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Enneagram Basics: The Centers of Intelligence

The Enneagram is comprised of three groups of three consecutive types, known as the "Centers", or "Centers of Intelligence":  the Instinctive Center (Types 8, 9 and 1), the Feeling Center (Types 2, 3 and 4), and the Thinking Center (Types 5, 6 and 7).  The three types in each of these centers have in common ways in which we perceive, process and respond to the world around us.  We are each dominant in one of these centers, meaning that we will tend to privilege or overuse one of them.  

The types in each center also share issues related to one of three primary emotions: anger for the Instinctive Center, sadness and shame for the Feeling Center, and fear for the Thinking Center.  These issues point to ways that we tend to habitually lose contact with our Essential Selves, and each type within a center has its own strategy of coping with the particular emotion related to that center.  The centers help us understand both our potential and where our chief imbalance lies.

Though we each have a dominant center from which we perceive the world, a secondary center that tends to support our dominant center, and a third center that we tend to repress or under use (as you will see below), we all have each of these centers operating within us and our path to wholeness includes integrating the three centers of intelligence by bringing information from each of them into awareness.


Let's explore what these centers look like...  

The Instinctive Center:

Types 8, 9, and 1 in the Instinctive Center (also called the body center or gut center) lead with the body.  Their focus is on gut-level perceptions, on being in control of themselves and their environment, and on autonomy.  People in this center tend to have issues with Anger.

  • Eights tend to act out their anger (their energy is directed outward).

  • Nines tend to deny or avoid their anger (their energy is directed both inward and outward).

  • Ones attempt to control or repress their anger (their energy is directed inward). 


The Feeling Center:

Types 2, 3 and 4 in the Feeling Center (also called the heart center or emotional center) lead with their hearts and feelings.  Their focus is on relationships, performing to expectations, and seeking attention.  People in this center tend to have issues with Sadness, self-image and shame.


  • Twos attempt to control their sadness by getting other people to love and appreciate them (their energy is directed outward).

  • Threes tend to deny their sadness (their energy is directed both inward and outward). 


  • Fours attempt to control their sadness by focusing on how unique and special they are (their energy is directed inward).


The Thinking Center:

Types 5, 6 and 7 in the Thinking Center (also called the head center or intellectual center) lead with their minds.  Their focus is on ideas, gathering information, and security and safety.  People in this center tend to have issues with Fear and trust.

  • Fives tend to have fear about their capacity to cope with the outer world (their energy is directed inward).

  • Sixes tend to be anxious and doubtful (their energy is directed both inward and outward).


  • Sevens have fear about their inner world and feelings (their energy is directed outward). 

Repressed (or Underused) Centers:

In addition to each type having a center from which they perceive and respond to the world, it is also interesting to note that each type has a center that they tend to repress or underuse. 


Here's what that looks like...


Ones (a body type) tend to repress the head center.


Twos (a heart type) tend to repress the head center.


Threes (a heart type) tend to repress the heart center.  No - that is not a typo!  Points 3, 6 and 9 (the center triangle) all repress the center to which they are central.


Fours (a heart type) tend to repress the body center.


Fives (a head type) tend to repress the body center.


Sixes (a head type) tend to repress the head center. 

Sevens (a head type) tend to repress the heart center.

Eights (a body center) tend to repress the heart center.

Nines (a body center) tend to repress the body center.

Instinctive Center
Types 8, 9 and 1
Thinking Center
Types 5, 6 and 7
 Feeling Center
Types 2, 3 and 4
Traveler, there is no path,
paths are made by walking.
                      - Antonio Machado
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Next Steps on Your Journey:
1. What is your dominant center?  What strengths and benefits does your dominant center give you?  What challenges does it provide you? Can you give some specific examples?  
2. The types in each center share a primary emotion when they are under stress: anger (for types 8, 9 and 1), sadness (for types 2, 3 and 4), or fear (for types 5, 6 and 7). What's it like to experience your type's primary emotional response? 
3. Can you give some examples of how that primary emotion shows up in your life?  How do you respond when that emotion shows up for you?
4. What situations, thoughts, feelings or sensations trigger this experience?
5. How might you express this emotion in a healthy way so that it doesn't overwhelm you and / or negatively impact others?    
6. Each type in each center tends to have energy moving in a particular direction (for example, the energy of eights is directed outward).  From your own experience, how is your energy directed?  Can you give some examples?
7. Which is the center that you tend to repress (see above)?  In what ways have you underused, discounted, ignored, or stifled your repressed center?
8. What about your secondary center (after you have accounted for your primary and repressed centers)?  How are you noticing it at play in your life?   
9. What else are you noticing regarding the centers?
10. Let's take the type that you are currently working with, and continue to try it on with the next stop on our journey, Wings...     
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