Fifteen years ago, only a few Enneagram teachers were including the 27 subtypes in their Enneagram teaching, with the exception of Claudio Naranjo, who has made subtype exploration his life’s work for over 40 years. Part of the reason so little was taught or known about subtypes was that Naranjo’s subtype teachings – and these were based on the foundational work of Oscar Ichazo, from whom Naranjo learned the Enneagram and the subtypes in the early 70s – were only available through participation in Claudio’s extended SAT (Seekers After the Truth) programs.
That all changed in 2003 when Naranjo agreed to be the keynote speaker at the IEA (International Enneagram Association) conference in Santa Monica because the following year (2004 in Washington DC), Naranjo brought 27 of his teachers with him – one of each subtype – to infuse the conference attendees with the 27 subtypes. Having keynoted the 2003 conference, Naranjo had the impression that many people had their types wrong as the result of not understanding the subtleties of subtypes. That idea leads right into one of the three reasons why the 27 Enneagram subtypes matter.
Reason 1 | confusion of type with subtype
The subtype is the result of the intersection between the person’s “passion,” the emotional habit that goes with his or her type and the person’s most activated (human) instinct – self-preservation, social, or one-to one. Thus, there are 3 versions of each type, called subtypes. Two of the subtypes of the type flow with the passion or move outward with it, but in one of the subtypes of each type, the passion goes forward but then gets held back (a bit, but not entirely). This subtype of the type is called the “countertype” and is the subtype that most often (but not always) gets mistaken for another type.
For example, the social Eight, the countertype of Eight, is a warm person, although still intense, action oriented, lustful (the Eight passion), and so forth. But their group or team orientation and intense desire to protect others for whom they feel responsible and to take care of them can get misread; they can be mistyped as a Two, or a social Nine. The countertype for Seven, the social subtype, is called sacrifice because they will sacrifice their gluttony (the Seven passion) and/or getting their needs met on behalf of the needs of the social group. Actually, social subtype Sevens delay rather than abandon their gluttony, but they often mistype themselves as Twos because they can be focused on the needs of others.
Without understanding subtypes, then, we can either mistype ourselves or mistype others and not even know we are doing so. When this happens, we may do one or several of the following: (1) teach the types (or some of them) incorrectly because we emphasize one or more of the subtypes in our descriptions over the others – for example, describing Threes from the social subtype Three perspective or describing Fours from the more dramatic one-to one subtype perspective; (2) not be engaged – either us or those whom we teach – in the best self-development activities because they do not align with the real growth needs of our real type; and (3) unintentionally get those we teach so identified with their (wrong) type that it becomes difficult for them later on to switch to the type that truly defines their character or ego structure.
Reasons 2 | subtypes complete an important dimension of the enneagram
In understanding the Enneagram in the context of the 3 Centers of Intelligence – Head, Heart and Body – we learn to pay attention to and turn our growth toward relaxing the big red flags for development: fixations or habits of mind in the Mental Center that both keeping repeating and hold our ego-structure in place; the passions (aka vices) which are repeating patterns of emotional response that go with each type; but then what about the Body Center? Our subtype is the missing piece; it is the Body Center’s most active instinct in collusion with the passion of our type. Thus, subtype completes the triangle of Center’s change and transformation. In addition, our subtype is when our type behavior is most active, most apparent, and most difficult to change. It is when we are on our highest volume of habitual, repetitive type-based behavior. How very important is the subtype in which we live!
Reason 3 | development, development, development
Because subtype is when we are on most automatic, it is the time when we most need to intercept our behavior, both when it is occurring but also before it happens again. Recently, I’ve been teaching this 6-step process to intercept when we are in the throes of our subtype behavior: (1) push pause; (2) self-observe; (3) self-reflect; (4) consider choices; (5) choose; (6) push play.
In addition to or in conjunction with the above 6-step process, knowing your subtype can help you select the most important development areas and actions. Here are some examples for the three versions of type Ones and Fives:
Self-preserving Ones | Notice the source of your anger, anxiety, and thoughts about imperfection and control; relax more.
Social Ones | Notice your need to be right or perfect in the world; learn that your worth or value doesn’t depend on your good example.
One-to-One Ones | Notice your need to improve and reform others; focus your attention on your own self-acceptance.
Self-preserving Fives | Notice how you retract, hide and create overly firm boundaries, thus limiting contact; engage more in the outside world.
Social Fives | Notice how your quest for knowledge and information limits your contact with others; engage more with people.
One-to-One Fives | Notice how your high expectations and testing of others limit relationships; risk sharing your feelings.