Recently, I saw the question raised how Ones and Nines were “anger types” — Ones, after all, preferring to not show anger, and Nines seeming do bend over backwards to avoid it, both in themselves and from others. The only “anger type” that seems to live up to the name is the Eight. So, what gives?
There are multiple ways to respond to this question. One perspective has to do with how we process and express anger, and even what we choose to put this label on (and I wrote a whole article on anger before, unrelated to the Enneagram). Another perspective has to do with what plane of experience we are discussing. Let’s look at both — but first, it is good to remind ourselves that anger (as well as shame and fear) is universal.
Universal phenomenon or triad label?
When Enneagram type descriptions tie one trait, tendency or aspect to a certain type or group, it does not mean that other types or groups lack it — it just means that this trait, tendency etc means something particular in relation to the type or group in question. So as for anger, this is obviously something that we all have, process and express in various ways.
So we need to get that the descriptions that put anger with the instinctive triad, shame with the heart triad and fear with the head triad are not about exclusivity. It’s not that instinctive types get angry more often than other types. And it’s not that they get angrier than others. (If you have ever met a seriously annoyed Six, you know what I mean.) Likewise, it’s not that the heart types walk around feeling ashamed (at least no more so than anyone else) or the head types are all scaredy-cats.
Sure, there are examples of all of this, and that is what makes it tricky. A lot of experience with Fours might certainly give you the idea that the shame thing is overt and supposed to be seen. The same with Fives, and some Sixes, and the energy of fear. And certainly so with a lot of Eights and the association with anger (as those occasionally give off the vibe of anger while feeling positively peachy inside!) So the first thing we need to get is that while these are expressions of the overall emotional tone of the triad in question, they also make us stay with the superficial, missing the real point of these descriptions.
As long as we keep this in mind, we can go on to explore the two perspectives I mentioned above: How we process and express anger as an actual response, and what existential plane we are referring to when we talk about “anger types”.
How the types in the instinctive triad process and express anger
So what is it about for the instinctual types? What does it mean that they are “anger types” or “coming from anger”? It means that their common orientation to life and the world gets fed from the instinctual plane of our existence — i e, gut energy. (More about this below in the next perspective.) This energy is rather on/off in nature, and it wants things to be the way I want them to be. How that is obviously varies individually, just as my way to go about making it so varies strongly with type.
Anger in the Eight
In the Eight, this powerful energy is generally directed outwards. And, since Eights often do not mind being angry (that is, they do not see it as a sign of weakness or lack of control), if they get riled up, they have no trouble showing it. (Also they might sometimes see what others label anger in them as “decisiveness” or “just putting it plainly”.) If Eights wants something to happen, they will generally assert themselves — complete with all their instinctual energy — in an attempt to make it happen. And the thing is, the Eight will (also generally) primarily want to affect things in the outside world and thus tend to direct his or her attention outwards, into the environment.
Anger in the One
The Ones also want to affect things in the outside world, but even more so, they want to control their own instinctual energy lest it seeps out and gets the better of them. Thus Ones expression of anger is to a large extent internalised, causing tensions and other physical manifestations. When the Ones want to affect their outside world in the direction they (or, often, their internalised ideals and their superego) believe is right, the anger will frequently come out as pursed lips, reprimands, indignation and/or a sense of contained outrage. Just like the Eight, the One might also deny being angry (although you might suspect they are), but whereas the Eight genuinely just saves the label for a stronger reaction, the One’s objection will be down to seeing anger as a loss of self-control.
Anger in the Nine
The Nine, as the primary type of the triad, can be most out of touch with their instinctual energy. That does not mean it is not there, but average level Nines tend to split it off from thoughts and feelings in a way that the moving energy of the instinctual centre is often used in a kind of “autopilot mode” (where others might sense the quality of the Nine’s energy, whereas the Nines themselves are out to lunch, awareness-wise). If the Nines actually gets upset, their impulse is to distract themselves or otherwise diffuse the anger, as there is generally a sense — whether this is conscious or not — that the instinctual energy within might otherwise risk erupting beyond their control in a destructive manner. The Nine, too, will often deny being angry when asked about it (getting even angrier and denying it even stronger if you keep bringing it up).
Anyone who has had a decent introduction to the model is likely to have heard the above distinctions. But then, there is the other perspective, which is more subtle — and therefore often harder to explain, requiring a more in-depth understanding of the model as such.
What are we referring to when we say the types in the instinctive triad are “anger types”?
Looking at the descriptions above, obviously we could just as well go on to talk about how Twos, Threes, and all of the other types typically process and express anger (but, since the instinctual energy is not as paramount to their psychological make-up, that would not be as meaningful as looking at their corresponding energy from the emotional and mental realms respectively). Because, as we already established, everyone gets angry. So what is the deal with these three types?
“Anger” as instinctual energy
Even if we look at the Eights — the type most likely to quite unapologetically direct their instinctual energy outwards and have no qualms about announcing it when they are furious — it’s not like even they are necessarily angry, as a state of mind, all of the time (or in some cases, even a lot). The One and certainly the Nine, even less so. Rather, the common theme of these three types is that they are motivated by the energy of anger, which is to say the energy of instinct; the energy of trying to make the world (or life) bend to how I think it should be and efforts to control (or resist) opposing forces, while at the same time resisting being affected by said forces themselves.
This energy generally operates at a deeper plane of existence than our everyday awareness stretches to. One reason for this is that its pure expression was often frowned upon, reprimanded, shamed or even outright punished in our childhood. When little children experience and experiment with their access to this instinctual energy (which for them constitutes a much bigger part of their overall experience than it does for the adults), adults often become uncomfortable, as they in turn were raised to contain or restrict theirs.
A deeper plane of experience
Another reason, though, is that most cultures and societies do not put the instinctual energy at the forefront of everyday life. We are busy functioning at what is generally considered a “higher” level of existence than the instinctual: the cognitive level, mostly, possibly with a little heart energy dropped into the mix when it’s safe and considered appropriate to do so.
Even in solitude, when there’s no one around to see it, the host of other features in our systems and the lack of societal awareness of the instinctual realm mean that most of us are still largely unaware of the instinctual energy. Alone, we might be aware of emotions, reactions or other parts of our experience that feel private — and sure, for the infamous Eight as well as for others, this might occasionally include feeling mightily pissed off or even raging. But it would be rare for us to just stand in that, experiencing the source of this force itself.
The instinctual energy lives at a deeper level of experience than just mood or reactivity. For most people, when they access this force experientially, it does not even feel like “anger”, but just raw, instinctual power. But closer to the surface level, the ego quickly interprets this experience as “anger” and reacts to it in varying ways — in the Eight, by embracing it and often abusing it, in the One, controlling it and trying to suppress it, and in the Nine, either pretending it’s not there or denying that it could possibly contribute positively to anything.
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Next time you feel angry — for whatever reason, to whatever degree and regardless of which personality type you have, and when you have the opportunity to safely do so — you might experiment with the energy of it. Put the mental narrative about whatever situation gave rise to it aside for a minute or two, and just feel the energy of anger in your body. Let it inhabit you, feel its physical energy within. Give it a shape, or a sound, or both. Move with it. Let it spend itself. The resulting joy might surprise you ❤️
The “Levels of Development” within the Enneagram always made sense to me — in theory. When I first encountered them (which was basically when I discovered the work of Don Riso and Russ Hudson, which was quite soon after discovering the Enneagram overall more than 20 years ago), they lifted a flat system into three-dimensionality.
Moreover, in a way, they also identified 81 different ways of operating, rather than just 9 (and that was before accounting for things like wings and instinctual preferences, which obviously broaden the scope even more). They made the Enneagram model feel authentically human. All really juicy things … except I couldn’t seem to nail down my centre of gravity; the level that I was defaulting back to. When I tried, it was a bit like trying to grasp a soap in water: extremely slippery.
The levels falling into place
In 2005, after I did part 3 of my training with the Enneagram institute (ergo, at the time, Don Riso and Russ Hudson), it fell into place. It clicked for me how we can really identify a centre of gravity, despite recognising multiple levels and sometimes feeling like we act from all of them within a day, or even simultaneously. It was like I had understood what to look for, where to direct my attention, and what to disregard. Now, it would be convenient indeed if I could go on to tell you exactly how this happened, but unfortunately I can’t. It was one of those things that just integrates naturally when you have reached a critical mass of experience and understanding — after which you really don’t get what was so unclear before.
But the beautiful thing is we don’t have to know exactly where our centre of gravity is to do or inner work. We can just pick and choose the practices that help us evolve, engage in these practices, and voilà — we grow. That said though, it’s sometimes hard to tell what really helps, and what just has us going in circles. And occasionally, a practice that feel like its helping in fact just offers nifty little ways to avoid facing that which we need to face 😉.
Letting our Level guide the way
Also, when our personality type is not taken into account, of course advice or practices that help one person can be toxic to someone else. We need to take our personality into consideration — but also, we need to find practices that work for the levels of ego-identification we are currently grappling with. But when we do that, it’s more interesting what Level we are currently coming from than where our general centre of gravity is located.
Because even though we have such a “centre of gravity”, we also fluctuate in the levels throughout our everyday week, day, or sometimes even hour. Things happen in the outside world that affect not our psychological maturity and ego-identification in the long run, but the psychological maturity and ego-identification we are operating from in this moment. And that might be a lot easier for us to nail down than our current centre of gravity — especially in retrospect when we reflect back on our day or week. To this end, it is immensely valuable to orientate ourselves on the vertical axis of the Levels “on purpose” so that when crap hits and the ego launches a hard campaign, we’re ready.
Because of this — and because the Enneagram world is shock full of type descriptions and tests but doesn’t offer a lot of resources that actually guide us towards growth — I put together a booklet on “climbing the levels” — that is, cultivating presence, lessening the grip of automatic ego-pilot and personality fixations in a way that takes into account what tends to work on a particular level. The booklet is a compact piece in that it’s only just over 13 000 words, but it contains high calibre suggestions for inner work, as well as brief descriptions of the levels themselves.
Since the suggestions don’t so much cover what material to work on (as that would be specific to type, and even more so, to the individual), but rather what type of exercises and approaches might be more helpful on which level, there are also reminders of which sort of fears and desires are likely to feature for a certain personality type at a specific level.
Should you want to really dive into this material experientially, you might want to check out the interactive online course Exploring, climbing and experiencing the Levels of Development starting September 4:th and running for 10 Sundays. In this course, we will explore each level relevant to inner work in turn, and we will look at what modes and formats best addresses the issues at each level. (The booklet is included in the course, and if you have it already and want to sign up, send me a message and ask for a personal discount link!)
Let’s see what emerges …
Also, it’s highly likely that I will put together an online course or individual session program (or both) to match the booklet , depending on the interest. Stay tuned (perhaps by registering a free membership on lyckowbackman.se) — and, if you like, do get cracking with the booklet! 😊❤️