Relational Psychology of the Enneatypes – Part II: Personality by Eric R. Meyer, PhD

Relational Psychology of the Enneatypes – Part II: Personality by Eric R. Meyer, PhD

Type behaviors aren’t merely outdated habits based on simple misperceptions; they continue to be driven by a persistent low-level sense of wrongness in relationship that can be identified and addressed.  The type experience is described as regularly failing to achieve the results we want, but no actual result could make us feel the way we’d like to feel.  The problem isn’t merely a negative assumption from the past that can be corrected by attention to positive experience, or a faulty strategy that can be revised in light of it.  A person who has difficulty feeling cared for can remain caught up in the same old story about missing that feeling, even while being lovingly attended to today.  Someone who has difficulty feeling supported may not find a simple hand on his back very reassuring, and may actually notice that dissonance and be disconcerted by the gesture.  We don’t merely ignore or discount positive experience in such cases; we’ve largely lost the ability to feel connection in the appropriate way, even when it may be available.

Type patterns arise as accommodations to this sense of disconnection, as orientations or dispositions more than strategies.  A sense of purpose (sometimes urgent) is clearly associated with them, so “strategy” may be a natural word to think of, yet it shouldn’t be taken too literally.  They form in the imagination of a young child whose mind and body are still developing, so they’re not fully mature or entirely realistic; if we want to understand their nature and intent we must consider how early experience may be felt and processed.  We all begin to experience relational difficulties in early childhood, probably even prenatally, and in the nicest of homes, not so much because our physical needs are being neglected as because we’re sensitive as human beings to far more than that, to the full energetic presence of our caregivers, and weaknesses in it.  Physical care will keep us alive, but mere actions, and later words, don’t mean as much to us unless they convey a corresponding energetic message well, and people’s ability to do that can be limited by their own early experience, or how well they’ve dealt with that since.

For infants still learning to distinguish self from other, the bad feeling of such experiences would be easily taken in and incorporated into their developing sense of self.  As they try to understand what could be wrong they begin to feel bad about themselves, which is disturbing and painful enough to make that fragile self-concept hard to keep intact.  This profoundly changes the terms of the problem.  It’s no longer just about quality of connection or care, and expectations around that may even begin to diminish, because if we come to feel that there’s something wrong with us, we may not deserve any better.  The real challenge then becomes how to sustain a functional sense of a basically good self, despite that threatening sense of badness and wrongness.  At first this probably doesn’t go so well, and it becomes difficult to remain present to our own experience, and we begin to inhabit our body less.

There’s not much we can possibly do to remedy this situation, and yet it’s a serious threat to our further psychic development.  As we’re increasingly living in our minds, losing somatic reassurance for our sense of self, the imagination must get very active out of sheer desperation, wondering what else we can be that we could feel good about again.  And so in an attempt to avoid the badness of not feeling lovingly cared for, perhaps not even deserving care herself, a young Two begins to identify instead with the goodness of caring, to want to embody caring, eventually coming to see herself as an agent of caring in an inconsiderate world – not in order to get something in return, but simply to be able to feel like a good person and maintain an intact sense of self.5  At first this preoccupation must be only a feeling or idea, a self-image,  but as she grows older it begins to inspire behavior.

Some aspects of this account are necessarily speculative on my part and may even be destined to remain so, yet I feel quite sure of the central fact that type patterns aren’t about getting what we once felt we needed, but embodying it ourselves and offering it to others.  Hints of this can be seen in some names given to the types, like Giver and Protector, but the principle hasn’t been more generally recognized for various reasons.  A consistent relational psychology for all the types hasn’t been sought; some are casually assumed to involve getting something from others, while others appear not to.  We too easily confuse the person with the type: while anyone might sometimes want and seek love or care, that doesn’t mean their type pattern is a strategy for getting it.  And behavior arising out of type patterns, however well-intentioned, can feel strained somehow or less than genuine, so people (who also have problems of their own)  may actually misinterpret what a Two or Three is doing, suspecting some ulterior motive.

Nine Idealizations of Relationship

There’s a particular aspect of early relationship, a specific missing feeling and corresponding idealization, associated with each type pattern.  While we might begin with the reactivity for our own type, we’re eventually likely to need to work through many of them, as we notice difficulties with receiving each particular feeling.  We can also recognize an idealized style of giving, an attempt to identify or align with one of these aspects of good relationship.  This consistent orientation or preoccupation, much like a life mission, is what must make a particular pattern our distinct “type”: not merely more intense reactivity than for other patterns that we all experience to varying degrees, but a single idealization at the core of our personal identity.6  When people of other types describe their reactivity, I recognize that experience myself; when they talk about the idealization of their type, how they see themselves, it can sound quite strange to me.  We don’t merely “lead with” a particular pattern; it’s the only one we develop fully in that form.  It’s what we identified with long before we ever heard of the Enneagram, the sort of person we seem to be without feeling entirely sure why.  We can only speculate on why we may have settled on one theme rather than another, whether it was the first that came to our attention during some critical period or the strongest; and since we all end up with a type in any case, it hardly matters which it turned out to be.

Given human complexity, the idealizations eventually generalize very broadly: as a Five I feel an urge to observe and understand most anything, sometimes even as an escape from feeling disenchanted with relationship, but the central target of my attention really is other people (and especially what problem they may be having).  At their best, these idealizations are about embodying goodness and making the world a better place.  We’re all givers in this sense, not simply selfish by nature, and many problems in our culture must result from the frustration of this central impulse to give; others too, from its typical awkwardness.  All the idealizations can be overdone, even to a problematic degree, and they never quite manage to keep us from feeling bad about ourselves again.  In serious dysfunction, any of them can become hateful and destructive: without directly feeling our own goodness and the basic goodness of life, the attempt to feel good about ourselves can easily degenerate into needing to feel superior to others, or begin to fail entirely leaving us full of hatred for life.  I haven’t tried to include that end of the spectrum in the brief descriptions of average type experience that follow.

One:  This pattern involves difficulty feeling appreciated and approved of.  Ones cultivate their appreciation for everyone’s goodness and potential, and because they want to see that fully expressed they develop high expectations for themselves and others.  They identify with the value of faith in individual promise, expecting results they can be proud of.  Pursued too urgently as an idealization, this can lead Ones to become inflexible perfectionists, ignoring and then being taken aback by common human failings.  Ones want to see and bring out the best in people, in a world of otherwise low expectations.  At the same time they remain sensitive about approval themselves.

Two:  This pattern involves difficulty feeling lovingly cared for.  Twos develop a persistent concern with how people ought properly to be treated, and are disturbed by any failure to meet such a standard.  They identify with the value of loving concern for people’s welfare, and constantly find ways to demonstrate that in their lives.  Pursued too urgently as an idealization, this can become disconcertingly one-sided, possessive or manipulative.  Twos want to embody loving care in an inconsiderate world.  This is the expression of an idealized value, not a quid-pro-quo strategy, however sensitive they may remain to feeling poorly treated themselves.

Three:  This pattern involves difficulty feeling loved for who you are.  Threes want to sustain a sense of excitement and purpose in being themselves, despite no longer being sure who that might be.  They identify with the value of the joy of loving connection, and feel guided by their heart, drawn to relationship with others.  Pursued too urgently as an idealization, this involves outward demonstration of what they may have trouble feeling directly, becoming caught up in showing how they’re the best spouse, parent, etc.  Threes want to offer loving connection to a callous world.  They can invest so much energy in this that they become busy and impatient, leaving no time for their own inner experience, especially any desire for recognition or love.

Four:  This pattern involves difficulty feeling special connection in relationship.  Special, close, personal connection plays a very important role in our life, which feels lonely and flat without it.  Fours long for the richer experience they’ve somehow lost, and cultivate their emotions to enhance an otherwise “ordinary” life.  They identify with the value of special deep connection, wanting to feel and restore this to a dull, dreary world.  Pursued too urgently as an idealization, this can seem overdone, melodramatic or self-indulgent.  When they do draw someone close, missing that feeling of special connection can make something seem wrong and cause them to push them away again, leaving Fours feeling somewhat ambivalent about relationship.

Five:  This pattern involves difficulty feeling seen, heard, and understood.  Relationship feels unsatisfying, so Fives tend to withdraw, observing others while doubting whether anyone would notice what’s going on for a Five, or any contribution they might make.  They identify with the value of paying attention and understanding, especially wherever others seem not to.  Pursued too urgently as an idealization, this can seem distant or impersonal.  Fives want to be the perceptive ones in an oblivious world.  At the same time they still miss that quality of attention themselves – and others may detect this, which helps to explain the awkwardness Fives can have with contact they were unaware of inviting.

Six:  This pattern involves difficulty feeling reliably supported.  Sixes become doubtful, even distrustful, always seeking but never feeling true security.  They identify with the value of loyalty and dependability, even going out of their way to support a neglected “underdog” because others don’t.  Pursued too urgently as an idealization, their allegiance system can become overzealous and fragile, subject to sudden reversals of judgment due to doubts and fears, real or imagined.  Sixes want to be the dependable, supportive ones in a capricious, uncertain world.  At the same time they continue to have serious issues with trust themselves.

Seven:  This pattern involves difficulty feeling that others also want what’s good for them.  Sevens come to anticipate and resist restrictions on their freedom, suspecting that others only impose these for dubious reasons of their own.  They identify with the value of achieving the best and most satisfying outcome, for themselves and others as well.  Pursued too urgently as an idealization, this is likely to involve rationalization and unilateral action.  Sevens want to maximize fulfillment in a misguided world, confident that they even know what would be best for others better than they do themselves.  They also remain anxious to escape any prospect of limitation.

Eight:  This pattern involves difficulty feeling respected.  Adults hold the power in early relationship, and Eights worry that it can be misused for their own purposes.  They identify with the value of defending individual worth, finding power in their own anger when those who can’t protect themselves seem to be taken advantage of.  Pursued too urgently as an idealization, this can seem disproportionate or overwhelming to others.  Eights want to stand up for fairness and justice in a potentially abusive world.  At the same time they remain on guard against the sudden shock of potential betrayal.

Nine:  This pattern involves difficulty feeling welcomed and included.  Nines come to feel unwanted, like peripheral or second-class participants whose own desires or agenda won’t matter to others.  They identify with the value of inclusion and harmony, envisioning a world in which everyone would be welcome, and worrying about any who don’t seem to be.  Pursued too urgently as an idealization, this can create difficulty speaking up for themselves, or recognizing and dealing with real problems.  Nines want to unify a world full of people who have trouble living together.  At the same time they continue to be surprised and resentful to find themselves overlooked.

I’ve kept these descriptions short and simple, because we’re already so familiar with how the consequences tend to work out for each type.  Still, some revisions to standard views of the types are in order.7  For example, Ones are primarily concerned with appreciation and fulfillment of potential, their own as well as others’, not merely perfection of results.  Fives stand back from “the world”, which is to say relationship, because they feel invisible and expect to be ignored or walked right over; knowledge becomes a substitute not for action, but for connection.  But above all, the nine type patterns aren’t strange selfish strategies for getting the connection we once felt we needed from others; we actually seem largely to have written that expectation off, even while continuing to experience painful reactivity around it.  Instead they’re awkward approaches to giving in relationship, even wanting to make our world a better place, and our task in adulthood is to begin to free ourselves from the grip of underlying discomfort that can make those efforts seem strained or overdone, and often not work or feel quite right.  I recently heard a wonderful observation from a Two being interviewed about her type:

“People say I’m giving and generous… for me to say I’m giving, I mean, I don’t know that about myself, I guess, but that’s my posture.  I will give…  If there are things that they need, that need to happen, I will jump, I will jump to help.” 8

This is what embodying an idealization feels like, not only for Twos but in different forms for each type: in the moment a peculiar sense of need calling us to do what we do so well, and perhaps afterward some puzzlement about that.  Our challenge is to develop a more authentic, heartfelt, intentional, and satisfying way of knowing and giving of ourselves that can be felt directly in our bodies.

Having been accustomed myself to thinking in terms of frustrated needs, and to type descriptions that emphasize those, I was profoundly surprised to realize that type idealizations are really about giving.  I now find myself feeling better about the Enneatypes, about people generally, and about myself, as I hope others may too.  We’re not a bunch of misers and gluttons, however misguided our actions may be at times.  Somewhere deep inside I knew that, as I suspect many do.  I’m not recommending that type should be regarded as inherently positive rather than negative, healthy not pathological; it has both aspects, and given the peculiar way in which humans have evolved, something like it may simply have been necessary for the initial development of a functional self in relationship.  What strikes me as important is that type patterns arise out of deep, painful negative experience, yet they aspire to far more than mere survival.  That tells us something about human nature that hasn’t always been fully appreciated.

Working with Type

There are straightforward ways of working with this material today.   First we can learn to recognize our reactivity, the familiar ways in which we feel hurt or threatened ourselves.  We experience this aspect of all the type patterns to varying degrees, and need not to convince ourselves that whatever we once felt was lacking is in fact available to us after all, but to address the persistent feeling that makes it hard for us to see how it ever could be.  Second, we can reexamine the way our attention goes out to people, learning to distinguish between truly heartfelt acts of love, support, and appreciation, and others that we pursue with a peculiarly hollow feeling of urgency, as the agents of our type idealizations.  Here too it would be more effective, instead of merely describing our type structure in detail, to go deeper and work directly with the specific feeling that drives it.

I’ve recently encountered a therapeutic method called Integrative Body Psychotherapy9 that takes exactly such an approach.  IBP addresses difficulties from early childhood by formulating essential energetic “messages” that we can imagine having received fully (as in fact we didn’t, and no one quite does) from a good parent.  Many of them sound as though they could have been tailored to the challenges of specific Enneatypes, and with a few alterations10 a list of nine can be assembled that fit the types remarkably well:

  1. I’m proud of you.
  2. I’ll take loving care of you.
  3. I love you not for what you do, but for who you are.
  4. You’re special to me.
  5. I see you and hear you.
  6. You can trust me, I’ll always be there for you.
  7. I want what’s best for you, even when I say No.
  8. I respect you as a person in your own right.
  9. I want and welcome you.

What matters isn’t saying or thinking these exact words, which you can vary if slightly different language works better for you, but focusing on the energetic quality they convey as relational messages, and allowing them to evoke certain feeling tones in your body that may have become unfamiliar long ago.  As we often say ruefully, “awareness isn’t enough”: long-unfamiliar feelings of goodness don’t instantly materialize once we recognize the inadequacy of our attempt to emulate them.  We need to find and become reacquainted with them, and cultivate them with patience and kindness.  These “good parent messages” can help because they’re precisely enough targeted to guide us back to crucial lost aspects of the felt sense of relationship.

In early childhood, fully absorbed in our immediate experience, we used imagination to try to escape bad feelings about ourselves by developing a type idealization – but imagination isn’t enough, because it can’t change the way we actually feel.  As adults we’re better resourced to revisit the problem.  The first thing you may notice in working with these messages is an old sense of hurt or longing due to a missing feeling, and if you stay with that you may also begin to get a sense of the good feeling itself.  If that doesn’t work straightaway it can be helpful to spend a few minutes breathing more fully or getting up and moving around, because feeling bad about ourselves tends to diminish the energy level in our bodies and make other more genuine feelings difficult to access.  This is a simple approach that can be practiced either in a group setting or alone.  It doesn’t require extensive inquiry into exactly how we may have come to have difficulty with a crucial relationship feeling in childhood, or more with one than with others; instead it focuses upon resolving these difficulties by learning to recognize and cultivate those feelings in the body, here and now.

Understanding Shame

I’ve been speaking a bit nebulously about “feeling bad about ourselves”, which is probably a good idea most of the time, and adequate for working with type patterns in the way I’ve described.  However, I do also want to offer a brief further explanation and even some scientific background to support an unfamiliar view of the Enneatypes that could otherwise seem highly speculative.  Even IBP doesn’t use the actual word “shame”, and it can be difficult and uncomfortable to talk about explicitly because merely doing so actually tends to trigger the experience, a highly unpleasant one that we try to avoid awareness of.  In fact we’re likely to be extremely well defended against it; I had to work with this material for many months as I came to terms with it myself, and found that process difficult and upsetting.  At times while writing this section I realized that I was feeling uneasy, and had to take some deep breaths and work with that; reading it may have a similar effect on you.  There are times when we need to address shame nonetheless, because it’s a significant part of the human condition.

By “shame” I don’t mean the remorse we may feel upon concluding that something we did was ill-considered – although when that begins to congeal into guilt, shame is definitely becoming involved.  Shame is the feeling that underlies the nasty experience we start to have when something bad happens in relationship (whether our fault or not) and we take it personally, when we become trapped in victimhood or depression, or attempt to escape that by lashing out in anger.  Our tendency to feel shame, and the burden of it that we already carry, are the reason we trigger one another so easily in relationship, and the key to the dynamics of the Enneatypes.  Merely describing the world-view of our type experience can bring up the shame associated with it even without being aware of or naming it, which is why that’s not a wise thing to overdo without some effective positive counterbalance, and why people may sometimes decide the Enneagram isn’t helpful for them.

Shame is what “constricts our life force”, as Helen Palmer so accurately puts it.  We need to understand that so that we don’t simply blame ourselves for being perverse or unenlightened, and make the situation worse.  Shame closes down our ability to feel our own goodness and that of relationship; it seems to shut out the very possibilities for us that we see others enjoying in life.  I know this experience myself not only through work with type patterns, but also from dealing with early trauma.  Shame makes us feel locked into the consequences of previous negative experience, as if what’s done is done and that’s that, and nothing else could matter – and it directs our anger at that into a useless ritual of finding others to blame, or blaming ourselves.  It’s hard even to question this story in a state from which any more positive energy, memory, or possibility somehow seems to have vanished, so the challenge is to regain awareness of those, and our full sense of ourselves.

Understanding this predicament from a biological perspective is useful, and may help reduce its charge or stigma.  Contrary to popular imagination, evolution isn’t a simple story of progress and often works in quirky ways.  Shame is part of human nature, our evolutionary heritage as social mammals – the same heritage that also gave us the warmth of love.  It’s the mechanism that evolution stumbled upon for promoting social cooperation that increased our mammalian ancestors’ chances of survival.  (That’s where survival finally belongs in this picture, and it’s fairly remote.)  Experiencing shame disposed them to suppress their own will and desires, yielding instead to others in a relatively stable dominance hierarchy that minimized the risk of serious conflict.  Human beings have a much more complex mind than the mammals in which shame first evolved, and instead of submitting to it we subconsciously try to avoid experiencing it in very interesting ways that actually tend to produce and aggravate conflict.  Shame is the most irrational aspect of our nature, and no wonder: it evolved to induce more cooperative behavior by making individuals feel bad in relationship.  This strange inheritance explains type patterns and much more, including depression and aspects of trauma: natural, even rational goals just stop feeling relevant, in a way that’s difficult even to grasp in the moment.  Shame gets us to tell ourselves “somehow that’s just not for me” – which is why type patterns wouldn’t be about trying to get what we want.

Neurobiologist Jaak Panksepp describes a primal mammalian instinctual-emotional system called SEEKING that underlies the operation of all the others, including the FEAR, DISTRESS, and ANGER systems that Jack Killen has written about.  The SEEKING system generates “excited, euphoric anticipation” of success in obtaining resources for life, motivating “intense, enthused curiosity about the world” and inspiring a sense of being “effective agents who can make things happen in the world”.11  This is exactly the crucial functionality that shame, as a biological mechanism, must block.  As a subjective experience, shame doesn’t function or flow as ordinary emotions do; while several of those (fear, distress, anger) have a “negative” aspect to their experience, they’re still fundamentally expressions and defenses of vitality, orienting the SEEKING system toward a need for safety, connection, or action against those obstructing us, and they normally arise and pass appropriately.  The experience of shame is just the opposite, not flowing but persistent, not so much a feeling of anything as an absence of genuine feeling, even an inability to feel fully alive.  (In this state those emotions can also congeal into chronic moods of anxiety, loneliness, or hostility.)  For me something seems to constrict and close off in my upper chest, my breathing gets shallow, and the horizons of my world mysteriously seem to shrink.  The sensation is unpleasant, but only in comparison to better states that suddenly become difficult to remember.  It has no immediately obvious content; unlike emotions like fear, it’s not meant to motivate us to do anything, but to refrain from doing.  So we begin to invent and become caught up in stories about what’s wrong, why being alive doesn’t feel as good as we know it should, how we (or in projection, others) must be bad.

The Inner Critic

I remember very clearly the day several years ago when my friend Peter announced a major discovery to an Enneagram workgroup: “I’m a good man!”  I don’t think anyone quite knew what to make of this at the time; we expected to hear whether his experience with imagined fears was going better lately or worse, and perhaps even to practice our styles of helping and supporting him.  We become so convinced that type problems will always be with us that we may suppose anyone who isn’t focusing on them is trying to avoid them, as people have been known to do.  But this was different.  The full confident tone of Peter’s voice impressed me, and I’ve since come to understand why: rediscovering the feeling of our own goodness is a crucial goal.  I can say “I’m a good man” today myself and feel only a little tentative about it; I’m working on adding the exclamation point, and everyone might learn something from giving this a try.

Enneagram teaching barely touches upon this subject, in recognizing the debilitating effects of an “Inner Critic”.  I once eagerly co-taught a local workshop on that topic, sensing that it was vitally important without understanding yet how to relate it to type.  Advice on how to approach it varies from cultivating self-kindness as an antidote, which I find more appealing myself, to recruiting anger to fight off this supposedly intrusive voice.  Freudian theory has left us with the idea that it’s an introjection of a parent’s voice telling us that we’re bad, that we can’t do it, that we’ll never get it right.  That’s actually not one of the problems I experienced in my own childhood, so I’m quite sure that the “voice” (although it seldom sounds like that) of my Critic is my own, and it feels very young indeed, dating back to early bad experience that I somehow began to suppose must be my own fault.

The “Inner Critic” is what we call our monitoring of the pursuit of our type idealization, as we try not to fall back into the pain of feeling bad about ourselves, or perhaps even that old early difficulty with holding together a sense of self at all.  Therefore it may be most likely to arise, or at its harshest, on occasions when we seem to fail in that idealization.  In order to find an internal feeling of goodness again, IBP suggests saying something like the following to yourself, noticing how the words land, how well you can feel their truth in your body:

I’m not bad, I didn’t do anything wrong.

I’m not bad because [specific instance of type idealization] didn’t make things right.12

I won’t abandon myself when I most need my own support.

If you’re instantly tempted (as I was myself) to think “but of course I’ve done things wrong”, remember that this statement is about the context of innocent early childhood.  If you don’t sense much going on at first, you can inquire what you are experiencing.  If you’re preoccupied, you can try to relax your thoughts and pay attention to anything your body may have to tell you.  If you’ve been sitting still too long, you can arise and stretch and move around, to feel your body again.  You can breathe fully and deeply for a minute or two, feeling each breath bringing energy back into your body.  Then you can see what it feels like to say these things again, in order to begin to reawaken the healthy instincts that shame can make us forget.


Awareness of Enneatype patterns has generally been regarded as a useful tool for self-understanding in therapy or coaching, while relaxing the grip of type for personal growth has been understood as a deeper challenge of an ultimately spiritual nature, traditionally addressed in a language of cosmic laws and shock points that won’t appeal to everyone.  I see the development of a psychotherapy of type itself as a way both to further improve the effectiveness and broaden the appeal of working with the Enneatypes, and to free the mystical aspect of the Enneagram tradition to be pursued by those still interested in it for its own sake, rather than for lack of a therapeutic alternative.  (Actually I’m curious myself what a Fourth Way might look like today.  What puts us into the “waking sleep” that Gurdjieff described?)

Enneagram work has long been based on recognizing a deep connection between psychology and spirituality, and I hope not to be misunderstood by anyone inclined to think that feeling wanted by Mommy sounds trivial compared to contemplating Holy Love: I’m not trying to “de-spiritualize” the subject or reduce it to “mere psychology”.  On the contrary, I find it hard to tell where psychology leaves off and spirituality begins, especially in Western culture, whose religions are largely shame-based and dualistic themselves, repeating the pattern of our earliest development.13  Psychology and spirituality overlap so much for us that they’re often trying to describe the same phenomenon.  For example, while I’m not a student of the Diamond Heart approach, I browsed its website while considering how to conclude this paper and was struck by how closely its “theory of holes” sounds like it resembles the missing parent messages of IBP, and its view of ego, my own proposal of type idealizations:

“When merging love is lost, there is left in its place a vacuum, an emptiness, a hole in the being.  This hole is then filled by a part of the psychic structure that resembles the lost essential aspect.”

“We will see that this truth that ego tries to emulate is what most people are seeking in their personal life, and that realizing this truth of what it is to be a human being is the aim of humanity.” 14

The world really seems to need this today, whatever we may call it.

The relational field that many people begin to sense at a good Enneagram workshop isn’t just a conveniently supportive environment for addressing individual problems; it’s the very thing we originally lost connection with, which led us to lose our connection with ourselves as well.  (Perhaps “relational” and “spiritual” are also largely interchangeable terms.)  We often have a vague sense of something missing in life, imagining that we should somehow be able to feel and act better than we do.  It could seem natural to start thinking about noble virtues that we lack but could aspire to.  In fact it’s so natural that we’ve already been doing something like that from early childhood, when we began developing our type idealization.  But thinking and talking about qualities we can’t feel that we possess, simply imagining embodying virtue, can be an invitation to what Buddhist therapist John Welwood has called “spiritual bypassing”.15  Using spirituality to try to escape unresolved personal difficulties tends to turn it into an ego project – as I now suspect, because personality is originally based on just such an attempt itself.

All our lives we’ve been trying to embody idealized aspects of goodness that we can no longer feel well directly, and by now we’ve found this to be a problematic approach.  At the same time, our genuine sense of goodness must be there all along sustaining us, even when we’re lost in thoughts, plans, or recriminations.  This is poignantly illustrated by the well-known patient “H.M.” who after undergoing a medial temporal lobectomy in 1953 to cure his epileptic fits, could no longer form memories or plan for the future: when asked what he might do tomorrow, he replied “Whatever is beneficial.” 16  Presence and a sense of the basic goodness of life are very simple; shame and its manifestations in neurosis, depression, and trauma can be formidable obstacles.  This is the ongoing challenge of being human, and understanding the Enneatypes takes us straight to the heart of it.


5  It seems possible that not every child may complete this mental maneuver to develop a personality that can still relate effectively (if neurotically), leaving the prospect of relationship too uncomfortable.  This might help us understand autism-spectrum disorders.

6  Consequently if a scientifically robust test can be developed for determining type, which could improve the credibility of the Enneatype system, it should focus upon the idealization specific to the type, rather than the reactivity that anyone may experience.  (I found this to be useful in typing interviews myself even before understanding why.)  It’s possible that the nature of these idealizations has remained poorly understood partly because we don’t develop all nine ourselves, and so don’t recognize them as familiar.  For that reason, I welcome suggestions (even single words) for improving my own descriptions.

7  I trust that by now everyone has noticed my penchant for pointing out misunderstandings, an excellent (if not always endearing) illustration of the Five type idealization.

8  Webinar “The Enneagram Narrative in Your Life: Heart Center”, on

9  IBP ( may be better known in Europe than the United States.  It incorporates elements of family systems theory, object relations theory, Gestalt psychology, and Reichian breath work.  It doesn’t envision distinct personality types driven by these missing feelings (although it describes several looser character styles driven by needs for closeness or space), so I hope its practitioners may discover the relevance of the Enneatypes as well.  I thank therapist and teacher David Sawyer for introducing me to and advising me on the presentation of IBP material, although I’ve mostly chosen to avoid its terminology here, as the Enneagram has plenty of its own already.

10  I’ve formulated a message about respect for Eights myself; changed “Sometimes I will tell you No, and that’s because I love you” because love doesn’t quite sound precise enough for Seven; and added “welcome you” because it helps the Nine message make sense in a later context.

11  Jaak Panksepp and Lucy Biven, The Archaeology of Mind (Norton, 2012), pp.95-98.

12  For example, for a Five: “I’m not bad because trying to understand my mother didn’t make things right.”  IBP originally suggests “because I couldn’t fix her”, likely written by a Two as it expresses that single type idealization, so I’ve generalized this for use with all nine types.

13  Shame is even widely imagined to be the basis of morality – when in fact people lose touch with the goodness of relationship because they’re already struggling with a large burden of shame, and that’s what evokes their worst behavior.

14, truth.

15  See for example the interview “Human Nature, Buddha Nature” on

16  Henry Molaison’s amnesia made him a much-studied research subject for the rest of his life.  A transcript of this fascinating and touching interview, conducted at M.I.T. in 1992, can be found on


2 Responses to Relational Psychology of the Enneatypes – Part II: Personality by Eric R. Meyer, PhD

  1. Jonathan Marden says:

    Dear Eric – I have found this article (particularly part 2) to be incredibly helpful. Your thoughtful and well rounded approach to the subject of Ennea-types and their relational psychology is fascinating. Thank you for making your article available via the Association.
    kindest regards
    Jonathan Marden (keen Enneagram amateur)
    New Zealand.

    • Eric Meyer says:

      Thanks for your kind words, Jonathan. Working this out has helped me in my own process, so I’m glad to share it and very much hope that others will also find it useful.
      Best wishes — Eric Meyer.

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