Philosophy and Psychology Gave Birth to the Enneagram

Tue Jul 11 2023

Sigmund Freud squaring off with Plato

Philosophy and Psychology, let's get poetic.

Understanding ourselves is a journey marked by fascinating waypoints in the intricate tapestry of human consciousness. One such is the Enneagram, a potent prism refracting the complexity of our behaviors and personal growth into understandable patterns. This voyage of self-discovery becomes even more profound when we trace the roots of the Enneagram back to its philosophical lineage. This article maps the fascinating intersections between the Enneagram’s intelligence centers, Freud’s influential constructs of the psyche, and Plato’s timeless blueprint of the human soul.

Here, we dive into how core emotions sculpt these intelligence centers, which will give us a glimpse into our minds’ internal landscapes.

The Enneagram’s Roots in Philosophy

The Enneagram’s philosophical lineage often gets overlooked.

Yes, the Enneagram is a popular tool for understanding human behavior and growth, but many of its ideas resemble those of great thinkers of the past. In this article, we’ll explore the connections between the Enneagram’s intelligence centers, Freud’s ideas on the human psyche, and Plato’s concept of the human soul. By doing so, we’ll better understand how our core emotions shape these intelligence centers.

Plato’s Tripartite Soul and the Enneagram

The Enneagram’s intelligence centers align remarkably well with Plato’s idea of the human soul. According to Plato, the soul consists of reason, spirit, and appetite. These three components correspond to the Enneagram’s intellectual intelligence, emotional intelligence, and instinctual intelligence centers.

Reason (intellectual intelligence): Plato believed the soul’s rational aspect guides our thinking and decision-making. This aligns with the Enneagram’s intelligence center, which focuses on understanding the world around us. Spirit (emotional intelligence): For Plato, the spirited part of the soul drives our emotions and desires. This connects to the Enneagram’s emotional center, which manages our emotions and interpersonal relationships. Appetite (instinctual intelligence): Plato’s third component, appetite, governs our primal needs and drives. This mirrors the Enneagram’s instinctual intelligence center, which concentrates on survival and self-preservation.

Freud’s Model of the Psyche and the Enneagram

Similarly, Freud’s theory of the human psyche—comprising the id, ego, and superego—parallels the Enneagram’s intelligence centers.

Id (instinctual intelligence): The id represents our basic instincts and desires. It aligns with the Enneagram’s instinctual intelligence center, governing our primal drives. Ego (intellectual intelligence): The ego is our conscious mind, responsible for rational thought and decision-making. This corresponds to the Enneagram’s intelligence center, which focuses on understanding our environment. Superego (emotional intelligence): The superego is our moral compass, guiding us through our emotions and interpersonal relationships. This is akin to the Enneagram’s emotional center, which manages our emotions and connections with others.

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

Core Emotions: Fear, Shame, and Anger

Now that we’ve established the connections between the Enneagram, Plato, and Freud, let’s delve into the core emotions behind the development of these intelligence centers: fear, shame, and anger.

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 the development of 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.

The Interplay of Emotions and Intelligence Centers

Understanding the connections between the Enneagram, Plato, and Freud, as well as the core emotions driving the development of these intelligence centers, helps us appreciate the Enneagram’s depth and complexity. We can better understand our motivations and growth paths by recognizing how fear, shame, and anger shape our intellectual, emotional, and instinctual intelligence.

By exploring these connections, we can better appreciate the Enneagram as a tool for self-understanding and a means to foster personal growth and transformation.


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