The Enneagram – “The darn thing’s got wings!”


One of the things that makes the Enneagram such a comprehensive and accurate model of human behavior is its complexity. I used to resist this assessment because I didn’t want people to be scared away from it. But now that it’s become so popular, I feel like I can admit that yes, this thing takes some work.

The Enneagram goes way past the nine base personality types with all kinds of ways to slice and dice them. I realized, in looking through old posts, that I’ve never written about the wings before. The wings exert more influence than you might imagine, and they can really help you understand why you do what you do. They might even help you discover your type if you don’t know it yet.

So, let’s look at the wings! This refers to the number on either side of a personality type on the symbol. I’m going to discuss the wings by Center of Intelligence, starting with the Instinctive Center.

As a quick recap, this Center forms the top or “crown” of the Enneagram and includes Types Eight, Nine and One. The dominant emotion for this Center is anger. [insert graphic here]

You can read more about the Centers of Intelligence here.

We start with Type Eight, The Challenger. That’s what Riso and Hudson call this type, and I’m going to use their titles and descriptions throughout. In a nutshell, Type Eights are the Powerful, Dominating Type: Self-Confident, Decisive, Willful and Confrontational.

Here’s how its wings influence how the Eight shows up in the world.

Eight with a Seven wing: The Independent. Adventurous risk-takers with big plans, Independents are more openly aggressive and confrontational than Eights with a Nine wing. They are less likely to back down from a fight. They are both more pragmatic and efficient and more easily swayed by their feelings.

Eight with a Nine wing: The Bear. These Eights are steadier, less aggressive and less easily irritated than those with a Seven wing. They have a quiet groundedness and “laid-back” air that comes from the Nine influence. Bears are warmer, more family-oriented and protective – bear-like, sort of.

These are two pretty different portraits of personality types, right? The degree of aggression alone is a big difference, and it depends for Eights on which wing is influencing them. But they’re both Eights, and this is why understanding the wings is so helpful in identifying your own type or that of someone around you.

Now let’s look at wings for Type Nine, The Peacemaker. [insert graphic here]

Nines are the Easygoing, Self-Effacing Type: Receptive, Reassuring, Agreeable and Complacent.

Nine with a One wing: The Dreamer. These Nines have trouble focusing on goals because they get caught up in busywork that is not essential. They are less adventurous and more reserved than other Nines (below). The One influence causes their anger to come out as restrained indignation.

Nine with an Eight wing: The Referee. These Nines have trouble staying focused on goals because they like to socialize and find comfort. Nine stubbornness can kick into overdrive due to the strong Eight influence, and many Referees have explosive bad tempers.

And finally, let’s look at the wing options for Type One, The Reformer. [insert graphic here]

Ones are the Rational, Idealistic Type: Principled, Purposeful, Self-Controlled and Perfectionistic.

One with a Nine wing: The Idealist. Though full of high ideals, these Ones typically don’t want to dirty their hands with politics, likely due to the Nine influence that desires harmony. That influence extends to the Idealist’s desire to be alone; they may be more remote, aloof and impersonal.

One with a Two wing: The Advocate. These Ones also have ideals, but they are willing to actively and forcefully pursue—“advocate” for—the reforms they desire. Rather than wanting to withdraw, they get energized by being with people. These traits make them good at politics. They can become irritated and highly vocal when irritated.

These wing descriptions just scratch the surface to give you a flavor of the influence they exert. For a more in-depth description, I recommend, as always, The Wisdom of the Enneagram by Riso and Hudson.

Finally, bonus points and apologies to you if you get the semi-obscure reference in this post’s title to an item from pop culture. I couldn’t resist!

Next time, we’ll look at the wings for the Heart Center of Intelligence: Two, Three and Four.

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