When it comes to the centres and type, there are some paradoxical misconceptions floating about in the Enneagram world. Ironically, out of the two major ones, one is about a perceived but non-existent inequality, and the other, paradoxically, about a perceived but non-existent sameness.
The imaginary inequality in centre access
The first misunderstanding is that, courtesy of which Enneagram type we belong to, we operate only or mainly out of one of the centres. In conversations about the centres in the Enneagram world — where we are talking about the gut, heart, and head as they exist in all of us, not referring to the centre triads — at some point, someone usually says: “But it’s different for different people. For some, this [whatever feature we are discussing] needs to come from the gut (or the heart, or the head).” But the thing is — no, it does not. Take agency, for example; our capacity to take action. In absolutely everyone, this is a function of the instinctual centre, or the gut. It is just one of the many things the instinctual centre provides for us. Saying that for some people agency originates in the heart, is like saying that for some, it’s actually the pancreas that cleans the blood, not the liver. It just doesn’t work that way. “Gut people” do not find love in the instinctual centre, while “heart people” find it in the heart. And “head people” most certainly don’t have “instincts” coming from the intellectual centre. Discussing things such as how different centres express compassion does not make sense. (How different people of the various Enneagram centre triads express compassion, however, is another matter. But half the time, these discussions focus on centres’ capacities, not people’s. And when they do focus on the people, they often fail to make that clear. Hence, misunderstandings about the centres themselves can thrive.)
Yes, our type has a particular relationship to the centres depending on our position on the Enneagram. In some ways, our personality will indeed tend to “manage” the centres a certain way depending on our type. And yes, this might mean we prefer some modalities — of inner work, for example — to others. In the average levels of balance, it also means we each scramble and compartmentalise the centres somewhat differently, strongly contributing to the typical functioning we see in average level types in action. But in themselves, the centres are the same in all of us, regardless of type. In that, there’s absolute equality.
Which is great news, of course, since, to truly listen and receive someone else, everyone is going to be accessing their heart. And since we are all equipped with one, we can all to this, too (albeit with varying success rates, depending on other factors 😊). Likewise, to move — in the room, as well as in life — requires access to the gut. And as we know, everyone moves, everyone has physical needs and urges, and we’re all, equally, use guided by our instinctual drives on a daily basis. And finally, everyone needs to use their head centre to even consider the future or to have an idea about something that is not here, now — endeavours which we all frequently engage in, again, regardless of which centre is our “home base” on the Enneagram circle. We possess them all, and we use them, too.
The seeming but illusory sameness of the centres as such
So the three centres work the same way in all of us. However, they don’t work the same way as each other. As we have seen, they each process different things, in different ways, with different capacities. And this includes their ability to incorporate information from the other centres. It is not a bounce-back-and-forth kind of trio; there more one-way flow here than we might have realised. (I have touched upon their differences somewhat in the article Heart and gut “distinguished” (at least for relatively creative, flowing and open minds 😉.) Briefly, one can see the centres as a bottom-up process, where each new centre, much like the instinctual drives, brings a new protocol. Since the old protocol (say, that of the gut) was in place when the new one (say, the heart) came online, the new one can “read” the information from the old one, but not the other way around. This puts them all in a quite unique place in relation to the other two. If you are interested in reading more about this, I unpack it quite thoroughly in Aspects of You.)
The fact that the centres are so different — that the gut possesses certain qualities that the heart and head do not, and so on and so forth for the others — sometimes has people respond with disbelief or accuse me of favouritism. “Why are you saying only the gut has agency? What about the heart types?” This is obviously because they are still holding on to the first misconception, as the answer is that the gut is the centre providing agency — and that, contrary to what they might think, we all have a gut so we can all move. Image types or types belonging in the intellectual centre (a k a “heart types” and “head types”) have gut centres, too. The centre you are “in” does not mean you only have that, or even that you have more of it. It only means that it’s the centre that your ego will tend to overidentify with and where the majority of your most stubborn issues will be found. (Also, the ego’s relationship to our home-base centre might affect our “vibe” or style, but this is a consequence of our ego preferences and does not signify more “access” to one of the centres.)
Misconceptions spawning confusing conclusions
The idea that one type sources everything from, or even through, a specific centre spawns some intellectual misconceptions on this topic (which, obviously and interestingly, all spring from the head, regardless of the “centre of the person” 😉), where people try to create a perfect symmetry for the centre, so that it looks “fair”; so that we each (despite the fact, as the belief may go, that we “do not have equal access to” all the centres) have access to equally impressive and not-so-impressive traits and skills. But this is an example of where the idea of equality is taken too far (and unnecessary so, since we do all have all three anyway) — a bit like someone coming into zoo insisting that all animals should be fed the same food, so it’s not “unfair”. But it would be unfair to feed everyone the same, since their needs and preferences are different. As long as we are talking about the centres as such, the differences are real.
But at the same time, the perceived (and equally mistaken) inequality of the distribution of the centres in different types opens up another bag of misconceptions. One is when I hear many people say things to the effect that they do not access all three centres on a regular basis. (An example would be a Seven who “doesn’t access” the heart on account of being connected only to the gut — type One — and back to the head — type Five — by the inner lines of the Enneagram model.) This is very seldom true. The centres all provide necessary bits of our life, and of our experience (just as the instinctual drives, which mostly operate under our conscious radar and which all work fine, despite not sticking out enough for us to notice them our conscious experience). However, sometimes, we have an overly narrow understanding of what a certain centre is or does, and our ways of thinking about ourselves can, in turn, help us keep that in place. This may have us go to that centre over and over to solve issues in our life which may well be coming from somewhere else (and therefore keep returning again). This, too, is something I cover in Aspects of You.
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So the centres are much, much more than a basic and obvious bit of Enneagram theory that one covers quickly in the beginning before advancing to more complicated stuff. Besides offering a beautiful world of discovery, deepening our awareness of and relationship with them can serve to dissolve stubborn tangles in our journey, clear up a whole lot of confusion, and overall give more peace, freedom and clarity. Isn’t that something? 😉
I am currently converting recordings of my online course Going DEEPER — Inner Work with the Centres into an evergreen self-study course. If you are in the newsletter (sign up for free here), you will be the first to know when it’s available!