Out on the plains of the African Serengeti, near water holes, clusters of animals come to drink. There zebras will gather in small herds close to their most obvious enemy, the lions, who are most likely to pounce and devour them.
Lions hunt in short swift charges. So whenever their natural enemies are near, the zebras gravitate towards the lions until they find a zone that is just far enough away so that the zebras can outrun the lions should they charge. However, the zebras never get far enough away from the lions to lose sight of them. They stay in an intermediate zone where they can keep track of the lions, but don’t venture close enough to provoke danger. They also don’t venture too far away from the lions, because that would be even more dangerous.
Six is the most explicitly fearful style in the Enneagram. People with this orientation are especially aware of life’s dangers and wary of the hazards that may lurk beneath everyday appearances. To varying degrees all they keep that danger close…
There are two types of Sixes: phobic and counterphobic. Their reactions to being fearful are so different that outwardly they can appear to have different personality styles. When phobic Sixes sense danger, they lay low. They may act cautious, compliant or ambivalent in order to avoid potential attack. When counterphobic Sixes sense danger, they often deliberately provoke it by acting outspoken and aggressive – wanting to handle trouble before it handles them. Phobic Sixes can be charming, modest and meek while counterphobics can seem tough, challenging and punchy. Some Sixes are absolutely phobic or counterphobic, but most exist along a continuum where they are more one than the other. A nervous phobic Six I know has a bumper sticker on her car that says, “Disappear Fear.” A counterphobic Six’s bumpersticker reads, “Fear is Never Boring.”
Healthy phobic Sixes are steady, loyal and idealistic. They live the “truth of duty,” but in a voluntary, dedicated way. They are usually committed to a group, tradition or cause beyond themselves. They keep their promises, work hard and are honorable, protective friends
Healthy phobic Sixes are often gracious and diplomatic. They put people at ease and are well liked for their discretion and manners. Often they are very funny and have vivid imaginations. Healthy phobic Sixes handle power with integrity and may be fair-minded leaders because they sympathize with underdogs. They can affirm their own personal value but also want others in their chosen group to be recognized as well. They’re not pushovers and will take unpopular stands when necessary. Generally, though, they work toward solutions that benefit the group and allow everyone to win.
Less healthy phobic Sixes can become blindly conformist even as they avoid personal responsibility. They might subtly shift their power onto an outside authority and begin to romanticize those who seem surer of themselves. The Six strikes an unconscious bargain with his hero, a bargain that says, “I’ll do what you want me to do if you’ll protect me from danger.” The Six then hides under an imaginary umbrella, pledging fealty to this outside force, growing addicted to the security that this arrangement seems to offer. The healthy Six capacity for deep loyalty is double-edged – when less healthy, Sixes are often loyal to the wrong person or simply codependent.
When they give away their power, phobic Sixes start to chronically worry and feel consciously helpless. To compensate, they become cautious and wary, trying to anticipate the motives of others. They may also try to check their own aggressive or powerful impulses, so that they don’t deviate from the submissive role they have agreed to play. They could have trouble finishing what they start as they worry about who will criticize the finished product. They may seem friendly, but can be passive-aggressive or give off contradictory messages as their resentment breaks through.
Phobic Sixes can also be nervous, skeptical, tense and indecisive, hesitantly stutter-stepping through life. “He self-flagellates,” explains the friend of a Six. “He has tremendous energy, but he doesn’t like uncertainty. So he’s like a bouncing ball, up and down – he gives himself a lot of angst.”
When deeply unhealthy, phobic Sixes become addled with fear and openly dependent upon others. They might surrender their life to work, becoming an abject slave to a job or a boss. They could act like weak, powerless losers and yet demand coddling from friends, tyrannizing others with their helplessness, placing strict, narrow limits on what they will risk or try.
Very unhealthy phobic Sixes avoid challenges altogether, chronically catastrophize and can become flagrantly paranoid. They may persecute others who deviate from norms. They can also be cowardly, litigious, petty, intolerant and dogmatic.
There’s an old story about three pilots watching a plane taking off during a hurricane. The first pilot says, “There goes a brave man.” The second says, “There goes a fool.” The third pilot says, “What’s the difference?”
Healthy counterphobic Sixes are often courageous, willing to take a tiger by the tail and yank. They can be brave, physically adventuresome, highly skilled and have a real gusto for living. If they participate in a tradition, it is usually in the role of constructive gadfly. Their underlying mission is to serve the tradition by stirring it up. They consider themselves team players who offer useful alternatives, using the old as a springboard to the new. To this end, they may be energetic, honest, assertive, and have many good ideas.
If a healthy counterphobic Six is not serving a tradition, he or she is often creative and original. The Sixes’ ability to look past appearances and to question assumptions leads them deeper into a unique point of view. Artistic expression is attractive as a core assertion of their power and as a way to resolve a general sense of alienation. Despite this attitude, counterphobics are often loyal, hard-driven workers and highly idealistic.
Less healthy counterphobic Sixes often have an edgy, restless quality. Some channel their energies into physical activity; they enjoy sports and tend to be more openly competitive than phobic Sixes. Some Counterphobics hide their insecurities with cool or tough masks. The point of physical challenge is to expel their fears by facing danger.
Counterphobic Sixes are afraid of being afraid. Because they take action compulsively-to quell their inner fears-they are prone to making bad decisions. When unhealthy, their preoccupation with risk can /lead to bad decisions or/degenerate into a recklessness that borders on self-destruction. A counterphobic Six with vertigo defined it as “the fear that you’re going to somehow uncontrollably hurl yourself off a precipice.”
To beat their fears they take pre-enptive action/ They react against fear by taking apparently brave but possibly reckless action; doing something to discharge their fear, going out on a limb just for the exercise. One counterphobic Six used to pump gasoline into his car with a lighted cigarette in his mouth. He also liked to jump off bridges onto moving trains. Another counterphobic journalist says: “Every time I get a new assignment I’m convinced that this is the one I’m gonna blow. But, pulling out of what feels like a nosedive is really exhilarating.” Another Six, a stage actor, described going on stage as “parachuting behind enemy lines. My job is to get out as quickly as I can.”
Back on the plains of the Serengeti, one Zebra is acting strangely. While the others remain in their intermediate zone, not too far away from the lions but not too close, this zebra can’t stand living with the potential threat that the lions pose. To the horror of the other zebras, it raises itself up and charges the lions.
Counterphobic Sixes are often defiant or rebellious towards authority and can habitually find counterexamples to what others assert to be true. They may feel more acutely as if the world is unfairly biased against them; some have a ranting quality, especially when they talk about governments and power structures. Many counterphobics are wryly funny and good at satire. When insecure, however, their humor can sting and bite.
Zoo employees say zebras are far more dangerous than most people realize. Like horses they frighten easily but they are also ill-tempered. When zebras bite they hang on, sometimes until their victims die.
Deeply unhealthy counterphobic Sixes can be aggressive, unstable and senselessly contentious. They can also be fruitlessly hyperactive, as well as paranoid, accusative, belligerent and vengeful. Some counterphobics prize their hatreds and can be aggressively unlikable or even dangerous. When inflamed they can adopt a vigilante-like mentality and generally act much worse than the authorities they accuse of abusing power.
Fear and Doubt
Sixes are part of the emotional trio who oppose themselves, project their power and have trouble taking action. In the trance of their style, Sixes project their core capabilities – their fundamental power to take care for themselves, live independent lives and assert their own authority. Unlike Fives who fear being socially trapped, Sixes believe that more general forces oppose them. These can be authorities, institutions, power structures, the church, the government – whoever is the Six’s particular bogeyman. One Six joked, “My mother is Puerto Rican and my father is black. We lived in a large Jewish tenement in an Italian neighborhood. Whenever I left the house, the kids would point at me and say: ‘Get him! He’s all of them!’”
Some Sixes see their fears in other people – parents, spouses or bosses. Other Sixes fear institutions – the company they work for, their church, the government. In all cases the Six is maintaining or recreating an early parent-child dynamic. Whoever or whatever the Six fears is a kind of imaginary parent who has power over the Six.
Other Sixes make their fears existential, seeing the universe as a bleak, spectral void in which they’ve been abandoned by God. “Fate” is a frightening, impersonal force that can snuff the Six out in an eye blink or potentially rain misfortune down upon them like the biblical character Job.
Sixes can complicate daily life, ambivilate about decisions and baffle others with their apparent helplessness. While this behavior can seem pointlessly self-defeating, Sixes live in a universe that they believe will defeat them anyway. By defeating themselves first, Sixes control the time and place of their defeat and perversely take a kind of default power.The Six uses his power to deny his power because, historically, that was a more powerful position.
This is a replay of their early experience of the world. One Six remembered growing up next door to a dog kennel that raised Doberman Pinchers. Leaving his house to go to school each morning he felt surprised and frightened when the neighbor dogs would bark at him. Then one day he began hearing dogs barking in his mind before he left the house. This scared him but also helped him feel prepared and in control.
Although an adult Six might believe that the outside world is poised to attack him, Sixes are actually self-attacking. They either scare themselves with invented fears, recruit others to scare them or engineer outside events so that they will confirm the Six’s negative expectations. In other words, they set themselves up.
A friend of humorist Robert Benchley’s once said of a mutual acquaintance: “There’s no doubt about it, Robert, he’s your worst enemy.” Benchley shot back, “Not while I’m alive!” To a Six, the way to be your own best friend is to sometimes be your own worst enemy.
Sixes can also tyrannize others with their doubts, fears and weakness. You might invite a Six out to lunch and get a reply like this: “Uh, yeah, sure, if you want to. As long as it isn’t Mexican food. I went to a Mexican restaurant one time and got really sick. It was in 1972 but I remember it as though it was yesterday. Thai food would be nice.
The Six continues: “I don’t know if you plan on driving. My car is on the shop and ordinarily I don’t like to ride in other people’s cars – just for safety’s sake, it’s nothing personal – but I guess it would be ok if there is a Thai restaurant reasonably close. I also don’t ever travel on freeways either so if that’s the only way we could go to the Thai restaurant I think I’d just rather not have lunch.” Although the Six is portraying himself as helpless, the listener is probably feeling controlled and possibly regretting the invitation.
A man is chased over a cliff by tigers. As he falls, he grabs on to a vine while the tigers are above him snarling, spitting and swatting at him. Just below him is fog. As he clutches the vine more tightly, it starts coming out of the side of the cliff. He looks below him and sees fog.
Desperate the man looks heavenward and yells, “Can anyone up there help me?”
In reply a deep booming voice says, “Do you have faith?” The vine comes a little farther out of the side of the cliff, and he looks back up and yells, “Yeah, sure! I have faith.”
“Then let go of the vine!” comes the booming reply.
The man pauses to think this over. Meanwhile the vine comes further out of the cliff while the tigers are still snarling above him. the fog below him. Finally he looks up again and yells, “Can anybody else up there help me?”
Sixes control through doubting, what NLP calls finding counter examples. A Six’s central defensive habit is to question reality to discover its hidden potential dangers, to find power and safety in negative anticipation. Meanwhile they distrust their own instincts and reject the evidence of their senses. “Its like I can’t count to one without a second thought,” a Six joked. Another said that her childhood nickname was “Yabut” because of the way she would react to any assertion with the words “yeah, but…”
Let’s say a Six is driving one night down a dark highway. Suddenly a car pulls out in front of her. She swerves, successfully avoiding a collision, and continues driving.
Prior to the emergency the Six was feeling calm, confident and secure. The way she reacted to the near collision reflected her mood; when the car surprised her, she responded quickly, reflexively and effectively.
A minute after the near miss, the Six has a delayed reaction. She suddenly starts thinking about what happened, saying things to herself like, “That was a nasty surprise! The next time I might not be so lucky! I’ll bet he was a drunk. I wonder what else could happen? Haven’t planes crashed on this highway?”
So the Six driver begins scaring herself by imagining future emergencies and rehearsing her responses to them, preparing for another surprise. By doubting her own ability to respond effectively she hopes to feel as safe as she did before the near collision. In the meantime, of course, she is paying less attention to her driving and is actually less able to respond to a new emergency.
If you cut out a cardboard silhouette of a hawk and sweep it over a pen full of baby chickens, the chicks will scatter in terror. Sixes defend against their shadows with the defense mechanism of projection – disowning their own feelings or unwanted qualities and seeing them in the environment or in other people, something like the pot calling the kettle black. Unlike Fives who give others the power to overwhelm or invade them, Sixes project their fundamental power to pursue their own destiny, make independent decisions and take overt responsibility for their thoughts, feelings and actions. Instead, they give outside forces this power and then unconsciously hope to be rescued or protected by vicarious authorities who symbolize the Six’s own power. While all Enneagram styles are capable of projecting their shadowy qualities, Sixes do it habitually.
Six is a very romantic personality style but the subject of its romance is power, in both its positive and negative aspects. Just as Fours can dress up a beloved person in their emotional imagination and feelings, Sixes romanticize powerful people, institutions or entities imbuing them with a significance they don’t necessarily have. Sixes can either deify these forces or demonize them. In either case, the Six is seeing his own power located in the other and then unconsciously living in tension to it. A Six who is angry might only be conscious of how angry others seem. A married Six who is attracted someone other than her spouse might begin to suspect her husband of having an affair. Another Six who wants to make art but lacks the courage could idolize artists.
In the novel, The World According to Garp, the main character buys a house after he watches a light plane crash into it. His rationale? The odds of another plane ever crashing into the house are astronomically slim. Sixes who project their power onto existential forces can be superstitious or believe unduly in “fate.” They could watch the world for external signs that tell them what they should do or refuse to make decisions without consulting their astrologer. A Six who has a daily breakfast of cereal with sliced banana says, “I always cut the banana into seven slices. And I count them and recount them to make sure there’s seven. Because my life has gone well with seven slices, and I don’t want to tempt fate by having six or eight.”
Excerpted from The Dynamic Enneagram by Tom Condon
Copyright 2009, 2013 by Thomas Condon
Available as an ebook serial at Tom’s website http://www.thechangeworks.com
Tom Condon has worked with the Enneagram since 1980 and with Ericksonian hypnosis and NLP since 1977. These three models are combined in his trainings to offer a useful collection of tools for changing and growing, to apply the Enneagram dynamically, as a springboard to positive change. Tom has taught over 800 workshops in the US, Europe and Asia and is the author of 50 CDs, DVDs and books on the Enneagram, NLP and Ericksonian methods. He is founder and director of The Changeworks in Bend, Oregon.
Tom can be contacted at: http://www.thechangeworks.com