Often in Enneagram descriptions, we see Nines, Twos and Sevens described as having a “positive outlook”. But what is this about? Surely, there are plenty of surly Nines, nagging Twos or impatient Sevens around? Are they really all that “positive”? Let’s clear up some of the confusion 😊
The term “positive outlook” came about when Don Riso discovered the set of Enneagram groups that he called the Harmonic groups — groups that don’t match the centre triads or the Hornevian groups, but have their own symmetry. This grouping refers to how the types respond to conflict, difficulties and, well, life happening, revealing the types’ go-to response and general patterns that they tend to fall into.
Positivity, competence and emotional realness
The three groups that Don Riso identified were the “Competency” group (the Three, One and Five), the “Emotional realness” group (the Six, Four and Eight) and the “Positive Outlook” group (the Nine, Two and Seven). Attentive readers might notice that they all, just like the centre triads and the Harmonic groups, centre around one of the primary types (the Three, Six and Nine) on the unilateral triangle, then include the “neighbour’s neighbour” on each side. All of these need some amount of explanation, as names can only cover so much, but for this blog entry, we are focussing on the positive outlook group. This seems to be the one most often falling prey to misinterpretation.
Of course, like all names for various groups and phenomena in the Enneagram world (and most other worlds, too), the term “positive outlook” cannot be taken at face value. It’s not a term that is meant for me, the listener, to take and interpret freely. It points to something, and as such a pointer, serves to remind me of what it encompasses. No name will ever cover the whole meaning of what it represents. It’s like the map and the territory again; if the name (the map) were to cover all of what or represents (the territory), then it would be very long (or large) indeed. So we need to remember that “positive outlook” is the name, not the description.
But then, what is this positivity about? Well, it certainly doesn’t mean to say that Nines, Twos and Sevens are chirpy all the time or only ever seeing the positive side of things. As I said already at the beginning of this article, we all know grumpy Nines, nagging Twos and impatient and restless Sevens, none of which really make poster children for words like ”positive”, “upbeat” or “uplifting”. So what does “positive outlook” actually mean? Well, in one way we actually come closer to the answer if we look at it as negativity-averse rather than positive.
Modes of “negativity-aversion”
Many descriptions paint these types as donning rose-coloured glasses when times get rough, but that is a gross over-simplification. This can happen, and as a group, they can risk erring on the side of “ohh, but it’ll be okay, surely …” rather than over-worrying. As a group. In general. This is when the positivity borders on (or falls downright over into) a bypass of pain, discomfort or garden-variety bad stuff, a phenomenon which I’ll write about in later blog post. (Also, please note that this is not exclusive to Nines, Twos and Sevens. It’s just more relevant as a part of their general description than it is for the other six types. That, btw, goes for the bypassing well as the outlook in general and the different expressions below.)
So what does “positive outlook” actually mean? Well, in one way we actually come closer to the answer if we look at it as negativity-averse rather than positive.
So if it’s not rose-tainted glasses, what is it, then? It’s generally something in the direction of:
- an orientation away from the uncomfortable “negativity”
- an orientation towards the future, looking at possible solutions (at best) or anything else on the horizon (at worst)
- soothing the spikes, talking it through
An orientation away from
This where we’d find the textbook Nine (but, obviously not, every Nine individual, and certainly not every time). If something disappointing/painful/inconvenient happened, the attitude is something like: “Fine, this happened. Can’t be helped now. Let’s focus on something else.” If the negativity is people in the immediate environment not agreeing (or worse, loudly and aggressively not agreeing), it’ll be something like “Keep me out of it.” As we see, it’s not necessarily that the Nine is happy and smiling (although s/he could be trying to smooth over a disagreement, depending on the circumstances). It’s not like s/he necessarily, or even most often, forcibly tries to change the atmosphere to a more upbeat or happy one. It’s more an avoidance of negativity, pain, discomfort and discord.
An orientation towards the future
This shows strongest in the Sevens. Just like the Nines, they say: Why wallow in the pain/misery/inconvenience of here and now when it’ll be different tomorrow (or over there) anyway? But when Sevens do this, it’s with an air of, “Fine, this happened, but now, the interesting part is how we proceed!” Where to from here? Sevens want to go somewhere — there might have been a mishap, but if they are going to take that mishap into consideration at all, it’s going to be to see how it can be different next time.
Soothing the spikes
For the Two, it’s not primarily about moving away — neither “from the bad” nor “into the future”. The Two personality does not need to shy away from negativity as such; at least as long as it not theirs, personally. If “you” suffer, after all, “I can be there for you”. And that, as a Two, I don’t mind at all.
I’m there to take care of you, to offer something positive, to be interested in you and what you are going through; what we are, at this moment, going through together. You can talk to me, and you will get through this.
If the bad stuff happening is happening to me, my negativity-aversion primarily takes the form of focussing on helping someone (or something) else, so as not to sink too deep into it.
Mostly, it’s about what it’s not 😊
All these versions of positive outlook has an overtone if we will get through this, tomorrow is another day and a hint of if I stare to long into the abyss I might get sucked into it. It’s not about cheer or outbursts of optimism. Both these things might spring from the positive outlook, but they are not what it, in itself, is about. Rather, it’s about not getting stuck in the negative swamp, not letting it get to you or take over. It’s not necessarily that you always feel optimistic; rather, it’s about a reluctance to give in to adversity and pain.
Also, as I said many times already, it’s not that this describes the individual at every turn. This group get bummed, too. They fall apart. They suffer. We are all equally human, after all. To get the most out of this label, we need to remember that it describes type structures, not necessarily people. Often, with various expressions depending on the individual’s psychological health, it does a good job of describing the average individual, too — but when it doesn’t, there are plenty of explanations for that.
Like so many of the names or “representative terms” of the Enneagram, “positive outlook” points to something. When we get a feel for that something, rather than staring at the words in the name, we come closer to the types that it describes.