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.
Sometimes I really wish the Enneagram wasn’t so honest. Because if reading about your passion last week felt like someone had donned boxing gloves and hit you in the chest with a few quick jabs, today’s article is going to feel like there is an uppercut coming in your direction. So get ready.
And if you haven't read the article on passions, it might make sense to start there.
We looked at how passions are unconscious patterns of emotion that influence many of our behaviors. Today, instead of looking at the heart, we are going to look at the head.
Just as we have emotional patterns, we also have thought patterns. These repeated thoughts or “cognitive fixations” start as a false thought that we come to believe is true. We then shape ourselves around this belief, and we see the world around us through the lens of this fixation.
Our fixation is tricky to see (and escape from) as it influences most of our thoughts and perceptions. To our subconscious mind this false belief is very true and very real. This becomes a default way of thinking that we refer to in the Enneagram as a fixation.
Just like with passions, some of the names for the nine fixations of the Enneagram can be confusing or misleading. Again, they are simple words trying to encapsulate complex concepts.
Here I am going to define what each one means and attempt to point out the false assumption for you. But don’t worry if this is hard for you to see the thought directly, just pay attention to the actions it generates.
Enneagram Ones - Resentment - “It’s not fair!”
Resentment is a complex emotion—but one ultimately driven by thoughts and beliefs. Resentment is thinking that you have to stay home and be responsible while everyone else goes out and has fun. It is that false belief that you, and you alone, shoulder the burden and take responsibility for getting things done, while others are slacking off - and that it’s just not fair, but you do it anyway.
Enneagram Twos - Flattery - “I am nice to people”
Flattery is the act of complimenting others. As a fixation, flattery is the need to make others feel good, that your identity requires you to impact others positively. And this is done by being nice, giving compliments and making others feel special.
Enneagram Three - Vanity - “I am important”
Vanity is not about taking excessive pride in one’s appearance. It is the false belief that the person is more central to the situation than they actually are. That without them nothing would happen, and if they leave, everything would grind to a complete halt or simply fall apart. Like a business would stop running if they resigned.
Enneagram Four - Melancholy - “Something is wrong with me”
Again, this sounds like it’s a feeling but it’s a false belief. It is a continuing thought that something is wrong with me, that something essential is missing, and despite their best efforts it’s permanent. This creates a sense of sadness or nostalgia for the past self, making it had to ever be satisfied or content in the present.
Enneagram Five - Stinginess - “I must protect what I have”
This is a false belief that unless I hoard my time, energy and space, I will have nothing. That there is no such thing as abundance, only scarcity and that if I stop strategizing how to control my resources and environment, the world around me will suck up my resources for itself. This includes an insatiable thirst for knowledge and a reluctance to share it.
Enneagram Six - Cowardice - “It’s not safe”
This is the fixed idea that life isn’t safe and people are not to be trusted. It is the false belief that everything that can go wrong will go wrong, and the only way to have a positive outcome is to question everything and plan for the worst. Thoughts of doubt and worry creep into everything, leading to anticipating all the bad things that could happen.
Enneagram Seven - Planning - “I plan for fun”
This is the false belief that unless their schedule is filled with pleasant things to do, then they will suffer. This is the thought that life’s plan will only bring pain, limitation and restrictions, and the only way to avoid these things is to have a plan for as many enjoyable things to happen as possible.
Enneagram Eight - Vengeance - “I must even the score”
Eights believe that only the strong survive. And they have taken it upon themselves to correct injustice committed against themselves and others. They believe they have to stand up and be strong to ensure that no crime goes unpunished and the people know there are consequences for their actions.
Enneagram Nine - Indolence - “I’m not important”
This is the false belief that they are less important than others. With this fixation in place, the Nine devalues themselves, goes against their own interests and puts themselves last. They don’t express their thoughts and opinions, believing others' opinions are more important and hold greater weight.
Working with the fixation
It is easy to read these fixations from a distance and see how ridiculous they are. And yet, all of us have one of these stuck in our head. And, we can’t just grab some tweezers and pull the mindworm out through our ear.
Instead, we have to notice these thoughts and laugh at their absurdity. To make fun at how outrageous they are. Of course I can go and have fun! How silly I am thinking that the world revolves around me! Have you heard the saying, “man plans, god laughs” but I keep making them! Wow, who would have thought abundance and scarcity are so similar!
Working with fixations isn’t your first priority when using the Enneagram for your personal growth, so for now, it's useful to know these exist and that they are influencing how you see the world and yourself.