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Who You are (Not): Illuminating your Shadow – The Enneagram

The Enneagram is usually considered a personality profiling system. One of countless approaches to classify us humans into certain types or categories. Though what and who we really are is not defined through our personality. Our personality is simply a part of our human ‘vehicle’ and defined by the consistent behavioural characteristics we display, which are a reflection of our experiences and conditioning.

Or in other words our identity of who we believe we are (more here) not who we actually are.

Our Personality – A projection of our shadow

In the allegory of the cave Plato describes a group of humans sitting with their backs to a fire and watching their shadows in front of them. Mistaking their shadows for themselves.

Thats what we basically all are doing. We are living out from our personality, which is a shadow of who we truly are. The persona is the ‘mask’ we wear over our true nature.

Generally ‘shadow’ is conotated as the bad aspects of ourselves. What we deny ourselves to see. And that has implications: Through not wanting to see, or denying, or even fighting those aspects, we actually give them our power. Those unwanted aspects then define our behaviours. And we end up being controlled by them. And live out our shadow.

So then the only way to become whole, is the see and discover us in our wholeness. Which includes our denied and unwanted aspects – our shadow. This beautiful saying describes that journey and its liberating implications:

“The dysfunctional personality is the gateway to the soul.”

Sufi saying

So let’s explore our wholeness!

The Enneagram

In order to uncover who we truly are and to de-identify with our identity and behavioural patterns, the Enneagram can be an amazing tool. This article is dedicated to the Enneagram as a tool: not to classify us but to understand ourselves and our shadow better. To come to terms with it. And become whole 🙂

The origins of the Enneagram are nebulous and might trace back a few thousand years to the Middle East. Apparently Gjurdjeff was the one who brought the Enneagram around 100 years ago to the West.

The most compelling descriptions about the different profiles and their behavioural patterns I have learned from William Whitecloud. You can find references about them in his book ‘Secrets of Natural Success‘. Other great resources are the books ‘Enneagram’ (Helen Parmer) and ‘Emotions and the Enneagram’ (Margaret Frings Keyes).

The Enneagram describes 9 core modes of operating in the world. Each of these is the outer expression of one core inner limiting beliefs. One can define the personality as the behavioural strategies compensating for those underlying foundational limiting beliefs (more about those fundamental beliefs and their related compensational patterns here).

The ‘problem’ is that one usually considers one’s way of perceiving as ‘normal’, though as we are uncovering the actual ‘normal’ perception is very different from type to type. Let’s look at the individual profiles and their characteristics.

The 9 personality profiles

Each profile has a core belief. That belief unconsciously threatens one’s survival and therefore has to be kept unseen and then compensated by all means. Once human beings with that unconscious dynamic do not longer deny their unwanted aspects, they come to life by becoming whole. Because, as soon as that unconscious process becomes conscious, nothing is hidden anymore. And therefore also no compensation required anymore.

By reading through the profiles below you might recognise those tendencies in yourself or in other people you know. A first start to become whole! 🙂

Number 2: The Helper
  1. Core Belief: “I’m not worthy”
  2. Assumption: Can’t express or go for what they want because they are not worthy. Once they’ve done enough to be good then they will be given what they want.
  3. Compensating Strategies: Being a good person. Helping and putting others first.
  4. Personality Profile: Caring, sociable person who behaves how they assume others want them to (they are sometimes known as chameleons). Find it difficult to know their own mind. Possessive. Manipulative (because they help others in the unconscious expectation that it will lead to them being given what they want). Have a nasty streak, which reveals itself when their hidden agenda fails to bear fruit. Find it difficult to say no and end up doing more than they want. Might sacrifice themselves for a cause, e.g. as charity workers.
  5. Denial: Fulfilling their own needs. Being bad!
Number 3: The Achiever
  1. Core Belief: “I’m not good enough”
  2. Assumption: That if they achieve enough they will be valid. Then they get acknowledgment.
  3. Compensating Strategies: Seek to accomplish a lot, learn a lot.
  4. Personality Profile: Competitive, self-promoting, over-achieving, workaholic, perpetual student. Pragmatic and adaptive. Someone who identifies strongly with achievement and the image of success. Can be very skilled at sth, to then jump to sth else to become even better. Continuous comparison with others. Always look for the best (solution). Keeping themselves very busy, ‘doing’ is ‘the’ thing.
  5. Denial: Failure, emotions (especially depression). Hardest to work with by psychotherapists because of their denial, “I’m allright”
Number 4: The Tragic Romantic (The Artist) 
  1. Core Belief: “I don’t belong”
  2. Assumption: That there is something about them that makes them unlovable. All 4s were abandoned in childhood, either literally (adopted / orphant) or effectively.
  3. Compensating Strategies: Either seek to fit in or be odd as a pre-emptive strike to being rejected, be attractive enough to be loved, find out or cover up what’s wrong with them. Need to push peoples buttons so they reject me.
  4. Personality Profile: Sensitive, dramatic, self-absorbed, temperamental, and given to melancholy; one type presents as odd and eccentric, another type presents as icy cool and stylish; artistic, expressive. Can have a lot of drama, be isolated, introverted, self absorbed and take things personal.
  5. Denial: Rejection and being ordinary.
Number 5: The Thinker (The Observer)
  1. Core Belief: “I need to control myself / my space”
  2. Assumption: That if they are open, their boundaries will be violated.
  3. Compensating Strategies: Be aloof. Protect themselves by living mentally.
  4. Personality Profile: Intensely cerebral, observant, innovative, aloof, deny their own needs (because if they have needs they can’t maintain their aloofness). Can be very stoic, closed, overthinking, intellectual and repetitive task oriented, efficient and effective. Better working alone. Can have a fixed worldview and being socially awkward or at odds with their environment.
  5. Denial: Intimacy, and having their needs met.
Number 6: The Loyalist / Terrorist (The Devil’s Advocate) 
  1. Core belief: “Trust“ (I’m not safe)
  2. Assumption: Only safe with protection of an authority (loyalist) or in the absence of authority (terrorist).
  3. Compensating Strategies: There are actually two types of 6s. One is very loyal (phobic) and the other is confrontational (counter- phobic) in relation to authority. Always testing safety. They can put all their faith into one person and worship them, to then find a way how they are faulty and bring them down. Oscillate between putting themselves out there, and then feel very unsafe and hide again (safety orientated). Deal with their fear by confronting it, to then retreat again. Find out whats the norm, and then be against it.
  4. Personality Profile: Both types are anxious and suspicious. Engaging, responsible, timid, and ingratiating if a phobic 6 (loyalist). Abrasive, aggressive contrarian if a counter-phobic 6 (terrorist).
  5. Denial: Authority and (other peoples) power & their own mental capacity.
Number 7: The Epicure (Lover of the fine things) (The Optimist)
  1. Core Belief: “I don’t have the capacity. There is a way.”
  2. Assumption: That there is a way they should be and if they get it wrong they’ll be in trouble…and they don’t know the way. (Thats why they keep moving.)
  3. Compensating Strategies: Develop many interests. Enrol others in how great everything they do is. Try to prove they’ve got “it.” Big enrolers: They enrol all in sth, and once thats achieved they move on.
  4. Personality Profile: Effervescent optimists with insatiable appetite for life. Moving around busy, fun-loving, spontaneous, and versatile. Trying out everything but committing to nothing. Always busy, looking around, always on to the next thing. Important to be approved, knows knowledgeable things, lots of interests. Very spontaneous, fun to be around, enthusiasm. Lack of commitment and never finishes what they start. Never really good at one thing, because they don’t finish it.
  5. Denial: Negativity and commitment (=death).
Number 8: The Boss
  1. Core Belief: “I’m powerless”
  2. Assumption: That if they don’t dominate, they’ll be dominated. Only the dominant get what they want.
  3. Compensating Strategies: Strive to be in a position of power. Align self with powerful others. Preoccupation with power and control. Manipulate situations to make them look good.
  4. Personality Profile: Wilful, dominating, confrontational, overtly angry, combative, judgemental, condescending. Self defined justice through arrogance (they can be very compassionate ‘helper’ but way of operating very dominating)
  5. Denial: Vulnerability & weakness.
Number 9: The Peacemaker (The Dreamer)
  1. Core Belief: “I’m not allowed to be capable. I’m not allowed to be powerful.”
  2. Assumption: That if conflict or tension is present they won’t get what they want. That expressing what they want creates conflict or tension, so to get what they want they mustn’t let on that they want it.
  3. Compensating Strategies: Avoid conflict, tension, and knowing their own direction. Dream but don’t take much action. Fill up their time with inessential activity. Always ask for permission and approval and trys to get the things right and keep preace.
  4. Personality Profile: Easy going, receptive, reassuring, agreeable. Self-effacing, often shy and retiring, even withdrawn (can be confused with number 5 in that sense). Attracted to peaceful environments and endeavours. Decidedly unambitious. Dreamer. Passive-aggressive – not allowed to be aggressive, so they do it undercover.
  5. Denial: Conflict, tension and anger and direction. 
Number 1: The Perfectionist
  1. Core belief: “I need to be perfect. There is a right way.”
  2. Assumption: That perfection actually exists and they would need to be in essence perfect (but Im not) before they could create what they want.
  3. Compensating Strategies: Avoid doing things unless they can be done perfectly. Avoid criticism by being perfect, defensive, or deflecting criticism on to something or someone else. High standards unachievable by other people.
  4. Personality Profile: Principled, self-controlled, self-righteous, judgemental, and critical type, keen for themselves to be seen as perfect. Share the 9’s idealism and desire for peace, relief, and resolution and the 2’s penchant for approval and being good. Strongly reject their Dark Side.
  5. Denial: Their shadow and imperfection.

So that was a brief introduction into the different profiles. Please don’t use those profiles to define your number! It is not important which number you are, but to understand the unconscious dynamics! Apparently Gjurdjeff didn’t teach the Enneagram (intellectually) to the Westerners because he believed we would use it to label and define us.

This system is not a system to put you in a box. It is designed to identify unconscious dynamics and behaviour. To understand yourself and what is going on for you. Don’t identify yourself with a specific profile. Believing you are a certain personality profile can cause phenomenal biases in your perception. You then might dismiss anything beyond that profile and also use it as an excuse “that’s just how I am”. It is not an excuse but a tool to become more aware!

To use that image of the Enneagram above you can ‘think’ of who we actually are is a point in the middle respectively the whole circle including all the profiles 😉 And to recognize that, it can be truly helpful to recognise what you are not (the compensating strategies).

Relationships between the numbers

There are a few more perspectives on how the 9 individual profiles relate in a human being.

3 groups of types

The 9 profiles can be grouped into 3 different basic tendencies of perceiving, feeling and reacting. Let’s look at the differences between the 3 groups:

2,3,4: Emotion > Depression > Submission based
  1. Profiles: The first group is centred at Number 3. And includes the Numbers 2 and 4.
  2. Perception: These 3 profiles are emotionally based in their perception.
  3. Emotion: With an emotional experience based on depression.
  4. Reaction: Leading to reacting to threat through submission.
5,6,7: Mental > Fear > Flight based
  1. Profiles: The second group is centred at Number 6. And includes the Numbers 5 and 7.
  2. Perception: These 3 profiles are mentally based in their perception.
  3. Emotion: With an emotional experience based on fear.
  4. Reaction: Leading to reacting to threat through flight.
8,9,1,: Instinct > Anger > Fight based
  1. Profiles: The second group is centred at Number 9. And includes the Numbers 8 and 1.
  2. Perception: These 3 profiles are instinctively based in their perception.
  3. Emotion: With an emotional experience based on anger.
  4. Reaction: Leading to reacting to threat through fight.

1 Core and 1-2 Wing Number

According to the text books – that’s NOT how we use the Enneagram here, however it is interesting to explore the different relationships in any case – each person has a Core Number and then 1-2 so called ‘Wings’, which are the preceding and subsequent number. That means that the core number is the main mode of operating, but that the patterns of the wings are also playing (partially) out.

Core NumberWing 1Wing 2
2: The Helper1: The Perfectionist3: The Achiever
3: The Achiever2: The Helper4: The Tragic Romantic (The Artist)
4: The Tragic Romantic (The Artist)3: The Achiever5: The Thinker (The Observer)
5: The Thinker (The Observer)4: The Tragic Romantic (The Artist)6: The Loyalist / Terrorist (The Devil’s Advocate)
6: The Loyalist / Terrorist (The Devil’s Advocate)5: The Thinker (The Observer)7: The Epicure (Lover of the fine things) (The Optimist)
7: The Epicure (Lover of the fine things) (The Optimist)6: The Loyalist / Terrorist (The Devil’s Advocate)8: The Boss
8: The Boss7: The Epicure (Lover of the fine things) (The Optimist)9: The Peacemaker (The Dreamer)
9: The Peacemaker (The Dreamer)8: The Boss1: The Perfectionist
1: The Perfectionist9: The Peacemaker (The Dreamer)2: The Helper

Medium, low & high stress profiles

Another dimension is to look at the profile with different levels of stress. Because depending on the level of stress our behaviour changes. Also here the Enneagram has a very insightful perspective on how that manifests. While the core number reflects the behaviour under ‘normal’ stress, there are also a ‘low’ and a ‘high’ stress number.

Medium Stress (Core Number)Low Stress (preceding N)High Stress (subsequent N)
2: The Helper4: The Tragic Romantic (The Artist)8: The Boss
3: The Achiever6: The Loyalist / Terrorist (The Devil’s Advocate)9: The Peacemaker (The Dreamer)
4: The Tragic Romantic (The Artist)1: The Perfectionist2: The Helper
5: The Thinker (The Observer)8: The Boss7: The Epicure (Lover of the fine things) (The Optimist)
6: The Loyalist / Terrorist (The Devil’s Advocate)9: The Peacemaker (The Dreamer)3: The Achiever
7: The Epicure (Lover of the fine things) (The Optimist)5: The Thinker (The Observer)1: The Perfectionist
8: The Boss2: The Helper5: The Thinker (The Observer)
9: The Peacemaker (The Dreamer)3: The Achiever6: The Loyalist / Terrorist (The Devil’s Advocate)
1: The Perfectionist7: The Epicure (Lover of the fine things) (The Optimist)4: The Tragic Romantic (The Artist)

It might be more easy to recognize that stress dynamic visually in the below graphic. The little arrows indicate the direction of the relationship. From low (preceding) to medium (core) to high (subsequent) stress.


So that was probably a massive download of information 🙂 And one can easily get into one’s head and now try to figure everything out. Or to intellectually learn the model. That’s great though not necessarily the most helpful and empowering way. As one can easily get stuck and overwhelmed by ‘just’ recognizing one’s self sabotaging dynamics without making the step through and de-identify with it. The perspective of this exploration is essential and you always want to do that from the perspective of wholeness and groundedness.

In my Coaching and our curriculum ‘The Art of Creating‘ we are doing exactly that: Exploring those dynamics in a playful and intuitive way from a higher perspective. Which enables to recognize the untruth of these unconscious dynamics and really discover them as a gateway to who you really are. (Hint: Free and wonderfully creative beyond any compensation patterns 🙂

What are you waiting for? Let’s explore together! 🙂

Let’s schedule a free 30 min ‘Discovery Call’ today!