Gut, Head or Heart: Where is Your Center?

Three CentersLet’s take a deeper dive into the Enneagram now, into its structure. This is good foundational information, but it may seem like a lot’s coming at you initially if you’re not familiar with it. Please bear with the unfamiliarity of it all! It will eventually make sense.

Each of us has a personality, an overlay of Ego and Super Ego that occludes the authentic self. There are nine personality base models, and each of those personalities rests within one of three Centers of Intelligence. The word “intelligence” here is used in the sense of how a person processes or filters information.

Take a look at the diagram above. You will see that the Enneagram symbol is divided into three sections. Each section has an emotion associated with it, as well as an area of the body. The 8-9-1 group is the Instinctive or Gut center, and its primary emotion is rage. The 2-3-4 group is the Feeling or Heart center, and its primary emotion is shame. Finally, the 5-6-7 group is the Thinking or Head center, and its primary emotion is fear.

Each of us, in our brokenheartedness, possesses all three of the primary emotions, and we all think, feel and react instinctively. However, one emotion will predominate. It’s the emotion that underlies all the Ego’s defenses. So, for instance, the Feeling/Heart center types are very concerned with self-image and have trouble distinguishing between what they believe about themselves and who they actually are. This is because, underneath all those self-stories, they are dealing with a great deal of shame.

As I write this, I am again struck by the compassion that the Enneagram engenders. That obnoxious know-it-all guy who can’t wait to tell you about his latest promotion and how much money he makes? Deeply ashamed. That shallow gal with the flawless hair who can’t wait to show you her latest designer handbag? Deeply ashamed. The Enneagram is not merely fascinating; if that were the case, I would have moved on to the next fascinating thing long ago. No; the Enneagram is a way to see the hard journey that you and everybody else is on, and to extend compassion to all.

So, if all this Type and Center stuff is confusing initially, let it be so and don’t give up. It has the power to transform your life in ways you cannot yet imagine.

All right, back to the Centers for a moment. The Instinctive or Gut types maintain resistance to reality (Wow—sounds exhausting! And it is.) and have trouble with aggression and repression. Each of the Types handles its rage differently, and we’ll get into that in a later post. The Thinking or Head types are full of anxiety because they have lost their connection to a sense of guidance and safety. They spend their time doing things that they believe (wrongly) will make them more safe and secure.

The three Centers can be equated with Body (Instinctives), Mind (Thinking) and Spirit (Feeling). My friend Tracy recognized the Centers in the “Wizard of Oz.” The Tin Man wanted a heart, the Scarecrow wanted a brain, and the Lion wanted courage. Feeling, thinking, instinct. Modern medicine has also identified three basic divisions in the brain, as well: the root brain, where instinct lives; the limbic brain, where emotion resides; and the cerebral cortex, where thinking takes place. Nature just seem to like trinities. I wonder why…

This is a very basic overview of the Centers. I recommend, once again, Riso & Hudson’s “The Wisdom of the Enneagram” for a more in-depth yet very readable treatment of the topic. In the next blog post, I’ll write about other ways that the Types can be sliced and diced. Until then, be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. Especially the ones who annoy the crap out of you.




  1. connectdd on at

    Love your informative posts on the Enneagram!

  2. Heath on at

    Thanks, Doreen! I took a look at your blog and like your posts as well. I’m always glad to find another Enneagram enthusiast, especially a Christian one! I’m going to check out the ICCA; glad to know such a thing exists.

  3. Naomi DB on at

    Heath, Thank you so much! You just gave me a key to a door I’ve been trying to unlock for some time. I used to have migraines. Now that I have more peace in Christ, I’ve gotten rid of fear. Now I’m battling gut issues. It fits perfectly with anger. Up until now, I just thought that both conditions were just a shifting of how I deal with stress. After reading your insights, I had an Aha! moment. Now that the fear has been shed, I have old and new anger issues that are coming to the forefront. Now that the migraine/fear-centric self has been handled, the gut/anger center has now come to the forefront. Thank you, thank you. That helps me so much to know what I need to bring to G*d to help me work through this.

    Heath, THANK YOU! Blessings!

  4. Heath on at

    Wow, Naomi! That is fantastic. I am so glad you got some insight into what’s going on with you. And you just made my day!

  5. […] looked at several ways in 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 […]

  6. […] Center: Heart/Feeling (the underlying emotion is shame) […]

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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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