The past few weeks at The Enneagram Institute have kept us all quite busy. Among other things, the Faculty Read more...
The first book to integrate the Enneagram with spiritual & psychological exercises.
The basic introduction to the Enneagram with the scientifically validated RHETI, v. 2.5.
The complete text of Enneagram theory and descriptions.
“I have returned!” These words were addressed by General Douglas MacArthur on October 20, 1944 to the people of the Philippines as Allied forces landed at Leyte and began the offensive against the occupying Axis forces there. With perhaps a bit less fanfare but with (maybe?) equal fervor, we at The Enneagram Institute are happy to announce “The EnneaThoughts have returned!”. Read more...
What a bumpy ride this website transition has been! We know this is a major problem for many of you. We deeply regret this. We are working–and will continue to work—behind the scenes and with you until we have made it all right. If there is anything we can do for you, please contact us. Read more...
While being especially preoccupied these past few days with Barn renovations, contracts, and webpage switchovers, I realized that something had been missing—I was not receiving my daily EnneaThought—that brief, but often very insightful, message that starts my day and which frequently forms a part of my morning meditation and examination. Read more...
This week we are celebrating two significant events here at The Enneagram Institute: First, the unveiling of our new and updated webpage and, second, the execution of the general construction contract for rebuilding the Barn. Read more...
For years, we have received many requests to begin offering advanced and ongoing courses—often from students who have completed the Training program and are seeking something more.Read more...
Sixes are full of contradictions. They can be dependent on others, yet value their independence. They want to be trusted and to trust others, yet constantly test others to allay their own suspicions. They want the protection of authority, yet fear it. They are obedient yet, disobedient; fearful of aggression, yet sometimes highly aggressive themselves. They search for security, yet feel insecure. They are likable and endearing, yet can be mean and hateful. They are reassured by traditional values, yet may subvert those values. They want to escape punishment, yet may bring it on themselves. Sixes are full of contradictions because anxiety makes them ricochet from one psychological state to another. And in response to anxiety, Sixes look to structures, beliefs, allies, and authorities to put their anxiety to rest.
Our system of education teaches us to put our faith in something else —a corporation, a marriage, a trade, a profession, a religion, politics, something, one might almost say anything, which offers us a set of rules we can obey and rewards us for obedience to them. It’s safer to be a domestic animal than a wild one. (Michael Korda, Power, 254.)
For Sixes, security comes from a rock-of-ages allegiance and an investment of themselves in something outside themselves which they believe will give them stability and safety. Sixes want to feel protected and secure by having something bigger and more powerful than they guiding them. IBM will do, but so will the Communist party, or the Republican party or the church. The doctrines Sixes believe are important to them, but not as important as having someone to trust and believe in.
In the Thinking Center
Sixes are the primary personality type in the Thinking Center. They are the most out of touch with the ability to make decisions and act on their own without reference to a trusted person, an institution, or a belief system. In a sense, Sixes have difficulty trusting their own minds, their own ability to know what to do without reference to ideas that are not their own. Thus, once Sixes have found some system of thought that seems reliable to them, they must constantly evaluate any new ideas that either contradict ro alter what they have understood to be true. They are looking for something—a set of guidelines, an authority—to supply them with a direction in life, to tell them what they can and cannot do, to give them more clarity, to put limits on them—in a word, for security. Of course, in one way or another, all nine personality types have some kind of relationship with authority figures and need some guidance and reassurance in life, but whether supporting authority, rebelling against it, or fearing it, Sixes seem to have the most issues in this area.
Sixes are among the most puzzling of the nine personality types because they are reactive, fluctuating from one state to another—usually the virtual opposite—very quickly. Sixes can be baffling and frustrating because their emotional states and attitudes can be so contradictory: they can be engaging and funny, then cranky and negative; they can be decisive and self-assertive, then, almost in the next moment, indecisive and self-doubting. While they seek the approval of those who are important to them, they resist being in a position of inferiority. They may be obedient, and then openly disobedient, intentionally deviating from what the authority has told them to do. As a result, because Sixes are the most contradictory of the personality types, they are one of the most difficult to understand. They often remain so enigmatic, even to those closest to them, that the most others can say about them is that they are “easy to like but hard to get to know.”
The key to understanding Sixes is that they are ambivalent: the two distinct sides of their personalities oscillate between aggressive and dependent tendencies. They feel both strong and weak, dependent and independent, passive and aggressive. As with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, it is difficult to predict the state Sixes will be in from moment to moment. At each Level, they display a personality substantially different from what has gone before and what will follow.
To make matters more complicated, Sixes are not only ambivalent toward others, they are ambivalent toward themselves. They like themselves, and then disparage themselves, feeling inferior to others. They have confidence and then feel hopeless and defeated, as if they could not do anything without help from someone else. They feel weak-kneed and cowardly, then suddenly fill with rage and strike out at others. A double set of dependent and aggressive impulses operates in them, continuously interacting in various complex combinations because Sixes react ambivalently not only to the external authority, but to the internal authority, their superego.
As much as possible, Sixes want to avoid being in this anxious, ambivalent state, so they work hard to build structures into their lives to give them stability and continuity. As long as they know what the “rules of the game” are, and have some sense that they are supported by others in their lives, they can be a consistent, steady presence and accomplish a great deal. But herein lies the problem. Sixes make their internal stability dependent on the stability of their external environment: in other words, as long as everything in their lives is running reasonably well, they feel secure and able to cope with things. As soon as problems or areas of uncertainty arise, however, they are quickly thrown into a storm of confusion and emotional reactions. (For this reason, many Sixes mistake themselves for Fours.) Their self-doubt and suspiciousness arise and Sixes are right back into their ambivalence and unsteadiness.
The result then, is that Sixes can oscillate rapidly from one emotional state to another. As they shift first one way, then another, there seems to them to be little emotional stability or interpersonal security they can call their own. This is why it is so apt to identify Sixes as the personality type which has “the most trouble with doing”—not only because they look outside of themselves for direction, but because the actions they then take for themselves can be indecisive and circuitous.
It is impossible to understand Sixes without understanding their oscillating nature. Maintaining their sense of self requires that both sides of their psyches interact with each other. Sixes cannot emphasize one side of themselves and ignore the other—for instance, they cannot become independent by suppressing their dependent side. For better or worse, they are an amalgam of both sides of themselves. When they are healthy, both sides work hand in hand with each other. However, if tension between their two sides increases, so does anxiety, and therein lies the source of many of their problems.
Problems with Anxiety and Insecurity
All three personality types of the Thinking Center have a problem with anxiety, but Sixes, as the primary type, have the greatest problem with it. They are the type which is most conscious of anxiety—”anxious that they are anxious”—unlike other personality types who are either unaware of their anxiety or who unconsciously convert it into other symptoms. Fives, for example, displace anxiety by distancing themselves from their own experience; Sevens repress it through constant activity. On the other hand, Sixes are aware that they are anxious: sometimes they are able to resist it, and sometimes they succumb to it.
Sixes tend to use two different methods of coping with their anxiety: a phobic response or a counterphobic response. Sixes who are more phobic often deal with their fears through a dependent stance. They are more aware of their anxiety and turn quickly to others, particularly authority figures, for support. They are more self-doubting and emotionally vulnerable and can resemble type Four. Phobic Sixes believe in keeping a low profile and not causing trouble, especially in those situations to which they have turned for security. They will often pursue a course of appeasement when conflicts arise, and like to stay within well-defined guidelines and procedures. Phobic Sixes are fearful that the people on whom they depend will abandon them.
Sixes who are more counterphobic are much more likely to question, or even rebel against authorities. They are quicker to confront others and are more prone to suspiciousness than phobic Sixes. They are more determined to be independent and resist turning to others for support. In this respect, counterphobic Sixes can resemble Eights. They try to repress their anxiety through action, and in the average Levels, can react strongly and defensively if questioned. They want to know where others stand and may aggressively provoke a response from them to find out. Counterphobic Sixes are fearful that others will try to trick them or take advantage of them. When conflicts arise, they can be highly confrontational and even belligerent. Nevertheless, beneath their bluster, they are just as fearful and anxious as phobic Sixes, but their actions are a reaction to the anxiety rather than a direct expression of it.
It is important to note that no Six is entirely phobic or counterphobic. Rather, each individual person who has personality type Six has some mixture of these attitudes or response patterns, and they are likely to appear in different areas of their lives. For example, one Six may be very aggressive and counterphobic with his or her spouse, but is more phobic and dependent in the workplace. In another Six, the exact opposite might be the case. Much of the preference for one of these approaches over the other comes from early childhood. In some cases, the basic approach they were taught was to “turn the other cheek,” to be obedient, and to walk away from bullies and antagonists. Other children are taught to be tough, to not let anyone push them around, and to fight back against bullies and enemies. In either case, Sixes, like everyone else, will carry these lessons and experiences into adulthood, but their responses to fear and to potential danger will be a more central issue than for other types. Sixes in general also tend toward being more phobic at certain Levels of Development, and more counterphobic in others. In fact, the two responses seem to alternate, Level by Level, as we will explore later in this chapter.
All Sixes protect themselves by being extraordinarily vigilant so they can anticipate problems in the environment, particularly problems with other people. Their need to question, their attention to details and problems, their need to know where others stand with them—and eventually, their paranoid tendencies—are all attempts to defend themselves from real or imagined dangers.
As a result, Sixes learn to live in a state of constant alertness about their environment. Because their fear, they train themselves to watch people and the environment in general so that they can foresee events and take protective steps accordingly. Ironically, Sixes must have “danger” on their minds to feel safe: the more paranoid they become, the more completely defended they try to be.
At the root of their anxiety is a continual feeling of being unsupported. Most fundamentally, Sixes doubt that they can support themselves. They do not trust their ability to know what to do, especially when their decisions effect their security. At the very least, they tend to second-guess themselves, making a decision and then fearing that they made the wrong choice. Because they feel unsure of themselves, Sixes look outside themselves for something to support and reassure them. This could be a spouse, a job, trusted friends, the military, a religion or belief system, a therapist, a spiritual practice, a guru … the possibilities are as varied as the individual circumstances of Sixes’ lives.
Consequently, Sixes must continually look over their support systems to make sure that they are stable and secure. They worry about how things are going at work, about their investments, about potential legal problems—literally anything that could potentially upset the safety of their world. Particularly, Sixes are compelled to “check in” with their allies and supporters to make sure that they are still “on the team.” Average Sixes often do not know how others feel toward them: they want people to like them, but often doubt that they do. As a result, they test others to discover the attitudes of others about them, constantly looking for evidence of approval or disapproval. And if average Sixes deteriorate into neurosis, they become so suspicious of others that they become paranoid, anxiety ridden, and so insecure that they cannot function.
Sixes correspond to Jung’s introverted feeling type. Even though they belong to the Thinking Center, Sixes are also emotional because their feelings are affected by anxiety. Unfortunately, Jung’s description of this type is not one of his clearest. Possibly to explain his difficulty in describing this type, Jung says,
It is extremely difficult to give an intellectual account of the introverted feeling process, or even an approximate description of it, although the peculiar nature of this kind of feeling is very noticeable once one has become aware of it. (C. G. Jung, Psychological Types, 387.)
As we have just seen, it is difficult to describe this personality type in simple terms because its psyche continually changes. It may be helpful to think of Sixes as “ambiverts,” a mixture of extroverted and introverted feelings. This is why they react to whatever they have done, especially if anxiety has been aroused, by doing the opposite to compensate. They then react to this new state, and then to the next, ad infinitum. For example, they may be affectionate toward someone; then, fearing that they will be taken advantage of or abandoned, they become suspicious of the very person who has just been the object of their warmth. But, becoming anxious about their suspicions, they seek reassurance that the relationship is still all right. As soon as they receive reassurance from the other, Sixes wonder if they have not been too ingratiating, so they overcompensate by becoming defensive, acting as if they did not need the other person. And on it goes. If you have difficulty understanding someone who is a mass of contradictions, you are probably dealing with a Six.
It is also important to understand that while Sixes are emotional, they do not show their emotions directly—as Twos do, for example—even to those they are closest to. Similarly, Sixes are seldom sentimental, preferring to take a less “rose-colored” view of people and the world. Most healthy to average Sixes are, however, fairly clear about what they feel about things. They know who they love and who they dislike. They are uncertain about what they think about things, and they are especially uncertain when it comes to deciding what to do about their feelings. Because of this uncertainty, they become afraid of taking the wrong action or sending the wrong signal. Their minds turn round and around with conflicting thoughts about what they should be doing while they simultaneously try to figure out what the others in their lives are really up to. Consequently, ambivalence toward both themselves and others causes them to give mixed signals. Or, to put this another way, Sixes react to their feelings—particularly anxiety—and communicate their reactions rather than their feelings. Except when Sixes are very healthy, others can rarely be certain of what is really on their minds.
This is why achieving independence and emotional stability, especially freedom from anxiety, is so important to them. If they are too compliant, their self-esteem suffers: they feel inferior to others, like someone who can be pushed around. On the other hand, if they are too aggressive in their search for independence, they fear that they will alienate the very people who provide them with security and will be punished in some terrible way. The challenge Sixes face is to find a way of maintaining both sides of their personalities, gradually reducing the tensions between their conflicting sides until they form a reciprocal unit—themselves as healthy persons.
As the result of their formative experiences, Sixes became connected with their protective figures. The protective figure was the adult in the child’s early environment who provided guidelines, structure, and sometimes discipline. This was the person who occupied the traditional patriarchal position in the family. Most often this was their fathers, or a father figure, such as a grandfather or teacher, but in many cases the mother or an older sibling may actually be the protective-figure. As children, Sixes wanted the security of approval by their protective figures, and felt anxious if they did not receive it. As they grew up, their connection with their protective figure shifted to an identification with substitutes for this person, such as civil authorities or belief systems from which they could obtain security.
Because they are connected to the protective figure, Sixes powerfully internalize their relationship with that person, whether it is a loving, supportive one, or a difficult, destructive one. They continue to play out in their lives the relationship with the person who held authority in their early childhood years. If Sixes as children perceived that their protective figure was benevolent, and a reliable source of guidance and encouragement, as adults, they will continue to look for similar direction and support from others, be it their spouse, their job, their therapist or a mentor. They will do their best to please this figure or group, and will dutifully observe the rules and guidelines they have been given. In this case, though, Sixes will feel extremely disappointed and betrayed if the other person or situation violates their trust or fails to live up to their expectation of support.
On the other hand, if Sixes experienced their protective figures as abusive, unfair, or controlling, they will internalize this relationship with authority and feel themselves always at odds with those who they believe have power over them. They walk through life fearing that they will be “in trouble” and unjustly punished, and adopt a defensive, rebellious attitude as a protection from the cruel protective figure they project into many of their relationships. Sixes who suffered extremely dysfunctional childhood environments may have been so devalued or ill-treated by their protective figure that they end up leading self-destructive, wasted lives as they unconsciously live out their protective figure’s negative image of them.
Furthermore, just as Threes, to varying degrees, abandoned themselves to become more acceptable to their nurturing figures, Sixes abandon themselves to gain security from their protective figure or from someone or something which is acting as a substitute for that person. In both cases, Sixes feel cut off from an internal sense of their own stability, their own ability to move forward in the world with confidence. They may act this out directly, through a phobic, dependent approach to life, or they may react against it with assertive, counterphobic behavior. Either way, Sixes are not really experiencing their own inner capacity and strength, and must constantly look outside themselves for reassurance, support, and evidence of their ability to successfully engage with life. As Sixes deteriorate, however, either their dependency on allies and authorities, or their hysterical reactions to them, increase until they actually destroy their own security.
As a result of their identification with the protective figure, whether phobic or counterphobic, Sixes are internally questioning their activities to see whether they will meet with the internalized standards of the protective figure—their superego. Like Ones, Sixes are often trying to figure out the “right” course of action, and they attempt to do this by thinking about how their various mentors, allies, and authority figures would respond to each choice. Sixes may go around and around in this process for days if the decision is a major one, because they are afraid of alienating any of their supporters. It is as though Sixes must regularly hold committee meetings in their imagination to “check in” with the different people with whom they have identified. Highly counterphobic Sixes may well bluster at authorities they see as unfair, but they too need their support network, and do not want to take actions which might jeopardize it. Of course, less healthy Sixes may undermine their system of support because of their hysterical reactivity and paranoia, but they will then go to great lengths to reconnect with some source of security. In all Sixes, the pattern of orienting themselves to life by obtaining the reassurance and approval of others (who, in one way or another, function as external sources of security and support) is one which is deeply ingrained in their nature.
(from Personality Types, p. 217-226)