Energy Rather Than Type

The Enneagram is Something we do

We often use the word type to describe our Enneagram number. She's a type Six, he's a type Four etc. I am now distancing myself from that term. I think I have a better descriptive word and this is the terminology that will inform all my classes what I have already said.

Our Enneagram number is an energy, first of all. Because it is an energy, it is difficult to describe in behavioral terms. Now, behavior is all we can see, so of course we all have to say things like "Sixes tend to substitute thinking for action." They often do. But their fear energy may manifest itself in a related but different way. An obvious example is the way phobic and counterphobic sixes manifest fear, but even among phobic sixes, Woody Allen acts his out quite differently from George H. W. Bush.

Another problem with the word type is that it feels like a box. All of us hate boxes, because they not only constrict, every box is wrong in some important ways. We are emotionally correct in disliking boxes. You see this in some Enneagram development. They start with nine types, then go on to each having two wings. Now we're up to 27 types. Then add 3 subtypes and you're at 81 types. Don Riso has nine levels of development. 81 types, each having nine levels of development brings you to 729 classifications. (That's not exactly how Don uses the levels, but if they try to learn nine levels and apply them to 81 types, most people are in mathematical trouble!)

An equally wrong aspect of "type" is that it is static, like being tall or white or from New Jersey. Our Enneagram energy is something we do. And we do it all the time. A Three goes around playing roles and performing well all the time. That's one of the things I meant when I said we all try too hard. Twos spend energy figuring out what people need as background activity a lot of the time.

"Doing it all the time" is actually a cause for hope. If it is something that we are "always" (well, frequently) doing, then it can be interrupted. We can't interrupt being from New Jersey. We can interrupt a habit of pleasing people too much. Tom Condon's NLP skills have shown me how those patterns can be interrupted in some specific ways (he demonstrates them on his videos) and spiritual traditions have exercises that interrupt in other ways. Many of the exercises I suggest at the end of each description are specifically designed to interrupt these energy patterns.

Our energy patterns are compensatory. We spend this energy trying to cope with a perceived shortage, a world that does not nourish us. My book on the parables taught me clearly that every parable of Jesus (and the same is true of the spiritual masters in other traditions) taught that the world is a place of abundance. It does meet our needs, but only if we use the resources at hand. But our Enneagram strategy is based on a view of the world that is not nourishing, is not friendly, is not safe and doesn't really like us. Instead of using the real resources we have at hand in a confident way in a responsive world, we use (and overuse) our Enneagram energy to cope with a deficient world. That's why we do our Enneagram strategy too much. We're using it in the wrong way, we aren't addressing the real problems. Solving unreal problems is emotionally an infinite task because there is no reality feedback. For example, if I am an abandoned Eight inside, knowing the world is hostile, it is hard to know how much I should wage war against this hostile world. Not knowing, I just wage "all I can." Colin Powell, speaking for the military with its Six energy said, "What we need to fear most is the unknown enemy." Tell me how much we should prepare for an unknown enemy? Answer: All we can.

Our Enneagram energy belongs to an earlier age. Our Enneagram energy is an age regression, a fixation. Fixation means we never grew up. We are still playing cops and robbers, or we are still concerned about pleasing our moms as though we were four years old, or we feel as helpless as when we were three and left alone in the hospital for an operation. You will learn to observe Enneagram energies more carefully if you ask "how old is that behavior/energy?"


  1. Make a list of things that energize you.
  2. Make another list of things that tire you.
  3. Ask your group or spouse or friends to go over the list and evaluate what changes you might want to make.
  4. If you are a Two,Three or Four, watch Condon's video of your number and notice how much energy each person puts into imaginary problems. (The Dynamic Enneagram, specify strategy #Two, Three or Four) Condon will be coming out with the rest of the numbers. We are currently in the process of recording the workshops.


  1. How old is your Enneagram energy when you ______________________?
  2. What things really get your energy moving? Can you tell why?

Be careful. It is a trap to go back to your childhood and blame your parents. You may do it briefly, but now go on to the hard stuff. Here's the hard stuff. What's in it for me? (What do I get to overlook, whom can I ignore and what don't I have to do? What don't I have to look at? How does my Enneagram style simplify my life?) Alcoholics talk about how drinking reduces all their problems to one. So does our Enneagram style. It too, is an addiction that reduces our problems (and our world) to one problem that fits our one solution.

The Fall 1996 issue of the Enneagram Educator had a fine article by Joyce Piecuch showing how we create these energies by the way we breathe. Our breathing patterns also block our flow of energy and emotions. She is a body-based therapist and her validation of the Enneagram styles is most gratifying. If you want the psychological explanation of her three divisions (aggressive, passive and suspended), read Karen Horney's Our Inner Conflicts, chapters 3,4 and 5.