Are you an Enneagram fan? Perhaps you’ve heard the buzz, but you haven’t explored the internal worlds of each Type. The better we understand the Enneagram and our personalities, the better we can use the insights as a GPS to keep ourselves on a healthy path in every area of our lives. It’s especially beneficial to gain a deep understanding of our Hidden Struggle, the persistent internal battle we’re always fighting, but try to keep concealed from the people around us.
Before we dive into this topic, know that this knowledge is not meant to make us cast shame or blame on ourselves or others, but rather as another reason to put our full dependence on Christ, the One who knit us together in our mother’s womb and knows the number of hairs on our head. We belong to Him, despite every thought, emotion and battle we are fighting.
A Gospel-centered approach to the Enneagram is not based on condemnation, but realizing we are Jesus’ beloved child, and only in Him is there true transformation and wholeness. In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Below is a description of each Type’s struggle and the tendencies and behaviors they use to keep them hidden from others.
Type 1: The Moral Perfectionist
Though they appear calm, confident and self-controlled from the outside, Type Ones have a very loud, relentless, and controlling Inner Critic that is berating them, correcting them, and telling them what they must do. They may keep it concealed from the people around them, but they are constantly trying to live up to the impossibly high standards they place on themselves, and always feeling like they come up short. When they receive criticism from others, it can be extremely painful, adding kerosine to an already-blazing fire. In response, they can become resistant and defensive, sometimes hurling back criticisms of their own.
Because a Type One’s Inner Critic rarely allows them to relax, they feel an ongoing burden to be thorough and responsible. It can be very difficult and maddening to a One when others lack follow-through, are irresponsible, or take breaks when there are never-ending to-do lists and duties. This leads to secret feelings of resentment, loneliness, alienation from others and even depression. The more isolated they feel, the more loud and berating their Inner Critic becomes.
Type 2: The Supportive Advisor
Type Twos’ inner conflict is a direct reflection of their Core Fear of being worthless, needy, dispensable, or unworthy of love. Their Core Desire is to be accepted, wanted and loved for who they are. Although they seem to be a source of emotional stability, Type Twos are actually suppressing their secret suffering by pushing forward and focusing on others’ needs. They are constantly offering support, care and guidance, and it can be extremely upsetting to them when they feel that others aren’t valuing them or heeding their input. They feel strongly that their advice is helpful and when others don’t take it, they feel rejected and nonessential.
Type Twos can repress their feelings for long periods of time, which can manifest itself in passive-aggressive ways. Then they may become touchy or even openly angry, revealing the resentment they’ve been hiding. When they respond negatively, they feel extremely ashamed and deflated. They then look to fill themselves up once again with affirmation from others, continuing the vicious cycle.
Type 3: The Successful Achiever
Since a Type Three’s Core Fear is being a failure, incompetent or unsuccessful, they work hard to give others the impression that they have it all together. They are constantly striving to achieve and accomplish so they will be valued, respected and admired by others. Though they appear polished and productive, beneath the surface Type Threes suffer from deep doubt and anxiety about their their self-worth. They push aside any feelings that could hinder their intense focus and progress. Threes are under constant internal pressure to be successful and to perform at maximum efficiency.
Type Threes also have an uncanny ability to disconnect their heads from their hearts. They don’t want to rely on intimacy or personal support, so they may push relationships to the back burner to avoid feeling inadequate. The people around them rarely suspect the degree of emotional vulnerability and insecurity that Threes conceal beneath their likable, smooth, and efficient personas. Though they have social carisma, they often feel very isolated inside. However, to experience lasting growth and feel secure, Type Threes must acknowledge their fears and feelings and come to know they are loved for simply being themselves.
Type 4: The Romantic Individualist
Type Fours’ internal struggle is rooted in their Core Fear of being inadequate, ordinary, defective and emotionally isolated. Their Core Desire is to be desired, and to express their intense emotion, creativity and unique significance. They believe that if they were somehow different from who they are, they would be seen, understood and loved. They are constantly comparing themselves against the fantasized version of themselves they’ve built up in their minds, causing them to feel hopelessly flawed and retreat to their internal world. They often trust their own intuition over the real interactions they have with people in their lives. This comes across to others as chronic self-doubt and sensitivity.
Because they are never able to live up to their idealized self, it can be difficult for Type Fours to appreciate all the positive qualities they actually possess. They secretly desire for someone to come in and rescue them by truly seeing them at their core. In order to grow, they must let go of the idealized version of themselves and learn to appreciate the unique individuals they are.
Type 5: The Investigative Thinker
The Type Fives of this world are often the loners, preferring to observe over engaging in social situations. This is because they believe they have a lack of internal resources, and they fear obligation, intrusion, and feeling overwhelmed or dependent. Though they need companionship and connection, they tend to be secretly fearful of going too deep with others and coming to rely on their affection.
“THEY WANT TO BE CAPABLE AND COMPETENT TO KEEP THEMSELVES FROM BEING ANNIHILATED OR INVADED, AND THEY TEND TO BELIEVE ASKING FOR ANYTHING FROM OTHERS WOULD PUT THEIR INDEPENDENCE AT RISK.”
They fear their own needs would be “too much,” or even harmful to others if they openly expressed them.
Deep down, Fives do want to connect with “safe” people, but they fear doing so might cost them the competency and self-reliance they work so hard to maintain. If a Five feels that their area of expertise or their autonomy is at risk, they may withdraw from a relationship, even if they truly love and respect the person they are leaving. They seem uninterested and uninvolved, but to them, their strict boundaries feels like a matter of survival.
Type 6: The Loyal Guardian
On the outside, Type Sixes look responsible, highly organized, but internally they are trying to calm their Core Fear of danger, uncertainty and a lack of guidance, security and support. Striving for a trouble-free and predictable world, they ignore or distrust their intuition and constantly assess their surroundings, trying to prevent problems or harm.
Type Sixes secretly wrestle with an internal committee of voices relentlessly chiming in with contradictory thoughts, analyses, and questions. This causes them to constantly second guess themselves, doubt what they know, and consult others. It’s impossible for them to think clearly and make sound decisions when their minds are hyper-vigilantly scanning the horizon for worst-case scenarios and planning for disasters. They believe that if they are committed, thorough and loyal, they will ensure safety and security. Sixes crave inner quiet and peace, but to get it they must learn to respectfully listen to their inner committee, acknowledge their worries and concerns, and then silence the noise with a mature and thoughtful decision.
Type 7: The Entertaining Optimist
To an outsider, Type Sevens look to be adventurous, fun and “on top of the world,” but they are susceptible to difficult emotions, anxiety, sadness, loneliness, and frustration. Though they feel compelled to convince themselves and others that they are upbeat, spontaneous and fun, their secret, darker feelings can bring them down. They are constantly working to avoid their Core Fears of boredom, missing out, being incomplete or lacking, and being trapped in emotional pain.
Type Sevens crave satisfaction and contentment, but they privately wrestle with emptiness, self-doubt, melancholy and depression. They suspect they’ll never really get what they want and need in life.
To avoid and distract themselves from their unpleasant feelings, they settle for any stimulation or experience that will bring them some level of entertainment, gratification and pleasure. They keep their mind off of pain by constantly planning and moving toward positive, new and fun future events.
Type 8: The Protective Challenger
Type Eights present themselves as assertive, strong and independent, but their rough exteriors are disguising their Core Fear of being weak, powerless, underestimated, humiliated, vulnerable, or at the mercy of injustice. They actually have very tender and compassionate hearts, sticking up for those who can’t stick up for themselves. However, they believe that if they were exposed, people would manipulate, harm or betray them. They wear a protective emotional armor, rarely trusting anyone who might hurt or control them.
Though they can seem aggressive or pushy, at their core, Eights long to know that there is someone who will have their backs, allowing them to relax and relinquish their exhausting role as vigilant protector. If they find someone they can truly trust to protect and not harm them, they will remove their armor to reveal their gentle, caring side. Very few people will get to experience this tenderness and see who they really are.
Type 9: The Peaceful Mediator
To the casual observer, Type Nines appear to be always easygoing, accommodating and pleasant. On the surface they seem to have mastered the art of inner peace and harmony, they are calm and non-confrontational and don’t seem to have strong preferences. Though they have an internal voice telling them their presence doesn’t matter, they long to be valued, affirmed and supported. Beneath their peaceful facades, Nines actually have a reservoir of anger and rage they hide from themselves and others. This resentment stems from their Core Fear of being overlooked, disconnected, unstable, and at the mercy of others’ needs and preferences. They crave autonomy and independence, and often feel bothered by the desires and demands of the people in their lives.
When a Type Nine believes they are expected or forced to appease others, they can get irritated, which can lead to an eventual outburst of anger. They don’t express their desires or feelings because they believe it will cause conflicts or discord, so they suppress their resentment, even hiding it from themselves, and simply “go along to get along.” They may even withdraw from others and retreat from deep relationships to keep their internal rage and resentment from exploding like a volcano and spinning out of their control. For Nines to grow and thrive, they must awaken to themselves and learn how to express their needs and desires, even if it leads to an uncomfortable momentary conflict.
Let’s Dig Deeper
Did your Type’s internal conflict resonate with you? Take a few minutes to reflect on the struggle you’re trying to conceal, and use these questions to be honest with yourself and find areas of growth.
— How is your Type’s secret struggle impacting your internal world (thoughts and feelings) as well as your external reactions (the things you say and do)?
— Think of some specific examples of the way your struggle plays out in your life, work and relationships when you’re in both a healthy and unhealthy place.
— Get a journal, or find a trusted friend, and express some of the real conflict, pain and sorrow that you experience deep inside. What is it like to be honest with yourself or vulnerable with others? How can you learn or grow from this exercise?
— Most importantly, take your struggle to the Lord (Spoiler Alert: He already knows it!), and ask Him to show you how to steer yourself away from negative tendencies and behaviors and keep on a healthy path. You can lay your burdens at His feet, and He will give you freedom and rest.