The Enneagram: Life Through A Sixes Eyes

In April of this year, my friends at work were going through The Road Back To You by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile, a book about the Enneagram.  If you’re unfamiliar with the Enneagram, as I was, listening to conversations about it can be confusing.  It’s like listening to people talk in another language.

“What’s your number?”

“What’s your wing?”

“I’m more emotional because I’m in the heart triad.”

The Enneagram is, according to Ian Morgan Cron “an ancient personality typing system”.  There are 9 numbers on the Enneagram, and the theory is that each person fits into one of these numbers.  I’ve used the definitions straight from the book to describe the 9 types.  Different teachers have different descriptors for each number.  My number, the Six, has been called the Devil’s Advocate (my favorite), the Loyalist, or the Security Seeker.

TYPE ONE: The Perfectionist. Ethical, dedicated and reliable, they are motivated by a desire to live the right way, improve the world, and avoid fault and blame.

TYPE TWO: The Helper. Warm, caring and giving, they are motivated by a need to be loved and needed, and to avoid acknowledging their own needs.

TYPE THREE: The Performer. Success-oriented, image-conscious and wired for productivity, they are motivated by a need to be (or appear to be) successful and to avoid failure.

TYPE FOUR: The Romantic. Creative, sensitive and moody, they are motivated by a need to be understood, experience their oversized feelings and avoid being ordinary.

TYPE FIVE: The Investigator. Analytical, detached and private, they are motivated by a need to gain knowledge, conserve energy and avoid relying on others.

TYPE SIX: The Loyalist. Committed, practical and witty, they are worst-case-scenario thinkers who are motivated by fear and the need for security.

TYPE SEVEN: The Enthusiast. Fun, spontaneous and adventurous, they are motivated by a need to be happy, to plan stimulating experiences and to avoid pain.

TYPE EIGHT: The Challenger. Commanding, intense and confrontational, they are motivated by a need to be strong and avoid feeling weak or vulnerable.

TYPE NINE: The Peacemaker. Pleasant, laid back and accommodating, they are motivated by a need to keep the peace, merge with others and avoid conflict.

Types 8, 9, and 1 are in the gut triad.  Types 2, 3, and 4 are in the heart triad.  Types 5, 6, and 7 are in the head triad.

The book digs into each of these types, and what motivates each.  It may be tempting to look at one of these descriptions and label yourself or others as a certain number.  There are a plethora of free tests on the web, but I’d recommend going through a book or podcast to learn about each type.  If there is one type that jumps out at you or gives you an emotional reaction, that is most likely your number.

It’s important to state here why the Enneagram stands out from other tests.  When looked at from a Christian perspective, it reveals to us our flaws and our sin.  It doesn’t trump the Gospel or replace it, but by looking at it, it can help us understand one another better.  We shouldn’t feel either too much guilt or too much joy from our number; instead, we should look at ourselves truthfully and understand we have strengths and weaknesses.  Our number, at least according to this theory, can’t be changed.  The goal isn’t to appear as someone else, but rather, to wake up to our true selves and be the best version of ourselves we can be.

I read The Road Back To You over a weekend.  The idea of the Enneagram continues to fascinate me.  It has greatly helped identify who I am as a person.  Before I get into my type, the 6, I’d like to recommend what I’ve found to be the best resources on the Enneagram.

  • The Road Back To You by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile
  • The Path Between Us by Suzanne Stabile
  • The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective by Father Richard Rohr
  • The Debrief Podcast: Sandals Church
  • Sleeping At Last: Musical Artist

The last thing I’ll say is something I feel quite strongly.  This tool is great for conversation, and for self-discovery.  It is not meant to put people in boxes, nor is it meant to judge people or jump to conclusions about them.  If someone hasn’t taken the Enneagram, please don’t tell them what type they are, but encourage them to discover it for themselves.  Unless we’re lying, we are each the best knowers of our true self.

Now that you’ve been briefed, I’d like to share what my life has been like as a Six.

When I was eleven, I used to throw up in the car before going to school.  I wasn’t sick, or allergic to anything.  It was anxiety.  There is an old family video from when I was 5 or 6, and my siblings and cousins are happily playing in a hot tub on vacation.  I’m shown off to the side, content to be with those I loved without being in the water.

The type six, or Loyalist, is motivated by fear and security.  At our best, we are funny, fiercely loyal, and able to see multiple sides to an argument.  At our worst, we are stubborn, paranoid, and reflexively rebellious to authority.

For a Six, the fearful thoughts never really stop.  As part of the head triad, we are thinkers to a fault.  Healthy Sixes understand that the world is an unpredictable place and that even if bad things happen, we will be able to deal with it.  An unhealthy Six doesn’t come to this realization but gets stuck imagining the worst case scenario.  The sin of the Six isn’t really fear; it’s anxiety.  This has been very helpful to me in my own growth as a Six.

Fear is what you experience when a bear breaks into your tent, and you’re sure it’s all over.  Anxiety is worrying that a bear will devour your child while they’re sleeping in the backyard in the middle of the city, that you’ll be unable to cope with this grief, and that the bear will show up at the funeral to eat you too!  This sounds silly to the point of absurdity, and it is.  But Sixes get stuck in this spiral of negative thinking doing daily tasks.

I’ve caught myself in this slippery slope.

Thought: What is that noise my car is making….I bet it’s the transmission….What if the car dies, I still haven’t paid it off…….The car is absolutely going to die, I’m going to be late for work, I’m going to get fired for tardiness and there will be no one to love me.

Again, this comes across as hyperbole, but this is how we think when we are unhealthy.  When healthy, we catch the thought early in the spiral and understand that even if the car breaks down, we can handle it adequately!

I naturally look for threats to security in everything I do.  If I’m on vacation, I’m looking at the road for drivers who are too reckless.  I’m constantly checking the crowd at concerts or amusement parks for people who I deem suspicious.  In certain occupations, this is a strength of Sixes.  We are good protectors and concerned about the safety of those we love and are loyal to. In law enforcement and the military, you’ll find a high number of Sixes.  But when we imagine the worst too frequently, this positive attribute works to our detriment.  We are frozen by our anxiety (not fear) of the unknown and by what might happen, and too often we miss out on what’s happening in real time because we’re stuck in our heads.

Sixes are typically overly resistant to authority or overly compliant.  We ask a lot of questions, not to challenge or usurp our bosses, but because we want to make sure we are doing things right, and to ensure that all sides of an issue have been addressed.  Again, this can be good when we’re healthy.  We are great analysts, and love hearing the pro’s and con’s of a plan before deciding.  Yet we can be very slow to act because we are going through countless scenarios of failure in our heads. When healthy, we recognize not just the risk, but also the reward of the plans others bring to the table, and are able to vocalize our support without being too worried about the unknown.

I’ve been told by those around me that I can be too pessimistic, especially when giving advice.  To me, it’s just being a realist.  But while Sixes are good at recognizing their own anxiety, they forget that no other number sees the world as “glass half empty” as frequently as Sixes do.  Sixes need to appreciate the other numbers of the Enneagram because they bring beauty and optimism that the Six is often lacking.

I am baffled by the other numbers on the Enneagram, but as I’ve studied them more and more, I’m very grateful for them, especially the ones that are different than me.  According to many teachers of the Enneagram, Sixes make up more than half the world’s population!  Thank goodness for the other numbers that know when to listen and when to tell us we’re being over-anxious scaredy cats.  Below are the gifts of the other numbers, and when I say “we” I’m mostly referring to Sixes.

Ones are tough on themselves, but when healthy are wonderful teachers who, like us Sixes, want structure and order in the world, and are champions for the common good.

Twos are caring and empathetic, loving others and preferring them even in tough times.  They walk into a room and have a pulse on what others are feeling, and they’re there to help.  Healthy Twos are some of the kindest people I’ve met, and they won’t rest until they’ve cheered you up.

Threes are the number I least understand.  Threes can’t imagine failing, while Sixes can’t imagine succeeding.  Threes teach us to believe in ourselves, and that sometimes we have to fake our confidence.  In my opinion, the Three is one of the toughest numbers to be on the Enneagram, which makes me like it even more.  Sixes need to remind Threes we are there for them for who they are, not just for what they do.

Fours take us out of our heads and into our hearts, connecting us to the ideals we are too frequently afraid of expressing.  They are talented, wounded, and able to push through painful ordeals to produce beauty.  Most of my closest friends in my life, I would guess, have been Fours.  They don’t get stuck in our pessimism but have a shared connection with our melancholy.

Fives are quite similar to us, as we can both enjoy gathering information and spending hours lost in thought.  We can both struggle with expressing our feelings, and would probably prefer being alone than being with others.  Fives are deep thinkers, and when they translate that into action, can produce innovation that betters the world.

Sevens, my favorite number on the Enneagram, so close to us in number but so far from us in reality, at least at first glance.  The joy the Seven lives out every day is what the Six should strive for, free from anxiety and able to enjoy the moment.  Sevens make every event more fun and see the positive in each situation.  They are beautiful people, and a healthy Seven, such as Bob Goff, has the capacity to contagiously make us happier.

Eights scare the daylights out of us Sixes, but when we work through that fear, we realize how badly we need Eights in society.  There is no better leader than a healthy Eight, and there is no number that cares so deeply for the underdog or the less fortunate.  Eights challenge us because they are doers and we are thinkers.  Both can learn from the other.

Nines are what healthy Sixes look like most frequently.  They have the capacity to see both sides of an issue as well, but while Sixes are prone to worry, the Nine is prone to not acting when they know what is right.  Both numbers need to be more decisive, and Sixes should take a lesson from healthy Nines, and make decisive actions from the gut, not the head.

As for Sixes, it can be hard to even believe the nice things about our number, but here we go!  We are loyal to the end, even in our fearful state.  When you have a friend as a Six, they’ll be by your side until you ask them not to be.  We are practical thinkers, able to understand different views, prepared for an emergency.  When healthy, we convert our fear to self-deprecating humor and make others around us laugh.  And perhaps the craziest characteristic of the Six is that though we live in fear, when the threatening time comes, we often stand with quaking knees, but we don’t run away.  We’ve been dealing with fear our whole lives, and in reality, we know what to do in fearful moments to help the people we love.  I’ll use the example of the Apostle Peter as an example.

The Debrief Podcast illustrates this in a better way, but I’ll summarize the best I can.  Peter was a Six, and when he went out on the water to see Jesus, he was scared out of his mind.  But he was the only one who got out of the boat!  As soon as he saw the waves and stopped looking at Jesus, he began to sink.  He denied Jesus at a later time, showing cowardice, the main sin of the Six.  But later, he was the disciple to identify that Jesus was the Son of God.  He was a key contributor to the growth of the early church and was a martyr for the Gospel.  This duality shows the best and worst of the Sixes, but when we overcome our fear, we are strong advocates for what we believe in.

I’ll close with this.  The hardest thing for me as a Six is believing in myself.  People I’ve talked to have different reactions when they read about their number, and for some, it can be an emotional experience.  It is a humbling experience because the Enneagram focuses on what you look like when unhealthy.  When I started reading about the Six, I felt pegged, but that was fine with me.  I’ve never wanted to be unique, never had a desire to stand out or be the loudest voice in the room.  I was surprised to find there were so many Sixes on earth, but that wasn’t what stood out to me.  It was this quote in The Road Back To You.

“Sixes need to be encouraged to doubt themselves less and trust themselves more. They are stronger and more resourceful than they know.”

I cried when I read that aloud to my wife.  I cry every time I read it.  No number, besides the One, is as tough on themselves as Sixes.  Sixes don’t trust their inner voices, which is why they frequently have unhealthy relationships with authority figures.  We know we should believe in ourselves, but then waver when we try to be self-sufficient.  Belief in myself and faith in God has been the biggest struggle of my life.  And yet, that is the redemption for the Six.  Confident that we have the strength to make our own choices, and more importantly, faith in a God who kindly demands it.

We can’t change the way we see the world.  But we can change what we do with it.  I’m reminded of a song that expresses how healthy Sixes should choose to see the assumed scary world around them:

“It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.”

 

 

 

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