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These three forces are similar to the Hornevian Groups (Assertive, Compliant and Withdrawn respectively), but they are used here in a different context, to describe inborn traits and parental styles rather than established personality.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Neutral: avoidant, withdrawn, indifferent, apathetic, absent, reserved, ignoring, neglectful.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.


Mizmar said…
INTP: I'm a Five and I was definitely a Neutral child with a Responsive parent (my mother).

One part that stands out as particularly true, and which I haven't seen described anywhere else, is the following: "...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." You hit the nail right on the head with that one. However, I don't recall ever experiencing my mother as "smothering" or intrusive.

My father, fwiw, was a Neutral parent. I wasn't an Active child by any stretch of the imagination, but I can relate to certain aspects of the Type Four description. I certainly felt ignored, misunderstood, and often rejected by my father. Perhaps this accounts for my dominant Four-wing?
Carrie E said…
WOW. I am enneagram type 8w7 and mother mother was responsive, my stepfather active, and myself active. SO TRUE.

Also have an INTP friend who is also type 5. Interesting. I wonder if parent and child scenarios can determine MBTI type?
Mary Bast said…
I'm curious to know who you're quoting as the source of this theory.
INTP said…
Mary, the source is an article published in the Enneagram Monthly Magazine, in November 1996. The author is Richard K. Moore.
Anonymous said…
I'm 5w4 with a 5>9>4 tritype, although it could be 5>4>9. (Your 5>4>9 description fits me better, but my 9 usually scores higher.)

I was neutral, my dad was neutral, and my mom was usually responsive and sometimes active. As is common in our culture, my mom was my primary caregiver.

Maybe this explains the tritype as well?

I appreciate your blog and make use of it often, by the way. Hi, Mizmar! It's Irulan from PC. :)
anadrol said…
Great reading! It's interesting to see your family life explained in a few numbers. Me and mum were type 5, and now I have a type 7 scenario at home.
pujoe1076 said…
Thank you for the post.
Elena said…
That's an interesting stuff! Helps understand yourself and others better; and this is what makes such a huge difference in your life. Thanks!
Anonymous said…
This is a really useful article, what with me (INFP-8) parenting a 4.

You are refering to an article you recently read. I would like to read this myself, could you tell me the name and author of the article? Thanks!
sustanon said…
Great perspective.
Never thought of looking at it this way. Thank your for good reading.
Vogaz said…
well source is not the issue , thanks for sharing teh article..

Keep writing mate
Anonymous said…

active child vs active parent + a neutral parent who didn't do much.

so, semi-accurate?
great blog..i was looking for some sites that would give me some tips of being a parent..soon i would become a mom and i am so excited
Great reading! It's interesting to see your family life explained in a few numbers. Me and mum were type 5, and now I have a type 7 scenario at home.
Anonymous said…
I'm a 5w4 (INFP). I was a neutral child with a responsive parent (mother) and my father was neutral.
Very similar to the first comment (Mizmar) and I'm also a tritype 594 or 549 like Irulan (Anonymous). My 9 scores higher but the description of the 549 tritype fits better because I'm not at all relaxed, casual or reckless...
Anonymous said…
Good God. Doesn't anybody have a large family anymore? How is it possible that I was a neutral parent to one of my children, active for another, and responsive for a third? This is all a bizarre combination of oversimplification and navel-gazing.
Unknown said…
I'm a 5w4 and I definitely agree with this description. I was detached for as long as I can remember. Though I still see my primary caregiver being compliant. The entire interaction makes complete sense as it relates to enneagram. For example 7, aggression and compliance is 7s basic desire for gaining an opportunity. The 7s seek something and expect it in return, which a compliant parent would do. Rather than an 8, where you have an aggressive type and aggressive, where you're not getting anything from the parent, so are prone to being more independent and controlling. They both stick to taking care of themselves. Perhaps for the 5, in the case of being detached yet having a compliant parent you can say that most 5s are perhaps the least emotional type (for lack of a better word) because they already are detached and focused on their own needs yet already HAVE compliance, so do not seek it.

My only question is how this may relate to tritype. Or does tritype even apply anymore?
Unknown said…
While I'm inclined to agree with the anonymous poster of the lattermost comment, I cannot say that I don't find aspects of this article that ring true. Also, a parent's style with one child may differ from their style with another– resulting in different environmental results. Therefore, commentors who state that they have a PARENT who is an "active, neutral," or "responsive" missed your articles' point regarding that it isn't the parent– who they are– that determines the environmental effect of one's outcome, but that parent's *style of parenting*– HOW they raised their child during its developmentally most-receptive years. Some things one might consider to determine such style would be who was the primary guardian, what stage of life were they in while rearing the child, were they suffering any post-partum depression or other illnesses at the time that would apparently affect the child, what was their outlook on how to raise a child at such time, etc. As much as the process is inclusive of the parent-as-we-see-them-now's tendency toward activity, neutrality or responsiveness, it isn't limited to this aspect of them solely.
Such are my thoughts, at least.
Von Hase said…
If Active children are Id types, Responsive children are Superego types, and Neutral children are Ego types... and Active parents make Gut types, Responsive parents make Head types, and Neutral parents make Image types... then this approach got 3 and 4 backwards.
Anonymous said…
INFP 4. Was adopted because bio parents were addicted to drugs. Was sexually, physically, and mentally abused by adopted mother.
Anonymous said…
I'm neutral (slightly responsive but more withdrawn than what seems to be described) 4w5 5w4 9w1 sp/sx tritype 459 and both my parents are active types. According to this theory, I should be a 9 or 1, which is in my stacking, but not dominant. I guess this could come from the fact that my tritype has been described as "triple withdrawn". This theory did, however, correctly predict my sisters enneagram - type 8, as she and both our parents are active types.
Anonymous said…
I am a Four in every way and yet I am the Responsive child of two Responsive parents.
Hob said…
I have to say I agree with Anonymous; this really is over-simplified. Siblings can come out with vastly different personality types, and you can't simply say that the parents had a completely different way of treating with the different children to result in this. There are many other factors which affect it.
Anonymous said…
This was really interesting.

My father definitely was a Responsive parent, and my mother seemed to be somewhere between Responsive and Active, often expressing characteristics of both.
While I am an extremely emotional and withdrawn 4w5, I developed a healthy Responsive orientation to my family which I kept for most of my childhood. This should make me a Six, or possibly a One.

Like a previous poster I have a sister who is an Eight, and I can easily see the pattern of her Active orientation rubbing against the Active side of our mother's to form her Eight personality.
Unknown said…
I'm a three and ever since a young age i always knew what the done thing was to say and do to get the approving looks and smiles and I've based it on that. Basically i wouldn't do anything my Mother wouldn't want me to do (even though i had moments where i acted up) but this has been i feel the reason why i feel i need to seek her approval and impress her in the various ways i can. I do tend to cover things up things i feel i haven't done well. My Mom is an ennegram type 1 and my Dad is a type 8. I have two active parents.

I guess this is why i also feel the need to succeed at work to be the best i can be if given the opportunity and try and deliver good performance on the job. I just think reading this type of thing i feel I'm not alone even though the world is shared by nine personality types
Anonymous said…
I'm neutral while my sister is responsive. Both our parents were responsive. It explains a lot why I'm a Type 5 and she's like a type 6.
Anonymous said…
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Kou said…
I really think the theory that was depicted here does not apply in a general sense.
It seems like someone merely looked at the different enneagram type's obvious character traits and then spun those into the most likely childhood scenarios- that are too easy though.

I am a Type Four, from an active father, a responsive mother, yet I am an active child.
Also, my mom's parenting style switched in puberty to active and now went back to responsive again.
Also, I have a friend who is a typical Eight and has one of the greatest, healthiest relationships to his parents that I have ever seen, which doesn't mean they didn't fight at all but still the Eight's childhood scenario here was written down in a way too exaggerated manner.
Also I don't agree with a lot of the other scenarios that were mentioned here.

Sorry, but this theory should definitely modified, maybe re-occupy with the Enneagram's teachings some more.
Anonymous said…
I was Active as a kid--so many examples of this (very bossy with my twin, not afraid to contradict adults, opinionated, outgoing and smiley), but because I had a more influential Neutral parent, I think it made me Neutral because I am not that way any more. I'm a type 5 (593 SP). I have some wing 4 qualities.
Anonymous said…
This is very consistent with my experience. I'm an ESTP 8w7 with one authoritarian (active) parent and one supportive (responsive) one.
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