Using the Enneagram with Judith Searle


"What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god: the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals; and yet to me, what is this quintessence of dust?"


© 1996 by Judith Searle

Hamlet's lines express eloquently the ambivalence many feel about the human condition, an opposition that is expressed with great sophistication in the system of personality typing we call the Enneagram. Each of us, at our heart point, might express some version of Hamlet's awe at human possibilities; at our stress point, some version of his disgust at what our physical body may be reduced to. 

Tension is essential to all living systems. It is in fact a workable definition of life itself, since we humans (like all other organisms) cease to exhibit tensions only when we are dead. Fixated pupils and the cessation of brain waves, heartbeat and breathing are clear signs that a person has become a body. 

Most of us have ambivalent feelings about the tensions in our lives. We may pursue exercise as a means to good health, yet most of us seek to avoid psychological tensions in our lives and feel stressed when forced to make major life changes (even while acknowledging that change and challenge are in some measure essential to life and health). 

As Helen Palmer has pointed out, each of the Nine points of the Enneagram represents a habitual focus of attention, and most students of the diagram have focused primarily on characteristic behaviors of each fixation. While I find that concept useful, I would like here to take a somewhat more oblique approach, exploring the way each point's wings and heart/stress co-ordinates form a characteristic pattern of tensions, a kind of "latitude and longitude" of personality. I believe that through focusing on the heart/stress and wing lines as two separate but intersecting continuums we can gain valuable insights into the range of each point, and finally into the locus of personality that we call the Enneagram "fixation." 

In this model I see the wings--the points adjacent counter-clockwise and clockwise to each number--as forming the "latitude" line, which is primarily involved with the person's sense of purpose in the world. The heart and stress points form the "longitude" line, which defines the person's emotional compass or central emotional issue. 

Now I am aware that if we insert "latitude" and "longitude" lines for each point on the standard Enneagram diagram, these two lines never physically meet (in fact, for most points they are parallel), so the geographical analogy is by no means perfect. However, there is a point of psychological intersection, and it is here that each fixation finds its focus (or its point of greatest comfort) in relation to its compass of feeling and its sense of purpose

I believe we can learn much about the nine Enneagram personality styles through examining each purely as a function of its wings and heart/stress lines. While it is possible in the abstract to discuss the qualities of wing influences and heart-stress connections, it is impossible to get a sense of the full, rounded personality of each point--the distinctive style in which each seeks to resolve the unbearable, inevitable and exquisite tension that shapes its world view--without considering the way these aspects impinge on and complete each other to define the locus of personality. 

In philosophical terms, the obvious model is the Hegelian dialectic, in which one concept (thesis) invariably generates its opposite (antithesis) and the interaction between the two achieves a resolution of the polarities (synthesis). In Christian terms, a useful symbol is the cross, in which spirit and matter are seen as representing the two arms, at the junction of which is the soul. 

But the value of this kind of analysis is most apparent when we examine each of the Enneagram points in turn. 

  • Two's "latitude" line, for example, falls between the compulsion to create ethical perfection (at One) and the drive to produce practical achievements in the world (at Three). The synthesis, in Two's case, is formed in a desire to help, to support another's mission (caught between the strong and sometimes contradictory agendas of One and Three). So Two's sense of purpose is defined in this "latitude" as becoming an ally

The "longitude" of Two--between the confrontative, me-first power-grab (at Eight) and self-sufficient depth of feeling (at Four)--reflects a primary concern with the "I-Thou" issue: Where are the boundaries between the self and the other? Lack of appreciation by others for Two's efforts to help result in a hysterical and invasive confrontation (at the Eight stress point). Unless Two is seen by others as lovable, her basic self-concept becomes threatened. However, if Two is seen as adorable, she gains the confidence (in security, at Four) to explore her own true feelings, no longer constrained by her overwhelming need to maintain the bulwark of others' approval. So, in longitude, Two's emotional compass moves between a heart point in the third of the feeling triad (Four) and a stress point in the first of the body-based triad (Eight) to resolution in the first of the feeling triad (Two). That the mental triad is not a factor in this point does not imply any lack of intelligence in Two individuals; it simply means that the Two's primary focus is elsewhere. 

Two's greatest vulnerability is her addiction to love; this is also, in a sense, her biggest distinction from her One wing. One has learned that it is possible to tolerate lack of approval; having realized in childhood that no matter what he does he is probably not going to be perfect enough to get unconditional love from his parents anyway, he can seek perfection in the world quite apart from other people's agendas. Three, on the other hand, believes that it is possible through his accomplishments to gain the love he craves. 

One, Two, and Three all seek to please others--but Two has accomplished this early on and has become dependent on the love that confirms her achievement. One has despaired of ever receiving this acknowledgment and is resentful over having behaved perfectly but not being loved for it; when stressed, One blames himself for the failure (at Four, where he experiences despair despite a sense of his own specialness)--rather than blaming the other (at Eight) and confronting the person he has served to demand appreciation.

Examining the relationship between "latitude" and "longitude" in this model for all the Enneagram points, we might conclude that the locus of personality on the "latitude" continuum is the point's gift, while the intersection on the "longitude" line is the price of that gift. In the conjunction of Two's "latitude" and "longitude" we can see that her gift is for empathy, a powerful ability to understand others' feelings, and that the price of that gift is often a lack of connection with her own feelings. It is ironic that one with such a gift of compassion for others should have so little for herself.

In the tension between the gift and its price, we can also observe for each point a potential pitfall. The obvious pitfall resulting from the tension between Two's gift (for empathy) and its price (lack of connection with her own feelings) is a tendency toward--and skill in--manipulating others.

[See attached chart re gift, price, and pitfall for each of the nine points.] 

  • Three's "latitude line," defining his sense of purpose, falls between Two's compulsion to help (with primary focus on the feelings of others) and Four's preoccupation with continually taking her own emotional temperature. Three is intent on performance, on achievement that is measurable. He is narcissistic because he is deeply insecure about being loved for himself (which Two is so sure of), yet senses he deserves to be loved unconditionally (as Four believes she deserves to be loved because of her innate specialness). 

In "longitude," the Three is caught on the one hand between the acknowledgment of his deep and assiduously denied anxieties (at Six), which allows him to be authentic (not deceitful), and on the other hand frenetic, ineffectual activity (at Nine) designed to stave off his own feelings of inadequacy. At Nine, Three becomes such a workaholic that he undermines his own natural effectiveness, while at Six he increases his effectiveness by slowing his headlong drive long enough to achieve a connection with others (and the possibility of true relationship, which is his deepest longing). 

So we may say that Three's emotional compass (like that of all the points in the central triangle) is primarily on a fear line--between seeking in stress to deceive himself and others about his lack of fear through spinning his wheels (at Nine) and feeling secure enough (at Six) to acknowledge and examine the underlying anxiety that drives him, and so begin to form honest bonds of trust with other people. His compass ranges from the middle point of the mental triad (Six) to the middle point of the body-based triad (Nine), to find its synthesis in the middle feeling point (Three). 

Where "latitude" and "longitude" meet, Three's gift is for achievement, and the price of his gift is a drivenness that never allows him to rest, for fear of failing. The irony in his predicament is somewhat akin to that we observed in One: While Three regards himself as always on the brink of failure and so strives ceaselessly, others often view him as successful and admirable.

The pitfall for Three is cutting corners, acting in ways that are questionable in order to achieve an impressive bottom line. 

  • Four's "latitude line" falls between a need to establish her lovability through worldly achievements (at Three) and a temptation to become preoccupied with her own inner splendors (at Five) and abandon relationship as a means to happiness. Thus her sense of purpose (the synthesis arising from the tension of opposite poles at Three and Five) is to explore her own specialness and use her extraordinary taste to set the world right on the subject of what is authentic and beautiful (and therefore valuable). 

Deeply involved with her own emotional processes, Four has a basic disdain for most people despite her need for their validation. Her "longitude line" falls between a stress point (at Two) where she becomes an avid people-pleaser, and a security point (at One) where she gains balance in the moral sphere to complement her superb aesthetic taste and so becomes able to assess people and ethical situations as unerringly as she does objects and environments. 

So the basic issue on the emotional compass is Four's ambivalence about people: are they to be courted indiscriminately out of her fear of being totally isolated (when she's feeling insecure, at Two), or are they to be evaluated with a cool and intelligent eye to their character as well as their beauty (which she's able to do when secure, at One)? 

It is worth noting that Four and Five are the only points whose "longitude" lines are shorter than their "latitude" lines. Fours tend to think of themselves as being especially expressive emotionally, but their actual compass (their range of alternatives) is small, falling in fixated individuals between a compulsive perfectionism (at One) and hysterical people-pleasing (at Two). 

Being both critical and needy, Four may end up in her fixation as the drama queen, continually taking her own emotional temperature as she ricochets from one extreme to the other in her simultaneous longing for and terror of intimate relationship (what has been called the "rubber-band effect"). This same crucible of strong feelings may also produce extraordinary individuals who combine originality (the Four's sense of specialness), highly developed critical faculties (associated with the One security point) and communication skills (associated with the Two stress point) to produce timeless works of art.

Thus the gift of Four is her authenticity, her true depth of feeling; the price of that gift is her self-absorption. Because of this, she often has difficulty being dispassionate, having no "off" switch for her powerful emotions.

Four's pitfall is her tendency to self-dramatization. Because she sees every event only in relation to herself, her self-absorption frequently makes her feel victimized. 

  • Five's "latitude line" lies between an awareness of possible engulfment by his own feelings (at Four) and awareness of potential encroachments by the outside world (at Six). These two perils, inner and outer, lead to such terror on Five's part that his only recourse is to develop his intellectual and critical abilities and immure himself behind them in the hope that they will win him some power in the world. This power he seeks in order to strengthen the fragile boundaries between himself and others. Thus his purpose in the world is to become a skillful observer of others so as to prevent their breaching his fragile walls.

His "longitude line" or emotional compass stretches between an excess of scattered, unfocused intellectual activity (at his stress point, Seven) and sufficient confidence in his own power (at his security point, Eight) that he can take the initiative in confronting adversaries as a means toward achievements in the world that go beyond the shoring up of his own weak psychological borders. So the emotional line is essentially on the issue of initiative, of taking steps to shape the world and its inhabitants to his wishes (at Eight) rather than retreating inside his own head (at Seven) to an ever-increasing whirl of mental activity (essentially chasing his own tail) in an attempt to deny (or flee from) his terror of engulfment.

Like Four, Five's "longitude line" is shorter than his "latitude line," which signifies a limited emotional range. But in contrast to Four's compulsion to indulge in extreme emotion, Five's impulse is to flee from intense feelings. (At first glance, we see a similarity between Five and Three in relation to feelings. However, though Three seems to be denying feelings, he is merely putting them on a back burner in order to concentrate his energies on achievement and thus gain the love he longs for. Five pursues power in the world as a means of holding at bay anyone who might make emotional demands on him.)

The Five's gift is his objectivity, his ability to observe people, things, and events closely and dispassionately and achieve extraordinary insights into the way they work. The price of this gift is his isolation. His emotional constraint comes from his terror of being engulfed by his own feelings or those of others in a situation over which he has no control. Though he might acknowledge his own feelings when safely alone, he generally lacks an emotional "on" switch in the company of others.

Five's pitfall is parsimoniousness, both emotional and monetary, which comes out of his sense of potential danger if he were to give himself away in any form. 

  • Six's "latitude line" lies between Five's awareness of overwhelming fear and consequent retreat behind walls of intellect and observation, and Seven's denial of fears and use of the intellect to dazzle others as a way of deflecting potential threats. Both wings are centered in fear, but neither sees the possibility of mitigating danger through judicious choices of allies, which is Six's primary purpose in the world. The main issue for Six is that of authority: who can be trusted? (Both Five and Seven have concluded they can trust no one, and have devised contrasting strategies to survive in light of this hard truth.)

The "longitude line" for Six stretches between workaholism (at the stress point, Three) and awareness of wider possibilities and deeper understandings of people (at the security point, Nine). So the emotional compass is concerned with the issue of whether a pervasive fear of the world is better handled through widening one's possibilities or narrowing them. In stress at Three, Six moves toward the kind of fear-denying activity that is likely to be counterproductive, in that it brings little likelihood of reducing a paranoia whose roots are never examined. When Six feels more secure, the move to a Nine emotional stance allows awareness of other people's mental and emotional processes (empathy), a powerful tool for distinguishing between genuine threats and baseless fears.

Six's gift is for loyalty to trusted friends and associates (and inspiring reciprocal loyalty in them), and the price of this gift is a ceaseless anxiety, a preoccupation with danger. Because Sixes spend so much time assessing the risks of trusting any and all authorities, they feel a strong bond with individuals or groups who become islands of safety for them in a perilous world. The courage a Six can display in reciprocating the trustworthiness of allies is especially impressive, considering the continuous anxiety the Six lives with.

The pitfall of Six is over-analysis, a tendency to become mired in the mental process of exhaustively examining the possible dangers of every situation and so missing the possible advantages of taking appropriate risks. 

  • Seven's "latitude line" runs between Six's preoccupation with minimizing risks through a combination of judiciously choosing allies and avoiding direct conflicts whenever possible, and Eight's bulldozing impulse to defuse all possible threats by direct and immediate confrontation. The common thread in both wings is the awareness that the world is a dangerous place, and the issue is whether to flee or confront. The Seven's choice is to do neither; she stands her ground and causes a diversion--both for potential enemies and for herself--through a stunning production of intellectual and sensual smoke and mirrors. So we might say her purpose is to divert both herself and potential enemies from the issue of fight or flight. She makes herself so engaging, who would want to threaten her? And besides, a moving target is harder to hit.

Seven's "longitude line" runs between self-doubt, irritability and fault-finding (in stress, at One) and taking steps to construct a solid base for her critical and intellectual abilities (in security, at Five). So Seven's emotional compass is concerned with her level of comfort inside her own skin, given her assiduous efforts to deny (to herself as well as to the world) the anxiety she feels. At the first sign of threat, she goes into action in the One mode, pronouncing harsh judgments on others; when secure, she can take pleasure in cultivating her garden--increasing her private store of knowledge without reference to its immediate usefulness in impressing the world. (Voltaire's Candide, after a series of misadventures in the world and adherence to a typically Seven credo-- "Everything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds"--finally ends up cultivating his garden.)

Seven's gift is inventiveness, and the price of her gift is the distractibility that arises out of her terror that the world might come crashing down if she were ever to stop generating new projects, ideas, and destinations. Her constant anxiety, unacknowledged even to herself, is reflected in her dazzling imagination and inadequate follow-through. She is like Scheherezade--under continual pressure to invent new stories to distract those whom she perceives as threatening. Her themesong could be "I Whistle a Happy Tune": "When I fool the people I fear/I fool myself as well."

Her pitfall is dilettantism, inevitable when one must continually leap from idea to idea without following through. Talented in many areas, the Seven may lack significant achievements in any because of her credo that "motion equals progress."

  • Eight's "latitude line" runs between Seven's denial of fear through creating intellectual and sensual sideshows, and Nine's denial of anger through obsessive mental circumnavigation and passive-aggressive behavior. Eight denies nothing: any hint of threat provokes him to anger and direct confrontation. He knows what he wants and goes after it unhampered by scruples. His purpose is to wrest personal power from a hostile world, and he is supremely confident of his ability to get what he needs. 

His "longitude line" runs a wide gamut between retreat into himself to recoup his powers for another onslaught on the world (at his stress point, Five) and using his impressive powers for the benefit of those weaker than himself (at his security point, Two). So his emotional compass is concerned with the question of altruism. When he senses the world is against him (in stress), generosity is impossible, but once his power is consolidated (and he feels secure), he can afford to take pleasure in righting the wrongs of a world that never gave him a break.

His great gift is for fearless action, and the price of this gift is impulsiveness, an inability to forego confrontation even when it is inappropriate. His automatic tendency is to engage, and he has no hesitation about doing whatever it takes to win any battle he joins. The trouble is that he confronts too readily, and in the process may convert potential allies into adversaries.

His pitfall is holding grudges and a preoccupation with revenge.

  • Nine's "latitude Line" runs between Eight's unfettered drive for power, using anger to bludgeon the world into submission, and One's thoroughly fettered drive for ethical perfection, turning anger primarily inward as an instrument of self-flagellation. Nine's purpose is to avoid both of these unacceptable alternatives, and the result is immobilization; she is stopped in her tracks by consciousness of multiple possibilities, which crowd into her mind to keep her from having to acknowledge both her natural aggressiveness (at Eight) and her fear (at One) of the consequences of her own anger.

Nine's "longitude line" runs between immobilizing paranoia (in stress, at Six) and an ability to make choices and act on them (in security, at Three). So her emotional compass is on the issue of the courage to act in the face of multiple dangers (not the least of which is the danger of failing to see the best choice). When she is under pressure, her already hyperactive mind works overtime to envision additional negative outcomes likely to be triggered by any activity. Her only alternative in this kind of stress is, of course, to do nothing. But when she is feeling secure, the threat of multiple disasters retreats, and she is able to take her courage in her hands and risk committing some action and taking the consequences. 

So, looking at Nine's "latitude and longitude," we see that she is often immobilized by both fear and anger (including fear of her own anger). And, like negative aspects of all the Enneagram points, these defects have a corresponding gift: that of global vision. But for this gift of broad vision the Nine pays a price: ambivalence and indecisiveness.

Her pitfall is immobilization, due to her ambivalence about where truth and value really lie, a natural result of her breadth of vision and understanding of people. Having no clear personal agenda, Nines frequently exhibit a tendency to procrastinate about making decisions.

  • One finds his "latitude" between awareness of the vastness and complexity of ideas and possibilities in the world (at Nine) and a desire to help people through some form of action (at Two). In order to help in a meaningful way (Two) it is necessary to sort the most important issues from the plethora of possibilities (Nine), so the juncture of Two and Nine--the elbow of the arm, as it were--is One's preoccupation with the issue of right and wrong. We might say that the sense of purpose of One--creating ethical perfection--is defined in this "latitude." 

To put it another way, the One achieves a "latitude" balancing act between the seductions of rumination/pure thought (at Nine) and the rewards of serving others and being appreciated by them (at Two). The point at which these contrasting fixations meet, at One, shapes a mind that (in an evolved person) has both unusual clarity in making fine ethical distinctions and also an ability to act in ways that will empower others. Thus the locus of One is the place where a scrupulous examination of possibilities and principles gives rise to ethical action.

One's emotional compass is in the "longitude" between depression/despair (at Four) and exuberance/euphoria (at Seven). The "longitude" balancing act for One (as for all the fixations) is more precarious and volatile than that of "latitude." At One the powerful contrast between the extremes of melancholy (at Four) and joy (at Seven) makes for a continual emotional roller-coaster ride and requires tolerance for a wide emotional range. It is also noteworthy that this continuum runs between a point that is the third of the feeling triad (Four) and one that is the third of the mental triad (Seven), to achieve resolution in a fixation that is the third of the body-based triad (One). 

Another aspect of this continuum is the span between its preoccupation with the past (and with loss) at the Four extreme and its embracing of the future (and of new possibilities) at the Seven extreme. Not surprisingly, One's locus is precisely in the present moment.

Still another way of seeing One's "longitude" continuum is in the classic polarities of "soul" (the dark side, the pole of suffering and deprivation, at Four) and "spirit" (the light side, the pole of ecstasy and abundance, at Seven).

Because there is such a strong emotional charge in the conjunction of the poles of Four and Seven, the energy behind One's ethical preoccupation--"what is right"--is enormous. Moral heroes like Nelson Mandela and strong moralistic personalities like Hillary Clinton exemplify the force of personality behind the One's concern for the good, the right, and the true.

In One, the gift is clearly that of scrupulousness, and its price deep insecurity about self-worth. The relationship is clear: it is his very lack of self-esteem that drives the One's compulsion to relentlessly tease apart all the ethical threads of a situation in his quest for the ultimate rightness that will win him the regard (from self and others) that is the greatest perceived lack in his life. It is ironic that, even though his search for self-esteem is often fruitless, he frequently wins the respect and admiration of others for his integrity. 

In One's case the pitfall is a tendency to self-justification, an attempt to appear perfect, even when One's needs conflict with the most ethical course of action. So it is not uncommon to see Ones (especially less evolved individuals) performing mental contortions to rationalize actions that are morally questionable, in quest of the "perfect" image. 

Some Observations about Longitude

When one looks carefully at a diagram of the longitudes of all points, differences in the length of the lines are striking. Two and Seven have the longest lines (four points apart), but their range encompasses only two of the three triads. The lines of One, Three, Six, Eight and Nine are the most common length (three points apart), which gives each of them a range encompassing all three triads. In all seven of the above points, the longitude line crosses both the north-south and east-west hemispheres of the diagram. 

Four and Five have extremely short longitude lines (only one point apart), suggesting narrow emotional ranges, limited to the northern hemisphere and same east-west hemisphere as their fixation. Fours tend to think of themselves as being especially expressive emotionally, but their actual compass (their range of alternatives) is small, falling in fixated individuals between obsessiveness/compulsiveness (at One) and histrionics (at Two). Fives, usually considered the point most limited in emotional expression, range in the fixation between narcissism (at Seven) and sociopathic tendencies (at Eight). Thus we might say that Four seems to have only an "on" switch for emotions and Five only an "off" switch.

Relationships between Longitude and Latitude

In the fixations with longer longitude lines (One, Two, Three, Six, Seven, Eight, and Nine), the longitude lines are parallel or almost parallel (Two and Seven) to the latitude lines. 

In the two points with very short longitude lines (Four and Five), the relation of the longitude to latitude lines is almost perpendicular, and, if extended, would intersect just outside the circle, close to the wing (counterclockwise, in the case of Four, clockwise in the case of Five). This supports the idea of a constricted emotional compass in these two southernmost points of the Enneagram.


In The Politics of Experience R.D. Laing writes, "The other person's behavior is an experience of mine. My behavior is an experience of the other. The task of social phenomenology is to relate my experience of the other's behavior to the other's experience of my behavior. Its study is the relation between experience and experience: its true field is interexperience."

More than any system I know, the Enneagram of personality offers us the tools to explore this interexperience. Experience is a process, not a fixed point, and the concept of unending process is essential in considering the true nature of Enneagram points. Seen in this light, the aspects of behavior we commonly assign to each fixation look more like simply the most stable place to stand in the midst of the storms raging around us and within us.

There has been much examination given to the Virtues and the Passions, and I believe the quasi-religious orientation this implies may have the effect of putting off people of a more secular bent. A focus on Virtues and Passions (the seven deadly sins, plus deceit and fear) may also mask aspects that are more accessible (and less value-laden)--namely, the gift each point brings to the world (through its struggle), the price of that gift, and the most common pitfall each point faces as it offers its distinctive gift to the world. 


This article was published in the February and March 1996 issues of Enneagram Monthly.