The Biological/Emotional Psychology of Enneagram Types

Self-awareness and emotional control is the very prerequisite of a holistic health of body, mind and spirit, as this article shows.

I believe that EnneaMediCina can be truly understood only by learning about its founding principles.

I will approach the Enneagram in small increments, starting with an analysis of the Enneagram in the light of Western scientific findings.

Aside from every individual’s unique differences, the Enneagram allows us to identify our character dispositions, world view and talents. In doing so, we can broaden our self-knowledge and the opportunities for inner change which influence overall health.

The nine Enneagram character types occur in three centres, aka the ‘three basic brains’:

1. Instinct (gut): 8, 9, 1;

2. Emotion (heart): 2, 3, 4;

3. Thought (head): 5, 6, 7.

Each centre is characterized by a fundamental emotion, which is the same for all enneatypes in every triad, affecting their way of being and the way they experience relationships.

Nowadays, it is well-known that foetuses develop their subjective identity as early as during pregnancy. Canadian psychiatrist Thomas Verny showed that an embryo’s experience within the uterus is its first contact with the world and as such it will deeply inform its future personality.

Each type comprised in the enneagram circle is characterized by a specific defense strategy, which is used by newborns in their process of adaptation to the relational dynamics of their family environment.

Thus, every genotype and fenotype combination can be ascribed to one of the three centres containing three enneatypes.

Such defence strategies are perceived by children as effective behavioural models which not only ensure survival but also enable them to receive affection and attention. These experiences become imprinted in their psyche and, later on, also affect behaviour during adulthood.

The Gut Centre: Types 8, 9, 1

In newborns, the first parts of the brain to fully develop are the brainstem and the midbrain. They control bodily functions which are key to survival, such as breathing, digestion, excretion and thermal regulation.

As a newborn’s brain is not yet fully formed, perceptions during early childhood are recorded in the ‘instinctive brain’ – the most visceral of the three centres which lies at the core of psychic and physical well-being.

The next parts of the brain to develop are the lymbic system, which controls the emotional side, and the neocortex, which enables abstract thinking.

The growth of each cerebral region and of its related functions largely depends on the stimuli received by children since pregnancy or, in other words, the extent to which new neuronal connections are promoted. Positive, rather than negative, experiences help individuals to grow and develop harmoniously.

How the brain develops determines an individual’s cognitive, affective and social skills, as well as his or her susceptibility to physical or psychological disorders.

Several studies have shown that children who are listened to, stroked, supported and encouraged have a more intense cerebral activity (as measured via EEG) as well as lower levels of cortisol – the hormone of stress – and adeguate levels of Igf-1, a hormone which plays a key role in our growth processes.

Other studies have confirmed that anxiety and tensions affect the functionality of the gut – our ‘second brain’ – which in turn dramatically affects the workings of the entire body. Dr. Gershon of Columbia University says that ‘the gut helps to fix emotion-related memories and therefore plays a key role in signalling joy or pain’.

Therefore, the abdomen hosts a brain which absorbs and digests not only food, but also information and emotions which come from outside.

(to be continued …)


– Michael D. Gershon – The Second Brain – HarperCollins.
– Glaser D. (2000) Child abuse and neglect and the brain –
a review. Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry, 41, 97-116.
– Glaser D. (2003) Early experience, Attachment and the Brain in Corrigal J. & Wilkinson H. Revolutionary Connections:
Psychotherapy & Neuroscience pp. 117-133. London: Karnac.
– Parent Network for the Post-Istituzionalized Children (Spring 1999): overview of the post-istituzionalized child.
The post, 1.
– Perry BD (2000) : Traumatized children : how childhood trauma influences brain development. Shore R. (1997): Rethinking.the brain. New York: Families and the Work Institute.
-Teicher MD (2000): Wounds that time won’theal: the neurobiology of chikd abuse. Cerebrum:
The Dana Forum on brain science, 2(4), 50-67.

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