Strengths and Struggles of the Three Enneagram Centers of Intelligence

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.

In our introduction to the Centers of Intelligence, we explored how Body, Heart and Head types see the world. Now let’s look at how that translates into the natural strengths and struggles of each of the three centers.

As a reminder, Body types see the world through the lens of sensations, our five senses and physical movement. Their kinesthetic intelligence means they are quick to move into physical action.  Heart types see the world through the lens of feelings—theirs and others. With their emotional intelligence, they focus on relationships and remaining in connection with people. Finally, Head types see the world through the lens of thoughts and focus on wanting to analyze, understand and explain things. 

When we prioritize one way of seeing the world, we start to specialize in that language, in this case, either thoughts, feelings or movement. Doing so has its pros and cons. We become very good at some things at the expense of others. And our specialization can limit our ability to see the value in the other forms of intelligence.

(As a side note, intellectual or mental intelligence has been prized as the most important form of intelligence for the last several centuries. It is only in the last several decades has our understanding, and hence value, in emotional and kinesthetic or somatic intelligence started to rise. So Body and Heart types can struggle in environments that favour Head intelligence, of which there are many.)

Body Types: One right way to do things

Eights, Nines and Ones focus on action and movement. This intelligence works by sensing what needs to be done and then just doing it. There is no pausing for analysis or checking in with others’ feelings; there is just a very quick pathway between sensation and action. 

Internally decisions are either ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ There is no ‘maybe’. There is a clarity of action that comes from sensation and kinesthetic intelligence. This is why these types are often described as direct, practical and concrete, because they see what needs to be done without needing for it to be translated through feeling or thought.

Because of this, they find it easier to be themselves without the shapeshifting that Heart types find themselves doing. It is a sense of “this is who I am,” so authenticity comes a little easier to the Body types than the other centers. 

However, that ‘yes/no’ internal experience can lead to a few struggles for Body types. Because they quickly see the ‘one right way’ to do something, they can struggle to see other perspectives or alternatives. They can be rigid, prone to black and white thinking and struggle to see shades of grey. They may not understand why someone would do something a different way or that their view isn't obvious to everyone else. 

And while it is easy for them to get into motion or action, they can find it hard to stop doing something. They can fall into routines or habits, where actions become automatic and they don’t stop to review whether they should keep doing something —whether that is a process, project or a relationship. 

Heart Types: Missing a sense of their own identity

Where Body types can be fixed, Heart types can be flexible. Twos, Threes and Fours focus on connecting with others’ hearts and thus their feelings. They know that feelings change constantly. Unless you try to hold onto it, a feeling only lasts around 10 seconds. It is fleeting. And as feelings change, so do Heart types. How can they stick to a position when their view of reality (theirs and others feelings) is constantly in flux? So Heart types tend to be more flexible and adaptable than other types.

They also have an ability to express emotions in a way that Body and Head types find uncomfortable and off-putting. They are more physically expressive, through facial expressions and body language, but also verbally, through compliments and positive feedback.  And if Body types are quick to know what action to take, Heart types are quick to know what people need. 

But Heart types do struggle with knowing who they are. It can be hard for them to know what they like, need and value. And they need to be “in relationship” with people (this includes friends and family) to have a sense of their own identity, hence need regular approval and positive feedback to feel connected to others and themselves. 

Head Types: Struggle to take action

Fives, Sixes and Sevens see the world through their thoughts—and they have a lot of them. They have more thoughts simultaneously running through their heads than Body and Heart types. It can be overwhelming to decide which train of thought to pursue, so they either need to speak faster to say all of them or slow down to decide which to focus on.

This constant stream of thoughts means it’s easier for Head types to think in terms of multiple possibilities, to think up future scenarios as well as provide several plans for the future. Their mental agility means they find it easier to brainstorm random ideas and creatively connect them together. 

But for all their ideas, Head types struggle to take action. There is a gap between thinking and doing that can be hard to close and so they can struggle with procrastination. They disconnect from their body a little too easily, and feelings and sensations are filtered through their thoughts, so they find it hard to directly experience these parts of themselves in relationships and daily life. 

How do you start your day?

When you wake up in the morning, what is the first thing you do? Do you stretch, exercise or easily get into your daily routine? Do you journal about your feelings or speak to a loved one? Or do you start to plan out your day or read the news before getting out of bed?

By observing your morning routine, you can start to build an awareness of your dominant center. Ideally, you do a mix of all three of these things at the start of your day. Flowing from the Body center to the Heart center and finishing at the Head center. But most of us find ourselves overdoing one.

Using this model to increase your awareness of your strengths and struggles will help you better understand yourself, but also help you appreciate and have compassion for the strengths and struggles of the people in your life. Because we all have them. 

Samantha Mackay

Samantha is the Lead Trainer at Truity and will shortly be a certified Enneagram Coach. She believes our personality is the key to navigating life's strangest hurdles. Despite her best efforts Samantha is an ENTP and Enneagram 7, who is always surrounded by a pile of books, a steaming cup of tea and a block of her favourite chocolate. Samantha is currently studying with Beatrice Chestnut and Uranio Paes of CP Enneagram Academy undertaking their Professional Enneagram Certification. Currently located in Auckland, New Zealand. Find her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/samanthamackay/. Check out her course "Unlocking the Power of Your Personality" at www.truity.com/training

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