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Enneagram Centers of Intelligence: Head, Heart, Gut

The Three Centers of Intelligence

The Enneagram centers, sometimes referred to as "the triads," define three types of intelligence we use to process or relate to the world: the head, the heart, and the gut. Each of the nine Enneagram personality types is preoccupied more with one center than the other two.

A tri-center approach is sometimes used to describe variations of a given type. With this approach, an individual is not seen simply as one type but three types, one type from each center.

Enneagram personality type authors and teachers apply a variety of different labels and concepts to the centers. This can lead not only to varied interpretations of each center but also varied interpretations for how each type uses its primary center. Let's take a look at the most common labeling of the centers first.

Head, Heart, and Gut

The three centers of intelligence for the Enneagram types are commonly called the head or head-based center, the heart of heart-based center, and the gut or body-based center.

The types pointed to by the triangle on the Enneagram symbol (3, 6, and 9) lie in the middle of each center. The types on either side of 3, 6, and 9 make up the two other types in those centers.

  • 567: Head or Head-Based Types
  • 234: Heart or Heart-Based Types
  • 891: Gut or Body-Based Types

The Head Types

Although the head types can be thought of in terms of reasoning, analyzing, and other typical thinking functions, a useful distinction from the other two centers can be made in terms of anticipating and preparing for future possibilities.

This may involve gathering data and facts in order to better predict outcomes, preparing for negative potentialities that might occur, and planning or pursuing activities that provide enjoyment and avoid discomfort.

The Heart Types

The heart types are focused on interpreting, expressing, and reacting to one’s own emotions or the emotions of others. More specifically, the heart center focuses on what's emotionally significant in the sense that emotions are an indication of how strongly a person resonates with or against something or someone.

This may involve being attentive to the emotional needs and desires of others, seeking emotional affirmation for oneself from others, and expressing one's own unique emotional impression of the world.

The Gut or Body Types

There are several ways to interpret what the gut or body types represent. They may be thought of in terms of sensory-somatic (bodily felt sensation), sensory-motor (physical movement and activity), or instinctual (gut decision making).

This may involve taking action based on one's gut instinct, getting pulled along by the agenda of others, and actively trying to correct what's seen as wrong in the world.

Fear, Shame, and Anger

The three centers are sometimes presented in terms of an underlying emotional energy at work within the center: fear, shame, and anger.

  • 567: Fear Triad
  • 234: Shame Triad
  • 891: Anger Triad

While fear, shame, and anger are the primary labels associated with each center, variations of those emotional energies, and sometimes altogether different emotions, may also be associated with a given center by different teachers and authors.

The Fear Triad

The fear triad consists of types 5, 6, and 7. Fear for these types involves the head center. It can be thought of as a negative anticipation of future possibilities and wanting to prepare for or avoid those possibilities.

This may involve learning as much as possible in order to feel competent and knowledgeable, imagining worst-case scenarios and preparing for them, and having alternatives available to avoid being trapped in discomfort or pain.

The Shame Triad

The shame triad consists of types 2, 3, and 4. Shame for these types involves the heart center. It can be thought of as a feeling of deficiency for not living up to a more idealized sense of self.

This may involve initiating connection with others to avoid feeling unlovable or unimportant in the lives of others, finding value and worth through performance and accomplishment, and finding significance by cultivating and expressing one's uniqueness.

The Anger Triad

The anger triad consists of types 8, 9, and 1. Anger for these types involves the gut or body center. It can be thought of as an energy of will that pushes against obstacles to create movement or resists being pushed.

This may involve pushing through obstacles to get what one wants, stubbornly resisting attempts to be pushed in an undesired direction, and getting people to see what's right and correcting things not done right.

234 as Image Types

Type 3 is said to be the most image conscious type. In fact, the passion ascribed to type 3 through Ichazo’s Enneagram of Passions is deceit and Naranjo associated the type with a marketing orientation.

The passion of deceit is often taken to mean a misrepresentation of oneself or a packaging of oneself to gain recognition or acceptance within a particular group or for a particular audience. Image becomes another means for navigating the environment or culture in which one is trying to succeed.

Because it can be difficult to reconcile the idea of type 3 as a heart or feeling type, many authors and teachers describe the 234 center as image-based. When type 3 is presented as the core type of the image triad, types 2 and 4 are reinterpreted as image types as well. This is often done by associating shame or feeling with an image that each type is trying to maintain or present.

For example, type 2 might maintain an image of self-sacrifice and generosity that hides a feeling of being unlovable while type 4 might cover over an internalized feeling of lack and defectiveness by presenting an image of uniqueness or authenticity.

891 as Self-Forgetting Types

Type 9 is said to be the most self-forgetting of the nine types. With a tendency to go along to get along, it’s easy for them to lose track of their own agenda or opinion. It often seems that the agenda or opinion of others is more important than their own.

There can also be a tendency to avoid looking too closely at things that might create disruptions or discomfort in the type 9 life. As such, there sometimes develops a habitual avoidance of self-awareness in favor of keeping things flowing smoothly or comfortably.

It can be difficult to see type 9 as anger-based when it's said that type 9 goes to sleep to anger. Type 9 can also have trouble initiating action which can make it seem out of place in the gut or doing center. Because of this the 891 center is sometimes labeled as self-forgetting to better align it with type 9. Types 8 and 1 are then reinterpreted as self-forgetting types as well.

When self-forgetting is emphasized with types 8 and 1, introspection and self-awareness is described as being displaced or avoided (i.e., forgotten) by focusing instead on making things happen and getting things done.

Behavioral, Emotional, and Mental Centers

While it can be useful to group the nine types into three centers of three types each, it’s important to avoid the trap of seeing the three types in a given center as using that center in the same way. In other words, it’s important to remember that each type uses its primary center differently than the other two types in that same center.

The core focus approach to the Enneagram types sees the types not in terms of personality but in terms of a habitual focus that has a strong influence upon personality. Through this approach the centers are described as the Behavioral Center (891), the Emotional Center (234), and the Mental Center (567).

While the types are still grouped into three centers (behavioral, emotional, mental), they also describe how each type specifically uses that center.

Behavioral Center

  • Type 8: Behavioral Assertiveness - pushes through obstacles to get what's wanted.
  • Type 9: Behavioral Accommodation - yields to or joins in with the flow of movement.
  • Type 1: Behavioral Correctness - discerns right from wrong and acts accordingly.

Emotional Center

  • Type 2: Emotional Connection - connects to others through emotional empathy.
  • Type 3: Emotional Ambition - finds validation through achievement and recognition.
  • Type 4: Emotional Authenticity - expresses what feels true and real for oneself.

Mental Center

  • Type 5: Mental Observation - observes the world by pulling back from it and watching.
  • Type 6: Mental Questioning - probes to alleviate doubts and find what can be trusted.
  • Type 7: Mental Possibility - avoids limitations while exploring interesting possibilities.

The Tri-Center Approach

The Enneagram personality types evolved from Oscar Ichazo's ego-types which represented nine types of ego fixation. Although an individual would identify a single fixation to work on, a more complete approach was to identify one fixation from each of the three centers. This was called a person's tri-fix.

This approach of identifying a dominant Enneagram type in each of the three centers for a person has been described using various names, such as Trifix, Tritype, and TrueType. In order to avoid any trademark or copyright issues I'll refer to this approach of identifying a type from each center for a person as the tri-center approach.

With the tri-center approach, as applied to the Enneagram personality types, an individual identifies a dominant gut type, heart type, and head type. There can also be an order of preference for those three dominant types or centers as well.

For example, an individual may identify their primary type as type 1. This would mean their dominant gut type (8, 9, or 1) is also type 1. Let's say their dominant heart type (2, 3, or 4) is type 3 and their dominant head type (5, 6, or 7) is type 7.

As for an order of preference, type 1 would be the 1st type since it is their primary type overall. If type 7 were preferred over type 3 then the order of the three types would be 1-7-3.

One use of the tri-center approach can be to explain variations within Enneagram type as well as similarities between different types.

  • Why two people of the same type seem different (e.g., 1-7-3 compared to 1-4-5).
  • Why two people of different types seem similar (e.g., 1-7-3 compared to 7-1-3).

Enneagram Tests to Help Determine Centers

Enneagram Centers

The Enneagram personality types group the nine types into three centers of intelligence often referred to as the gut, heart, and head centers.

These tests help you find your dominant type in each center and the order of preference for those centers.

  • Dominant Type in Each Center with Wings Test
    This test determines your dominant type in each center (aka tri-center, trifix, tritype, truetype) along with the wings of those types.
    Use when you want to know your tri-center or tri-center with wings.

  • Enneagram Type Preference Test
    This test produces a scored list of all nine types.
    Questions are forced-choice, similar to the method used by the Riso-Hudson Enneagram Type Indictor (RHETI).
    Use to determine type, wings, gut/heart/head types, and tri-center.

  • Center Type Comparison Test
    This test scores the three types in a given center to determine your dominant type within that center (gut, heart, or head type).
    Use when you don't know your dominant type for one of the centers.

  • Type Comparison Test
    This test compares any two types, producing a score for each.
    Use when unsure of your tri-center order or which of two types is preferred for a center.

Click here for the Complete Guide to the Enneagram.

This free guide explains
  • the nine Enneagram personality types
  • the many type variations within type
  • where the types came from (origins and history)
  • how the types use the Enneagram symbol

Click here for Enneagram tests.

These free tests help you find your
  • primary type
  • candidate types
  • preferred wing
  • intinctual subtype
  • instinctual variant stacking
  • center types (gut, heart, and head)
  • tri-center with wings

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