Understanding the Passions of the Enneagram in Everyday Language12 December 2021 / By Samantha Mackay Clinically Reviewed by Steven Melendy, PsyD. on December 12, 2021
This blog post is part of our Fundamentals of the Enneagram series, which takes a deeper dive into all the Enneagram elements - wings, arrows, subtypes, centers of intelligence, growth pathways and more. For an overview of the series, start with our introductory post here.
The Enneagram is full of words that can be confusing or off-putting at times - vice, virtue, fixation and holy idea, to name a few. They can feel archaic, outdated and make it harder to talk to people who are just starting on their Enneagram journey.
We can convert these words and concepts into more updated, everyday language making it a bit easier for ourselves to understand and use the system, as well as share it with others.
Summarizing complex concepts
As in other personality systems, single words are chosen to represent complex concepts. And if we just take the word at face value, we overlook the important information the concept is trying to convey. The word aims to summarize all the features, attributes and details of a vast archetype into a single word. So everytime you look at a word in the Enneagram it may be helpful to see the word itself, AND the mindmap of details behind it - like a catalog card sitting on top of a pile of books!
At its heart, the Enneagram helps to explain the patterns of feelings, thoughts and behaviors we adopt in order to sustain a deeper motivation around survival. So while we all have thoughts, feelings and actions, there are broader emotional, thought and instinctual patterns at play.
In the Enneagram, these emotional patterns are known as passions or vices. And thought patterns are known as fixations. I’ll cover fixations and instincts separately.
What is a passion?
According to the dictionary, “passion” means “a state or outburst of strong emotion.” However, in the Enneagram, it's rare to be consciously aware of feeling the ‘passion’ that is driving our personality and defences.
In this context, a passion can be described as an “emotional pattern,” “emotional fixation” or “exaggerated state of the heart.” What can be tricky to wrap our heads around is that no matter how we are consciously feeling, this underlying exaggerated emotional state is almost always operating.
See how much easier it is to say “passion” as a shorthand for “exaggerated emotional state that controls and drives many of our behaviors”?
It is really hard to be in touch with our passion. It is hard to recognize it when it's happening and how it drives our behaviour in many unconscious ways, which is why it’s easier to first understand our passion cognitively, and try to observe it in action, before we try to really work with it.
The nine passions in everyday language
Each Enneagram type has a different hard-to-avoid emotional pattern at play. And many are represented by words associated with the ‘seven deadly sins’ otherwise known as vices. Problem is, those words imply these emotional patterns are negative or bad in some way - which they aren’t. Remember, much of our personality developed to protect us from psychic pain as children , and that was healthy and necessary.
So again, don’t think of these “vices” as bad, evil or wrong, but rather a single word that is aiming is to encapsulate a complex emotional pattern.
Here is a short description of each: what it is, isn’t and words or phrases you can use to describe it instead.
Enneagram Ones - Anger - Irritated
In this context, anger isn’t about feeling or displaying anger. Instead, anger is feeling irritated that there’s a difference between ‘what is’ and ‘what’s right’. It is a chronic dissatisfaction with how things are.
It can look like being critical of things, redoing things the ‘right way’, correcting oneself or others, being sarcastic, being overly polite or admiring, or holding a lot of tension in the body.
Other descriptors: knowing the correct way to do things, believing there is one right way, wanting to correct others when work is not done properly, constantly trying to self-improve.
Enneagram Twos - Pride - Being indispensable
Here, pride means feeling more important than one actually is. It is about doing things for other people in order to feel better about yourself. Which can quickly be followed by negative self-criticism, which restarts the cycle of needing to be indispensable.
It can look like assuming you know what others need, giving too many compliments, wanting to appear as likable as possible, feeling excessively glad when needed, getting angry when someone refuses your help.
Other descriptors: needing to be needed, strategically helping people in your inner circle, wanting others to depend on you.
Enneagram Three - Self-Deceit - False image
Self-deceit is about deceiving yourself as to who you really are by trying to be someone else. It is about becoming what others admire or value, and ignoring what you admire and value.
It can look like mimicking another person, taking on goals without checking if you want them, promoting personal successes while ignoring failures, disguising perceived flaws, being overly concerned with image.
Other descriptors: shapeshifting into what others want, becoming your role models, being overly focused on goals, success and positive rewards.
Enneagram Four - Envy - Lacking
Here Envy is not jealousy or simply coveting what someone else has. In the Enneagram, envy is constantly comparing yourself to others and only noticing what you are lacking or don't have. It is a constant sense of inner deficiency, wishing for what is “missing” and comparing yourself to someone who has it.
This can look like showing interest in people and their possessions, feeling inferior or superior, praising or criticizing people for what they have or who they are, being competitive, being dramatic or emotionally expressive.
Other descriptors: feeling deficient, feeling sad all the time, constantly noticing what is missing in themselves, others or a situation, comparing self to others.
Enneagram Five - Avarice - Closed heart
Avarice is not being insatiably greedy about money or wealth in this context. In the Enneagram, avarice means closing your heart to receiving and giving. It means hoarding one's time, knowledge, energy and resources out of fear of having nothing.
This can look like disconnecting from feelings and from people, avoiding intense situations, not seeing abundance as an option, missing someone but not feeling the need to talk to them, and finding ways to be alone. It is a sense that resources of any kind are scarce, and keeping the heart closed to feelings, relationships and experiences will protect them from having nothing.
Other descriptors: hoarding energy, avoiding intensity, not allowing people to get close.
Enneagram Six - Fear - Anticipation
In this context, fear manifests more like constant anxiety. Sensations of apprehension, tension or uneasiness suggest that something is wrong, but the source of danger is not obvious. To release this tension, the heart constantly anticipates the worst but there is always something to fear, so that sense of safety is always out of reach.
This can look like scanning for danger, worst case scenario planning, tension in the body, answering every question with “it depends”, being surprised when good things happen but then forgetting they happened.
Other descriptors: being vigilant, sense of anxiety, unable to relax, asking questions, procrastinating, not trusting self or others.
Enneagram Seven - Gluttony - Wanting more
Gluttony is more than overeating or drinking. In the Enneagram, ‘gluttony’ is an excessive desire to consume whatever feels good. It is an insatiable and unrelenting need for constant stimulation of any kind - for people, places, experiences and things. It is wanting to have a little bit of all the positive things in life without ever feeling limited.
It can look like fear of missing out, living for excitement, multi-tasking, not finishing tasks or projects, changing the subject, being overly optimistic or putting a positive spin on everything.
Other descriptors: consuming a little of a lot, chasing excitement and thrills, excessive positivity, pleasure hunting, feeling good, not finishing things.
Enneagram Eight - Lust - Being Excessive
In this context, lust is not intense sexual desire. In the Enneagram ‘lust’ is excess; excessive energy and intensity. The craving for intensity spreads across all areas of life for an Eight, for which food, work and pleasure are only some of the ways it manifests.
It can also look like speaking loudly, showing force, fighting for justice, intense eye contact, being overly certain or strong willed, using offensive language or being rebellious.
Other descriptors: excess, intensity, big energy, wanting to feel strong and powerful.
Enneagram Nine - Sloth - Self-forgetting
Sloth does not mean laziness, as Nines can be incredibly busy, productive people. In the Enneagram, sloth means doing every action, except the right one - the one that matters most to the Nine. Sloth is an inaction to change, and Nines can easily fall into a routine they forget to fall out of, even when it no longer suits them or brings them pleasure.
Sloth is not paying attention to one’s own desires, feelings and sensations, and forgetting about what matters most to you. This can look like paying too much attention to what others want and need, not starting new things, listening to others opinions before sharing your own, being passive-aggressive or stubborn.
Other descriptors: focus on others, forgetting about self, resistance to changing routines, not saying no, always being available for others.
Observe your passion
Hopefully these alternate descriptions will help you continue your personal growth journey with the Enneagram. Our Enneagram passion is at the heart of our personality’s defences, and being able to observe it in action is key.
You can get started by using the above descriptors to notice when you have done these things in the past, so you can better catch yourself doing them in the future. Self-awareness and self-observation are key tools on your journey into self-discovery.
Colleen Cruickshank (not verified) says...
I'm so enjoying this series - thank you! I've long been interested in the Enneagram, and your explanations are excellent.
The description of the Enneagram One passion (mine) is bang on. It explains so much from my past! This week, when I bumped into that feeling of irritation over a computer issue and saw how I was reacting to the gap between what is and what should be, I could've laughed - except that I was so annoyed. I'd recognized the feeling of resentment prior to this. Now I can add the feeling of irritation to my list of red flags. Again, thank you!
Samantha Mackay says...
That is great self-awareness Colleen, it can be hard to catch ourselves in the moment observing both our instictive reaction and the motivation behind it.
I am glad my explanations resonate with you, thank you.