Brief Guide to the Enneagram

What is an Enneagram?

The word 'enneagram' comes from the Greek 'ennea' meaning 9 and 'gram' meaning something written or drawn. So an enneagram is a drawing with 9 points.

Enneagram diagram.

The nine points on this diagram represent 9 different personality types, with 9 different ways of thinking, feeling and acting. Understanding these 9 different worldviews can help us to understand why other people do the things they do, and it can help us to understand ourselves better.

Three Centres of Intelligence

The 9 personality types of the Enneagram are based on three centres of intelligence: the intellectual centre, the emotional centre and the instinctual centre. These are also known as the head, heart and gut centres. Types 8, 9 and 1 are in the gut centre, Types 2, 3 and 4 are in the heart centre and types 5, 6 and 7 are in the head centre.

Although each type has a home in the head, heart or gut, everyone can use all three of the centres. However, each type has their own strengths and weaknesses. You can use knowledge of your Enneagram type to help you build on your strengths and work on your weaknesses.

Head Centre

Head centre types tend to filter the world through their mental faculties. The goals of this strategy are to minimise anxiety, to manage potentially painful situations and to gain a sense of certainty through the mental processes of analysing, envisioning, imagining and planning. The higher qualities of the head centre are wisdom, knowing, intuition and thoughtfulness.

Heart Centre

Heart centre types tend to perceive the world through the filter of emotional intelligence. They are attuned to the moods and feelings of others in order to maintain a feeling of connection with them. They depend more than other types upon the approval and recognition of others to support their self-esteem and feeling of being loved. To get that approval and recognition, they create an image of themselves to get others to accept them. The higher qualities of the heart centre are empathy, understanding, compassion and loving kindness.

Gut Centre

Gut centre types tend to filter the world through an intelligence of kinesthetic and physical sensations and gut instinct. They use personal position and power to make life the way it should be. They devise strategies to assure their place in the world and minimise discomfort. The higher qualities of the gut centre are being in touch with the energy needed for action, discerning how much power to use in situations and being grounded in the world.

Nine Types

Here are some brief descriptions of the nine different Enneagram types. If you want to find out more, the best way of learning about the types is to go to a class or workshop. These usually include panels of each Enneagram type, where people of that type tell their own stories. If you can't make it to a class, there are plenty of books and websites around on the Enneagram. I recommend Helen Palmer and David Daniels' website,, which has short video clips showing the different types.

Type One: The Perfectionist

Ones at best are ethical, conscientious and responsible, but at worst can also be judgemental, rigid and irritable.

Type Two: The Giver

Twos at best are nurturing, generous and empathic, but at worst can also be intrusive, manipulative and martyr-like.

Type Three: The Performer

Threes at best are hardworking, motivated and successful, but at worst can also be unfeeling, superficial and workaholic.

Type Four: The Romantic

Fours at best are creative, compassionate and deeply feeling, but at worst can also be moody, self-absorbed drama queens.

Type Five: The Observer

Fives at best are analytical, objective and self-sufficient, but at worst can also be intellectually arrogant, emotionally detached and negative.

Type Six: The Loyal Skeptic

Sixes at best are loyal and practical with enquiring minds, but at worst can also be paranoid, defensive and self-sabotaging.

Type Seven: The Epicure

Sevens at best are spontaneous, joyful and enthusiastic, but at worst can also be unreliable, manic and narcissistic.

Type Eight: The Protector

Eights at best are direct, authoritative and protective, but at worst can also be excessive, bullying and insensitive.

Type Nine: The Mediator

Nines at best are friendly, unselfish and accepting, but at worst can also be spaced out, stubborn and unassertive.


The Enneagram was brought to Europe by George Gurdjieff in the 1920s. We know that he described people as three-brained beings and spoke of individual people as having a chief feature, possibly their Enneagram fixation. He also used the Enneagram symbol. Gurdjieff claimed to have learnt about the Enneagram from the Sufis.

However, the Enneagram as we know it today comes from Oscar Ichazo's Arica school in South America in the 1960s. Ichazo said that although he had been in contact with Gurdjieff scholars he was already familiar with the material from other sources and claimed to have seen the Enneagram symbol in an ancient grimoire in his uncle's library. Claudio Naranjo brought the teachings to California and taught them to students including Helen Palmer and Robert Ochs.

In recent times Evagrius Ponticus has been linked with the Enneagram because of his teachings on the eight evil thoughts (missing only fear from the nine Enneagram vices) and the conversion of the passion or vice to its corresponding virtue. Evagrius was influenced by Neoplatonism through Clement and Origen, and there are obvious links between Plato and the Enneagram in the idea of the three centres. In Phaedrus, Plato described the soul as being in three parts: the rational, concupiscible and irascible parts, which correspond well with the head, heart and gut centres. And in The Republic he describes an ideal state as a macrocosm of the human soul with a three-level hierarchy, each level being linked to a different part of the body: the head, chest and abdomen.

The Enneagram and Other Spiritual Teachings

Who knows where Plato got the idea of the three-part soul from. Perhaps he came up with it himself (or perhaps Socrates did as the concept appears in the Socratic part of Plato's work). It does seem to have appeared fully formed though. Plato was also influenced by Pythagoras and both Pythagoras and Plato studied in Egypt. Maybe this is the "pre-sand Egypt" Gurdjieff spoke of?

What we can say is that there are correlations with other spiritual teachings. Chinese medicine tells of three treasures - jing, chi and shen - which are three types of energy located in the three tan t'ien centres in the gut, heart and head. The three very specific locations of the tan t'ien centres - and their functions - in turn correspond very well with three of the seven major chakras in yoga - Manipura, Anahata and Ajna. Three of the four other major chakras - Muladhara, Svadisthana and Vishuddha - have functions which nicely match the three subtypes or instinctual variants in Enneagram teaching - the survival, sexual and social subtypes in order from lowest to highest. The remaining chakra - Sahasrara, the crown chakra - is very different from the others and its function is the merging of the self with the divine, which can only be done once the other chakras are open and balanced.

There are also correlations with the Jewish mystical tradition of the Kabbalah. This again speaks of the three-part soul, divided into Nefesh (instincts), Ruach (moral virtues) and Neshamah (intellect). In this system the parts of the soul are ranked with the head centre at the top and the gut centre at the bottom. There are also very good correlations between the nine lower sephirot on the tree of life (and their darker counterparts, the qliphoth) and the nine Enneagram types. The other sephirah, Kether, the crown, is like the crown chakra above and apart from the others and represents a higher form of consciousness.

The Tree of Life, with Enneagram points shown.

In the diagram above I have placed the Enneagram type numbers I believe correspond with each of the sephirot. These are not to be confused with the numbers of the sephirot which are also numbered from one to ten. If I am correct, then the lightning bolt path on the tree of life matches perfectly the path of integration on the Enneagram. (Relationships between the sephirot and the Enneagram types have been drawn before, for a different interpretation see The Enneagram and Kabbalah by Howard Addison.)

The Enneagram, with the lightning bolt path from the Tree of Life shown.

Malkuth, corresponding with type 6 on the Enneagram, represents the material world and it requires a qualitative leap to the next sephirah up. This leap is paralleled on the Enneagram diagram by a move, not along the line of security, but sideways to get to point 5 on the hexad. The lightning bolt path then follows the lines of security on the hexad, from 5 to 8 to 2 to 4 to 1 to 7. At this point on the Enneagram we would normally follow the line of security back to 5. However, we have reached another division on the tree of life. We have got to the point where we have to cross the Abyss to get to Binah and point 9. There is no direct link between points 7 and 9 on the Enneagram, but then there is no direct link between Chesed and Binah on the tree of life either. Some versions of the tree of life have an eleventh sephirah, Da'at, which is a bridge across the Abyss. Da'at has been linked with both Malkuth and Kether, Kether leading into the Malkuth of the next level. So type 6 actually gets three sephirot.

Therefore, on the Enneagram diagram we take another step sideways from 7 to 6. We can now follow the lines of security again from 6 to 9 to 3. From 3 we follow the line of security again to 6, which takes us to Kether and the Malkuth of the next level where we can start again.

It is an interesting exercise to follow different paths up the tree of life and contemplate how the balance of the three centres changes.

Enneagram Angels

The thing that got me started on looking into the links with Plato and with other spiritual teachings was angels. Some time ago, purely by accident, I came across the website of an Eastern Orthodox organisation (which is no longer there) listing nine different types of angel and describing their attributes. Of course I had to try to match them up with Enneagram types and they matched very well. I traced these angel descriptions back to a book called De Coelesti Hierarchia or The Celestial Hierarchy written anonymously by an author now known as Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, who was also influenced by Neoplatonism. There are three choirs of angels with three ranks of angel in each choir. These ranks and choirs are as follows:

  • Perfecting choir (guardians of God's throne)
    • Seraphim (sing God's glory)
    • Cherubim (pour out divine wisdom)
    • Thrones (uphold God)
  • Illuminating choir (heavenly governors)
    • Dominions (instruct earthly authorities)
    • Virtues (help struggle against temptation)
    • Powers (maintain order)
  • Purifying choir (heavenly messengers)
    • Principalities (direct the universe)
    • Archangels (reveal mysteries and will of God)
    • Angels (healing, loving, protecting)

And this is how I believe they match up with the Enneagram:

  • Perfecting choir (head centre)
    • Seraphim (Type 7 - Enthusiast)
    • Cherubim (Type 5 - Observer)
    • Thrones (Type 6 - Loyal Sceptic)
  • Illuminating choir (gut centre)
    • Dominions (Type 8 - Protector)
    • Virtues (Type 1 - Reformer)
    • Powers (Type 9 - Mediator)
  • Purifying choir (heart centre)
    • Principalities (Type 3 - Performer)
    • Archangels (Type 4 - Romantic)
    • Angels (Type 2 - Giver)

The higher side of each Enneagram personality type corresponds nicely with the functions of the nine types of angel. Not only that, but the centres correspond with the three choirs in that all the head types are in one choir, all the gut types in another and all the heart types in the third. There are a couple of important differences between Enneagram typing and the angelic hierarchy though. The main difference is that the angels are ranked from closest to God to closest to us, whereas the Enneagram types are ordered around a circle and no Enneagram type is better or worse than any other type. Also people have vices as well as virtues while angels don't.

Why are the angels ranked? One reason may be that the society Pseudo-Dionysius lived in was hierarchical so this was the way he (assuming it was a man) saw the universe: as above, so below. In fact, The Celestial Hierarchy was used by Johann Eck in the 16th century as an argument for hierarchy in the Catholic church with the Pope at the top through the ranks of bishops, priests and deacons, with the laity at the bottom. This was around the time that Martin Luther had made the dangerous proposition that people could find God themselves without going through the medium of the church.

But why this particular order? Well, considering the Neoplatonist link between the Enneagram and The Celestial Hierarchy it is probably because of Plato. Plato saw the rational (head) part of the soul as being connected to the higher mind, while the concupiscible (heart) and irascible (gut) parts were together linked to the body and the material world. This again may be due to the time he was living in, as Plato was part of a movement trying to bring more rational thought into a world dominated by desires and instincts.

But why is the heart centre relegated to the bottom? Intuitively you would expect the gut centre there as it is the lowest of the centres in the body and "base instincts" generally get a bad rap. It is also the centre most strongly linked with the body in Enneagram teachings. The function of the heart centre may give us a clue. This is the centre for relationships and reaching out to other people, and the corresponding purifying choir of heavenly messengers are the only ones who condescend to contact with humanity. They are the closest to people so in a hierarchical system must therefore be furthest from God.

We can see this head/gut/heart hierarchy reflected within the choirs as well. We all have access to all three centres and we not only have a primary centre that we use the most but we all have a least preferred centre. For the 4, 5 and 9, the gut centre is the least preferred centre; for the 3, 7 and 8 it is the heart centre; and for the 1, 2 and 6 it is the head centre. You will notice that for the 3, 6 and 9 on the internal triangle their least preferred centre is their own, which does make them harder to place on the hierarchy. As you can see on the Enneagram diagram, each of the points on the hexad are closer to their secondary centre than their least preferred centre.

Looking at the angelic ranks again, right at the top we have type 7 whose centres are head/gut/heart in that order. Next comes type 5 whose centres are head/heart/gut. And finally in the perfecting choir we have type 6 who although a head type and having a focus of attention in that centre also have issues in the same centre.

This pattern is repeated in the other choirs. Type 8 comes next with centres in the order of gut/head/heart, then comes type 1 with gut/heart/head. Type 9 is the hardest to place in a hierarchy as they are in the gut centre and balanced between the head and heart. In the purifying choir type 3 comes at the top, presumably because they are the heart type least influenced by the heart, followed by type 4 with heart/head/gut and finally type 2 with heart/gut/head and centres in reverse order to type 7 at the top.

Systems and Hierarchies

As a 9 myself I am not fond of hierarchies and I believe that we need all three centres for balance - neglecting the heart centre or the gut centre is just as harmful as neglecting the head centre. I prefer to look at the angel categories this way:

Angelic hierarchy all on one level.

And in this way we can see them as inspiration to find our higher selves, each Enneagram type having its own angel and being linked to one of the aspects of divinity that are the sephirot. So find and embrace your inner angel!

The Enneagram and the Triune Brain

(This article was originally published in Enneagram Monthly in October 2000. It is my attempt to explain why the Enneagram works by investigating similarities with Paul Maclean's triune brain model.)

Enneagram, with relative usage of centres shown.

Figure 1. The enneagram. The boxes next to each point represent their levels of instinct (red), emotion (blue) and intellect (green).

The theory of the enneagram is based around the three centres: the instinctual centre, the emotional centre and the intellectual centre. People are divided into nine types according to their usage of these centres. Most of you are reading this magazine because you have found that this theory provides a very good model for the minds of you and the people around you. It works - but why does it work?

To answer this question let us look at the physical structure of the brain. According to Maclean it can be divided into three parts: the striatal complex, the limbic system and the neocortex.

The Striatal Complex

This is the part of the brain that goes back to our reptilian ancestors. In human beings it comprises roughly three quarters of the grey matter at the centre of the cerebellum and is made up of the olfactostriatum, the corpus striatum (caudate nucleus and putamen), the globus pallidus, the basal nucleus of Meynert and the substantia innominata.

As well as evolving earlier than the rest of the brain it can be clearly differentiated chemically from the rest. It is characterised by acetlycholinesterase and dopamine. Parts of it are high in serotonin, opiate receptors, enkephalins, GABA and iron.

Maclean did extensive research into what this part of the brain did in lizards and came to the conclusion that it controls the initiation and execution of learned behaviour. In more detail it controls the daily master routine and subroutines, routinising, territoriality, challenge, signature and submissive displays, courtship, isopraxic behaviour (imitation, behaving in the same way), tropistic behaviour (e.g. a plant turning towards the light, imprinting in offspring, the fighting response of a male stickleback to the red belly of a dummy), perseverative behaviour (repetition, re-enactment and displacement) and deceptive behaviour (e.g. stalking, hiding).

The Limbic System

The next part of the brain to develop was the limbic system. Although a basic limbic system comprising amygdala, hippocampus, hypothalamus and septal nuclei exists in reptiles and fish, these elements are not as fully formed as they are in mammals. What these creatures don't have is the most recent part of the limbic system, the cingulate gyrus. This is fully present only in mammals. The limbic system, too, differs chemically from the neocortex, this time in having a higher turnover of protein. It comprises the amygdala and fronto-temporal limbic cortex, the septum, the proximoseptal segment of the hippocampus, the adjacent part of the entorhinal cortex, the postrhinal hippocampal gyrus, the presubicular part of the lingual gyrus, the retrosplenial cortex, the pericallosal hippocampal rudiment and the narrow strip of preseptal cortex continuous with this, the thalamus and the mesocortical cingulate.

Overall the limbic system deals with emotions. Evidence for this comes from sufferers of psychomotor epilepsy. Epileptic auras can trigger the same emotions again and again. Not only that, but researchers can themselves trigger the aura by monitoring brain activity during it and electrically stimulating the site of the disturbance. The following is a list of feelings and emotions that have been activated during epileptic auras (adapted from Maclean).

Basic Affects

Alimentary symptoms

  • nausea
  • 'butterflies'
  • hunger
  • thirst
  • taste
  • choking

Cardiac and respiratory symptoms

  • palpitation
  • heart flutter
  • pounding
  • throbbing
  • choking
  • smothering
  • suffocation

Genitourinary symptoms

  • urge to urinate/defecate
  • orgasm/orgasmic sensations

Symptoms of fatigue

  • tiredness
  • sleepiness

Specific Affects

  • Olfactory
  • Gustatory
  • Auditory
  • Vestibular (dizziness, floating, sinking, falling)
  • Visual
  • Bodily sensations (heaviness, numbness, tenseness, pressure, burning, tingling, tickling, pain, tightness)
  • Thermoregulatory manifestations (feeling hot/cold)

General Affects

  • Desire
  • Fear/paranoia
  • Anger
  • Depression
  • Guilt
  • Pleasure
  • Affection
  • Familiarity/strangeness
  • Meaningfulness
  • Time/space perception

Laughter and tears can also be induced by electrical stimulation of the mamillary bodies and the thalamic part of the thalamocingulate division respectively.

The Neocortex

This part of the brain is most developed in the higher mammals. It performs the functions we most associate with intellect and the brain: planning, memory of details, problem-solving, learning and language.

The Enneagram Centres in the Brain

It doesn't take a great leap of the imagination to associate these three areas of the brain with the three centres of the enneagram: instinctual, emotional and intellectual. Let's look more closely at the nine types with relation to this research.

The Instinctual Centre

This corresponds to the striatal complex or 'lizard brain'. According to Maclean this controls the initiation and execution of learned behaviour, including daily master routine and subroutines; territoriality and challenge, signature and submissive displays amongst other things.

Eights are good at acting on instinct. With their daily master and subroutines down pat they know how to act in any situation. The territoriality of 8s can show as possessiveness and other types may see their challenge and signature displays as aggression. It is often a surprise to others when 8s show their submissive side but this too is part of their repertoire. Eights are very conscious of and involved in the balance of power. Like 1s, they tend to see things in black and white.

The 9 comes in the middle of the instinctual centre and is one of the balance points. These points are repressed in their own centre, though they properly belong here because this is what defines them. Bear in mind then that the 9 character is based around instinctual functions but 9s are not very good at using their instinctual centres. Nines can get trapped in the daily routine, getting in a rut and being afraid of change. This is because they aren't very good at it. Paradoxically 9s are known for their ability to create and follow procedures because they have had to develop this ability to deal with what comes instinctually to others. Recognising boundaries and staking their own territory is something 9s have a great deal of difficulty with. Challenge displays are something else they have difficulty with and most 9s try very hard to avoid confrontation.

Ones want their lives to be organised and controlled so that everything chugs along nicely as they follow the routine and subroutines of their instinctual centre. The 1 has an instinctive sense of the right way of doing things - this comes from their set of master routine and subroutines. However, they are less flexible than the 8 and can get stuck on the 'right' way of doing things they already have and find it harder to deal with new situations and incorporate these into the 1's routine. The 1 tends to perform ritualised behaviour - they like everything as it should be. The 1's instinctual centre gives them an immediate reaction to any external stimulus.

The Emotional Centre

This corresponds to the limbic system or lower mammal brain and controls a wide range of feelings and emotions.

Twos are experts in the field of emotions and naturally tune to other people's feelings and needs, using the energy from their instinctual centre to work ceaselessly to fulfil those needs. As they focus their emotional energy so much outwards, they neglect their own needs and feelings.

The 3, being the balance point of the emotional centre, is repressed in this centre. They are not very much in touch with emotions - their own or other people's. Yet they are focused in the emotional centre and try to fulfil their emotional needs by striving to gain the admiration and approval of other people. Not being in touch with their emotions can cause relationship problems for 3s - they prefer undemanding relationships with friends and loved ones that are based on mutual goals. They can get into trouble by not paying attention to others' feelings. When this happens they do not like to discuss it as they feel criticism of themselves which undermines their attempts to fulfil their emotional needs by evoking admiration.

Fours focus their sensitivity to needs and feelings inwards upon themselves, cherishing their deep feelings. They can also focus this sensitivity outwards, empathising with the pain and suffering of others. They tend to concentrate on melancholy.

The Intellectual Centre

This corresponds to the neocortex or higher mammal brain and its functions are planning, memory and problem-solving.

Fives can look like archetypal intellectuals. They are at home with information: collecting it and processing it. However, they are privacy-loving folk and can be reluctant to share this information with others. They may use their information-processing skills to categorise their lives, associating different people with different places or activities and tending not to allow any crossover. This is called 'compartmentalising'. They live in the world of ideas and hold back from the real world to retain objectivity about it, observing it from a distance. When faced with emotion, theirs or others, they like to use their intellectual centre to mull things over and analyse them after the event.

The 6 is in the intellectual centre but not of it. They are continually scanning for information from their environment - small clues to uncover threats and hidden agendas. Sixes always plan for the worst. The 6 likes rules and regulations - defined procedures save them from having to use their intellectual centre to come up with flexible solutions. However, they also rebel against these restrictions. They live in constant fear that something will come up that these procedures don't cover. They like to be part of a group so the group will make the decisions.

Sevens too live their lives in the intellectual centre. They enjoy planning things to do, whether they get round to doing them or not, and tend to lead busy lives. Sevens are instant experts and can pick up the information required for a task very quickly using their information processing skills. They like a hierarchical world that is easy to categorise. Sevens are attracted to new ideas and their ever-active intellectual centres are kept happy with many diverse interests. When faced with emotional pain they can use their intellectual centres to rationalise it away.

Weak Centres

We are not just defined by our strengths but by our weaknesses. One could say that we are more defined by our weaknesses than our strengths. Hurley and Donson divide the nine types into aggressive, dependent and withdrawing types. These correspond to Karen Horney's division into those who take an expansive solution, those who take a self-effacing solution and those who take a resigning solution.

The aggressive types, 3, 7 and 8, are those repressed in the emotional centre. They are not held back from action by giving thought to others' feelings. They can be accused of being unsympathetic and not listening to people. The 3 and 7 can also be seen as superficial and the 8 as simplistic.

The dependent types, 1, 2 and 6, are repressed in the intellectual centre. Rather than devoting their intellectual centres to decision making, they prefer to use their instincts and emotions to take their cue from other people. They can come across as relying too much on others.

The withdrawing types, 4, 5 and 9, are repressed in the instinctual centre. They prefer to hold themselves back from the world to avoid having to deal with it head-on. They can seem withdrawn and aloof. Also the 5 and 9 especially can lack spontaneity.

Looking at the Combination of Primary and Secondary Centres

Hurley and Donson also divide the nine types into subjugating, reducing and mediating types. This grouping depends on how the secondary centre complements the primary. There are certain combinations of centres which are stronger than others - not better, just stronger (Figure 2). These combinations will also come into play when we look at stress and security points.

  • Instinct needs the flexibility of intellect to back it up or decisions are too simplistic and limiting.
  • Emotion needs instinct to back it up or it lacks direction and turns inwards.
  • Intellect needs emotional understanding to back it up or it ceases to be relevant to the world of people.

Figure 2. Complementary secondary centres.

The subjugating types, 2, 5 and 8, have the strength of a powerful combination of primary and secondary centres. This strength can work for or against them. Because their tactics work so well for them they can rely too heavily on their primary and secondary centres and avoid working on their weak one. The 2 understands the world through emotions and is outward focused. Their combination of emotion backed up by instinct means that they are primarily focused on relationships with others and will use the active power of their secondary centre to impose their emotional world view onto every situation they find themselves in. The 5, backed up by emotional understanding, uses their intellect to view the world and make sense of it. The 8 has all the active power of instinct and unlike the 1 can increase the power of instinct with the flexibility of intellect.

The reducing types on the other hand, 1, 4 and 7, do not have such a strong combination of primary and secondary centres. It is because of this that they reduce their scope to what is manageable by their primary centre. The 1 is primarily instinctual. They therefore have even more active power than the 2 but their focus is less on relationships with others and more on the fundamental decision making of the instinctual centre. They are less flexible than the 8 as they do not have such a strong intellectual centre to back up these decisions. In consequence, rather than subjugating the world with their preferred centre like the 2 and the 8, they will reduce their viewpoint to encompass only the polarised categorisation they can deal with using their preferred centre. The 4 is centred in the emotional arena and lacking the motive power of the 2 turns their emotion backed up by intellect in on themselves for self-analysis. The 7 comes from the intellectual centre but unlike the 5 they do not have the emotional backup to use it to explain the whole world, so they stick to their chosen field and apply their intellect in making plans.

The mediating types, 3, 6 and 9, are well balanced in their primary and secondary centres. Their flaw lies in their neglected tertiary centre and they do not have a strong enough primary centre to get by without it. What they do instead is mimic the functions of their tertiary centre using their two stronger centres.

The 3 uses their combination of instinct and intellect to work out what others desire and admire and try to achieve it. Because they lack the ability to connect with others on a deeper level, they try to please them by working hard to impress them and they try to fulfil their own emotional needs with the admiration of others. To win this admiration they use their combination of flexible thinking and ability to act and make decisions quickly to achieve success in whatever field they choose. They may find that admiration and praise are a poor substitute for genuine connection with people.

The intellectual centre is used for going over problems and situations and coming up with more flexible and imaginative answers than the faster, simpler instinctual centre can come up with. The 6 will try to come up with these answers using their emotional and instinctual centres. Their emotional centre will be looking at relationships and where each person enters the equation, while their instinctual centre is asking where's the danger and what do they want. Because the 6 does not have the intellectual ability to deal with situations flexibly, they keep their other centres on constant alert, scanning for people's motives and whether there is anything that requires an instinctual response, like danger. Sixes are cautious about accepting new knowledge, preferring to follow the procedures set down in the instinctual centre. They use their emotional centre to seek consensus and support others. It helps them to be a member of the group.

The 9 is repressed in the instinctual centre and so is out of touch with their own desires and basic instincts. They use their intellectual and emotional centres to study others to decide the right way to behave and intuit others' desires and goals which they take on themselves. Because they are out of touch with their own instincts, they can be slow and indecisive. They have a tendency to agree with everyone, because each person's point of view is equally valid and they don't know how they feel about the subject themselves.

Stress and Security Points

The shape of the enneagram is delimited by the lines of stress and security and is all down to the instinctual centre. In stress you are concerned about the effect that your environment is having on you, in security you are not so worried about it. The instinctual centre is for dealing with the everyday stresses of the world - avoiding starving, being eaten, etc. So, the wing points that are weak in instinct (4 and 5) under stress will increase their instinct enough to deal with it and focus their primary centres out upon the world rather than turning to their secondary centre. The wing points that have instinct as their secondary centre (7 and 2) are used to focusing their primary centre outwards. In security they can use this powerful tool upon themselves. Instinct is too blunt an instrument for introspection, so 1s and 8s do not have this option.

Security Points

The 2 and 7 both focus their energy outwards, neglecting their inner selves. Because of this they need to focus their strengths, emotional and intellectual intelligence respectively, inwards upon themselves, so their path of growth leads them to the other side of their own centre. At the same time they need to become less repressed in their repressed centre. The 7, repressed in emotion, goes to 5 in security focusing their intellectual intelligence in upon themselves and their emotions. The 2, repressed in intellect, goes to 4 in security focusing their emotional intelligence in upon themselves and their needs with the help of their previously underused intellectual centre.

The 4 and 5 on the other hand focus the power of their centres too much inwards. They are mired in their own centres, so their path of growth is outward from their respective centres towards what they are both lacking: instinctual intelligence. The 4 becomes more like the 1, who is stronger emotionally than intellectually, and the 5 becomes more like the 8, who is the opposite.

The 1 and 8 do not have the option of focusing instinct inwards as instinct is by nature outward focused. They both, like the 4 and 5, need to move towards a point which excels at that which they lack. The 1 goes towards 7 who resembles them more closely than 5 in that they are better at instinct than emotion. The 8 goes towards 2 who resembles them more closely than 4 in that they have more instinct than intellect.

The 3, 6 and 9 are already more balanced than the other types, they mainly need to become less repressed in their own centres. However, their path of growth is towards the balance point not repressed in their desired secondary centre (going back to Figure 2). So 3 moves towards 6 to exercise their emotional centre and back it up with instinct. The 6 moves towards 9 to exercise their intellectual centre and back it up with emotion. And the 9 moves towards 3 to exercise their instinctual centre and back it up with intellect.

Stress Points

The path of growth described above under security points is the direction we need to follow for personal growth and the one we naturally follow when we feel comfortable and secure. (This does not necessarily mean that we grow when we are comfortable. It is possible to stagnate and pick up the bad habits of your security point.) Stress require more brutal short-term solutions.

Let's start with 4 and 5, the introspective points at the bottom of the diagram. They both focus the brunt of the power of their preferred centre inwards. Under stress, perhaps when the outside world intrudes, they will turn this outwards and go to the opposite wing of their respective centres which have more instinctual power.

The other wing points, 8, 1, 2 and 7, all react to stress by repressing their preferred centre, as it is not doing an adequate job of combating the causes of the stress, and turn to their secondary centre. The 1 represses instinct and turns to emotion becoming more 4-like. The 2 represses emotion and turns to instinct becoming more 8-like. The 7 represses intellect and turns to instinct becoming more 1-like. Finally the 8 represses instinct and turns to intellect becoming more 5-like.

As we have seen, the wing points react to stress by either using their primary centre in a different way or turning to their secondary centre. They do try out their neglected tertiary centre but only to back up their known strengths. The balance points are already balanced in their primary and secondary centres and only have their tertiary centres to turn to. However, like the wing points, they want to exercise their neglected centre while relying more on known strengths. Thus, rather than moving to the point which does not repress the centre which would back up their tertiary centre, in stress they move to the point which does not repress the centre which their tertiary centre backs up.

Thus, the 3 moves towards 9, using their intellectual centre backed up by their emotional tertiary centre. The 6 moves towards 3, using their instinctual centre backed up by their intellectual tertiary centre. And the 9 moves towards 6, using their emotional centre backed up by their tertiary instinctual centre.

Other Aspects of the Enneagram


I have earlier used the term 'wing points' to describe the points at the edges of each centre after Hurley and Donson. There is another meaning to the word 'wing' in enneagram parlance though. It is used to describe the influence of the points on either side of you. You can be a 9 with a 1 wing or a 5 with a 4 wing, usually denoted 9w1 and 5w4.

It is obvious from Figure 1 why 1 and 2, 4 and 5, and 7 and 8 can merge into each other: as the balance between their primary and secondary centres changes, 1 becomes 2, 2 becomes 1 and so on. So a 4 with a strong secondary intellectual centre would have a 5 wing. The stronger the secondary centre, the stronger the 5 wing. The same goes for 1w2, 2w1, 5w4, 7w8 and 8w7.

If these points have more balanced secondary and tertiary centres they will be more like the balance point to their other side. If a 7 does not have a strong secondary instinctual centre and instead has their instinctual and emotional centres roughly balanced, they will be more like the 6, though of course with a strong intellectual centre. And of course the same goes for 8w9 and 1w9 having intellect and emotion balanced, 2w3 and 4w3 having instinct and intellect balanced, and 5w6 having instinct and emotion balanced.

The relationship between balance points and wings is a little less obvious, and balance points tend to have more in common with the points which share their repressed centre. However, even though the balance points are repressed in their own centre, they have learnt to mimic it and share some of its attributes, which attributes they have in common with their wings. A balance point's two primary centres are unlikely to be exactly balanced. If a 9's intellectual centre is slightly stronger than their emotional centre they will be a 9w8, with a focus on the instinctual centre first (the 8 because they overuse it and the 9 because they underuse it and have to mimic it) and the next most important centre being the intellectual centre. Likewise if they have a stronger emotional centre, they will be a 9w1. And of course the same goes for 3s and 6s. If a 3 has a slightly stronger instinctual centre they will lean towards 2, if the intellectual centre is stronger they will lean towards 4. And if a 6 has a stronger emotional centre they will lean towards 5, if their instinctual centre is stronger they will lean towards 7.


Each type can be divided into three subtypes: the self-preservation, sexual and social subtypes. The self-preservation subtype focuses on survival, the sexual subtype focuses on one-to-one relationships (not necessarily sexual relationships) and the social subtype focuses on the group. I won't go into details here of how type and subtype interact, as that could take a whole book. Suffice it to say that they seem to be independent factors and your subtype tends to carry over into your stress and security points.

Maclean divides the limbic system (the emotional centre) into three parts: the amygdalar division, the septal division and the thalamocingulate division. These deal with self-preservation, sexual functions and play, nursing and maternal care respectively. Again, the correlation between the divisions of the brain and the enneagram subtypes seems obvious.


This little known aspect of the enneagram I learnt about on an enneagram email list [Katherine Chernick-Fauvre, posting on email list]. There are three sets of antipodes: 1 and 5 sharing the secondary centre of emotion; 4 and 8 sharing the secondary centre of intellect; and 2 and 7 sharing the secondary centre of instinct.

The antipodes issue for 1s and 5s is focus of control. The 1, with a strong instinctual centre, seeks to control themselves by controlling their environment and the 5, with a weak instinctual centre, seeks to control their environment by controlling themselves. The emotional centre is about relating to other people: affecting them and being affected by them.

The antipodes issue for 4s and 8s is focus of intensity. The 4 seeks intensity of feelings and the 8 seeks the intensity of living by instinct. They can both use their secondary intellectual centre as a flexible backup to increase the intensity of their primary centre.

The antipodes issue for 2s and 7s is focus of connection. They both focus their primary centre outwards, neglecting their inner selves and trying to make up for this in connecting with others. Their instinctual centre is what focuses them outwards.


There does seem to be a strong correlation between the three brain areas described by Maclean and the three centres of the Enneagram. It is possible to explain all aspects of the Enneagram: wings, subtypes, lines of stress and security, various triad divisions and even antipodes based on one's usage of the divisions of the brain that Maclean describes as the striatal complex, the limbic system and the neocortex.


Further Reading



Glossary of Enneagram Terms

There is a certain amount of jargon used when talking about the Enneagram. I have provided a guide to the most frequently used terms below.

See Centres.

There are three centres of intelligence: the intellectual, emotional and instinctual centres; also known as the head, heart and gut (or body) centres.

This is simply Latin for "I", but has come to mean different, sometimes contradictory things in different circumstances. In the context of the Enneagram it is generally used to mean the part of your mind that is fixated and acting on autopilot, responding to expectation rather than reality. See Fixation.

Emotional centre
See Centres.

Refers to the nine-pointed diagram and comes from the Greek “ennea” meaning 9 and “gram” meaning something written or drawn. Also used to mean the dynamic personality typing system based on the diagram.

The true self underneath the defence mechanisms of the ego. When you are acting from essence you are reacting to how things actually are rather than to your expectations of them. Each type has particular mental and emotional essential qualities connected with them, which are related to the mental and emotional Fixations connected with that type. The emotional essential quality for each type is also known as its virtue.

When you are in your fixation you are stuck in the defence mechanisms of the ego, acting on autopilot. Each type has particular mental and emotional fixations connected with them. The emotional fixation for each type is also known as the vice or passion.

See Centres.

See Centres.

See Centres.

Intellectual centre
See Centres.

Instinctual centre
See Centres.

Instinctual variants
Another name for the subtypes.

Lines of stress and security
The lines inside the circle on the diagram, which show where each type goes under stress and in security. See Stress point; Security point.

Another name for the sexual subtype. See Subtypes.

See Fixation.

Security point
Each type has a security point, shown by the lines on the diagram. When feeling secure (and sometimes also when exhausted) they take on aspects of the type at their security point.

See Subtypes.

See Subtypes.

See Subtypes.

Stress point
Each type has a stress point, shown by the lines on the diagram. Under stress, they take on aspects of the type at their stress point.

There are three subtypes for each type: self-preservation or survival, sexual or one-to-one, and social. The self-preservation subtype is primarily concerned with survival. The sexual or one-to-one subtype relates to others in an intense, one-to-one way. The social subtype is focused on the social group. You may find yourself acting out all three subtypes of your type in different circumstances and at different times of your life, but there will be one subtype which describes the way you behave normally.

Another name for the self-preservation subtype. See Subtypes.

There are nine different types of people with nine different ways of thinking, feeling and acting. They are known by their numbers: 1, 2, 3, etc. though they have been given names as well.

See Fixation.

See Essence.

You are also influenced by the types on either side of you. These are called your wings and you may have one wing stronger than the other.