This blog post is part of our Fundamentals of the Enneagram series, which takes a deeper dive into all the Enneagram elements - wings, arrows, subtypes, centers of intelligence, growth pathways and more. For an overview of the series, start with our introductory post here.
Our emotional health is an important part of our overall psychological health. And yet learning about our emotions—how to experience and manage them in healthy ways—is something few of us are taught. It’s left up to our parents, life experience or self-study to help us understand just what is going on in our emotional world.
So it’s no surprise that many of us push away feelings that we don’t know how to handle. We find ways to smother them with doughnuts, a nightly glass of wine, or staying late at work.
Yet feelings are not something that can be controlled. The more tightly we hold on, or the harder we push them away, the bigger they kick back (even if that kickback comes years down the track).
Today we are going to look at the four core emotions and the relationship each of the nine Enneagram types has with them. By the end of this article, you’ll have a better understanding of which emotion each type needs to focus on to become more aware of their emotions in a healthy way.
What are the four core emotions?
The four core emotions are anger, fear, sadness and happiness. Let’s talk about each briefly.
Anger helps us to know we have unmet needs and that our boundaries have been crossed. It can look like irritation, frustration or even more passive-aggressive behaviors. Being able to access and express our anger in healthy ways gives us a stronger sense of self as well as the ability to take a stand for ourselves and others, for right and wrong.
Fear helps us assess risks, to apply caution and seek safety and protection. Fear can be both real, an actual threat, or perceived or imagined threats. Perceived fear arises in the mind from the stories we tell ourselves. We feel fear when we are afraid of not being in control of the outcome, of what will happen next or how the future will play out.
Sadness, or grief at loss, is about our relationships and experiencing loss. Sadness reminds us that our connections with people matter to us, how much we care about someone when that relationship is no longer available to us. Just like fear, we can feel sad about real or perceived loss. Sadness is what naturally follows when love ends, and grieving reminds how much we cared about that relationship.
Happiness helps us celebrate life, and find joy and wonder in the world around us. And happiness can feel really great, even if it only lasts a little while.
Why are emotions important?
All emotions are essential to us. They provide us with vital information about our values, our relationships and our environment. They bring us information about who we are, what’s important to us, what’s okay and what isn’t. They help us celebrate life and connect us with people.
However, our experience of emotions is not always healthy.
A healthy process of experiencing specific emotions is to be open and receptive to them. Allowing yourself to just observe, notice or feel what is coming up emotionally— whether that is physical sensations or something else. Simply allow the emotion to be there and just feel it, labelling it if you can.
Feelings just want to be heard, and naturally only stay for about 8-10 seconds. It is only when we try to dismiss them or attach a story to them that they hang around much longer. When you don’t express your emotions in a healthy way, you will act them out in unconscious ways, something that looks a little different for each type.
The impact of cultural distortions
Something else to consider is the impact of our culture. Of themselves, feelings are non-judgmental. However, in some cultures, familial or social, negative beliefs have been attached to certain emotional experiences.
For example, displaying anger is often considered to be bad and unacceptable. Anger itself is not the problem here, and remember anger helps us be assertive and enforce our boundaries. But anger can become harmful if we don’t know how to manage or express it in healthy ways.
Here’s another example: some societies do not welcome people being “too emotional,” whether that is crying or openly grieving. And in some cultures this also has a gender bias. For men, it’s okay to display anger, but not fear or sadness. And for women, it’s okay to be sad but not to be angry.
Which means, we also need to consider our relationship to these emotions as part of our emotional experience. How do you judge yourself when you feel angry? Sad? Afraid?
How emotions relate to the centers of intelligence
A quick word about feelings and the three centers of intelligence.
Each of the types within the three centers of intelligence, Body, Head and Heart, have a special relationship with one of the core emotions. For example, the Body types have a special relationship with anger. Of the three Body types (Eight, Nine and One):
- The Eight overuses anger
- The Nine underuses anger
- The One is somewhere in the middle.
This plays out across all three centers of intelligence. Head types, for example, have a special relationship with fear. Sixes over-do fear, Sevens under-do fear and Fives are somewhere in between.
Heart types have a relationship with sadness, or grief at loss, which makes sense as they are more likely to define themselves based on the status of their relationships than the other triads. Fours overuse sadness, Threes underdo sadness and Twos are in the middle.
The nine types and core emotions
Eights find it easy to draw on anger. Not afraid to express it, Eights are comfortable being assertive, engaging in conflict and taking charge if no one else is. For Eights, anger is more like energy, a physical sensation, than an actual feeling. It rises up quickly and is released quickly. It’s not healthy for an Eight to try to hold their anger in, but they may need to find safe spaces to vent it while they figure out how much to express to people.
Eights have little access to fear or sadness. They deny the existence of these more vulnerable emotions as they feel weak and out of control when they experience them. However, anger is often masking deeper hurts that won’t be resolved simply by releasing the anger. Eights need to find a way to get more in touch with the sadness and hurt in their heart.
Eights can appear happier than other types, as their intensity can be expressed as excessive excitement or happiness. However, this may not be true happiness, more of a physical intensity as a way to control the environment and their personal space.
Nine's strategy of numbing or dissociating from their emotions means they are not an emotional type, despite how they appear. Their warmth and friendliness has more to do with their desire to keep the peace than a true sense of happiness.
Nines desire to avoid conflict, means they go to sleep on their anger. And as Brene Brown says, “we cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb our pain we also numb our joy.” And so Nines dissociate from all emotions, and experience low levels of anger, sadness, fear and happiness.
However, underneath, that anger is very large. Like anyone suppressing anger, they act it out in other ways. For a Nine that looks like saying yes, but thinking no, stubbornness, and other forms of passive-resistant and passive-aggressive behaviours. Nines need to get in touch with their anger, so they can express an opinion and ask for what they want.
Ones have an internal conflict with their anger. Instead of expressing it,they turn it into something more acceptable, like politeness. Ones can often appear more intellectual and rational than angry, but their unexpressed anger can leak out in the form of irritation, criticism or sarcasm.
In families or societies that do not value sadness, Ones can have a hard time experiencing or expressing that feeling. Instead they will rationalize it by criticizing themselves for feeling something “so bad” or pushing past it fearing it will “slow them down.”
Some Ones feel fear very strongly, because they had a lot of responsibility placed on them in childhood, and fear that if they “aren't in control of every detail, something bad will happen.” Other type Ones experience very little fear at all. Similarly with happiness, Ones will also deny the usefulness of happiness and push it away.
All Ones benefit from learning how to get more in touch with their anger, to express it and channel it in healthy ways.
Two only express feelings that will maintain their relationships, that ensure people continue to like them. Hence Twos are less likely to display anger, fear or sadness because they perceive that expressing negative emotions will push people away.
It is easier for Two’s to express sadness, and they can quickly swing from happiness to sadness and back again. They do in fact cry a lot, just not in front of other people. And if they don't express anger, they will act it out as resentment.
They are likely to appear very happy and cheerful. Who doesn't like happy people! However, this isn’t genuine happiness, it's more of a fake veneer to ensure the people around them feel happy too.
Twos need to practice observing their feelings generally, and how they are motivating them to act.
Threes don’t appear very emotional, but they are in fact some of the most emotional types on the Enneagram! While they felt a lot of sadness as a child, they learnt to push their feelings aside in order to be more productive and achieve their goals. Emotions are always nearby for a Three, and it takes constant effort to push them away.
Threes find that sadness slows them down the most, so it's the emotion they resist most often. They don’t want to feel that sense of loss in their relationships as they try to prove themselves. For Threes, anger looks more like impatience, impatience at anyone or anything that blocks them from achieving their tasks.
Experiencing fear can be very good for a Three. It helps them to slow down and assess the risks of their current work and lifestyle choices.
While Fours are stereotypically known for being sad, and complaining about life a lot, Fours are quite a mixed bag. Some Fours appear to be very happy as they hide their sadness very well. Other Fours find it easier to hide their hurt with anger, and lash out at people.
Overall, instead of getting caught up in their emotions and holding onto them, Fours benefit from remembering that feelings are transitory and don’t hang around for long, unless you attach a story to them. Fours need to practice focusing on the sensation of feelings in their body and find ways to take practical action on them.
Fives are the least emotional type in general, experiencing low levels of each of the emotions. While Fives disconnect from feelings, they are actually more adept at avoiding situations where they know they would experience fear, or other strong emotions.
But just because they disconnect from emotions, doesn't mean they aren't acting them out in other ways. Fives act out their fear by controlling what is happening, controlling the time or the people they deal with, or using mental models to understand how the world works. They aim to detach from sadness by avoiding people, but really they are very sensitive to connection and people moving away from them.
Fives start to reconnect to people and their body by expressing anger. By being more assertive about their boundaries and needs, rather than withdrawing and disconnecting, they open themselves up to greater connection while still managing their fears around energy and emotional overwhelm.
Sixes experience fear more directly and look for ways to respond to it. Just like animals, Sixes can respond with flight, fight or finding protection as a way to manage fear. So some Sixes express more anger and others become more friendly.
However, underneath there's a lot of anxiety. And that can leak out in various forms, including crying. Sixes can appear sad, but often it's more fear looking like sadness. And it's hard to express happiness when you are worried about what will happen next and are busy making plans for the worst possible scenarios. Sixes need to connect more to their anger to bring them into the present, they can assess which fears are real and which are imagined.
Sevens can appear very emotional, but may actually feel very little. To avoid feeling fear, Sevens embrace happiness, and can appear happy, excited and positive as a way to keep the darkness at bay. They struggle to feel sadness, hurt and pain, fearing that if they allow it in, it will stay forever.
Sevens are not often aware of feeling fear, but in addition to excitement, it leaks out as restlessness, an inability to sit still, multi-tasking, and being fascinated with all the possibilities and options available to them.
Sevens don't express anger often, although you are more likely to see it at home than in public. Although often, it's another way to discharge fear.
Developing your emotions for personal growth
Becoming more aware of our emotions is an essential part of our growth and development. We need to know what feelings are showing up and when, before we can do any meaningful work on our personality.
The best way to start practicing this is by checking in with yourself several times a day with some simple questions:
- What am I feeling right now?
- Am I mad, sad, glad or afraid?
- Or a combination of these things?
- What is fueling these feelings?
Practice observing the sensations that arise and avoid trying to analyse those feelings, or create a story about them, just sense them in your body without trying to turn them into something else. And if you find yourself getting stuck in a feeling, aim to express it in a healthy way. That includes writing in a journal, talking with a therapist, going for a run or to a boxing class, or painting or playing music.