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Enneagram typing | emotional intensity triad differentiating questions

The last two blogs focused on how to use two versions of the Hornevian Triads – and there are several versions – in helping people to discern their type. The Competency Triad (1, 3, 5) was covered in the first blog and the Positive Outlook Triad (2, 7, 9) was covered in the second, so this blog’s focus is on a third triangle or triad within the Enneagram. The three types in the final grouping – the Emotional Intensity Triad (4, 6, 8) – are particularly interesting and challenging to help people differentiate among and between them. However, it is actually less common for people to confuse these three types than to confuse the three enneatypes in the other two triads. At the same time, when they do get perplexed as to whether they are a 4, a 6 or an 8, it takes more to untangle the differences between and among them. Part of this confusion involves the subtypes for each of the three types, so a knowledge of the subtypes by the Enneagram teacher or trainer really matters in guiding participants, coaching clients, students, and friends!

Below is a review of how I help people first approach the identification of their type:

In my practice, participants use Typing Cards after giving an initial verbal and visual overview of the system, and sort the cards – which have a graphic, a type description paragraph, two positive and two negative words that go with that type, plus a defining characteristic of that type – into three piles: yes, no and maybe. Yes means this card really describes me well, no means the card doesn’t fit in any way, and maybe means part of the card fits and part of it does not. Then, participants rank order their yes pile into most-to-least accurate in terms of the degree to which it describes them. It happens just enough that some participants have 4, 6 and 8 in their yes pile, and they wonder why, since there is no obvious connection between and among these types on the Enneagram symbol.

I have learned over time to answer this question by explaining the Emotional Intensity Triad, offering up some information and questions for them to consider and answer, and this then can help them narrow down their enneatype. Here’s the simple explanation and intervening questions I ask, and the process seems to work well:

Commentary: “There are several triangles or groupings of three on the Enneagram, and 4, 6 and 8 are part of the Emotional Intensity Trio or Triad. What that means is that these three Enneagram types tend to be more highly intense and consistently more intense than most other people.”
Question: “Are you highly intense? Do you perceive yourself in this way and do others perceive you as an intense person?”
Response patterns: Most 4s, 6s and 8s give a strong affirmative response, both verbally and non-verbally, as if they are recognizing something important about themselves. They usually get quite thoughtful and then give one or more examples of this. Listen closely to their story or stories to glean whether the story sounds more like a 4ish type of intensity – for example, strong emotional interpersonal interactions or becoming highly emotional about many different things. Or, does it sound more like a 6ish story – for example, being highly reactive when they feel threatened or anxious or when they are charging forward, particularly to combat unjust authority (this is the more counter-phobic quality). Or, do they sound more intensely passionate about things that matter to them or when they are trying to make something happen or protecting those in their family or their teams at work and with a big presence (4s and 6s, even counter-phobic 6s, don’t have such a large presence).

With people who appear to be in the Emotional Intensity Triad, I offer more commentary about the difference in what drives their intensity:

Commentary: “Emotional Intensity means something different to each of the three types. For Fours, emotional intensity is usually driven by a need to express oneself and to be understood. It is about relationships with others. For Sixes, emotional intensity is motivated by a need to understand what is going on, to be prepared for it. It is an intensity driven by the mind with the emotions flowing in the same direction. For Eights, emotional intensity comes from the body, a physical intensity that comes from being deeply in the body and a need to make big things happen through energetic force, aka intensity.”
Question: “Which form of intensity most matches yours? And is you intensity coming first from your emotions (like a Four), from your mind (like a Six) or from your body (like an Eight)?”
Response patterns: Most 4s, 6s, and 8s will have to ponder this question for a bit, but they will come up with an answer. The reason they need to reflect on this question is that “emotional intensity” feels emotional and it is. But where it starts is a more probing question; what triggers the emotional intensity? People of other types (a) won’t have these three types high in their typing cards rank order, and if there is a need to ask them about this, they will give a more confused or less clear answer.

As a note, it is often the 1-1 subtype of Four that most often gets confused with Sixes and Eights because this subtype of Four is the most emotional and intense of the three subtypes of Four. The 1-1 subtype of Eight is the most likely to think they could be a Four because 1-1 Eights do get emotional and cry more easily than the other two subtypes of Eight. But this emotionality doesn’t mean they are feeling vulnerable; it may be an indication of love, joy, relief or sentimentality. In terms of Sixes, the self-preserving subtype of Six is the most likely to get confused with enneatype Four because they are so insightful and focused on their own thoughts and feelings; and the 1-1 Six is most likely to think they could be an Eight, since they lead with force and move against injustice.

Of course there are many other ways to distinguish between and among these three enneatypes; the above process is simply one and it is pretty clear and fast. Communication style, body language, type-based worldviews and motivations, and many other factors also matter. But this is a good start!

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