The Idealized Self Image

Our Enneagram style is frequently a younger part of us. (Some parts of us mature faster than others, you all know intellectuals with limited social skills and social charmers with room temperature IQs). So to understand something we call an idealized self image, picture a young baseball player who gets extremely angry after missing even a hard chance.

We see through him. He thinks he is so good that he should not miss any chance. His anger is in direct proportion to his unrealistic expectation. He has an idealized image of himself as a young major leaguer and it is outrageous that such a fine ball player should miss any chance. All attempts to soothe him are in vain because we really don't understand how good he is inside. He will turn his anger on us to defend that idealized self image.

Guess what? We all have one of those idealized self images and it helps define our Enneagram style. Some of the numbers related negatively to that self image. Fours, for example, have an idealized self image and spend a great deal of emotional energy longing for that lost ideal. They focus on what they have lost. It's part of their longing, their envy and their melancholy. Twos, on the other hand, have as their vice, a certain pride, in which case they see themselves as having no needs, because in their self image, they are the ones who have so much to give. Eights, on the third hand, see themselves as powerful and can get angry if any slip of vulnerability shows.

How Much Reality Can You Face?

This idealized self image is accomplished by repressing certain parts of our personality. (In the case of the little baseball player, the times he misses). So in our Enneagram trance, we don't look at those parts of our life than contradict our self-image. And if anyone points them out, we get really upset. Point out failure to a Three and watch her squirm. Or try to convince a Four how lucky he is and how happy he should be. You will get raw rage! Remind a Seven of obligations/commitments and get out of the way. The rigidity of our personality will be in direct proportion to how much we can't look at for fear of damaging our idealized image. The healthy person faces more reality than unhealthy people do. That's way they are supple, responsive and non-defensive. (How many times have you complained about people being defensive? It's their idealized self-image they are often defending...)

But this idealized self image in our Enneagram style is not made up. No, it's much more artistic than that. It is constructed out of transformed unused parts. For example, a potential will be acknowledged as a developed talent. "I couldda been somebody." Or opposites will be reconciled (You may see me as a lazy jerk, but you don't know that I am also a dynamo when the situation calls for energy. It just doesn't happen to require it right now...)

And one of the fine building blocks of our idealized ego is our stock of faults. What you, in your ignorance may see as a fault of mine is really an unrecognized virtue. Of course, I have a hearty appetite, but you shouldn't ever call me a pig. What you call hostility is simply being honest. (If you've ever taught teenagers as I have, you get used to that one). Like an impressionist painter who gives red and gold overtones to an aging building made with plain gray boards to show its character, we reinterpret our faults as our finest features. A Six will see her paranoia or suspicion as a superior ability to read people's intentions, perhaps with a highly developed and utterly reliable intuition. A Five will describe his stinginess as careful stewardship of resources.

The idealized image also gives us a clue as to how to figure out our own and other people's styles. Ask for the faults they never experience. The idealized ego is rigid and narrow, so of course, anything not in harmony with that image is kept out of consciousness. Our idealized ego is entirely unconscious, of course. So a Nine will see herself as a peace-loving, mild mannered sweetie. Does she have thoughts, feelings or impulses of rage? If she doesn't, why not? The rest of us do. She will probably protest that she just never has these. Then the question to ask is, "How do you do that? How do you keep from rage (or lust or avarice or anything else)? One of the functions of our idealized Enneagram ego is to keep certain parts of life at bay.

It doesn't work, of course. Reality by definition is that which, if ignored, doesn't go away. So in order not to experience the parts of life that conflict with our idealized Enneagram image, we have to focus very tightly on only the parts that do. That's a pretty good description of one way narrowness comes about. We aren't narrow about everything, just those things we can't emotionally afford to look at. We are narrow in those things that pertain to our Enneagram style. Ideals are always vulnerable to the onslaughts of reality, so we inwardly brace. This is why we are experienced as rigid. Protective armor is always rigid, whether it be physical or emotional.


  1. What faults do you never commit? Why not? (Fear of going to jail doesn't count).
  2. What should you be doing that you are not? (You should be perfect, you know, so wherever you find shoulds, you can look for an image of perfection...And the intensity of the should is the degree of distance between ideal and real). Now do you see the origin of the term, "Get real?"
  3. In what areas are you misunderstood? Your motives were pure and the rats said you were really...The clue words to look for her are "I was just saying..." ("Just saying" is a code word for "I don't want to be responsible for the conclusions I want you to draw from what I was just saying..."


  1. Tom Condon's work with types Two and Three illustrates in healthy people how idealized images, both negative and positive, influence us.
  2. For a longer, more detailed explanation of idealized images, without reference to the Enneagram, you could read Karen Horney's Our Inner Conflicts, p. 96-114.