How do you respond to stress? What’s your mode of response? Do you lash out? Do you withdrawal? Do you latch onto people? If you find yourself responding in the same toxic way every time, it means you’re living through the ego, and by understanding your own personality type, you can correct your responses to stress and limit your anxiety.

The Enneagram of Personality is a model of the human psyche which is principally understood and taught as a typology of nine interconnected personality types.

It’s founder, Oscar Ichazo saw the Enneagram as a way of examining specifics about the structure of the human soul and particularly about the ways in which actual soul qualities of Essence become distorted, or contracted into states of ego.

Take five minutes to discover exactly which personality type you are.

It’s believed that Karen Horney’s work, a German psychoanalyst who focused on neurosis as a result of anxiety, shaped the nine enneagram personality traits.

She believed Neurotics are frequently trapped in a vicious circle in which their compulsive need to reduce basic anxiety leads to a variety of self-defeating behaviors; these behaviors then produce more basic anxiety, and the cycle continues.

Horney identified 10 categories of neurotic needs that mark neurotics in their attempt to reduce basic anxiety.

Later, Horney grouped these 10 neurotic needs into three basic neurotic trends, which apply to both normal and neurotic individuals in their attempt to solve basic conflict. The three neurotic tends are:

Needs that move you towards others.
These neurotic needs cause individuals to seek affirmation and acceptance from others and are often described as needy or clingy as they seek out approval and love.

Needs that move you away from others.
These neurotic needs create hostility and antisocial behavior. These individuals are often described as cold, indifferent, and aloof.

Needs that move you against others.
These neurotic needs result in hostility and a need to control other people. These individuals are often described as difficult, domineering, and unkind.

All three trends are available to us and healthy persons are able to move in any of these directions when needed. What usually happens, though, is that we become comfortable and used to one of the trends and so the other two become less accessible.

At the core of each trend is a healthy striving to cooperate with others, to assertively set boundaries, and to step back to be with ourselves in solitude. When we overdo these maneuvers, or when they become defensive and reactive instead of proactive, we become compliant (the self-effacing solution), aggressive (the self-expansive solution), and detached (the resignation solution). Just as there is a high and low side to the Enneagram styles, so there is a healthy to distorted continuum with these three trends.

Now, depending on your Enneagram results, you should know which category you fall under. Psychologists have grouped the 9 personality traits into Horney’s 3 groups of neurotic needs.

The aggressive types (8,3,1) have the preferred mode of behavior of moving against people as a defense strategy to protect the self and one’s worth as a person. Since Eights (8’s) believe they are bigger than the world, they move with an instinct of power against people. Because Threes (3’s) think they must adjust to the world, their aggressive behavior is channeled into achievement. Ones express their aggressive behavior by being critical of themselves and their surroundings.

The dependent types (2,6,7) have a preferred behavior of moving toward people. They defend their self worth by becoming dependent on others through relationships. Since Twos (2’s) have a self concept of being bigger than the world, they take the initiative in forming relationships. Since Sixes (6’s) have a self concept that they must adjust to the world in order to be worthwhile, they place great importance on conforming to standards and laws already laid down. Sevens (7’s) grew up feeling smaller than the world. For them to feel alive their environment needs to be full of good times and good cheer.

The withdrawing types (5,9,4) have a preferred behavior of moving away from people to enhance their sense of personal worth. Since Fives (5’s) grew up with a self concept of being bigger than the world, their withdrawal from people has as its purpose to become an intellectual overseer of everything. Nines (9’s) withdraw from the world to adjust to it because it does not offer much to them in appreciation or love. Because Fours (4’s) have grown up thinking they are smaller than the world, they express their withdrawing behavior by feeling misunderstood and by rehearsing how to express themselves with originality and authenticity.

The Enneagram indicates options for movement. For example, we can approach a situation from our own point of view, from our security point of view (the style going against the direction of the arrow), or from our stress point of view (the style going with the direction of the arrow). When we have one option, we’re stuck; when we have two options, we have a dilemma; when we have three options, we have a choice. According to the Enneagram, we have a natural connection to these three points and so choices are available to us. And with choice comes the possibility of change.

Unfortunately change can be for better or for worse. So it is possible to shift to the high or low side of any Enneagram style and it is possible to move towards, against, or away from people and situations in a healthy or compulsive manner, depending on whether we aim for the high side of each style or miss the mark and hit the low side.

To give ourselves a choice, then, we can ask three questions in each situation:

1. What would it look like if I approached, embraced, or leaned into the problem or situation? How can I close the gap?

2. What would it look like if I attacked, confronted, or challenged the problem or situation? How can I clear away the obstacles?

3. What would it look like if I stepped back or away from the problem or situation? How can I get some distance?

By understanding your ego type, you can understand your core habits. Do you move away from people when stressed or do you attack, or do you find yourself attaching to bad people or things? By understanding the root of your stresses and anxieties you can now work on one of the three actions of choice, fitting one that best solves the situation.

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