Moving Beyond Your Number: Enneagram Six


David Foster Wallace famously opened a college commencement speech with this short story: Two young fish are swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, "Morning, boys. How's the water?" The two young fish swim on for a bit, but eventually one of them looks over at the other and asks, "What’s water?" When fear is the water you swim in, you forget you are afraid. Sixes often consider themselves responsible, while they are actually afraid. Sixes, examine your life and make a list of all the ways you feel responsible. What fears might be attached to all that responsibility?  


Sixes struggle with constant anxiety. If you are not a six, consider for a moment what makes you the most nervous. They feel that way often, and then either recoil in fear and become submissive to authority (phobic), or lash out in anger (counter-phobic). Some Enneagram teachers talk as if sixes fall exclusively into either the phobic or the counter-phobic category, but most sixes are both. 

Sixes often consider themselves responsible for the failures of others. They might be convinced, for example, that they are responsible for their parents’ mistakes, and they might excuse their bad behavior by saying, “Dad did the best he could.” However, might the truth be that dad or mom made their own mistakes? Sixes, what do you gain by taking responsibility for others’ mistakes and failures?

The tragedy of the six is that they do not trust themselves, so they protect the very best part of them for a safer time. This means that apart from some inner work, sixes fail to offer their gift to the world.

Sixes compartmentalize heart, mind, and body, but attend only to what is in their minds. When you perceive the world through the mind alone, you miss vast portions of reality, and are always one step away from “what if” thinking. When you perceive reality through your head only, the world is merely theoretical, and reality is a free-floating idea that can easily float to the worst of places. However, when a six is present to their gut, they become grounded; thus the world is experienced on a visceral level, and life hits them in their body and becomes more real. A strange courage lies here. 

You can become present to the world from your gut through contemplative prayer. Pay special attention to your chest and stomach until those areas feel heavy. Go ahead, spend time paying attention to the weight of your head, and then compare it to the weight of your body. Your head may feel heavy, while the rest of you feels light. Try to balance them until both feel heavy. This balancing builds a residual awareness level with your body that you can carry around throughout the day. Once you are grounded in your body, you can experience feelings (your own and the feelings of others) in real time as the thinking, feeling and sensing become integrated. Until you do this work, your mind will continue to keep you from feeling your feelings. When we catalogue our feelings rather than processing them, our feelings begin to silently control us in powerful and painful ways and hurt those closest to us.

Finally, sixes do not trust themselves, and think they can trust only their beliefs. Until you trust yourself, you cannot trust others. Sixes, is it possible that the world is full of trustworthy people who will do what they say they will do?  Can you trust them?