Getting Centered


In my last post, I wrote about the three Centers of Intelligence, or ways of processing the world. Wendy Appel, in her book InsideOut Enneagram, expands on that idea:

“Robert Cooper, of Stanford Business School, points out that we have three brains – one in our head, one in the gut and one in the heart – all with massive numbers of neurons. He claims that when all three brains work together, they produce the highest level of reasoning. This is not a new idea. The three Centers of Intelligence have been taught since Plato’s time.”

Now, isn’t that interesting? Modern science is now catching up with what people have inherently known for thousands of years. This knowledge is the basis for sayings like “What is your gut telling you?” and “I know in my heart this is the right thing to do.” Each “brain” or Center of Intelligence in a person has unique gifts and contributes to the whole.

However, the problem is that each personality type relies so heavily on one of the Centers that the others are essentially ignored. This makes us out of balance, leading to sayings like “My head says one thing, but my heart says another.” You can tell that the person who says this is most probably a Heart type and is going to discount what the Head is saying because she or he trust more in the Heart. That’s the default decision-maker for this type.

But maybe the Head is right in this instance and could have helped the Heart type make a more well-considered choice. The Center we rely on can become a trap because we don’t give as much merit to the other Centers, causing us to repeat patterns of behavior that do not serve us or others. In effect, reliance on only one Center, one way of perceiving the world, diminishes our human experience.

There is another way to group the Enneagram Types that is really helpful. Psychiatrist Karen Horney identified three sets of behaviors people use (there’s another trinity!) to deal with stressful social and interpersonal situations. My buddies Riso and Hudson then mapped her findings to the Enneagram, and we now have the Hornevian Groups: Dutiful, Withdrawn and Assertive.

Riso and Hudson speak of the Hornevian Groups as the ways in which the different Types get their needs met:

“The assertive types (Three, Seven and Eight) insist or demand that they get what they want. Their approach is active and direct as they go after what they believe they need. The compliant types (One, Two and Six) all attempt to earn something by placating their super-ego to get what they want. They do their best to be ‘good boys and girls’ to get their needs met. The withdrawn types (Four, Five and Nine) all withdraw to get what they want. They disengage from others to deal with their needs.”

In what I think is a fascinating trinity-within-a-trinity, each of the three Centers has one of each of the Hornevian types. So, for example, the Gut Center has an Eight/Assertive, Nine/Withdrawn and One/Dutiful. The Center a person is in determines the specific reason they will use within their Hornevian Group. Let’s look at the Withdrawns as an illustration. Nines are Gut Withdrawns, and they move away from the outside world to get their fundamental need for autonomy met because Gut types want autonomy. Heart types want attention, so Fours withdraw in the hope that someone will notice they are gone and come find them. Head types want to feel secure, so Fives withdraw in order to feel safe from the illogical, scary world.

Fascinating, huh? But again, don’t get hung up on how interesting all this stuff is. I do not write this blog so you will “Ooh” and “Aaah” – though if you do, that’s fine. I write this blog because this fascinating stuff will rock your world into wholeness if you let it. Understanding what Center you reside in will help you see how you have been ignoring the other Centers. Understanding what schemes you use to get your perceived needs met will give you greater compassion for yourself and help you reconsider those schemes and those needs.

Greater application and practical tips will come after I lay the Enneagram foundation a bit more. For now, try to identify which Center you live in and which Hornevian Group resonates most with you.





  1. Alicia on July 28, 2014 at 4:05 pm

    “The Center we rely on” part is helpful to me. And by way of (unsolicited) advice, go back and highlight in BOLD the line that says, “this fascinating stuff will rock your world into wholeness if you let it”…to make that part jump out at people!!!

    Way to make a difference, Heath! ?

  2. Heath on July 28, 2014 at 7:57 pm

    Thank you! Your support means the world to me.

  3. […] which the nine human personalities can be segmented into threes: the Centers, Object Relations and Hornevian groups. Let’s take a look now at the other manor grouping of threes: the Harmonic […]

  4. […] talked about the Harmonic Groups before, and I’ve talked about the Hornevian Groups, so today I’m going to put them both together in a way that brings greater clarity to each of the […]

  5. […] Hornevian Group: Withdrawn […]

  6. […] Center: Head/Thinking (underlying emotion is fear) […]

  7. […] Center: Body/Gut (underlying emotion is anger) […]

  8. […] Center: Body/Gut (underlying emotion is anger) […]

  9. […] see you have diet recommendations based on the Hornevian Groups. How and why did you come up with the idea of dividing diets into these […]

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Quick Start Guide to Centering Prayer

This short guide gives you the essentials for learning to be still and quiet before God so you can hear his voice and feel his love in a deeper way.

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