The Compulsive One

Believing is Seeing


"One never notices what has been done; one can only see what remains to be done."
Marie Curie

In the early middle ages, a religious order of sisters devoted themselves to exquisite tapestries of religious themes. They wove intricate artistic depictions of the resurrection of Jesus, the faces of the apostles, etc. They were known far and wide for their artistic excellence. They were also known to always make one small mistake, out of humility, because only God was perfect. A recent society has been formed. The sole purpose of this society is to examine these tapestries and find that flaw. I pronounce that the only people who would dream of joining would be compulsive Ones (and maybe a few Fours who love art and have a strong connection to their One security point).

Focus of Attention

We craft our Enneagram style by the energy generated by our focus of attention. You often hear that seeing is believing, but it is equally true that believing is seeing. That phrase means that reality is so complex, layered, metaphorical and rich that we usually see what we believe we will find. This process of looking for this and ignoring that is sometimes call "sorting," especially by people trained in NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming). It is called variously; focus, fixation, or compulsion. Its final stage is hallucination. When people hallucinate, they see what they expect to see whether it is there or not, and in the case of negative hallucination, they don't see what they don't want to see. Edgar Allen Poe's story, The Purloined Letter is about a letter "hidden" in plain sight, but nobody could see it because they didn't expect it to be there. If you've ever looked for car keys or something and finally found them where you knew they were all along but didn't see them, you have been negatively hallucinating. You didn't see what you saw.

Ones negatively hallucinate (that's a bit strong, but it is clear) in the sense of my opening quote from Marie Curie. She only saw what was not there, she says. She is speaking poetically (metaphorically) and it is helpful to think of our Enneagram style as a metaphor. When our behavior is inappropriate, it is always a metaphor for the trance we are looking at inside us. When a One sees only what is wrong, they are speaking out of an early childhood vision. What they say reflects what they learned then, not what is in front of them.

Subtype Ones

Each type has three subtypes, a social, sexual and self-preservation subtype. Margaret Keys coined the phrase, the One, (self-preservation), the few (sexual) and the many (social). In the case of type One; these are three ways of looking at what is not there.

In the case of the self-preservation One, they tend to worry. Negative expectations about what might happen to them, their friends, and especially their money and goodies. Ones work very hard taking care of their material possessions, but it isn't because they are greedy or materialistic, it is because they fear they will be taken from them. If you are self-critical, it stands to reason you wouldn't deserve such good things. If you ask a One how they are, if they were honest they'd answer (with Calvinist theology, I might add), "Better than I deserve, thank God." Calvin was a One.

The sexual subtype of the One focuses on the partner. Their task in life is to have a perfect partner. This takes some effort, and the One diligently sets about perfecting the partner. A lot of criticism is needed before the partner is perfect. So much is required in some cases that the partner leaves long before the task is finished. The criticism of self that the One's do makes them feel insecure about their partner, so they are often quite jealous (if I don't love myself, it follows that they don't either. If they do, they are stupid, another thing I have to correct about them.) this preoccupation with the partner usually means a Two Wing and Ones can be quite co-dependent, because someone is doing all sorts of bad things and it is the One's job to reform them. The worse they are, the more work a One has to do and the more fulfilling their life's work - making things perfect.

If the One is a social subtype, like Hilary Clinton, they see themselves as representing a tradition. The tradition has all the rules and it tends to be applied to current situations with as much rigidity as the person is fixated. The Pharisees of the New Testament are presented as classic examples of a Oneish tradition that became so rigid it missed some main religious concerns (like compassion and justice). The Christian New Testament sees them as Ones; I make no judgment about the tradition itself which undergoes lots of changes and interpretations. The tradition is just a cover for the real problem of the social One: "I personally am not perfect and so I can't speak for myself. But my tradition is perfect, so I will cling tightly to that and in the process I will become perfect." Note that the self criticism is the first psychic movement downhill. Once a One focuses on his imperfections (seeing what is not there), then the need for the Tradition becomes paramount.

So all three subtypes are three focuses for the sorting process for what is missing. Where the focus goes, the energy goes. The One's energy goes first against themselves and then against others. All in the name of love, of course. My parents told me what was wrong because they loved me and the least I can do is provide the same service for you.


  1. One classic movie/play, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest has the classic One versus Seven combination. Nurse Ratchet is the One. Jack Nicholson plays a great Seven (his natural type). One Fine Day has George Clooney as a Seven and Michelle Pfeiffer as a One. The characters are drawn broadly with a bit of overkill on their Enneagram styles, but it is a fine movie to study.
  2. Bill Maher is a Social One. The legal, rule structure, of the Social One is revealed in his books and commentary, "New Rules." Life would be better if people followed better rules.
  3. Tom Condon's Easy in Your Harness is superb. He works for almost 45 minutes with a One and you hear very clearly how the criticism works. If you are a One, you'll love what Condon has him do. I recorded it and the audience was just delighted.


  1. Listen to Laura Schlesinger (Dr. Laura) on talk radio. Tape it, take it to your group and ask someone from each number if they can think of alternatives to her suggestions. (She is everybody's bossy older sister; self-righteous, smarter than you and a bit angry that people don't know how to behave themselves. Note the crispness, the no-nonsense, shape-up or ship-out underlying attitude.
  2. If you are Christian, read Paul's Letter to the Galatians. Just notice how he wrestles with the problem "How do I know I'm OK." The technical term, justification, means that you are right with God. Paul's first problem is getting right with himself. (See his famous lament - connection to Four - in Romans 14:7 about his sinfulness. Luther, Calvin, St. Paul, St. Ignatius of Loyola, and the Pharisees read like a who's who of western religious figures. More recently, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and John Paul II are all Ones.
  3. Confucius is a One, too. Read a bit of his analects and notice his preoccupation with moral power as greater than physical power. He makes a fine discussion starter.
  4. Because the One energy is moral, it often appears to be religious when it isn't. May I recommend my own book, Parables and the Enneagram, for some help on discerning what is healthy religion and what is finger-shakin' annoyance?