Understanding Enneagram Arrows: Your Three-step Pathway for Growth11 October 2021 / By Samantha Mackay Clinically Reviewed by Steven Melendy, PsyD. on October 11, 2021
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.
Arrows are core to the modern Enneagram system, adding another layer of movement on your journey towards personal growth. In this article, we are going to clarify what arrows are and when you might focus on them - clearing up some misconceptions along the way.
What are arrows and where can you find them?
“Arrows” is the term given to the lines within the Enneagram circle. Each of the primary nine Enneagram types has two lines emerging out of it, connecting it to two other types. Each line has an arrowhead on it, one pointing towards the primary type and one pointing away.
For each type, the arrow pointing towards it is known as the “against” arrow or what we will call the “Energizing” point. In this diagram, you’ll see that Seven is the Energizing point for Type One.
The arrow pointing away from the primary type is known as the “forward” arrow or what we will call the “Resolution” point. For example, Four is the Resolution point for Type One.
(We’ll dive into what those terms mean later in the article.)
Before we go any further, I want to talk about two misconceptions about arrows: first, the idea that each type has a good or bad arrow, which is just not true, and second, what actually happens when you move to each of the arrow points.
There are no good or bad arrows
The lines and arrows represent the movement that every type makes in certain situations or under particular circumstances. It is here that the confusion arises, since early in the Enneagram’s development, it was thought that there was a “good” arrow and a “bad” arrow you were moving towards.
It was suggested that when we moved to the “good” arrow, we were becoming more developed humans, and when we travelled along the “bad” arrow, we were undermining our development. This was sometimes referred to as “integration” and “disintegration.”
More recently, it has become clear that we actually need both arrows to develop into a balanced and functional human. That’s because both arrow points provide an important expansion for each personality type, and both are fundamental to creating sustained behavioral change.
Moving along the arrows - what does stress have to do with it?
When looked at in a positive way, the arrows represent strengths that we need to develop in order to balance out the limitations within our primary personality type. When we integrate the resources provided by each arrow, we gain a broader perspective, can tackle more challenges with ease, and find ourselves remaining calm under pressure.
However, we rarely move towards either arrow in a conscious way. More often we are moving towards them with a lower level of consciousness. Why is that?
When the adaptive strategies of our primary type aren’t able to manage with the situation we are in, our subconscious mind naturally looks for other ways to protect us and get our needs met. Basically, we say to ourselves, “okay my usual strategies aren’t working, what else is out there that I can try?”
The first place we look is our arrow points
Here’s an example. As a Seven, I have two options. I can either use the arrow to Five to withdraw, avoid people and take the time to analyze the situation. Or, if retreating isn’t an option, I can reach out to One and become more organized and structured. At One, I will become more critical of myself and others as I rigidly try to meet the high standards I have set.
While you could go to either arrow, the environment you are in and the type of pressure you are under will influence which arrow’s strategies you unconsciously adopt. We are more likely to reach out to the “against” or “behind” arrow when we are in a place of safety - a place where we feel we don't have to hide our true self. This might be your home or a relationship, such as a partner, family member or friend.
This is why some people feel more comfortable expressing their full range of emotions, such as anger or sadness, at home or with a partner. In this case, you are under pressure but in an environment that doesn't feel threatening.
By contrast, we are more likely to utilise the “forward” arrow in a situation where we feel compelled to take action, where something must be done.
Arrows in action - some examples
What defines as stressful will depend on your primary type. For example, a Three will find not having a lot of work to do difficult, while a Five will struggle when a lot of people want to talk to them.
For me, a Seven, I feel pressured when I have to create something that will be judged by others. That is when my Enneagram One perfectionist tendencies emerge. When I was a lawyer, I was fastidious about creating impeccable document folders for judges and barristers. I spent a lot of time at the photocopier making every page exactly as I wanted it to be.
But when I feel safe, but am struggling with a relationship or an issue in the home, I tend to withdraw and become a lot quieter. People get surprised to find such a big difference in my “at work and play” persona versus my “at home” one.
For a Five under pressure things would look a little different. In a space that feels safe, Fives will try to use their Eight resources to enforce their boundaries, becoming bossy, demanding and argumentative. But in another environment, the Five will try to use the Seven’s resources to relieve the pressure and instead become more distracted, non-committed, and in their heads.
Basically, unless we are actively working to use the arrows consciously for growth and development, we are reaching out to them with less awareness than we might appreciate. The key is to observe when we feel pressured and the strategies we have adopted to manage.
Energizing and Resolution - renaming the arrows
Over the decades, many names have been given to the “against” and “forward” arrows.
The against arrow has been called the:
- Security point
- Heart point
- Inner child point
The forward arrow has been called the:
- Stress point
- Growth Point
- Defensive point
These names focus on what the arrows do and the theory behind them, instead of how they can help us. This can be distracting. Instead of having a label for what the arrow does, let’s replace them with a description of how each arrow can help you.
Uranio Paes and Beatrice Chestnut have adopted the names the “Energizing” point for the against arrow, and the “Resolution” point for the forward arrow.
These points highlight the skills and abilities we need to develop in order to remain cool under pressure. They give us a checklist of things we can do to integrate those abilities more consciously.
The Resolution arrow represents the key challenges we need to master to become more balanced humans. That point represents what our personality type needs most in order to become fully human. However, we struggle to master these challenges and sustain that change without first integrating the wisdom from the Energizing arrow.
What we gain at the Energizing arrow acts like a trampoline or a springboard that provides us with both the energy and capacity to tackle the challenges that lay ahead of us.
How the Energizing and Resolution Points work: a 3-step pathway for growth
The two arrows provide us with a three step pathway for growth:
- Step 1, expand at the Energizing point
- Step 2, integrate those tools into our personality
- Step 3, master the challenges at the Resolution point
For example, as an Enneagram Seven, I avoid fear by pushing all my energy out into the world, being interested in everything and everyone, and being hungry for every opportunity, person, book, idea, party and experience that comes my way. I never allow myself to pause and take a breath, just in case something scary creeps into my consciousness. I have all sorts of crazy incredible ideas, many of which I start, but very few get finished or shared with the world.
What I really need to reach my full potential is the ability to finish things; to have the discipline to work methodically through the uncomfortable stuff, one thing at a time, until it's done. And to not allow boredom or fear to distract me.
Those skills can be found at point One, but I find them terrifying and trying to integrate them too early results in rebellion and chaos. Before I can do that, I must first pick up some essential skills from point Five.
At Five, Sevens learn to contain their energy - to narrow their focus and start to specialize. They are aware of their inner experience and become more comfortable being inside of themselves, rather than running from it. Their diaries become a little less crazy and it becomes easier to say ‘no’ to indulging in pleasurable experiences to escape.
Once these tools are integrated, I can move to point One.
Arrows as pathways for growth
We’ll take a more in-depth look at how each type can use the arrows for growth in next week’s article. For now, just remember you need the skills and resources from both arrows in order to become a more conscious, capable human.
And don’t worry if it takes a while to notice when you are travelling to your arrows. Life will continue to present you with “perfect for you” situations that pressure you in just the right way until you notice what is going on. You will have plenty of opportunities to notice your own behavior until you do spot the direction of travel.