There are two overlapping parts to the shape. There is a central equilateral triangle, containing points 3-6-9. The other shape, the hexad, is a sort of twisted hexagon containing points 1-4-2-8-5-7. There is a gap at the bottom, between 5 and 4. If you divide the shape in half by drawing a line down the middle, point 9 is the only point that doesn’t have a mirror-image partner (because it is on the line). Each of the three triangle points is surrounded by two hexad points.
The arrows (not always shown) form two closed loops, counterclockwise around the triangle (9->6->3->9) and circulating both ways around the hexad. The hexad cycle flows around the points (1->4->2), then moves to the left side (2->8), which it flows around once (8->5->7), then moves back to the right side (7->1).
The enneagram’s structure reflects deeper aspects of the system and its metaphysical roots. Each detail is significant to a full understanding, but the structural relationships will not be fully explored here. Riso, Naranjo, and Bennett (among others) have written excellent books (listed in the references) about the deep structure of the system.
a cycle within a process
The central triangle is the foundation of the shape. The hexad represents a further development of the basic theme that the triangle expresses. The triangle represents the three functions of actions, emotions, and intellect, as well as a cycle of development that is always present in interactive, self-preserving, evolving processes. The hexad points are intermediate aspects.
Since human beings and human societies are interactive, self-preserving, evolving processes, the enneagram is a useful model that can help us understand our own evolution. We can learn to see relationships and interactions that were invisible before. The nine most fundamental aspects of directed processes are precisely the areas of near-miraculous expertise of the nine enneagram types, when they are at their best.
The nine types fall naturally into three groups called triads, each one centered on one of the triangle numbers. Within each triad, there are three variations on the triad’s theme, differing in the way that attention towards the triad’s primary issues is directed. One type focuses attention primarily outward, at the world. A second type focuses primarily inward, and a third type tends to detach from attention to the type’s issues.
The types eight, nine, and one contain people whose primary traps and talents have to do with control and action. This is the body or action triad (sometimes called the gut or instinct triad). Eight is about outward control, and the masterful talent of personal power. Nine is about freedom within action, and the healing talent of peace. One is about inward control, and the wise talent of knowing and doing what is right.
The types two, three, and four contain people whose primary traps and talents have to do with emotions. This is the heart or feeling triad. Two is about outward emotions, and the loving talent of generosity. Three is about freedom within emotions, and the magnificent talent of accomplishment. Four is about inward emotions, and the compassionate talent of finding and expressing deep meaning.
The types five, six, and seven contain people whose primary traps and talents have to do with thoughts. This is the head or thinking triad. Five is about inward thought, and the magical talent of direct insight. Six is about freedom within thought, and the miraculous talent of brotherhood. Seven is about outward thought, and the joyful talent of deep gratitude.
names by various authors
Here are some of the names that authors have given the nine types. Can you detect a certain flavor among all the names given to each type?
CN: Angry Virtue
RR: The Need to be Perfect
CN: Egocentric Generosity
RR: The Need to be Needed
CN: Success through Appearances
RR: The Need to Succeed
HP: Tragic Romantic
WC: Symbol Maker
CN: Seeking Happiness Through Pain
RR: The Need to be Special
CN: Seeking Wholeness Through Isolation
RR: The Need to Perceive
HP: Devil’s Advocate
CN: Persecuted Persecutor
RR: The Need for Security/Certainty
CN: Opportunistic Idealism
RR: The Need to Avoid Pain
CN: Coming on Strong
RR: The Need to be Against
CN: “Going With The Stream”
RR: The Need to Avoid
(Key to abbreviations: DR = Don Richard Riso, HP = Helen Palmer, HD = Hurley & Dobson, WC = William Callahan, CN = Claudio Naranjo, RR = Richard Rohr. Books by all of these authors are listed in the references.)
avoid generic type-names
Are the names well-chosen? Do they reflect the real complexity of the people they label? Use the names as a way of getting the flavor of the types, but then please forget them as quickly as possible and learn to recognize the numbers directly.
Applying nine broad labels tends to limit our conception of what each primary type is like. Are all fours artists? Are all eights leaders? There is so much diversity within each of the nine primary types that no single name can evoke more than a tiny fraction of the subtypes included.
Next in Enneagram 101: levels of inner balance
Previous in Enneagram 101: some common questions
…or return to contents.