Enneagram Virtues

enneagram virtues human
Words by Evan Barbee
Illustration by Chris Koelle
I n Christian circles, there may be mention of the “vice” (or “sin”) and “virtue” of the nine Enneagram types. You may have noticed that anytime these words are brought up in casual conversation, the social terrain gets a bit more precarious. One must proceed with a great deal of caution—and still more compassion and self-enneagram virtuesawareness. As the Enneagram stands outside the realm of any religion or ideology, it is perhaps best described and most easily understood apart from the old Christian terminology.
This work is not about sifting through what is right or wrong about us, about checking boxes, about keeping score. It isn’t about identifying what is unloveable and purifying it through steely effort and determination. In my opinion—and I am no biblical scholar—it is a tool for compassion very much in alignment with what Jesus lived.
The emotional habit or “vice,” if I cannot persuade you otherwise, of each type in the Enneagram theory, is really an internal contraction against one’s own life and spirit. In our fear, we attempt to move away from the pain we experience when we believe something to  be untrue, much like our tendency to hold our breath when we experience physical pain. We seize up in our capacity to be open and receptive to the moment. There is, or should be, a great deal of empathy available when we understand that just as a child might contract against pain, so do we. Our bodies and our vocabularies may get bigger as we age, our relationships may get more complex, but often no matter how polished and sophisticated we present on the outside, we meet the unknown with the same uncertainty, fear, and panic as in childhood. Simply considering it to be part of the universal human experience may be enough to soften our hearts toward others.
The “virtue” of the type, our higher emotional state, is not the product of work and effort so much as in relaxing our grip on fear-infused beliefs and shifting our attention instead to what is true. In the Enneagram it is taught that our truest nature is always available, the most noble aspects of our hearts are always present.The question really is,  Will we choose to be present for them?

Conversion Point: The Enneagram of Virtue

Untrue Belief: Things should be different than they are. 
Contracted Heart: Anger / Resentment 
Reality: Wisdom recognizes that something bigger than us is at work.
The Expanded Heart: Serenity

Untrue Belief: Love is a transactional agreement, and I must earn it by meeting the needs of others.
Contracted Heart: Pride
Reality: Wisdom recognizes that my needs matter too and that love is what we both give and receive in a balanced relationship with others.
The Expanded Heart: Humility

Untrue Belief: In order to be loved, I must become something remarkable and work indefinitely to hold the admiration and interest of others.
Contracted Heart: Vanity
Reality: Wisdom recognizes that every life is remarkable and that the greatest work is to develop the courage to be my most authentic self.
The Expanded Heart: Hope

Untrue Belief: I am deficient in some way, and I must find belonging and value in an ideal person or situation.
Contracted Heart: Longing
Reality: Wisdom recognizes that I am whole, complete, and significant as I am and that I play a vital part in the collective.
The Expanded Heart: Equanimity

Untrue Belief: If I accrue knowledge and expertise, become self-sufficient, and limit my dependence on others, I will create security.
Contracted Heart: Avarice
Reality: Wisdom recognizes that by staying in relationship with others I receive security and an avenue for my needs to be met abundantly.
The Expanded Heart: Generosity

Untrue Belief: The world is dangerous, and I must prepare through being vigilant, anticipating problems, and predicting threat and danger.
Contracted Heart: Fear
Reality: Wisdom recognizes that the world is not all danger and threat and that by staying grounded and present, I can respond appropriately to whatever the moment brings.
The Expanded Heart:Courage

Untrue Belief: Focusing on the positive and moving quickly to new and exciting things can guard against feeling pain, fear, and discomfort.
Contracted Heart: Gluttony
Reality: Wisdom recognizes that pain is temporary but necessary for my growth and for the enrichment of my life and relationships.
The Expanded Heart: Sober joy

Untrue Belief: The world is unfair, and if I am not tough, assertive, and in control, others will victimize me or the people I love. 
Contracted Heart: Vengeance
Reality: Wisdom recognizes that the moment does not always demand my strength and that I have ample opportunity to allow others to protect and champion me.
The Expanded Heart: Innocence

Untrue Belief: In order to belong, I must take up less space, abandon things I care about, and go along with others.
Contracted Heart: Self-forgetting
Reality: Wisdom recognizes that I am an individual with purpose and that it matters that I engage my life and take my place.
The Expanded Heart: Right action