Philosophy and Psychology Gave Birth to the Enneagram

Tue Jul 11 2023

Sigmund Freud squaring off with Plato

Philosophy and psychology crystalize when you start looking at the Enneagram.

Understanding ourselves and others is a hard thing to do.

Thinking about how the world works and how it should work is also hard.

You are dealing with who you are as a person and what it means to be conscious.

But there is a thing called the Enneagram (if you haven’t already heard of it) that can shed light on much of this. The Enneagram can be thought of as a framework that describes our behaviors, emotions, and thoughts in understandable patterns. And the interesting part is that both Plato and Sigmund Freud himself elude to the ideas in the Enneagram.

This article maps and connects the ideas of Plato Freud and the Enneagram.

Plato’s idea of the soul

Plato divided the idea of the human soul into three parts (the Tripartite Soul).

According to Plato, the soul consists of reason, spirit, and appetite.

  • Reason (logic): Plato believed the soul’s rational aspect guides our thinking and decision-making.
  • Spirit (emotions): For Plato, the spirited part of the soul drives our feelings and desires.
  • Appetite (instincts): Plato’s third component, appetite, governs our primal needs and drives.

This 3 part division appears again when you look at Freud’s description of the Psyche.

Freud’s idea of the Psyche

Freud had a model of the mind in which he described three distinct parts: the id, ego, and superego.

  • Id (instincts): The id represents our basic and subconscious instincts and desires.
  • Ego (logic): The ego is our conscious mind, responsible for rational thought and decision-making.
  • Superego (emotions): The superego is our moral compass, guiding us through our emotions and interpersonal relationships, and it is partly in both our conscious and subconscious mind.
Freud's conscious iceburg

The Enneagram framework

The Enneagram is a personality system that identifies personality types based on childhood wounds.

These childhood wounds form as a result of an underdeveloped response (or sensitivity) to one of 3 emotions. Those three emotions are anger, fear, and shame. But it is not all bad because, from those three emotions, people learn to develop coping mechanisms in response to those three emotions.

  • Fear- People with an underdeveloped response to fear become very logical.
  • Anger- People with an underdeveloped response to anger become very attuned to their instincts.
  • Shame- People with an underdeveloped response to shame become very emotionally intelligent.

Below is a further explanation.

Fear and Intellectual Intelligence

Fear is the driving force behind intellectual intelligence. Humans are wired to predict and avoid dangerous situations, which helps keep us safe. To do this, we construct complex intellectual world models, considering hypothetical scenarios and potential outcomes. Over time, this process leads to developing a sophisticated understanding of the world around us.

Fear Example: Imagine a person who fears losing their job. To prevent this, they might develop an elaborate mental model of their workplace dynamics, anticipating potential pitfalls and strategizing ways to ensure job security.

Shame and Emotional Intelligence

Shame is the core emotion behind emotional intelligence. Our desire to be accepted and valued by others drives us to manage and navigate our emotions effectively. We learn to express our feelings in ways that foster connection and empathy while understanding and responding to the emotions of others.

Shame Example: A child who experiences shame for not fitting in with their peers might learn to develop emotional intelligence to understand better and relate to others, ultimately finding a sense of belonging and acceptance.

Anger and Instinctual Intelligence

Anger is the fundamental emotion fueling the development of instinctual intelligence. Our innate need to protect ourselves and our resources can give rise to anger, which then propels us to take action. As we learn to channel and control our anger, we develop the capacity to respond effectively to threats and challenges, ultimately honing our instinctual intelligence.

Anger Example: Consider someone who experiences anger when they feel their boundaries have been violated. Over time, they learn to assert their borders and protect their well-being, developing a keen sense of instinctual intelligence.

Putting it all together, Plato Freud and the Enneagram

It is as if Plato, Freud, and the Enneagram are all discussing the same ideas but from different perspectives.

Freud     Plato     Enneagram Center of Intelligence Enneagram Core Emotion
id         appetite instinctual/ body                 anger                  
ego       reason   intellectual/ head               fear                  
super ego spirit   emotional/ heart                 shame                  

If Plato, Freud, and any Enneagram practitioner were in a room they would all be talking about the same ideas.

They would talk about 3 parts of the mind, 3 parts of the soul, and 3 core emotions. Freud and Plato would see many of their ideas reflected in the Enneagram’s systems and they would be eager to study it further. The three of them would be inspired and be able to dive deeper into their domains from this interaction.

But alas this wont happen.

Because 2 of the 3 are dead. 😢

I guess it is up to us to make the connections and dive deeper.

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