“Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.”

-Psalm 139:14

If human beings are indeed created in the image and likeness of a Triune God, then we should not be surprised if ongoing explorations of the human psyche reveals a kind of 3-fold nature.

In a recent sermon (9.29.19), I explored some of the different “triads” at work in the Enneagram personality system with the help from Chris Heuertz’s book The Sacred Enneagram. In typical Five fashion, I dumped way too much information on people for one week and should have split it into two sermons. So I have polished up and enhanced my notes a bit to share here with those who missed it or may want to revisit it.

3 Centers of Intelligence

The Enneagram divides nine basic personality types into 3 centers of intelligence. That is, we all have “3 brains” we process life and experience through: head or thinking center, heart or feeling center, and body the center of sensing. Depending on our Enneagram type, one of these is our lead intelligence and one is particularly repressed and underused. Knowing that our lead center shapes our communication, decision-making and problem solving, we can inquire with our other two centers of intelligence for more full knowing.

Types 5, 6, & 7 rely first on mental faculties (the brain in our heads) and know through logic, reason and analysis. These types are information oriented and fear/anxiety dwells just beneath the surface. The heart center types are 2, 3,4 and they are relationship oriented and know first through mood, tone and feeling.  For these types shame lurks beneath the surface. Types 8, 9, 1 lead with body intelligence or gut instinct.  They are fairness oriented and anger/resentment is often boiling just below the surface.

Nouwen’s 3 Identity Lies

UnknownChris Heuertz, in his book The Sacred Enneagram has a fascinating chapter where he connects these three intelligence centers of the Enneagram with some other illuminating triads. For instance, he shares Henri Nouwen’s 3 identity lies people of different personality types tend to fall victim to, and correlates them to the nine types:

  1. “I am what I do” – This is the lie “gut people” struggle most with. Eights take charge; Nines work to keep peace; Ones try to fix things.
  2. “I am what other people say or think about me” – This is the lie “heart people” struggle most with. Twos want to be considered helpful and loved; Threes want to be admired and viewed as successful; Fours want to be thought special and unique.
  3. “I am what I have” – This is the lie “head people” fall prey to. Fives collect knowledge and expertise; Sixes try to posses secure relationships and stability; Sevens go off collecting and storing up new experiences.

Keating’s 3 Programs for Happiness

Next, we can add to these Thomas Keating‘s “Three Programs for Happiness.” These are Keating’s proposed psychological needs that need be met in order for personal development to happen. They also line up with the Basic Fears of the Enneagram. They are

  1. Power and control (gut – 8, 9, 1)
  2. Affection and esteem (heart – 2, 3, 4)
  3. Security and survival (head – 5, 6, 7)

For those who prefer alliteration, we can refer to the 3 Cs — Control, Connections and Competence. Personal growth comes by learning how to let go of our addictive “needs” or compulsions that support our basic fears. For example, Ones feel they need to fix things; Twos need to be needed; Sixes need security; Sevens need to avoid pain; Fives need to withdraw; Nines need to avoid conflict. These lies and programs can be understood as the “fasteners” that keep our masks stuck in place. 

3 Temptations of Jesus

Once we’ve come this far in learning to recognize our false self that stands behind these lies and programs, how does our enneagram help inform a pathway to spiritual growth and help us remove the masks? We can look at Jesus who had to face some of the same lies and programs. We can see Jesus facing similar attacks on his identity in his encounter with Satan in the wilderness and the 3 temptations in particular. Again, summarizing Heuertz’s work, we find Jesus:

  • led into wilderness – a symbol of retreat or withdrawal, an intentional moving into solitude, silence, and stillness to be tested. 
  • Three Temptations of Jesus correlate directly to the three affirmations spoken over him following his baptism.

Temptation 1 – “if you are the only begotten, command these stones to turn into bread” 

  • I am what I do
  • Program for happiness of power and control
  • If Jesus was God‘s child, he should be able to demonstrate that through his spectacular power. 

Temptation 2 – “if you are the only begotten, throw yourself down. Scripture has it, God will tell the angels to take care of you”

  • I am what others say about me
  • Program for happiness of affection and esteem
  • Surely if Jesus was really the beloved, then God’s affectionate care would never allow harm to befall him. 

Temptation 3 – showing Jesus all the kingdoms of the world from a great mountain top, Satan promises “all of these I will give you if you fall down and worship me”

  • I am what I have
  • Program for happiness of security and survival
  • If God truly was pleased, the reward would be the stability of security, a tangible sign that Jesus preferred position would be established and recognized. 

We still experience these lies today.

Now, Jesus’ temptation came directly following the three baptismal identity affirmations:

  1. “This is my child” —> Turn stone to bread (prove your power)
  2. “Who is loved” —> Jump (if you’re loved, you’ll be rescued”)
  3. “Upon whom my favor rests” —> Bow down (your reward will symbolize your favor)

Ultimately, these affirmations become the antidote to the biggest lies about our identity. As Heuertz puts it:

“These three divine affirmations call for the imprint of God within all humanity; they counter the classic and characteristic Temptations supported by the delusional lies and addictive programs for happiness to which we’ve become enslaved.” 

3 Spiritual Contemplative Practices

How did Jesus overcome these? In self deprivation he gave himself to the prayer practice of fasting in solitude, silence, and stillness, confronting any claims these lies or programs for happiness may have on the rest of us.” And you can guess by now that this is one more triad that seems to line up well with the particular spiritual pathway needed for each Enneagram triad.

  1. For GUT people (8, 9, 1), stillness is crucial.

What happens when gut people simply stop? Who are they without the good they do? When they are forced to stop, they realize how over identified they are with their drive to DO. They are not free. 

The gift of stillness as a counterpoint to control things brings forward freedom. Stillness interrupts the addictions of gut people and forces them to reevaluate their drives.

In stillness, Eights realize God will bring justice. Nines discover need for peace in their own soul. Ones realize God is the only perfect one, and it’s okay to be flawed.

  1. For HEART people (2, 3, 4), solitude is crucial.

Solitude functions as a correction to the feeling type’s dependency on connection and comparison. Heart people who find themselves drawn toward others for affirmation and approval are often still very lonely because they are disconnected fro their essence.

So, who is the heart person when all alone? Who are the Twos who can’t meet the needs of another? The Three who reads and reacts to the emotional energy of others to get what they want? The four who longs to be seen and appreciated by others? 

Solitude teaches us how to be present—present to God, to ourselves, and to others with no strings attached. 

  1. For HEAD people (5, 6, 7), silence is crucial.

Is it possible for head people to turn down the inner noise to be able to really listen? Can the Five stop searching for answers long enough to hear the answer within? Can the Six stop worrying long enough to hear the quiet voice inside assuring them everything will be okay? Can the Seven dial down their anxious addiction to adventure and opportunity to hear that everything they need is already present? 

Silence helps us learn how to listen to the voice of God in our lives, a voice we may have been unable to recognize before. Silence helps us listen to the people in our lives who speak loving words of truth or affirmation over us. And silence helps us listen to ourselves—our desires and fears.

Here’s a helpful chart and two quotations from Chris Heuertz that invite us all to move toward the time-tested ancient spiritual practices of stillness, solitude and silence.

“Contemplative spirituality calms the body, stills the emotions, and quiets the mind. And in so doing, it liberates us from ego addictions, thereby giving us the freedom to make  major corrections to our behaviors informed by our True Self.”

“Solitude, silence, and stillness are the quintessential qualities of contemplative prayer and practice. By abandoning ourselves regularly to God through prayer in the form of solitude, silence and stillness, we experience more freedom from compulsions and heavy-laden expectations and more liberty in our True Self with all of our unique gifts to offer the world.”



These are some remarkable triads with profound insight into the human soul, and we have hardly begun. We haven’t mentioned Freud’s 3-fold fundamental structures of the human mind (Id, Ego, and Superego) or Freud’s 3-fold psychosexual categories (oral, anal, phallic x receptive, retentive, expulsive). We haven’t explored the 3 major parenting types (nurturing, protective or both) and orientations (connected, ambivalent or disconnected) and how they affect our development. We’ll also leave Karen Horney’s 3-fold neurotic solutions (compliant, aggressive and withdrawn types) for another day, though they fit beautifully into the Enneagram system.

I hope this has whet your appetite to continue growing in our understanding of God’s human image-bearers made in his triune likeness!

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