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. For an understanding of wings, check out this post.
When confronted with a problem or challenge, we get a choice in how we respond to it. Do we open up to the invitation of growth and development or do we continue trying to address the issue with the limited tools of our primary personality? Most of the time it’s the latter. But on the occasions when you feel ready to see the situation from a new perspective, or if you have become frustrated with repeating the same pattern again and again, then it’s time to look for some help. You have a few choices.
Wings are resources for growth. That means they provide insights, guidance and practices on how to break through our personality’s defenses and help ourselves see beyond the limits of our personality's narrow focus.
In this article, we are going to dive into how and when to use wings for growth.
Just like flying a plane
Wherever you are, stand up. Place your arms by your side and your feet together. Now raise your arms, feel the additional stability that brings to your body. That is like what our wings offer our personality. Just like an aeroplane needs wings, so do you.
Uplifting and Stabilizing: the order in which to grow
There are so many different approaches to growth and development that you could easily become overwhelmed by all the choices, preventing you from getting into all the juicy stuff. What is great about the Enneagram is it shows you where to start.
One important principle of the Enneagram is that for any kind of growth practice, we need to go backwards before we can go forwards. For Wings, that means going to the type “behind” your primary type first, then to the “forward” type. When looking for the wing that’s behind you, think counterclockwise, and clockwise for the forward wing. For example, the behind wing for a Seven is at Six, and the forward wing is at Eight. For a Two, the behind wing is at One, and the forward wing at Three. For a Nine, the behind wing is at Eight and the forward wing at One.
There is a very important reason why we start our growth practice at this point. Seeking to integrate the insights from the behind wing gives us a broader perspective and the capacity to be able to work with the insights from the forward wing in a sustainable way. That is, without going backwards first, we will struggle to handle what the forward wing tries to give us.
To continue the airplane metaphor, the behind wing gives our airplane lift, it helps us to get off the ground. And the forward wing helps to stabilise the plane and fly in the direction we really want to go. While this metaphor does not pass the laws of aerodynamics, it is a useful way to think about wings. Hence I have called the behind wing the “Uplifting” wing and the forward wing, the “Stabilizing” wing.
The “Uplifting” wing gives us the capacity and perspective we need in order to be able to integrate the development we can gain from our “Stabilizing” wing. So when using wings for growth, focus on the “Uplifting” wing first and then integrating the “Stabilizing” wing.
Applying wings: Practices for your types
Let’s look at how using these two wings for growth can look like for each type. We’ll start with the three Body types, then move to the three Heart types and wrap up with the head types.
Not sure what that means? Read our introduction on the Centers of Intelligence.
Enneagram Type Eight
When working with the wings, an Eight first needs to travel back to Seven. Here they can learn to integrate humor, creativity and imagination into their approach. Instead of leaping into action directly to maintain control, they can practice visualizing different possible paths and outcomes for the project, while also injecting more fun into the tasks.
Being able to imagine different options enables the Eight to shift over to Nine. At Nine, Eights learn how to understand and appreciate the perspective of other people and consider their perspective before making a decision.
Enneagram Type Nine
Nines need to spend some time at Eight, before they can go to One. At Eight, Nine’s learn to be more direct and assertive. They allow themselves to feel their anger and say why they are frustrated.
Being able to own their power allows the Nine to move to One to be more disciplined and focused on self-improvement and express their opinions more directly.
Enneagram Type One
At Nine, Ones start to see different points of view and can balance their adherence to what is right with others’ agendas. It also supports their ability to relax and go with the flow.
Being able to allow for different perspectives, enables the One to move over to Two and connect more with other people, to balance tasks with relationships, and just have more fun connecting with others.
Enneagram Type Two
At One, Twos build the capacity to be more self-disciplined, enabling them to balance their attention to relationships with process and improvement. By creating a more self-supportive structure, Twos are able to clarify their needs, priorities and standards.
Without this discipline and focus, Twos would struggle to incorporate the Three’s focus on tasks and goals. At Three, Twos can consider tasks that help them personally succeed, not just ones that support others.
Enneagram Type Three
When Three takes the time to travel back to Two, they can balance their ability to get things done with considering what people need and how they feel. Creating rapport with people, especially those they rely on to get things done, helps them to appreciate people beyond what they can do for them.
That focus on understanding others' feelings, opens the door to Four, allowing the Three to gain more access to their own emotions. Instead of just setting those feelings aside, at Four, Threes can build a stronger self-of-self which leads to having more empathy for others.
Enneagram Type Four
Spending some time at their Uplifting wing at Three helps the Four balance their emotional intensity with a focus on productivity. They give more attention to goals, tasks and the next item on their task list.
This focus on goals and having a vision for success gives them a new way to work with their emotions, enabling them to detach from emotions at Five and be more objective. They develop an ability to balance their emotional intuition with intellectual rigor.
Enneagram Type Five
At Four, Fives can start to incorporate the information provided by emotions into their naturally analytical approach. By focusing more on emotions and connections with others, they can bring more people into their life and take a different approach with their need for privacy and boundaries.
Bringing more feelings into the mix allows a Five to get more stability from Six. Here, they can be more in touch with fear and assess it more clearly, instead of hiding from it altogether. It also allows them to collaborate more with others and engage more deeply in the problem-solving process.
Enneagram Type Six
For Sixes, the journey back to Five gives them some space from their fearful feelings and allows them to detach. This helps them step back and take a broader view of the situation, considering data from a range of different sources.
Then when the Six flies to Seven, they have enough difference and perspective to start seeing some threats in a positive light. They can start to explore best case scenarios instead of just worst case ones.
Enneagram Type Seven
For overly optimistic Sevens, going to Six allows them to see and consider more negative data and start to have more awareness around their fears. It helps them to slow down and ask more questions about what is really going on with the problem they wish to solve.
Which means when they go to Eight, they can really start to take action and get traction on implementing their plans. Here they enjoy taking the lead, feel more confident dealing with obstacles and difficult people.
The first step in any growth process is to just observe your own reactions and behaviors. Notice your patterns and go-to strategies for protecting yourself in times of stress. It is important that you observe yourself without judgment, or even observe your judgments as they, too, are part of your personality's defensive structure.