Enneagram Type 6
It’s time for an Enneagram Type 6 overview. A joke in the Enneagram world is that if you can’t figure out which type you are, you’re probably a Six. That’s because the Six is such an ambivalent personality. So ambivalent, in fact, that they come in two opposing varieties! But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Sixes are called The Devil’s Advocate by Helen Palmer and some other teachers. This title encapsulates the Six dilemma. They long to trust yet find it very difficult. They want to find a person, an institution or group to believe in, but nagging doubt remains. They can’t fully trust anyone on the outside, and they don’t have confidence in themselves, either. They are stuck in a conundrum that Cardinal de Retz clearly understands: “A man who doesn’t trust himself can never really trust anyone else.”
Where does this lack of trust come from? Sixes, as Head types, have fear as their primary underlying emotion. They are afraid, at their core, that the world is unsafe and that there is no one and nothing to support or guide them. They are alone in a scary place, and they can’t even trust their own instincts. They have been cut off from their inner sense of guidance.
Because they want so much to find something outside themselves to believe in, Sixes will seek out an institution that they have some affinity with, that somehow helps them to feel safe and supported. It can be an actual safety-related group, like martial arts, or a group whose ideals they can get behind, like a religious group or political party. Once they have found this group, they become some of its most loyal and dedicated members. They will show up first and leave last, doing all that is expected of them so that they can maintain their place within the group and continue to feel supported.
Loyal But Skeptical
People tend to love Sixes because they’re so dang loyal and dependable. Need to move on a holiday weekend? Ask a Six. Need someone to help set up a weekend event at 6:00 a.m.? Ask a Six. Want to make sure your spouse never cheats on you? Marry a Six (at an high-average or healthy emotional level, anyway).
At the same time, Sixes never fully give their loyalty over to anyone. Hence the “Loyal Skeptic” moniker some teachers give them. Doubts remain because, since they have no sense of inner guidance, how can they know that the decisions they make are right? They constantly question themselves and those to whom they’ve given allegiance. One Six I know complained about the leadership at his job repeatedly—about the decisions they’d made and the direction they were taking the company in—and stayed there 20 years. A Six could see that the church he’d attended for almost a quarter-century was falling apart, but he found it almost impossible to leave. One of my favorite Sixes, my late Grandpa Frank, used to say regularly, “People are no damned good.”
For the Six, that statement would include themselves. Sixes tend to have self-esteem struggles. They feel particularly ignored by the authorities in their lives and generally ignored by everyone else. They have concluded, then, that this means there is something unremarkable about or wrong with them. Because Sixes don’t believe in themselves, they often don’t speak up as forcefully as they need to, and they indeed are ignored or forgotten. In this way, the Sixes reinforce their skewed view of themselves – their personality.
Phobic and Counter-Phobic: Two Kinds of Type Six
As Head Types, Sixes was to KNOW, and what you don’t know CAN hurt you. This makes change particularly difficult for Sixes, as it’s seen as a loss of support and a leap into the gaping unknown. I’m sure a Six coined the phrase, “The devil you know is better than the one you don’t.”
However, I’m equally sure that a Six coined this phrase: “Do one thing every day that scares you.” Now, how can Sixes fear the unknown and, on the other hand, force themselves into danger on a daily basis? Aah, we have reached the fascinating paradox of the Six. This is where the two opposing varieties of Six come into play. No other Type demonstrates such an overt split in coping strategies: phobic vs. counter-phobic. Phobic Sixes (like Woody Allen) are very clearly afraid, while the counter-phobic Sixes (like Mel Gibson) oppose their fear and come off as tough guys. Sometimes, in fact, it’s hard to tell a counter-phobic Six from an Eight.
We see in the Apostle Peter an example of a Six, both the heroic and the not-so-much. He was the first to accept Jesus’ call; he was the first to recognize, or at least publicly declare, the divinity of Jesus. Full of faith, he walked on the water; beginning to doubt, he sank in the water. He cut off a guy’s ear defending his Messiah, and when that authority figure was subdued and his support was gone, he fled. He swore he wouldn’t deny Jesus, and then he did it three times. And then, after his Lord returned in victory and commissioned him to feed his sheep, Peter did so and never looked back.
Loyalty, conviction, compassion, service: these are just some of the beautiful qualities of the Six. I am blessed to have Sixes in my life; they are some of my favorite people – including my husband!
Enneagram Type 6 Childhood
As children, Sixes felt alienated from their protective figure, which is usually the father. They want that support of the “authority figure,” but they don’t want to be overwhelmed or controlled by it, either – that Six paradox again. Six children want the approval of others but also want to remain independent, so other kids may not know how close to get to them. Sixes may feel unpopular; even though they are usually quite likable, their reluctance to take a strong stand and risk loss of support means they can go unnoticed by peers. But if Sixes find compatible playmates, those childhood friendships may last a lifetime.
The Building Blocks of Type Six
Let’s look at the various components that make up a Type Six personality.
Center: Head/Thinking (underlying emotion is fear)
Hornevian Group: Dutiful
Harmonic Group: Emotional Realness
Object Relation Group: Attachment
In the book Out of the Box: Coaching with the Enneagram by Mary Bast and Clarence Thomson, there’s a great description of a person with a Type Six personality from the perspective of her coworkers:
“She has this concern for ‘danger out there,’ yet she can come across like a bungee jumper.”
“She can act impulsively but is as likely to list all the reasons why we can’t do something. She will eventually say, ‘I guarantee this will fail!’”
This is the life of a Six: always on the lookout for danger, for what could go wrong. Sixes process the world through their heads and through a lens of fear.
This is where being Attached in terms of Object Relations comes in. Head types feel that they lack guidance in the world, and how this plays out for Sixes is that they want to find individuals, groups and beliefs that they can give their allegiance to (attach to) in return for support. Sixes can become dogmatic out of fear and hold on to the often-bitter end. Taken too far, this leads to us-versus-them mentality and is easily exploited by cults and other fringe groups.
This then feeds into, or is fed by, the Dutiful quality of Sixes. Once committed, Sixes are the first to help out a friend or group. They feel that they must do their “duty” to be helpful, responsible and loyal in order to maintain the relationships that give them a sense of security.
Because they’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop, Sixes cannot ever fully be at peace. They can’t fully enjoy a personal victory, and some Sixes cannot ever be satisfied or grateful. There’s a sense that the desired outcome could have been better or happened sooner, if the world weren’t so dreadful. This comes from their deeply rooted anxiety, which then causes more anxiety – a never-ending cycle.
It seems to me, then, that a way Sixes quell (or perhaps even sometimes confirm?) their anxiety is through their quality of Emotional Realness. They want others to mirror their feelings. “Don’t you see how dangerous/terrible/wrong this is?” If a Six doesn’t know where you stand, they fear you may be hiding something or that you may not care. But if the Six can provoke you and get an emotional reaction, at least s/he will know your position – because not knowing is just too uncomfortable.
Enneagram 6 Wings
Each Enneagram Type has a number on its right and left. These are its possible wings. Most people are more strongly influenced by one than the other, though sometimes both wings have equal influence. Here’s what that influence looks like for the Six. As a Riso-Hudson Certified Enneagram Teacher, I’m using Riso & Hudson’s names and descriptions here.
Six with a Five Wing (6w5): The Defender. Serious and independent, these Sixes keep their own counsel and rely on systems and beliefs for reassurance – while doubting them, too. They view the world as a dangerous place and are reactive and aggressive when they feel their security is in jeopardy.
Enneagram Type Six with a Seven Wing (6w7): The Buddy. As the name suggests, Buddies are people who like to hang out with others and be sociable. They are more distractible than Defenders and can be very opinionated while reluctant to speak about their own problems. They may use or abuse substances as a way to dampen their anxiety.
Enneagram Type Six Relationships
The combination of loyalty and distrust can create conflict in all relationships, especially in romantic relationships. If a Six feels unsure about how things are going, he or she may test you in subtle ways to see if the relationship is still sound – or in non-subtle ways by demanding that you mirror their feelings by getting as emotional as they are in the moment. If you can’t or won’t, the Six may take this as “proof” that you aren’t as committed as they are, furthering their anxiety.
But at their best, Sixes offer loyalty and a bedrock-like solidity that lay the foundation for strong long-term relationships. They are friendly, engaging and courageous on your behalf. How wonderful to find someone you can put your trust in! Sixes can also keep you grounded while supporting your dreams. And my Six (w7) keeps me laughing every day with his sharp wit and playful demeanor.
Enneagram Type 6 Careers
Though Sixes can be found in all walks of life, their Basic Desire to find security and support (as outlined in The Wisdom of the Enneagram) draws them toward professions where they can both serve and feel safe. There are many Sixes in law enforcement, and I wonder if a Six came up with the motto “To Protect and Serve.” Because they are good at analysis and investigation, Sixes are at home as analysts, detectives and construction inspectors, for instance. They may also be found in the helping professions such as teaching or medicine. As Head Types, facts and knowledge reassure them, so they may become professors or specialists in scientific fields.
Enneagram Type Six Celebrities
The fact that there are many famous Sixes proves that though their Basic Desire has significant sway in their lives, they are as diverse a group as any other type. Though no outsider can say for certain what a person’s personality type is, the following celebrities exhibit Six qualities and behaviors: Ellen DeGeneres, Tom Hanks, David Letterman, Jennifer Anniston, Malcom X, Diane Keaton, J. R. R. Tolkien and Princess Diana.
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