Using the Enneagram with Judith Searle


©1998 by Judith Searle

In The Politics of Experience, R.D. Laing writes: "We can see other people's behavior, but not their experience. This has led some people to insist that psychology has nothing to do with the other person's experience, but only with his behavior."

In all Enneagram types there is a gulf between behavior and experience. We see similar behaviors in different types, but the same behaviors may arise from different, even opposite, motivations. For example, a Five and a Nine may both make strong efforts to avoid conflict. But the Five does so for fear of being engulfed by others, while the Nine does so in order to facilitate merging with others. 

To fully understand a type, it is necessary to understand the pattern of tensions that characterizes it. (See my article "The Latitude and Longitude of Enneagram Fixations," Enneagram Monthly February-April 1996 for a discussion of the way these patterns of tensions operate.) Students of the Enneagram have sought to understand the inner process of each type through various means­interviews with exemplars, analysis of therapy sessions, self-reports of insightful individuals, analysis of film and television characters­and all these techniques have greatly enriched our understanding of the system. Some writers have offered literary characters as examples of type, but this extraordinary resource has generally been underexplored.

Great fiction offers us a unique opportunity to examine the raw material of experience before it crystallizes into behavior. Through the technique of interior monologue­which shows a character's thoughts, feelings, and instincts­fiction writers offer us a dramatic and intimate way to experience individuals as they experience themselves. 

T.S. Eliot once wrote: "If we learn to read poetry properly, the poet never persuades us to believe anything. . . . What we learn from Dante or the Bhagavadgita or any other religious poetry is what it feels like to believe that religion." In a similar sense, literary exemplars offer us the experience of what it feels like to be a particular Enneagram type. 

Skillfully written literary characters also allow us to witness the process of an individual's psychological change step by step, as it takes place through the course of the story. In this way, novels and short stories allow us to trace the "arc" of a character through both experience and behavior to gain a deeper understanding of the Enneagram type as a whole. The insights we can gain into the processes of growth or deterioration are far more profound than those available through simply watching the actions of a character in a film.

When describing type Three, one is especially tempted to cite characteristic behaviors rather than inner experience. Threes are much admired in American society for their behaviors: they work hard, and their achievements are impressive. But Threes are chameleons, skillful shapers of their own public image. No Enneagram type manifests a more dramatic divergence between behavior and experience. So deceptive is the image of the Three that C.G. Jung, one of the most astute observers of human nature, failed to recognize the type as distinct from the eight others he described. 

The behavior of Threes is visible in many films, but in fiction Threes are rarely depicted in depth. I suspect this may be because the inner life of Threes is often obscure, due in large part to their inability to connect with emotions, both in themselves and in others. However, we do find an extraordinary portrait of a Three in Margaret Mitchell's Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind. (Some Enneagram writers have characterized Scarlett as a Four, and I believe there are two basic reasons for this: 1) the behavior of the character in the film is deceptive, in typical Three fashion, and 2) Vivien Leigh's performance is colored by her own Four type.)

However, once one reads the interior monologue in Mitchell's novel, Scarlett's type is unmistakable. Vain, deceitful, calculating, and charming, Scarlett is the quintessential Three. Her goal-directedness, planning, and awareness of how to project an image of success are basic traits of Three. Scarlett is determined to win Ashley away from Melanie (his fiancée), and the vanity and self confidence she shows in the following passage are also characteristic of Threes. 

By the time Scarlett had undressed and blown out the candle, her plan for tomorrow had worked itself out in every detail. It was a simple plan, for . . . her eyes were centered on the goal and she thought only of the most direct steps by which to reach it.

. . . From the moment she arrived at Twelve Oaks, she would be her gayest, most spirited self. No one would suspect that she had ever been downhearted because of Ashley and Melanie. And she would flirt with every man there. That would be cruel to Ashley, but it would make him yearn for her all the more. She wouldn't overlook a man of marriageable age, from ginger-whiskered old Frank Kennedy, who was Suellen's beau, on down to shy, quiet, blushing Charles Hamilton, Melanie's brother. They would swarm around her like bees around a hive, and certainly Ashley would be drawn from Melanie to join the circle of her admirers. Then somehow she would maneuver to get a few minutes alone with him, away from the crowd. She hoped everything would work out that way, because it would be more difficult otherwise. But if Ashley didn't make the first move, she would simply have to do it herself. . . .

Why, by this time tomorrow night, she might be Mrs. Ashley Wilkes! (pp. 71-72)

Threes make things happen in this world; their energy, drive, and awareness of how others see them often makes them successful in business. They are super-salespeople, adept first of all at selling themselves. When they fail to achieve their goals and are diminished in the eyes of people whose good opinion they value, their underlying feelings of inadequacy come to the fore. 

After Ashley turns down Scarlett's proposal, we see her humiliation and fury:

She heard the soft muffled sound of his footsteps dying away down the long hall, and the complete enormity of her actions came over her. She had lost him forever. Now he would hate her and every time he looked at her he would remember how she threw herself at him when he had given her no encouragement at all.

. . .[T]he thought stung her to new rage, rage at herself, at Ashley, at the world. Because she hated herself, she hated them all with the fury of the thwarted and humiliated love of sixteen. Only a little true tenderness had been mixed into her love. Mostly it had been compounded out of vanity and complacent confidence in her own charms. Now she had lost and, greater than her sense of loss, was the fear that she had made a public spectacle of herself. (pp. 118-119) 

In this passage, the author hints at the Three's limitations in the area of feelings. This is the most significant flaw in the Three's makeup: a basic heartlessness, an inability to care deeply about others or empathize with their emotions. Even though Three is in the heart triad, the group most concerned with feelings, she continually focuses on what she must do to create a public image of herself as successful and desirable. 

In order to save face, Scarlett quickly marries Melanie's brother Charles, who is killed in one of the early battles of the Civil War, leaving her a widow with a son. Scarlett and Melanie go to stay with Melanie's aunt in Atlanta. When Atlanta falls, Scarlett returns to Tara, the war-torn family homestead, and finds her mother dead, her father insane, and her sisters seriously ill; her determination to do what it takes to survive and protect her family gains the reader's sympathy:

Hunger gnawed at her empty stomach again and she said aloud: "As God is my witness, as God is my witness, the Yankees aren't going to lick me. I'm going to live through this, and when it's over, I'm never going to be hungry again. No, nor any of my folks. If I have to steal or kill­as God is my witness, I'm never going to be hungry again." (p. 428) Scarlett assumes the leadership of the group and becomes a fierce taskmaster for everyone at Tara. When a Yankee soldier appears in the house, she has no scruples about killing him: No ghost rose from that shallow grave to haunt her in the long nights when she lay awake, too tired to sleep. No feeling of horror or remorse assailed her at the memory. She wondered why, knowing that even a month before she could never have done the deed. Pretty young Mrs. Hamilton, with her dimple and her jingling earbobs and her helpless little ways, blowing a man's face to a pulp and then burying him in a hastily scratched-out hole! Scarlett grinned a little grimly thinking of the consternation such an idea would bring to those who knew her.

"I won't think about it any more," she decided. "It's over and done with and I'd have been a ninny not to kill him. I reckon­I reckon I must have changed a little since coming home or else I couldn't have done it." She did not think of it consciously but in the back of her mind, whenever she was confronted by an unpleasant and difficult task, the idea lurked giving her strength: "I've done murder and so I can surely do this." (p. 445)

Nine is Three's stress point, and in this passage we see a typical manifestation of the type's tendency to take on characteristics of Nine under stress. Throughout the novel, whenever Scarlett is overwhelmed, her automatic defense is to avoid thinking about the problem any further, often with some vague resolution to deal with it tomorrow. This procrastination about dealing with difficulties is typical of Nines.

The end of the war finds Scarlett significantly changed, and her gift for managing resources and keeping her eye on cash flow becomes apparent. When threatened with losing Tara for lack of money to pay the exorbitant Reconstruction taxes, Scarlett decides that getting Rhett Butler to marry her is her best alternative, even though she hates him because he witnessed her humiliating scene of throwing herself at Ashley. When Rhett turns her down, she turns to Frank Kennedy, her sister's beau; she has no compunction about lying to him and betraying her sister in order to secure his proposal:

But she wasn't going to be poor all her life. She wasn't going to sit down and patiently wait for a miracle to help her. She was going to rush into life and wrest from it what she could. Her father had started as a poor immigrant boy and had won the broad acres of Tara. What he had done, his daughter could do. She wasn't like these people who had gambled everything on a Cause that was gone and were content to be proud of having lost that Cause, because it was worth any sacrifice. They drew their courage from the past. She was drawing hers from the future. Frank Kennedy, at present, was her future. At least, he had the store and he had cash money. And if she could only marry him and get her hands on that money, she could make ends meet at Tara for another year. And after that­Frank must buy the sawmill. She could see for herself how quickly the town was rebuilding and anyone who could establish a lumber business now, when there was so little competition, would have a gold mine. (pp. 610-611) Even before she has persuaded Frank to marry her, she is already planning how to use his money to establish a lucrative business. Average-level Threes like Scarlett are willing to cut corners morally when necessary to insure their economic well being. But Scarlett wastes no time even in rationalizing her pursuit of Frank. When average Threes think of a solution, they move immediately into action; there is no moment of hesitation to consider feelings or scruples. This is what makes Threes so successful in the business world­and often unsuccessful at sustaining deep personal relationships.

Once Scarlett and Frank are married, she quickly drops her demure and worshipful facade and embraces her calling as a businesswoman:

A startling thought this, that a woman could handle business matters as well as or better than a man, a revolutionary thought to Scarlett who had been reared in the tradition that men were omniscient and women none too bright. Of course, she had discovered that this was not altogether true but the pleasant fiction still stuck in her mind. Never before had she put this remarkable idea into words. She sat quite still, with the heavy book across her lap, her mouth a little open with surprise, thinking that during the lean months at Tara she had done a man's work and done it well. She had been brought up to believe that a woman alone could accomplish nothing, yet she had managed the plantation without men to help her until Will came. Why, why, her mind stuttered, I believe women could manage everything in the world without men's help­except having babies, and God knows, no woman in her right mind would have babies if she could help it. (P. 620) Scarlett borrows money from Rhett to buy a sawmill, and demonstrates her gift for the deceptive business practices common to average Threes: At first the other dealers had laughed at her, laughed with good-natured contempt at the very idea of a woman in business. But now they did not laugh. They swore silently as they saw her ride by. The fact that she was a woman frequently worked in her favor, for she could upon occasion look so helpless and appealing that she melted hearts. With no difficulty whatever she could mutely convey the impression of a brave but timid lady, forced by brutal circumstance into a distasteful position, a helpless little lady who would probably starve if customers didn't buy her lumber. But when ladylike airs failed to get results she was coldly businesslike and willingly undersold her competitors at a loss to herself if it would bring her a new customer. She was not above selling a poor grade of lumber for the price of good lumber if she thought she would not be detected, and she had no scruples about blackguarding the other lumber dealers. With every appearance of reluctance at disclosing the unpleasant truth, she would sigh and tell prospective customers that her competitors' lumber was far too high in price, rotten, full of knot holes and in generally of deplorably poor quality. 

The first time Scarlett lied in this fashion she felt disconcerted and guilty­disconcerted because the lie sprang so easily and naturally to her lips, guilty because the thought flashed into her mind: What would Mother say?

There was no doubt what Ellen would say to a daughter who told lies and engaged in sharp practices. She would be stunned and incredulous and would speak gentle words that stung despite their gentleness, would talk of honor and honest and truth and duty to one's neighbor. Momentarily, Scarlett cringed as she pictured the look on her mother's face. And then the picture faded, blotted out by an impulse, hard, unscrupulous and greedy, which had been born in the lean days at Tara and was now strengthened by the present uncertainty of life. So she passed this milestone as she had passed others before it­with a sigh that she was not as Ellen would like her to be, a shrug and a repetition of her unfailing charm: "I'll think of all this later." (pp. 662-663)

Remembering her mother's clarity about ethics may give Scarlett a moment's pause, but her familiar defense (at her Nine stress point) quickly swings into play, and she puts off thinking about this troubling question. 

In fact, Scarlett is prepared to go quite a bit beyond mere lying to achieve the success she craves. Even though she has evidence that one of her mill managers is mistreating the convicts whose labor she has leased from the state for her mill, she gives the man permission to do whatever is necessary to insure a profit. 

After Frank dies, she continues to entertain fantasies of Ashley. But she is attracted to Rhett (who has become extremely rich through his blockade-running during the war), and when he proposes to her she is swept away by her feelings for the first time in her life.

Married to Rhett (an Eight with a Seven wing), her hostility toward society comes to the surface, and she has no hesitation about expressing it, which leads to her losing many of her old friends. Now that she has money and success, Scarlett wonders why she isn't happier. She thinks if only she had Ashley (a Four) everything would be perfect. However, her perspective on him begins to shift:

"I shouldn't have let him make me look back," she thought despairingly. "I was right when I said I'd never look back. It hurts too much, it drags at your heart till you can't ever do anything else except look back. That's what's wrong with Ashley. He can't look forward any more. He can't see the present, he fears the future, and so he looks back. I never understood it before. I never understood Ashley before. Oh, Ashley, my darling, you shouldn't look back! What good will it do? I shouldn't have let you tempt me into talking of the old days. This is what happens when you look back to happiness, this pain, this heartbreak, this discontent." (p. 925) Scarlett's Four wing is apparent in this passage. Her fantasy picture of Ashley begins to crack somewhat as she realizes that his romantic, regretful Four view of the world can never be her own. 

She is beginning to experience herself as a feeling person, a significant move toward growth for a Three. We see in her thoughts about Ashley the beginnings of empathy­feelings for him as a real person, separate from the fantasy image of him that she has been nursing. In Enneagram terms, this represents a move toward her Six security point, where feelings are real and heart connections with people bring up doubts and fear.

Scarlett's budding exploration of the realm of feelings is given a massive jolt when a drunken Rhett confronts her about her fantasies of Ashley, carries her up to bed, and makes violent love to her. The experience awakens her sexually:

The man who had carried her up the dark stairs was a stranger of whose existence she had not dreamed. And now, though she tried to make herself hate him, tried to be indignant, she could not. He had humbled her, hurt her, used her brutally through a wild mad night and she had gloried in it.

Oh, she should be ashamed, should shrink from the very memory of the hot swirling darkness! A lady, a real lady, could never hold up her head after such a night. But, stronger than shame, was the memory of rapture, of the ecstasy of surrender. For the first time in her life she had felt alive, felt passion as sweeping and primitive as the fear she had known the night she fled Atlanta, as dizzy sweet as the cold hate when she had shot the Yankee. . . .

When she thought of meeting him again, face to face in the sober light of day, a nervous tingling embarrassment that carried with it an exciting pleasure enveloped her. (pp. 940-941)

Even though Scarlett is aware of her sexuality for the first time, she is unable to attach feelings of love or tenderness to her new-found desire for her husband. He takes his time about returning home, and when they next meet they quarrel. The magical moment of sexual connection is never repeated, but Scarlett has become pregnant, and she gives birth to Bonnie, who becomes the apple of Rhett's eye. When the child is killed in a riding accident, Scarlett blames Rhett. 

Now Scarlett becomes aware for the first time in her life of the importance of allies and her own lack of them (a typical Six preoccupation):

Oh, to be with her own kind of people again, those people who had been through the same things and knew how they hurt­and yet how great a part of you they were!

But, somehow, these people had slipped away. She realized that it was her own fault. She had never cared until now­now that Bonnie was dead and she was lonely and afraid and she saw across her shining dinner table a swarthy sodden stranger disintegrating under her eyes. (pp. 1003-1004)

Scarlett's character arc­from her heartless Three fixation to a connection with her emotions (at Six)­comes to its full extension as Melanie lies dying: Why, oh, why, had she not realized before this how much she loved and needed Melanie? But who would have thought of small plain Melanie as a tower of strength? Melanie who was shy to tears before strangers, timid about raising her voice in an opinion of her own, fearful of the disapproval of old ladies, Melanie who lacked the courage to say Boo to a goose? And yet­

Scarlett's mind went back through the years to the still hot noon at Tara when gray smoke curled above a blue-clad body and Melanie stood at the top of the stairs with Charles' saber in her hand.

. . . .And now, as Scarlett looked sadly back, she realized that Melanie had always been there beside her with a sword in her hand, unobtrusive as her own shadow, loving her, fighting for her with blind passionate loyalty, fighting Yankees, fire, hunger, poverty, public opinion and even her beloved blood kin.

Scarlett felt her courage and self-confidence ooze from her as she realized that the sword which had flashed between her and the world was sheathed forever.

"Melly is the only woman friend I ever had," she thought forlornly, "the only woman except Mother who really loved me. She's like Mother, too. Everyone who knew her has clung to her skirts."

Suddenly it was as if Ellen were lying behind that closed door, leaving the world for a second time. Suddenly she was standing at Tara again with the world about her ears, desolate with the knowledge that she could not face life without the terrible strength of the weak, the gentle, the tender hearted. (pp. 1012-1013)

Scarlett at last sees that acknowledgment of emotions is a strength, not a weakness. This insight also frees her to see that her picture of Ashley, her fantasy love object, had nothing to do with who he really was: "He never really existed at all, except in my imagination," she thought wearily. "I loved something I made up, something that's just as dead as Melly is. I made a pretty suit of clothes and fell in love with it. And when Ashley came riding along, so handsome, so different, I put that suit on him and made him wear it whether it fitted him or not. And I wouldn't see what he really was. I kept on loving the pretty clothes­and not him at all." (p. 1016) After Melanie's funeral, Scarlett is at last in touch with her own true feelings for Melanie and Ashley: She leaned her head against one of the uprights of the porch and prepared to cry but no tears came. This was a calamity too deep for tears. Her body shook. There still reverberated in her mind the crashes of the two impregnable citadels of her life, thundering to dust about her ears. She stood for a while, trying to summon up her old charm: "I'll think of all this tomorrow when I can stand it better." But the charm had lost its potency. She had to think of two things, now­Melanie and how much she loved and needed her; Ashley and the obstinate blindness that had made her refuse to see him as he really was. And she knew that thoughts of them would hurt just as much tomorrow and all the tomorrows of her life. (pp. 1018-1019) Scarlett's growth as a person is evident in her acceptance of the emotional pain of life and in the fact that her usual defense of procrastination has lost its potency. She has become a feeling person, a woman who is at last capable of loving. She realizes that it is Rhett who is the love of her life and resolves to confess her folly to him and declare her love, confident that he will understand her (since he always has) and respond. When they finally meet, he tells her about his grief over Bonnie's death and she achieves true Six empathy: Suddenly she was sorry for him, sorry with a completeness that wiped out her own grief and her fear of what his words might mean. It was the first time in her life she had ever been sorry for anyone without feeling contemptuous as well, because it was the first time she had ever approached understanding any other human being. And she could understand his shrewd caginess, so like her own, his obstinate pride that kept him from admitting his love for fear of a rebuff.

"Ah, darling," she said coming forward, hoping he would put out his arms and draw her to his knees. "Darling, I'm so sorry but I'll make it all up to you! We can be so happy, now that we know the truth and­Rhett­look at me, Rhett! There­there can be other babies­not like Bonnie but­"

"Thank you, no," said Rhett, as if he were refusing a piece of bread. "I'll not risk my heart a third time." (pp. 1031-1032)

Scarlett's long journey through average and unhealthy levels of the Three fixation to arrive at insight, growth, and the capacity to love now seems ironically fruitless: her behavior has destroyed Rhett's love for her. But the final paragraphs of the book show her Three indomitability: With the spirit of her people who would not know defeat, even when it stared them in the face, she raised her chin. She could get Rhett back. She knew she could. There had never been a man she couldn't get, once she set her mind upon him.

"I'll think of it all tomorrow, at Tara. I can stand it then. Tomorrow, I'll think of some way to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day." (p. 1037) 

The great achievement of Mitchell's novel is that in the end the reader's own heart goes out to Scarlett, despite her many flaws, and we grieve with her over the loss of Rhett. We understand that this blow is severe enough to drive her back into her Three fixation and her familiar Nine defense.

And we root for her to find some way to get him back. 

Through showing Scarlett's behavior in light of her experience, Mitchell's book makes it possible for us to view her character not only with understanding but with compassion. Powerful as Vivien Leigh's performance is in the film, the character of Scarlett in Mitchell's novel is infinitely more complex, credible, sympathetic, and true to type. 

Fine novels like Gone with the Wind are peerless resources for the Enneagram student who seeks a "close to the bone" understanding of type. 


This article, which was published in the September 1998 issue of Enneagram Monthly, is adapted from Judith Searle's forthcoming book Using the Enneagram to Create Characters: A Guide forWriters and Actors.