What is the Enneagram?
In my coaching and team-building, I use the Enneagram, a personality typing system based on the diagram above.
Unlike the Myers-Briggs, DISC, and other typing systems, the Enneagram is not about traits and behavioral preferences. It’s about motivation.
What drives you? Why do you act the way you do? The Enneagram answers these questions with shocking robustness. It’s like a pair of night-vision goggles for the human psyche, and it’s one of the most powerful empathy accelerators in existence.
Scroll down to read my brief descriptions of all 9 types, plus FAQs on the Enneagram.
To go deeper, download my free ebook below.
The 9 Types
Type 1: The Goodness Seeker
I have called 1s The Goodness Seeker because their primary motivations are to be aligned with “goodness” and rightness (as in good/evil, right/wrong) and to avoid being “bad.”
Healthy 1s are serene, noble, fair, dignified, disciplined, principled, softhearted, and wise. They trust their felt sense of right and wrong, and they embody the Buddhist principle of “right action.” They stand up for what they believe in and walk their talk, but they remain relaxed in the face of injustice, even as they advocate for better ways.
When 1s slide into Fixation, they become rigidly attached to personal distinctions between good and bad. The hope and idealism of their healthy selves distorts into displeased moralism, and Fixated 1s become opinionated, disapproving, and chronically annoyed. They try hard to keep themselves “in line,” and they can be harsh and critical towards others.
For a more expanded description of type 1, including relating tips, triggers, and growth tips, download my free Relating Mastery Enneagram Guide above.
Type 2: The Connection Seeker
I have called 2s The Connection Seeker because their primary motivations are to experience the warmth and affirmation of loving and caring connection and to avoid feeling unworthy of love.
Healthy 2s are people-oriented, affectionate, warm, thoughtful, altruistic, well-boundaried, and humble. The most heart-forward type of the Enneagram, they are natural nurturers and caretakers, and they love supporting others. They also have the humility to tend to their own needs, and because they do not grasp for it, they are deeply touched by the love of others.
When 2s slide into Fixation, they begin to doubt their inherent lovability and try to “earn” love by doing things for others. The joyful altruism of their healthy selves distorts into a compulsive drive to do nice things or make themselves “useful” to others to ensure that others will want them around. Fixated 2s are sensitive and prone to feeling under-appreciated, and they may become needy, overbearing, or insincere in their attempts to connect to others.
For a more expanded description of Enneagram Type 2, including relating tips, triggers, and growth tips, download my free Relating Mastery Enneagram Guide above.
Type 3: The Value Seeker
I have called 3s The Value Seeker because their primary motivations are to be feel valuable, successful, and exceptional and to avoid being worthless.
Healthy 3s are confident, charming, admiring, adaptable, gracious, and authentic. Healthy 3s do what they love and delight in working hard to become excellent at what they do. However, they also fully accept themselves “warts and all,” and they feel no need to be or to present themselves as “better" than they are.
When 3s slide into Fixation, they feel the need to prove their worth by being extraordinary and successful. The exuberant self-development of healthy 3s distorts into compulsive self-improvement, and they become driven, competitive, and image-conscious. Fixated 3s are single-mindedly focused on “getting further ahead,” and they may become chameleonic and unscrupulous in accomplishing their goals.
For a more expanded description of Enneagram Type 3, including relating tips, triggers, and growth tips, download my free Relating Mastery Enneagram Guide above.
Type 4: The Identity Seeker
I have called 4s The Identity Seeker because their primary motivations are to feel unique, special, "true to myself," and immersed in personal meaning, and to avoid being ordinary.
Healthy 4s are expressive, humane, poetic, emotionally honest, self-generating, and equanimous. Of all the Enneagram types, 4s are the most interested in the subject of their own identity and the most comfortable exploring the shadows of the inner world. Healthy 4s value emotional authenticity and by example often invite others into deeper self-reflection then they would otherwise go. They have rich emotional lives which they enjoy parsing through, and they are steady enough to “have” their emotions instead of “be” their emotions.
When 4s slide into Fixation, they become chronically dissatisfied with the superficiality of the world. The appreciation of depth and beauty of their healthy selves distorts into haughty aestheticism and individualism, and Fixated 4s become emotionally indulgent, self-absorbed, and compulsively “authentic.” They feel the need to act congruently with their current mood, no matter how self-defeating it may be. They also feel the need to be different from others — “How can I be myself if I’m the same as everyone else?”
For a more expanded description of Enneagram Type 4, including relating tips, triggers, and growth tips, download my free Relating Mastery Enneagram Guide above.
Type 5: The Understanding Seeker
I have called 5s The Understanding Seeker because their primary motivations are to understand reality and to avoid the feeling that reality cannot be understood.
Healthy 5s are amiable, curious, exploratory, perceptive, whimsical, and non-attached. Healthy 5s experience the world as a wonderland of endless fascination. They investigate their interests with a focus that is unique among Enneagram types, but they are at peace with the fact that they cannot know all there is to know, which allows them to participate fully in the world with an untroubled ease.
When 5s slide into Fixation, they become overwhelmed by the immensity of possible knowledge and feel that they need to figure everything out before they can engage the world. The delighted curiosity of their healthy selves distorts into compulsive investigation, and they become become hyper-cerebral, abstract, and aloof. Fixated 5s notice the ways we delude ourselves and can become cynical and provocative to “wake people up” to reality. Their self-imposed isolation may make them more out of touch with reality than they realize.
For a more expanded description of Enneagram Type 5, including relating tips, triggers, and growth tips, download my free Relating Mastery Enneagram Guide above.
Type 6: The Security Seeker
I have called 6s The Security Seeker because their primary motivations are to feel safe, secure, prepared, and alert to what's happening, and to avoid catastrophes.
Healthy 6s are self-assured, calm, alert, clear-headed, collaborative, responsible, and courageous. Healthy 6s have come to peace with the fact that it is impossible to be completely secure, which allows them to trust their intuition and make courageous choices, come what may. They stand strongly for what they believe in and enjoy navigating ambiguity and helping others feel more stably oriented in the world.
When 6s slide into Fixation, they begin to feel as if there is no way to be completely sure about anything. The calm awareness of their healthy selves distorts into vigilance, suspicion, and doubt. How can you ever really know that you’re doing the right thing or that nothing will go wrong? Fixated 6s try to reassure themselves by predicting and safeguarding against possible misfortunes, but their efforts often cause more anxiety. The more angsty they get, the more ambivalent, contradictory, and testy they become.
For a more expanded description of Enneagram Type 6, including relating tips, triggers, and growth tips, download my free Relating Mastery Enneagram Guide above.
Type 7: The Freedom Seeker
I have called 7s The Freedom Seeker because their primary motivations are to be free to enjoy all that life has to offer and to avoid being bored or trapped in negative feelings.
Healthy 7s are ecstatic, visionary, manifesting, resilient, patient, and appreciative. They see synergies among pursuits and generate many ideas for exciting things to do, and they have the focus and optimism to bring projects to fruition. That said, Healthy 7s get that their enjoyment of life has more to do with the quality of their attention than the content of their experience, and they are grateful to experience all that life offers, not just the parts they prefer.
When 7s slide into Fixation, they begin to scan their environment for stimulating activities that could fulfill them. The appreciative stillness of their healthy selves distorts into insatiable consumptiveness, and they become hyperactive, scattered, and impatient. Fixated 7s feel that they must stay in motion and keep things positive, and they may become flippant, cavalier, and childishly demanding to get their desires met.
For a more expanded description of Enneagram Type 7, including relating tips, triggers, and growth tips, download my free Relating Mastery Enneagram Guide above.
Type 8: The Aliveness Seeker
I have called 8s The Aliveness Seeker because their primary motivations are to feel alive and powerful and to avoid being hurt or taken advantage of.
Healthy 8s are vigorous, galvanizing, forbearing, big hearted, magnanimous, and innocent. They have confidence, dynamism, and charisma that comes from direct contact with their gut. They are comfortable with confrontation and even enjoy a good argument, and they love taking on big challenges and challenging others to do the same. Healthy 8s also embrace their sensitivity and get that vulnerability comes with the territory of being alive. Because of this, Healthy 8s' huge hearts beam through their powerful presence.
When 8s slide into Fixation, they feel the need to become tough to protect themselves, and they begin to push against the world make themselves feel alive. The natural gusto of their healthy selves distorts into uncalibrated forcefulness, and Fixated 8s become hardened, self-aggrandizing, and confrontational. The more self-protecting Fixated 8s become, the more obsessed with independence and invulnerability they get. They may become domineering, tyrannical, and inexorable in their pursuits.
For a more expanded description of Enneagram Type 8, including relating tips, triggers, and growth tips, download my free Relating Mastery Enneagram Guide above.
Type 9: The Harmony Seeker
I have called 9s The Harmony Seeker because their primary motivations are to experience the harmonious connectedness of their worlds, to avoid being disturbed, and to avoid having the harmony of their worlds disturbed.
Healthy 9s are self-possessed, empathetic, kind, unifying, steady, and engaged. They are incredibly easy to be around because they abide in a steady, contagious tranquility and embody a simple human decency that dissolves all pretense. Their approach to life is simply to “take it all in,” speak their truth, and act in congruence with their felt sense. They are empathetic in the true meaning of the word — they “feel with” others — yet they do not become subsumed in others’ worlds and remain solidly in themselves.
When 9s slide into Fixation, they “check out” of their lives, merge with others’ agendas, and fade into a fog of tired passivity. The empathy of their healthy selves distorts into self-dissolution into the worlds of others, and Fixated 9s become accommodating, overly agreeable, and internally blank. It may annoy Fixated 9s that they struggle to assert themselves on their own behalf, and they may become and passive aggressive, grumpy, melancholic.
For a more expanded description of Enneagram Type 9, including relating tips, triggers, and growth tips, download my free Relating Mastery Enneagram Guide above.
Are there really just 9 Types?
“What?! Just 9 you say? All of humanity is encapsulated in just 9 categories?!”
Well… yes and no.
The categories aren’t rigid. No one is a “pure” type, all types exist within you to some degree. And let’s not forget… a human is a complex, dynamic individual, not a cookie cutout.
The Enneagram has some ways of accounting for this complexity.
First, it is helpful to think of the Enneagram as a "color wheel" of personality. Each of us has a dash of each type within us, with some dashes being bigger than others, and one tending to be the biggest—that of your primary type.
Beyond this, you may have heard of "wings," or "tritype," or the instinctual drives (see the sections below).
For each basic type, there are 2 possible wings, 9 possible tritype combinations, and 6 possible instinctual stacks. That's 9 x 2 x 9 x 6 = 972 possibilities, which gives the Enneagram more texture.
But even with 972 possibilities, it is fundamentally true that the map is not the terrain.
Just like no map can account for every blade of grass, no personality typing system can account for the infinite nuance of any individual.
The Enneagram is just a map. It's a really good map. But again. Just a map.
What are the Centers of Intelligence?
A foundational concept of the Enneagram is that the 9 types arise from imbalances in our 3 centers of intelligence: the body, heart, and mind.
The body is where we experience our substantiality, our boundaries, and our aliveness. When boundaries are violated, the body re-asserts them with anger and aggression. The body speaks to us in sensation, and there is a profound wisdom in our "felt sense," if only we can incorporate it into our awareness in a balanced way.
The heart speaks to us in feelings, and it is where we experience love, worth, and depth -- or their absence. It has the beautiful ability to be "touched," which we know when we are overwhelmed by love or admiration. It is also capable of aching terribly. The heart's wisdom is accessible to us only when we have enough presence to "be with" our feelings, rather than dissociating from them being swept away by them.
The mind is what organizes our sensory inputs into a coherent perception of reality. It is what interpolates and extrapolates from the data of our experience to help us understand the world, navigate it smartly, and imagine possibilities. The mind speaks to us in thoughts, and although the mind is our culture's archetypical seat of intelligence, usually repetitive and reactive thoughts so thoroughly clutter our minds that that we prevent our deepest insights from arising. But with presence, we can learn to cultivate the kind of inner spaciousness in which the mind quiets enough for its guidance to come through.
How do the Types relate to the Centers of Intelligence?
In the Enneagram, it is often taught that there are "body types," "heart types," and "mind types."
Body types: 8, 9, 1
Heart types: 2, 3, 4
Head types: 5, 6, 7
What does this mean?
8s, 9s, and 1s are "body types" because their most salient gifts and liabilities arise from their relationship with the intelligence of the body. The same is true for heart types and mind types with respect to the intelligence of those centers.
See the descriptions below for a deeper look.
Body Types: 8, 9, 1
8s: In fixation, 8s become so hardened that they bulldoze their way through the world — a distortion of aggressive body energy. But when healthy, 8s are confident because of direct contact with their gut (aka body), and they respond to their environment with sensitive attunement that arises from the body.
9s: In fixation, 9s become so self-diffusing that they lose the sensation of where they end and the world begins — a dissociation from the body's felt sense of one’s boundaries and one's right to assert them. But when healthy, 9s are self-possessed and substantial, and they are comfortable sensing and responding in the moment based on their body’s felt sense.
1s: In fixation, 1s become so tense and self-critical that they lose the ability to relax when they or their environment is not perfectly aligned to their standards — a distortion of aggressive body energy. But when healthy, 1s are serene because of their ability to remain calm and accepting even when things are the way they “ought” to be.
Heart Types: 2, 3, 4
2s: In fixation, 2s doubt their own lovability and compulsively help others to ensure that they stay connected to the people they love — a distortion of the heart’s “loving” energy. But when healthy, 2s are unconditionally loving and well boundaried because of their ability to love themselves through the natural ebbs and flows of relationships.
3s: In fixation, 3s feel the need to prove that they are extraordinary, so they become driven and competitive and lose the ability to see the inherent value in people and things — a dissociation from the valuing capacity of the heart. But when healthy, 3s are able to cherish themselves and their worlds.
4s: In fixation, 4s feel repulsed by the superficiality of the world, compulsively differentiate from others, and become emotionally stormy as a way to feel “deep” — a distortion of the heart’s capacity to be touched by beauty and depth. But when healthy, 4s are equanimous and appreciate the beauty of even ordinary things.
Mind Types: 5, 6, 7
5s: In fixation, 5s get overwhelmed by the infinite complexity of the world and feel that they cannot fully participation in life until they have figured everything out— a distortion of the mind’s natural curiosity and insightfulness. But when 5s are healthy, they delight in the intellectual wonderland that is our world with an inner spaciousness that allows them to engage life with untroubled inquisitiveness.
6s: In fixation, 6s feel anxious about navigating the world without making choices that will jeopardize their security, and they become self-doubting, hyper-vigilant, and suspicious — a dissociation from the mind’s natural ability to guide one through the general commotion of life. But when healthy, 6s are self-assured and calm even when aware of undesirable contingencies.
7s: In fixation, 7s feel anxious that they cannot find ultimate fulfillment and that they will be trapped in boredom and inner pain, so they keep their eyes open for promising experiences and fail to be nourished by what’s in front of them — a distortion of the mind’s natural ability to notice what is stimulating in one’s environment. But when 7s are healthy, they are able to savor the present moment without anticipating the next thrill.
What is a Tri-fix, or Tri-type?
To put it simply, it's the idea that you have a type in each center.
While it is convenient to say that there are "body types," "heart types," and "mind types," it is of course important to remember that each of us has a body, a heart, and a mind, regardless of what type we are and what center our type "belongs" in.
Oscar Ichazo -- the Chilean psychologist who first developed the Enneagram of Personality in the 1960s, wrote about "tri-fixation" -- the idea that each of our centers is fixated in a particular way. That is, our body center is more "8ish," or "9ish," or "1ish," and so on for the heart center and the mind center.
Tri-Type is a term later coined by Katherine Fauvre and means essentially the same thing.
As an example, my tri-fix is 3 - 9 - 5.
3 is my primary type -- a heart type.
9 is my body type.
5 is my mind type.
If you're considering yours, remember that...
Body Types: 8, 9, 1
Heart Types: 2, 3, 4
Mind Types: 5, 6, 7
What are Wings?
Whatever your primary type is, it is flanked by two adjacent numbers, one of which is your "wing."
Your wing can be thought of as your secondary type -- it complexifies your relationship with your primary type and contributes to your psychological structure to a larger degree than the other points on the Enneagram.
Visually, you can imagine your type being plotted as a node on the outer circle of the Enneagram. Generally, the node will fall between two numbers, the closer of which is your primary type, and the farther of which is your wing.
Wings come in varying strengths, as the node can be closer to or farther from the midpoint between two numbers.
What are the Instinctual Drives?
Humans are mammals. Just like horses, pigs, and kangaroos, we have instinctual drives.
There are three basic instinctual drives:
What does it mean to have an "instinctual drive"?
Like other mammals, we require physiological regulation. Our instinctual drives are what compel us to attend to and pursue the resources that will regulate us.
The Self-Preservation Instinctual Drive makes us attend to and pursue what we need to survive and thrive as a physical creature. For instance, we curate food, shelter, and creature comforts -- lighting, sound, physical materials, and practical resources like money.
Our Sexual Instinctual Drive makes us attend to and pursue what we need to elicit the choice of a sexual partner. For instance, we enhance our "flavor," our "look," our "aura," and our talents, interests, and behaviors that make us attractive to the people we would like to choose us.
Our Social Instinctual Drive makes us attend to and pursue what we need to bond socially with others. For instance we notice others' inner worlds, what kinds of behavior are appropriate, and implicit social signals indicating the state of relationships. We "read the room" and calibrate ourselves to navigate social contexts.
Why do we study the Instinctual Drives with the Enneagram?
There are 4 reasons.
1. The Instinctual Stack and Inner Work
All instincts operate in each of us, but they tend to drive us in different proportions. That is, we typically over-prioritize one instinct and under-prioritize another, resulting in an "instinctual stack."
For instance, your stack might be...
...in which case, you over-prioritize the social instinct and under-prioritize the self-preservation instinct. The common parlance for this is "self-pres dominant" and "sexual blind."
There is huge transformative power in balancing our instinctual drives, and it's one of the most exciting and immediately impactful parts of inner work because of how much life-force gets unleashed.
2. Instinct Precedes Enneagram Type
Our instinctual drives are more fundamental to our organism than our Enneagram type.
Our awareness resides in a flesh and bone organism, and what co-opts our attention most irresistibly is our biological impulse to attend to our instinctual needs.
You're hungry? Yes, it's going to be hard not to pay attention to that. You're attracted to someone? Yes, that too. You want to be friends with someone who's ignoring you? Yep.
What a personality is is a functional psychological structure that attempts to reconnect you to Essence through meeting your instinctual needs.
We need to eat. How do we do that? We develop a personality that allows us to procure food. We get jobs, we perform tasks, we monitor our spending, etc.
We want to have sex. How do we do that? We develop a personality that is sexually attractive to others.
We want to bond with others socially. How do we do that? We develop a personality that others will want to socially bond with.
Here's the punchline:
Our Enneagram type is the way we approach meeting our instinctual needs and the way we evaluate whether we have met them or not.
(If you want to learn more about this, no one explains it better than my friends at New York Enneagram.)
3. Enneagram Types Show Up Differently Depending on Their Instinctual Stack
A type 6 that is self-preservation dominant and social blind will be very different from a type 6 that is social dominant and self-preservation blind.
Fixated 6s who are self-pres dominant will tend to get most angsty about their physical and logistical needs, and their healthy superpowers will tend to be in the physical and logistical realm. But Fixated 6s who are social dominant will tend to get most angsty about whether they are navigating social situations appropriately, and their healthy superpowers will tend to be in the realm of social intelligence.
4. Type Compatibility
Instincts play a big role in type compatibility, since people with different instinctual stacks tend to pay attention to different "worlds."
Self-Preservation dominant types may delight in talking about the state of their furniture, the way they packed for a trip, or their new water filtration system. But to those who are Self-Preservation blind, these conversations may seem pointless and exhausting. "Why would anyone care about that so much?"
Sexual types may delight in spending time primping themselves, pursuing highly charged experiences, or losing themselves in the intensity of a connection. But to those who are sexual-blind, such blatant sexual display may seem narcissistic and uncomfortable, and such single-minded, intense pursuits may seem foolish and confusing.
Social types may delight in gossiping, unpacking the subtle nuances of social situations, and enjoying platonic interactions with others. But to those who are social blind, such things may seem strange, pointless, and boring.
Of course, compatibility is always more a function of our capacity for presence than of type, whether we are talking about instinct, Enneagram, or any other typology.
People with reversed instinctual stackings may initially not understand each other or even be repelled, but they often have profound things to learn from each other. With presence, it is possible for these relationships to be immensely fulfilling.