Category Archives: Enneagram

The Three Instincts of the Enneagram

In the final weeks of 2018, I wrote a series of 10 posts on the enneagram – a brief introduction to this personality typing system plus high-level descriptions of each of the nine types. Since then, I attended a workshop on the 3 instincts: Self-Preservation, One-to-One, and Social. Here are a few tidbits that I picked up from that experience.

If we look at ourselves as animals, we can view the three instincts through the lens of behaviors necessary to further our survival. In particular, we must attend to our material needs (food, water, shelter, clothing) and provide for our safety and security (“Self-Preservation”). We need to find a person with whom we will mate or be “besties” (“One-to-One,” a.k.a. “Sexual”). And we need to figure out how to get along with others in community (“Social”). Most of us lean heavily on one of these instincts to alleviate our anxiety and relax. We typically have a “back-up” instinct when the primary one is not engaged. And we tend to be less attuned to whichever instinct remains.

Here’s how our teacher characterized the instincts:

lone wolf

Self-Preservation

love birds

One-To-One

border collie

Social

Attention Goes To: Physical environment Individual people Group identity and welfare
Concerned About: Material security and resources Bring seen and loved as an individual person My place in the group; the pecking order
Energy Goes To: Being prepared; avoiding shortfalls Attracting affection, intimacy, partnership Membership in groups; collaboration
Values: Having enough
Putting things in order
Setting priorities
Connection
Meaningful exchanges
Intensity
Belonging
Participation
Loyalty

Here’s how panelists who self-identified with these instincts described their perfect days (excluding work days):

Self-Preservation One-to-One Social
Awaken, wash, brush teeth
Meditate
Morning routine
Organize for the day
Putter around the house and garden
Exercise; go for a walk
Relax in the evening, curled up with a good book
Walk with a friend
Run errands with a partner
Have lunch with a friendSpend one-on-one time with children
Go on Facebook to connect with friends
Spend time with pets, listening to music, working on hobbies
Go to an exercise class
Volunteer at a nonprofit
Go to lunch with friends
Attend a lecture
Share a meal with family
Go to a community gathering (e.g., choir, service group, book club)

While this may seem quite academic, the “light bulb” goes on for me when I think about how it plays out in relationship. In particular, I have a strong “social” instinct with a back-up of “self-preservation.” I’m not natively a good fit with someone who has a strong “one-to-one” instinct as that level of intensity feels intrusive to me (and its absence feels cold and empty for them!) Likewise, a “self-preservation” oriented person with a “one-to-one” secondary instinct is not going to take comfort with a partner who is relentlessly social.

Of course, we can all find ways to accommodate the needs and predilections of our compatriots and loved ones. The enneagram provides a framework through which we can unearth these aspects of our personalities and have conversations about how we’ll engage them.

Which instincts resonate for you?

Type Nine – The Peacemaker

The Enneagram Type Nine personality – the Peacemaker – has been dubbed the crown of the enneagram. Per Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson, they have “the strength of Eights, the sense of fun of Sevens, the dutifulness of Sixes, the intellectualism of Fives, the creativity of Fours, the attractiveness of Threes, the generosity of Twos, and the idealism of Ones.”

Nines have a strong desire for inner and outer harmony. They focus on others and on conflict avoidance in order to stay comfortable and peaceful. They tend to be steady emotionally and rarely let their anger show. In fact, they’re rather good at distancing themselves from strong emotion for the sake of sustaining connection with others.

Healthy Nines are natural mediators due to their ability to understand all points of view and render compassionate responses to heated emotions. They draw attention to what the affected parties have in common and are skilled at charting the path to compromise. They model courtesy and respect in a way that makes everyone feel duly honored.

enneagram type nine - the peacemaker

When subject to the influence of the neighboring Eight, Healthy Nines become Referees. They combine their penchant for agreeableness with endurance, strength, and political sensitivity. They are practical, goal-oriented folks who get things done “with a velvet glove.”

When subject to the influence of the neighboring One, Healthy Nines become Dreamers. They’re imaginative, creative folks who can synthesize new ideas from a variety of input. They’re great listeners and excel at nonverbal communication. They’re friendly with a clear sense of purpose, often driving them to a constant state of busy-ness.

Nines are also influenced by their dominant instinct:

  • Self-Preservation Nines are easygoing folks who revel in simple pleasures. They don’t ask much from life and aren’t terribly ambitious. They have difficulty getting themselves off dead center and may resist outside influence through silence and lethargy.
  • Sexual Nines like to bask in the glow and energy of their partners, often choosing flamboyant or aggressive mates. Their partners become the centers of their worlds and may cause them to sacrifice their own sense of independence and identity.
  • Social Nines want to live harmoniously among a collective of family, friends, and colleagues. They are fun-loving, sociable, and congenial types who work hard to secure membership in their chosen groups. They may have difficulty saying “NO.”

Of course, all that agreeableness can have a dark side. Nines can identify so closely with others’ agendas that they lose touch with their own. Everyone else’s needs, priorities, and sensibilities can dominate the Nine’s thoughts, feelings, and actions. In essence, they “fall asleep” to themselves.

Under stress, Nines may adopt characteristics of an Unhealthy Six. They downplay their own choices and desires and hang their hats on ideas, relationships, and institutions that hold the promise of providing security and stability. They may fill their calendars with activity as a means of avoiding the reality of their circumstances.

The antidote to stress lies in investing the time and energy to know what you want out of life and set about the business of developing the skills, experience, and connections to get it. For a Nine, that’s no small order. It starts with learning the value of saying NO… if for no other reason than to create the space to connect with one’s inner wisdom. It also calls for acknowledging anger and other disharmonious emotions and taking the time to learn what they’re all about.

Nines find strength in movement toward a Healthy Three. From this position, they recognize their value and recover the ability to act and express themselves authentically. They can retain their calm demeanor yet assert themselves when needed.

I am a Nine who took a long time seeing myself in the definition of the type. I’m an accomplished, take-charge, decisive, hard-working contributor who frequently occupies a leadership role. I’m also a life-long musician who has performed in a variety of instrumental and vocal groups. So I figured that I must be a Self-Preservation Three. And yet I discovered that this outward persona reflects a deep desire to connect with others while earning membership in the group. In fact, I’ve had a tendency to identify so strongly with a group’s ethos and agenda that I lose sight of my own wants and needs. So, as luck would have it, I’m a Social Nine.

Type Eight – The Commander

The Enneagram Type Eight personality – the Commander – wants to effect change in the world through the aegis of talent, vitality, and perseverance. Eights like to be in charge; they do not want to be controlled. Fortunately, they have the physical and psychological wherewithal to assume command, and the personal magnetism to gain other’ support.

Healthy Eights see the big picture and are driven to create order out of chaos. They are natural leaders and hard workers. They have a zeal for life and want to immerse themselves in interesting work, fun activities, and good food and drink.

Eights are rugged individualists. They know their own minds and act on their own counsel; they are not cowed by unflattering public opinion. They have a big appetite for getting things done and can become irritable when bogged down by minutia. They don’t mind moving mountains to achieve their goals; they’ll be confrontational when the need arises. They refuse to experience feelings that might slow them down.

enneagram type eight - the commander

When subject to the influence of the neighboring Seven, Healthy Eights become the Independents. They take full advantage of their quick and decisive minds to pursue their objectives while using their charisma to get others on board. They’re the risk-taking entrepreneurs who can put everything on the line in confidence while still retaining a pragmatic approach to their ventures. While not openly aggressive, they remain fiercely competitive and won’t put up with weakness or inefficiency.

When subject to the influence of the neighboring Nine, Healthy Eights become Not-Quite-Teddy Bears who combine strength, self-confidence, and determination with a quiet goodness and serenity. They tend to live unobtrusively and pursue their goals with steady, albeit less aggressive effort. They are more reserved in their speech and evidence greater warmth when dealing with others.

Eights are also influenced by their dominant instinct:

  • Self-Preservation Eights are non-nonsense types who focus on getting what they need to survive. They are unabashed workaholics who don’t mind ruffling feathers to get (and protect) what they need. They are well-armed, territorial, and the rulers of their roosts.
  • Sexual Eights are intense, magnetic individuals who seek control and influence. They have great powers of seduction and are passionate about the people in their inner sphere. They love a good time and find heated arguments stimulating. In fact, they may needle others just to get a rise out of them and draw their attention.
  • Social Eights look to create powerful bonds with others. Honor and trust loom large; they test family, friends, and colleagues to ensure that they’re on solid ground. They are apt to wield their power to protect the oppressed and promote social causes.

Eights may have a difficult time relating to others emotionally. They want to be seen as strong, not weak. As such, they often intimidate others and thwart attempts to forge intimate connection. At root, they are loathe to expose vulnerability. That being said, Eights care deeply about important others and will take great pains to protect them.

Under stress, Eights may adopt characteristics of an Unhealthy Five. They retreat from conflicts to reflect on what’s happening, gird their loins, and prepare for a confident re-entry into the scene. They may be seen as brooding while they gather and reflect on information. Left to their own devices, they can get stuck in contemplation that turns cynical and contemptuous.

The antidote to stress lies in getting in touch with one’s vulnerabilities while letting other in to provide support and reassurance. Trustworthy associates can break through the wall of defenses to allow for consideration of fresh interpretations of current events and productive courses of action. They can also take note of impulses that could prove self-destructive.

Eights find strength in movement toward a Healthy Two. From this position, they reconnect with their hearts to acknowledge how much they genuinely care about others. They recognize boundaries and limits – their own and that of others. They still work hard and get a lot done, but they know when it’s time to pull back on the throttle. Their zeal for life is experienced as joy in being alive.

As one who spent decades working in corporate America, I’ve had close and personal contact with a lot of Eights. It is exhilarating to be in the presence of a great leader with a clear vision and indomitable spirit. It’s also exhausting! I had to learn to set boundaries – something that has been a challenge for my Nine-ness. If you are a fan of historical fiction, I recommend Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander as classic study of a culture steeped in Eight energy.

Type Seven – The Enthusiast

The Enneagram Type Seven personality – the Enthusiast – approaches life with curiosity, optimism, and a sense of adventure. They’re the life of the party who pumps up the energy in the room so that everyone will feel excited about what’s happening. Sevens like being the center of attention and having lots of interesting people, ideas, and events around them.

Sevens live in the future and love to contemplate possibilities. They are quick-witted and fast learners. They love to brainstorm and are good at generating novel ideas and synthesizing information. It can be challenging for them to stick with a concept or plan long enough to see it through to fruition. The next interesting idea or opportunity always beckons at their doors.

Healthy Sevens can be positively brilliant and creative. They are big-picture people who can see the finish line, consider all the options to get there, and instill confidence and enthusiasm among their cohorts as they embark on the journey. They live fully and encourage others to do the same.

When subject to the influence of the neighboring Six, Healthy Sevens become Entertainers. Their agile minds render them playful, curious, and creative. They have a positive outlook, interact well with others, and seem to accomplish a great deal with ease. They do well in show business, public relations, advertising, and media.

When subject to the influence of the neighboring Eight, Healthy Sevens become Realists. They are multitaskers who combine a zeal for material success with the capacity to think strategically and organize quickly. They’re pragmatic about relationships and privilege activity over connection. They can be direct to the point of bluntness.

Sevens are also influenced by their dominant instinct:

  • Self-Preservation Sevens focus their ambition on securing creature comforts. They’re classic consumers who are unabashed about pampering themselves. They like social connection but can be reserved for fear that others might weigh them down.
  • Sexual Sevens seek an intense experience of being alive. They’re drawn to people who they find especially interesting or charismatic. Their love for dreaming about future adventures can engender restlessness within themselves and their intimate relationships.
  • Social Sevens cultivate a wide circle of friends for stimulating companionship and for the sake of staying apprised of future possibilities. They like to have a full calendar, but they don’t want to be tied down to specific plans should their companion(s) proceed at a slow pace. They maintain back-up plans to keep their options open.

Of course, all that enthusiasm can have a dark side. Sevens can become so fixated on the future that they fail to revel in the here and now. They have a wandering eye that’s constantly on the lookout for more interesting experiences. A “fear of missing out” causes them to eschew commitment and get antsy when others have expectations of them. This restlessness may deny them the pleasure of experiencing life deeply or give them an enduring sense of satisfaction.

Under stress, Sevens may adopt characteristics of an Unhealthy One. They impose discipline on themselves to meet their obligations but chafe under the structure and limitations. They may strive for more freedom by trying to convince others that they are “right” about changing the rules of the game. They can become surly and impatient with those who disagree or fail to meet their standard of excellence.

The antidote to stress lies in processing anxiety when it threatens to take over and spur impulsive action. The circumstances may call for a simple act of finding contentment in the ordinary rather than seeking the next mountaintop experience.

Sevens find strength in movement toward a Healthy Five. From this position, they learn to quiet their hyperactive minds so that they can live more fully in the moment. They stay with their current experiences long enough to assess what is really happening and make more conscious choices about how they want to live.

One of my colleagues shared a story that illustrates the high side of Sevens. The family home was partially flooded around the Christmas holidays. To be sure, it was unpleasant for the entire household. But her attitude was: “We’re going to be OK. It’s just stuff. We’ll get through this.” And with that, she decorated the unaffected areas of the house and got on with enjoying the holidays. As she said, Sevens aren’t always optimistic. But it’s going to be OK…

Type Six – The Security Seeker

The Enneagram Type Six personality – the Security Seeker – finds the world hazardous and unpredictable and expends a good deal of energy building defenses. Some live into their fear of the unknown (“phobic”) by adopting conservative patterns of behavior to minimize exposure. Others deny their fear (“counter-phobic”) and respond aggressively to perceived threats (i.e., getting them before they get you). Still others are relationship builders who find safety in numbers. No matter what strategy they pursue, Sixes tend to be future-oriented – alert and watchful for what’s on the horizon.

Sixes seek guidance by carefully scrutinizing outside input. As part of this process, they ask themselves: To whom or what should I be loyal? They’d like a trustworthy authority, yet may harbor suspicion toward the ones they encounter in real life. When they find organizations, leaders, systems, and structures that align with their sensibilities, Sixes are committed and hardworking. However, when trust has been called into question, Sixes can and will rebel.

Given their penchant for anaylsis, Sixes can be counted on to research any matter thoroughly and provide a considered opinion on the opportunities, risks, and rewards. Their Achilles’ Heel is getting so caught up in analysis that they fail to arrive at a definite conclusion.

When subject to the influence of the neighboring Five, Sixes become Technical Experts who place their trust in systems with well-established rules. On the high side, they demonstrate a high degree of loyalty, commitment, and focused attention to their craft. On the low side, they can adopt reactionary, partisan stances, deeming those who adhere to different rules threats.

When subject to the influence of the neighboring Seven, Healthy Ones become Buddies. They’re loyal to a fault, good company, and always up for a good time. They want to be liked and hesitate to offer opinions lest they threaten established relationships. They consult their friends and colleagues before making important decisions and may procrastinate before taking decisive action.

Sixes are also influenced by their dominant instinct:

  • Self-Preservation Sixes focus on relationships to feel safe and protected in the world. While they make friends slowly, they are warm, friendly, upbeat, and trustworthy when on solid ground. As colleagues, they are competent, reliable, and loyal. They have a tendency to sweat the small stuff and take their time when making decisions.
  • Sexual Sixes work on their physical strength, power, and/or attractiveness to feel safe. If counter-phobic, they mask their insecurities through aggression; if phobic, they’ll leverage flirtation, coquettishness, and seduction. They may defy authority and may seek to gain position by sabotaging others or undermining their reputations.
  • Social Sixes focus on abstract reasoning or ideology as their trustworthy frame of reference. They like to be part of something that is greater than themselves and can feel anxiety in the face of disharmony within the collective.

Under stress, Sixes may adopt characteristics of an Unhealthy Three. Fear and anxiety drive them to work harder to avoid criticism/rejection or simply triumph over others. It also causes them to worry about their public image and push hard to be accepted. The latter can come off as forced friendliness and may be off-putting.

The antidote to stress lies in developing the capacity to see the world as fundamentally benevolent and supportive. From this vantage point, Sixes can relax into their daily routines and encounter new persons and experiences from a position of openness. They can also learn to trust their instincts rather than assume that everyone and everything may pose a threat. This trust gives them the freedom to live in the moment without undue concern for the future.

Sixes find strength in movement toward a Healthy Nine. This position allows them to feel grounded in the here and now rather than worried about the future. They’ll learn to feel secure in and of themselves without concern for validation by their colleagues and significant others. They’ll also feel inclusive and accepting of others, not threatened by them.

I have several good friends and colleagues who self-identify with Type Six. They have keen analytical minds that excel in planning and attendto all of the details that make a given venture successful. They’re superb atcoming up with the “what ifs” that might thwart forward progress and stand at the ready as troubleshooters when things go awry. They’re dependable; they don’t drop the ball when asked to contribute. Above all, they are loyal and trusted companions.

Type Five – The Observer

The Enneagram Type Five personality – the Observer – believe that knowledge is power. They like to observe what’s going on in the world and then assess the information to understand how things work. Not surprisingly, Fives live in their heads. They’re emotionally reserved, preferring to analyze and synthesize their experiences rather than simply live them.

To their credit, Healthy Fives are highly skilled at performing rational, objective analyses. They’re calm in a crisis. They seek to find the way forward rather than wallowing in chaos; they base their decisions in fact.

Fives need a lot of time alone. They see other people as potential drains on their time and energy, which they perceive as being in scarce supply. They’re sensitive to emotional demands placed upon them, and are hesitant to make commitments.

Fives work hard at being self-sufficient so as not to require support from others. This tendency has the unfortunate consequence of cutting them off from nourishing and mutually supportive relationships. They fail to recognize the potential for renewal and rejuvenation through social contact. That being said, when Fives find compatible friends and mates, they are uncommonly loyal and trustworthy.

enneagram type five the observer

When subject to the influence of the neighboring Four, Healthy Fives become the Iconoclast. They hold to a clear and distinct vision of their place in the world and resist structures that get in the way. When drawn to the arts, they are the creative loners who may have difficulty staying grounded.

When subject to the influence of the neighboring Six, Healthy Fives become the Problem Solver. Their keen insights, organizational skills, and attention to detail make them highly valued analysts and subject matter experts. While they are “go to resources,” they’re not known for emotional sensitivity and may antagonize folks who challenge or disagree with them.

Fives are influenced by their dominant instinct:

  • Self-Preservation Fives have strong needs for boundaries to guard their space and protect against unwanted intrusions. They’re the least expressive of their type and limit their needs to avoid being dependent on others. They’re easily overwhelmed by people and blend into the landscape in social situations.
  • Sexual Fives look for the ideal partner with whom they can share their inner life. They’re driven to engage intensely but may have their eye on an escape hatch should they feel overwhelmed by the experience or insecure with the partner. They can be open and forthright yet shut down when feeling judged or misunderstood.
  • Social Fives participate in communities where they can be valued for their knowledge and skills. They’re intellectuals who use information as bargaining chips and enjoy spirited discussions with highly engaged, competent individuals. They seek recognition and prestige and generally consider themselves to be superior to others.

Under stress, Fives may adopt characteristics of an Unhealthy Seven. They become increasingly narrow in their focus and pull back into the safety of their own thoughts. They may distract themselves with random activity to avoid dealing with the underlying source of discomfort.

The antidote to stress lies in quieting the mind and body, thereby giving space for the disquieting thoughts and feelings to emerge. They should consider why these sentiments arise and what can be done to address them. They may also take into account the experiences and relationships that have been cut off to avoid feeling your feelings. Reach out to others. Let the world in.

Fives find strength in movement toward a Healthy Eight. From this position, they “get out of their heads” and feel their presence and power in the world. They embrace their gut instincts and use them to take action in confidence. They stop trying to figure out how life works and just start living it.

I experience my husband as a Self-Preservation Five. He is an analytical guy who has spent his entire career in finance and accounting. He can spend hours on end getting numbers to balance, working through problems as they arise, and developing reports and analyses that highlight important insights. While a sociable guy when approached, he’s as likely to hang in the background at parties and take in the action rather than participate actively in it. And he’s perfectly content to spend a quiet evening at home with me nearby and the dog resting his head on my husband’s foot.

Type Four – The Sensitive Soul

The Enneagram Type Four personality – the Sensitive Soul – has a large capacity for emotional sensitivity and depth. They see themselves as having one-of-a kind gifts as well as heart-wrenching flaws. They are emotionally intuitive and want to connect deeply with people who understand them and their feelings.

Fours tend to focus on what is missing in a given situation and long for whatever they deem to be ideal. This sensibility gives rise to a dominant emotion of envy. It grows out of a feeling that there is something good that is just beyond the reach of their experience. Fours can be unreasonably yet intentionally drawn to the unattainable. The loss can engender both competitiveness and melancholy.

Fours have a keen aesthetic sensibility. Their capacity to explore and narrate the human experiences gives them a distinctive edge in artistic expression. They’re also stalwart family members, friends, and colleagues who will not shy away from crises or buckle under intense emotional pressure. They understand suffering and are not afraid to share in it.

enneagram type four sensitive soul

When subject to the influence of the neighboring Three, Healthy Fours become the Aristocrat. Their creativity and ambition find expression in areas that garner attention from their audience while providing for self-improvement. They are drawn toward refinement, sophistication, and culture. They are sociable folks.

When subject to the influence of the neighboring Five, Healthy Fours become the Bohemian. They express their creativity in more idiosyncratic ways with relatively little concern for status or recognition. They revel in the creative process and find the real world far less interesting than their interior landscape. They enjoy their privacy.

Fours are also influenced by their dominant instinct:

  • Self-Preservation Fours are the most practical and materialistic of the type, working hard to get what others have that they lack. They’ll surround themselves with beautiful objects whether or not they can reasonably afford them. They tend not to share their pain with others, preferring to suffer in stoic silence.
  • Sexual Fours hold to the romantic ideal of the knight in shining armor who will rescue them from the dreary suffering of this world. Failing that, they project their suffering outward, expressing their needs and making demands of others. A competitive drive propels them to “be the best” and secure their place among the “chosen few.”
  • Social Fours experience their distinctiveness as both a gift and a burden. They revel in the intensity of their feelings and experience and may look upon others as crude and insensitive. Yet they covet a place among the beautiful and elite and doubt their ability to gain acceptance. This duality may lead to an affinity for alternative lifestyles.

All Fours tend to have an uneasy relationship with authority. They don’t think that rules and regulations apply to them. In fact, they may take pride in breaking rules, especially if they can get away with it. That notwithstanding, they’ll still crave the respect and attention of folks who traffic among the “best people,” however defined.

Under stress, Fours may adopt characteristics of an Unhealthy Two. When feeling isolated, disconnected, or misunderstood, they may respond with forced friendliness that borders on clinginess. While this behavior stems from a desire to put the relationship on solid ground, it may drive people away.

The antidote to stress lies in remembering that feelings are not facts. They are informed by the sum total of past experiences, sensitivities, and unrealized fantasies that may color current perceptions. Take a step back to facilitate a dispassionate view of the current landscape. Seek out friends who will speak the truth… lovingly. Move forward with favorable interpretations of the facts wherever possible.

Fours find strength in movement toward a Healthy One. From this position, they commit to principles and actions beyond the constraints of subjective emotions. They become more grounded and self-disciplined. They accept the prevailing circumstances without excessive lamentation and work toward meaningful goals to effect change. They stay present to themselves and the world.

As an active member of the performing arts community, I have a fair amount of experience with Four energy. In the best of worlds, I’ve seen this type manifest in extraordinary expressions of originality that hold me in awe of the special gifts with which these individuals have been endowed. In less healthy manifestations, I’ve witnessed and experienced the competitiveness, jealousy, and disharmony that disrupt the creative process essential to a group effort.

Type Three – The Achiever

The Enneagram Type Three personality – the Achiever – endeavors to be successful as defined by their culture, family, and social sphere. They tend to be goal-oriented workaholics whose charm, ambition, energy, and competitive nature serve their need for personal advancement. While hardly lacking in self-confidence, they spend considerable energy to ensure their high regard by others.

Like Ones, Threes like to make progress toward goals using efficient, methodical systems and time tables. However, Threes aren’t encumbered by a rigid set of internal standards that constrain their ability to adapt to changing circumstances. Rather, their laser-like focus on the “prize” provides the impetus to do what they need to do and be who they need to be to attain it… all the while looking good.

People look up to Threes because of their self-assurance, charisma, and accomplishments. They’re natural-born leaders who enjoy motivating others. That being said, they’re not known for being “touchy-feely” types as emotional baggage can be a drag on performance.

enneagram type three achiever

When subject to the influence of the neighboring Two, Healthy Threes become the Charmer. They’re spontaneous, outgoing, vivacious, friendly, helpful, and generous. They retain their need for achievement and public approval but suppress those qualities that might interfere with their desirability.

When subject to the influence of the neighboring Four, Healthy Threes become the Professional. They endeavor to do outstanding work and put their integrity on the line for each project they undertake. These Threes tend to take on a more serious, task-oriented air and may be deemed pretentious or arrogant.

Threes are also influenced by their dominant instinct:

  • Self-Preservation Threes work hard to attain a level of success that provides for their material security and stability. While they appreciate recognition for their achievements, they put more faith in the quality of their work and the efficiency with which they prosecute it.
  • Sexual Threes place greater emphasis on their personal appeal than their worldly success. They want to be desired and admired by important others; they take great pride in having an alluring mate to show off. To that end, Sexual Threes are as invested in their physical packaging as they are in their personal and intellectual competencies.
  • Social Threes are status seekers who bask in the limelight and pine for influence and applause. For them, pedigrees and credentials matter as do neighborhoods, cars, social circles, and designer labels. They are great image makers and networkers.

While all of that external focus can pay dividends in terms of personal advancement, it can have a deleterious impact on Threes. Their chameleon nature can cause them to lose sight of who they really are or what they really want. They can become slaves to the images that they’re trying to maintain. They can also be so caught up in work that they fail to make time for restorative activities and authentically intimate relationships.

Under stress, Threes may adopt characteristics of an Unhealthy Nine. They shut down and numb out in response to the relentless pursuit of success. While maintaining an outward appearance of busyness, their attention may be drawn to unimportant tasks. They may also get caught up in a fantasy world surrounding their next big success and put pressing concerns on hold until that day dawns.

The antidote to stress lies in developing the capacity to recognize when you’re living into a false image of yourself rather than speaking and acting authentically. That level of clarity can be attained by taking time to relax and allow for thoughtful reflection on what is really going on. It’s also supported by cultivating trusted relationships that welcome forthright communication. Body, mind, and spirit may also profit from mediation… if you can train yourself to sit still long enough to harvest the benefit!

Threes find strength in movement toward a Healthy Six. From this position, Threes discover the voice of their inner guidance and gain the courage to embody their true nature. They commit to projects and relationships that hold personal significance irrespective of public opinion.

I encountered a lot of Three energy during my graduate studies in business and my career. In fact, I thought that I might be a Self-Perseveration Three given the fervor with which I pursued my “craft” and navigated my professional assignments. As such, I have a clear appreciation for the drive toward achievement and the personal cost that it extracts. Mercifully, I’ve had the freedom to step off the “treadmill” and find more fulfilling means of self-expression… and, dare I say, “success.”

Type Two – The Helper

The Enneagram Type Two personality – the Helper – focuses on relationships and gaining approval. They present themselves as upbeat, energetic, and friendly. They take pride in their ability to “read” people and adapt their behaviors to suit the moods, preferences, and needs of others. They help people see what’s positive about themselves, the people around them, and their environments.

Healthy Twos are stellar colleagues, friends, and family members who go to great lengths to express their affection and provide support. They are great listeners who revel in others’ joys and tap deep wells of empathy in times of sorrow or strife. Their positivity can be infectious. Should life deal you lemons, they’ll help you feel good about making lemonade.

While Twos clearly find fulfillment in attending to others’ needs, their generosity generally carries an expectation of reciprocal care. Some enneagram teachers capture this sensibility by dubbing Type Twos Connectors. This nomenclature draws attention to the fact that Twos want their acts of service to build ties that bind. You might say that they give to get.

enneagram type two the helper

When subject to the influence of the neighboring One, Healthy Twos become the Servant. Their drive to relieve suffering finds companionship with a seriousness of purpose toward effective action. They are often drawn to teaching, public service, ministry, and healing professions. While they’ll lead the charge should the need arise, they’re quite content to work behind the scenes.

When subject to the influence of the neighboring Three, Healthy Twos become the Host or Hostess. They love putting out the welcome mat and making others feel valued and wanted. They focus on their interpersonal skills. As such, they are charming, sociable, and gracious.

Twos are also influenced by their dominant instinct:

  • Self-Preservation Twos present a strong expectation that others will attend to their needs. They may work tirelessly to gain that reciprocity. Or they may present themselves as child-like and needy as a means of inducing others to take care of them. They may traffic in guilt trips to get what they need. (“After all I’ve done for you…”)
  • Sexual Twos find comfort in being a best friend or intimate partner. They crave private time with their significant other and seek exclusivity in the sharing of confidences. To attract this individual, a Sexual Two invests time and energy in becoming irresistible.
  • Social Twos want to be at the center of the social arena. A desire to be noticed and remembered prompts them to show up as competent, knowledgeable individuals worthy of admiration. They gravitate toward those who are popular or powerful.

Of course, all that helpfulness can have a dark side. Twos can get so caught up in serving others that they forget to take care of themselves. They may also get so adept at mirroring their compatriots’ emotional energy that they lose sight of their own emotional core.

Under stress, Twos may adopt characteristics of an Unhealthy Eight. They can be aggressive when fearing loss of an important relationship or when they don’t get what they need out of existing relationships. They may become possessive and controlling, a response that likely adds fuel to the fire.

The antidote to stress lies in catching oneself in the act of flattering or serving others solely as a means currying favor. It means recognizing the underlying fear of worthlessness that often drives this behavior. It calls for cultivating self-love and shedding the overwhelming concern for what others think. It’s also calls for setting healthy boundaries.

Twos find strength in movement toward a Healthy Four. From this position, they learn to acknowledge their own feelings, needs, and expectations and find more direct means of satisfying them. They give themselves permission to prioritize self-care and cultivate relationships that are genuinely nurturing.

A long-time colleague and friend lives into the high ideals of a healthy Two. As a career customer service professional, she makes a living helping people. You can throw high-pressure situations or criticism in her direction and she’ll find every hint of silver lining in those dark clouds. The payoff? She genuinely loves being of service to others and forging strong relationships. When she isn’t working or excelling as a wife and mother, she serves on Boards and Committees that minister to underprivileged populations.

Type One – The Perfectionist

The Enneagram Type One personality – the Perfectionist – lays claim to a highly attuned sense of right and wrong based on culturally conditioned internal standards. They deem it virtuous to do “the right thing” and are motivated to avoid error, fault, or blame. That being said, Ones do not share the same set of internal standards or the same sense of urgency. An absolute imperative for a given One may not be much of a blip on the radar of another.

Ones like to make progress toward goals using efficient, methodical systems and time tables. They follow proven systems and excel in developing and refining procedures. They’re realistic about what they can accomplish and practical in their approach to getting it done.

Healthy Ones strive to be honest in all of their dealings. They say what they’ll do and do what they say. They have great powers of discernment. They have keen analytical minds and a strong work ethic that supports planning, execution, and problem-solving. They adhere to standards of fairness and set aside their own needs for the benefit of the collective. Ones tend to influence others by example and by the consistent exercise of sound judgment.

enneagram type one the perfectionist

When subject to the influence of the neighboring Nine, Healthy Ones become the Idealist. They are scholarly, wise, discerning, and focused on longer range concerns. They tend toward introversion – emotionally reserved, kind, and considerate. They still have a passionate drive to improve the world around them, but they proceed with a gentle nature.

When subject to the influence of the neighboring Two, Healthy Ones become the Advocate. They’re more demonstrably passionate about the causes they pursue. They empathize with the people they serve and work tirelessly in their behalf.

Ones are also influenced by their dominant instinct:

  • Self-Preservation Ones tend to be workaholics driven by a commitment to excellence in themselves, their work, and their immediate environment. They may have a difficult time letting their guards down for fear that things will go wrong and/or threaten their material well-being.
  • Sexual Ones seek perfection in their intimate relationships. They’ve got high expectations and aren’t shy about expressing their opinions in service of improving others and getting what they want. Fidelity and commitment rank high in their esteem.
  • Social Ones seek to be moral exemplars who leverage their time and talents for the greater good. As gifted educators, advocates, and orators, they’re unabashed about speaking their minds in public forums. They’re frequently drawn into politics, community organizing, and journalism.

Of course, all that perfection can have a dark side. Ones can be experienced as arrogant, inflexible, critical, and controlling. They may beat themselves down by a relentlessly judgmental inner voice that tears at their self-esteem and denies them simple pleasures. This voice may also find fault with others and give little weight to their ideas or opinions. Deeming anger and other emotions “bad,” they may not recognize the tempests brewing in their own teapots.

Under stress, Ones may adopt characteristics of an Unhealthy Four. They seek relief from their inner critic and hefty burdens through flights of daydreaming and romanticizing. They’re prone to moodiness as they come to terms with a sinking feeling that no one understands or appreciates them. Their heretofore reliable discipline and self-control may abandon them.

The antidote to stress lies in developing the capacity to listen to the nurturing inner voice who sees goodness and is lenient toward faults and failings. It grants Ones the freedom to set healthy limits and accept help from others. It gives Ones the space to be open to their needs and vulnerabilities without judgment. It also engenders awareness of repressed anger as a bellwether of underlying issues that need to be addressed.

Ones find strength in movement toward a Healthy Seven. From this position, they learn to be affected by their environment without tensing in resistance to it. As they free themselves from the grasps of their inner critics, they imbue their lives with more joy, enthusiasm, curiosity, and open-mindedness.

I experienced my father as a Self-Preservation One. As a Safety Engineer, he traveled all over Northern California to ensure that companies provided safe working conditions for their employees. At home, he was a master craftsman who completed countless home improvement projects to perfection. He always strove to do his best and inspired a standard of excellence through our family motto: What you do, do it well.