Enneatype Six

Type Description

People of enneatype Six are essentially insecure…as though life has never quite provided them with a proper footing, as though there existed nothing, either internally or externally, which could serve as a solid foundation. The type Six fixation is therefore deeply and fundamentally existential, and there exists at the core of enneatype Six a tight knot of anxiety, an essential disquietude, and a deep seated desire to find something or someone stable enough in which to place some trust. Given this essential dynamic, it is not surprising therefore to find that Sixes have core issues centering around the contrast between faith and scepticism, trust and distrust, and the legitimate exercise of authority versus the abuse and misuse of power. All Sixes share these core issues, but they respond to them in quite a wide variety of ways, making type Six the most variegated of all the enneatypes and the most difficult by far to describe with specificity.

Sixes are essentially thinking types and tend to utilize their minds in their attempt to find a solid foundation. Sixes are looking for something in which to believe or someone in whom they can place their trust. At a level which barely reaches consciousness, Sixes feel that if they can find “one sure thing,” they can quiet their restlessness, and achieve some semblance of much needed “peace of mind.” This desire for some solidity, combined with their general suspiciousness, gives rise to a complicated relationship to those they view as authorities. The side of the Six which is looking for something to believe in, is often very susceptible to the temptation to turn authority over to an external source, whether it be in the form of an individual or a creed. But the Six’s tendency towards distrust and suspicion works against any sort of faith in authority and often even presents as anti-authoritarianism. Thus, two opposite pulls exist side by side in the personality of enneatype Six, and will assume different proportions in different individuals, frequently alternating in the same individual.

Some Sixes never find a system or an authority which satisfies their questioning nature. These tend to root themselves in more personal loyalties – loyalties to family, especially children, or to their friends or causes. Sixes, in general, tend to form strong personal bonds. One of the more appealing aspects of the type Six personality is the trueness they can show to those they love. Feeling essentially unsure themselves, they find some comfort in being true to others, in being steadfast. Sixes can show real perseverance when it comes to their personal relationships and they can give of themselves selflessly – without expectation of reward and with little need of special recognition. The loyalty of type Six is something of a two edged sword however, as Sixes are sometimes prone to stand by a friend, partner, job or cause long after it is time to move on.

These various strategies of coping with the core issues of type Six are obviously quite different in their presentation, but they are all manifestations of the same underlying uncertainty and it is the intensity of the energy with which the Six confronts these issues which differentiates type Six from other types who, after all, also want to find something or someone in which to place their trust, something in which to believe. The issues which confront type Six, are then, in some fundamental respect, elemental concerns which confront all human beings. It is the fate of enneatype Six to be forced to address these issues most centrally. The integrity with which this is done, is determined by the extent to which the Six overcomes fear or succumbs to it.

Many Sixes are naturally prone to doubt and self-questioning. In some Sixes, this internal dynamic is projected outwards, and Sixes are notorious for adopting the position of the “devil’s advocate.” Many Sixes are, thus, prone to questioning and challenging the motives and beliefs of those around them. Sometimes this strategy succeeds in forcing the Six’s interlocutor to clarify his or her position or to seek common ground with the Six. Other times however, it only serves to turn the Six’s interlocutor into an opponent who feels justified in responding aggressively to what they understandably perceive as an attack. Thus a pattern which is essentially defensive from the point of view of the Six, is often perceived as an assault by those on the receiving end. Sixes who adopt this approach are frequently perplexed by the amount of animosity they arouse. They are far harder on themselves, they reason, so they fail to understand why others are “over reacting.” In general, Sixes tend to be very aware of the reactivity of others and considerably less so of their own. As they are being driven by their own inner uncertainty, they tend to be unaware that they are behaving in an aggressive fashion and alienating those whom they might well like to befriend.

The doubting nature of type Six can be turned to good stead when the Six uses it to discover what is wrong or missing. Sixes rightly suspect that there is more going on in any given situation than what is presented on the surface, and they want to know what lies beneath. Sixes frequently have the capacity to detect what is hidden. They ferret out the potential danger in a situation; they intuitively seek the weakness in an argument or the flaws covered by the pleasing exterior. They often have an almost “sixth” sense in this regard. This means that Sixes are typically good trouble shooters, gifted debaters, or the stalwart players who form the defensive line. Sixes tend to feel that if they are aware of all the inherent dangers in a situation, they can arm themselves against them. Once again, this vigilance is essentially a defensive maneuver. On the down side, the tendency to look for problems can lead to unnecessary worrying, catastrophising or, in extreme cases, paranoid ideation. If this tendency to focus on what might go wrong is left unchecked, the Six will experience many needless hours of misery. In addition, others in the Six’s life might well experience the Six as being unnecessarily negative.

Sixes are attuned to power relations and to underlying power dynamics. They sense who has power, who wants it, who will use it, who will misuse it, and they are often the ones who sense an imbalance or injustice where others simply see the status quo. As they easily tend to feel like victims themselves, they often identify with the underdog and can even devote themselves to the cause of redressing what they see as injuries done to those without power. These Sixes are, perhaps, union organizers, or feminists, or perhaps even those who defend the rights of the unborn, as, like all the types, Sixes can be found on all ends of the political spectrum. It is not so much that all Sixes are politically motivated, but, as Sixes do tend to be oriented to power dynamics, they often take decisive positions when it comes to social issues or causes.

Sixes are quite sensitive as children and can be seriously wounded by abuses of power visited against them by their parents or teachers. As power abuse against children is almost universal, it is the rare Six who isn’t forced to confront core issues head on at a very vulnerable age. Something of the unfairly punishing authority tends to stay with Sixes long after they have moved into adulthood and serves to color all of their subsequent intimate relationships, especially those in which there is a perceived imbalance of power which disfavors the Six.

It is typically at a quite young age then, in response to the illegitimate or insensitive exercise of authority, that Sixes adopt their fundamental strategy for dealing with their underlying anxieties and for handling imbalanced power relationships. Some Sixes adopt a basically phobic approach. Phobic Sixes are generally compliant, affiliative and cooperative. They strive to avoid undue attention and to defuse tension by appearing to be “harmless.” They thereby strive to avoid triggering aggression in others. Other Sixes adopt the opposite strategy of dealing with anxieties and become counterphobic, essentially taking a defiant stand against whomever or whatever they find threatening. This is the Six who takes on authority or who adopts a dare devil attitude towards physical danger. Counterphobic Sixes can be aggressive, and frequently adopt a rebellious or anti-authoritarian demeanor. Such Sixes are often unaware of the fear which motivates their actions. For counterphobic Sixes, the inner tension of living with their anxiety is greater than the fear of any external threat they might be facing, so they adopt an oppositional attitude and throw themselves into action. This approach sometimes succeeds in obscuring from the counterphobic Six’s line of vision the fear which is actually at the root of their behavior. Consequently, counterphobic Sixes frequently deny being anxious. Interestingly, some phobic Sixes are also unaware of their underlying anxiety, an anxiety which is often readily apparent to others. Because anxiety serves as the backdrop to all their emotional states, some Sixes are unaware of its existence, as they have nothing with which to contrast it.

There are many Sixes who adopt neither an exclusively phobic nor counterphobic approach. Such Sixes switch modes, so to speak, depending on the amount of stress they are experiencing. Most Sixes, however, have a preferred or dominant approach which colors all of their dealings with the world and which is generally readily recognizable to others. It is important to note, however, that while the phobic and counterphobic approach seem diametrically opposed, both are driven by fear or anxiety; the rule to remember in this regard is that the inner core of all Sixes is phobic, until such point as the Six achieves liberation. Counterphobia is thus a permutation on phobia. It refers to a difference in overt behavior, sometimes a very striking difference indeed, but it’s root cause is nevertheless one of fear.

In the traditional enneagram, the passion of the Six is fear, the vice is that of cowardice and the corresponding virtue that of courage. As with all of the vices and virtues associated with the enneatypes, the vice and virtue of the Six must be understood as being distinct from what is commonly understood by those terms. Many Sixes are no more cowardly than individuals of other types when we consider the term according to its common usage, and, according to common usage, but not the theory behind the enneagram, many of the behaviors of counterphobic Sixes would be considered courageous.

In order to get a better grip on this, it’s necessary to have a more precise grasp of key terms. Up to this point, we have been using the terms “anxiety” and “fear” more or less interchangeably, but at this juncture, it’s important to refine our understanding. Fear is always of something definite, of some danger which requires our attention. Fear is the natural and often useful response which we experience in the face of some external threat. It is that which triggers our primal “fight or flight” response.

Anxiety, however, is a truly existential emotion and in order to better understand it, it is perhaps helpful to turn to the existential philosophers who made a point of studying anxiety in all its forms and all its manifestations. Kierkegaard defines anxiety as the “dizziness of freedom” and describes it as the underlying, all pervasive, universal condition of human existence. Anxiety is then, not fear of any one thing, but of the very condition of being conscious and of having to make choices in a world which does not make its meaning or goals transparent to us and which frequently enough seems inimicable to human aspirations and to human existence. It is this more fundamental emotion which most directly characterizes the core emotional state of type Six, not any of the more immediate fears, which often enough are simply place holders in the consciousness of the type Six personality. It is as though the Six feels their anxiety bubbling up to the center of consciousness and then scans the environment for something external to fear; this feared, but potentially manageable thing, can then occupy the Six’s attention and avert it from that nameless horror that they sense might exist at the very heart of human existence.

According to A. H. Almaas, the type Six personality most directly experiences and suffers from a loss of “basic trust” in the goodness of the universe. This loss of basic trust is the very condition of fallen existence, and thus attaches to all of the fixations, but Sixes experience it at the very core of their consciousness. And it is this most basic and fundamental emotion which must be dealt with directly and defeated if the Six is to achieve true liberation. It is, like the journeys of all the enneatypes, a true “hero’s journey.”

Many Sixes succumb to their anxieties and fears. Some of these settle for a simulacra of true courage and attempt to find peace of mind by convincing themselves of the truth of some contrived system of belief. To this end they might surround themselves by a chorus of voices from like-minded others, while projecting their own unacknowledged shadow onto those who disagree with them. Then there are those Sixes who choose to over identify with the role of “rebel” and adopt a defiant and oppositional stand against whatever exists, which often enough succeeds in sowing little more than negativity.

Other Sixes however, live a life of integrity. They may harbor fears and anxieties but nevertheless manifest courage by refusing to succumb to them. From an external perspective they well may seem unexceptional, but, insofar as they refuse the easy answer and do not give way to the reactive response, they demonstrate a quiet victory over their inner demons. Such Sixes develop a kind of strength to which others instinctively turn in times of difficulty. They can be counted on to follow through and to demonstrate leadership when a real danger threatens as they have successfully conquered so many imaginary ones. Having developed some degree of self-mastery, they can master externals as well. They can be counted on. They rise to the occasion. There are also some few Sixes who achieve a true liberation. These Sixes almost invariably manifest a feeling of solidarity with their kinfolk – and they consider virtually everyone to be kin. A liberated Six has a kind of human heartedness which is truly inspirational, a subtle greatness which is thinly disguised by their modesty.

Sixes with the Five wing generally tend more towards introversion than do those with a Seven wing. They characteristically withdraw under stress and typically have a few trusted friends to whom they can turn in times of trouble. They are often drawn to systems of thought, whether religious, political or philosophical which help them explain their experiences and which provide them with a framework which confers on them some semblance of control and prediction. Sixes with a Seven wing tend to be somewhat more amiable and adventurous, generally more optimistic overall. They tend to look outside themselves for the means of assuaging their anxiety and thus often have a more extroverted nature than do those with a Five wing. They tend to have multiple hobbies and interests, but they are somewhat less capable of focus than are Sixes with a Five wing, but only as a very general rule.

Type Exemplars

The biblical Eve is an enneatype Six; she defied God the Father, a One because his commandments seemed arbitrary and his authority over her was assumed rather than earned. (The Six/One dynamic tends to be contentious like that.) The New Testament’s “Doubting Thomas” is also a classic type Six personality, as evidenced by his name.

Many renowned thinkers have been Sixes. Two which stand out in this regard are J.Krishnamurti and P.D.Ouspensky, both of whom broke with teachers whom they found restrictive. We owe most of what we know of Gurdjieff’s teachings to Ouspensky. Krishnamurti argued, among other things that “the function of education is to help you from childhood not to imitate anybody, but to be yourself all the time.” And that “the primary cause of disorder in ourselves is the seeking of reality promised by another … It is a most extraordinary thing that although most of us are opposed to political tyranny and dictatorship, we inwardly accept the authority, the tyranny, of another to twist our minds and our way of life.”

Carlos Castaneda was also a Six. He had a good deal of insight, but was largely a gifted bull *bleep*ter who managed to falsely convince others of his advanced state of enlightenment. (Issues of authority and false authority tend to be a central significance in the life of those who are born as enneatype Six.)

The American philosopher William James was also an enneatype Six who recorded a life altering experience which aptly illustrates how he experienced bringing the central concerns of his fixation to the forefront of consciousness: “I went one evening into a dressing room in the twilight to procure some article that was there; when suddenly there fell upon me without any warning, just as it came out of the darkness, a horrible fear of my own existence..It was as though something hitherto solid within my breast gave way entirely, and I became a mass of quivering fear. After this the universe was changed for me altogether. I woke morning after morning with a horrible dread at the pit of my stomach, and with a sense of the insecurity of life that I never knew before and that I have never felt since. It was like a revelation…for months I was unable to go out into the dark alone. In general I dreaded to be left alone. I remember wondering how other people could live, how I myself had lived, so unconscious of that pit of insecurity beneath the surface of life.”

As Sixes are interested in power dynamics, they tend to be drawn to politics and to political theorizing. Consider in this regard Friedrich Engels, Che Guevara, Robert Kennedy and his son, Robert Kennedy Jr., Richard Nixon, Malcolm X and feminist thinkers Andrea Dworkin, Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan and Mary Daly.

Musicians include Neil Young, Lou Reed, Bruce Springsteen and Woody Guthrie.

Famous directors include Woody Allen who typically acts out archetypal phobic Six concerns in his films, and Spike Lee, who also displays a type Six focus, but with a mostly counterphobic presentation.

Famous actors include Rod Serling, Jack Lemmon, Diane Keaton, Julia Roberts, John Cusack, Mel Gibson, Marilyn Monroe, Tom Hanks, Jane Fonda and Hugh Grant. Talk show hosts Johnny Carson and David Letterman are likewise Sixes. And Al Franken, the serious funny man, recently elected to be senator for the state of Minnesota..

Columnist Christopher Hitchens is a Six. He tends to be critical of whomever is in power, causing each side to mistakenly assume that he is on their side. Maureen Dowd, columnist for the New York Times, is also a Six. Paul Krugman as well.

George Orwell was likewise a Six whose literary work reflects his concern with overt and covert misuses of power. Also, Aldous Huxley, Richard Wright and Charles Bukowski.

Fictional examples include Norma Rae, as well as Sally Field who plays her part; Annie Hall, likewise played by a type Six actor, Diane Keaton, and Hamlet, a part once performed by Mel Gibson, yet another type Six. Other Sixes include Carrie White from Carrie and Luke from “Cool Hand Luke.”

Possible Mistypes

Some Sixes become perfectionistic and somewhat rigid, and in this respect can mistake themselves, or be mistaken by others, as Ones. Some Ones likewise suffer from anxiety and are prone to worry. Sixes tend to be more affiliative than Ones however, and even when in a position of power, often rule by establishing consensus or by personally converting others to “the cause.” Ones, on the other hand, are likely to appeal to abstract ideals and are less comfortable in general with forming alliances. In general, Ones also tend to find it easier to repress their emotional responses under pressure, than do Sixes who tend to find themselves struggling with anxiety.

Sixes and Twos are easy to mistype; especially female Sixes are commonly mistype as Twos. But Sixes tend to suffer much more from ambivalence than do Twos who tend to know exactly how they feel and what they want. Sixes suffer from self-doubt; Twos tend to be self-assured. Sixes, even very competent Sixes, often question whether they are up to the task at hand. Twos, even those who are less than competent, tend to be sure that they can solve their problems, and yours as well.

Sixes can become image conscious and at such times can resemble Threes, but there is always an element of self-consciousness that attaches to efforts at self-promotion on the part of Sixes. They aren’t as smooth as Threes in this regard or nearly as self-confident. Threes tend to be optimistic about their future prospects; Sixes are prone to self-doubt.

Sixes and Fours can mistype, although generally it is the Six who mistypes, or is mistyped by others, as a Four. This is especially true if the Six is creative and prone to depression. Both types can be emotionally complex and suffer from ambivalence. But Sixes, unlike Fours, are not essentially self-absorbed; they automatically consider the positions and feelings of others. Sixes, moreover, are not concerned primarily with being authentic because they are far less image oriented than are Fours.

Sixes and Fives can quite readily mistype, especially if the wing is strong and the Six is intellectual. It is typically Sixes who mistype, or are mistyped by others as Five, rather than the reverse. Both types can be drawn to systems of thought, and counterphobia in Sixes can mimic the iconoclasm common in type Five. Sixes, however, tend to relate far better than Fives do to whomever is a part of their social scene, and Sixes, in general, tend to find it easier to find a niche than do the more idiosyncratic Fives. Also, as a general rule, Sixes are more likely to look for and find practical applications to theory than do Fives who are often uninterested in such considerations. Finally, Sixes, unlike Fives, do not habitually detach under pressure.

Sixes and Sevens can mistype if the wing is strong and the Six particularly lively or the Seven especially aware of inner anxiety. But Sevens tend to be optimistic about their future prospects, sometimes in an exagerrated fashion, whereas Sixes tend to be guarded in this respect, pessimistic even. Sixes seldom have a problem meeting their responsibilities whereas the converse is often true for Sevens.

Counterphobic Sixes can resemble Eights; both types can be quite aggressive and even dominating. Usually the Six’s inner doubt, anxiety and reactivity will betray itself however; the conterphobic presentation therefore differs from the more strategic aggression of type Eight. In general, counterphobic Sixes are more volatile and less predictable than Eights. Eights are more grounded than counterphobic Sixes.

Sixes and Nines are a common mistype, especially as Sixes do not always appear to be anxious, and Nines sometimes do. Nines tend to be trusting however, and often believe that somehow “everything will work out.” This is the opposite orientation to the Six who is prone to suspicion of others’ motives and tends to worry about the future. Sixes tend to think that Nines have “buried their heads in the sand.” Nines tend to think that Sixes should mellow out.

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