Enneagram Styles As Personality Paradigms

by Jerome Wagner, Ph.D.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

How do these paradigm proficiencies show up in Enneagram styles?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ONES notice flaws, imperfections, what’s wrong, when they enter a room. ONES will give you the right word as you’re fumbling to say something.

TWOS will sense who is hurting and who needs what. They may know what you need even before you do. At the moment you realize you are thirsty, a TWO is handing you a drink of water.

THREES pick up how others expect them to be. They intuitively sense what role to play or how to look and act when they enter a room. They can also tell you how to efficiently write that paper you’ve been mulling over for months.

FOURS pick up rejection, disapproval, being abandoned before anyone else senses this. They will also be attuned to the aesthetics of the room and the feeling tone of the group gathered in the room. They are sensitive to any suffering in the room. If there is any hidden feeling or communication between you and them, FOURS will intuit it.

FIVES will sense any expectations and demands put on them or any subtle intrusions or invasions of their space more readily and sensitively than others will. As you are about to ask for volunteers for your project, you will become aware that the FIVES have left the room.

SIXES will sense any danger lurking in the room. They are scanning for and can detect potentially threatening people or objects. If you bring a hidden agenda, SIXES will be alert to it.

SEVENS will pick up and gravitate towards where the fun and excitement is. They will notice the novel and potentially interesting and entertaining features in the people and objects in the room. If not the first to suggest it, SEVENS will second any “Let’s have a party.”

EIGHTS will sense who has power in the room, those they may have to deal with as competitors for taking over the room. If they sense a vacuum of power, authority, or protection in the room, they immediately move to take control so they feel safe. As you are about to take charge, you may find yourself being relegated to the back of the room by an EIGHT.

NINES can merge with people in the room and sense what it is like to be inside the skin of the other person. They can become the other person. This gives them an intuitive grasp of others’ needs, wants, thoughts, etc. They can also sense harmony, when things are fitting together, as well as disharmony, where there is conflict. But as the level of conflict in the room rises, the level of NINES’ awareness drops, all the way to the point of falling sleep.

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

The following proficiencies appear in these nine personality paradigms:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Jerome Wagner, Ph.D.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Paradigm One:

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

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

Paradigm Two:

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

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

Paradigm Three:

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

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

Paradigm Four:

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

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

Paradigm Five:

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

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

Paradigm Six:

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

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

Paradigm Seven:

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

People who are compulsively cheerful and enthusiastic often elicit limiting and depressing responses from others as they attempt to “ground” or “shoot down” the high-flying optimist. This confirms the maladaptive fear that others are going to rain on your parade.

Paradigm Eight:

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

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

Paradigm Nine:

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

You get what you ask for. If you don’t ask for anything, you don’t get anything. When you don’t express your needs, other people assume you don’t need anything and so don’t offer you anything. People seem cold and uncaring and this confirms the belief the world is indifferent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Enneagram and the Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler

by Jerome Wagner, Ph.D.

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

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

Adler and Freud

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adler’s Individual Psychology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Earliest Memory

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life Goal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Birth Order

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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