A Directional Theory of the Enneagram [SOURCE]
This originally appeared in the Enneagram Monthly, Jan 2000.
The version below is revised and updated.
The Enneagram explains much about behavior. But what explains the Enneagram? Why are there 9 types, and not some other number? What are the first principles that define the types? Why do the lines of integration and disintegration point the way they do? How does the Enneagram relate to basic psychological ideas, such as emotions and motivations? Currently, there is no widely accepted theory that answers these simple questions. This article proposes a two-dimensional extension of Karen Horney's triad that may shed light on some of these questions, though many questions remain. This 2-dimensional structure is surprisingly good at generating the traits of the 9 types from first principles, and can also explain most of the lines of integration. This article also highlights the connection between the Enneagram and basic motivations, whereas most 3x3 theories do not.
In 1945, the psychoanalyst Karen Horney proposed three personality categories, which were later used to categorize the Enneagram types. Horney described aggressive, withdrawn, and compliant personality types, which move against, away from, or toward the environment. This triad may have a biological root: aggression, withdrawal, and compliance are probably related to the fight, flight, or submit behaviors observed in a wide range of animals. However, Horney's triad cannot fully describe the Enneagram. For example, types 5, 4, and 9 all withdraw, but for different underlying reasons. The 9 withdraws to avoid conflicts with others, creating an illusion of peaceful unity with others. The 4 withdraws for a different reason - to enhance their feelings of uniqueness and emotional individuality. Finally, the 5 withdraws to consolidate their sense of mental control over the world. In other words, the 9's behavior moves away from others, but the purpose of this avoidance is actually to seek unity and belonging, a movement toward others. In contrast, the 5's withdrawal masks an underlying desire for control, which moves against the environment, while the Four withdraws to examine their inner selves, an ultimate goal that moves further away from the environment. Thus, withdrawn behaviors can mask three underlying motivations, which also move against, away, or toward the environment. Continuing this analysis for all 9 types leads to an unusually elegant 3 x 3 arrangement of the nine types. Figure 1 shows this arrangement (see Figure 1):
Figure 1: The surface and deep directions of the Enneagram compulsions
By now, there are many 3 x 3 theories in the Enneagram literature, all somewhat different from each other. Figure 1 is also different from the other theories as far as I know, although it is most closely related to the 3 x 3 theory of Hurley and Dobson (What's My Type, 1993, pp. 92-3). My work exchanges types 7 and 1 from theirs, and reinterprets both of the component triads as being Hornevian in structure, with one triad related to short-term drives, while the other triad relates to long-term drives.
The surface, short-term compulsions:
Horney did not distinguish between short and long-term motivations, but her descriptions are closer to what I consider to be short-term motivations. These are the more consciously accessible drives, and they describe the tactics used to reach one's more long-term goals. Horney's original triad was later re-interpreted by Hurley and Donson as describing one's approach to dealing with obstacles. I have further interpreted this triad as being related to emotional tendencies. Hence, the confronting types 8, 1, and 3 are the ones prone to the negative emotions of anger and competition, which move against others. These types pursue their long-term goals by directly changing the environment. Conversely, the embracing types 2, 7, and 6 are the ones prone to the positive emotions of affection and appreciation, which move toward other people or objects. Instead of eliminating obstacles, they prefer to change them into friends or allies. If the obstacles are people, their prefer to use charm or seduction, to defusing a hostile person rather than attack them. Finally, the withdrawn types 5, 4, and 9 are prone to detaching their emotions from the environment. This does not mean they lack feelings - just that their feelings do not translate into effective action quickly. Figure 2 summarizes the polarity of the surface triad on a continuum, with the against and toward types at opposite extremes:
Figure 2: Polarity of the against-away-toward triad
Reversing types 7 and 1
The prevailing convention considers the 7 to be aggressive, while the 1 is compliant. However, I think this is based on inconsistent usages of the terms aggressive and compliant. For example, the term "compliant" connotes passive obedience to an outside force, whereas I have renamed the "compliant" group as the "embracing" group, to describe this group's actively and energetic movement toward their environment. In this light, the 7 is clearly an "embracing" type, because 7s, like 2s and 6s, embrace people or objects around them, with a tendency to become dependent on them and to develop anxieties about being deprived of them. Of course, 7s may seem aggressive because they fight against external limits, but this is secondary to their search for happiness, and most 7s prefer working around obstacles, e.g. "turning lemons into lemonade", rather than destroying them. As for type 1, this type is usually considered compliant because they are compliant to their ideals. But in this sense, every type is compliant to something - the 8 is compliant to their need for power, the 5 to their need to understand the world, etc.
To be consistent, we must consider the mindís relation to the environment, not the relation of one part of the mind to another. In this sense, the 1's desires to change, reform, and correct are clearly movements against the environment, particularly against elements that are wrong, disorganized, unfair, etc.
The deep compulsion describes subconscious long-term motivations
In my view, the deep triad has the same against-away-toward structure as the surface triad, but operates over a longer time frame. Hence, the deep compulsion controls the ultimate purpose of the surface behaviors, and exerts considerable power over oneís life. These deeper desires are buried deeper in the subconscious, and are more difficult to appreciate. I suggest the following intuitive names for this triad: I call types 2, 5, and 8 (moving against) the "power-seekers", who seek a sense of control over the world, while the 7, 4, and 1 (moving away) are the "ideal-seekers", pursuing their inner inspirations, and the 3, 6, and 9 (moving towards) are the "approval-seekers", seeking a sense of belonging. Each of these compulsions is a source of energy that carries particular strengths and weaknesses. The power-seekers have the strongest inner wills, making them self-reliant but also tending to become possessive and territorial over people (2 and 8) or knowledge (5). In contrast, the approval-seekers are best able to adapt and fit into society, but may also become persons entirely defined by that society. The 3, 6, and 9 feel most comfortable doing things that are already sanctioned by their peer group. Finally, the ideal-seekers have the strongest inner imaginations, which can see beyond their immediate time and place toward universal truths, ideals, and beauty. However, their detachment may also make them self-absorbed in an unrealistic fantasy world. The deep triad is summarized in Figure 3.
Many authors, have described the deep triad using different terminology. Hurley and Donson gave particularly detailed descriptions of this triad in their book "Whatís My Type". As far as I can tell, they are the first writers to describe this triad within the Enneagram community. Riso and Hudson use this triad to describe types that over-express, under-express, or are out of touch with their centers. My contribution to this triad is to describe its goal-seeking quality, its long-term nature, and point out its close relationship to the more well-known Hornevian triad. It is my hope that my interpretation can help expand on prior descriptions. For example, Hurley and Donson have noted that the 3, 6, and 9 take a "mediating" approach to life, while Riso and Hudson note that these types are most "out of touch" with feeling, thinking, and doing. But these descriptions don't explain why these types mediate, or are out of touch with themselves. I would argue that the desire for approval can explain both of these traits: seeking approval automatically requires adapting to become what others want, thereby losing touch with what one wants oneself.
Types Direction Motivation Strengths Weaknesses
2 5 8 Against Power-seeking Inner will, fighting spirit Authoritarianism, possessiveness
7 4 1 Away Ideal-seeking Passion for universal truths and higher ideals Self-absorption, fantasy world mentality
6 9 3 Toward Approval-seeking Likeability, ability to harmonize with life. Living life defined by others