Enneagram Triads: Do You Make Decisions Through your Belly, Heart or Head?

The Enneagram is one of many personality systems that seek to classify our character or type. As a diagrammatic structure, it’s a 3 x 3 arrangement with each of the nine types placed into one of three Enneagram 'triads' or 'centers of intelligence': the Instinctive Center, the Feeling Center and the Thinking Center. 

Belly, heart and head people exist — and which Enneagram triad you belong to can tell you much about how you filter your everyday experiences. 

Enneagram Triads: Three groups, three very different filters.

The Nine Types of the Enneagram are labeled numerically, and the number you have determines which of the centers or triads you belong to. Types 8, 9 and 1 are belly or gut (Instinctual) centered, Types 2, 3 and 4 are heart (Feeling) centered, and Types 5, 6 and 7 are head (Thinking) centered. 

For example, as an Enneagram 1, I live in the Instinctual Center, meaning I process experiences by my gut feelings first before any sense of proportion, logic or empathy kicks in. Hence, my knee-jerk reaction is often to get angry over something that’s not going as well as it could be. For Type 4s who exist in the heart center, experiences are processed through their feelings before anything else; hence they may be described as too emotional or sensitive.    

By understanding the triads, we can better understand our behavioral drivers. The triads tell us why we keep reacting in a certain way, even when we know our impulses are disproportionate, unhelpful or even silly. This is crucial for finding balance, as much of the drama we experience — things like conflict, anxiety or a sense of failure — is usually a symptom of our dominant center being a little too dominant. 

When the gut center dominates

For Enneagram Types Eight, Nine and One, the dominant center is the gut. These types are driven by the need for independence, both from other people and from the restrictive conditions of their environment. If you know someone who reacted very strongly against the recent lockdown and social distancing measures, for example, the chances are they were an autonomy-seeking 8, 9 or 1!

For these types, responses are extremely visceral. A strong gut feeling or intuition informs their decision-making, and they react almost immediately to their surroundings without ever really pausing to think about whether their impulses are meaningful, or how their reactions might affect others. 

More than anything, these types want to live with autonomy and self-determination in a clear-cut world of good and bad, right and wrong, where they can defend their territory and be grounded in the world. If they feel bad, they usually blame themselves. When their freedoms are restricted, they get angry, or sometimes they'll act with resentment or impatience at their own powerlessness. 

When gut types start to get angry or impatient for no obvious reason, it’s a sure sign they’re out of balance. The gut has much to say when it feels under threat, but it needs support from the head and heart centers to even things out. Take a deep breath and pause before you react, gut types. Talking to someone can calm you down and help you see other sides of the situation. And don't forget to engage your logic. This can be especially beneficial for helping you find security in what you do have, rather than kicking back against what you don’t have. 

When the heart center dominates

For Enneagram Types Two, Three and Four, feelings are of central importance. People in this group are chiefly guided by the emotional qualities that sustain relationships with others — things like recognition, social inclusion and emotional support. Whereas gut types focus on their inner sense of control, heart types direct the focus outwards. How am I perceived by others? Do people like me? What can I do to develop these relationships?

Above all, heart types want others to pay attention to them. They want to be noticed. Yes, they are emotionally intelligent and can both access their own feelings and adapt well to the moods and feelings of others. But the driver is less about supporting others in a truly altruistic way, and more about deriving a sense of self-worth from the appreciation they receive for their efforts. If their needs for recognition are not met, then a heart-type will react with panic, longing, sadness and, above all, shame. They feel flawed and undeserving if others are not actively appreciating their contributions. 

When heart types feel their self-esteem plummeting, then it’s a sure sign that their center of intelligence is out of balance. Seek balance by connecting with your own emotions, instead of looking for external approval. What is your gut telling you to do in this situation? Can your head center help you see that enough is enough?

When the head center dominates

For Enneagram Types Five, Six and Seven, the head dominates. This does not mean that these types are smarter than the others. Rather, our head center is the place where the desire for safety, competence and predictability are the primary instincts. 

The focus of the head types is analysis. For this group, the world is primarily perceived through a series of factual concepts. The goal is to gain security through the mental processes of planning, thinking and foresight. Head types trust these processes as the best way to help them gain control over potentially painful or dangerous situations.

What you’ll notice with head types is they navigate a new situation by first distancing themselves from it. Unlike gut types who act immediately, head types will not leap until they have looked and planned the situation very, very carefully. If you know someone who routinely overthinks things, they likely will belong to the head triad. 

When safety, reliability and predictability are in short supply, head types will react with fear, caution, mistrust and doubt. They can often be paralyzed by fear, risking inaction and complete detachment from their heart and gut if their safety is compromised. 

This is why, for head types, connection to the Instinctual and Feeling triads is essential for their well-being. Analyzing your experiences from a distance is not bad, but analysis in and of itself, without action, will not get you anywhere. Try talking to a heart-centered friend to get outside your head and inside your feelings. Give yourself permission to trust, and to act from, the gut. Without balance, you may find yourself stuck in a hole of observing your life, instead of fully living it. 

Jayne Thompson
Jayne is a B2B tech copywriter and the editorial director here at Truity. When she’s not writing to a deadline, she’s geeking out about personality psychology and conspiracy theories. Jayne is a true ambivert, barely an INTJ, and an Enneagram One. She lives with her husband and daughters in the UK. Find Jayne at White Rose Copywriting.