There Are At Least 3 Kinds of People In the World…If Not 9…If Not 54…

How the Enneagram helps categorize people in a way that’s actually helpful

As soon as you realize that the article you are reading has clumped all humans into a single category (i.e. “Everyone is always…”, “We’re all just…”, etc.), give yourself permission to walk away. These authors paint with such broad strokes that they find themselves trapped in a corner of generalities trying to solve all the world’s problems at once. The problem is that these vague “truth statements” end up being more exclusive than inclusive. For example… “All people chase fame and success and end up unhappy because of it.” Has this been true of anyone, ever? Sure. But think, how many of your friends would actually fall into the category of “miserable because I’m not rich and famous”? I might have one or two acquaintances that fit that mold, but by and large most people I know don’t fit that bill.

Here is where the language of the Enneagram proves to be incredibly helpful. Those slightly familiar with it know that there are nine different types that all humans fall under. As you become more familiar, you’ll see that those nine types are actually three sets of three intelligence centers that are the basis of lots of our behavior, and that each type has a “wing”. And those that have really geeked out on it know that the Enneagram breaks each of the nine types down into 3 subtypes. Do the math and you’ll find that there are either three, nine, eighteen, or even fifty-four different types of people. See the “all people are like…” problem?

My goal here is to highlight just the three major groups so we can start trying to help people in a more…well…helpful way.

Let’s break ’em down…

Common to most Enneagram education material is the description of the three intelligence centers known as the “Head Center”, “Heart Center”, and “Gut Center”. The most helpful language I’ve come across in this discussion comes from Ian Morgan Cron, author of “The Road Back to You”, when he describes them as management systems. The Head types (types 5, 6, and 7) are fear management systems; Heart types (types 2, 3, and 4) are shame management systems; Gut types (types 8, 9, and 1) are anger management systems. Fear, anger, and shame seem to be common denominators in what motivates us to behave the way we do.

My addition to this conversation (or at least I haven’t heard it anywhere else) is the different types of currency, or capital, that each center of intelligence is most dialed in to. You’ve likely heard the phrase “social capital”. This phrase keys in on what your Heart type friends are always trying to balance. They see the world through relationships. Their place among “their people” is the most important thing to them. Almost everything they do will be to try to improve their standing in their relationships. I believe to these people, power and fame aren’t even on their radar (except maybe 3s, who will use their power for social purposes).

The next currency to discuss come from our Head type friends. Types 5, 6, and 7 are always balancing their security capital. Feeling safe, in control, and not overwhelmed is the biggest driving factor of these types. My wife, who is a 6, confirmed this for me. They are so adept at seeing what could go wrong before it gets here, their instincts move to build walls around themselves and those they love so no one gets hurt. Trying to help these folks in a way that doesn’t take their fear of being overwhelmed into account will likely not do much good in the end.

The final group, the one that I have found myself firmly planted in the middle of, are the Gut types (8, 9, 1). I think the best description of our balancing act is around impact capital. We have such a strong desire to have an impact in the world that relationships can easily become assets in that venture. There are healthy and unhealthy versions of this, of course, but we have to be extra careful so as to not dismiss or discredit the fears and insecurities of our Head and Heart friends. The fear aspect of the Gut types comes in when we feel like our ability to have an impact has been disrespected or messed up by people who “just don’t get it”. Helping us manage our ability to impact others is the best framework to approach us with.

I don’t believe fame, power, and money are motivators. I believe they are means to an end. I would love to have lots of money, but only because I can see how many people I could bring happiness, safety, and opportunities to. I actually have no desire for a Ferrari. My wife would like lots of money because that could be at least one answer for the myriad of problems her mind is bombarded with every day. Being rich and famous would bring way more stress to our house than it would happiness, and we know that.

So, next time you want to offer helpful advice, get to the root of the problem. And it is my contention, along with every other Enneagram teacher, that the problem starts with either fear, shame, or anger.




Husband. Dad. Minister. Thinker. I would love to see my name on a list with Rafiki and Yoda.

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Husband. Dad. Minister. Thinker. I would love to see my name on a list with Rafiki and Yoda.

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