While learning about the Enneagram, many people misunderstand or otherwise overlook the importance of the triads. Keeping this information in mind can help one understand how the enneagram types are linked and how they differ.
THE INSTINCTIVE TRIAD
While all of the types employ ego boundaries, the Eight, Nine, and One do so for a particular reason – they are attempting to use their will to affect the world without being affected by it. They try to influence their environment, to remake it, control it, hold it back, without having their sense of self influenced by it. To put this differently, all three of these types resist being influenced by reality in different ways. They try to create a sense of wholeness and autonomy by building a “wall” between what they consider self and not self, although where these walls are varies from type to type and from person to person.
In Type Eight the ego boundary is primarily focused outward, against the environment. The focus of attention is also outward. The result is an expansiveness and an outpouring of the Eight’s vitality into the world. Eights are constantly putting out energy so that nothing can get too close and hurt them. Their whole approach to life is as if they were saying, “Nothing’s going to get the upper hand on me. No one is going to get through my defenses and hurt me. I’m going to keep my guard up.” The more wounded an Eight is from childhood, the thicker the ego boundary, and the tougher they are going to make it for others to get through to them.
Type One individuals also hold a boundary against the outside world, but they are far more invested in maintaining their internal boundary. All of us have aspects of ourselves that we do not trust or approve of that makes us feel anxious and that we want to defend ourselves from. Ones expend enormous amounts of energy trying to hold back certain unconscious impulses, trying to keep them from getting into consciousness. It is as if Ones were saying to themselves, “I don’t want that feeling! I don’t want to have that reaction or that impulse!” They create a great deal of physical tensions to maintain their inner boundaries and hold aspects of their own inner nature at bay.
Type Nine, the central type in the Triad (the type positioned on the equilateral triangle), tries to hold their ego boundaries in both areas, internal and external. In the internal realm, Nines do not want certain parts of themselves just as Ones do, suppressing powerful instinctive drives and emotions. At the same time, Nines maintain a strong ego boundary against the outside world so that they will not be hurt, like Eights. They often engage in passive-aggressive behaviors and turn a blind eye to whatever threatens their peace. It is no wonder that Nines report that they often feel fatigued, because it takes a tremendous amount of their vitality to maintain these boundaries, it is not available for living and engaging more fully in the world.
• Each of these types has problems with aggression. Eights tend to act out rage, Nines tend to deny it, and Ones tend to repress it.
• The Instinctive Triad is about maintaining a sense of self.
• These types are concerned with the resulting aspects of the present.
THE FEELING TRIAD
The three types of the Feeling Triad are primarily concerned with the development of a self-image. They compensate for a lack of deeper connection with the Essential qualities of the heart by erecting a false identity and becoming identified with it. They then present this image to others (as well as to themselves) in the hope that it will attract love, attention, approval, and a sense of value.
The major themes in this Triad involve identity issues (“Who am I?”) and problems with hostility (“I hate you for not loving me in the way I want!”). Because Twos, Threes, and Fours unconsciously know what their identity is not an expression of who they really are, they respond with hostility whenever their personal-identity is not validated. Hostility serves both to deflect people who might question or devalue this identity, and to defend these types against deeper feelings of shame and humiliation.
Type Two is looking for value in the good regard of others. Twos want to be wanted; they try to obtain favorable reactions by giving people their energy and attention. Twos look for positive responses to their overtures of friendliness, help, and goodness in order to build up their own self-esteem. The focus of their feelings is outward, on others, but as a result, they often have difficulty knowing what their own feelings are telling them. They also frequently feel unappreciated, although, as much as possible, they must conceal the hostile feelings that this generates.
Type Four is the opposite: their energy and attention go inward to maintain a self-image based on feelings, fantasies, and stories from the past. Their personality-identity centers on being “different,” being unlike anyone else, and as a result, they often feel estranged from people. Fours tend to create and sustain moods rather than allow whatever feelings are actually present to arise. Less healthy Fours often see themselves as victims and prisoners of their pasts. They believe that there is no hope of being another way because of all the tragedies and abuses that have befallen them. This is also their way of eliciting attention and pity from others and, hence, some degree of validation.
Type Three, the central type of this Triad (the type positioned on the equilateral triangle), directs attention and energy both inward and outward. Like Twos, Threes need the positive feedback and affirmation of others. Threes primarily seek value through accomplishment; they develop notions about what a valuable person would be like, then try to become that person. But Threes also engage in a great deal of internal “self-talk,” attempting to create and sustain a consistent internal picture of themselves, like Fours. They are always in danger of “believing their own press releases” more than the truth.
• Twos are rescuers, Fours are rescuees, Threes do not need rescuing.
• In the Feeling Triad Twos, Threes, and Fours are trying to deal with feelings of shame. Twos become ultragood, trying to be caring and of service to others. Threes become perfect in their performance and outstanding in their achievements. Fours dramatize their losses and hurts and see themselves as victims.
• The Feeling Triad is about maintaining a personal identity.
• These types are past-oriented because our self-image is built up out of memories and interpretations of the past.
THE THINKING TRIAD
The dominant feelings in types Five, Six, and Seven are anxiety and insecurity.
Fives, Sixes, and Sevens cannot get their minds to simmer down. This is a problem because the quiet mind allows us to feel profoundly supported; inner knowing and guidance arise in the quiet mind and give us confidence to act in the world. When these qualities are blocked, we feel fear. Their reactions to fear distinguish the three types of the Thinking Triad.
Type Five responds by retreating from life and reducing their personal needs. Fives believe that they are too frail and insubstantial to safely survive in the world. The only safe place is in their minds, and so they stockpile whatever they believe will help them survive until they are ready to rejoin the world. Fives also feel that they do not have enough to “bring to the table” to meet the demands of practical life. They retreat until they can learn something or master some skill that would allow them to feel safe enough to come out of hiding.
Type Seven, by contrast, charges into life and appears to be afraid of nothing. It at first seems strange that Sevens are in a triad whose types are afflicted by fear since they are so outwardly adventurous. Despite appearances, however, Sevens are full of fear, but not of the outside world: they are afraid of their inner world – of being trapped in emotional pain, grief, and especially feelings of anxiety. So they escape into activity and anticipation of activity. Sevens unconsciously attempt to keep their minds occupied so that their underlying anxieties and hurts will not surface.
In Type Six, the central type of this Triad (the type positioned on the equilateral triangle), attention and energy are directed both inward and outward. Sixes feel anxious inside, and so launch into external action and anticipation of the future like Sevens. But having done so, they eventually become afraid that they will make mistakes and be punished or overwhelmed by the demands on them, so like Fives, they “jump back inside.” They get scared by their feelings again, and the reactive cycle continues, with anxiety causing their attention to bounce around like a Ping-Pong ball.
• The Thinking Triad is about finding a sense of inner guidance and support.
• These types are more concerned about the future, as if to ask, “What’s going to happen to me? How am I going to survive? How can I prepare myself to keep bad things from happening? How do I more forward in life? How do I cope?”
Source: Riso, Don Richard., and Russ Hudson. The Wisdom of the Enneagram: The Complete Guide to Psychological and Spiritual Growth for the Nine Personality Types. New York: Bantam, 1999. Print.