Imagine that the enneagram is a continuous, circular spectrum, like a color wheel. Around the edge of the wheel, the nine primary personality flavors blend into each other as smoothly as the colors of the spectrum, with as many infinite shadings. Each of us lives somewhere on the edge of the wheel. Since there are far more places to be that are between two primary points than right on top of one of them, almost everyone’s personality is a blend of two adjacent primary types.
The primary type that is closer to your position on the wheel is called your basic type. Its flavor is the most clearly visible in the personality. The more distant type, which is less influential, is called the wing. The wing can be heavy, light, or even nearly invisible. Some people live so close to one of the primary points that it is hard to tell what the wing is. Some people have such strong wings that it is hard to tell which is their basic type and which is their wing.
Because the enneagram is like a continuous spectrum, the basic type and the wing will naturally be two adjacent types. Someone can be a one with a nine-wing or a one with a two-wing, but not both. The distinction between the two subtypes can be subtle and sometimes difficult to spot, but it is important, since the wing supplies personality traits that are critical for growth.
not everyone agrees about the wings
Some people don’t see the wings this way. They see the types much more discretely, saying that someone’s type is flavored equally by both of the adjacent types. They say that we all must develop both of our wings if we are to grow and transcend.
Decide for yourself which view you feel is correct. Look at your friends, colleagues, family, and at characters in movies and on TV. See if you can see the different flavors of the wings.
enneagram type notation
Here is a shorthand for enneagram types. If someone is a five with a four-wing, then we can write 5/4, or we can say “five four.” Six with a five-wing would be 6/5. We can also say “3=4” for someone exactly half way between 3 and 4, and “pure 4” for a four whose wings are of equal strength. Note: Riso likes to write “5w4” where I would write “5/4”. I just find the “w” hard to read. Sorry, Don!
another kind of subdivision
Is there a further dimension to this picture? Some people make another division in which each type comes in three subflavors called social, sexual, and self-preserving. Read what Helen Palmer and others have written about the three subtypes and see for yourself whether the subtypes exist, through direct experience. Are the types and wings further differentiated into social, sexual, and self-preserving sub-subtypes?
Next in Enneagram 101: intro to type descriptions
Previous in Enneagram 101: integration and disintegration
…or return to contents.