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The Enneagram and the Ego

the enneagram and the ego

The first half of life is devoted to forming a healthy ego, the second half is going inward and letting go of it. Carl Gustav Jung

Ann Gadd

A Bit About the Ego

Examining the Enneagram and the ego, many of us at some point have had the perception that having an ego was somehow wrong and indicates lesser spiritual evolvement. That was my understanding until a wise teacher suggested that in order to truly integrate or become healthier versions of ourselves, understanding and developing healthy egos was essential. The ego then is not the enemy as such, simply a false sense of self we’ve constructed to help us survive in the world.

It’s commonly understood in the Enneagram community that each of the 9-types’ egos, develops certain behaviors and strategies, in response to certain neuroses. Basically, your personality develops as the ego’s attempt to protect you and compensate for a perceived loss of connection with the Divine. In doing so, the ego wants to mimic the spiritual qualities of each type. Being born of the ego rather than the soul however means that the qualities become distorted, and the more profound truth is lost. This distorted ego-directed view becomes then a shallow perspective of our true soul selves.

So, the ego is not something to be slain as a wicked beast but rather gradually stripped of the need to defend itself. As we deepen in understanding and connect with deeper truths, so the ego’s need to maintain control lessens.

Seeing the World through Rose-tinted Glasses

Ichazo’s “Ego Fixations,” describe each type’s ego dominant thought and their way of viewing the world. I see it as an array of different colored glasses which show how we experience the world. The more entrenched we are with that way of seeing, the greater our fixation.

So “rose-tinted glasses” are focused on seeing only the upside of the world—a cheerful or optimistic view of things, usually without valid basis, like a Type-7. Change the lenses to a dull blue and your experience could be more melancholic, like a less healthy Type-4. As we become more integrated (healthy), then our glass lenses become lighter in color, until they are clear. To the extent that our “glasses” become darker indicates how entrenched or stuck we are in our type. Being clearer we are more able to adopt different ways of dealing with life—to have a broader range of life tools to use.

For example, some situations may benefit from a straightforward 8-type approach, while others could use some warm 2-type caring, or you may find your organizational Type 3 helpful. In other words, you have a whole collection of strengths available, rather than a limited few.

What the Ego Wants

Listening to an interview by Brené Brown, a researcher who’s spent the past 20 years studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy, with Father Richard Rohr, I was fascinated by the idea they discussed as to how the ego wants two main things: Superiority and Separation. (Father Richard Rohr is a US Franciscan priest and globally recognized as one of the most popular speakers and authors on spirituality.)

This got me thinking (and feeling) as to how these two themes show up in each of the Enneagram Types. While I have written under types, as essentially, we are all types, each message could apply to all of us.

Much of the time, superiority and separation intermingle in their expression. In feeling superior we create separation and in thinking ourselves as being separate we often put a ego-spin on that separation to appear superior. With this in mind then, here are just some examples of how these ego-desires show up in each type.

the enneagram and ego
Sugar sweets on different sides and scissors, as a symbol of separation on divided background

Type 1

With Type 1’s, the ego seeks improvement and integrity through the desire for perfection and seeking (or knowing) the right way to do things.


For Type 1’s, superiority can show up as in “I know the right way to do things,” (which makes me superior to you who clearly doesn’t).In the workplace Type 1’s enjoy a hierarchal structure, which clearly defines the office employee rankings. I’ve worked in a Type 1 dominated corporation, where even the tea/coffee service was clearly demarcated between those who made their own, those who had to serve themselves in mugs from a tea trolley, and those managers who had tea/coffee brought to them on a tray in cups. (The director’s got more elegant China cups and biscuits.)

In striving for excellence, anyone who doesn’t appear to be striving with the same zeal can be viewed as inferior.


By stating that their way is the correct way to practice their form of worship for example, creates a feeling of separation—”them versus us.” The same applies for gender, sexual orientation, tribe, country—anywhere where, because we are one way, we believe anyone who is not that way (separate from us) to be wrong. Clearly the ego is at play. Separation could occur as in: “My religion is the REAL religion. Yours is not.”

In viewing themselves as being perfect, others are seen as imperfect, creating a big rift.

Type 2

Type 2’s seek intimacy by being helpful and being an exceptionally “giving” person


For Type 2’s, superiority shows up in the prideful belief that someone can’t do without us. “Because of all I do for others, if I stopped doing those things, then the world (and the people) in it would suffer.” Remember the feeling that you couldn’t take leave because the office would crumble in your absence? What also separates Type 2’s from being connected is the belief that they have no needs: “I am above having needs.” In the desire to over-protect others, Type 2’s can feel superior by infantilizing others.


In feeling unloved or unlovable themselves, Type 2’s feel separate from others who they feel are loved. There is also the feeling that: “I am loving and kind, others however are not.” They can also try to over help others, separating those who they feel give them sufficient appreciation from those who they believe don’t.

Type 3

Type 3’s ego seeks to feel valuable through success and achievement


Wanting to be the best, (or feeling you already are), is about the need to be superior to others—you’ve got there, they have not. Being more efficient, achieving goals, and rising through the ranks can quickly start to feel like being better than others. Type 3’s may also believe that others feel jealous or envious of their achievements. They can also use things such as their popularity, business skills, confidence, and competency to feel a tad higher up the pile than everyone else.


Those who you feel have yet to achieve or you see as lacking in ambition, can quickly translate into being those who are not like you, and therefore less/different from you. The winners and the losers. Me (as a winner), separate from you lot, (the losers). This achieving type can view their energy and ability to compete as grounds to feel in a different league, and so separate from others.

Type 4

Type 4’s ego seeks identity (to be themselves), through being original and unique


Feeling that you are more unique than others is the ego dancing dramatically into the superior arena. The uncouth, versus me the naturally aesthetic and superior being. Another way for a Type 4 to experience superiority can be the feeling that they are deeper emotionally than the rest of us shallow souls. This can lead to writing people off because they don’t always share your desire or find it hard to access more profound, intimate connection. 4’s can view others as boring and uninspiring, projecting themselves as being special and unique.


In feeling that they don’t really fit in, Type 4’s can feel different and thereby separate from others. “I’m sure my real family is somewhere else.” They can also attempt to create separation from others by the way they dress, the work they do (or don’t do) the tattoos they have, the way they speak, or style their hair.

Type 5

Type 5’s ego seeks to be capable and confident through acquiring knowledge and understanding


When you pride yourself on knowing more—you have the knowledge/degree, and that makes you a superior person, you’re allowing your ego to rule. You enjoy explaining things, often in great detail, on subjects that seldom interest others, yet you feel the need to enlighten them without tuning in to realize you’ve lost their interest. There is a part of you that feels they need to know and patronizingly you’re there to enlighten them. Type 5’s can become unwilling to engage in the belief’s or ideas of others, dismissing them as being wrong or stupid before they really know more. They can use their intellect to feel superior.

Type 5’s in seeking solitude and separation, can dismiss the other’s need for more frequent engagement as being inferior—”I’m completely self-sufficient.”


The view that you know more might create superiority, but it also creates a “me/they” situation, i.e., separation from those who you view as less educated or knowledgeable.  I know a Five who won’t engage or learn from anyone who doesn’t have a degree. This attitude excludes the teachings of many of the world’s greatest teachers.

Type 6

Type 6’s ego seeks support and guidance to feel secure and safe


In seeing themselves as being more loyal, responsible, and dutiful, Type 6’s can feel superior. In aligning themselves with an authority figure, they can view others who don’t, as being inferior. “If you don’t vote/follow XX, you’re plain stupid.” They can also do the opposite—believing that your following a certain ideal or person makes you wrong.

Type 6’s can also see their conservative and structured approach as being superior to a freer, flowing approach to life. They can begin to see their anxieties and worry as superior to those who don’t do the same. “Can’t they see there’s a problem going to happen?”


When Type 6’s see themselves as working harder and more conscientiously than the rest of the slackers, while it may be true, they begin to define an “we/they” setup. Type 6’s can easily fall into the trap of seeing others as friends or enemies. “If you’re not with me, you’re against me, and will be treated as such.” They can take their own fears and project them onto others, making others wrong for being what they can’t acknowledge within themselves.

Type 7

Type 7’s ego seeks satisfaction and freedom through fun and fulfilment


When Type 7’s start believing that they alone are the most fun, interesting, and altogether upbeat person around, they start to see themselves as superior. Others bore you; they excite and stimulate you( or the crowd they’re entertaining). Superiority can also arise as knowing more stuff (7 going to Type 5)—how a particular cheese is made, where to find the best artisanal bread, the best Thai food, etc.

However, in an office environment Type 7’s often enjoy a flat structure, but hidden beneath this is the Type 1’s desire for hierarchy.


When Type 7’s imagine that their busy lifestyle is the way to be, they begin to see themselves as separate from those who do not dance to their excited tune. They’re cool in the way they dress, the places they go, the things they do, and the people they’ve met. Not everybody else is as trendy. People then get seen for how well they rate on the coolness score.

Another way Type 7’s can create division from others is through the pain they are trying to avoid. They may then see someone who is less upbeat, as a “drag” or “downer” and thus to be avoided.

Type 8

Type 8’s ego seeks to protect themselves through strength and aggression


When Type 8’s start to objectify other people, they make them inferior. If they see themselves as the only natural choice to be in charge, they are also wanting to enforce what they see as being superior about themselves. “I lead. Others follow.” There are the leaders and then the pitiful followers, the ruler(s) and the ruled. Then there’s the issue of enjoying confrontation. “I’m not afraid to confront.” Others are, which makes them inferior.


Seeing yourself as being tougher, stronger, more direct, and your own person, can lead to feeling separate from others who don’t share these attributes. Type 8’s can naturally separate themselves from others because they hold the belief that they are more worldly, more capable, better able to take risks, and more competent. They are strong, and powerful, others are the weak.

Type 9

Type 9’s ego seeks belonging and peace of mind through comfort and stability


Type 9’s are striving to embody the idea that All is One. This desire then flies in the face of their ego’s need for separation and superiority. As a result, these ego desires are often more hidden—they want to belong on the one hand, yet desire separation (autonomy). It’s paradoxical as so much is in the Enneagram. So how does the ego seek to gratify it’s needs as a Type 9? In being accepting and allowing, Type 9’s appear to not be acting superior in any way. They tend to be passive, humble, and receptive—nothing superior in that. But there’s a catch. In seeing an idealized version of themselves as being peacemakers, accommodating and comfortable or settled, they see themselves as superior to others who are not as harmonious, accepting or calm.


Type 9’s tendency to withdraw from others into their own “happy space,” is a way of separating themselves from others, just the same way that being detached and unresponsive is.

Another way they create separation is when Type 9’s see themselves as lacking self-worth and others as having self-worth (being superior to themselves). This might sound noble, but in fact the resulting imbalance is as ego-involved as the other types. In merging or over-identifying with others, they loose and separate from themselves not taking adequate care of themselves, physically, emotionally, spiritually, socially, or intellectually.

As we move higher up the levels of consciousness or integration, so the need for superiority and separation fall away. The ego and its fixations can take a break and allow our true self to shine through.


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