A is for Arrows

AWe all have a core type, which is the number on the Enneagram with which we identify the most.   We use the patterns and strategies of our own type in normal life situations.

Just to keep things spicy, it turns out that when life gets really good or really bad, we sometimes take on the patterns and strategies (letter ‘S’ later this month) of other types around the Enneagram symbol.

When life gets really good, it’s like we decide that we don’t need our typical habits (letter ‘H’ later this month,) but instead can relax into the healthy parts of a totally different type.  Like a vacation from ourselves in a good way.

When life gets really hard, it’s like we decide that everything we normally rely on to get us through things doesn’t feel like it’s going to work, so we jump ship and flail around using the unhealthy behaviors of a different type.

The amazing thing is that it isn’t arbitrary which type’s strategies we adopt.  Check out the arrows in this symbol:


See the green arrows?  That’s the direction we go in when life is good.  If you start at point Nine, you’ll see that the green arrows go from Nine to Three to Six and back to Nine.  That’s the triangle part of the Enneagram symbol.

The other shape starts at One and then goes to Seven to Five to Eight to Two to Four and back to One.

The black arrows go in the opposite direction, showing the direction we go on our path of stress.  Nine to Six to Three and back to Nine.  One to Four to Two to Eight to Five to Seven and back to One.

The arrows aren’t instructions.  They aren’t there to tell us we’re doing it wrong if we follow the black arrows or that we are successful humans if we follow the green arrows.

They are simply another layer to the Enneagram as a Map of our Personality, giving us more insight, more understanding and, therefore, more opportunities to choose what we want to do in any given situation.

Here is a brief description of what can happen to each Type when they are integrated or relaxed.



Ones go to Seven and become more lighthearted, less rigid and less concerned about doing things right or being good.  Many Ones I know have a fabulous sense of humor, and I’ve always wondered if that comes from their close connection to the Seven style.

Twos go to Four and become more self-aware, more self-concerned and more in touch with how they feel about themselves.  There’s an open-heartedness toward themselves that allows them to take better care of themselves and to allow themselves the full range of emotions, even those they might otherwise find burdensome, like grief.

Threes go to Six and take on a cooperative stance, working better with a team and feeling more a part of rather than in charge of.  They become more authentic and an ability to tune into their inner guidance to make decisions instead of choosing only what will make them look good.

Fours go to One and become more action-oriented and less held back by unresolved emotions.  They bring their emotional connection and awareness to the positive things they do in the world which makes them feel more connected and life feel more meaningful.

Fives go to Eight and become more engaged with the world.  They participate more, show up more fully and feel like they have more of an impact on the goings-on around them.

Sixes go to Nine and relax.  They stop trying to solve every problem and trust that all is well.

Sevens goes to Five and deepen their attention.  They get more involved and committed to whatever they are engaged in and have a greater capacity  to stay with things.

Eights go to Two and the hard exterior makes way for a soft and loving heart.  They can be great philanthropists whether on a large scale or interpersonally with the people in their immediate circles.

Nines go to Three and procrastination turns into productivity.  They can become action-oriented and reliable go-getters when they are in this state.

Here’s what it might look like for the different types during high-stress situations when our typical personality strategies aren’t working.  (Warning:  These are not flattering moments, but we all have them.)

Ones go to Four and become martyring.  If they exhaust themselves by taking on all the responsibility to do the right thing in all situations, they can fall into a mire of self-pity and resentment.

Twos go to Eight if they give and give and give with an unmet expectation for appreciation or acknowledgment.  They  can become resentful, prideful and sometimes rageful.

Threes go to Nine after a long stretch of non-stop doing, especially in ways that aren’t authentic or fulfilling.  They may look for ways to numb out once they are home alone and no one is watching.

Fours  go to Two if they feel like there is no one to connect with in the world, that there’s something really wrong with them, or that they are too burdensome for others.  They can become people-pleasing and clingy.

Fives go to Seven if their disconnection from the world becomes overwhelming or if they feel forced to engage when they don’t have the energy for it.   They can get scattered and hyper-active.

Sixes go to Three and their problem-solving tendencies kick into high gear.  They start to derive security by controlling and managing everything around them and believe they are responsible to do everything themselves.

Sevens go to One when their freedom or happiness is threatened.  They can become rigid, judgmental and sensitive to criticism.

Eights go to Five when they no longer feel like they are handling things.  They can become withdrawn, secretive and suspicious.

Nines go to Six when they can’t seem to keep everything peaceful and easy.  They can panic and become frantic or anxious.

Knowing which habits we take on when we are stressed can not only add to our ability to ‘catch ourselves in the act’ of reactivity, but that awareness can also be a Red Flag (this month’s letter ‘R’) to let us know that we have gotten way of track and need to take care of the source of that stress.

Knowing which habits we take on when we are relaxed and calm can bring our attention to what is going on that has allowed us to float into that lovely state of mind.  Not to replicate it, per se, as life will continue to throw us curve balls and knock us off center, but to learn more about what works for us in our lives.  What support have we been using that has helped center us lately?

What have you noticed about what you do when you are especially relaxed or stressed?

13 thoughts on “A is for Arrows

  1. I am so excited to learn more about this!!! Thank you for writing. And it also brings back happy memories of our excursion with the girls last summer 🙂 When I’m relaxed, I’m more observant, appreciative, attentive, and forgiving. Stressed? As a ‘6,’ it almost seems like a constant state – but the upside: I get a lot done!


  2. This analysis of personality and behavior reminds me of the various analyses used in the business world (such as Myers-Briggs). Being aware of how people operate certainly is a good thing. Just being aware eases tension.


  3. Hi Nancy there is a wealth of information here – fabulous definitely bookmarking and adding to the reading list – from what I can tell from simply looking at the chart properly for the first time is – in order to reach all the goodness you sometimes need to go the ‘wrong’ way too 🙂 Reflex Reactions


  4. I love pondering the arrows (dis/integration)! You have made this so concise and so informative that I am sure it resonates with everyone. Thanks for taking the time to do this!


  5. Pingback: K is for Kids | Nine Kinds of Kids

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