense of these sensations we invent terms, concepts, and theories to give them meaning.  The world we live in is the world that appears in our consciousness, our phenomenal world, not the physical geographical world.  This epistemology is also the basis of Kurt Lewin’s Gestalt “field theory” and Carl Rogers “phenomenological field” theory.

The criteria for this “as if” fictional world is not whether it is true or false but whether it is heuristic, practical and useful.  According to this approach, the Enneagram is a “useful fiction”– as the practitioners of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) would assert.

Adler took Vaihinger’s theory and applied it to personality.  From the interpretation of early experience, various worldviews can result.  For example, the world can be perceived as an evil or dangerous place to be avoided, or as a pleasant or loving place to be embraced.  For Adler subjective reality was more important than physical reality.  It is the child’s perception of the major events in his or her life that determines his or her worldview, not actual reality.  This is what makes Adler one of the founders of cognitive theory.  If the child perceives the world to be a harsh, unpredictable place, he or she will adjust by creating life goals that incorporate those facts.  If the child perceives the world as a warm, loving, predictable place, then those perceptions will be important in his or her adjustments to life.

Some Enneagram authors would say our current Enneatype is the result of our trying out many different behaviors.  We kept those strategies that were rewarded and that contributed to our physical and psychological survival; and these clusters of attitudes and behaviors are what we call our Enneagram style.  This is a behavioral approach.

Other authors, myself included, would say there is a temperamental contribution to our Enneagram style as well as environmental conditioning.  We are born with a temperamental disposition that leads us to value some things over others; that turns our attention to some phenomena and not to others; that influences us to interpret events a certain way; and that inclines us to act in some ways but not in others.  For example we might value efficiency, scan for things that work, see opportunities in the world, and take them.   Our temperamental proclivity (what we value, look for, construe, and do) then interacts with the environment we find ourselves thrown into (a la Heidegger) to produce our personality style — in this example, Enneastyle Three.  This is a bio-social-behavioral approach.

While Adler would say our creative self is free to make up any world it wants, the “as if” part of his theory, I would say our creative self is influenced by our temperament, a component of our Enneagram style, to shape our world the way we do.  Our worldview, our particular take on reality, is built-in to some extent – like Jung’s notion of archetypes which organize our subjective responses to perpetually recurring human experiences. Our Enneagram style provides us with patterns or templates for understanding our experience.  That doesn’t mean we are completely determined by our style.  We can expand our outlook by taking on other points of view and by uniquely crafting our own viewpoint.  We possess all the archetypes to live by.  It’s just that some of them become dominant.  So our personality appears in the interaction among our Enneagram a-priori structures, our environment, and our creative juggling of our nature and nurture.

Because the important early experiences that mold a child’s personality are those most vividly remembered through the years, they are the ones most likely to be reported as the person’s earliest recollections.  It was for this reason that Adler believed that one’s earliest memories provide important information about one’s life goals and one’s lifestyle.

Coupled with feelings of inferiority, a child’s worldview will determine his or her final goal (Adler’s fictional finalism), and his or her lifestyle.  If a negative worldview develops, the child will believe that he or she must do battle with the world or escape from it in order to gain superiority.  Here the goal will be to dominate, to defeat, to destroy, or to withdraw.  If a positive worldview develops, the child will believe that he or she must participate in the world in order to gain superiority.  Here the goal will be to join in, to create, to love, or to cooperate.  Either type of worldview can manifest itself in a number of lifestyles.

The adaptive, resourceful, high side of our Enneagram style goes with a positive worldview; while the maladaptive, less resourceful, low side of our Enneatype accompanies a negative worldview.  Why do some choose the high road and some the low road?  For some it might be due to faulty wiring — or neurological misfirings.  For others it may be due to faulty family dynamics — or environmental deficits.  Or, if you eschew either/or positions and prefer a double whammy, it’s both.

The concept of fictional finalism, or guiding fiction, gave Adler’s theory a strong teleological component but didn’t ignore the past altogether.  Adler viewed the person as pushed by feelings of inferiority or imperfections toward perfection using his or her unique lifestyle as a means of attaining some future goal.

Adler emphasized that these future goals or ideals are convenient fictions invented to make life more significant than it otherwise would be.  Healthy people change fictions when circumstances warrant it.  Neurotic persons cling to their fictions at all costs.

In sum, the individual invents a worldview, derives a final goal or guiding self-ideal from that worldview, and then creates a lifestyle as a means of achieving that goal.

Earliest Memory

Dan McAdams (2006) in his textbook on The Person writes that: “Human beings are fascinated with beginnings.  We want to know ‘how it all started,’ ‘where things come from, ‘what the ‘origins’ of a particular event or phenomenon are.’  We tend to believe that we can understand something fully only when we know its beginnings.”  So we are fascinated with creation myths, the theory of evolution, the “Big Bang” theory, etc.

The same fascination holds for our own lives.  We want to know “where we came from,” and what our “roots” might be.  Adler’s interest in earliest memories expresses this primal quest.  Adler believed that the earliest memory reveals major themes in a person’s style of life, the person’s unique mode of adjustment to life — particularly the person’s self-selected goals and means of achieving them.  Adler thought that each life was patterned according to a unique style, the central features of which are outlined through early relationships in the person’s family.  According to McAdams: “Adler viewed the earliest memory as something like a personal creation myth or scene that implicitly foreshadows and symbolizes the overall tone of the person’s subsequent life story.”  (p.461)  Earliest memories reveal the beginnings of a general orientation toward life.

What is the earliest memory you can recall?  What was the dominant feeling? sensation? Were you active in the scene or was something happening to you?  Were you alone or with others?  parents? siblings? friends? foes? Were you cooperative or not? Are there any foreshadowing’s in this scene between what was happening then and what course your life has taken?   Any parallels in your life now to what was going on in that scene?  Were there any intimations of your career path?   Is there anything about this scene that reminds you of your Enneagram style?

I can remember being around 5 or 6 and my friend and I were rooting around in the trunk of my father’s car, looking at some tools and a fire extinguisher.  In the course of examining said fire extinguisher, we set it off.  Once you started fire extinguishers in those days, you couldn’t turn them off.  And when the foam got in your eyes, it really burned.  I remember my father appearing on the scene in response to the crying and screaming and washing out our eyes with water and, miraculously, not threatening to kill us.

So where is this curious little kid today who rooted around in trunks of cars?  Well, he’s a psychologist who’s still researching into things and more specifically a therapist who’s looking into psyches.  Fortunately any fire extinguishers going off have only been brief and not life threatening.  I must admit that signs that say “For members only” or “Stay out” present invitations to explore what’s behind those signs.  Also should I get myself into trouble, I still have the fantasy that my father (i.e., lawyer, accountant, financial advisor, department chair, physician, dentist, etc.) will step in and rescue me.  I can see a little bit of the Enneatype Five in that little and big kid.

It doesn’t matter whether these memories are accurate or not.  They reflect the individual’s interpretation of early experiences and that interpretation shapes the worldview, life goal, and lifestyle.

Life Goal

The early events in our life are organized in light of our final goals.  These final goals are our subjective expectations about what might happen in the future.  What each of us perceives to be the final goal of our lives is a fiction that we create to give our lives direction and purpose.  If these fictional final goals are adaptive and realistic, they organize our strivings and provide ultimate explanations for our conduct.  If these fictions are impossible to realize, they may become the root of much neurotic misery.  Either way, people strive for narrative unity and purpose as their lives evolve over time.

In his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey (1990) recommends that we begin with the end in mind.  Composing a mission statement is one way to place the end at the beginning.  To get in touch with your fictional final goal, you might ask yourself these questions.

Who do you want to be?  What do you want to do?  What are the values and principles upon which you want to base your being and doing?

In my never-ending quest to boil everything down to its essentials, I would say that:

Enneatype Ones value goodness and want to make the world a better place.

Enneatype Twos value love and want to make the world a more caring place.

Enneatype Threes value competence and want to make the world a more efficient place.

Enneatype Fours value authenticity and beauty and want to make the world a more  beautiful place

Enneatype Fives value knowledge and want to make the world a more enlightened place.

Enneatype Sixes value fidelity and consistency and want to make the world a more safe and secure place.

Enneatype Sevens value joy and want to make the world a happier variety-filled place.

Enneatype Eights value power and equity and want to make the world a more just place.

Enneatype Nines value peace and want to make the world a more harmonious place.


Once we fashion a worldview and then develop a final goal or guiding self-ideal from that worldview, we then invent a lifestyle to help us achieve that goal.  For Adlerians there are as many lifestyles as there are individuals.  For Enneagrammars there are nine broad classes of lifestyles that accompany the nine worldviews and life goals – though within those nine categories there are as many variations on those themes as there are individuals.

Even Adler illustrated with a sweeping brushstroke four types of people based on whether their social interest was constructive or destructive and whether their striving for perfection was done in an active or passive manner.  He didn’t elaborate much more on his rudimentary typology.

Adler believed we all inherited a social interest or Gemeinschaftsgefuhl, a feeling for community.  What Adler had in mind by this social sense was that the interest we take in others is not just to serve our own purposes but directs us to develop an “interest in the interests” of others.  Though we are born with an innate need for belonging and fellowship, we must practice this kind of cooperative behavior to actualize our social feeling, otherwise we will become neurotic.

The socially useful type, for Adler, is the healthy lifestyle.  The ruling-dominant type, getting-leaning type, and avoiding type all have faulty or mistaken lifestyles because they lack proper social interest.

Karen Horney was influenced by Adler and you might recognize her neurotic moving against (aggressive), moving towards (compliant), and moving away from (detached) trends in Adler’s three faulty lifestyles.

Striving for
Social Interest
Constructive Destructive
Active socially useful dominant
Passive getting avoiding

In the Enneagram system, the socially useful type would be any healthy Enneatype; the getting type might be an unhealthy two or three; the ruling type looks like an eight; and the avoiding type could be a five or nine.

To get a sense of your lifestyle in relation to your final goal, ask yourself these questions.

Having written out clearly and in detail your central life goal, what are you doing or planning to do in order to attain this goal?  What steps are you taking or have you taken towards your fictional final goal?  What are some obstacles to attaining your goal and how have you tackled them?

Has the lifestyle you have developed helped you achieve your life goal or is it somehow interfering with your getting what you really want?  Faulty or maladaptive lifestyles prevent us from meeting our needs and wishes.  Adaptive lifestyles facilitate our achieving our goals and dreams.  The high side of each Enneagram style is the high road to our destiny; the low side of each Enneatype puts up roadblocks or detours us to some cul-de-sac or endlessly circling drive.

Birth Order

Whereas Freud focused on fathers and his attractive youthful mother towards whom he could have Oedipal fantasies, Adler (whose mother apparently was more a middle-aged hausfrau) chose to pay attention to his siblings.  His interest in birth order was a unique contribution to theories of personality formation.

Empirical research on the effects of birth order on personality traits has not produced many clear-cut findings.  There is some evidence that a child’s position within a family influences the personality he or she develops within the family.  However when the child leaves the family, the coping strategies and other personality characteristics learned within the family may not be relevant outside the family so there may be little transfer of training and behavior to other settings.

On the other hand, Frank Sulloway (1996), a proponent of birth order, says that first borns are more similar in personality to first borns in other families than they are to their own younger siblings; and youngest children are often more similar to the youngest child in another family than his or her own elder siblings because the family is not as much a shared environment as a set of niches that provide siblings with different outlooks. Perhaps those niches and outlooks are also shared by various Enneatypes?

While birth order may exert some effect on personality, this effect is mediated by demographic factors such as gender, social class, ethnicity, and other variables.  However, Enneatypes do not seem to be mediated by these demographic factors.  They show up anywhere!

Given those caveats about the validity of birth order theory, here are some descriptions of these various niches in the family.

First borns are said to be more conscientious, ambitious, and aggressive than their younger siblings.  First borns are over-represented at Harvard and Yale as well as disciplines requiring higher education such as medicine, engineering, or law.  Every astronaut to go into space has been either the oldest child in his or her family or the eldest boy.  More than half of all Nobel Prize winners and U.S. presidents have been first born.  Famous eldest children include: Hillary and Bill Clinton, Richard Branson, J.K. Rowling, and Winston Churchill.

If I were given to speculation, I might hypothesize that Enneatype Ones might be found among first borns with maybe some Eights and Threes sprinkled in as well.

Middle children are more easy going and peer-oriented.  Since they can get lost in the shuffle of their own families, they learn to build bridges to other sources of support and therefore tend to have excellent people skills.  Middle children often take on the role of mediator and peacemaker.  Famous middle children include: Bill Gates, J.F. Kennedy, Madonna, and Princess Diana.

Empathic Enneatype Twos and Fours and mediating Nines might be found in this group.

Youngest children tend to be the most creative and can be very charming – even manipulative.  Because they often identify with the underdog, they tend to champion egalitarian causes. (Youngest siblings were the earliest backers of the Protestant Reformation and the Enlightenment.  Successful in journalism, advertising, sales and the arts, famous youngest children include Cameron Diaz, Jim Carrey, Rosie O’Donnell Eddie Murphy, and Billie Crystal.

With this group of comedians and comediennes, can Enneatype Sevens be far away?

Only children have similar characteristics to first borns and are frequently burdened with high parental expectations.  Research shows they are more confident, articulate, and likely to use their imagination than other children.  They also expect a lot from others, hate criticism, can be inflexible, and are likely to be perfectionists.  Well-known only children include Rudy Guiliani, F.D. Roosevelt, Alan Greenspan, Tiger Woods, Maria Sharapova, and Leonardo Da Vinci.

This might be a good breeding ground for Enneatype Fives.  As an only child who also happens to be a Five, it’s not a stretch to see why I would head for my room and be accustomed to and content with being alone.

Because they hold equal status and are treated so similarly, twins turn out similarly in most cases.  Consider advice columnists “Dear Abby” and “Ann Landers” and Harold and Bernard Shapiro who became presidents of Princeton University and McGill University respectively.

A correlation study done in South Africa by Brooks (1998) found that identical twins were the same Enneagram type ninety five percent of the time.  On the other hand the twin study conducted by David Daniels and Betsy Maxon published in the Enneagram Journal (2008) found only a five and a half percent correlation between identical twins and Enneatypes.  We need a two out of three additional study to break the tie.

It remains to be determined whether birth order causes one’s Enneagram style; whether it simply aggravates or ameliorates one’s Enneagram style; or whether it has nothing to do with one’s Enneastyle.

In my informal data gathering about birth order and Enneagram style, I haven’t found any conclusive correlations.  Apparently any Enneatype can hang anywhere on the family tree.  It would be more useful to pursue more formal research than a simple show of hands to see if there are any significant relationships between birth order and Enneatypes or, perhaps, with subtypes.

In the meantime you might want to poll your friends, neighbors, and fellow Enneagram cognoscenti to determine whether there is any relationship between their birth order, Enneagram type, and subtype.

Adler’s theories about early memories, worldview, final goal, lifestyle, social interest, and birth order have their resonances in Enneagram theory.  While some of the notes may vary and the themes can be interpreted differently, one can hear a similar melody in both pieces.


Brooks, D. (1998).  Are personality traits inherited?  South African Journal of Science. Vol. 94.

Covey, S. (1990).  The seven habits of highly effective people.  New York: Fireside.

Hergenhahn, B.R. & Olson, R. (2007).  An introduction to theories of personality.  (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, N.J: Pearson.

Maxie, B. & Daniels D. (2008).  Personality differentiation of identical twins reared together.  The Enneagram Journal 1: 66-76.

McAdams, D. (2006).  The person: a new introduction to personality psychology.  (4th ed.). New York: Wiley and Sons.

Sulloway, F. (1996).  Born to rebel: Birth order, family dynamics, and creative lives..  New York: Pantheon.