Where Does Your Authority Come From? Part 2

by Jerome Wagner, Ph.D.

      In a previous article I was speculating on where each enneatype’s authority came from and I asked for feedback.  I received comments from all the styles except the Eights.  My speculation here is that the Eights are thinking if you don’t know where our authority comes from, there’s no use in trying to explain it to you.  I’m reminded of when someone asked Louis Armstrong what was “swing”, and Louis answered: “Cat, if you don’t know what swing is, I can’t tell you.”

     Anyway, I’m repeating here my original fantasies and adding what representatives of each style wrote in to say.  I’ve added the bold emphasis, having nothing better to do.


    I supposed ONES get their authority from being right – and they’re usually sure they’re right.  There is a tremendous power in righteousness, not to be confused with self-righteousness.  And I was right!  The ONES said their authority comes from being in the right and being morally right.

     Here’s what ONES say about their source of authority:

  • And, of course, you’re correct:  we ONEs thrive on being right.  You’re correct, too, in ascertaining that we know we’re right.  As to the morally right piece–while having (mostly) overcome my upbringing in the Calvinist/Reformed strain of religiosity, I fervently hope what you’ve posited is true!
  • I don’t define my source of power as being right, but having authenticity or integrity of doing what I see as correct. 
  • A 1 w 2 wing suggested their authority comes from their ability to see around corners and know which right action will best serve the greatest good or avoid failure.
  • As for how Ones experience authority, your description does accurately characterize the typical false self of the One. That quick sense of knowing what is right in a given moment, can be quite an instinctive reaction. 
  • But here is how I think I experience that inner sense of authority. I see Ones as being realistic idealists; they see the telos (the Greek word usually translated as “perfect” which actually means “the end or purpose”) in something or someone. When we are coming from a centered place—meaning the serenity, equanimity, and sobriety of my harmony triad are present—then I think Ones see into the meaning or essence of things and can speak about what they see. Instead of being experienced as judgmental or opinionated, their insights provide clarity and discernment toward life and fullness. In such moments Ones express their authority unpretentiously and unconsciously.


     I theorized TWOS’ authority comes from love.  Love is a powerful source of conviction.  And the TWOS said their authority comes from their love for the other person and from their empathy, nurturing, and emotional experience.  They trust their love informs them about what is good for us.   Their ego, on the other hand, might be a tad self-interested.  As an advice columnist observed: “All unsolicited advice is self-serving.”

  • I’d say my highest authority might be accessed in altruism. When I can truly take myself, my need for appreciation, and my hope of reciprocation out of the equation, I can fully lean into the purest elements of my ability to nurture others. 
  • I think my authority as a 2 comes from people knowing they matter to me—and just matter in general.   They trust that from the speed of response, the care of the response, and the ability to connect dots that go “deeper” than the presenting problem or connecting dots to see the person holistically.  I often see the person more clearly than they see themselves, which when I was younger, would get me in trouble, since some people not only didn’t want that, they also didn’t like that someone saw things they didn’t.  Over time I’ve become more measured in what help I give, and what I stop doing from my self-care to attend to them.  But I’m still very aware even when I don’t help.  My wiring is to be helpful.  I have to remind myself to intervene on my behalf.  I get annoyed when others aren’t as naturally helpful or aware. Find me in a busy airport and you could assume I’m thinking and wanting to let others know: “You are not the only person in this airport. Pay attention to others.”  As E.B. White’s Charlotte the spider said: “By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.”


     I suspected THREES’ authority comes from their competence.  And they humbly admitted that they are good at what they do.  In addition, taking a page from their TWO neighbors, they said their actions arise from their care for others.  They do reside in the middle of the relationship trinity, after all.

  • For Threes I think some of their authority comes from successes that build on one another. As they achieve they become more confident in their success and their ability to organize and seek to achieve elsewhere or in larger venues.


     I thought FOURS authority arises from the depth of their feelings.  They said their authority is a mystery.  Of course.  They also agreed their authority comes from their feelings and added also from their authenticity.

  • I think my authority really does come from my values, after mucho trabajo.  (OK, JW had to look it up: “much work.”)
  • My 4 authority comes on line when I feel I can express things in a way that opens other people to receive a different, more nuanced, and more harmonic view of reality.  Authority is a form of inner sight (eyes to see—something different) and its roots run deep not shallow. 
  • I agree that my authority as a 4 comes from the depth of my emotions. I would put a slightly finer point on it and add that my authority also comes from my willingness to “go there” with people, into the darker places where others “fear to tread”, and be okay there.  In my work as a hospital chaplain, I’m frequently tasked with “going there” with people, and I think the fact that I’m not intimidated by their darkness helps me to have authority with them. 
  • My authority comes from my sense of authentic truth, from my divine humanity that will not be imposed on, dictated to, diminished, disregarded and mistreated. I have agency. I AM a sovereign being with the audacity to act as such. I guess to sum it up, my authority comes from my identity.  I AM who I AM and that gives me the power and freedom to be.
  • I would say as a 4 w 3 wing, it’s my discernment of having the others’ best interest at heart (as authenticity) coupled with the most effective/efficient way to influence or achieve that action step, result, or outcome.  I notice successful creators find the better, smarter, faster bullseye of desired best-interest coupled with a way to clearly communicate that.  I know what I/other want and find a way to ask for or communicate that clearly.


     My FIVE authority comes from my knowledge.  And when I thought about this, I agreed.  FIVES also cited their wisdom and being “know-it-alls.”  My physician, who is not a FIVE, says I pay him a lot of money for what he knows and who he knows.  He is a good referral source.

  • My authority comes from knowing things; having knowledge, wisdom, and data.  These things allow me to feel secure and less vulnerable, and it helps to ease anxiety.
  • Knowledge – what else is there?
  • I sit between the head and the heart, sensing my authority coming from both intellect/book smarts/cognition, and a deep knowing/intuition/heart knowledge that largely evades my understanding. It’s a little like the body intelligence of 8s/9s/1s, but from a sensitive emotional space. It’s quite difficult to convey with words and seems to mostly exist in a “felt sense” in my chest, heart, solar plexus, and stomach. It’s something inside me but can feel so expansive that it almost seems to exist beyond my physical body. A clear understanding combined with a rich, expansive connection to something larger...mystical… Even in writing this, I feel these words have failed in communicating my personal sense of authority.


     I wondered whether SIXES’ authority was delegated.  Not surprising, some said they didn’t think they had any authority.  But, blessedly, others said their authority was the Holy Spirit.  Synonyms for Holy Spirit might be their essence or true nature.  While admitting they look to others for authority, they also said their authority comes from self-reliance.

  • My sense of authority comes from intuition/Spirit, I seem to just know things.  Sometimes I trip over things and make connections. Spirit does help me find the most interesting things.  While studying at University, I was introduced to the idea of mystery as a way of knowing.  I loved it then and still do now.   
  • I believe that my authority lies in what “I trust or want to trust”
  • I am a self-preservation Six and asked myself the question before reading the article. My personality looks around for external affirmation.  However, my deep core relies on my deep knowing.  Holy Spirit, perhaps. This certainly helped me understand and appreciate looking through this lens. My inner guidance, my highest self, the part of me connected to source energy.   It is a felt sense. It’s a knowing and not a thought. It holds steady. It does not waiver.
  • For much of my adult life, my trust and wanting to trust were tied directly to what is conventional or what is conventionally understood and believed within my tribe.  For me, that tribe was the scholars and theologians within the church. I trusted those who were certain, articulate, and strong.  In essence, I trusted people who were “smarter and more experienced” than myself.  In the end, it was an overly rigid trust that “they (not I) had the “truth”.   The Enneagram as a tool has been a wonderful aid in helping me to move my trust from what is outside me (almost exclusively), to what is inside me. I don’t believe this in an arrogant way, but in a way that still tries to remain open, holding my ideas with humility, yet truly trusts the experience, reflections, and values of my life to guide me.
  • 15+ years ago (prior to studying the Enneagram) my spiritual director told me to “trust myself.” That statement felt like heresy. Ya, I grew up in a very fundamental, evangelical faith tradition, where faith was what I knew, what I could prove and defend and not trusting my ever-changing feelings. Over the years, I began to equate that statement, “trust myself” to “I can trust Spirit working within me.” That has been powerful and formational. 
  • Before Billy Graham passed away, I wanted him to say homosexuality was OK. He died and never gave me the security of his authority. Yet. . . I have leaned into trusting myself, and trusting God’s goodness and welcoming.  But I still wanted Billy to tell it was OK.
  • Your final sentence. . .“their authority comes from self-reliance,” struck a deep chord within me. Self-reliance/independence, a fierce self-reliance – “I don’t need anybody”, “I don’t ask for help”, has been a strong theme for me, even as a young person (early teens). I have grown a lot in this area over 40+ years “thanks be to God”.
  • I recently looked at the attributes of adult children of alcoholics. (My father was a heavy drinker, prior to marrying and having a family. His family members were all alcoholics. Dad never drank after age 30). Several attributes caught my eye, “we become rigidly self-sufficient,” and “deny that we’ve been hurt and suppress our emotions by the dramatic expression of “pseudo” feelings.” For me, it’s I am capable, I am competent, I don’t need anyone. 
  • For Sixes I have seen that they look for authority from following the rules and maintaining expectations of the status quo. At least that has been my experience of Sixes as ministers in the church. They want backup plan on backup plan and resist change because of the innate risk.
  • I’m a 6, and I believe my authority comes from being loved by God (on a good day) but sometimes more likely to believe it comes from my reliability and dedication. Being steadfast comes with confidence.  If you channel God’s love through you, it’s going to be something good and trustworthy. I think it’s some combination of knowing that ultimate love and goodness are inside of me and accessible and then also that God’s love means all will be well and all will be made right in the end, so I can speak and live with authority knowing that. 


     I imagined SEVENS’ authority comes from their being so positive.  Being optimistic gives you a lot of confidence.  What they said was a delightful surprise.  Their authority comes from being two to three steps ahead.   They are out ahead of us and see what’s coming.  Being visionaries gives them credibility.

  • My authority comes from my gratitude for all the positive things I see. With this much shit in here there’s got to be a pony! I can see around or through the roadblocks and lead others forward. My authority comes from the results of having this attitude. 
  • As someone who identifies with the patterns of Style 7, authority is a challenging concept for me.  I don’t want to be in authority, it smacks too much of hierarchies and seems limiting.  If I have to bein authority, to plan a workshop for example, then I’d agree that my authority comes from my idea or vision of what will be interesting, enjoyable, stimulating and fun.  I would agree with the 9s too that this vision is based on my experience and what I imagine will go down well.  It’s not a question of feeling what is right though.  It’s to do with seeing in my mind’s eye what I think will be pleasant and positive.  As far as being an authority goes, for me that comes from my enthusiasm and fascination.  Like the 5s, I need to know.  But my knowledge is more superficial than theirs and it’s also linked to personal experience.
  • 7 w 6.  My authority comes from reading and experience.
  • 7 w 8. I think authority comes in many different ways, depending on the situation.  I have authority to drive a car because I have a driver’s license.  Till the age of 18, I have authority over my children I gave them birth to. The Bible gives me authority.  My salvation from Jesus Christ gives me authority over the evil one.  So, I guess those types of authority are laws, morals and society values.


     Wondering where EIGHTS’ authority comes from seems like an unnecessary exercise.  But I thought about it anyway.  I figure it comes from their self-assurance, from their gut reactions.  They said when it comes to authority, they just take it.  That sounds about right.  We can trust them and their reputation for being strong and getting things done.

[No further comments from the Eights. Figure it out yourself!]


     I thought NINES’ authority comes from their peaceful nature.  And, intuiting what would please me, they said their authority comes from their inner calm and peace.  It comes from an inner wisdom about how to live a peaceful and pleasant life.  Their authority comes from their own experience.  It just feels right.

  • As a Nine, I do think that much of my authority comes from being the calm in the storm and having the right insights just in time for a situation. So, your observation of the 9’s authority commencing from inner calm and wisdom feels “right” to me.
    • However, as I read thru my companions in the Triad, both the 3’s competence and the   6’s self-reliance seemed to inform and underpin the feelings of “calm in a storm” and “knowing the right thing to do” of my 9.
    • Interestingly, when not functioning at optimum/goodness, the wings seem to bring the inappropriate, underbelly of self-righteousness of the 1 and “taking over” of the 8.  (A disturbance in the force)
    • I have an orientation toward “system” – the interactive, interrelated and interdependent actions of the whole and that is maybe why this “feels” right.  It is also useful in recognizing consciously where helpful and not so helpful actions may be originating.
  • I identify as a SOCIAL NINE. I don’t think my authority comes from my NINEness. I think the peaceful, calm, don’t-ruffle-feathers, see-all-points-of-view side of me gets in the way of my own agency. I can get stuck in inaction when there.  When I assert my authority – whether within my own mind or with others – it’s typically an expression of my two wings: The ONE that puts a prospective decision through a “law court” and comes up with the right answer, and the EIGHT that will thereafter damn the torpedoes and go full speed ahead.

Where Does Your Authority Come From?

by Jerome Wagner, Ph.D.

I was talking with someone who was having difficulty setting limits and boundaries.  And I asked them “Where does your authority come from to do this?”  Kind of reminded me of the Pharisees asking Jesus: “By whose authority do you say this?”  (Odious comparisons are not intended and are not appreciated.) Then, I had to ask myself where does my authority come from?  Followed by, whence does each Enneagram style get their authority?  Then I made up some answers and, uncharacteristically, actually asked some representatives of each enneatype where does their authority come from.   Here are the results.


I thought ONES get their authority from being right – and they’re usually sure they’re right.  There is a tremendous power in righteousness, not to be confused with self-righteousness.  And I was right!  The ONES said their authority comes from being in the right and being morally right.


I theorized TWOS’ authority comes from love.  Love is a powerful source of conviction.  And the TWOS said their authority comes from their love for the other person and from their empathy, nurturing, and emotional experience.  They trust their love informs them about what is good for us.   Their ego, on the other hand, might be a tad self-interested.  As an advice columnist observed: “All unsolicited advice is self-serving.”


I suspected THREES’ authority comes from their competence.  And they humbly admitted that they are good at what they do.  In addition, taking a page from their TWO neighbors, they said their actions arise from their care for others.  They do reside in the middle of the relationship trinity, after all.


I thought FOURS authority arises from the depth of their feelings.  They said their authority is a mystery.  Of course.  They also agreed their authority comes from their feelings and added also from their authenticity.


My FIVE authority comes from my knowledge.  And when I thought about this, I agreed.  FIVES also cited their wisdom and being “know-it-alls.”  My physician, who is not a FIVE, says I pay him a lot of money for what he knows and who he knows.  He is a good referral source.


I wondered whether SIXES’ authority was delegated.  Not surprising, some said they didn’t think they had any authority.  But, blessedly, others said their authority was the Holy Spirit.  Synonyms for Holy Spirit might be their essence or true nature.  While admitting they look to others for authority, they also said their authority comes from self-reliance.


I imagined SEVENS’ authority comes from their being so positive.  Being optimistic gives you a lot of confidence.  What they said was a delightful surprise.  Their authority comes from being two to three steps ahead.   They are out ahead of us and see what’s coming.  Being visionaries gives them credibility.


Wondering where EIGHTS’ authority comes from seems like an unnecessary exercise.  But I thought about it anyway.  I figure it comes from their self-assurance, from their gut reactions.  They said when it comes to authority, they just take it.  That sounds about right.  We can trust them and their reputation for being strong and getting things done.


I thought NINES’ authority comes from their peaceful nature.  And, intuiting what would please me, they said their authority comes from their inner calm and peace.  It comes from an inner wisdom about how to live a peaceful and pleasant life.  Their authority comes from their own experience.  It just feels right — which musically brings us back to do, or ONE in the Enneagram system.

A Request

This research is based on a small but brilliant representative sample.  I would really like to gather more data to feed my alleged addiction.  So, if you are willing to share your Enneagram type and your reflection on where your authority comes from, I would be happy to collate the information (keeping your name out of it), write up the results, and send it back to everyone, following the dictum about “Freely giving what you have freely received.”   My e-mail is jwagner5@aol.com and operators are standing by to transcribe your replies.

Enneagram Styles and Distress and Eustress

by Jerry Wagner, Ph.D.

     Who isn’t distressed these days?  If you’re not, you’ve either died recently or you’re drinking too much Scotch.  The latter got me thinking about good stress and bad stress and inevitable suffering and unnecessary suffering.  Some stress we bring on ourselves and some suffering we generate ourselves.

     Then I thought about Enneagram styles.  What’s good stress (like the late Congressman John Lewis’s notion of “good trouble”) for each style?   And how does each style create their own distress?  What’s the natural resilience of each style?  And how does overdoing a good thing (eustress) bring about a bad thing (distress)?

     Somewhere in every introductory psychology textbook is a chart that looks like a bell curve or a Volkswagen Beetle that shows an optimal level of functioning and arousal at the top of the bell curve.  To function at our best, we need a little stimulation, excitement, anxiety to get us up for the game.

      If we are feeling too confident or lazy, we don’t exert enough effort to function optimally to win the game or at least play well.  At the bottom of the beginning of the curve is sleep.  This is where my undergraduate students dwelled.  If there is not enough stimulation or if we are bored, we fall asleep.  Unless we do something to wake up and get excited.  Fidget, check the latest sales on Google, pull the hair of the person in front of us.  (No, wait, that was grade school.)

     If we get too excited (like when I talk about the Enneagram) or overly anxious (like our scholarship depends on passing this test or our opponent just won their last 127 games), this added energy interferes with our optimal functioning and we flub the fingering of that Bach cantata or hit the ball into the net or, in my case, into another fairway.  At the bottom on the right side or downside of that bell curve lies a panic attack, the end result of too much anxiety.

     A little excitement and nervousness promote optimal functioning; too much stimulation leads to shutting down, tuning out, and falling asleep or ramping up, spinning out, and shooting energy in all directions, like a Van de Graaff generator.  (Look it up.  I had to.)

Van de Graaff generator, a hair-raising experience

So, what does each Enneagram style do to reach optimal functioning?  How does just the right amount of stress become eustress?  And how does each Enneagram style overdo their strategies to create distress?  Like the three little pigs, you want your porridge not too cold, not too hot, but just right.  Which brings us to the ONES.


     What gets ONES motivated, functioning optimally, and what is their natural resilience?

     ONES get up for the game by wanting to perform really well.  They want to do all they can to make a really good product – whether it be a good term paper, a good chicken fricassee, a good relationship with their spouse and children – anything they are engaged in.  They have a passion for excellence and feel good when they have done something exceptionally well.   Don’t we all.  Even some of my undergraduate students.  This is eustress at its best.

      ONES’ resilience comes from their desire to be all they can be and do what they are doing impeccably.  They are naturally persistent, conscientious, responsible, intense (like a laser, not a forest fire.)

     So, what’s the ONES’ version of turning good news into bad news?  Doing too much of a good thing.  Want to distress yourself?  Tell yourself you HAVE to be perfect and do everything impeccably.  If you want to be loved and accepted, you have to be right and you can’t make mistakes.  Who says so?  The ONES.  Or their ONE parents, teachers, church, culture, etc.   Being a good person leads to optimal functioning.  Being a perfect person leads to why bother trying or dying trying.  Neither bring about particularly good results.  I still like the English essayist G.K. Chesterton’s quip: “Anything worth doing is worth doing half well.”  Not a good clarinet player?  No matter.  Making music is a good thing.  Either Chesterton was not a ONE or was a reformed ONE.

     ONES bring on themselves distress and unnecessary suffering by trying to be perfect.  Too many “shoulds” make their blood pressure and resentment rise.  They need to find that happy point between not trying and trying too hard.  “I’m doing the best I can with what I have available right now.”  See the 12-step prayer for wisdom.


     What gets TWOS motivated, functioning optimally, and what is their natural resilience?

     TWOS say they enjoy giving and loving and being helpful.   It’s something that flows naturally from their nature.  They are attuned, both innately and through practice, to other’s feelings and needs.  And they generously respond to others’ requirements.  Giving is their version of a “flow” state.  It comes easily and naturally and is intrinsically reinforcing.  Getting appreciation is a nice bonus, but not required.

     Seeking out connections and relationships contributes to their own as well as others’ well-being.  Forming community fosters their resilience.  Their optimism and prosocial nature help them survive and thrive by giving them meaning and purpose, and carrying them through life in the company of others.

     And how do TWOS invite distress into their lives?  By doing too much of the above.  Their helping becomes something they HAVE to do to gain approval and avoid rejection.  They erringly believe their worth comes more from giving themselves than simply being themselves.  To get their needs met, they have to meet everyone else’s needs first.  And since, according to the rules of their TWO paradigm, they are not allowed to ask for what they want, they have to indirectly get their needs met.  We, of course, don’t catch onto what they need, since they’ve never expressed them. So, they get resentful.  And that’s stressful.

     So, how do they reduce this brought-on distress?   Acknowledge and express their needs.  It won’t kill us or them and it surprisingly makes them even more lovable.  Who would’ve thought?


     What gets THREES motivated, functioning optimally, and what is their natural resilience?

     THREES get energy and satisfaction from getting things accomplished.  A good day for THREES is when they got a lot done.  They like progress. They like to win.   A particularly irascible famous tennis player said it wasn’t so much winning that he liked; he hated losing.  They enjoy promoting their products and rallying their team.   They value movement.  “Motion is the lotion,” as my physician likes to say.  Perhaps THREES were the original peripatetic philosophers.  They thought best while walking.  Pushing, challenging, competing get their energy up.

     THREES confidence, competence, and optimistic prognostications provide them a natural resilience.  They can carry us along with their enthusiasm.

     How do THREES distress themselves and bring on unnecessary suffering?  They push themselves too much, straining their emotional and physical muscles.  The body wears out and the psyche gets depressed.  Instead of bringing us along with them, they run over us or drag us along.  So, they are either out there ahead alone or they are running with logs (us) tied to their legs.

     They manufacture the wrong idea that they MUST succeed in order to be admired and be sent to the head of the class or the corner office verses relegated to the back row or the cubicle.  They confuse being effective with being a workaholic.  Burning out is the THREES’ version of the Phoenix.  Fortunately, they frequently rise from the ashes of bankruptcy, divorce, lost tournaments, etc.

     When we’re in a “flow” state, our actions flow effortlessly.  When we’re rushing instead of flowing, we miss the present.  As the proverb advises: “Slow down and smell the roses.”  Which brings us to beauty and the FOURS.


     What gets FOURS motivated, functioning optimally, and what is their natural resilience?

     FOURS function well in the land of feelings and imagination.  Their feelings give them energy; their imagination gives them direction.  FOURS remind us that creativity is very healing and life-giving, as is beauty.  We can only take so much ugliness before we get sick to our stomach and soul.  A forest cleansing refreshes the spirit.

    FOURS are sensitive to suffering – their own and others – which helps them process it and find meaning in it, which is a source of resiliency in FOURS.  It addresses those four givens that existentialists talk about: death, responsibility, isolation, meaninglessness.  Subjects that most of us would prefer to avoid.  But FOURS invite us to the depths of our existence.  While we might say: “No thanks;” they say: “Don’t be afraid of the dark.  Make friends with your shadow.  There’s a lot of good stuff there.”

     So how do FOURS bring on distress and unnecessary suffering vs. the “necessary losses” that come with existence?  They spend too much time in the shadows and not enough time in the light.  Their melancholy or sweet sadness descends into depression and they tire of alliteration – life, I mean.   Their suffering makes them special and shows up in their subtypes when they become long-suffering, or wear their suffering on their sleeves, or make us suffer for all we’ve done to them.

     They get the wrong idea that there is something wrong with them and they are missing something.  Their ego misses what is there.   “Right now, I have everything I need to be perfectly happy.”  No need to be depressed or enviously look around at others’ good fortune.  You already have what you are longing for.  Recall Dorothy, the scarecrow, tin man, and cowardly lion.  They were already home, had a brain, a heart, and guts.  All three centers bring us home.  Can’t beat it.


     What gets FIVES motivated, functioning optimally, and what is their natural resilience?

     FIVES function well in the land of concepts.  Thinking turns them on.  Their passions are of the mind.  This may sound pathetic unless you’re a FIVE.  A little analysis, a little connecting the dots, a little seeing how this situation fits in with the big picture, a little research into the best product for the best price – all these get FIVES excited and up for the game.  FIVES love to learn.

     Their ability to detach, stand back (but not stand down), be objective, let their inner observer notice what’s going on are all sources of resilience for FIVES.  In Karen Horney’s theory, we all need to move towards, move against, and move away from the situations we find ourselves in.  FIVES got the moving away from down; EIGHTS specialize in moving against; while TWOS are really good at moving towards.

     FIVES are good listeners and are perceptive.  Now they need to act on what they hear and see.  When they let themselves experience, they can actually learn from their experience.  Hence the gift of the FIVE: wisdom.

     So, how do FIVES distress themselves?  They think too much and may experience analysis paralysis.  Sometimes “the heart has reasons that reason knows not of.”  Thank you, Blasé Pascal.  And sometimes the body knows and “keeps the score.”  Thank you, Bessel Van Der Kolk.  Sometimes FIVES need to cede their head’s pride of place to their heart or gut.  Or, keep all three; IQ, EQ, and SQ.  Thank you, George Gurdjieff.

     Backing into their cave and refusing to come out leads to unnecessary suffering for FIVES.  It gets cold, sparse, and boring in the castle.  FIVES fear being deprived.  But who’s doing the depriving?  If FIVES believe the world is withholding, they offer their own withholding in return.

     Also, not speaking up, not saying what they want or don’t want, not asking for help – all bring about more trouble and suffering than they’re worth.


    What gets SIXES motivated, functioning optimally, and what is their natural resilience?

     The good and the bad news for SIXES is their fear and anxiety get them up for the game.  Too little energy and they fall asleep like NINES; too much anxiety and they tremble and doubt like, well, SIXES; just the right amount of stimulation and they function really well like THREES.

     A modicum of worst-case scenario thinking leads to trouble shooting, problem solving, being prepared, and coming up with Plans A through Z.  Mother Nature has built in an alarm system in the amygdala to help us survive so we can thrive.  When the alarm is stuck on red alert, SIXES spend a lot of energy on mythical monsters.  They are good at scaring themselves.  Their natural safety features malfunction or over-function and become debilitating rather than life-saving.

     Mother nature has also figured out that we survive and thrive best when we are with others.  SIXES are good groupies.  They contribute their skills to the group (like, hey Zebras, there’s a lion over there) and the group shares its wisdom with SIXES through culture.  Pretty good exchange.

     Like the rest of us, SIXES bring on distress when they engage in too much of a good thing.  They often see danger where there isn’t any.  They get a lot of false positives.  That is, they leave the building in the middle of the night when there isn’t a fire.  On the other hand, staying in the building when there is a fire (a false negative), isn’t a great idea, either.  

     Being alert to hidden intentions or creatures lurking in the bushes is beneficial.  Being paranoid paradoxically leaves one isolated, which Mother Nature discovered was not a good defense.

     While a little self-doubt saves one from the downfall of the proud and over-confident, too much doubt leads to not trusting oneself or others.  Goodbye self-efficacy; hello over-reliance on or suspicion of outer authorities.   Erik Erikson said trust and mistrust were skills to be learned in the first stage of our development.  Too much trust and we are Pollyannas; too much distrust and we are paranoids.  Just the right amount of both and we are perfect.  But we’ve already talked about the ONES.  What about the Pollyannas?


     What gets SEVENS motivated, functioning optimally, and what is their natural resilience?

     SEVENS are blessed with an optimistic, sunny, enthusiastic, curious, creative nature.  What’s not to like?  All of this leads to the “Unsinkable Molly Brown.”  SEVENS just keep coming back for more.  We’ll see that this is not an unmixed blessing.  But the optimum amount of optimistic good cheer makes SEVENS very resilient.  It’s hard to keep a helium balloon under water.

     SEVENS have the ability to soar above or ahead of troubles.  Their facility to plan for future fun-filled possibilities gets them moving forward.  In their worldview, the world is their oyster, filled with adventure and all good things.  This is a definite improvement over other world-views that the universe is critical, selfish, chaotic, abandoning, withholding, dangerous, hostile, and uncaring.   As SEVENS say: “Who wouldn’t want to be a SEVEN?”

     Well, there are some drawbacks.  How do SEVENS bring on stress and unnecessary suffering?  They try too hard to stay up and avoid getting down.   Once depressed, always depressed they fear. So, look up and look ahead.  But their FOMO, fear of missing out, ironically leads them to missing out on some good things.  They don’t believe anything useful can come from the Winter of Our Discontent.   Things do grow in the cold and the dark; suffering can be redemptive; desolation can be as beneficial as consolation.  That’s all pretty much of a stretch for SEVENS.  Try it.  You may not like it.  But it might be good for you.

     By spending too much time in the future, SEVENS don’t savor the present which is the only real time.  They believe that when they get there, they’ll be happy.  Actually, it’s when they get here that they’ll be happy and fulfilled.  Their future-focused fantasies pull them out of the nourishing satisfying experiences in the present.


     What gets EIGHTS motivated, functioning optimally, and what is their natural resilience?

     EIGHTS are said to have the most energy of all the Enneagram types.  They are naturally robust, vital, confident, and decisive.  They believe in “carpe diem.”  Take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves.  “Strike while the iron is hot,” especially useful for blacksmiths.  Obstacles are challenges, not show-stoppers.  An initial “no” is just the opening gambit to “getting to yes.”   They take pride in being independent, autonomous, their own person.  As Fritz Perls pronounced: they’re not here to live up to our expectations; they do their own thing.

     They are not overburdened by unnecessary guilt.  They have a winner, come out on top mentality that makes them very resilient.  “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” (Or, get shopping – but that’s the previous type.)

      With their positive outlook, magnanimous heart, and storehouse of energy, EIGHTS are equipped to survive and thrive.

     So, how do EIGHTS turn eustress into distress?  By living with too much gusto, intensity, and independence.  We are interdependent beings – not too dependent and not too independent.  Again, balance.  EIGHTS tend to tip the scale to independent, then find themselves unsupported.  Their tough shell protects their tender innards but doesn’t let that inner self be nourished and grow.

     They bring about suffering by sensing slights where there might not be any, then feeling indignant and disrespected, then getting angry, then getting feisty or getting even.  Vengeance is mine, saith the EIGHT.  Most of this is made up and so unnecessary.  They fire up their sympathetic nervous system for a fight that may not have to happen.  Fighting for the underdog is good; fighting imaginary enemies is exhausting.


     What gets NINES motivated, functioning optimally, and what is their natural resilience?

     Motivation and NINES seems like an oxymoron.  So, what gets them moving and unsettled? Perhaps conflict acts as a negative reinforcement.  With positive reinforcement, you give someone something they want.  With negative reinforcement, you remove something the person doesn’t want. Either works to strengthen the desired behavior.

      Negative reinforcement generates an obnoxious situation that creates discomfort, pain, anxiety, etc. that we are stimulated to remove.  For example, a fire alarm creates a pain in the ear which leads to leaving the building; a nagging parent creates a pain in the ear which leads to taking out the garbage or doing your homework; a tantrum-throwing two-year old creates a pain in the ear which leads to giving them an ice cream cone, toy, whatever.  Conflict makes NINES anxious and moves them to employ their best negotiating and mediating skills to reduce the conflict.  Procrastination also initially lessens anxiety.  But we’re talking about positive strategies here.

     Staying calm, unflappable, and steady in the face of adversity contribute to the NINE’S resilience.  Their adaptable nature helps them fit into their surroundings to survive and thrive.  They can even adapt to inhospitable environments.  They’ll need these strategies given the current happenings in nature and politics.

     When NINES are functioning optimally, they don’t get in their own way.  They go with the flow.  They don’t push, reverse, drain, pollute, or otherwise disturb the river.

     How does being calm, then, bring about distress?  Well, you can burn if you don’t get out of the fiery forest or drown if you don’t get away from the flooding river.   NINES might stay in a dysfunctional family or with an abusive partner much longer than is healthy for them.  Doing nothing doesn’t necessarily bring about change.  Leaning into their EIGHT or ONE wings might be a more proactive way to go.

     Avoiding conflict doesn’t make it go away.  It just postpones it.  And oftentimes the conflict is worse when you don’t deal with the situation right away.  Avoiding stress at the beginning brings about distress at the end.   Though, NINES do say they function efficiently an hour before the deadline is due.  Perhaps this is their version of eustress or optimal level of arousal.  They rouse themselves from their self-induced stupor, get focused, get busy, and get the job done.  That sounds a lot like the NINE accessing their inner THREE.  The turtle turns into the hare at the finish line.


     Each Enneagram style has its own brand of resilience.   That’s why they’re all still around.  And each adaptive strategy contributes to the well being and continued being of the community.  Mother Nature evolved some good instincts and styles.

      The right amount of stress, excitement, and arousal lead to optimal functioning.  Too much or too little energy lead to sub-optimal functioning.  Eustress gets us up for the game; distress takes us out of the game.

      So, stop distressing yourself and start eustressing yourself.  It’s good for all of us.

silhouette of man and woman on hill

Virtues, Vices, and Relationships

by Jerome Wagner, Ph. D.

In the Enneagram system, virtues are said to be nine manifestations of love cleanly expressed while vices are appearances of love distorted or corrupted.  Since love can be directed both at ourself and towards others, the virtues are good for our relationship with ourself and with others.

So, which is a better attitude and disposition for your relationship with yourself and with others:

Serenity or Anger and Resentment?

Serenity is the acceptance part of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).  I start from where I’m at.  I’m aware and I’m not judging.  Or, at least, I’m aware of my judging and also accept that part of me. I have been granted the wisdom of knowing what I can change and what I can’t change and which is which.  I can meet you as you are and love you without an urgency to fix you.  That might come, but only if needed and if asked.  And I’m OK just as I am right now.  I don’t have to berate myself and beat myself up.  Serenity creates an environment of calm reception and welcomes relationships.  A serene attitude and approach to oneself and others facilitates understanding and connection.

Resentment is the judgment that nothing is the way it should be.   And that includes you, the world, and especially me.  Resentment has been called a “hanging on bite.”  It gets in the way of the dog enjoying and being nourished by the bone.  So, you need to either drop it and let it go or express it and bite all the way through.  Resentment hangs on and is like swallowing cyanide and waiting for the other person to die.  The only person who is burning up inside is the resentor.  Resentment seriously gets between people.  And it doesn’t encourage self-love, either.

Humility or Pride?

Humility is the reality principle.  Here’s who I am.  I have strengths and I have limitations.  I am a “wounded healer.”   I like to give and I graciously accept your gifts.  I believe “It is more blessed to give and to receive.”  This humble honesty and vulnerability genuinely helps relationships.  Humility is really self-care.  It is able to ask for and accept what you need.   And humility doesn’t infantilize others by helping them when they don’t need help or by not allowing others to support you.  Humility treats all as interdependent vs. overly dependent or independent.

Pride puffs one up.  “I give and you receive.”  I’m the helper and you are the helpee.  I don’t have needs – or, at least, I’m not allowed to acknowledge them or be needy.   So, I have to manipulate you to give me what I am not permitted to ask for.  Besides, “If you loved me, you would know what I need.”   After all, I can figure out what you need.   Why can’t you do the same?  Pride gets in the way of figuring out, acknowledging, and getting what you need and it can be off-putting rather than inviting for others.

Truthfulness or Vanity?

With Truthfulness, what you see is what you get.  The outer image accurately portrays the inner self.  Truthfulness involves self-expression vs. image-management.  My authentic self connects with your authentic self vs. our two egos running their routines.  A genuine I-Thou relationship requires two genuine people, not two personalities doing their number.  Our personality can only manage a You-You or It-It transaction vs. a life-giving encounter.

Vanity says “Look at me.”   Or, rather, “Look at my persona, my presentation, my projects, my works.”  It likes to get attention instead of make a connection.   Vanity confuses networking, “How can we use each other in our work?” with selfless connection, “How can we love and respect each other in ourselves?”  Vanity deceives us into thinking we are our image or persona and tricks others into believing the same.  The problem is our persona is only a pale reflection of out essence, like the shadow images in Plato’s myth of the cave.  So, vanity keeps us and others from knowing and enjoying who we really are.

Equanimity or Envy?  

Equanimity acknowledges that we are all equal.  It’s not judgmental and doesn’t compare.  It admires and appreciates our own parcel of talents and recognizes and encourages the gifts of others.  “If you spot it, you’ve got it.”  We wouldn’t recognize others’ qualities (both good and bad) if we didn’t have some traces of those traits in ourselves. Equanimity honors both differences and sameness.  We can be at once unique, as the song says: “There will never be another you;” and ordinary (we are all more alike than different) in our relationships.

Envy is that dreaded odious comparison.  It looks upon others with despair, unlike Ozymandias. 
“You’ve got it and I don’t and I feel sad about that.  Also, I’d like to get it out of you and into me.”  Or envy may look on others with delight: “I’m better than you.  I’ve got it and you don’t.”  Envy isn’t good for either end of our relationships.  One of us has to feel inferior and bad.

Non-attachment or Avarice?

Non-attachment means you are not glued to your expectations, preconceptions, categories, etc.  “Give up your preconceptions and surrender to your destiny,” as we were told by my Enneagram teacher Bob Ochs.  When you are not attached, you can stay in the present and not be bound by the past or future.  “Right now I have everything I need to be perfectly happy.”  I don’t have to store up and hold on. I freely give what I have freely received.  I believe, with the poet Milton, that goodness, the more given, the more abundant grows.  Non-attachment, paradoxically, fosters an abundance mentality.

Avarice means you are focused on your constructs and fantasies about the person in front of you instead of the real person themself.  Your categories get between you and others.  You are attached to your privacy and to your stinginess about sharing yourself — especially your feelings and energy.  You hold back and hide out rather than connect with your whole self in the present, unmediated by your preconceptions.  Avarice deprives others of your goodness and it deprives you of others’ goodness.  No wonder it leads to a deprivation mentality.

Courage or Fear?

Courage means being afraid but doing what you need to do anyway.  It’s the courage to connect with your inner authority, your inner self, and the courage to connect with others’ real selves.  Courage comes from the French coeur, heart.   When two hearts connect, there is no fear. Courage supports trust – in oneself and in the other.  I trust that you have my best interests at heart; I have my best interests at heart; and I have your best interests at heart.  We have each other’s backs.  We’re covered.

Fear exaggerates the dangers in the world.  It leads to self-doubt and turning to others for confirmation and protection or turning away from others to protect ourself.  Fear doesn’t believe the odd notion that nothing can hurt our essence.  On the contrary, it’s afraid that everything can harm us and we need to do all we can to prepare for the worst.  Fear puts a barrier between I and Thou.   It can defensively move us towards others to get close.  “If you love me, you won’t hurt me.” Or fear may move us away from others, in flight; or against others, in fight.

Sobriety or Gluttony?

Sobriety means balance, being sensible, savoring the present moment.  It doesn’t need to fly into the future which cuts off enjoyment in the present.  Sobriety takes in only what we need and expends only as much energy as is needed. Sobriety doesn’t grab or gobble up. It appreciates moderation.  It doesn’t go to excess.  It doesn’t wear us out or tire out the others in our life.  Stillness and silence can surprisingly support relationships, as well as alliteration. 

Gluttony is an intense swallowing of fantasies or schemes or pleasures or whatever you can get your hands on.  More is better.  Moderation is boring.  Gluttony exhausts you and your companions.  It satiates but rarely satisfies.  Gluttony is ego-satisfying but not self-nourishing.  Gluttony can move on from person to person, seeking new experiences and adventures.  It turns a potential I-Thou relationship into an It-It relationship.  We are here to satisfy each other’s pleasure.  A good start, but doesn’t lead to long-lasting relationships.

Innocence or Lust?

Innocence means coming to each person and situation with “beginner’s mind”, a childlike curiosity, wonder, and openness.  Innocence approaches each person without prejudgment, without expectation, without exploitation.  Innocence, from the Latin in nocens, means not harming.  “Why would I want to harm you?  And why would you want to harm me?”  Innocence doesn’t beat up on ourself and it doesn’t punish anyone else.  It invites coming close behavior and not fighting or running away reactions.

Lust or an excessive intensity wants to fill up an inner emptiness with whatever it can find.  It can treat the self and others brutishly.  It doesn’t express a gentle caring and concern but more an attitude of “What’s in it for me?”  This way of being in the world remembers past hurts and anticipates being controlled and taken advantage of.  Ironically, lust itself uses people up by being grabby and squeezing the life out of people. Lust might be good for short-term encounters but doesn’t support long-term relationships.

Action or Acedia?

Action is love expressed as gratitude for being loved and blessed.  Right action says: “Thank you.  And what can I do in return?”  Pay it forward.  Not as a quid pro quo: ”I’ll help you and then you have to help me.”  Rather, I have something to offer – primarily myself but also my actions.  Action works on behalf of oneself and others.

Acedia, on the other hand, is not acting, not taking care of business.  Indolence is opposed to “Gettin’ it done.”  Think of the nine activating their inner Three to get moving.  Inaction results from the belief that “I don’t matter and neither do you.”  So, let’s take the day off and fritter away our time with non-essentials, inconsequentials, diversions, and see what tomorrow brings.  Probably, not much.  Acedia is self-neglect and over-accommodating others.  Go along to get along.  But maybe good relationships need to hear what you have to say and what you need.  Negotiation takes two sets of needs.  Compromise only needs one.



by Jerry Wagner, Ph.D.

Wonder is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a cause of astonishment or admiration; the quality of exciting amazed admiration; rapt attention or astonishment at something awesomely mysterious or new to one’s experience; to be curious or in doubt.”

When I read this definition, I thought of a child’s first encounter with something new in the world. Actually, everything is new to a child.

Then I thought about the Enneagram styles and wondered if wonder flows from and fosters the high side or essence of each style. Wonder seems to accompany the adaptive or divine idea which elicits the virtue or adaptive emotional response. Wonder acts as an antidote to the maladaptive or wrong ideas which stir up the vices of the styles.

Style One

The virtue for Style One is Serenity. When you start with the assumption that everything is perfect just as it is now, you can be at ease with yourself, others, and the world. When you experience wonder, you are amazed at the rightness of everything and you are strangely both excited and peaceful. You are drawn towards what you encounter; aren’t frustrated by it and so don’t need to go against it; and don’t feel threatened by it with no urgency to run away from it.

Wonder is an antidote to Perfectionism, the trap of the One, and Resentment, the vice of the One. You’re not angry at and don’t need to fix the source of your astonishment. You simply contemplate it, are grateful, and can relax and enjoy.

Style Two

The virtue of Style Two is Humility. When you have the belief that it is more blessed to give and to receive, then you have a realistic appraisal of who you are; what you have to offer; and what you need to accept. Wonder puts you in touch with reality, not what you want it to be so you can feel useful. There is no necessity to help the object of your wonder. It doesn’t need your assistance or require anything of you. You can simply be in its presence and be appreciative.

The trap of Style Two is Co-dependency and the vice is Pride. When you contemplate or are in wonder of a sunset or a little child, there is no need to be proud. You’re not responsible for this. And when you are in a state of wonder, you don’t need to do anything for the object of your contemplation. Just enjoy it and be thankful for it.

Style Three

The virtue of Style Three is Truthfulness. When you have hope that the universe is unfolding as it should without need of your intervention and when you have hope that you are worthwhile and loved for who you are not for what you do, then you are amazed at the mystery of who you are just in yourself. You don’t have to put on airs or perform. You are wonderful simply being yourself. There is a congruence of who you are, who you think you are, and who you present yourself to be.

The trap of Style Three is Workaholism and the vice of is Vanity. Wonder allows you to be as well as to do. Essence is not vain. Your true self is wonderful as is and doesn’t need to pretend to be other than what it is. There are no grounds to be vain about something you are in wonder of. You didn’t make it. You can simply admire what is there. It doesn’t need to be promoted or dressed up. It is complete in itself.

Style Four

Equanimity is the virtue for Style Four. When you begin with the assumption that you are already original because you are connected to the source of your being, your origin, and also connected to everyone else’s being, then you already belong. Beholding someone or something with wonder elicits admiration and appreciation. The fact that you can recognize an admirable quality outside yourself means you have that quality in you. If you spot it, you got it.

Specialness is the trap of the Four and Envy is the vice. When you genuinely admire and appreciate something, you don’t need to take it out of that person or object and put it in yourself because they have something that you don’t. You are content to leave what you respect where it resides while appreciating your own parcel of talents and gifts. All creatures are extraordinary, including you; and, paradoxically, that makes everything ordinary, including you.

Style Five

The virtue of the Five is Non-attachment. When you believe that it is just as good to be known as it is to know, and when you believe that you already know enough to act, then you can step into life from the sidelines. You are a contemplative-in-action. When you observe and are in awe of something, you don’t need to possess it and hold onto it. Wonder arises in the present and keeps you in the here and now. There is no need to acquire, collect, and store up what you behold for some future necessity.

The trap of the Five is Intellectualization and Privacy and the vice is Avarice. Wonder gets you in touch with your experience. You can let go of your books and your hiding place and enter the world. You don’t need to figure out or possess what you behold. You simply stay in its presence, let it inform you, and be appreciative. You can let go of any need to own what you admire. It is enough to enjoy it here now.

Style Six

The virtue of Style Six is Courage. When you believe the force is with you, not against you, and you understand you are a part of creation, not apart from it, then wonder inspires trust. What you encounter and contemplate is not threatening but is inviting and calming. So, you can take heart, Coeur, and have the courage to be.

The trap of the Six is Doubt and the vice is Fear. While awe involves both fear and attraction, the trembling is more from excitement than panic. There is no need to fear what you are in wonder of. It won’t hurt you but welcomes you safely into its presence. Wonder leaves no doubt. You intuitively grasp that this is good.

Style Seven

Sobriety is the virtue of the Seven. When you are committed to the social and personal work you are called to, then you reside and act in the present, taking in only what you need and expending only as much energy as is required. When wonder arises from your essential nature, your inspiration and excitement are appropriate to the object of your attraction. No more; no less.

Pleasure is the trap of the Seven and Gluttony is the vice. More is better. In wonder, what is here is enough. You are satisfied and fulfilled in the present and don’t need to transport yourself into the future to plan for more. Desolation and darkness can lead to growth as well as consolation and light.

Style Eight

The virtue of the Eight is Innocence, the attitude of not harming nor anticipating being harmed. When you assume that the arc of the universe bends toward justice and what goes around comes around, then you don’t have to be the arbiter and guarantor of justice. And that is mysterious and wonderful. You are not afraid of the object of your wonder nor do you need to control what you behold. Hold it gently in the palm of your hand and be grateful for its presence in your life.

The trap of the Eight is Control and the vice is Lust, an over-intensity and over-protectiveness to fill up an emptiness you have created inside by over-valuing strength. While being amazed does call out your energy, your response is measured to the situation. You can allow yourself to be vulnerable in the presence of what you are in wonder of. You can be open and there is no need to defend yourself.

Style Nine

The Nine’s virtue is Right Action, an involvement in the world. Wonder leads to gratitude which leads to action. “Thank you, and what can I do in return?” The object of your wonder is a gift and you want to pass that gift on, to pay it forward. You believe you matter and have a right to be. And you have something to contribute.

The trap of the Nine is Resignation and the vice is Indolence, an inattention to yourself. Instead of settling for what you can get, wonder leads to excitement, not numbing out. Wonder enlivens you. It connects you to yourself and the world. You are an active participant, not a passive unimportant observer in the background.

As the poet says, we are all wonderfully made, a cause of astonishment and admiration, something awesomely mysterious. Something, indeed, to wonder at.

The Real Self and The False Self – Psychological And Spiritual Perspectives

by Jerry Wagner, Ph.D.

     The Enneagram distinguishes between our essence and our personality.  Other traditions speak of our real self vs our false self.  In this article I will present some psychological perspectives on the real self – false self dichotomy and then some spiritual perspectives on this division.

     The false self is easy to talk about.  That’s where I spend most of my time. This is the automatic part of me; the repetitious part; the rigid fixed part.  It’s closed and boundaried. This is the part that provokes the reaction: “Here I go again; I’ve heard that complaint, excuse, blame before.  I recognize those beliefs, thoughts, feelings, behaviors.”  They keep repeating themselves.  They give true meaning to Freud’s phrase “repetition compulsion.”

     It’s not that the false self is completely useless.  It’s not like a pill that Tom Condon once wryly described as having only side effects.  It’s helped us survive thus far.  But it does have varying degrees of collateral damage or side effects ranging from manipulative to neurotic to psychotic.  The false self can damage our self-esteem and our relationships.

     Also, the false self has ties to our real self.  It exaggerates it, caricatures it, mimics it, compensates for our loss of contact with it, and reminds us what our true self is.  If we follow our personality back to where it came from, it connects us with our original essential nature.

     The real self, on the other hand, is not so easy to pin down.  That’s the part that’s spontaneous, creative, fluid, flexible, open, unboundaried.  No wonder it’s so hard to describe.  What is the shape of water?  It’s not as easy to define as a block of ice.

     Depictions of the real self can seem abstract and not as easily recognizable as descriptions of the false self.

     So, let’s see what psychology has to say about who we are and, as we go deeper, what spirituality says about who we really are.


     The following are some representative psychological perspectives on the real and the false self.


     D.W. Winnicott, a British analyst and child psychiatrist, wrote explicitly about the true self and the false self.  The true self manifests in authentic and spontaneous living; while the false self shows up in compliant, overly adaptational living.

     The true self, nurtured in a non-impinging environment, represents our inherited potential which experiences a continuity of being, and acquires in its own way and at its own speed a personal psychic reality and a personal body-scheme.  It experiences aliveness. 

     At the center of each person is an incommunicado element, and this is sacred and most worthy of preservation. The self struggles for an individuated existence which at the same time allows for intimate contact with others.    

     When a mother is able to resonate with the baby’s wants and needs, the latter becomes attuned to his/her own bodily functions and impulses, which become the basis for her/his slowly evolving sense of self.

     The emergence of the true self involves the development of the capacity to be alone. It is important for the mother to provide a nondemanding presence when the infant is not making demands or experiencing needs.  The infant is in a state of going on being. This is an experience of formlessness and comfortable solitude

     Maternal failures are of two kinds:

  •  The inability to actualize the hallucinatory creations and needs of the infant when s/he is in excited states
    • translation: through empathic attunement, intervene and provide the infant what s/he needs and is imagining
  •  interference with the infant’s formlessness and integration when s/he is in quiescent states
    • translation: leave the infant be

     Any interference with these functions is experienced by the infant as an “impingement.”  Something from the outside is making claims on him, demanding a response.  She is wrenched from her quiescent state and forced to respond, or she is compelled to abandon her own wishes. As a result, the infant has to acknowledge and accept prematurely the feeble and unrealistic nature of his own demands, and to mold himself to what is provided for him.

     The true self, the source of spontaneous needs, images, and gestures, goes into hiding, avoiding at all costs the possibility of expression without being seen or responded to.

     The false self provides an illusion of personal existence whose content is fashioned out of maternal expectations and claims.   The child becomes the mother’s image of him.   The false self comes to take over in some sense the caretaking functions which the environment has failed to provide.  The false self covertly protects the integrity of the true self; it functions to hide the true self which it does by compliance with environmental demands.


     Karen Horney was trained as a traditional Freudian analyst but drifted.  While considered a neo-psychoanalyst, she fits just as well in the humanist tradition.

Here’s what she says about self realization:

  • You need not, and in fact cannot, teach an acorn to grow into an oak tree; but when given a chance, its intrinsic potentialities will develop.
  •  Similarly, the human individual, given a chance, tends to develop his/her particular human potentialities.
  •  In short, s/he will grow, substantially undiverted, toward self-realization.

And conditions of growth:

  • But, like any other living organism, the human individual needs favorable conditions for his or her growth “from acorn into oak tree.”
  • She needs an atmosphere of warmth to give her both a feeling of inner security and the inner freedom enabling her to have her own feelings and thoughts and to express herself.
  • He needs the good will of others, not only to help him in his many needs, but to guide and encourage him to become a mature and fulfilled individual.
  •  He also needs healthy friction with the wishes and wills of others.
  •  If she can thus grow with others, in love and in friction, she will also grow in accordance with her real self.
  • Karen Horney, Neurosis and Human Growth: the Struggle Toward Self-Realization

And our different selves:

  • The real self: the core of your being, your potential, the need to be who you are truly (the subjective view of the actual self).
  • The actual self: the person you actually are –regardless of anyone’s perceptions.
  • The despised real self: negative view of the self, based on the lack of love and acceptance by others.
  • The ideal self: the perfect self you think you should be, so you can be loved.
  • The despised real self says:
    “I am truly a disgraceful creature, a bad person, someone no one can truly love…”
  • The idealized self says:
    “People would love you if you were kinder, more athletic, more outgoing, more unselfish, a better friend, parent, mate. They would love you if you were more courageous, more disciplined, achieved more…”

     Claudio Naranjo liked Karen Horney and added his version of idealized images around the Enneagram circle. 

  1. I am good; I am right
  2. I am helpful
  3. I am efficient, successful
  4. I am special, sensitive, conform to elite standards
  5. I am wise, perceptive
  6. I am obedient, faithful; I do what I ought
  7. I’m OK
  8. I’m powerful; I can do
  9. I am settled

For Horney, the task of therapy is to:

  • Help patients relinquish their defenses
    • Break through their idealized image
    • Replace the search for glory (idealized self image) with striving for self realization 
  • Accept selves as they are
  • Be in touch with the real self


     Carl Rogers was one of the founding fathers and mothers of the humanist tradition.  He, along with Abraham Maslow, another progenitor, writes about the self-actualizing tendency.

  • The self-actualizing tendency is a part of human nature.  Moreover, this urge is not limited to human beings; it is a part of the process of all living things; it is the urge that is evident in all organic and human life – to expand, extend, become autonomous, develop, mature – the tendency to express and activate all the capacities of the organism, to the extent that such activation enhances the organism or the self.
  • The organism’s experiences are evaluated using the actualizing tendency as a frame of reference.  Does this experience or behavior come from and contribute to the unfolding of my actualizing tendency?
  • Experiences in accordance with the actualizing tendency are satisfying and are approached and maintained.
  • Experiences that are contrary to the actualizing tendency are unsatisfying and are avoided or terminated.

          Rogers makes a distinction between a fully functioning person and a maladjusted person.

  • The fully functioning person has experienced unconditional positive regard (they are loved for who they are) which leads to positive self regard (they value themselves as they were valued) which leads to the unfolding of the actualizing tendency which leads to the enhancement and enrichment of life.
  • In contrast, the maladjusted person has experienced conditional positive regard (they are loved if they are and do what is expected of them) which leads to conditions of worth (I’m loved if I’m perfect, helpful, successful, special, smart, do what I’m told, am happy, strong, not a bother) which leads to defensive behavior (Enneagram strategies) which leads to the maintenance of life and seeking affirmation.

     Rather than talking about the real self and the false self, Rogers distinguishes between characteristics of the actualizing tendency vs defensive tendencies.

  • Open to experience vs defensive
  • Existential living: here and now and adaptable vs preconceived plan; rigid; distorted perception
  • Organismic trusting vs disregarding the organism; should’s; proscriptions
  • Experiential freedom vs manipulating self and others; being determined
  • Creativity vs conformity; following cultural constraints
  • Internal locus of evaluation vs external locus of evaluation
  • Willingness to be a process vs a rigid life style; being a product

     Finally Rogers says the healthy person is congruent while the unhealthy person is incongruent.

     When people are congruent, there is a match between:

  • Who you really are (real self)
  • Who you think you are (self-concept)
  • Who you show you are (persona)

     When people are incongruent:

  • They no longer use their organismic valuing process as a means of determining if their experiences are in accordance with their actualizing tendency.
  • Instead, they use introjected values or conditions of worth in place of their organismic valuing process.

     For Rogers, therapy:

  • Is designed to eliminate incongruity between experience and the self.
  • As therapy continues, clients’ concepts of self become increasingly congruent with their experience; that is, they now include many experiences which were previously threatening. 
  • As clients feel less threatened by experience, they become less defensive.


     Abraham Maslow was another founder of the humanist and transpersonal traditions.  Maslow originally studied motivation and is known for his hierarchy of needs.

  • Physiological needs that are directly related to survival, such as food, water, sex, elimination, and sleep.  If these aren’t met, we don’t have to worry about the higher needs because we’ll be dead.
  • Safety needs for structure, order, security, and predictability.  When these needs are in place, they assure us our physiological needs will be reliably met.
  • Belonging and love needs for affiliation, friends, companions, group, family, and intimacy.  With these needs filled, we don’t feel alone and empty.
  • Esteem needs for recognition from other people, feelings of prestige, acceptance, and status.  When we are looked up to by other people, then we can look up to ourselves which is called self-esteem.
  • Self-actualization needs which involve the unfolding and fulfillment of our potentials, capacities, and talents as well as fulfillment of a sense of mission or call, fate, destiny, or vocation.  This involves a fuller knowledge and acceptance of our own intrinsic nature and a trend toward unity, integration, or synergy within ourselves.
  • Two additional needs: the desire to know and understand and aesthetic needs.

     Maslow doesn’t talk about the real self and false self but distinguishes between being motivation and deficiency motivation.

     When our basic needs are met, the self-actualizing person’s life is governed by:

  • Being Values such as beauty, truth, and justice.
  • Metamotives including the above and wholeness, aliveness, simplicity, et.al.
  • Growth Motivation
  • B Cognition which involves letting oneself be reached, touched, or affected by what is there so that perception is richer.
  • B Love that is non-possessive, less envious, disinterested, altruistic, desirous of the other’s growth, etc.  (Cf. St. Paul)

     When our basic needs are not met, then we are governed by deficiency motives.  We are influenced by the absence of such things as food, love, or esteem.  Rather than being motivated by abundance such that goodness wants to flow from us, we are motivated by a lack and a need to fill ourselves up.  Here we are governed by:

  • Deficiency motives to fill in what we are lacking.
  • Metapathologies that are caused by the failure to satisfy the various B Values.   These include disbelief, mistrust, selfishness, vulgarity, polar-thinking, deadness, depression, et.al.
  • D Perception or need-directed perception that is looking for objects that will satisfy our needs.
  • D Cognition that narrows and distorts our perception.  Instead of seeing things as they are, we see things as we are.
  • D Love which is motivated by the lack of fulfillment of the need for love and belongingness.  Here we crave love, like craving food, to fill an emptiness within us.

     According to Maslow’s estimation, only 1% of the population is self-actualizing.  That includes us and a few of Abe’s friends.  He found the following characteristics in self-actualizing individuals:

  • They perceive reality accurately and fully.
  • They demonstrate a greater acceptance of themselves, others, and of nature in general.
  • They exhibit spontaneity, simplicity, and naturalness.
  • They tend to be concerned with problems rather than with themselves.
  • They have a quality of detachment and a need for privacy.
  • They are autonomous.
  • They exhibit a continued freshness of appreciation.
  • They have periodic mystic or peak experiences.
  • They tend to identify with all of humankind.
  • They develop deep friendships with only a few individuals.
  • They tend to accept democratic values
  • They have a strong ethical sense
  • They have a well-developed, unhostile sense of humor.
  • They are creative.
  • They resist enculturation.

     These qualities might also be said to characterize the real self.


     Breaking from Freud, Carl Jung labeled his approach analytical psychology to distinguish it from Freud’s psychoanalytic method.  Jung writes about the Self archetype.  While the ego is the center of consciousness, the self is the center of the total psyche, including the conscious and the unconscious.  The Self is the component of the psyche that seeks to harmonize all the other components.

     Individuation is the human striving for unity, wholeness, and integration of the whole personality.  This process involves:

  • Innate urge towards wholeness
    • Coming to selfhood
    • Self-realization
    • Moving toward greater freedom

     Jungian therapy involves a circumambulation of the soul.  In this walking around the soul, one encounters the persona or mask or false face.  This is the character we assume through which we relate to others.  It is our social role and public self.  It is a small part of the psyche by which we are known by other people.

     There is a pathology called the “inflation of the persona.”  This is the situation in which the persona is valued too highly.  It can develop at the expense of other components of the psyche.  A dominant persona can smother the individual.  Those who identify with their persona instead of their Self tend to see themselves only in terms of their superficial social roles and facades.

     The complex is another Jungian concept that has some bearing on the real self/false self dichotomy,    

     A complex is a personally disturbing constellation of ideas connected by a common feeling tone.  This is reminiscent of the Enneagram’s fixation and vice interaction.  The fixed or bad idea calls up the vice which in turn fuels the fixation in an ongoing vicious (so to speak) circle.

     Among others, Jung speaks of a mother complex, a father complex, an inferiority complex, et. al.  While the Enneagram addresses perfection, savior, success, special, privacy, security, variety, power, and comfort complexes around the circle.


     Fritz Perls and his wife Laura are the father and mother of Gestalt therapy.  This approach emphasizes organismic self-regulation (which would characterize the real self.)

  • The organism is a living being that has organs, has an organization, that is self-regulating within itself.
  • The organism is a system that is in balance.
  •  Any imbalance is experienced as a need to correct this imbalance. 
    • When deficiencies exist, the organic system remedies them.
    • When excesses are present, it rids itself of them.
  •  The organism is striving for the maintenance of an equilibrium which is continuously disturbed by its needs and regained through their gratification or elimination.
  • Organisms must be aware of themselves.
    • Organismic self-regulation is a continuing process of
      • Distinguishing the needs of the organism
      • The means whereby those needs can be gratified
      • Organizing them into a cohesive whole of comprehension and activity
      • Carrying out that activity to its satisfying conclusion.

     Signs of healthy functioning are attention, concentration, lively interest, concern, clarity, strength, excitement, and grace.

     Symptoms of unhealthy functioning include confusion, diffusion, boredom, dullness, compulsions, fixation, anxiety, amnesia, stagnation, and self-consciousness.

    These indicators can be used to discern whether we are functioning from our real or false self.


     Heinz Kohut was the originator of Self Psychology.  He describes the self as the recipient of impressions and a center of initiative. 

     Qualities of a robust self involve cohesion, organization, and continuity in space and time.  Here you would say of yourself: “I’ve really got it together; I’m firing on all cylinders; I’ve got the energy of a thousand suns, etc.”

     On the other hand, expressions of an unhealthy self would be: “I’m falling apart here; I’m feeling deflated; I’m depressed; I’m feeling fragmented; I don’t know who I am; my center does not hold, etc.”

     For Kohut, the self rests on three pillars or “poles:”

  • The pole of nuclear ambition – general desire and initiative to achieve goals
  • Guiding ideals – final goals one aspires to achieve
  • Talents and skills that link ambition and goals and channel our energy into achieving our goals.

     So the healthy functioning self has tamed their narcissism into realistic ambition, has formulated their ideals into achievable goals, and has cultivated their talents and skills to reach their goals.  All of these would be characteristic of the real self.


      The existential tradition, represented by Rollo May, Irvin Yalom and others, distinguishes between authentic and inauthentic living instead of real self and false self.

      Existential living means being fully present in the moment; being fully aware; and experiencing a kind of appreciation of being. Each person is innately endowed with a unique potential that the person will inevitably realize to some greater or lesser degree.  This is the existentialists’ version of unfolding one’s potential.

     Being authentic involves realizing one’s deepest nature through living from moment to moment. The extent to which someone is not fully being, is inauthentic, is untrue to one’s deepest nature

     Being authentic also means confronting the givens of existence: death (which is counter-acted in finding faith), freedom (which means accepting responsibility), isolation (which is mitigated by fostering relationships), meaninglessness (which involves creating meaning).

     A person living authentically is aware of, acknowledges, accepts, even embraces, the givens of life.  The degree of existential guilt that one experiences in confronting life’s requirements is the single best indicator of the authenticity of one’s existence.

     As human beings, we live in four worlds and need to be responsible caretakers in each.  

  • We may ignore or feel alienated from the Umwelt
    • The physical world
  • We may let others down in the Mitwelt
    • The people world
  • We may violate our sense of integrity in our Eigenwelt
    • The self world
  • We may fail to live up to the ideals comprising our Uberwelt
    • The spiritual world


     If we delve beneath the psychological conceptions of the real self/false self dimensions, what do we find?  When we ask ourselves “Who am I, really?” What do we discover?   Now we’re in the realm of transpersonal psychology or spiritual psychology or spirituality.  What or who do we find in our deepest self (or non-self)?  What have other explorers found?  What do the mystics tell us about who we really are?

     The Enneagram’s map is broad and deep enough to traverse both the psychological and spiritual realms.  So, what do Enneagram and other spiritual authors have to say about the real and false self?


     I’ll start with Sandra Maitri, one of the earliest students of the Enneagram, whose wonderful books The Spiritual Dimension of the Enneagram and The Enneagram of Passions and Virtues explore these deeper aspects of the person.  Allied with A.H. Almaas and the Diamond Heart approach to inner realization, her reflections are reminiscent of a Buddhist take on reality.

     What follows is in her own words.


  • The ultimate nature of all of existence – its spiritual depths – is what I will refer to as Being, the Ultimate or True Nature of everything
    • Soul is an individual manifestation of our divine nature, Being
    • Each of us is a unique arising of Being
    • Being is what is left when all the constructs of the personality dissolve
    • Essence is Being experienced through our individual soul
  • Like Platonic Forms, Being is impersonal and timeless
    • Our human soul comes into contact with and knows these eternal qualities
    • Our soul experiences and in time embodies the universal principles of Being

    Essential Aspects:

  • Essential nature is our innate and unconditioned state of consciousness
  • Essence may arise in consciousness as different qualities such as compassion, peacefulness, clarity, acceptance, etc. – Essential Aspects

     Ultimate Nature:

  • Our ultimate nature is who we are without our history, without our mental constructs defining our experience both of ourselves and of the world around us
  •  It is who and what we truly are, stripped of all conditioning 
  • It is our beingness, the substance and nature of our soul

     Soul and Personality:

  • Soul = personal consciousness = I = alive consciousness = locus of awareness and experience that understands itself to be either the personality or Being
  • Personality structure is a mental construct, a set of beliefs and internal representations
    • Our soul takes the shape of our personality structure
  • Egoic experience vs essential experience (beyond the conditioned self)
    • Experience of deficiency at core of personality
    • Loss of contact with our true nature

     Dimensions of Being

  • There are a number of dimensions of Being that it is possible to experience, each progressively freer of conceptual veils, until we reach a state beyond all concepts, even those of being and non being, existence and non existence – beyond even consciousness – which is called the Absolute.

     True Nature

  • As our consciousness deepens, we see that the True Natureof our soul is the True Nature of everything.  We experience Being, then, in its boundlessness – unlimited by any form, even that of our own soul.

     Divine Nature

  • It is likely that we are wired so that we can consciously know Being, so that we can know the Divine as our nature. 
  • So rather than simply being the embodiment of and being made up of Being, which is what all of manifest reality is, we have the unique opportunity to know ourselves as such.
  • It may be that this is how the Divine can know itself through our human soul’s experience
  • What we are talking about is radical personal transformation, such that we know ourselves to be the Absolute, the Divine Itself.
  • It is more appropriate to conceive of our inner state as one of transparency, an openness to our depths, with progressively less of a self present to interfere with our direct expression and embodiment of Being.  To speak of alignment with Being at this state ceases to be accurate, since we know ourselves to be Being, living a human life.

     Differentiation and sense of separateness

  • When this assumption of our inherent separateness is suspended, what we see is that our ultimate nature and the nature of all that exists are the same thing
  • We experience ourselves as unique manifestations of one thing or as different cells in the one body of the universe
  • The essential realm is present all the time; we have just forgotten it or screened it out of awareness

     Process to reexperience original connection to Being

  • Begin with experience of deficiency (holes)
  • Feel into this hole and be curious about it rather than escaping from it
  • What was experienced as a deficient emptiness changes
  • The emptiness becomes a spaciousness
  • Over time all of the qualities of Being will gradually arise in your consciousness
  • Being will feel like the ground of your experience


     Coming from a Christian tradition, Thomas Merton was a Trappist monk and a modern-day mystic who taught contemplation.  Toward the end of his shortened life, he became interested in and wrote about Zen and Sufism.  But the beginning of his mystical journey began on a street corner in the far-off land of Louisville, Kentucky.  Here is what he writes of his vision:

I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness.”

Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes.

If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed.  I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other. But this cannot be seen, only believed and “understood” by a peculiar gift.

     Here is what Merton has to say about the true and false self.

True Self

     At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes of our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will.

     This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us. It is so to speak [God’s] name written in us, as our poverty, as our indigence, as our dependence, as our sonship (and daughtership).

     It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it, we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely. I have no program for this seeing. It is only given. But the gate of heaven is everywhere.

     Merton–as well as anyone deserving of the title mystic–believes that God is always recognizing God’s Self in you and cannot not love it. This is God’s “steadfast love” (hesed) with humanity. That part of you has always loved God and always will. You must learn how to consciously abide there.

     As Meister Eckhart says, “The eye with which I see God is the same one with which God sees me. My eye and God’s eye is one eye, and one sight, and one knowledge, and one love.” God is recognizing God’s Self in you, and you are recognizing yourself in God.

     Once the two-way mirror begins to reflect in both directions, it will gradually move you toward a universal seeing.

     Once accepted in yourself, the divine image is then seen everywhere else too–and just as gratuitous

     A door opens in the center of our being, and we seem to fall through it into immense depths, which although they are infinite – are still accessible to us.  All eternity seems to have become ours in this one placid and breathless contact.

     This door needs to open only once in your lifetime, and you will forever know where home base is.

False Self

     Every one of us is shadowed by an illusory person: a false self. This is the man [or woman] that I want myself to be but who cannot exist, because God does not know anything about him [or her]. And to be unknown of God is altogether too much privacy.

     That’s why the false self is so fragile. It’s inherently insecure because it’s almost entirely a creation of the mind, a social construct. It doesn’t exist except in the world of perception–which is where we live most of our lives–instead of in God’s Eternal Now. When you die, what dies is your false self because it never really existed to begin with. It simply lives in your thoughts and projections. It’s what you want yourself to be and what you want others to think you are. It’s very tied up with status symbols and reputation.

     Whenever you are offended, it’s usually because your self-image has not been worshiped or it has been momentarily exposed. The false self will quickly react with a vengeance to any offenses against it because all it has is its own fragile assumptions about itself. Narcissists have a lot of asserting and defending to do, moment by moment. Don’t waste much time defending your ego.               

    My false and private self is the one who wants to exist outside the reach of God’s will and God’s love–outside of reality and outside of life. And such a self cannot help but be an illusion

    We are not very good at recognizing illusions, least of all the ones we cherish about ourselves. For most of the people in the world, there is no greater subjective reality than this false self of theirs, which does not even exist. A life devoted to the cult of this shadow is what is called a life of sin.

    All sin starts from the assumption that my false self, the self that exists only in my own egocentric desires, is the fundamental reality of life to which everything else in the universe is ordered. Thus, I use up my life in the desire for pleasures and the thirst for experiences, for power, honor, knowledge and love, to clothe this false self and construct its nothingness into something objectively real.


     Richard Rohr is a Franciscan priest who was influenced by Thomas Merton. 

As far as I know, Merton was not familiar with the Enneagram.  Richard, on the other hand, has written or edited several books about the Enneagram as well as an inspired and insightful book Immortal Diamond: the Search for Our True Self.

     Here, in his own words, is what he says about the true self and the false self.

True Self

  • A Zen master would call the True Self “the face we had before we were born.” Paul would call it who you are “in Christ, hidden in God” (Colossians 3:3). It is who you are before having done anything right or anything wrong, who you are before having thought about who you are.
  • Your true self is who you are and always have been in God
  • The discovery of our true self is also at the same time a discovery of God
  • At its core, it is love itself


  • True self = soul = participation in the eternal life of God
    • Your true self is that part of you that knows who you are and whose you are

Your soul or true self is that eternal part of you, the part of you that knows the truth about you, a blueprint tucked away in the cellar of your being, an imago Dei

Image and Likeness

  • We are created in the image and likeness of God
  • Image: our objective DNA that marked us as creatures of God from the very beginning, before we could do anything right or anything wrong
    • The divine indwelling was a total gratuitous gift
    • It is the Holy Spirit living within us – uncreated grace
  • We were the containers, temples, or recipients of this gift
  • It had nothing to do with us and yet said everything about our core identity
  • This is the Original Blessing
  • It gave every human being an inherent dignity – our true self
  • God has always loved his image and himself in us, even when we refuse to love and honor ourselves
  • The indwelling divine image moves toward fulfillment in each of us
  • Likeness:  our personal appropriation and gradual realization of this utterly free gift of the image of God
  • We all have the objective same gift, but how we subjectively say yes to it is quite different.
  • Eastern Church emphasized image
  • Western Church emphasized likeness

True Self / God Self

  • The Perennial Tradition concludes that you initially cannot see what you are looking for because what you are looking for is doing the looking.
    • The vantage point switches from looking at God to looking out from God.
  • In finding your true self, you will have found an absolute reference point that is both utterly within you and utterly beyond you at the very same time.
  • Before radical conversion, you look for God as if God were an object like all other objects.
  • After conversion, you look out from God with eyes other than your own.
  • “The eye through which I see God is the same eye through which God sees me; my eye and God’s eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowing, one love.”  (Meister Eckhart)
  • All humans are doing is allowing God to complete the circuit within us – until we both see from the same perspective.
  • That which you long for, you also are.  Longing for God and longing for our true self are the same longing.
  • It is God which is even doing the longing in us and through us through the divine indwelling or the Holy Spirit.
  • You already are what you are seeking.
    • “My deepest me is God!”  (St. Catherine of Genoa)
  • But you are not entirely absorbed into God
  • And you are not the same as God, which would be pantheism
  • You are, however, inherently in union with God
  • And the relationship is continually given and offered from God’s side

True Self / Christ Self

  • The Risen Christ archetype represents the final perspective of every true self:
    • A human-divine one that is looking out at God from itself – and yet knowing that it is God-in-you seeing God-who-is-also-beyond-you.
  • Christ is the archetypal True Self offered to history
    • where matter and spirit finally operate as one
    • where divine and human are held in one container.
  • The True Self is neither God nor human. 
    • The True Self is both at the same time, and both are a total gift.

East / West Perspectives

  • Buddhist tradition:
  • Form is emptiness, and emptiness is form
    • All forms eventually return to formlessness once again
  • Christian tradition:
  • Incarnation – death – resurrection – ascension
    • All of creation comes forth as individuals and then goes back into God, into the Ground of all Being

False Self

  • The false self poses and thus substitutes for the real thing.
  • The false self is bogus more than bad, and bogus only when it pretends to be more that it is.
  • Your false self is your incomplete self trying to pass for your whole self.
  • The false self is our small self or ego; our true self is our soul.
  • The false self is who you think you are.
  • It is a social construct.
  • It is your container for your separate self, the “wineskin” that Jesus spoke of.
  • The false self is the separate self.
  • Our fear of death largely comes from the imagined loss of an imagined individuality.
  • The false self has no substance, no permanence, no vitality, only various forms of immediate gratification.

True Self / False Self

  • Thinking creates the false self, the ego self, the insecure self. The God-given contemplative mind, on the other hand, recognizes the God Self, the Christ Self, the True Self of abundance and deep inner security. We start with mere seeing; we end up with recognizing.
  • Your true self is that part of you that sees truthfully and will live forever. It is divine breath passing through you.
  • Your false self is that part of you that is constantly changing and will eventually die anyway.
    • It is in the world of passing forms and yet it sees itself as a central reference point–which is never really true.      
    • The false self is passing, tentative, or as the Hindus and Buddhists might say, “empty.”
  • Some form of suffering or death–psychological, spiritual, relational, or physical–is the only way we will loosen our ties to our small and separate false self. Only then does the larger Self appear, which we would call the Risen Christ, the soul, or perhaps the True Self.
  • The physical process of transformation through dying is expressed eloquently by Kathleen Dowling Singh, a woman who has spent her life in hospice work: “The ordinary mind [the false self] and its delusions die in the ‘Nearing Death Experience.’ As death carries us off, it is impossible to any longer pretend that who we are is our ego. The ego is transformed in the very carrying off.” This is why so many spiritual teachers say we must die before we die.
  • The manufactured false self must die for the True Self to live, or as Jesus himself puts it, “Unless I go, the Spirit cannot come” (John 16:7).
  • Theologically speaking, Jesus (a good individual person) had to die for the Christ (the universal presence) to arise. This is the universal pattern of transformation.
  •  Letting go of the original “good person” that we are is always a huge leap of faith precisely because it is all that we know at that point.
  • What has to die is not usually bad; it is just extraneous to our essence, and thus gets in the way.


  • In order to fully experience the intrinsic union we already have with God, who is Love, it seems that we need to first be love ourselves in some foundational way. We can only see what we already partly are, which is why I like to call it a mirroring process. Contemplation helps us to rest in this love; as we gradually take on the likeness of love, we will see love over there too. What you see is what you are. That’s why Jesus absolutely commanded us to love. This is necessary for the mirroring process to begin! Our inner state of love is alone able to receive and reflect the ultimate outer Love (2 Corinthians 3:18).
  • The deepest Truth of every human is Love, as we are created in the image and likeness of an infinitely Loving God (Genesis 1:26-27), which Christians call Trinity.
  • If we are in a state of negativity, what Julian of Norwich calls “contrariness,” we won’t be love or see love. We must watch for this contrariness–we all experience it quite frequently–and nip it in the bud. This contrary self often takes three forms: comparison (common in the female); competition (common in the male); and contrariness or oppositional energy (common in all of us). Our false self is actually relieved and empowered when it has something to oppose. The clearest identifier of untransformed people is that they are living out of oppositional energy, with various forms of comparing or competing, judging and critiquing. As long as we do this, we never have to grow up; we just show how others are wrong or inferior.


     Dr. David G. Benner is a depth psychologist, author and wisdom teacher. The central organizing thread of his life and work has been to help people live the human journey in a deeply spiritual way and the spiritual journey in a deeply human way. Drawing on the insights of science, philosophy, and the perennial wisdom tradition, Benner has worked toward integrating psychology and spirituality.

     In his book The Gift of Being Yourself, he writes about the Enneagram and the true and false self.  The following are his thoughts in his own words.

True Self and God

  • The self is where we meet God.
  • If we find our true self, we find God and if we find God, we find our  most authentic self.
  • All (creatures) give glory to God by being exactly what they are.
  •  For in being what God means them to be, they are obeying him.
  • The true self is your total self as you were created by God.
  • It is the image of God that you are – the unique face of God that has been set aside from eternity for you.
  • We do not find our true self by seeking it. 
    •   Rather, we find it by seeking God.
  • It is by losing our self in God that we discover our true identity.
  • There is no true life apart from relationship to God.
  • Therefore, there can be no true self apart from this relationship.
  • Our true self – the self we are becoming in God – is something we receive from God.
  • Any other identity is of our own making and is an illusion.
  • Knowing ourselves must begin by knowing the self that is known by God.  If God does not know us, we do not exist.

False Self

  • Our false self is the self we develop in our own likeness.  This is the person we would like to be – a person of our own creation, the person we would create if we were God.
  • The false self is the belief that my value depends on:
    • what I have,
    • what I can do
    • what others think of me.

True Self and Love

  • Genuine self-knowledge begins by looking at God and noticing how God is looking at us.  God cannot help seeing us through eyes of love.
  • Love is our identity and our calling, for we are children of Love.  Created from love, of love and for love, our existence makes no sense apart from Divine love.
  • The God who is Divine community is known only in human community.  Deep knowing of perfect love, just like deep knowing of ourselves, demands what we be in relationships of spiritual friendship.

True Self and Christ

  • As we become more and more like Christ, we become more uniquely our own true self.
  • Jesus is the True Self who shows us by his life how to find our self in relation to God. 
  • The self we find hidden in Christ is our true self, because Christ is the source of our being and ground of our true identity.


  • Our vocation is grounded in the self that from eternity God has willed that we be.  Our calling is to become that self and then to serve God and our fellow human beings in the particular ways that will represent the fulfillment of that self.  Our identity is not simply a possession.  It is a calling.

     And so psychology brings us to our true self and spirituality brings us to God.  If we stop at our ego, we miss our self.  If we stop at our self, we miss the Ground of our Being.  As Rick Steves, the travel guide, says: “Keep on travelin’.”


Almaas, A.H. Essence: The Diamond Approach to Inner Realization.  York Beach, Me: Samuel Weiser, 1986.

Benner, David.  The Gift of Being Yourself.   Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2015.

Horney, Karen.  Our Inner Conflicts.  New York: Norton, 1945.

Jacobs, Michael.  D.W. Winnicott. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1995.

Jung, Carl.  Analytical Psychology: Its Theory and Practice.  New York: Pantheon, 1968.

________.  On the Doctrine of Complexes.  In The Collected Works of C.G. Jung (Vol.2).  Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973a).

Rogers, Carl. On Becoming a Person.: a Therapists’s View of Psychotherapy.  Boston: Houghton Miflin, 1961.

Rohr, Richard. The Enneagram: a Christian Perspective.  New York: Crossroad, 2002.

___________.  Immortal Diamond. San Francisco:  Jossey-Bass, 2013.

Maitri, Sandra.  The Spiritual Dimension of the Enneagram.  New York: Tarcher/Putnam, 2000.

___________.  The Enneagram of Passions and Virtues.  New York: Tarcher/Putnam, 2005.

Maslow, Abraham.  The Farther Reaches of Human Nature.  New York: Penguin, 1971.

May, Rollo.  Existential Psychology.  New York: Random House, 1961.

Merton, Thomas. New Seeds of Contemplation.  New York: New Directions, 1961.

_____________.  A Thomas Merton Reader. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1961.

Perls, Fritz.  Gestalt Therapy Verbatim.  Moab, UT: Real People Press, 1969.

Siegel, Allen.  Heinz Kohut and the Psychology of the Self. New York: Routledge, 1996.

Yalom, Irvin. Existential Psychotherapy. New York: Basic Books, 1980.

From Idolatry to Reality: From Worshiping the Idealizations of Our Personality to Following the Ideals of Our Real Self

by Jerry Wagner, Ph.D.

I’m intrigued by the parallels among

  • the Bible story of the Israelites turning away from the true God and fashioning a false idol in the form of a golden calf
  • George Gurdjieff’s statements about the personality compensating for our essence
  • Karen Horney’s description of an idealized self image substituting for the real self
  • and the Enneagram showing how this dislodgement plays out in nine personality styles.

After wandering around in the desert for 40 years, the Israelites were feeling a little despairing that Yahweh was ever going to get them out of the desert and into the promised land. So they decided to turn away from the true God and fashion a false idol in the form of a golden calf.  Hopefully their idol would lead them to security and happiness since Yahweh didn’t seem up to the task.

It is the nature of idols to promise everything and produce little and they don’t do this for nothing (something like investment advisors.)  To get results from idols you have to promise to do what they tell you.  You must follow their advice, otherwise everything you are afraid of will happen to you.  Idols are not above threats.

In addition, you have to bring them sacrifices – some flowers, fruits, animals, your first-born child – whatever is important to you.  But these are minor offerings compared to the safety and glory idols promise.

Bringing this socio-cultural story closer to the psyche, George Gurdjieff, the Armenian teacher of esoteric wisdom, speaks about the personality or false self compensating or substituting for our essence or true self.  If we abandon and lose faith in our real self, then we need to fashion a false self to mimic and stand in for the real deal.

Karen Horney, a neo-psychoanalyst, writes about the idealized self image replacing the real self.   She believed each individual is born with a healthy real self.  By aligning ourselves with our true self, we will realize our full potential and live in harmony with other people (the humanist version of the promised land.)

When children are loved unconditionally for themselves and when they have their biological, emotional, and social needs satisfied, they remain connected to their real selves for they have no reason to be other than who they are.

On the other hand, when children’s needs are frustrated and unmet by their caretakers’ indifference, rejection, or hostility (what Horney labels “basic evil”), they then develop a view of themselves as lowly and despicable.  There must be something wrong with them to deserve such treatment and deprivation.  So they fashion an idealized self to compensate for and escape from their real self which has degenerated into their despised self.  A conflict then develops between the real and idealized self which has become crystallized into an idealized self image.

Our idealized self-image is how we think of ourselves, consciously or unconsciously, and how we want others to think of us.  In the Enneagram system, the nine self-images have been labeled “prides”.  We are proud of being right, loving, successful, deeply feeling, insightful, loyal, upbeat, powerful, and easy going.  But as Horney notes there is a certain arrogance involved in that we appropriate or arrogate to ourselves exaggerated qualities that may not actually be there.  When our prides are not noticed, minimized, or stepped on, we overreact with anger, guilt, embarrassment, or other negative feelings.

From the Enneagram perspective, personality is an exaggeration, a caricature, of our authentic personal qualities. Similarly, Horney observed that the idealized image is constructed partially on the person’s genuine self.

Personality masquerades as our essential self and tricks us into identifying with and believing that an inflated dimension of our self is our whole self.  We collaborate in this deception as a way of defending our true self from anxiety-provoking vulnerabilities and as a way of compensating for certain imagined shortfalls in our real self.

Our personality retains intimations of our real self and we can follow it back to our authentic self if we follow our developmental trail back the way we came.  This will return us to the path of self actualization. Or we can follow our false self further into its idealized self-image and this will lead us down the road to self-image actualization where only a distorted part of us will be realized.  The problem with this route is, ironically, the closer we come to our idealized self, the more neurotic we become.

From the Enneagram perspective, the idols of our personality, manifested in our idealized self image, beckon us to security and happiness.  But to reach their promised land, we must pledge our unwavering devotion and fealty to them.  And if we disobey them and take another path, they warn us that what we are most afraid of will surely come about.  We better follow our should’s and idealizations.

On the other hand, our essence or genuine self invites us to a deeper security and well-being.  It is a gentle calling, doesn’t use threats, is always there, but may not be as easily recognized.  We are guided along this path by our values and ideals

So what does each type value and really want?   What is their head- heart- gut’s deepest desire?  What are they enlivened by?  And, opposed to their desire, what do they most dread?  What is each type particularly vulnerable to and afraid of?  It is these fears that their idols promise to protect them from.  The irony is they are sheltered from what they fear, but they don’t get what they really want.  Tragically their defensive strategies prevent them from getting what they need.   The good news about living in a castle surrounded by a mote, alligators, and barbed wire is you are safe.  The bad news is, since you are so cut off, you eventually die of boredom or starvation.

So how does all this show up in the Enneagram styles?

Ones Want to be Good

Ones want to be good.  They want to realize all their potentials and be all they can be.  And they want to help others do the same.  They have a passion for excellence and doing things well. They want to make the world a better place.  When asked, what Ones say they really want is to be accepted as they are and feel good and right about themselves.

What they are afraid of and sensitive about is being criticized, rejected, treated unjustly, or being wrong(ed).  Their Idol of Perfectionism promises to protect them from these vulnerabilities.  After all, if you’re perfect, you’re safe and no one can criticize you.

Ones need to bring to their “We Try Harder Idol” all their good deeds, their exhausting efforts, their musts, shoulds, and ought to’s, their critiques of themselves and others, their anger and resentments.  Their idol (and their ego) thrives and grows strong on these offerings.

What Ones have to sacrifice to their idol is fun, enjoyment, spontaneity.  They give up feeling carefree and relaxed and won’t be able to ever go with the flow since they have to be in control. They must renounce their own desires and wants for the sake of their shoulds and forego being dappled since their idol’s world is black and white.  In other words, they, like every other type, must forfeit their inner child or real self – a small price to pay for safety and security.

Twos Want to be Loving

Twos want to be loving.  They desire to be helpful, caring, and needed.  They like being nurturing, considerate, and appreciative.  They want to make the world a more loving place.  What Twos say they really want is to feel connected, cared for, and loved.

They are afraid of and are very sensitive to being rejected, separated, disconnected, not liked, not accepted, not being needed, and feeling isolated.  Their Idol of Co-Dependency promises they will never experience these awful situations.  If you make yourself indispensable, who would want to part with you?  If you love me, you won’t hurt me, and I’ll be safe.

Two’s need to bring to their “How Can I Help You Idol” all their helpful deeds, personal sacrifices, accommodations, shape-shiftings, and abundant compliments and flatteries.  These make their idol and ego feel proud and worthy.

They need to sacrifice their own needs, agenda, and self to their idol.  But no one approves of that self, anyway, so no great loss.  They are not permitted to receive and they can’t accept grace since that goes against their job description as a helper.  Twos can’t ask directly for what they want but their idol shows them how to seduce others into giving them what they need.

Threes Want to be Effective and Productive

Threes want to be effective and productive.   They want to get things moving and done and accomplish what they set out to do.   They enjoy being motivated and motivating others. They seek to make the world more efficient.  What Threes say they really want is to be accepted and affirmed for themselves and to be able to put being before doing.

They are afraid of not being successful and of being a failure.  They fear being rejected, not recognized or admired, not being paid attention to, being inactive, feeling useless, and not worth anything. Their Idol of Workaholism and Success guarantees, in less than 10 days, they will be winners and will avoid being losers.  If you look good, work smart, and put in long hours, how can you fail?  And if you make others look good, why would they want to fire you?  I’m safe if I’m successful and admired.

Threes need to bring to their “How Am I Doing Idol” all their works, awards, successes, clubs joined, society pages appeared in, achievements, accomplishments, networkings, linked-in connections, deals closed.  These trophies keep their idol’s and ego’s addictions going.

What Three’s need to sacrifice to their idol are their own agenda and wishes, their family and intimate relationships, and their inner life.   Who has time for these anyway?  They need to forego time off from performing and having to impress others, being loved for who they are vs. for what they do, and they can’t just be.

Fours Want to be Original, Authentic, and Creative

Fours want to be original, authentic, and creative.  They want to feel life deeply, express their reflections aesthetically, find their deepest selves, and find meaning in their world.  And they wish to remind others to do the same.   They desire to make the world a more meaningful and beautiful place.  What Fours say they really want is to be connected to others and connected to themselves.   They want to belong and they value self discovery and development.

Fours are afraid of being abandoned, left out, neglected, ignored, not paid attention to, feeling rejected and uncared for, bored, criticized about their style, and having their creativity stifled.  Their Idol of Elite Standards promises them they will not experience these terrible circumstances if they follow their idol’s inspirations.  And because they will be so extraordinary, even if someone foolishly does leave them, the Fours will make such a profound impression on these callow creatures that they will never forget them.  I’m safe if I’m special and I suffer.

Fours need to bring to the altar of their “Suffering Idol” all of their exquisite tastes, their unique contributions, their beautiful creations and clothes, and all of their dramas, misunderstandings, sufferings, and tragic flaws.  All these things make Fours and their idol singular and special.

Fours need to sacrifice to their idol any future happiness, any experience of being ordinary, and any sense of equanimity and calm.  But what good can come from being ordinary, really? Even though they want it more than anything, they have to give up a sense of connection to others because then they might be understood and lose their mystery.  They forego having what they want since they would lose the feelings of longing and yearning that make them feel alive and extraordinary.

Fives Want to Understand

Fives want to understand.  They want to be wise and perceptive and to know the truth.  They enjoy learning and getting the big picture. They desire to make the world a more enlightened, better understood place.  They also value independence and privacy.  When asked, Fives say they want to be themselves in relationships.  They want connection and also freedom, privacy, and territoriality.  They seek to know and to be competent.

Fives are afraid of being invaded, taken over, and engulfed.  They fear being emptied and deprived and having to respond to draining demands.  They fear being evaluated and put down.  They are not keen about being visible, exposed, looking foolish.  They don’t like to feel dependent or inadequate.   Their Idol of Intellectualism promises to make them omniscient, invisible, and out of reach (also out of touch, but the idol doesn’t mention that.)  You can’t be criticized for what you never said and you can’t hit a target you can’t see.  I’m safe if I’m invisible and I know.

Fives have to bring to their “Know-it-all Idol” all of their ideas, books, articles, and internet sites visited.  They need to bring in their hoarded items along with their evasions, smoke screens, and abstractions.  All of this will make them and their idol safe in the attic in the realm of thoughts.

What Fives have to sacrifice to their idol are any close relationships, any feelings or sensations, any possibility of being known.  Fives need to give up becoming involved and engaged in life and become tourists.  They forfeit being in the game for the sake of staying safe on the sidelines. They subordinate their heart and body to their head.  However, as is well known, real life is the life of the mind and all else is inconsequential anyway.

Sixes Want to Do Their Duty

Sixes want to do their duty.   They desire to be loyal and committed to their word.  They wish to feel safe and secure and they want to make the world a safer place.  They are conscientious and responsible and value law and order. Sixes say they really do seek safety and security.  They want a sense of belonging.  They want to be listened to and have their side taken.

Sixes fear most everything but are especially sensitive to being betrayed and betraying others. They don’t like deception.  Because they value consistency, they fear being caught off guard.  They fear physical and emotional harm. They are afraid of being thrown out of the group, not being heard or listened to, being treated unfairly, and being given premature responsibility before they have the ability to do what is required.  They are sensitive to feeling trapped.  Their Idol of Fear reassures them that it will safeguard them from all these dangers.  If I do what I ought and have authority on my side, I’m safe (Fearful Six).  If I’m wary of authority, act blustery, and have an exit strategy, I’m safe (Counter-Fearful Six).

Sixes must bring to their “Frightful Idol” all their fears, because they are what keep them safe – trembling, but safe.  Their fears help them be prepared.  So they need to pile up all their suspicions, doubts, and paranoid thoughts.  These keep their fears alive and keep them alert while the enemy prowls about.

To be safe Sixes must sacrifice their own inner authority and inner compass, surrendering their own ideas and beliefs.  But these will only get them into trouble, anyway.  So best to doubt them, hand them over, and lean on the authority of their idol.   To feel secure, Sixes have to give up trusting themselves and others and ever feeling carefree and relaxed, otherwise they might get caught off guard.

Sevens Fancy Adventure

Sevens fancy adventure.   They want to explore the world of possibilities, enjoy life, and make the world a more exciting and delightful place.  Friendly, sociable, and optimistic, they are full of interesting ideas and plans.  What Sevens say they really want is happiness, freedom, choice, and commitment (believe it or not).

Sevens fear being limited and tied down, feeling immobilized, paralyzed, sick and lifeless.  They don’t want to be trapped and they dread being bored or boring.  They are not particularly attracted to suffering and pain and don’t see much good coming from either.  They want to be encouraged and don’t like being discouraged.  Their Idol of Hedonism will make sure none of these downers ever befall Sevens.  Hold your head up high and look for the silver lining.  If I’m OK, I’m safe.

What Sevens are asked to bring their “Upbeat Idol” are all their fantastic plans and options, their fun times, variety, spices, excitements, ice cream and toppings, exotic adventures, possibilities explored and then moved on from.  These feed their idol’s and ego’s addiction to pleasure and variety.

 What Sevens need to sacrifice to their idol are any inner stillness and peace, any sitting still for longer than two minutes, solitude, any present satisfactions vs. thinking about future delights, and any genuine fulfillment.  But present delights only anticipate future possibilities, anyway.  They may have to give up a permanent home and deep relationships for the sake of traveling on. And they will miss discovering the riches of their shadow.  But, if you are afraid of the dark, no great loss.

Eights Want to be Autonomous and Independent

Eights want to be autonomous and independent.  They like to live their lives the way they want to live them.  They want to use their power to empower the disenfranchised. They desire to make the world a just place.  Eights say they want self-determination, equity, respect, approval.  On a basic level, they seek to survive and be in control.

Eights fear being neglected and treated unfairly.  They don’t like injustice or dishonesty.  They fear feeling weak, powerless, limited, dependent, subordinated, unable to do, not being in control.  Their Idol of Strength assures them that if they follow his/her coercions, they will be invulnerable and invincible.  If I intimidate you, you won’t hurt me.

What Eights need to bring to their “Tower of Power Idol” are their triumphs over their enemies, outrages, affronts, anger, firepower, scorched earth, huffs and puffs, injustices.  This breastplate of anger gives them strength and keeps the fire in the belly burning.  Their idol and ego thrive on resentment and revenge.

What Eights need to sacrifice for the sake of being invulnerable is any closeness to people.  But, then, intimacy might invite in a Trojan Horse.  They have to give up their inner child with any innocence or fragile feelings they might have.   But these are chinks in their armor and ought to be disdained anyway.  They won’t be able to extend or experience tenderness, compassion, or forgiveness. They won’t experience any unguarded vulnerable moments and they won’t be allowed to tolerate any weakness in themselves or others.

Nines Value Harmony and Peace

Nines value harmony and peace.  They want to make the world more harmonious and inclusive.  Possessing a laissez-faire attitude toward life, they allow people and events to unfold in their own way and in their own time. Nines say they want to be loved and cared for and noticed.  They desire inclusiveness and union.

Nines fear being neglected, not noticed or cared for, being alone.  They don’t like being upset and so fear conflict, confrontation, and dissonance.  They fear feeling ashamed, crushed, and left feeling defenseless.  They don’t want to be accused of hurting others out of anger.  Their Idol of Comfort will lead them to the promised land of contentment where they will never be troubled again.  If I’m numb, I’m safe.

Nines need to bring to their “Couch Potato Idol” all of the comforts they have gathered around them – their comfort food, drink, TV, marijuana.  They need to bring their conflicts avoided, groups and athletic clubs joined but never attended, their routine jobs.  All of this will keep their idol and psyche deadened for the duration.

Nines need to sacrifice to their idol their own opinion, agenda, thoughts, feelings, and assertions.  They also have to give up ever completing anything for the sake of procrastination. They will have to forgo a sense of accomplishment and a sense that they really do matter.  They need to tamper down their feeling of aliveness and vitality and certainly will not be permitted to experience the opportunity and growth that come from conflict.  But all these personal preferences and agitations might disrupt the harmony of the universe anyway, so best to leave them unexpressed.

From Idolatry to Reality

If we determine that the cost: benefit ratio of following the idol of our personality is not worth it, that we’re giving up a lot more than we’re gaining, then what other options do we have available?  When all else fails, as it inevitably must, we can always return to the resources of our real self which we gave up on when we exited the Garden of Eden.

The 9 Players on Your Bench

We have the strengths of our own style, our neighboring styles, the styles of our stressed and relaxed points – the resources of all nine styles, really, since we have nine players on our inner team.  Though we may only choose to put a few of our favorite players on the court, we do have nine players on the bench.

We have the idealism, conscientiousness, and persistence of Player #1 (the Idealist) to focus, concentrate, and hold our energies on the right path and keep the end in mind as we proceed.

We have the empathy, love, caring, and relationship skills of Player #2 (the Relater) to connect us with others and provide the intimacy we seek on our journey.

We have the industriousness, productivity, competence, and energy of Player #3 (the Closer) to bring our projects to completion and transport us to the end of our journey, not to mention publicizing that we’re on the journey.

We have the sensitivity, refinement, grace, and introspection of Player #4 (the Artist) to add depth and style to our undertakings and add beauty to our journey.

We have the objectivity, big-picture panorama, analytic skills, and wisdom of Player #5 (the Observer) to understand what our journey is all about and take in the landscape from beginning to end.

We have the trouble-shooting, risk-managing, devotion, and circumspection of Player #6 (the Loyalist) to keep us safe on our journey and secure for us the sense of belonging to a group to accompany us along the way

We have the imagination, vision, brainstorming capacity, optimism, good cheer, and joie de vivre of Player #7 (the Optimist) to find interesting people and places to visit as we enjoy our journey.

We have the strength, autonomy, durability, and force of Player #8 (the Energizer) to push obstacles out of our way, clear the path, and protect us on our journey.

We have the relaxed confidence, inclusivity, negotiating and mediating abilities of Player #9 (the Peacemaker) to include others on our journey and align us with the flow of the universe.

Take some time and ask yourself the following questions:

  • When do you feel real and authentic?
  • When do you feel false and inauthentic?
  • How do you know when you’re following and acting from your real self/essence or from your personality/ego?  Is there a different feel to these two states? How do your head, heart, and gut experience the difference?
  • What do your idols promise you?  What will they do for you if you do what they ask?
  • What do your idols demand from you? What must you bring them?
  • What must you sacrifice for your idols?
  • What are you afraid will happen if you don’t obey them?
  • What other resources do you have available to allay your fears and help you to adapt?
    • What resources lie in your own style?
    • What resources lie in your wings (the Enneagram styles on either side of yours)?
    • What resources lie in your heart point (the Enneagram style preceding yours going back along the arrow line)? 
    • What resources lie in your stress point (the Enneagram style following yours advancing along the arrow line)?
    • What resources do all the remaining styles offer you?

Dropping our idol is like swinging out over the void and letting go of the trapeze.  This is surely going to be anxiety provoking. It’s easier when we have some assurance that our real self is a more reliable and trustworthy trapeze to carry us over the chasm of our fears.  Our journey won’t be trouble-free but it will be our authentic trip and not make-believe or someone else’s trip.  As the tour host Rick Steves says: “Keep on traveling.”

An Enneagram Overview

Here are some thoughts on questions that people have asked about the Enneagram.  It’s an overview of the system along with reflection questions to get you to ask more questions about the Enneagram.


The Enneagram is a personality typology that describes nine ways of being in the world.  Some authors call them types, some strategies, I prefer styles which gives a little more wiggle room. There is, as they say in statistics, considerable inner-group variability.  That is, there is a lot of variety within each style.  There is also, of course, considerable inter-group variability.  While there is overlap among the nine styles, they are also different.

Nothing in life is simple.   Gordon Allport thought traits (personality generates behavior patterns that can be described as types) were hard-wired into the brain.  They actually exist, we’re not making this up.  Others say we are born with temperamental proclivities.  We have a tendency to perceive and respond a certain way.  Others (the behaviorists) would say what you are calling a type is simply a collection of behaviors.  Still others (the constructivists) would say that type exists only in the mind of the typist.  We are making this up.

I would lean toward the temperamental proclivities camp.  David Daniels writes about “innate propensities” and “structural proclivities.”  We are inclined to see the world and act in certain ways but are still free to choose what to think and do.


People ask whether we are more influenced by nature (what we are born with) or nurture (what we are born into).  As Hegel would have predicted, psychology has swung from thesis to antithesis to synthesis.  Biological psychologists said we are influenced mostly by nature (as high as 90%).  Then radical behavioral psychologists said we are completely influenced by nurture (100%).  Then interactionist psychologists said we are influenced by both nature and nurture (50/50%).  So the answer to the question of whether we are more influenced by nature or nurture is “yes.”


The Enneagram describes traits, behaviors, and behavioral tendencies.  It also describes motivations which most Enneagram teachers like to point out.


I like to think of the values we are motivated by.  We usually have a hierarchy of values.  Some are more important than others.  You might ask yourself:

  • What gets you out of bed at the beginning of the day?
  • And at the end of the day, what made it a good day?  Or what made the day worthwhile?
    • Did you learn something? Help someone?  Make things right?  Get things done? Have a deep meaningful interaction?  Had fun?  Survived the day?  Didn’t get upset or upset anyone?  Defended the downtrodden?
  • What is your purpose, vocation, mission?   What are you here to do?
    • Some say they are here to fix things, love things, complete things, make things beautiful, intelligible, safe, fun, tell the truth, make things agreeable.
  • What aspect of humanity or the divine are you destined to manifest?  Your presence reminds us of what it means to be human (good, loving, productive, creative, wise, loyal, imaginative, just, peaceful.)  You reveal certain aspects of God to us that we otherwise might not experience (see above.)
  • What is your legacy?  In the tapestry of history, your cohort, your family, what piece does your thread add?  Or what role did you play in the unfolding of being?
  • What do you really desire?  And where does your desire meet the world’s needs?


We want to promulgate or share our values with others since we think they are really great.

  • What kind of world do you want to leave behind? 
    • Better, more loving, more efficient, more beautiful, more intelligible, safer, more delightful, more just, more inclusive?
  • What cultural institutions has your style created to enshrine your values?
    • Schools, libraries, science museums, art museums, symphony centers, hospitals, clinics, HR departments, CEO suites, banks to keep your money safe, investment banks to grow your money, court systems, entertainment venues, travel agencies, ecumenical organizations, accounting firms, sports venues for gladiators, computer centers for geeks.   You get the idea.


Many traditions, including the Enneagram, describe the true self (who we are born to be) and the false self (who we are conditioned to be).   The true self is our core, given, authentic or gifted self.  The false self is our defensive, distorted, compensating, exaggerated, caricature, idealized self.

If Carl Rogers were our parent and we were loved unconditionally for who we are or Heinz Kohut was our father who empathically mirrored us as we are, then there would be no need to be other than who we are because we’re OK as is.

Unfortunately, our culture, religion, educational system, parents, siblings, et.al. don’t think we’re so great as is.  For our own good, they think we need to be educated or conditioned to be the way we should be.  Not knowing any better, we go along with the program and construct an idealized self – the self we think we should be in order to be safe, loved, accepted.

So, what happened to your core self, your original goodness.   What happened that you formed a personality around your core to protect it?

  • Was there one traumatic hurtful event? Or a series of minor assaults?  What was the hurt or wounding, or vulnerability that you wanted to make sure wouldn’t happen to you again?
  • What are you afraid of? And how do you protect yourself from this?
    • Are you afraid of criticism, rejection, failure, being abandoned, looking foolish, being betrayed, limited and bored, being weak and taken advantage of, conflict?

We develop an idealized self-image to present ourselves the way we think others want to see us and how we want to see ourselves.  You will love me if you see me as good, helpful, successful, special, wise, faithful, upbeat, strong, accommodating.


As we over-emphasize a certain part of ourselves (think of a caricature with big ears, chin, nose, etc.), we overlook or minimize opposing parts of ourselves.  These are distrusted, disliked, despised parts.   Our shadow.  We repress these characteristics and then project them onto others.  Fortunately, there are nine recycling bins in which to put our discarded personality parts.


We can use a variety of defenses to wall off our unacceptable parts.  They keep them out of our awareness and they keep others away from us.  Think of a turtle’s shell, a porcupine’s quills, a skunk’s odor, a dear’s camouflage, a lion’s roar.   Sometimes our defenses are a little over-kill and can stay around longer than we really need them.  (Think of skunks, again.)

  • So, what do you fear?  What makes you anxious?   And what happens when you feel anxious?  That’s when your defenses pop up.  If we avoid what makes us anxious, our anxiety goes down.  That’s called negative reinforcement.  Afraid of dogs, avoid them.  Afraid of heights, stay on the ground.  Afraid of girls, boys, math, avoid them.  So, what do you avoid thinking, feeling, doing? 
  • What are you afraid will happen if you let your unacceptable parts out?  What do you do to keep that part of you locked up and out of view?
  • You might want to make friends with your demons, monsters, and isolated parts. There are all kinds of myths about doing so: Beauty and the Beast, Tame Your Dragon, Schrek, Donkey, and the Dragon, the Furies and Eumenides in Greek mythology, the Seven Samurai in Japanese film, and the Magnificent Seven in the Western version.  Befriending our supposed enemy turns them into our ally.


Idols and idealized self-images have much in common.  Both promise to save us from what we fear; both exact a certain price (give me your first fruits, first born, true self, etc.), and both renege on their promises.   They don’t deliver.

  • What is your idol or addiction?  Perfectionism?  Co-dependency? Workaholism? Uniqueism?  Intellectualism? Fanaticism?  Hedonism?   Vindication? Pacifism?
  • What does your idol promise you?  Protection from criticism, rejection, failure, etc.?
  • What do you have to sacrifice and give up for your idol?  Pleasure? Your own needs?  Relaxation? Being ordinary?  Your feelings?  Your inner authority?  Being rooted?  Being vulnerable? Being assertive?
  • How does the strategy of your idol get in the way of what you really want?
    • For example, if you really want to be known and accepted for who you are, how does not revealing yourself get in the way of this?
  • And, ironically, how does your defensive strategy bring about the very thing you are trying to avoid?  The damnable thing about neuroses is they engender the very thing we are trying to escape.
    • For example, if you want to avoid criticism, does being pedantic or judgmental of others bring about their being defensive and then critical of you?
    • Or if you want to avoid rejection, does being smothering lead others to push you away?
    • If you want to be accepted for who you are, does being too slick, polished, and accomplished encourage people to admire your accomplishments instead of loving you?
    • If you want to belong and be understood, does being special lead people to misunderstand you since no one is like you?
    • If you want to avoid emptiness, does being too intellectual lead to feeling empty since you misplaced your emotions and body?
    • If you want to feel safe, does being paranoid lead to people talking behind your back and wanting to put you away?
    • If you want to avoid pain, does surrounding yourself with too many balloons lead people to want to pop them, thus raining on your parade?
    • If you want to be invulnerable, does being aggressive lead to others ganging up on you and attacking you?
    • If you want to be noticed and cared for, does being in the background lead people to overlook you?

I like the Enneagram because it provides a framework on which to hang the various pieces of the personality puzzle.  It is, indeed, a useful fiction.   Stay tuned for more reflections.

Integrating Our Polarities using the 4 R’s: Recognize, Re-frame, Re-own, Re-Cycle

by Jerome Wagner, Ph.D.

When we over-identify or over-idealize certain aspects of our personality, we tend to disavow any opposite attributes. For example if you think of yourself as right and exact, then you don’t want to consider yourself wrong or messy nor do you want others to think of you in this way. Or if you think of yourself as strong and tough, you don’t want to appear to yourself or others as weak and wimpy.

To avoid these unacceptable parts of ourselves, we put them in the basement (our unconscious) where we can forget about them. This is called repression.  Splitting is a variation on this maneuver. Instead of being a whole me, we become the good me and the bad me, like Jeckle and Hyde.

These defensive techniques create divisions within ourselves.

If relics in the basement start to offend us, we can go a step further and throw our garbage out. For example if you think of yourself as wise and perceptive and find looking foolish quite intolerable, you can cast out your foolishness and then find yourself surrounded by a confederacy of dunces. This is called projection. Instead of being a neurotic among neurotics or a sinner among sinners, you are a rose among thorns, or a good me surrounded by not-so-good you’s,

The process of projective identification goes a little beyond projection. Instead of simply throwing our trash out and leaving it in others with a good riddance, we put our unsavory characteristics in others, then sanitize and civilize our offensive behaviors in the garbage bin — or cajole others into cleaning up their acts. For example if you project your inner rebel or delinquent onto others, then you will have to police them, reform them, excommunicate them, or throw them in jail. Now, not only have you gotten rid of your demons, you’ve found something to do in your spare time!

These defensive strategies create divisions between ourselves and others.

We can work on our inner and outer splits by practicing the 3 R’s + 1.

If we can re-cognize, re-frame, and re-own our unseemly parts, we might find some valuable assets tossed out with our garbage, and re-cycle them. We will gain an inner integration and wholesome connections with other people, both of which lead to an increase of energy since we are no longer divided against ourselves and others.

To make friends with our inner polarities, we may need to reframe their attributes. For example if you think of yourself as efficient and not lazy, then you may need to reframe laziness as “creative leisure,” a time and process during which new inspirations arise.

A paradoxical quality of polarities is the more we push them to an extreme, the more they run into and become their opposite. Jung called this enantiodromia. For example the more you try to become free and keep all your options open, ironically the more un-free and rigid you become as you compulsively try to avoid any limitations.

Finally, if we can find an overarching construct that embraces and enfolds both polarities, a synthesis that resolves our thesis and antithesis, then we can be enlivened by the creative tension between the two poles. For example if you think of yourself as special and refined and not common and pedestrian, you might find living a life of “simple elegance” a congenial way to express both of your polarities.

Let’s see how each style might practice the 4 R’s: recognizing, reframing, reowning, and recycling their polarities.





The following is a list of some characteristics that ONES identify with.  They are opposed by the characteristics ONES dis-identify with.

good (very) bad
upright licentious
moral immoral
principled law breaker
honest dishonest
high standards mediocre
integrity phony
zealous apathetic
hard working lazy
serious playful
responsible irresponsible
persevering fickle
exact imprecise
meticulous sloppy
committed uninvolved
sober frivolous
careful careless
critical tolerant
conscientious slip shod
on time tardy
striving aimless
correct incorrect
right wrong
intense relaxed
altruistic selfish
strict forgiving
discriminating indiscriminate
organized disorganized
earnest insincere
an improver complacent


When ONES project their “NOT ME” characteristics onto others, they find themselves surrounded by messy, lazy, irresponsible, unprincipled laggards like ourselves.  So ONES have their work cut out for them organizing, disciplining, and getting us into line.  And it’s no wonder they need to stay in control and can’t let up, lighten up, or hand things over to us.  Would you turn the world over to a group of aimless, careless, fickle, slip shod slackers?  This is why ONES have to work overtime to cover for our complacency.  And it’s why they stay angry and resentful because we’re not doing our part.

ONES need to befriend their shadow side and discover what’s good about being messy, lazy, and irresponsible.  Or maybe they need to reframe these qualities as spontaneous, relaxed, and serendipitous.  The playful little hedonist in them can offer them some fun and enjoyment.  What can unprincipled people do that principled people can’t do?  They can do what they want instead of what they should!

ONES need to reframe the characteristics in the NOT-ME column to find the iron beneath the rust.  As long as they continue giving a bad reputation to their NOT-ME qualities, they’re not going to want to go near them.  If they can find the complimentary contribution their NOT-ME attributes bring to their whole self, they might be more willing to embrace them and integrate them into their sense of themselves.

They can also practice some Hegelian dialectics.  Their ME characteristics represent their thesis; their NOT-ME qualities embody their antithesis; creatively combining the two gives them their synthesis.  So ONES need to step back and get a little distance from their dichotomous dilemma and come up with a self-concept that will include both sides of their polarity.  For example ONES might imagine themselves as being “seriously playful” or “playfully serious;”  or they can think of themselves as “discerners” which allows them to be both discriminating and accepting;  or they are “flowing upright” or “gliding precision” permitting them to be both flexible and firm.

The trick is to hold onto both ends of the polarity and encourage both energies to flow into a creative synthesis.  Enantiodromia is a principle Jung discovered in nature that he applied to personality.  This is the process whereby things run into their opposites.  If you put a hot plate next to a cold one, both will become warm; high water runs into low water until they reach a medium depth, as was demonstrated in the flooding in New Orleans.  If you push something to its extreme, it runs into its opposite.  So you can become so good (righteous) you become bad (self-righteous).  Or if you take sloppiness to its extreme, you get order.  This is chaos theory.  The exquisite layering and ordering of rocks along a shore is brought about by the random action of wind and waves.

ONES achieve balance when they access in themselves the adaptive qualities of the SEVEN and FOUR styles. It is ironic that many of these qualities are disguised beneath the grotesqueries in the NOT-ME column.  Because ONES distort them, they don’t want to approach them.  For example what ONES are calling careless, irresponsible, and frivolous might be the SEVEN characteristics of carefree, spontaneous, and child-like.  Or what ONES perceive as fickle, imprecise, and law breaking might be the FOUR qualities of flowing emotions, intuition, and freedom from convention.

For fullness sake, ONES need to take another look at their NON-ME dimension to give themselves more breadth and depth.





Those characteristics that are congruent with the TWOS’ self-image are found in the ME column.  Characteristics that are antithetical to their self-image, that are repressed or projected out of their self, can be found in the NOT-ME column.

helpful (very) selfish
needed needy
indispensable useless
generous stingy
supportive destructive
thoughtful thoughtless
sympathetic heartless
friendly detached
nurturing withholding
compassionate violent
thoughtful insensitive
soft hearted unsentimental
caring cruel
loving hateful
tender tough
empathic confrontational
affirming indifferent
self sacrificing self centered
relational loner
feeling heady
welcoming imposing
kind mean
available aloof
warm cold
fuzzy prickly
available unavailable
people-loving thing-loving
other-oriented self-oriented
good listener judgmental
complimentary critical


When TWOS engage in projection and projective identification, they find themselves surrounded by needy, selfish, uncaring, detached, thoughtless individuals like ourselves.  It’s no wonder TWOS despair of getting their needs met and don’t bother to ask!  To get any blood from this crowd of turnips, TWOS have to hug, warm, and love them up, make sure others get their needs met first, and then maybe they’ll toss a crumb of attention towards the TWOS.

Notice that the characteristics in the ME column resonate with a moving towards tendency while the characteristics in the NOT-ME column contain the energy of moving against (such as, destructive, heartless, and tough,) and moving away from (such as, stingy, aloof, and cold.)  TWOS have trouble connecting with these interpersonal movements because they’ve given them away to others.

For balance, TWOS shift to the high sides of the EIGHT and FOUR paradigms under relaxed and stressful conditions, respectively.  EIGHT energy tends to move against while FOUR energy tends to move away from.  To complement their own moving towards energy, TWOS can access in themselves these EIGHT and FOUR strategies.  But since they’ve given these approaches a bad reputation, they will probably feel uncomfortable about and resist going in those directions.

TWOS will want to befriend the angry, callous, selfish, needy parts of themselves and discover that it’s all right to set boundaries, say no, step back, and care for themselves.  This is the high side of the EIGHT paradigm.  They may have to re-label the selfish part of themselves as self caring, the inconsiderate part as independent, and the unavailable part as present to themselves.  The high side of the FOUR allows, even encourages, this search for thine own true self.  TWOS might find that their aloof, detached, uncaring qualities really do have a positive intention, which is to love themselves as much as they love others.

TWOS require an over-arching concept of themselves which encompasses both sides of their ME/NOT-ME polarity.  The expression “wounded healer” catches both dimensions as does “interdependent”, “mutual caring”, and “AC-DC” which means that the energy of the universe is an alternating current.  It flows back and forth, allowing both giving and receiving vs. “DC” direct current that only flows one way – outward.






Those characteristics that are congruent with the THREES’ self image are found in the ME column and those elements that are deemed incongruent are in the NOT ME list.


professional amateur
organized disorganized
productive idle
industrious lazy
successful failure
cheerleader wallflower
youthful stuffy
enthusiastic depressed
motivated bored
on the go slow motion
promoter wait and see
salesperson sit on the shelf
pragmatic head in the clouds
political unsavvy
upwardly mobile back water
efficient ineffective
competent inadequate
goal oriented disoriented
team player loner
popular geek
entrepreneur ambitionless
executive invisible follower
achieving nothing to show
important nobody
accomplished unfinished
looking good slob
self assured diffident
cutting edge outmoded
multi-tasking over-focused
bottom line bogged in trivia


One way to avoid failure is to project it onto others.  It’s not the THREES’ fault that the undertaking didn’t succeed; other people didn’t do their part.   THREES cast their own inefficiency and failure onto others, then find themselves surrounded by disorganized ineffective workers and lament:  “How can I soar with the eagles when I’m surrounded by a bunch of turkeys like you?”

When THREES engage in projection and projective identification, they find themselves surrounded by lazy, slow, unmotivated, inadequate failures such as ourselves.  It’s no wonder they are hesitant to take a day off and hand the corporation over to us.  There’s not much chance that anything will be accomplished or finished by this group of idle, ineffective, unambitious losers.

It’s also not surprising that THREES take over the reigns and become leaders, CEOs, managers, trend-setters.  Who else is going to do it?   Some disoriented diffident wallflower?  You can see why THREES become cheerleaders to get some life into us deadheads.  Or why they go into the motivational business to help us get our lives energized and desks organized.

THREES need to make friends with the slow, unpopular, shy person inside them.  They might discover that geeks are not so concerned about what other people think but are more passionate about their own pursuits.  Or they might find out that people who are lazy have time to enjoy themselves and their friends.  By slowing down, the smell of roses and coffee catches up to them.

The THREES’ paradigm gets balance and breadth by including the perspectives of Styles SIX and NINE.  The useful qualities of these other two approaches are buried under the debris of the NOT ME column.  When THREES dig for the positive intentions of the attributions in their shadow side, they find some of the strengths of the high sides of SIXES and NINES.

For example if you back off the exaggerated distortion found in over-focused and bogged in trivia, you find the SIXES’ attention to detail and nuances, their appreciation for the multiple consequences of their behavior, and the subsequent need for careful consideration and preparation before acting.  The SIXES’ prudence plus the THREES’ enthusiasm lead to effective action and goal-attainment.

Or if you query what’s good about being idle or in the backwater or sitting on the shelf  or being in slow motion, you might discover the NINES’ appreciation for being as well as doing, and the finish-line advantage of the tortoise over the hare.  But who would want to slow down if that means being bored and depressed?  On the other hand, if slowing down leads to feeling content and calm, that’s not so bad.

Also, if you ask which category is more in need of relationships, the ME or the NOT ME, it becomes clear that the NOT ME’s need people more than the successful, accomplished, upwardly mobile winners.  Ironically THREES believe that people will like them and want to relate to them only when they exhibit the characteristics under the ME column.  In fact they appear to not need relationships when they are so successful and self-sufficient and people are more likely to use them for their skills than connect with them for their friendship.

THREES could do with a comprehensive self-concept that includes both sides of their polarity.  While each person needs to fashion their own unique image of themselves, some starter suggestions might be: “capable and honest,” “charismatic tortoise,” “effective layperson,”  “relaxedly resourceful,” etc.





Some characteristics that fall into the FOURS’ self-image of ME and the opposite qualities that are buried in their shadow or NOT ME are the following.


romantic utilitarian
intuitive obtuse
symbolic concrete
artistic logical
creative stagnant
sensitive rough
original banal
refined crude
deep feeling shallow
intense dull
nostalgic here and now
authentic copy
special ordinary
dramatic matter of fact
ritualizing trivializing
aesthetic boorish
good taste crass
yearning having
melancholic light hearted
misunderstood easy to know
mysterious predictable
passionate pedestrian
unique common
introspective thoughtless
classy tasteless
spiritual mundane
exciting boring
imaginative literal-minded
elite trendy


Surrounded by rude, crude, unrefined, superficial boors like ourselves, no wonder FOURS feel like aristocrats in exile.  How could a bunch of tasteless, obtuse, crass commoners ever possibly understand them?  And who wouldn’t want to stay aloof from this crowd?   FOURS are understandably reluctant to cast their pearls before such swine.

Before FOURS can relate to us, they need to give us some culture, sophistication, elegance, and depth.  So you find FOURS performing or cultivating the arts or, at least, teaching manners to refine our brutish instincts.

FOURS need to get back in touch with their ordinariness.  It is their commonality with others that connects them to humanity.  Ordinary people don’t have to worry about fitting in or be so concerned about what other people think of them.  Paradoxically ordinary people can be themselves more easily than special people can.

Broadening their own perspective by accessing some ONE and TWO characteristics is a way FOURS can achieve equilibrium in their system.  Some of the qualities of the ONE and TWO styles can be found in the FOURS’ shadow, but they are framed in a way that does not encourage emulation.  Who wants to be matter-of fact, trivializing, and literal-minded?  On the other hand, being reality-oriented, sensitive to details, and exact are not bad traits to possess.  And this focused approach of the ONE style complements the FOURS’ intuitive and global perspective.  Being common, concrete, and shallow doesn’t sound too flattering.  However if you reframe those elements, you have the approachable, practical, all-encompassing empathy of the enlightened TWO.

FOURS tend to move away from situations and others.  They can be aloof and standoffish until they have a sense that others “get” them and don’t misunderstand them.  ONES tend to move against by critiquing the world and then moving in to fix it.  But FOURS may not want to channel their emotional reactions into behavioral actions if they think of ONES as being rough, crude, and boorish.  Instead of backing up, feeling overwhelmed, and being moved, FOURS need to focus their energy, take action, and do some moving as ONES are want to do.  TWOS tend to move toward others in affiliation and support.  If FOURS perceive TWOS as being common, concrete, and matter of fact, they may resist getting close to people through empathic, generous deeds.  On the other hand, when they experience that simple love brings about the very connectedness they are seeking, they won’t be so afraid of being ordinary.

What overarching self-image would allow FOURS to be both extraordinary and ordinary, so they can be inclusive of all the elements in both their ME and NOT ME boundaries?  Someone with elegant simplicity possesses both polarities.





 Some attributes that fit the FIVES’ idealized sense of themselves and their opposing shadow elements include the following:


wise foolish
observant inattentive
quiet loud
respectful intrusive
private transparent
concise garrulous
circumspect audacious
thoughtful impulsive
objective biased
cool hot
intellectual emotional
informed uninformed
contained out there
dispassionate passionate
complex simplistic
reflective active
synthetic myopic
undemonstrative gushy
removed available
reasonable romantic
thrifty generous
even-tempered impetuous
shy sociable
tweedy trendy
independent dependent
self-sufficient needy
pithy wordy
dry mushy
abstract concrete
polite pushy


It’s no wonder FIVES are quiet and reserved, surrounded as they are by loud, garrulous, biased louts.  And it’s not surprising that they are reluctant to speak up and ask for what they want.  What kind of conversations can you expect to have with uninformed, simplistic, myopic fools?  Time is more profitably spent in your room, reading a book.

Since FIVES are surrounded by hot-headed fools, they need to calm them down by reasoning with them, throwing cold water on them to put out their passions, or moving far enough away to get out of their reach.  FIVES might become professional teachers, researchers, therapists, mediators, or lone rangers.

Notice that FIVES’ feelings have been placed into the NOT ME zone and so are not very available to help them either move towards people in affection or move against others in assertion.  What’s left in the ME column are dispositions that help them move away from the world in a Spock-like logical manner.

Balance flows into the FIVES’ system when they connect with the resourceful features of the EIGHT and SEVEN styles.  But those resources are hidden beneath the repulsive wrappings FIVES have given them.  For example FIVES probably won’t want to shift to the EIGHT direction of moving against because then they’ll be audacious, loud, pushy, and impetuous.  Not much good will come from that.  On the other hand if they extract the precious minerals from the dross they’ve imagined, they can then be brave, articulate, assertive, and proactive.

And who would want to move in the direction of the SEVEN style if that meant looking foolish, garrulous, gushy, and out there?  On the other hand, moving towards doesn’t sound so bad if it’s phrased as serendipitous, sociable, affectionate, and explorative.

So FIVES need to get to know (and love) the passionate foolish little adventurer in them.  They need to befriend and embrace their inner idiot who doesn’t know everything and who feels afraid and sad and mad and glad.  In the original Greek and Latin, idios meant common (as in layperson) and ignorant (as in idiot). It also meant ones own (as in idiosyncratic).  How ironic that FIVES might find their real self and their connecting self by being an idios, a common fool, the condition they’re most trying to avoid.

FIVES need a synthesizing self-concept that incorporates both their thesis (ME) and antithesis (NOT-ME) characteristics.  A possibility is the “wise fool” or the “court jester,” the medieval trickster who could cleverly make observant, honest, and unflattering remarks to royalty and still come away with his or her head.  Being a “learner” allows FIVES to value knowing as well as not-knowing.  Or the notion of “researcher” gives FIVES room to gather as well as disseminate data, sharing what they have collected.





The characteristics in the following columns contrast the SIXES’ sense of what fits their idealized self-image and so is fostered (ME) with what is incongruent with their self-concept and so must be excluded (NOT ME).


cautious reckless
security seeking adventuresome
careful careless
traditional liberal
obedient rebellious
responsible irresponsible
sensible outrageous
God fearing hell raiser
faithful fickle
fearful brave
worrisome carefree
reliable unaccountable
respectful disrespectful
prudent immoderate
vigilant negligent
suspicious trusting
skeptical gullible
indecisive decisive
legal outlaw
dutiful delinquent
detailed unobservant
wary naive
hesitant impulsive
consistent inconsistent
orthodox unorthodox
loyal betrayer
cautious foolhardy
cooperative difficult
prepared ill-equipped
true blue ambiguous


Since SIXES’ fear has two faces, read the columns as they appear for Phobic SIXES, and reverse the columns for Counter-Phobic SIXES.  That is, what is ME for Phobic SIXES is NOT-ME for counter-phobic SIXES and vice versa.  To create further doubt and confusion, many SIXES say they recognize both Phobic and Counter-Phobic tendencies in themselves.  Consequently SIXES may vacillate between the two columns, keeping both themselves and their opponents off balance and off guard.

When SIXES project out their hostility, their inner rebel, and their desire for autonomy, they find themselves surrounded by a group of reckless, careless, irresponsible, delinquent, hell raising outlaws!  No wonder Fearful SIXES are wary of and want to contain this crowd of hellions. You either need to teach them the rules of the road, keep them closely monitored, or lock them up.   You certainly don’t want to let them out of your sight.  It’s not surprising that SIXES would become police officers, military personnel, IRS and CIA agents, probation officers, code inspectors, environmental protection agents, bishops, etc.

Fearful SIXES need to re-own some of their “rebellious” qualities.   They might discover that this allegedly aberrant part of them is really the internal forum of their conscience that is quite trustworthy and law-abiding.  They might also find some of the easy-going as well as the assertive parts of themselves secreted away in their shadow side.

Counter-Fearful SIXES, on the other hand, need to re-own some of their “orthodox” characteristics.  They might find that some outer authorities are trustworthy and are not so in need of provoking.  Staying with their fear instead of impulsively pushing through it, might prove more effective than getting over it as quickly as possible.  And being cooperative can sometimes lead to safety and security more reliably than being combative.

Counter-Fearful SIXES may have projected their own worrisomeness, wariness, and hesitancy onto their caretakers.  A fearful, cautious authority figure does not inspire trust.  Counter-Phobic SIXES may need to reframe these characteristics in themselves and in others as being “aware,” “discerning,” and “considerate.”

SIXES tend to move toward people if they assess them as being on their side.  It is difficult for SIXES to move away from others for then they might lose sight of their antagonists.  So while it might be relaxing and balancing for SIXES to naturally move to the NINES’ perspective under safe circumstances as the Enneagram suggests, they will probably be reluctant to do so if they construe this position to be ill-equipped, negligent, unaccountable, etc.  Before they allow themselves to experience the NINES’ strategy of moving away from, they may need to reframe it as “calmly attentive,” “sufficiently prepared” and “dependable.”

Under stressful conditions it is sometimes useful for SIXES to move to the THREE style to mobilize their assertive moving against energy and direct it confidently and single-mindedly (vs. interfered with by conflicts and doubts) toward their goals.  But if THREES are seen as reckless, outrageous, and a mixed bag of tricks, SIXES will understandably be reluctant to go there.  By making friends with their own aggressive energy, SIXES might project less of it out and so the world will seem less threatening.

SIXES need to enlarge their self-concept to include both their ME and NOT-ME elements.  Being a Devil’s Advocate allows them to be both on someone’s side and gives them permission to challenge others.  A conscientious objector can also be among the loyal opposition.






Some qualities that are included (ME) and excluded (NOT-ME) from the SEVENS’ sense of themselves are the following.


cheerful gloomy
optimistic pessimistic
enthusiastic flat
lively dull
playful serious
light-hearted heavy
spontaneous predictable
planner plodder
diversified stuck
bright dim
up down
entertaining boring
fascinated uninterested
positive negative
many possibilities limited
stimulating deadening
take flight pedestrian
joyful depressed
gregarious reserved
appreciative take for granted
funny humorless
adventurous afraid
inventive trapped
charming aloof
multi-talented modest
alert asleep
raconteur reticent
sensual repressed
resourceful at a loss
ingénue jaded


As SEVENS project unto others their unacceptable characteristics, they find themselves surrounded by boring, depressed, uninteresting, reserved, humorless plodders.  No wonder they have to spend so much time and energy cheering us up and no surprise they are so concerned about being bored, restricted and pulled down.  Who wouldn’t be, surrounded by such dour sourpusses?  The morose molasses-mired mob they have to live with would slow or bring anybody down.

It makes sense that SEVENS would become entertainers, cheer-er-uppers, inspirational gurus, etc.  SEVENS have poured their misery, sadness, and heaviness into people around them and now process their own pain by trying to relieve and lighten it in others.

So SEVENS need to find out what is good about being still, limited, dim, and dull.  Perhaps this allows others’ light or divine inspiration to shine into their darkness, a light they otherwise wouldn’t see because of their own brilliance.  Or they might come to appreciate the pleasures of still wine as much as the delights of effervescent champagne.

When the SEVENS’ psyche searches for balance, it naturally goes to the high side of the FIVE and ONE styles.  Some of the strengths of these styles can be found encrusted in the dross of their rejected characteristics.  For example, beneath the boring descriptives of reserved, aloof, reticent, and flat lie the FIVE dispositions of reflection, objective attitude, quiet, and level which balance the SEVENS’ bias toward impulsivity, pleasure, noise, and soaring.

And badmouthed as serious, predictable, and plodders are the ONES’ virtues of sobriety, responsibility, and stick-to-it-iveness which correct the SEVENS leaning towards gluttony, changeableness, and flight from projects that involve drudgery.

SEVENS are naturally attracted to and move towards the delights of the world.  Moving away or stepping back from a situation becomes difficult because they’ve projected away that movement and made it unappealing by labeling it depressed, stuck, aloof, etc.   SEVENS might find the FIVES’ virtue of non-attachment a useful counter-balance to their gluttonous addictions.

Moving against the situation doesn’t look too attractive, either, when you call it jaded, plodding, pedestrian, negative, etc.  The ONES’ tenacity in plowing ahead, staying the course, finishing the race are all helpful corrections to the SEVENS’ impulse to jump ship, change plans, and do something else in the face of adversity.

SEVENS need an over-arching concept of themselves that will allow them to honor both sides of their polarities – something like “grounded vitality,” “stand-up guru,” or “elevator” (that goes down as well as up).





Those characteristics that fit the EIGHTS’ self image of being powerful and capable fall within the ego realm of ME.   Characteristics that are antithetical or opposed to their self-image are placed outside their ego boundary and fall into the category of NOT- ME.


strong weak
independent dependent
blunt indirect
forceful indecisive
confident diffident
high energy phlegmatic
fair unjust
assertive submissive
leader follower
tough tender
hard soft
courageous cowardly
aggressive sissy
own person deferential
unlimited bounded
no nonsense beat around the bush
influential not listened to
street-wise taken advantage of
competent unresourceful
own person lackey
magnanimous mean
protector victim
self-directed other-directed
direct double-talk
stand up for rights wimpy
definite iffy
risk-taker avoider
fearless fearful
invincible vulnerable
tenacious quitter


When EIGHTS project onto others their unacceptable qualities, they find themselves surrounded by wimps with all the deficits in their NOT-ME column.  Given the attributes of these characters, it’s not surprising that EIGHTS are loath to hand over power to a group of soft, deferential, needy, unresourceful lackeys like us.  When it comes to taking over a conversation, a company, or a country, who is going to stop them?  Certainly not a bunch of sissy, fearful, deferential saps.  As P.T. Barnum said:  “There’s a sucker born every minute.”  So it’s not surprising that EIGHTS might presume to take advantage of submissive, manipulable, pushover followers.

When the EIGHTS’ spontaneous moving against approach broadens to get balance, it naturally includes the strengths and points of view of the TWO (moving towards) and FIVE (moving away from) paradigms.  This equilibrium becomes difficult when EIGHTS project away these trends and give them a bad reputation besides.  It’s hard to identify with the gifts of the TWO when you’ve disidentified with your own tenderness and softness.  And who wants to be like someone who is seen as weak, dependent, and otherdirected?

EIGHTS need to befriend the vulnerable, fearful little person in them instead of yelling at him or her to toughen up.  They then discover that when they are weak, they can experience the support of others and the strength of a higher power. They find that, ironically, when they are soft, tender, and dependent, people move close to them and want to be with them vs. running from the room in terror.  People who are aggressive, competent, and influential (those with characteristics in the EIGHTS’ ME column) don’t need relationships nearly as much as people who are wimpy, diffident, and powerless (those living in the EIGHTS’ NOT ME column).  On the other glove, as the heavyweight prizefighter Muhammad Ali once remarked: “The strongest person in the world is also the loneliest.”  Those who are followers don’t have to do everything alone.

Also, who wants to move away from or stand back to get perspective when that is labeled as diffident, fearful, or avoiding?  Judging FIVES from this frame of mind makes it difficult to recognize and identify with their gifts of discernment, prudence, and calm dispassion.

EIGHTS need to take advantage of their already expansive nature and broaden their self-concept even more to include their NOT ME as well as their ME characteristics.  They might think of themselves as being “fair lovers” or as “bringing justice in a velvet glove” or as being “just and compassionate” or a “servant leader” or “philosopher king or queen.”





 In the NINES’ style some qualities fit within their ego boundary (ME) and some characteristics don’t belong (NOT-ME).  For example:


content upset
laid back ambitious
comfortable edgy
calm hassled
peaceful warrior
open minded opinionated
blend in stand out
laissez faire pushy
low key intense
diplomatic judgmental
allowing controlling
accommodating demanding
unpretentious show off
patient frantic
live and let live change agent
go with the flow goal oriented
outer directed inner directed
inclusive exclusive
procrastinating timely
asleep alert
distracted focused
tolerant bigoted
mediator troublemaker
placid emotionally expressive
stable erratic
unpretentious flamboyant
ecumenical prejudiced
creature of habit unpredictable
enduring explosive
nice nasty


When NINES throw away their unacceptable parts, they find themselves surrounded by irritable, opinionated, harsh, demanding, impatient, pushy people.  No wonder they want to avoid conflict with us and no wonder they are slow to express their opinions or preferences.  What chance do you have being heard by a bunch of bigoted, edgy, judgmental troublemakers?  Or who would want to stir up this nest of hornets?

Notice how the NINES have deposited their anger and assertion into others thereby making these resources unavailable to themselves.  There is considerable focused energy in being alert, intense, ambitious, and goal oriented.  As NINES identify more and more with their moving away from, laid back, other oriented persona, they lose touch with their proactive inner director and change agent.  Yet these are the adaptive qualities of the moving against THREE style that NINES need for balance.  Also NINES place these characteristics in a bad light by seeing them as ambitious, pushy, frantic, etc.

They need to rediscover what is good about being opinionated and pushy.  For example, opinionated pushy people know what they want and go after it.  Perhaps these characteristics need to be relabeled as “single-minded” and “determined.”  That doesn’t sound so bad.

NINES are afraid they won’t be liked or tolerated if they are too intense or too demanding.  If they ask for what they want, they may upset the harmony of the universe.  In fact the cosmos is quite capable of honoring their active force as well as their passive force – even though their caretakers may have gotten anxious around their energy.

For balance NINES can also access the SIXES’ resourceful features.  But they will be reluctant to move in that direction if they perceive phobic SIXES as being bigoted and prejudiced and counter-phobic SIXES as edgy and explosive.  NINES need to get in touch with their affiliative tendencies and move towards the center of the group as opposed to drifting to the fringe and remaining marginally involved.

To embrace both sides of their polarities, NINES need to find an all-inclusive ecumenical self-image.  Perhaps they might think of themselves as being “peaceful warriors” or having “effortless purpose” or expressing “open minded opinions.”

[These and other suggestions can be found in Jerry Wagner’s book: Nine Lenses on the World: the Enneagram Perspective]



Enneagram Styles and Cyclical Psychodynamics: Irony of Ironies

by Jerome Wagner, Ph.D.

It’s always nice to discover that some of your ideas are not totally out in left field, not that there’s anything wrong with being in left field.  I was recently reading a wonderful book by Paul Wachtel on Therapeutic Communication (2011) where he discussed his concept of cyclical psychodynamics describing how our current interactions with others maintain our not so useful thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.  And, irony of ironies, the very behavior we employ to ward off the humiliations and contempt we experienced when younger, now bring about the very state of affairs we are trying to avoid.

Don’t be afraid of the phrase “cyclical psychodynamics” obscure as it may sound.  It expresses Wachtel’s upgrading of classical psychodynamics (which is an updating of Freud’s even more classical psychoanalysis.)  The old school said we learn patterns of interacting when we are very young and those patterns get set in stone (or rather in neurons).  They get isolated from new experiences and so don’t change with experience.  We are incarcerated babies in grown-up bodies.

Cyclical psychodynamics says we repeat those archaic patterns in our current relationships but do so in creative ways which are influenced by people we are currently interacting with.  So we can be stuck in our ways but experience can modify our manners.  We can re-wire our neural connections and interact in new, more effective ways.

Wachtel also explores cyclical psychodynamics in his earlier books Psychoanalysis, Behavior Therapy, and the Relational World (1997) and Relational Theory and the Practice of Psychotherapy (2008).

I was delighted to discover that I have been practicing cyclical psychodynamics without knowing it.  I’m reminded of the character in one of Moliere’s plays who was amazed to find that he was speaking prose all his life.

I wrote in my book Nine Lenses on the World (2010) about how our Enneastyle strategies are over-compensations for the maladaptive beliefs we may have about ourselves and others and how these defensive strategies actually bring about the very condition we are trying to avoid.  Voila!  Cyclical Psychodynamics.

Here are some extended quotes from Wachtel describing his theory.   After them I’d like to muse about how cyclical psychodynamics might work in each of the Enneagram styles.

Our defenses protect us from anxiety in the immediate moment, but increasingly they become a way of perpetuating the very state of vulnerability they were designed to quell…. Or, as family therapists sometimes put it, the solution becomes the problem.   (2008, pgs 218-19)

A chief characteristic of the circular patterns described by cyclical psychodynamic theory is irony. With surprising regularity, the situation that the patient ends up in is precisely the one he is trying to avoid; in many instances, he does not aim for the consequences he encounters; he produces them despite – yet because of – his vigorous efforts to prevent them. (2011, pg. 75)

The cyclical psychodynamic account of how we repeat problematic patterns does not typically posit an intention to reproduce the offending situation.  The intention, rather, is quite the opposite – to prevent the repetition.  The irony in what ensues lies in how, by the very act of carrying out that intention, the patient contributes to the outcome he is trying to avoid. (2011, pg. 76)

People live in contexts, and our behavior, both adaptive and maladaptive, is always in relation to someone or something….Understanding how people change requires understanding that in an odd way a neurosis is a joint activity, a cooperative venture of a most peculiar sort.  If one looks closely at the neurotic patterns in which the patient is entangled, one invariably finds that the maintenance of those patterns proceeds with the assistance of other people….To keep a neurosis going, one needs help.  Every neurosis requires accomplices….Indeed, it is only when one understands how others are drawn into the pattern as accomplices, how they are induced to interact in ways that confirm neurotic expectations and perceptions, that one appreciated fully both the depth of the patient’s dilemma and what is required to bring about change.  (2011, pg. 77)

The people who play the role of accomplice in our lives are not necessarily malicious; most often they are not even aware that they are playing such a role.  But their participation is crucial.  Focus in the therapeutic work on how patients induce others to play a complementary role in their neuroses is in many instances the key element in understanding how the patient’s difficulties are perpetuated….The process whereby others are continually recruited into a persisting maladaptive pattern is the neurosis.  (2011, pgs. 77-78)

The kind of experiences we have early in life, and our way of dealing with these experiences, strongly influences what further experiences we will encounter, as well as how we perceive those experiences and how we deal with them.

For example, the two-year-old who has developed an engaging and playful manner is far more likely to evoke friendly interest and attention on the part of adults than is the child who is rather quiet and withdrawn.  The latter will typically encounter a less rich interpersonal environment, which will further decrease the likelihood that he will drastically change.   Similarly, the former is likely to continually learn that other people are fun and are eager to interact with him; and his pattern, too, is likely to become more firmly fixed as he grows.  Further, not only will the two children tend to evoke different behavior from others, they will also interpret differently the same reaction from another person.  Thus, the playful child may experience a silent or grumpy response from another as a kind of game and may continue to interact until perhaps he does elicit an appreciative response.  The quieter child, not used to much interaction, will readily accept the initial response as a signal to back off.

If we look at the two children as adults, we may perhaps find the difference between them still evident: one outgoing, cheerful, and expecting the best of people; the other rather shy, and unsure that anyone is interested.  A childhood pattern has persisted into adulthood.  Yet we really don’t understand the developmental process unless we see how, successively, teachers, playmates, girlfriends, and colleagues have been drawn in as “accomplices” in maintaining the persistent pattern.  And, I would suggest, we don’t understand the possibilities for change unless we realize that even now there are such “accomplices,” and that if they stopped playing their role in the process, it would be likely eventually to alter.  (1997, pg. 52)

How (other people) behave toward us is very much influenced by how we behave toward them, and hence by how we initially perceive them.  Thus, our initial (in a sense distorted) picture of another person can end up being a fairly accurate predictor of how he or she will act toward us; because, based on our expectation that that person will be hostile, or accepting, or sexual, we are likely to act in such a way as to eventually draw such behavior from the person and thus have our (initially inaccurate) perception “confirmed.”  Our tendency to enter the next relationship with the same assumption and perceptual bias is then strengthened, and the whole process likely to be repeated again.  (1997, pg. 54)

My own observations are similar: ironically our defensive Enneastyle tactics often bring about the very thing we fear and are trying to avoid.  The following is a summary of:

  • what each Enneagram style values
  • what they are particularly sensitive to (the tender underside of what they value and where an early wounding may have occurred)
  • their protective strategy
  • how they might go about eliciting “accomplices” to validate their perceptions
  • how their defensive strategy brings about and repeats the very situation they are trying to avoid.

Style One:

     Valuing being good and taking pride in being right, ONES are especially sensitive to criticism and being told they are wrong.  Their perfectionist style is a way of assuring they won’t be criticized.  You can’t criticize them if they’re perfect or blame them as long as they’re trying really hard.

Ironically the very maneuvers ONES engage in to avoid being criticized and to avoid being wrong, bring about their being criticized.

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

If you anticipate being wrong (or wronged), your defenses will attempt to prove that you are right and the other person is incorrect.  This will provoke others into defending themselves by demonstrating they are right and you are wrong.  When you pull others into your right-wrong filter and insist on being right, others will react to prove you wrong.  Your superego takes on their superego and the contest of who is right and who is wrong is begun.

If ONES anticipate that others will have high expectations of them and will be critical and rejecting of them when they don’t come up to those standards, they will subtly maneuver others to be critical of them, appointing their judges.  They will interpret others’ responses as attacks and their righteousness will rise up, proving they are right and others are mistaken.  ONES will then feel resentful that they can never get it right enough and never satisfy others’ expectations.

Style Two:

Valuing relationships and taking pride in being loving and generous, TWOS are easily hurt by rejection and by a lack of attention and appreciation shown them.  They are sensitive to feeling useless and unneeded.  Their rescuing style is an attempt to gain recognition, gratitude, and acceptance and to make themselves necessary and important in the lives of others.

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

If your worth depends on helping, you need to solicit helpees.  If you want to be indispensable, then dependent people might be willing accomplices.  You would reinforce their dependency by serving them and they will simultaneously reinforce your self-image as a helper.

However others might not want to turn down a TWO’s offer of help because they know it would disappoint TWOS, hurt their self-image, and may elicit a pouting indignant response.  So others say “yes” when they don’t really want help and then they don’t appreciate the TWO’s help and don’t say “Thank you.”    This then aggravates the TWO’s schema that people don’t appreciate them enough and so they try harder to please.  Thus a vicious circle is established.

Or you may try to solicit an EIGHT or a FIVE to be an accomplice which would be disastrous since neither will admit to needing your help.  Rejection now!

If you can’t find genuinely needy people, you will need to create them – which is what advertising is all about.  You need to convince others that they have problems and you have solutions.  If you get too many customers, you may not be able to deliver because your to-do or, rather, to-help list is too full.  You might then feel worthless – which is the very thing you are trying to avoid.

Style Three:

Valuing success and taking pride in their accomplishments, THREES are hurt by rejection and failure.  Their achieving style is an attempt to be successful and to maintain relationships through performing and doing for others. Their concern about image and looking good has to do with getting people to admire them.

If you need to be successful to feel worthwhile, then you need to perform so others will applaud you.  You have to create an approving audience, either in your head or in your theater.  Groupies are usually easy enough to find.  But do they admire your performance and appearance instead of you?  Or do they bask in your accomplishments to feel good about themselves?  Have you manipulated admiration from them?

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

THREES promote their accomplishments and then get praised for their successes thereby reinforcing this pattern.  Others aren’t offered an opportunity to interact with the THREES’ authentic self.  Also others are usually only given the opportunity to respond to THREES positive achievements and not to anything negative or inefficient in them.  Success is rewarded; failure is distained.  Ironically THREES want to avoid failure but end up feeling like failures as real persons in real relationships.

Style Four:         

Valuing relationships and belonging and taking pride in being special, FOURS are easily hurt by feeling abandoned, left out, or going unnoticed.  They are prone to feeling flawed, undesirable, and unwanted.  Their style of being special is an attempt to get others to notice them and keep others connected to them.  Or, at least, I will make such an impression on you, that you will never forget me.

FOURS feel misunderstood and fear being abandoned.  To play out their fears, FOURS need to audition people for their drama.  They set up an accordion relationship where they pull others in, then push them away.  Both longing for intimacy and fearing it, FOURS entice then rebuff their companions.  This “come here; go away,” “I hate you; don’t leave me” confuses others, leaving FOURS feeling misunderstood.  The FOURS’ Sturm und Drang eventually becomes too much for the antagonist who then leaves the relationship.

FOURS’ attempts to be special bring about the very situation they dread: being abandoned.  An overly sensitive, refined, precious, entitled, easily misunderstood disposition generally brings about misunderstanding and distancing instead of empathy and connection.  This confirms their maladaptive schema of being unlovable.

To validate their fears of being abandoned, FOURS need to select people who will abandon them.  They can find people who are unavailable or who have an avoidant personality.  They will eventually leave FOURS just as they’d leave anybody else.  If FOURS have something of an ambivalent attachment pattern themselves, they might doubt that people would want to be with them and then cling to others or demand that they be with the FOUR.  Either of those strategies, clinging or claiming, will probably bring about what they fear most: being left.  Like all of our defensive strategies, FOURS regrettably get what they ask for.

Style Five:          

Valuing privacy and their own personal space, and taking pride in their knowledge and understanding, FIVES are easily spooked by being invaded, having demands and expectations put on them, being deprived, belittled, or ridiculed.  Their knowing and loner style is an attempt to ward off intrusions, be self-sufficient, and avoid looking foolish.

FIVES don’t want to look foolish, be intruded or encroached upon, be smothered, or be emptied.  Being socially awkward and avoiding others may lead to FIVES’ looking odd.  By moving away from instead of against, FIVES bring about the very thing they fear: being put upon.  If you are sensitive to demands being put on you, then not saying “no” or assertively setting limits will probably lead to demands being put on you because you offer no resistance.  Just disappearing may lead to others tracking you down.  By not being assertive and setting boundaries, others may not get that they aren’t welcome until FIVES freeze them out or disappear.  By not saying “no,” FIVES give up the possibility of later saying “yes.”

Keeping quiet and withdrawing provokes intruding and projecting behavior from others.  Nature abhors a vacuum, so people move into the space vacated.

If your concern is that others are not interested in what you have to say, not saying anything will probably lead to people not listening to you, since you’re not speaking.  Or you can be so pedantic that people don’t know what the hell you are talking about and so lose interest.

Being silent can either be interpreted as: “She must be thinking something brilliant;” or “He must have nothing to say.”  The latter confirms the belief that others are uninterested and FIVES have nothing to offer them.

Paradoxically the FIVES’ defensive strategy brings about what they are tying to avoid.  And if FIVES’ deep down desire is for intimacy, like every other human, then hiding out in their room or keeping people at arms’ length are probably not the ideal behaviors to bring about closeness.

Style Six:

Valuing fidelity, consistency, and security and taking pride in being loyal, SIXES are scared by perceived threats and challenges.  They are vulnerable to being caught off guard and to others’ misuse of authority.   Their phobic style (loyal and dependent) or counter-phobic style (rebellious and independent) are two sides of the same coin which seeks to purchase safety and security.

SIXES fear being hurt, caught off guard, invaded by unfriendly forces (people or germs), or getting caught breaking the law

By appearing fearful (phobic SIXES) or by threatening others (counter-phobic SIXES) SIXES may invite attack either from predators looking for a victim or from innocent bystanders wondering why they are being confronted. An overly-fearful strategy might encourage others to take advantage of you, the very thing you are trying to avoid.  A counter-phobic attacking approach might provoke others to attack or challenge you, the situation you are attempting to avoid.

Anxiety can be contagious.  Children can catch if from their parents. Or think of mass hysteria where bystanders catch it from each other.  By infecting others with their anxiety, SIXES intensify and spread their fear that the world is dangerous.

A suspicious paranoid attitude generally elicits hostile or plotting behavior from others.  Thinking that people are talking behind your back usually leads to their talking behind your back.  This confirms the maladaptive schema that the world is a dangerous place and is out to get you.

Starting off with the belief that there are only two sides — those that are on your side and those that are against you – customarily creates two embattled sides: your friends and your enemies. Part of SIXES’ auditioning process is to assess who’s for them and who’s against them.  And, ironically, this friend/foe dichotomy generates enemies, perpetuating the drama that the world is perilous.

Style Seven:

Valuing enjoyment, freedom, and variety and taking pride in being upbeat and resourceful, SEVENS are brought down by having their options limited.  They are wounded by having their balloons burst, parades rained on, and parties pooped.  Their sunny-side-up style is an attempt to stay on the high side of life and to experience as much as life has to offer.

SEVENS fear boredom and having their options limited.  By constantly seeking novelty and new experiences, SEVENS wear out their companions who seek to rest – which SEVENS interpret as being tiresome.  SEVENS’ restlessness brings about the very thing they fear: inactivity.  Initially SEVENS might be attracted to grounded stable individuals whom they will eventually find to be tedious, staid, B-O-R-I-N-G.

SEVENS want to be up.  Because the universe and human systems seek balance, the more bubbly SEVENS become, the more others become still.  The yin of optimism flows into the yang of pessimism, eventually leading to the resolution of realism.  But SEVENS may release their tether to reality long before balance wins out.  Ironically constantly seeking novelty becomes tedious and limiting.

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 SEVENS’ maladaptive fear that others are going to rain on their parade, and pop their balloons.

A fear of being limited or ensnarled may paradoxically lead to being tied down to always having to change.  If others can’t keep up with your flights of fancy and adventures, you might find yourself alone and bored and experiencing the very condition you are trying to avoid: FOMO, the Fear of Missing Out.

Style Eight:        

Valuing justice and autonomy and taking pride in being strong, EIGHTS are particularly irked by being neglected, being unjustly treated, and feeling powerless.   Their powerful style is their way of being in charge and guaranteeing they will be heard and won’t feel weak or be taken advantage of.

EIGHTS fear being weak and vulnerable.  Ironically being strong leaves them weak because by being super independent, they forego the support of others and no man (or woman) is an island.  When Paul the epistle-writer wrote: “When I am weak, then I am strong,” his weakness made room for Yahweh’s strength.  Dictators eventually get toppled and in the meantime live in fear of being felled.  Humiliating others and intimidating them eventually lead to uprising and retaliation.  Cooperation leads to cooperation.  A lack of trust in others leaves one alone and vulnerable.

Aggressive stances and behaviors, while intending to instill fear in others, can just as likely elicit aggressive behavior in others.  On the playground the less strong frequently try to fight the more strong as a way of proving themselves.  This helps confirm the EIGHTS’ belief that the world is hostile.

In order to clear the air, EIGHTS invite others to step into their ring and duke it out. Their belief is that anger reveals who the other really is.  It might also lead to the EIGHTS’ being knocked out, though this is not in their playbook.

If you have the belief that people are unfair and abusive, then you will tend to interpret people’s actions toward you as unjust and punishing and you will react in an aggressive manner which could elicit either a flight response (they are afraid of you) or fight response (they want to beat you, literally or figuratively).

If you want to be in relation with others, then scaring them into submission by intimidation may not be the best approach for establishing mutual intimate relationships.

Style Nine:

Valuing unity and harmony and taking pride in being settled, NINES are especially wary of, and torn apart by conflict.   They are easily hurt by neglect.  Their relaxed, resigned style is an attempt to defend against feeling uncared for (“It doesn’t matter”) and having to assert themselves “All will be well”).

NINES fear conflict and anger.  Ironically by avoiding conflict they ultimately bring it about.  Their passivity leads to reactivity in others.  NINES’ indifference either brings about confrontation or neglect – the two things NINES don’t want.  Systems seek balance.  Inaction invites over-action.

NINES believe the universe is uncaring about their needs and so they settle for whatever they can get.  However if they don’t know what they need and don’t express their needs, others won’t realize what they want or will assume they don’t have any particular needs and so will overlook them.  The NINES’ strategy for avoiding conflict brings about one of the things they anticipate: their needs not being met.

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.

If you start out saying it doesn’t matter and settling for whatever you can get, others may not give you much and you will feel uncared for.  If you stay in the background, echoing the Five’s motto of “When in doubt, hide out,” people won’t notice you, thus confirming your belief that people overlook you.  Your genuine human needs lie near the core of who you are.  Expressing what you want sustains relationships; it doesn’t destroy them or rend the fabric of the universe.

Cyclical psychodynamics theorizes how we keep our old not-so-satisfying interactions going.  Neurosis is not just doing the same thing over and over, thinking something new will happen.  Neurosis also involves auditioning accomplices to keep our narrative playing.  This is usually done out of everyone’s awareness.  Recognizing how we keep our drama on the road gives us an opportunity to end the long and not-so-successful run or at least to alter the lines and ending.

The Enneagram shows how this process proceeds in nine different players.  With the benefit of awareness, we can revise our script and rewire our neurons, thus allowing the show to go on and prosper.  And that’s no irony.


Wachtel, P. (1997). Psychoanalysis, behavior therapy, and the relational world. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.

Wachtel, P. (2008). Relational theory and the practice of psychotherapy.  New York: Guilford Press.

Wachtel, P. (2011). Therapeutic communication, 2nd ed.  New York: Guilford Press.

Wagner, J. (2010). Nine lenses on the world: the Enneagram perspective. Evanston, IL: NineLens Press.