Triads in the Enneagram

The Enneagram distinguishes nine personality types and maps them on a nine-pointed diagram. The evenly spaced numbers (representing the types) can be grouped into three Triads. This post deals in more detail with the triads.

Head, heart and body

The nine Enneagram types are grouped into three triads which represent the three main components of the human psyche (feelings, instincts and cognitive activities or thinking). The Enneagram theory refers to these ’centers of intelligence’ as Head, Heart and Gut Triads. Interestingly, according to modern medicine the human brain is also divided into three parts: the root (instinctual) brain, the limbic system (emotional brain) and the cerebral cortex (cognitive functions).

No matter what type we are, our personality incorporates all three components: we all have feelings, thoughts and instincts, and they all interact with each other. Yet, sooner or later one of these ‘centers’ would eventually function less smoothly than the others.

Head Triad

Fives, Sixes and Sevens  filter the world through mental processes (cognitive intelligence). Pursuing the basic human need for security and safety, people in this Triad are prone to scanning their environment thus managing potentially dangerous situations and minimizing anxiety. They are particularly good at analyzing, planning, imagining and envisioning. The higher qualities connected to this Center of Intelligence include inner knowing, wisdom and thoughtfulness.

This triad over-compensates by focusing on protection from fear and doubt by acquiring knowledge.

Heart Triad

Twos, Threes and Fours filter the world through emotions and relations (relational intelligence). Pursuing the basic human need for receiving love and recognition, this Triad focuses on connections, contacts and bonds with others. The higher qualities connected to this Center of Intelligence include compassion, empathy, understanding, and loving-kindness.

This triad over-compensates by ‘shape shifting’ – adapting themselves to create an image in order to feel recognition and love.

Body or Gut Triad

Eights, Nines and Ones filter the world through physical sensations and gut instincts (kinesthetic intelligence). Pursuing the basic human need for avoiding discomfort and ensuring well-being, this Triad uses their personal power and position to ’shape’ the world so that it becomes what they believe it „needs to be”. The higher qualities connected to this Center of Intelligence include vitality, psychological-spiritual integrity, groundedness (in ourselves and the world) and autonomy.

This triad over-compensates by self-forgetting and focusing on external power. They want to be valued and make an impact.

Tendencies within Triads

The types within a center share the same basic fear and concerns yet they rely on their unique strategy to create the balance they need for survival. Head types long for safety and security, heart types for recognition and love, and body types for integrity/autonomy.

Head people

These types (5,6,7) are particularly concerned about safety and certitude. They seek security in the world. Their core emotion is FEAR. Sixes tend to overdo fear, Sevens underplay their fear while Fives stave off fear by avoiding such situations altogether. The fundamental question that they deal with is „How am I?” which revolves around how secure they find their place in the world.

Heart people

The types (2,3,4) are particularly concerned about self-image. They focus on creating some kind of persona for themselves. They seek attention. Their core emotion is SHAME (sadness or grief).  Twos are in conflict with their shame, Threes underdo sadness and numb out their feelings, while Fours overdo an attachment to grief. The fundamental question for this triad is „Who am I?” which investigates what kind of person they are.

Gut people

The types (8,9,1) are particularly concerned about the control of their environment, and focus on order and structure. They seek autonomy. Their core emotion is ANGER. Eights overdo anger, Nines tend to underdo anger, while Ones are at odds with their anger or rage. The fundamental question that they deal with is „Am I?” which revolves around their existence in the world.

Chief imbalances

So why is it good to know which Triad one belongs to?

The three centers represent the ego self’s three main clusters of issues and defenses – they reveal the principal ways in which one limits themselves and contract their awareness. So, what the Triad indicates is where one’s chief imbalances lie.

Raising and answering questions about our core issue will boost any transformation work and assist in finding the lost equilibrium.

Want to learn more about the Enneagram?

Discover the big picture. Check out our online Enneagram course which gives a comprehensive overview plus a personalized GPS to navigate your own inner landscape.