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  • Writer's pictureJessica Morgan McAtee

Exploring the Enneagram: Understanding the Three Centers of Intelligence

Updated: Feb 20


The personality map known as the Enneagram contains multiple triads, groupings of three. There are nine points on the Enneagram that represent different personality types. Interestingly, we can make multiple combinations of three types, or triads, within the map for deeper understandings of how the unconscious parts of our personalities work.

Typically, the first of these that a new student learns has to do with intelligence centers. The Enneagram tool identifies three distinct but entangled intelligence centers known as the body, heart and head. What does it mean to be in the Body, Heart or Head Center? There is much confusion about Enneagram intelligence, this simplifies it.

Our Brains

Our amazing human intelligence synthesizes multiple data points from our environment. This has been going on for millions of years and is how all animals survive. Our brains are always scanning for danger, running bodily functions, ignoring what seems unimportant and seeking whatever it is we are currently pursuing. Information is being processed through our kinesthetic sensations, our emotional feelings and our sharp thoughts. All of this happens simultaneously and is very complicated. For that reason, what we consciously receive from our perception is only a very limited part of what our intelligence takes in at any given time. By limiting our consciousness, our brains do us a wonderful service. They simplify our environment. This way, we don’t get too overwhelmed.

What is an Intelligence Center?

If we are paying attention, we notice that there are different types of intelligence at work from one individual to the next. The Enneagram tool identifies three distinct but entangled intelligence centers known as the body, heart and head. Other teachers will use the terms instinctual, emotional and thinking centers.

Each of our personalities, as determined by our Enneagram number, has assets and liabilities in the center of intelligence that we primarily and habitually operate from. Of course, every person has and uses all three types of intelligence. People who use the Eight, Nine, and One patterns are rooted in the body or instinctual center. Those who are using numbers Two, Three and Four are at home in the heart or emotional center. Numbers Five, Six and Seven are based in the head or thinking center.

This image illustrates which intelligence center each Enneagram number is in.

We’re All Confused

As a reminder, YOU are not your Enneagram number. Your number is a map of motives, behaviors and beliefs that you have used since childhood to help you navigate life. It is so close to you that it seems like part of you, but it’s not. It’s a mental construct. That is what personality or ego is.

We can forget that we are able to break out of the patterns because they aren’t truly us at our deepest level. With intention, awareness and agency, we are empowered to change the course we are on. Sometimes the patterns seem like us because we have been using them for so long that we become identified with them.

The goal of Enneagram is to help us locate the number we’ve shrouded ourselves in so that we can see where it helps us. We can also see where it stunts our growth. Then we can make deliberate choices to act in ways that bring us life instead of mindlessly repeating the same old patterns of our number.

The natural flow of healthy functions is blocked in our dominant intelligence center. A spectrum of healthy capacities is distorted. Our understanding of the world has become confused regarding issues related to the center we are dominant in.

Because the organic life-flow in that area has been confused, the personality tries to fix it by overcompensating. As you might imagine, that rarely goes well. The center our number is in is where the pseudo-solutions of our ego are most active. These solutions try to imitate the real-deal but they cannot do so. Your intelligence center indicates where your healthy life-flow is the least able to function naturally.

The Body, Gut or Instinctual Triad

Types Eight, Nine and One experience physical bodily tensions as they maintain a resistance to what is in their environment. They try to control reality and attempt to maintain boundaries. Of course, it is what it is, so a lifetime of combating reality is certainly a losing battle. In healthy circumstances an action from our motor center can move us in the right direction. When we are misaligned, we can suffer impulsive behaviors or inertia.

Issues with repression and anger are common for these types. They are ultimately concerned with autonomy and bringing justice, as they understand it. However, when the world isn’t as they believe it should be, they experience rage. It costs the body valuable energy to try to moderate the external and internal environments. It is exhausting.

When we live fully in our instinctive gut center, we are grounded in our body. We feel independent, autonomous, stable and deeply fulfilled. We trust that things will unfold in God’s hands and justice will prevail. Often, numbers Two, Three, Four, Five, Six and Seven can tap into this with little effort. That’s why they don’t spend time fixating on changing reality or being vexed by an unjust world. We can only exist in the here and now and that existence is only found when grounded in our body.

The Heart, Feeling or Emotional Triad

Our friends who are Twos, Threes and Fours are in this Triad. They get confused and search for a significant identity that will finally make them loveable. It can be overwhelming to be in touch with our true emotions. It is not for the faint of heart. Those in the Heart Triad substitute other reactions in the place of their true feelings. When used properly, we can deeply empathize for healthy connection. When misaligned, we can be emotionally manipulative, moody, or insensitive.

Our identity flows out of our heart. When fully connected to our Emotional Center, we don’t worry about what others think because we are confident in our value. We value our own uniqueness and rest in knowing that we are have a special place in the world as a Child of God.

But when we forget this truth, we can experience deep sadness, which is the experience of those in this Triad. They struggle with hostility and identity. They struggle with the past. In order to fill this void, they seek attention. But that doesn’t solve the problem because the healing comes from within, not from others. Their experience is one of profound shame.

When we are fully engaged and connected with our heart center, we feel valued and loved. We know we are worthy of being desired. Often numbers One, Five, Six, Seven, Eight and Nine can tap into this with little effort. That is why they don’t spend time fixating on earning love and building an admirable image.

The Head or Thinking Triad

Numbers Five, Six and Seven are the cerebral types in this Thinking Triad. This group is looking for security and support to ensure a safe future. They forget that they have an inner wisdom, a universal gift from the Divine, to guide them through life.

The experience of being without guidance gives them feelings of deep anxiety and insecurity. The overarching dreadful feeling is one of fear. When healthy, one can effectively analyze and reason. When misaligned, we can get paralyzed with overthinking and planning.

Since they believe that they have lost connection with their inner guidance, they look for it in strategies and belief systems. This group thinks that without external support, they will not survive. Ironically, when our minds are racing, it is impossible to find the stillness that leads to trust. In the “monkey mind” or normal chatterbox of the ego, there is only frenzy and panic.

When we are calm, we know we are profoundly supported. In order to navigate the world, we need to be able to trust that we have an inner North Star that guides us safely through. Be still and know that you are guided. Often numbers One, Two, Three, Four, Eight and Nine can tap into this with little effort.

Learn Your Number First

Some people will introduce this concept of Intelligence centers to new Enneagrammers as a way to help someone discover their number. Though it seems like a logical idea, I have found this unhelpful. You see, Enneagram is deep. It uncovers our sub-conscious selves. Many of us have no idea that we struggle in these areas. In fact, most of us would deny that we are angry, sad or afraid much of the time.

I was one of those people who knew my number within 20 minutes of learning the Enneagram. The Seven Type had me at hello. When I discovered that most of my life was fear-based, I was astonished. Yet, it made perfect sense. Who knew that anxiety is a form of fear? The scales fell off quickly, but had someone asked me whether I struggled with anger, fear or shame, I would have not recognized that in me. Denial is strong. I would have thought that I occasionally felt anger but that I never felt shame or fear. Geesh, I was blind! Now I see that my entire life was engulfed in fear. Fish can’t see the ocean they swim in.

Most people find it best to learn their number, then humbly walk the journey of uncovering what has been hiding all along.

Stay Centered,

Jessica McAtee

If you are interested in Enneagram Life-Coaching, please check out my site at

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