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Enneagram Styles and Curiosity

What if we could all regain our childlike, innate curiosity?

Gerry Fathauer has written the following provocative Insight Activity on Curiosity. Gerry is a Senior Member of the Enneagram in Business Network (EIBN) and has a natural curiosity for all things aesthetic, psychological, and spiritual!


Have you ever watched a young child explore her world? One of the characteristics of children is their endearing sense of curiosity. Curiosity opens them to discoveries of nature, of the physical world, and of relating to others. So, too, can curiosity open those of us long out of childhood to revelations in our lives, both at work and home.

Curiosity creates a transformational shift in reality. There is an opening to new awareness that occurs when curiosity is present. It’s almost a sensate awareness that, rather than being stuck in the same old experience, an “ah-ha” moment is about to arise. Have you ever taken a side road, just out of curiosity? Perhaps it led to a beautiful new vista or just a dead end. Either way, curiosity leads us to a place that is different and expanding.

We open to creation when we get curious. Curiosity is a doorway in to intuiting coaching approaches and client solutions. Have you ever noticed what happens when you are curious? The next time you are uncertain of the next step with a client, get curious, and open to what arises. Here’s another practice, a personal one: Get curious about what limits and what serves you. Curiosity opens us to discovery and to new ways of perceiving our own barriers.

Without a good dose of curiosity now and then, we risk becoming stale and limiting, both to ourselves and to others. Curiosity is always available, just waiting for us to open to it and to a qualitative shift in our way of being.


In the following blog based on Gerry’s Insight Activity above, I decided to write about how each of us can increase our innate ability to be in a state of curiosity using the three Centers of Intelligence. My thinking derives from some of the object-relations work from psychologist and Enneagram teacher, Beatrice Chestnut.

To provide context, Bea describes and analyzes the child development theories and concludes (and these are my words, not Bea’s, for she does a more scholarly job in her explanations) that all very young children are posed with fundamental challenges: (1) to feel “held” and supported (think of very young children who need to be securely wrapped and held so they don’t feel they’ll be dropped); (2) to feel mirrored (that is, their caregiver makes direct, loving, face-to-face and eye-to-eye contact with them and the young child feels “seen” for who they are; and (3) to not feel fear (obviously, that they will be protected from whatever frightens them). These three challenges then get mirrored as disturbances that relate to our Enneagram styles by Center of Intelligence, but in a very interesting way.

Body Center Styles (Eight, Nine, and One)

The three Enneagram styles formed from the Body Center (Eight, Nine, and One) deal with anxiety about being “held” in three different ways: Eights try to “hold” everything and everyone by taking charge; Nines “hold” by engaging in repetitive processes that soothe them (narcotization); and Ones “hold” by being self-controlled and trying to control or structure every aspect of their direct environments.

Body Center Styles and Reigniting Curiosity

If the above description is accurate, then Eights and Ones would be well-served to gradually relinquish the specific ways in which they try to control as a substitute for the disturbance in their formative “holding” experience. Eights, for example, need to let go of asserting control over others and events, allowing whatever happens to occur, and dealing with their own intrinsic vulnerability. Nines, by contrast, need to pay close attention at times when they revert to repetitive soothing behavior (whatever form theirs takes) and tune into what is going on inside them, rather than dazing off through self-soothing. Finally, Ones need to let go (gradually) of their need to get it right, be right, or get others to do things correctly. Fundamentally, relaxing their self-control (not eliminating it entirely!) can be very useful to Ones becoming more and more deeply curious.

Heart Center Styles (Two, Three, and Four)

The three Enneagram styles formed from the Heart Center (Two, Three, and Four) deal with challenges in how they were mirrored by creating an image or persona as a substitute: Twos create an image of being a thoughtful and considerate person (so others will respond favorably to such a selfless personal who only thinks of others); Threes create an image of being a confident, successful person (so others will respond with respect to such a competent, achieving individual); and Fours create an image of being a unique person, different from everyone else (so others will at least think they are special rather than lost or deficient).

Heart Center Styles and Reigniting Curiosity

When you don’t really know who you are because you have created a (false) image of self as a substitute for effective early mirroring, it is very difficult to be naturally curious about yourself, others, and life. You are just too busy maintaining and watching what you do so it conforms with that image. To deal with this challenge, Twos need to spend time in honest solitude discovering what they really need and want, identifying what they value, and assessing their real worth apart from their reliance on the affirmation of others. Threes need to spend time in solitude, reflecting on who they are aside from their goals and accomplishments, but just as important, what they really want and value out of their lives. Finally, Fours need to spend time probing their deeper emotions that lie underneath their more obvious and shifting emotions, to discover that beneath the surface is that answer to “who am I.”

Head Center Styles (Five, Six, and Seven)

The three Enneagram styles formed in the Head Center represent three different ways of responding to fear: Fives respond to fear by moving away from anything that cause them fear and retreat into their solitary, private worlds where they need only rely on themselves; Sixes create anticipatory scenarios and/or act fearless as a way of coping wit the ever-present fear in life; and Sevens try to avoid fear entirely by distracting themselves through positive possibility planning.

Head Center Styles and Reigniting Curiosity

How does one get rid of fear? The answer is that fear can be useful, unless it drives you, and you have to be able to separate fear that is real from fear that is self-created. The idea is that when fear drives almost everything you do, it is very hard to be open to innate curiosity for all things that appear. In particular, Fives need to engage more in life (rather than leading a retracted life to avoid fear) as a way to integrate enjoyment and pleasure through engagement. Sixes need to relax their self-doubt, their reliance on external authority and rules, and their instantaneous reactions to either withdraw or fight. Finally, Sevens need to stay still, rather than running away from what scares them. Then they might find that what scares them isn’t so frightening after all.

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