One of the major benefits of the Enneagram personality test is that it not only helps you understand who you are, it gives you a very clear path to be the best version of yourself. The fundamental idea is that we each have a habit of attention we lean too far into. The Enneagram encourages us to relax this habit of attention, come back into the center, and share the best version of our true selves with the world. A world in which everyone had completely relaxed their habit of attention would be a world of great compassion.
But what happens when things go the other way? In Enneagram terms, the lowest version of yourself is when you become trapped in your fixation. The habit of attention takes over, distorting your experience in the world, and leading to ugly behavior. In order to understand the light you must also understand the dark, so here we will walk through the shadow side of the Enneagram, exploring each of the types as they become trapped, to the extreme, in their habit of attention.
At their best, they become wisely discerning, accepting, and compassionate. But at their worst, Type 1s can be cruel towards others and intolerant of any behavior that doesn’t conform to their standards. They isolate themselves, attack others, and they may start to have reality distortions, projecting wrongdoings into benign situations. If we look at religious intolerance and prosecution through the years, we’ll find fixated Type 1s in the mix. While we’ll never know for sure, it is likely Osama Bin Laden was a fixated Type 1. Intolerance is a key feature of fixated Type 1s.
The high side of Type 2 shows us someone who is humble, direct and altruistic. They see the spark of beauty and potential in each person. But the low side paints a very different picture as fixated Type 2s become manipulative, bitter, filled with rage, and display a gross lack of respect for personal boundaries. They may start to have reality distortions and subconsciously start to undermine those they mean to help. Look no further than Glenn Close’s character Alex Forrest in Fatal Attraction to see a fixated Type 2. She couldn’t let go of a weekend affair and went on to stalk the man and his whole family. Inappropriate boundaries and obsession are key elements of fixated Type 2s.
Highly evolved Type 3s are self-accepting, authentic and real. They speak from the heart and genuinely inspire those around them. But as they move towards their habit of fixation, they become ruthlessly exploitative, hiding their mistakes, shortcomings, and failures. They falsely present as successful individuals. Lacking empathy and begrudging the success of others, they can become ruthless and malicious in their attempt to conceal their fraud. Look for Dorian Gray in Oscar Wilde’s classic “The Portrait of Dorian Gray” to see a classic, fixated Type 3. Or more recently, look at the behavior of the investment manager Bernie Madhoff and the $65 billion ponzi scam he was convicted of in 2008. Fraud and deception are key elements of fixated Type 3s.
At their best, Type 4s are original, deeply expressive, healing, inspiring, and able to share their authenticity with the world in a profound way. But at their worst, everything around them becomes a reminder of their self-loathing and their sense of failure. Driving away those who wish to help, feelings of despair take over, and they may become self-destructive with this behavior manifesting as mental, emotional or physical breakdowns. The behavior of Kurt Cobain, the lead singer of Nirvana, correlates with a fixated Type 4. Deeply expressive and externally successful, he couldn’t escape his depression and feelings of self-loathing, succumbing to suicide in 1994. Low self-esteem that manifests into self-harm are common elements of fixated Type 4s.
When highly self-aware, Type 5s are open-minded, expert in their chosen field, and penetrating in their focus. They share knowledge from their heart. But when they head towards the dark side, the picture is quite different. Isolated, withdrawn, and disconnected from reality, they become obsessed and disturbed by their own thoughts. They may fall prey to phobias and paranoia, escalating to psychotic breaks with reality as their imaginary world takes over. Think Pete Madsen, the Danish engineer when you think of unhealthy Type 5 behavior. Eccentric and intellectually brilliant, his thoughts became disturbing and obsessive, leading him to murder journalist Kim Wall on his submarine in 2017. Isolation, paranoia, and unhealthy obsessive psychotic breaks with reality are common elements of fixated Type 5s.
Highly evolved Type 6s trust their inner guidance, are deeply supportive, and exhibit balanced thinking, fair leadership and courage. But fixated Type 6s experience intense internal confusion, becoming erratic, indecisive, suspicious, evasive and contradictory. They feel attacked by everyone and lash out violently, becoming deeply suspicious even of their own inner circle. They may display self-destructive tendencies. Irrational, chaotic thinking, destructive paranoia and distrust are common elements in fixated Type 6s. The most famous example of a low functioning Type 6 is Adolf Hitler ordering the vindictive and senseless destruction of Paris at the end of WWII before committing suicide in his final days. (Paris was saved by a disobedient Nazi General Choltitz who refused the order.) Chaotic paranoia and self-destructive tendencies are elements of a fixated Type 6 personality.
At their best, Type 7s are focused, discerning, cheerful, uplifting, and able to express deep gratitude for all that life offers them. At their worst, in an attempt to escape their anxiety, healthy limits disappear, their behavior becomes desperate and erratic, and addiction, excess, and other escapist habits enter the picture. Unable to focus, running from one escape to another, fixated Type 7s become demanding, unpredictable, unreliable, and volatile. To see low functioning Type 7 behavior, look no further than Robert Downey Jr.’s drug addicted character Julian Wells in Less Than Zero. If you haven’t seen the movie, you can follow the low points of Robert Downey Jr.’s personal history as he too is thought to be a Type 7. Self-destructive habits including addiction and impulsive suicide attempts are common elements in fixated Type 7s.
When their habit of attention is relaxed, Type 8s become magnanimous, restrained, generous, wise, and courageous. But when they are acting out their habit of attention, they become ruthless, tunnel-visioned, dictatorial, hard-hearted and megalomaniacal. They overreach, power grab and may ruthlessly annihilate everything that doesn’t conform to their desires. The ends justify the means, and nothing is off limits. Vicious hard-hearted violence and overreaching destruction are common elements in fixated Type 8s. Saddam Hussein, the former dictator of Iraq who was charged by his own country for crimes against humanity, was likely a fixated Type 8. Ruthless violence and destruction are key elements in fixated Type 8s.
At their best, Type 9s become present to themselves, directed, clear, and fulfilled, exhibiting right action and moving towards their goals. But when fixated, a very different picture emerges. Numb, drained, disconnected and checked out of life, they take on a zombie-like appearance, barely showing up as a functioning human being. They may fall into a depression. The dark side of Type 9s are usually sins of omission or apathy. This is the parent that looks the other way and allows abuse to occur or the executive who knows about corporate corruption but does nothing. In the Madoff scandal story, it’s likely at least one of the people working closely with him was a fixated Type 9. Denial and disconnect are key elements in fixated Type 9s.
Reading the dark side of personality profiles can get you down, but understanding these tendencies and looking for signs of them in your own behavior is an important part of growth. Seeing the dark also helps you appreciate the light. Each person has the ability to operate at their best or at their worst and the Enneagram gives you a clear map to both locations. In our next post, we’ll explore the types at their best so you can take comfort in the more positive aspects of your personality!