What Is My Enneagram Wing?

What Is My Enneagram Wing?

After learning about your core personality type, your next questions is probably, “What Enneagram wing am I?” 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 Enneagram symbol. Here’s how I describe it: imagine that you’re a bird and you’re standing on your personality type’s number. If you stretch out your bird wings, you’ll hit the number on either side of you. For example, if you have a Type One personality, your wing possibilities are Nine or Two.

Your core personality type differs somewhat based on which wing exerts more influence. The wing descriptions below just scratch the surface to give you a flavor of them. For a more in-depth description, I recommend, as always, The Wisdom of the Enneagram by Riso and Hudson. I learned almost everything I know about the wings from them.

Do you have to have a wing on the Enneagram?

There are different schools of thought about this topic. Riso & Hudson write that “no one is a pure type.” Sometimes a person uses both wings equally, but most people have one dominant wing. I’ve heard that some teachers disavow the wings altogether, but since Don Riso learned the Enneagram from Claudio Naranjo, I’m gonna stick with his assessment of the wings.

I like how Michael Hampson, author of Head vs. Heart and Our Gut Reactions, talks about the wings: “In addition to their usual strategy, everyone has a range of alternative strategies for approaching different situations.” So, it’s not that you HAVE to have a wing but rather that you GET to have one (at least one); you get to draw on the strategies of the Types around you.

Can your Enneagram wing change?

Weeellll, the jury’s out on this one, too. The general assumption is that you have a dominant wing, just like you have a personality type, and that’s that. Father Richard Rohr has put forth the idea that as people reach middle age, the “second half of life,” they switch from one wing to the other. Could be! We don’t really know for sure – yet. As the Enneagram gains more adherents, it’s my hope that psychologists and other qualified experts will look into this matter.

Descriptions of all the Enneagram Wings

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.

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. 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 here are the wing options for Type One, The Reformer. 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.

Let’s continue on with the Heart Center types: Two, Three and Four. How do their wings alter how each shows up in the world?

We start with Type Two, The Helper. Type Twos are the Caring, Interpersonal Type: Generous, Demonstrative, People-Pleasing and Possessive.

Okay, here’s how a Two’s wings provide for two distinct “flavors” of Twoness.

Two with a One wing: The Servant. These Twos feel responsible for others’ welfare and war against their own needs and feelings, which they regard as selfish. They may be extremely self-critical and ignore their health as they work in the background to serve other and thus feel significant.

Two with a Three wing: The Host/Hostess. These Twos are more good-humored and friendly, less self-critical and more ambitious and task-oriented. They are more direct about what they want as they focus on the quality of their relationships; they can be high-handed and arrogant at times.

This summary just scratches the surface, yet still, you get a sense of the differences that the wings create.

Next is Type Three, The Achiever. These folks are The Success-Oriented, Pragmatic Type: Adaptable, Excelling, Driven and Image-Conscious.

Three with a Two wing: The Charmer. Wanting others to like and admire them, Charmers try to hide anything that would interfere with their desirability. They know how to dazzle and impress people, but they may have that slick, artificial manner that repels rather than attracts. They are covertly competitive.

Three with a Four wing: The Professional. These Threes struggle with a mixture of ambition and self-doubt as they strive to embody perfection to avoid the shame of inferiority. They are more private socially than outgoing Charmers and may display both arrogance and self-contempt.

At this point, I feel the need to point out that all of the descriptions I’m using refer to each type in its Average Level of Development, which Riso and Hudson created to help describe and explain the differences of people of the same type. So, while it may sound like this information about Threes is all negative, it’s not. All of us in the Average range are mostly asleep to our true selves and are following our personality’s script. Even so, there are lovely gifts available in this range.

So then, let’s move on and take a look at Type Four, The Individualist. Fours are The Sensitive, Withdrawn Type: Expressive, Dramatic, Self-Absorbed and Temperamental.

Four with a Three wing: The Aristocrat. The Three influence causes Aristocrats to focus on their self-worth and how they appear to others. They usually put a lot of effort into their self-presentation and their work, desiring recognition. They love culture and sophistication (hence “Aristocrat”) and are sometimes competitive, disdainful of others and narcissistic.

Four with a Five wing: The Bohemian. Fours are a withdrawn type (in the Hornevian Groups), and Bohemians are influenced by Five, which is also withdrawn. So, they are more introverted than Aristocrats and dwell mainly in their imaginations. They are drawn to the exotic and the mysterious (hence “Bohemian”), adopt a minimalist lifestyle—again, the Five influence—and often see themselves as rebellious outsiders. Remember that Twos, Threes and Fours are ruled by the emotion of shame, which caused them to focus on their image. The way each type deals with shame and image is related to which wing is operating in their lives.

We’ll finish our tour around the Enneagram symbol with the final three personality types, which belong to the Head Center: Five, Six and Seven.

For the Head Center, we start with Type Five, The Investigator. Type Fives are the Intense, Cerebral Type: Perceptive, Innovative, Secretive and Isolated.

Here’s how a Five’s wings provide for two distinct “flavors” of Fiveness.

Five with a Four wing: The Iconoclast. Due to the Four’s Feeling Center influence, this type of Five struggles with intense emotions, creating a kind of mythic battle between head and heart. This battle sends them into the realm of wild, fantastic imagination and may be the reason they are more independent and less grounded than the other type of Five.

Five with a Six wing: The Problem-Solver. With an extra dose of Head Center energy, this Five is more focused on theories, data and technology. They are very private about their feelings and more interested in the world around them than their internal world. They tend to be more argumentative, defensive and even antagonistic.

Now, let’s look at Type Six, The Loyalist: The Committed, Security-Oriented Type: Engaging, Responsible, Anxious and Suspicious.

Six with a Five Wing: The Defender. Serious and independent, these Sixes keep their own counsel and rely on systems and beliefs for reassurance – while doubting them, too. They look at the world as a dangerous place and are reactive and aggressive when they feel their safety is threatened.

Six with a Seven Wing: The Buddy. As the name implies, Buddies are people who like to hang out with others and be sociable. They are more distractible than Defenders and can be vocally opinionated while reticent about their own problems. Substance abuse may help quell their anxiety.

Notice that, unlike the Five (and the Seven, which comes next), Six doesn’t have a different Center to influence it. Six is a core or anchor type, forming one of the three angles of the Enneagram’s inner triangle, along with Nine and Three. So, rather than being influenced by the Gut or Heart Centers, Sixes are influenced only by other types of fear. But the other types of fear, Seven and Five, are distinct enough in themselves to significantly impact the core fear type, Six.

It’s the same for Types Nine and Three. The anger and shame types on either side of them, respectively, have their own core fear and motivations, which are strong enough on their own to “pull” at the core type. But that pull isn’t so strong that it turns the type next to it into its own type. There are still nine distinct personality types, but they are like a color wheel. So, if a Six is green, let’s say, it could be forest green or Kelly green or lime green or any shade of green; Sixness is a continuum that flows almost all the way out to Five and to Seven. So it is for each type.

With that, we have arrived at Type Seven, The Enthusiast. The Busy, Fun-Loving Type: Spontaneous, Versatile, Distractible and Scattered.

Seven with a Six wing: The Entertainer. These Sevens are witting, fast-talking and energetic; they entertain others without trying. They are productive but more distractible than the other type of Seven. Substance abuse can happen here due to anxiety and self-doubt (courtesy of the Six influence).

Seven with an Eight wing: The Realist. With a strong Eightish willpower, Realists can be aggressive multi-taskers who meet their own needs. They can be workaholics in search of possessions and experiences. They would rather do and create than connect with people, and they are more jaded than the ever-hopeful Entertainers.

Well, that ends this series on the Enneagram wings, but it certainly doesn’t end the exploration of this fascinating aspect of personality. Again, I recommend reading The Wisdom of the Enneagramfor a fuller examination.

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