How Your Enneagram Type Changes Under Pressure and Relaxation
Welcome to Part Five in our Enneagram Theory series!
In this series, I, Chris, chief editor and co-founder of Personality Path, go into the depths of how the Enneagram came to be and how it works.
In Part Four, we talked about the Groups of the Enneagram, about Mind, Body, and Soul, and about shame, fear, and anger.
This time, we’re exploring another concept introduced by the Enneagram: Stress and Peace Points, also called arrows or lines.
What you will learn
Last week, I had two situations that brought out interesting traits of mine.
The first one happened on a Tuesday. I was in a super serious business setting about a topic I didn’t know a lot about. As someone who is shaped the most by type Five of the Enneagram, I am very focused, calm, and rational about most things.
But preparing for this meeting, my mind suddenly wanted to go to all kinds of places. I started browsing the internet for whatever interesting topic I could find that had absolutely nothing to do with what I wanted to know about.
Which was also curious, because usually, when I want to learn about something, I hunt it down like a hawk hunting for a mouse.
What was going on?
Even more curious was the second situation. Just one day later, I had to give a presentation about an incredibly niche topic on Mesopotamian history in a class I was taking. This was a public speaking event, which in theory means it’s even more terrifying than simply sitting in a meeting.
To my surprise, my wife, who was listening in on the presentation (I had to do it via a zoom call), told me afterwards that she had rarely seen me as confident, commanding, and even slightly intimidating in the way I handled the presentation and the discussion afterwards.
As you know if you’ve read a little about Type Five, this is also not very usual for my type. I like to leave others alone, stay on the sidelines, and keep my thoughts to myself.
So, seriously, what is going on?
The Curious Thing That Happens During Moments of Pressure and Relaxation
When you look at the Enneagram symbol, you can see these lines that connect each number with two other Enneagram types. In the past, these types were often called your Stress Point and your Peace Point.
However, the understanding has grown since then that those terms carry some value judgement with them and don't adequately reflect the truth that both points offer challenges as well as opportunities for growth. So nowadays, instead of Stress Point, we usually talk about your Contraction or Challenge Point, and instead of Peace Point, we refer to it as your Expansion or Security Point.
These two additional types can help you understand a lot more about the more contradictory parts of your personality.
The basic idea is this:
During situations of high pressure and stress, your usual coping mechanisms start to fail. As a solution, your inner system “runs” to a different type. That is why each type is connected to its Contraction Point by a line that points away from itself.
Something similar happens on the other side of the spectrum: When we’re relaxed, at peace and fully in the moment, we take on traits from the second type connected to us with a line. These sets of behaviors “come to us” to help us overcome the limitations of our main personality type. That’s why the Enneagram symbol shows these types pointing towards the main type they’re connected with.
For me, someone who relates the most to type Five, that concept looks like this:
Under stress, type Five goes to type Seven: And because type Seven prioritizes enjoyment and expectation and is generally better at looking into the future than staying in the present, so did I. Under the stress of being exposed to my biggest fear (feeling incompetent), I gave up on my objective and fact-based Five traits and escaped into the self-distraction type Seven is famous for.
On the other hand, in peace, type Fives goes to type Eight: As you know, type Eight likes to be strong, powerful, and to solve problems through sheer willpower. So when I feel secure and competent, like I did when I was talking about irrigation systems in ancient Mesopotamia, I suddenly enjoyed throwing myself into the fray with confidence and assertiveness, like type Eight.
How knowing about your Contraction and Expansion Points can help you in daily life
So far, so good. But until now, the Enneagram has given me little more than explaining things that I already knew were happening. I just didn’t know why. Now I do, which is nice.
But there’s more.
Diving deeper into these additional types, it turns out that the numbers your arrows point to also give you specific opportunities to challenge yourself. Becoming aware of how you change in different situations gives you the chance to learn how you can get out of the prison that your personality sometimes becomes.
In other words: If you work with these numbers, they can bring meaningful change to your life.
Once more, let’s take a look at how this looks for type Five:
Growing With Your Expansion Point as a Type Five
Another way to think about your Expansion Point is to view it as your Security Point. It’s the point where you go to when you already feel confident. So far, nothing new. But it’s also the point you can actively use to gain confidence.
In a way, we are all children who are still recovering from the things we’ve all lost in our childhood. For me, as someone who relates to type Five, this meant losing (or never gaining) my ability to engage with life confidently.
Type Eight, however, has no problem taking on the world head-on. Type Eight encourages me that it’s okay to take up more space, to assert myself in the world, to move out of my head and trust my gut instinct.
What type Eight offers me is to reclaim my strength. To take back the natural power and authority that I relinquished as a kid. It tells me that I’m allowed to impact people. That I can change the world around me in positive ways. As someone coming from type Five, that is a challenging thought. But type Eight offers me the security that this path is open to me.
Growing With Your Contraction Point as a Type Five
Just like your Expansion Point is not simply an explanation of who you are, but also a challenge to who you can be, your Contraction Point can also be called your Challenge Point.
The traits I borrow from type Seven when I’m stressed – trying to avoid pain, staying on the surface of things, escaping into daydreams – all lie on the less healthy spectrum of type Seven.
But what if I could also make use of the healthy aspects that are natural to this type?
Type Seven radiates a joy for life that you can feel from a mile away. These people are naturally optimistic and want to engage. Kinda the opposite of type Five.
That’s why type Seven challenges me to engage with people and situations without fearing that it’s automatically going to suck me dry of the emotional energy I have. I helps me remember that tapping into the insights and creativity of others will only multiply my own creativity.
Chances are you are not me
As you probably noticed, treating your Contraction and Expansion Points like this can feel uncomfortable. That’s what happens when you challenge your default way to look at the world and yourself.
But that’s also the great thing about using the Enneagram for self-discovery and growth: It encourages you to move away from “that’s just who I am”, and ask yourself: “Sure, but what if I could be so much more?”
I told you my story about how this is playing out for me. But chances are quite high you are shaped by a different Enneagram type.
No worries. Here’s a short overview of the Contraction and Expansion Points for each type:
Where each Enneagram type goes under contraction and pressure
- Type One goes to Type Four. Methodical and rational Ones take on the moody, irrational and introspective traits of unhealthy Fours.
- Type Two goes to Type Eight. Twos, who are usually caring and on the lookout for the needs of others, start showing aggressive, self-assertive and dominating behavior like Eights.
- Type Three goes to Type Nine. Energetic and driven Threes take on the more apathetic, disengaged and indifferent aspects of Nines.
- Type Four goes to Type Two. Introspective and sensible Fours turn all their focus to other people like Twos, to the level of being overly needy and clinging.
- Type Five goes to Type Seven. Objective and fact-based Fives borrow the escapist self-distraction from Sevens.
- Type Six goes to Type Three. Faithful and dutiful Sixes suddenly show signs of being competitive and arrogant like Threes.
- Type Seven goes to Type One. Easygoing and cheerful Sevens adopt the overly self-critical and perfectionist traits of Ones.
- Type Eight goes to Type Five. Confident and dominant Eights turn reclusive and detached like Fives.
- Type Nine goes to Type Six. Relaxed and empathetic Nines become anxious, worried and overly danger-aware like Sixes.
Where each Enneagram type goes during times of expansion
- Type One goes to Type Seven. The inner critic of the Ones shuts up and lets them become more spontaneous and joyful like Sevens.
- Type Two goes to Type Four. Twos let go of their sole focus on others and start looking more towards their own needs and desires like Fours.
- Type Three goes to Type Six. Overly competitive and image-focused Threes become more cooperative and committed to others like Sixes.
- Type Four goes to Type One. Fours step off their emotional rollercoasters and become more disciplined and productive like Ones.
- Type Five goes to Type Eight. Fives leave the sidelines and start joining the fray with confidence and assertiveness like Eights.
- Type Six goes to Type Nine. Sixes forget about their worries about potential dangers and become more relaxed and optimistic like Nines.
- Type Seven goes to Type Five. Sevens stop racing from one high to the next, sit down and become more focused, profound and contemplative like Fives.
- Type Eight goes to Type Two. Eights give up their lust for control and dominance and start looking more to the needs of others like Twos.
- Type Nine goes to Type Three. Nines get up from their comfortable couch of peace and harmony and become more energetic and self-actualizing like Threes.
That’s the short version.
If you want to do more than just know – if you want to grow, then there’s a ton of practical and actionable stuff packed into your type report about how your Contraction and Expansion Points can be of help to your personality type.
This concludes part Five of our introductory series to the Enneagram, and with it, the first half of this series. In the second half, we will look at more in-depth topics, like:
- How shame, fear, and anger operate outside the three Groups of the Enneagram
- Levels of Development – how healthy are you inside your personality type?
- Stances: How do you get what you want?
- Subtypes and how they can be a useful tool for personality growth
- How to put it all together
As you can see, there’s plenty still to come. So stay tuned, I’ll see you then!
If you want to catch up on previous posts in this series, you can do that here:
Hey there, I'm Chris, Chief Editor of Personality Path and the guy who wrote this article. If you want to know why the Enneagram has helped thousands of people more than any other personality assessment ever could, I'm with you. That's what our bi-weekly newsletter wants to explore. We're on the same journey as you. Wanna come?