Enneagram Triads: Revealing the Logic of Enneagram Life Strategies

1 April 2024

Though we all share the same core needs for security and love in our lives, our core fears differ greatly, as do our strategies for survival and protection. Based on these differences, Enneagram types are split into three categories known as the Enneagram triads.

Exploring the concept of Enneagram triads will allow us to understand each Enneagram type on a much deeper level, as it reveals the initial survival adaptation of each type.

In this article, we’ll explain what Enneagram triads are, how Enneagram types are divided into triads, and how each type manifests the principle of each triad.

What Are Enneagram Triads?

The concept of Enneagram triads categorizes nine Enneagram types into three groups based on their dominant core emotions and coping mechanisms. Enneagram triads offer a broader perspective on the life strategy of each type, allowing us to understand where all the variations of behavior within one type come from.

The Enneagram triads, also known as the intelligence centers, are called the Gut, Heart, and Head triads or the Instinctive, Feeling, and Thinking centers.

The Gut triad includes Types One, Eight, and Nine, the Heart triad includes Types Two, Three, and Four, while Types Five, Six, and Seven fall into the Head triad.

Now, let’s explore the Enneagram triad types in detail.

The Enneagram Gut Triad

The Enneagram Gut triad types—One, Eight, and Nine—have anger as their core emotion, which means that when they are challenged, anger will be their first reaction. Moreover, each Enneagram Gut triad type processes anger differently, which explains how types that seem so different from each other fall into the same triad.

The Enneagram anger triad types see life as a battle they have to win. They focus on issues related to autonomy, control, and justice. Independent and not easily swayed by other people’s opinions, these types try to control their environment in their own distinct way.

Their reaction to the world can be described as reactive, as they are responding to everything instinctively from a place deep within. They are profoundly aware of their emotional reactions and have an excellent, intuitive grasp of people, relationships, and their environment in general.

That said, let’s take a closer look at how each Gut triad type handles their anger.

Enneagram Type 1

Enneagram Type 1 processes anger by internalizing it. This anger becomes the voice of their inner critic, never allowing Ones to relax and be spontaneous. They feel compelled to stay in control at all times and repress their anger and instinctive impulses, as they perceive anger as a negative, bad emotion.

Their beliefs around anger also explain the essence of their core fear of being ‘bad’ or morally flawed in some way. Since they reject their anger as something negative, they alienate this emotion, exclude it from their identity, and consequently become the victims of their own rage.

This subconscious anger feeds their severe inner critic and is the main reason they can be so rigid, demanding, and judgmental. When they learn to channel their anger in healthier ways, it becomes their fuel for bringing positive changes to the world, not for demeaning themselves.

Enneagram Type 8

Enneagram Type 8 processes anger by expressing it outwardly. They have no inhibitions in releasing their anger, and the moment they feel anger building in them, they respond either by raising their voices or moving more energetically.

Moreover, their anger is obvious to everyone around them, as they give themselves permission to express it.

However, since Eight’s emotions are very intense, they may have trouble managing their rage. This is why they become overly confrontational, aggressive, or even violent in extreme cases. Moreover, they project their need for control onto their environment instead of onto their anger.

On the positive side, their anger gives them the energy to achieve great things, rise up above the circumstances, and become the masters of their destinies. On the other hand, it can also severely jeopardize their relationships with other people, as they can be very intimidating, making other people feel threatened around them.

Enneagram Type 9

Enneagram Type 9 denies their anger and is the least connected to their instinctual energy of all the types in the Gut triad. Therefore, they alienate themselves from their anger, perceiving it as a threat, not as a power that can enable them to assert themselves.

As a consequence, since their anger can’t just disappear while they keep negating it, it turns against them, and they begin to feel stuck, lacking the motivation to move in any direction. Moreover, they avoid confrontations and conflict, often masking their fear of anger with the need for harmony.

Completely cut off from their instincts, Nines become lethargic and passive. On the one hand, they develop excellent conflict resolution skills, but on the other, they sacrifice their own needs and desires by negating them.

It is crucial for Nines to recognize that anger is not a negative emotion in and of itself but a life force that can feed their assertiveness and help them push their boundaries.

The Enneagram Heart Triad

The Enneagram Heart triad includes Twos, Threes, and Fours, who are led by their emotional needs and desires. Their core emotion, around which they build their life strategies, is shame.

In addition, they are highly sensitive to rejection and abandonment, and they react to the world in a very subjective manner, as their feelings often dominate them.

The Gut triad types see life through the connections they make with other people. For them, life is a social network, and therefore, they develop excellent relationship-building strategies. They want to connect, be recognized, and be understood by other people.

Let’s dive into the details of how each type deals with shame.

Enneagram Type 2

Enneagram Type Two reacts to their shame by trying to control it. For this reason, Twos focus on pleasing other people as a strategy to get their love and approval. They suppress their anger and frustration along the way, as they fear these ‘negative’ emotions may jeopardize their relationships.

So, Twos build an image of kind, caring people as they try to control their shame by controlling how other people react to them. At the same time, they feel deeply inadequate and develop an amazing ability to read other people’s desires and attitudes, which also helps them hide their own feelings of shame and inadequacy in front of other people.

While they are genuinely compassionate and affectionate people, Twos may become passive-aggressive and manipulative as they suppress their anger and chronically neglect their own needs. Therefore, it is essential for them to understand that pleasing other people and ignoring their own desires isn’t the only way to build relationships.

Enneagram Type 3

Threes run away from their feelings of shame and inadequacy by overcompensating in other fields of their lives. They invest their energy fully into achieving success in everything they do, trying to build an image of a valuable, powerful person. So, they learn to perform perfectly, be likable, and thus earn the approval they crave.

As a consequence of their belief that only success can save them from feelings of shame, they develop a deep fear of failure. For them, failing in something means losing all the love and respect they earned in life, and therefore, they perceive every failure as fatal.

Of all the Heart triad types, Threes are the least connected to their core emotion. Therefore, they often struggle to cope with all the emotions that do not fit the image they created for themselves. It is essential for them to learn to reconnect with their feelings and understand that they deserve unconditional love, no matter how successful they are.

Enneagram Type 4

Enneagram Type Four identifies deeply with their shame and attempts to control and overcome it by emphasizing their uniqueness and all the talents and traits that make them special in some way. They resort to their creativity as a resource for dealing with their core feelings of shame.

Moreover, unlike Twos and Threes, whose shame is straightforward, Four’s shame takes the form of feeling deeply flawed and insufficient in some way. They react to it by exaggerating the importance of their talents, jumping from feeling inferior to feeling superior to other people.

However, Fours really do have a special emotional courage to face and meet their demons. They eagerly explore their dark side and come out of it wiser and stronger. Nevertheless, they are prone to mood swings as their perspective of themselves changes from moment to moment, which may put a strain on their relationships.

It is essential for Fours to learn to regulate their emotions in a healthy way and avoid identifying with their feelings.

The Enneagram Head Triad

The Head triad, encompassing Types Five, Six, and Seven, is challenged to adapt to reality through fear. Fear is their core emotion and motivator, coloring all their actions and attitudes. Though all three Head triad types are essentially afraid of life, this fear manifests in completely different ways in each.

Since fear has a strong inhibiting power, the Head triad types react to the world by withholding their feelings and focusing on logic and reason. Their ultimate goal in life is to find a safe place from which they can move forward without fear.

Now let’s see how each Head triad type uses their intellect to overcome their weaknesses.

Enneagram Type 5

Enneagram Type Five's first reaction to the world is a profound fear of its unpredictability. They try to cope with their fear by withdrawing from the world and investing their energy into learning to understand life and its workings.

Moreover, Fives hope that once they learn how the world works and understand the nature of reality, they will feel confident enough to rejoin the world and take part in it. For this reason, knowledge becomes their weapon for dealing with life.

However, no matter how competent and knowledgeable they are, they always hesitate to fully participate in life but rather choose to observe it and keep learning. This often manifests in their choice of career, where their profession becomes their shield against the real world.

As they focus entirely on their intellect, they neglect their emotions and personal relationships. It is essential for Fives to learn to rely on others instead of withdrawing from them when they need support the most.

Enneagram Type 6

As opposed to Enneagram Fives, who turn inward to find security, Sixes react to their fear by seeking support in the outside world. Of all the Head triad types, Sixes are the most fearful, and their fear manifests as a general anxiety that pushes them to overthink and plan every detail of their lives.

Another way to deal with the unpredictability of life for Sixes is to rely on tradition, rules, and procedures, as structure provides them with a sense of security to some extent.

Their need for guidance is also one of the manifestations of the way they process their fear of life. Lacking confidence in their own capacities, Sixes crave to attach themselves to someone they perceive as an authority who can provide them with protection and a sense of direction.

While Fives need to work on their ability to connect with other people, Sixes need to learn to turn inward for security. No level of support from other people can replace healthy self-confidence, which is the only permanent solution to their chronic anxiety.

Enneagram Type 7

Enneagram Type Seven handles their fear by distracting themselves from it. Unlike Fives and Sixes, who are terrified of the unpredictability of the outer world, Sevens fear their inner world. They feel utterly incapable of dealing with pain, loss, deprivation, or any other profoundly unpleasant emotion.

As a result of their attempt to ignore and skip these feelings, Sevens are chronically anxious and in constant search of new and exciting experiences that would help them distract themselves.

For the same reason, Sevens are always focused on the future. As long as they have something exciting to look forward to, they feel good about themselves, and their fear seems to subside.

However, any event that triggers a more intense, unpleasant feeling may easily set off their unhealthy patterns, and they will resort to all kinds of escapism.

Therefore, building the capacity to face, feel, and fully experience all the emotions, not just the pleasant ones, is the best way for Sevens to permanently alleviate their fear.

The Importance of Enneagram Triads

The importance of Enneagram triads lies in the fact that they provide a comprehensive framework for understanding the essence of each Enneagram type’s defense mechanism. Moreover, it reveals their blind spots, thus paving the way for personal growth and development.

Since each Enneagram type tends to distance itself from its core emotion in some way, Enneagram triads provide a roadmap to help each type reconnect with its core self.

In addition, understanding the Enneagram triads can also be of great help in navigating conflicts, as it offers valuable insights into how every type reacts to stress.

Key Takeaways

Enneagram triads are a great way to expand our perspective on how the Enneagram test and theory work. They provide a simple and comprehensive framework for understanding each type’s behavior in greater depth and breadth.

Now that we have Enneagram triads explained, let’s round off by reiterating the key insights about them:

  • Enneagram Gut triad includes Types 1, 8, and 9, and their core emotion is anger.
  • Enneagram Heart triad includes Types 2, 3, and 4, and their core emotion is shame.
  • Enneagram Head triad includes Types 5, 6, and 7, and their core emotion is fear.