Enneagram wings are an additional influence on personality, and as such you’ll need to study them to understand how someone with your Enneagram number will function in the real world.

One of the most common questions people ask is can your Enneagram wings change? It turns out the answer could be either yes or no, depending on what is meant by the word change.

Does this sound confusing? It isn’t really, as we’ll discover as we delve more deeply into the complexities of the Enneagram personality system.

Enneagram Wings in a Nutshell

It is important to note that the various Enneagram types are not just listed in some random order. Enneagram personality typing functions according to the rules of its own unique ecosystem, which is a set of interconnections that allows for different personality types to influence the others.

The way this happens most directly is through the wings. The Enneagram numbers on either side of a primary personality type will represent the wings, supplementary characteristics to the main personality types that can become evident or even dominant in some special circumstances.

Wings complement the primary personality type. Someone who is an Enneagram 7, for example, will exhibit the characteristics of either an Enneagram 8 or an Enneagram 6 on occasion, in situations that tend to reveal the presence of these secondary influences. If this happens often enough it might actually seem like the Enneagram 7 Enthusiast has changed into a Type 6 Skeptic or a Type 8 Challenger. That would not be the case, but it might very well seem that way.

One fascinating aspect of Enneagram wings is that one or the other will generally be dominant while the other remains latent. Giving another example, this means the typical Enneagram 5 will occasionally display characteristics associated with 6 or a 4, but they will not demonstrate the traits of both. Despite their commonalities a Type 5 with a 4 wing (5w4) will seem like a different person than a Type 5 with a 6 wing (5w6), as would be revealed by their varying reactions to certain identical circumstances.

But what has just been described is not fixed in stone. In fact it is possible for a person’s Enneagram wings to switch from dominant to latent and vice versa. It is also possible for a person to escape from the dominant vs. latent framework altogether when they’ve found a balance in their lives that allows each of their potential wings to influence their personality in equal measure.

How Enneagram Wings Can Change: A Case Study

So, to get back to the original question, can your Enneagram wings change?

If the question is asked in this form, the answer would have to be "no, they cannot." Each person has a pair, and the identity of that pair will never change. However, if you change the question to "can your Enneagram wings change positions, from dominant to latent and the other way around," the answer suddenly changes to a definite "yes."

To see how this works, let’s look at a hypothetical case study:

A particular Enneagram Type 4 wing 3 (4w3) may be a lot more social and care more about how they are viewed by other people than the typical Enneagram 4. However, at a certain point they may decide they’ve become a bit too image conscious and have lost sight of their authentic selves, having gotten trapped in an Enneagram 3 Achiever mindset. They may then choose to withdraw from the public eye for a while, as they explore more aspects of their personality or seek to deepen their knowledge base through more study and introspection.

If this process goes on long enough, the Type 4w3 may see a shift in their dominant wing, as they take on the appearance of a Type 4w5. Those who belong in this category are known for being more introspective and self-reflective, since they don’t take their Individualist standing for granted. Their search for authenticity jumps to the foreground, while their old 4w3 need for approval fades into the background.

What might happen to the Enneagram 4 who goes through such a transformation is anyone’s guess. They may be more comfortable as a Type 4 wing 5, and their new wing may remain dominant from then on. Or they may gradually shift back to being a 4w3, once they’re feeling more balanced emotionally and intellectually. Another possibility is that they may leave the dominant wing paradigm behind and become one of those unique individuals whose two wings play an equally significant role in their thinking and behavior.

Regardless of the final result, the whole process reveals how an Enneagram wing can change, temporarily or permanently. In this instance it is the Type 4 Individualist who would be altering their dominant wing, in response to an internally generated crisis of confidence.

How Enneagram Wings Can Change, Part 2: Still More Case Studies

It’s easy to imagine dozens of scenarios like this, where a person switches their dominant wing off and their latent wing on. It could happen in response to a career shift, a mid-life crisis, a shocking encounter with grief or trauma, enlightenment under the guidance of a self-help specialist or spiritual leader, a bout of depression, a new and exciting relationship … the list of possibilities is really endless.

Here are just a couple more examples that describe how the process could work:

An Enneagram 1w9 is a Perfectionist who likes to play Peacemaker. But the time may come when they realize they or others they care about are being taken advantage of by an employer, a false friend, or even an impersonal agent like the government, because they are too accommodating or quick to compromise on their principles to avoid trouble. The Type 1 Perfectionist won’t feel good about a development like this, and that could ultimately cause a seismic shift that transforms them from a 1w9 to a 1w2.

Embracing their Type 2 Giver side, they become more determined and defiant in their efforts to help the people they care about—or humanity in general—secure the rights, privileges, and opportunities for health, happiness and self-expression they deserve. If that means rocking the boat more often than their Peacemaker side would have tolerated, then so be it.

The Enneagram 6w5 may be recognized by their tendency to keep to themselves. The Skeptic 6 often struggles with trust, and their Type 5 Investigator leanings may render them even more detached from social engagement and group involvement. The 6w5 may constantly say no or otherwise prevent themselves from getting involved, as they can’t shake loose from the feeling that wolves in sheep’s clothing are everywhere and that disaster is always lurking right around the corner. For safety’s sake they prefer to stick to themselves, relying on their investigative skills to identify the heroes and villains while upholding a high burden of proof either way.

Unfortunately, this approach can eventually morph into deep cynicism and mistrust. The Enneagram 6w5 who falls into this trap may eventually realize they’ve taken their skepticism too far and have cut themselves off from humanity as a result. To correct their errors they may begin seeking opportunities to connect with others who share their passions and perspectives. If doing so brings more fun and satisfaction into their lives, they may escalate this behavior even more.

Without giving up their fundamental skepticism, they would be taking steps to actively limit its impact, to ensure it doesn’t prevent them from living life to the fullest. At this point they’d be displaying the clear characteristics of a Type 6w7 (the Skeptic who can also be an Enthusiast), strongly suggesting a change in their Enneagram wing has occurred. Once their hidden Type 7 Enthusiast inclinations emerge they might become dominant forever, or perhaps they will continue to co-exist alongside Type 6 tendencies once the latter reemerge.

The Choice Can Be Yours

Examples like those described above could be provided for every primary type/wing combination. The fascinating thing about this is that a shift from one wing to the other, or to a more balanced, two-wing personality structure, can be initiated either consciously or unconsciously.

If you’re on the unconscious pathway, you may someday intuitively sense that something vital and irreplaceable is missing from your life. This could send you off on a quest to discover what has been missing, and your explorations of other ways of thinking and living could broaden your perspective and introduce you to experiences that would challenge you in new and different ways. Your reactions to the changes could put you on a different life track, and one of the end results could be a change in your Enneagram wing.

Alternatively, as you study the Enneagram system more intensely and your comprehension grows, you may discover previously unacknowledged imbalances in your life that need correcting. You may be disappointed in your performance as a parent or romantic partner, for example, and see a possibility for redemption and lasting self-improvement through the cultivation of characteristics associated with your latent Enneagram wing. You may then seek out new experiences that could activate your underdeveloped personality tendencies as you strive to alter your thinking and behavior patterns to make the transformation happen.

Should you be successful, you might change your Enneagram wing forever. Ideally you might establish a new equilibrium that activates both of your wings and puts them on equal footing, leaving you with a more integrated and harmonious mindset.

Under a scenario like this, you would have used your knowledge of Enneagram types and Enneagram wings as a template for personal development. This demonstrates how empowering a personality system of such depth and complexity can be, if you can use what you’ve learned as a source of inspiration and guidance.

Nathan Falde
Nathan Falde has been working as a freelance writer for the past six years. His ghostwritten work and bylined articles have appeared in numerous online outlets, and in 2014-2015 he acted as co-creator for a series of eBooks on the personality types. An INFJ and a native of Wisconsin, Nathan currently lives in Bogota, Colombia with his wife Martha and their son Nicholas.