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Enneagram typing | type 3-6-9 confusions

In helping hundreds of people identify their Enneagram types, I’ve noticed that often enough, there are some individuals who get confused about whether their type is 3, 6 or 9. Sometimes it is a confusion among all three types; at other times, the confusion is between only two of these types, for example, 6 and 3, or 6 and 9, or 3 and 9.

Below is a review of how 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 3, 6 and 9 in their yes pile, and they wonder why, since there is no obvious connection between and among these types on the Enneagram symbol.

The most obvious way of understanding this confusion is that all three of these types (3, 6 and 9) are arrow lines of each other. For this reason, many people may get confused between an arrow line and their core type, just as they may be confused between a core type and a strong wing (one of the types on either side of the core type). Understanding how the arrows function helps, and it’s not just about where we go in stress and security or when we are relaxed. Many people – and this is a good thing – have access to both of their arrow lines, the two resource points that, along with the wings, add complexity and even flexibility to our core ego-type. But it is, I think, more than that.

Here’s the more. Helping so many people with type, I have experienced more people on the 3-6-9 triangle, the central triangle of the Enneagram, be more confused than those with other arrow lines. Wondering why, I read Sandra Maitri’s “The Spiritual Dimension of the Enneagram” in which she describes how, at a spiritual level, we all come in as 9s, then decide (spiritually speaking, of course) to stay at 9 or to go on to 8 or 1, the other two variations of 9, the other two Body Center styles. If not 9 (or 8 or 1), then the spiritual movement is to 6. Again, stay at 6 or move to the other two variations of 6 in the Head Center, type 5 or 7. If still no traction, then there is a movement to 3, the core of the Heart Center styles. Stay at 3 or, if not, perhaps 2 or 4? This explanation for the ease of movement among these three types could account for the difficulty some people have discerning between and among them. However, one must believe in the spiritual movement described above.

Next, I experienced a man in one of my programs who could not tell if he was a 9, 6 or 3, as hard as he and I both tried to figure it out. He was highly self-aware, keenly interested, and yet as we discussed his type during a typing interview, the Enneagram symbol on a wall behind him, I actually saw a beam of light going from 9 to 6 to 3, and in that exact order. I immediately thought of Sandra Maitri’s book.

The final influence of my thinking was a phone conversation I had with Patrick O’Leary, during which he told me that when the Chicago group received Naranjo’s Enneagram teachings in the early 70s via Father Robert Ochs, there were no arrows on the central triangle, just on the hexad (the figure with the remaining 6 numbers, all interconnected by arrows). As part of that Jesuit group in Chicago, O’Leary explained that they tried the arrows on the central triangle (9, 6, 3) going the way we currently have, the opposite directions, both directions, and no direction. They settled on the figure we currently use (9, 6, 3). In addition, O’Leary said that he had first met Naranjo in 2003 or 2004 at an IEA conference and over lunch, Naranjo stated that he thought the Jesuit had placed the arrows accurately.

This is a long sequence of events that got me thinking that perhaps the 9, 6, 3 triangle has more movement or fluidity on it than the other triangles connecting each point on the symbol with its connecting arrows. I do think that people on this triangle have a core type or home base; it’s just that they may move more rapidly to either or both of their two arrow links.

Implications for type identification

So when I meet someone who is confused about where they “sit” on this central triangle, I have found the most effective way to be the following:

1st | Explain the central triangle

This includes showing the symbol, explaining how arrows work – best to state them as resource points potentially adding qualities to your character structure but not changing you core drive and worldview rather than stress-security or disintegration-integration. Explain that there can be a lot of movement in 9, 6, 3, but the challenge is to figure out their starting point or core type. Give a brief description of each type, always repeating the order 9, 6, 3; a sentence or two for each type is enough. The above may help them determine which is the best fit. So ask them what they think.

2nd | Explain the Body Center, Head Center, and Heart Center

If the 1st step doesn’t clarify the person’s type, then explain the three Centers of Intelligence: Body – instinctual; type arises as a response to anger, with 9s specifically, it is “anger that went to sleep” like a sleeping giant that prefers harmony and everyone around them being happy to asserting oneself and potentially causing tension; and exerting control by not letting others control them; Head – mentally oriented; type arises in response to fear with 6s constantly scanning the environment for what’s happening, what could go wrong and how to plan so this doesn’t happen, and scanning for other people’s hidden agendas, but also can go directly into what causes them fear – or something else that is physical – to prove they are not afraid; and Heart – emotional; type formed as the creation of an image for others to respond to, with 3s forming an image of appearing successful, achieving, competent, and confident; and success oriented through constantly setting goals and creating plans to achieve these goals. The above may help them determine which is the best fit. So ask them what they think.

3rd | If the 2nd step doesn’t clarify the person’s type, ask them what drives them deeply and has been driving them throughout their life: harmony (9), safety and certainty (6), or success and respect of others (3).

4th | If the 3rd step doesn’t clarify the person’s type, then ask them to think back to when they were a child (6-12). Were they more like a 9, 6, or 3? Then ask them to think back to when they were a teenager (13-19). Were they more like a 9, 6, or 3? Then ask them to think back to when they were a young adult (20-30). Were they more like a 9, 6, or 3? Keep going upward until you reach their current age. The answer may be very apparent to them by now. Usually, how they were as a child and teenager are the most revealing.

If none of the above work, just let the person think about it, read more, and reflect a lot. It can take time.

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