Thursday, January 14, 2010

Chilhood Scenarios for Enneatypes: Law of Three














I've recently come across a really interesting article that promotes a different hypothesis of how Enneagram types form during childhood and I thought I should present it briefly on the blog.

It's commonly accepted that the Enneagram type has both a genetic component and an environmental component and it's their interaction that decides the final typology. This theory states that there are three major innate orientations of the personality and that we are all born with one of them prevalent over the other two. Furthermore, it suggests that each of the nine Enneagram types is a consequence of the way in which the child's preferred inborn orientation (the hereditary component) interacts with the one that their parent - or main caretaker - has towards them in the forming years (the environmental component).

Three Basic Orientations

The three orientations are an expression of the Law of Three, on which the entire Enneagram concept is based. This law states that there are three kinds of forces that act in the human nature - the Active force, the Responsive force and the Neutral force and that each person is born with a natural preference for one of them.

These three forces are similar to the Hornevian Groups (Assertive, Compliant and Withdrawn respectively), but they are used here in a different context, to describe inborn traits and parental styles rather than established personality.

Here are the associated traits for each basic orientation:

Active: demanding, assertive, bossy, outspoken, intimidating, egocentric, expressive, willful.

Responsive: supportive, responsive, engaging, affectionate, friendly, sympathetic, cooperative.

Neutral: avoidant, withdrawn, indifferent, apathetic, absent, reserved, ignoring, neglectful.

Apparently, each child comes into the world with one of these predefined attitudes toward their environment and each parent will address their children with a certain parenting style, which can be, but isn't necessarily determined by their Enneagram type.

Any Enneagram type can use any of the three orientations to attend to their children. For example - an Enneatype 5 can be a Responsive parent, an Enneatype 8 might use a Neutral approach with their offspring, while an Enneatype 1 may lean towards an Active style. What determines the environmental component of a child's future type is not necessarily the main caretaker's type, but rather their particular approach to relating to the child.


Nine Interaction Scenarios: Child vs. Parent

Here are the 9 childhood scenarios that correspond to each of the 9 Enneagram types.

Active child vs. Active parent
This scenario is thought to produce Enneagram type 8.

The child and parent experience open conflicts on a regular basis. They both have different agendas and oppose each other, thus giving rise to power struggles and explosive arguments. The Active parent is impatient and intolerant of the child's rebellious nature and tries to impose his will in an authoritarian fashion. The Active child, on the other hand, becomes aggressive, argumentative and persistent in getting his own way. The relationship becomes a sort of battlefield, which is how the child will later perceive the world around him (type 8).

Such a childhood scenario encourages the child to develop a keen eye for spotting other people's weaknesses and a thirst for imposing their will in an overly aggressive fashion. They learn to be assertive, strong and deny their fears and feelings of intimidation. These are the traits they needed to have in order to stand up to their domineering parents and still keep their own Active inborn approach.

Active child vs. Responsive parent
This scenario is thought to produce Enneagram type 7

The demands and concerns of the Active child are usually received with benevolence and a supportive, encouraging attitude. This creates a tolerant environment in which the child can express himself openly and receive attention without much effort from his part. The Active child becomes self-confident, carefree and expects his interactions to be positive and favorable to his needs. The Responsive parent is sympathetic and loving, thus stimulating the child's playful, self-expressive side and giving him a good deal of personal freedom.

This childhood scenario promotes a cheerful, optimistic type who knows how to charm and manipulate others into easily getting his way. Entertaining and expressive, such a child may later expect instant gratification for all his needs and desires and avoid investing time and effort into long-term goals.

Active child vs. Neutral parent
This scenario is thought to produce Enneagram type 4

In this relationship, the child usually tries to grab the attention of an indifferent or absent parent, by expressing himself with increasing intensity, until a response is achieved. The Active child may act in a dramatic, exaggerated manner, attempting to get his message across to the unconcerned caretaker. The Neutral caretaker will typically ignore the child's emotional needs, making the youngster feel frustrated, misunderstood and possibly abandoned. Sometimes the child turns these negative feelings inwardly, believing that they are unlovable and not special enough to deserve attention.

This scenario teaches the Active children that they are different than other children that seem to be getting the support they lack. They want to make themselves heard so they amplify their feelings, resorting to dramatic expressions of their emotions. These children may later become overly sensitive, artistic and theatrical, but also melancholic, self-loathing and depressive.

Responsive child vs. Active parent
This scenario is thought to produce Enneagram type 1

This interaction is generally centered around the parent's agenda, to which the child will subscribe in order to receive the desired approval. The Active parent will be demanding, dominating and will criticize any perceived "bad" behavior. The Responsive child, on the other hand, is unusually sensitive to criticism so he will try to adjust and adhere to the parent's values and perspectives, by being obedient, well-behaved and an altogether "good kid". This attitude will help him build the desired rapport with the fastidious main caretaker.

With time, the child will learn to put aside his real needs and wishes in order to do the right thing, to be correct and morally ethical. These types will prefer to have a clear set of standards and rules to adhere to and will only feel worthy and lovable when they live a righteous life, in accordance with their upstanding principles. Their parents taught them that acceptance comes only through obedience and discipline.

Responsive child vs. Responsive parent
This scenario is thought to produce Enneagram type 6

This child will usually establish a very close relationship with his caretaker and will tend to become dependent on the nurturing, affectionate figure that offers him support and understanding. A strong desire for harmonious relationships is created and the Responsive child will reject and feel threatened by conflicts and lack of stability. Such types will seek playmates and groups that share their values and interests and will take an 'us against the world' stance, typically towards unfamiliar people and circumstances.

These Responsive children will prefer to play by the rules in order to keep themselves safe from any disharmony that will endanger their comforting, supportive relationships. They will be playful, endearing and loyal to their chosen groups and intimates, while at the same time remaining alert and vigilant to avoid any conflicts and hidden threats. Suspicion of other people's motives can arise as a protection from abandonment and rejection - they are in fact very afraid of losing their safe, nurturing grounds.

Responsive child vs. Neutral parent
This scenario is thought to produce Enneagram type 2

In this case, the Responsive child will act in a pleasing, appealing matter but will most likely encounter an indifferent attitude on the part of the Neutral parent. Confronted with this apathy and lack of interest, the child can only resort to becoming even more pleasing and irresistible to the parent, until he manages to break through the shell of indifference and obtain the desired rapport. Such types will be helpful, empathetic, lovable and attractive and will have a knack for getting on the same wavelength with their parents - they know when and how to approach them in order to obtain their attention.

Growing up, the Responsive children will learn to intuitively sense and assess other people's moods and will know exactly how to fulfill their needs in order to be appreciated and loved by them. They have a wide repertoire of seductive behaviors and know exactly which approach to use in order to successfully engage others into a close relationship.

Neutral child vs. Active parent
This scenario is thought to produce Enneagram type 9

The Neutral child is often overwhelmed and frightened by the controlling, domineering Active parent. Lacking self-assertion skills, he prefers to withdraw and stay out of the way, minimizing his own needs and avoiding the parent as much as possible. On the few occasions the child reaches out to the caretaker, he ends up feeling rejected and bullied around for no apparent reason, which causes him to withdraw again. The loneliness, however, also feels like rejection and soon enough the youngster will be ambivalent towards both being alone and being with others.

Most of the time, a compromise will be made. This type will seek out company but will not invest themselves in it, preferring to keep in the background and go with the flow, partly removed from their actual situation. When alone, they will avoid introspection, which will bring about old feelings of depression and rejection, instead they'd rather numb themselves out with food, TV or other unimportant routines to avoid emotional pain.

Neutral child vs. Responsive parent
This scenario is thought to produce Enneagram type 5

In this relationship, the Responsive parent is inclined to give a lot of unrequested attention to the Neutral child, who perceives his parent's supportive and affectionate attitude as a form of smothering. The youngster will tend to withdraw from his environment, preferring solitary activities and contemplation, but as opposed to the previous scenario (of type 9), loneliness will not be accompanied by a feeling of rejection. At the contrary, being alone is a matter of choice and it gives a feeling of security and well-being, knowing that there is always someone to communicate with when they decide to seek out company.

Such children are genuine loners, who prefer and enjoy their solitude. They are introspective, insightful and love learning and discovering things on their own, usually rejecting any help or intervention from the outside. They are afraid of being intruded upon because their parents used to make a fuss over them and suffocate them with attention and demands for closeness.

Neutral child vs. Neutral parent
This scenario is thought to produce Enneagram type 3

This Neutral child's solitude is encouraged by his parent's own withdrawal and indifference, which doesn’t necessarily make the Neutral child feel openly rejected, but rather intrigues and challenges him. Serious, focused and rather unemotional, this youngster will most likely try to fulfill his occasional need for attention by impressing his parents with outstanding accomplishments and high aspirations, which make him feel worthy and valuable in their eyes.

Later in life, these children become motivated achievers who put great emphasis on results, performance, efficiency and a successful image that will make others appreciate and admire them. Deep inside they dislike being ignored because it makes them doubt their own value, therefore they tend to hide their weaknesses and flaws and project a desirable, attractive, "I-have-it-all" persona.




Sunday, January 3, 2010

Myers Briggs types under Stress


We all know what Enneagram types do when they're stressed out, as it's been long discussed in a wide number of publications. And it's been long complained the fact that the Myers Briggs theory isn't a dynamic system because it doesn't explain how its 16 types act when in distress. I beg to differ. The cognitive functions that underlie each type offer pertinent predictions of how the types will act when unhealthy.

These are a series of likely scenarios of how Myers Briggs types tend to disintegrate when under substantial and long-enduring stress. They are based on each type's functional stacking and reveal the typical ways in which the third and fourth functions can rise into consciousness and spoil the psychological balance of each type. These scenarios are inspired by Lenore Thomson's work.

ESTJs are likely to start viewing others as being overly subjective and weak, therefore consider that it's time to take control and set things right. They can become domineering and uncompromising, imposing their viewpoint and considering their logic as the only valid standard. Craving personal contact and affection, but unable to give in to their emotional side, they blame others for being corrupt, subjective and disrespectful and a self-righteous anger takes over them. As the pressure becomes intolerable, psychological outlet valves open to release frustration in inappropriate ways: anger bursts, impulsive behaviors, excessive drinking or eating.

ESTJs may benefit from learning to acknowledge and accept the personal and subjective aspects of themselves and the world they live in. Not everything can be logically and impersonally categorized and understood by way of rational principles.

ISTJs tend to become excessively rigid and convinced that what they perceive as important is objectively paramount and should therefore be perceived as such by everyone else. They have trouble acknowledging their own subjectivity and believe that their principles and priorities should be the same for all and everyone should be living their lives as they do. As the pressure rises, they become increasingly intolerant of diversity and may start seeing other people as irresponsible and lacking appropriate standards and ethics. They try to take control of others and become stuck in limiting rules and regulations, afraid of change and taking any risks into the unknown.

ISTJs in this situation need to realize their own subjectivity and the fact that their views and solutions to life's problems are highly individual and cannot be applied to other people. They must accept their own uniqueness and learn to bring it to the world without inflexibly imposing it on others.


ESFJs usually keep their distress and inner conflicts away from public eye. They are terrified of being judged and criticized by others while on the other hand they can be highly intolerant of what they perceive as inappropriate behaviors. They begin to feel used and unappreciated by others and as their resentment grows, they are prone to rash and thoughtless actions that may end up damaging the relationships they care so much for. As frustration grows, they become complaining, manipulative and go behind people's backs to make decisions for them that would more likely benefit themselves than those involved. They rationalize their insensitive behavior by considering their actions are the right ones for solving the problem.

ESFJs can help themselves by realizing that they can be loved for who they are, and not for what they do for others, and that they do not have an obligation to fulfill everyone's needs. They need to define who they are and what they want, separately from how others view them or want them to be.

ISFJs have the tendency to lose themselves in emotional and moral commitments, seeing themselves as indispensable to and intrinsic part of the cause they've identified with. At this point they can become self-sacrificing martyrs whose only purpose is the happiness and well-being of others. They can end up in bad relationships where they're willingly being used and put in a service-oriented position. As their stress increases they begin to cling to people and try to keep them attached by undermining their independence and offering them unconditional care and support instead. At the same time, ISFJs remain secretive about their own feelings and vulnerabilities, which unconsciously build up to create more frustration. They can become intolerant to whatever doesn't fit their view of life, rejecting reality and even fiction that does not favor their values of feelings and commitment.

ISFJs can benefit from learning to discover, understand and fulfill their own needs, in the same manner in which they do this for others. They need to compare their opinions and goals against reality and assess the strength of their commitments in order to keep them balanced and reasonable.

ESFPs are likely to first experience depression and disinterest, as a result of diminished physical and emotional energy. They may become self-absorbed and indifferent towards other's needs and finally may leave their current situation altogether, in search of a whole new alternative. As the psychological pressure increases, ESFPs may begin acting in a flighty, superficial manner, attracted to the satisfaction of the moment while disregarding the consequences of their actions. They appear to others as chameleonic and unpredictable, indiscriminately going for what’s popular and losing their individuality and credibility by continuously adapting to their changing environment.

ESFPs can help themselves by figuring out their own priorities and what really matters to them, leaving aside the current trends and whatever is popular at the moment. They need to learn to say 'no' to unnecessary experience and start focusing on a purpose that satisfies their inner values.

ISFPs under distress will give a lot of importance to their personal freedom, their choices, their lifestyle and their subjective view of life. Feeling threatened by conforming and the prospect of giving up their ideals, they start rejecting other people's help and advice, becoming increasingly defensive and dismissive. They may resort to sarcasm, become cryptic or derogatory. As frustration grows, they tend to isolate in order to escape outer influence on them, and live life on the edge of society, refusing to take any logical considerations into account and relying solely on their creative emotions and peculiar worldview.

ISFPs need to find a way to bring their vision and gifts into the outer world, usually by learning to express themselves in such a manner that others can comprehend them. By understanding and appreciating reality as it is, they can manage to build a lifestyle that is both authentic and appropriate.

ESTPs are used to dealing with their problems and frustrations by searching for more external stimulation and adventure. When their situation is causing them to feel disappointed and restless, ESTPs consider it is time to recreate their successful public persona, by either finding a new audience to charm or resorting to grand gestures that will reinforce their image and make them feel popular again. At the same time, their private life suffers from a deep sense of emptiness and intimacy becomes almost impossible as they become increasingly detached from true emotional connections. As stress increases, they become more agitated, overactive, frivolous and overly concerned with image and people's opinions of them.

ESTPs would benefit from taking some time to consider their true priorities and understand the effect that their choices have on other people in their lives. Assuming responsibility for their actions and their importance in the larger context helps ESTPs become more stable, reliable and truthful.

ISTPs have the tendency to resist and reject any requests or situations that do not fit their natural views on life. Afraid of being controlled by others, they protect their freedom by cutting demanding people out of their lives and may start associating themselves solely with those who bear similar, usually antisocial outlooks on things. As the pressure increases, they are very likely to take rebellious stances against society and its organizational systems (government, political parties etc.), whose power they perceive as threatening to their independence. By suspecting and blaming the system, they separate themselves from reality as it is and begin living as outcasts, ignoring the common norms and values.

ISTPs can avoid psychological breakdown by recognizing and learning to value the human experience as a whole, regardless of personal differences. By accepting that human needs and aspirations are important and strikingly similar despite their variety, they can bring their skills into action and use them to help society instead of trying to bring it down.

ENTJs are inclined to believe that the source of their distress lies outside of themselves and therefore they're quick to blames others for their problems. They perceive other people as being needy and illogical, and also systems and organizations as inefficient and hindering. Everything and everyone seems to be holding them back, therefore they feel compelled to take matters into their own hands and set things right. This makes them controlling, stubborn and insensitive to the delicate human element, represented by feelings, ideals and weaknesses. Feeling increasingly stuck in a frustrating situation, ENTJs can start acting out on their primary, visceral impulses and experience themselves as out of control. They may resume to physical excesses of any kind - violence, sexual addictions, profane language etc.

ENTJ would greatly benefit from learning to consider life's imperfections and people's occasional subjectivity as a normal and natural part of existence. Logic cannot be absolute, and trying to make it so will only promote an irrational worldview which will cause frustration and disappointment.

INTJs are used to living in their minds, mostly disregarding their physical and emotional needs. Therefore, love and romantic relationships can take them by surprise and the intensity of their own emotions usually represent the main factor that throws them in distress. They may feel out of control, restless and tormented, and thus respond to these feelings by dismissing their emotions and abstracting them into theoretical principles that don’t have much to do with objective reality. Idealizing their own complex concepts and ideas, they fail to recognize the importance of relationships with their peers, thus managing to isolate themselves not only from the outer world, but also from their emotional and physical self. They become misunderstood loners, cryptic and enigmatic to the rest of the world.

INTJs need to try and organize their esoteric perceptions and highly intuitive mental constructs, by applying some form of general logic to them and render them comprehensible to the world. They need to become more grounded into reality and start to appreciate and give the proper importance to the material aspects as well.

ENFJs are likely to start feeling somewhat disappointed with the relationships they worked so hard to build. They experience a lack of enthusiasm and passion about the people around them and as a consequence they feel guilty about it, believing that they're losing themselves and letting down their loved ones. Acutely concerned with being seen as empathetic, loving people and highly sensitive to rejection and criticism, they strive to maintain appearances even though deep inside they may feel rather joyless. If the stress continues or increases, ENFJs may become obsessed with escaping their guilt and may actually give in to impulsive behaviors meant to liberate their bottled-up emotions. They can even abandon their intimates or communities altogether, in search of a more inspiring environment.

ENFJs can escape stress by cultivating their own identity aside from society's expectations and predefined roles. By exploring and rejoicing their own interests and potentials, they become less concerned with public approval and more open towards a wider variety of people and experiences.


INFJs tend to withdraw from reality into a fantasy world of their own, which gradually gains importance as they become dissatisfied with their real life and the people in it. While fulfilling the demands of their outer commitments, they harbor secret criticism and the feeling that their imaginary world and the characters that inhabit it are more important than the actual people in their lives. They can end up living almost exclusively in their imagination, resisting reality with a defensive attitude, feeling like a misfit and spending enormous amounts of time exploring and discovering their deepest hidden fantasies and emotions. In this state, they might be attracted to majorly defective people and environments, which they perceive will truly understand and appreciate them.

INFJs in this situation can help themselves by finding a way to bring their artistic vision and intuitive insights out to light. By learning to express their rich imagination in a way that other people can understand and appreciate, they become psychologically liberated as well as integrated into the world. Artistic pursuits (painting, writing, sculpting, photography etc.) bring a great benefit to INFJs and offer an appropriate outlet for their deep emotions.

ENTPs under stress can become rather flighty and overly concerned with their freedom and how other people's wishes can threaten it. They act impulsively and rationalize their whims and inability to stick with a project or commitment as avoiding perceived entrapments. As psychological pressure increases, ENTPs tend to ignore or go against the rules, believing that these don't apply to them, while at the same time they become unawarely reliant on others to confer them stability and take care of the chores that they dislike. Interpreting other people's dissatisfaction with them as tactics of manipulation, they reject any responsibility placed on them and act in an intolerant, unpredictable manner, doing only as they please and refusing to limit their options and follow through with their obligations.

ENTPs can change this dysfunctional attitude by assuming responsibility for the situations they create and the people they engage. By acknowledging their importance in the larger scheme of life, they become more focused and self-disciplined, able to inspire people and offer consistent and trustworthy leadership.

INTPs are likely to be very critical of other's expectations and demands, while at the same time unconsciously craving for affection and appreciation. Their thinking tends to get complicated and speculative as they ignore objective reality and start living according to their own subjective interpretation of the facts. As frustration grows, INTPs may develop various phobias and a rather hypochondriac attitude, worrying about their physical health and the effect that their environment can have on it. They translate unacknowledged emotional neediness into a concern for physical wellbeing. In this state, they might try to limit the amount of unfamiliar in their lives while at the same time causing a fuss around their theories and being oversensitive to other people's attitudes and opinions of them.

INTPs may benefit from understanding that being impersonal and detached from their circumstances does not mean that they are objective and realistic. Everyone is dependent on other people to a certain extent and nobody can have full control over their lives at any time. Realizing that they are a part of a larger scheme of reality where everything and everyone eventually interconnects, may help INTPs relax and open up to new possibilities and relationships.

ENFPs in distress tend to feel overloaded and overwhelmed by too much to do. They feel they're trying to help others and make their lives better but their efforts are unappreciated and there are always more expectations and demands. In such situations, ENFPs are likely to start shirking their responsibilities, forgetting their appointments or being late for the deadlines. They perceive other people's discontentment with their inconstancy as a lack of consideration and respect for the ENFP's own rights and priorities. They want to be free to respond to possibilities as they present and change their minds whenever they want. Any requests or previous commitments that don't support their present agenda are viewed as unreasonable and limiting and will be dismissed.

ENFPs need to find out what it is that fulfills them on the long term instead of what seems attractive in the moment. By focusing on their true ideals and values and working to achieve them, they can build a consistent lifestyle that genuinely sustains their views and not merely a temporary refuge from feeling trapped by life.

INFPs usually dislike conflict and are prone to acting in a passive-aggressive way when they experience frustration or dissatisfaction. They are deeply dedicated to being their 'true selves', to the extent that they will avoid any people or situations that do not fit in with their inner value system, tending to become rather intolerant and hard to please. As stress increases, they may become extremely whimsical and stubborn, insisting on acting as they feel but ignoring the logical consequences and implications of their actions. Furthermore, they're inclined to use their self-experience as a standard for all the relationships and situations in their lives, adhering only to what reinforces their self-image and rejecting everything else.

INFPs can help themselves by understanding that they don't need to resist or fight reality in order to fulfill their unique vision, but instead it's better to accept reality as it is and seize its opportunities to build the life that they dream of. They need to learn to see all the possibilities without trying to filter them as right or wrong - perceiving reality as it is instead of trying to change it or ignore it.

Photos by Luis Carlos Araujo.