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Awareness of the preferred center's problematic
Karla Abreu T.

The three centers

Anyone who knows the Enneagram has been told about the 3 centers and how each of them works. Let's do a quick review here.

The instinctive center is the one of action and/or non-action. It is concerned with physical and psychological survival and, to maintain these, has a focus on control. It seeks to answer the question: How? How to do it? He experiences a problematic with anger as soon as things or people get out of control.

The emotional center is, as its name suggests, the one of emotions. These emotions are ephemeral and volatile, changing from one moment to the next; so, if " I am" my emotions and they change all the time, how can I find my identity? He tries to find out who he is and what he is for others and to answer the question: who? Who am I? He therefore experiences a problematic with identity and image.

The mental center is the one of logic and rationality. It believes that the world should be entirely explicable and predictable by reason and logic. It seeks to answer the question: why? It experiences a problematic with fear as soon as the world is not understandable and inexplicable to its mind.

Enneatypes and the problematic of one's preferred center

Each enneatype, before undertaking personal development work (and succeeding in becoming aware of or even detaching itself from its egotic automatisms), is more or less aware of this problematic.

Within the instinctive center1:

  • The 8 are fully aware of their anger, and they take it out easily and regularly. Some even say that anger charges them with energy. Even if the impact of their anger on others is not always evaluated, it is therefore fully conscientized.
  • The 1, because of their compulsion, avoid anger and, more or less consciously, mask it behind their defense mechanism, appearing affable and helpful. Even if it is often perceived by others, their anger is in fact mostly contained.
  • The 9 have very limited access to their feelings, to avoid the least conflict and not to disturb their inner tranquility. They are therefore not aware of their sensations and emotions and, apart from a few very rare explosions which surprise even themselves their anger is repressed.

Within the emotional center:

  • The 4 are proud of their difference and they seek very soon to answer the question "who am I?". Even if they are not always aware of the idealized image, they have of themselves, their identity problematic is therefore fully conscientized.
  • The 2 believe that to be loved they must be devoted to others and their needs. They know their owns needs and desires, but they put others' needs before their owns in order to preserve their image as a loving and devoted person. Sometimes they express their needs in short bursts of tears and anger. Their identity problematic is thus contained.
  • The 3 are constantly adapting to the environment and to the people they meet. They are said to be the chameleon of the enneagram. Unless they are experiencing a serious existential crisis, they do not ask themselves who they are, and are not always aware of changing from one persona to another. They are fully in the image and their identity problematic is repressed.

Within the mental center:

  • The 6, apart from periods of counterphobia, are most of the time conscious of their fear even if it does not always have a precise object. Their vocabulary is filled with the lexical field of fear, anxiety, and worry. Their problematic with fear is therefore conscientized.
  • The 5 are sometimes aware of their fear (cf. enneatype's door of compensation) but burry it under a pile of knowledge, rationality, and logic. They try to explain the world to make it less frightening and more predictable. Their fear is therefore contained.
  • The 7 avoid the smallest suffering and will ignore any negative feelings that would ruin their experiences and adventures. They will hunt for multiple sources of pleasure without being aware that they are being driven by the fear of lack and enclosure. Therefore, their fear is repressed.

We get so this table:

Center / Problematic Conscientized Contained Repressed
Instinctive / Anger
Emotionnal / Identity
Mental / Fear

Positioned on the Enneagram symbol, we get this figure, which we will call here the triads of self-awareness:

Triads of self-awareness

What can be observed is that the only enneatypes that are already together in a triad are the 468 which also form the harmonic triad presented by Riso and Hudson2 and which they call “reactive”; David Daniels3 groups them together under the name of “expressive”. However, it seems coherent that the enneatypes who are the most aware of their problematics are also the most suited to express their needs and discomfort and to be the most reactive.


[1] “Ennéagramme : Résilience” course.
[2] Don Riso and Russ Hudson. The Wisdom of the Enneagram. New York (USA), Bantam, 1999.
[3] David Daniels, The Enneagram triads.