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3 reasons why enneagram type matters even more than centers and subtypes

In two previous blogs, I’ve written about how the importance of Centers of Intelligence – I believe it gets neglected when many teach the Enneagram – and the importance of subtypes, which I think people often either don’t understand well enough to use it or don’t really have the most accurate take on them. Here, I want to make the case for why Enneagram type actually matters more than either Centers of Intelligence or subtypes, even though I believe all three are very important in understanding ourselves and the Enneagram.

Reason 1 | Type most readily identifies the ego-structure
While the Centers of Intelligence provide an important context for the 9 enneatypes and the 27 subtypes provide nuance, adding insight into the three versions of the 9 enneatypes, our type most clearly identifies our patterns of thinking (fixations) and habits of the heart (our passions aka vices), both of which are most closely linked with our ego structure. Type is our ego structure, and the purpose of using the Enneagram for growth, really, is to relax our attachment to our ego and, therefore, the hold it has on us. Without knowing our type accurately, development is more arduous and less precise. Centers’ work alone cannot do this, nor can working only with our particular subtype (or combination of subtypes, since we may have more than one subtype activated). In addition, teaching 27 subtypes without teaching type first takes a very long time and can be confusing to those learning the Enneagram solely via subtype, and this is especially true when teaching the Enneagram to individuals or groups who are not highly self-aware.

Reason 2 | Type provides the greatest breadth of comprehensive and targeted development activities
Even though there are wonderful development activities for gaining greater productive access to all three Centers regardless of type, knowing your type enables these Center-focused growth activities to be far more targeted. Here are just a few examples how development in each Center can be customized by type.

Head Center | To become more objective in their thinking, Ones are best served to be careful to not let their positive or negative opinions about a situation or person overshadow their objectivity, while Twos need to not let their feelings about another person overshadow their ability to be objective.
Heart Center | To increase their empathy, Threes need to spend time considering and experiencing their own feelings so they can connect more with others at a feeling level, while Fours need to consider their own perceptions about what another is feeling and clarify whether this is a projection of the Four’s feelings or if it is not.
Body Center | To take more effective action, Fives need to gather information from their heads, hearts, and guts and not rely primarily on the Head Center or thinking function, as this can lead them to engage in prolonged or delayed action. Sixes, by contrast, need to be willing to take risks – and not just highly-charged or exciting ones if a counter-phobic Six – by developing well-honed guts or somatic instincts as a way to counteract their tendency for over-analyzing, analysis paralysis, or impulsive action.

Although subtypes do lend themselves to development actions specific for each subtype (these are highlighted in the blog prior to this one), there are fewer subtype development activities than type-based ones. This is because subtype is where the passion of each type (the type’s particular emotional habit) intersects with the basic instinct (from the Body Center: self-preservation, social, or one-to-one) most active in an individual. Thus, subtype-based growth includes both Heart (emotions) and Body – but only to a degree, as somatics are not an essential part of subtype development – yet there is nothing about fixations or the Head Center in subtype-based development.

Reason 3 | Type links the Centers of Intelligence and subtypes
Maybe this is too logical, but there is no obvious progression – theoretical, psychological, or experience-based – that leads from Centers of Intelligence to subtypes without understanding type first. And learning about the Centers of Intelligence may yield interesting insight into one’s self, but it doesn’t suggest a particular subtype. Thus, simply teaching Centers and subtype without type in between seems disjointed or as if there may be a connection, but something is missing. Type is missing!

The reverse – that is, moving from subtype to Center of Intelligence, has some logical connection, but only if the person has already identified his or her subtype accurately. As Naranjo suggests, the self-preservation subtype of each type is the most action-oriented of the three versions (subtypes) of the type and, thus, the most body-oriented. The social subtype of each type is the more intellectual of the three subtypes of the type; hence, more head centric. Finally, the one-to-one subtype of each type is the most emotional of the three versions of each type – that is, in the Heart Center. This is an advanced way of understanding the subtypes as they relate to the Centers of Intelligence. But it doesn’t offer pathways for the development of the Head, Heart, or Body; it is really more a refinement or nuanced way of understanding the three variations on type. So it gets back to type after all!

Further resources
The Enneagram in Business offers a variety of tools to help teach the Enneagram, and one in particular focuses on how to further develop one’s Centers of Intelligence based on type. Enhance Your Decision Making provides 9 development activities for each type to open greater access to the Head, Heart, and Body Centers three activities for each Center for each type. You can view these by clicking here.

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