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Enneagram Childhood Experiences

Updated: Oct 1, 2023

PART I: Types 1 - 5

PART II: Types 6 - 9

 

One of the first things that really blew me away about the Enneagram was that each Type has it's own childhood description that helps explain their present day personality. I know when I read the childhood experience for Type Ones I felt very seen. It described the most foundational experiences I had as a child, as well as my mom and dad's potential personality.


Now for those of you that know how deep the Enneagram is, it's probably no surprise that the Enneagram has a special analysis of your childhood since it's by far the most pivotal season of our lives.


It's when Nature & Nurture go head-to-head and we either maintain a great deal of our original essence, or we start becoming entrenched in our ego, which as you know, shapes our personality.


So with that said, let's take a look at each type's childhood experience!


THE ORIGINAL WOUND THEORY


Now before I dive into these core descriptions, I want to explain a particular Enneagram theory that I'll use in each description called "The Original Wound Theory"

It's something that I picked up from Richard Rohr, and it's the idea that you were actually born as the Personality Type that you go to in health, or integration.

If you're not familiar with the movements of integration & disintegration, please go check out my episode on "How the Enneagram Works" - it's a super short episode but it covers a few concepts that are essential for understanding what I'm about to say.

Anyway, the original wound theory works like this…

  • I'm a Type 1, and Type One's movement of integration is to go Type 7. This means that in my earliest years, I'm talking from the moment I took my first breaths, I would've behaved like a Type 7 Enthusiast because we're not born with an ego, we just have pure essence.

  • But as it goes in life, something painful happened that made me question who I am and how I operate in the world. You could say that pain wounded my essence and as a result, I began to embody the ego of a Type 1 Reformer, which is where Type 7 goes in disintegration, or unhealth.

This original wound can happen at any point in our childhood, and it can be the sudden impact of a singular traumatic event, or the slow burn of a more subtle trauma. Either way, it will happen and it will shape who we become for the rest of our lives.

Now if this Original Wound theory just seems overly depressing or unrelatable, then my apologies. I've just found it to be an unavoidable part of our everyone's journey through self-awareness, no matter how charmed your childhood may have been.

So since I already started talking about us Type Ones, let's start by describing their childhood experience first.


TYPE 1 REFORMERS


Like I said a moment ago, Type One Reformers start out looking like Type 7 Enthusiasts. We're usually loud and energetic kids that are captivated by our own imagination. We have an inherent belief that the world is magical and fun and the idea of a benevolent God creating a world for our enjoyment is accepted without quest. However, as we grow up, we start to realize that there is a disconnection between us and our father figure, or the person who is meant to be the protective figure in the family, which is traditionally the father.

Typically, our father figure lacks warmth and feels far more comfortable punishing children than affirming them. I know this was the case for me, as I had an extremely irritable, acoholic father that believed it was better to be feared than loved. So, given this tense relationship with the father figure, One's start to perceive all authority figures as untrustworthy, and our ego tells us that we can make a perfect environment with better rules. And so we begin to perfect things - starting with ourselves.

We take that critical voice of our father and ratchet it up a few notches so that we're never really satisfied. And anyone close to us, has to meet those same unforgiving standards otherwise their presence in our lives may become another source of pain & punishement.

Punishment is huge for 1s, because, again, our fathers rarely celebrated our successes, but almost ALWAYS punished our failures. That's why 1s become so judgmental of what they perceive as "bad behaviors" - it's not that they want to feel superior, although that is a byproduct, but because they are driven to be good in order to avoid painful punishment or, even worse, DIVINE WRATH.

This continues on throughout our lives, and every behavior, every comment, every life decision is rationalized over and over again to avoid this imagined, impending doom. Brene Brown calls this "Foreboding Joy" and One's are masters at it.

So overall, Ones believe that their integrity & wise decision making is the key to rekindling the joy & freedom of their childhood. And ultimately, the lost childhood message of the 1 is that "you are good - so have a good time."


TYPE 2 HELPERS


As children, 2s started out looking like 4s and they felt inherently special due to the amount of attention they received.

However, something caused this direct adoration to fade. It could be having multiple siblings that need to be taken care of, or a financial crisis of some kind that calls for the kids to help pitch in more - whatever it was - it stole their whimsical sense of the world as place where being loved was just assumed and turned it into a place where love had to be earned. The major shift that occurs between moving from this 4 essence to a 2 ego is that 4s are not ashamed of their needs, and are almost proud of them, whereas 2s are very ashamed of their needs and begin to repress them.

Once 2s are wounded by the fact that they are no longer a central figure in their family, they become envious, competitive and subconsciously begin to seek out ways to make someone or something need them. Many Type 2 children will ask for a pet or find a younger friend that always relies on them for things.

This cultivates a belief system centered around the idea that you must give something to get something, and 2s feel that if they provide something it's only fair to expect that love & attention be returned. This barter system is also an attempt to avoid clearly asking for things they need - as 2s naturally avoid anything that may look selfish.

It's ironic because both 2s and 4s are self-centered, but there is an honesty to the 4s self-centeredness while the 2 is so focused on repressing self-centeredness that it becomes difficult to truly focus on anyone else. Type 2s lifelong attempt to earn love through personal sacrifice is the embodiment of their lost childhood message, which is that "your are loved simply for being yourself, and your needs do not make you less lovable."


TYPE 3 ACHIEVERS


As children, 3s looked like 6s and they enjoyed the activity and support of their family and authority figures. But the 3's ego perked up as soon as they got their first round of applause for doing something GOOD. It's like if you've ever seen a baby try ice cream for the first time - that's what praise did for the little baby achiever. They started out with a desire to be just another part of the team - but over time that team, which is the family unit - begins to crack or crumble entirely.

3s quickly realized that they could potentially be lost in the shuffle of their chaotic environment - and the quickest way to keep people's attention - is with a stellar performance. Threes rarely had an example of calm, quiet stability modeled for them, and what was exemplified was a form of public hyperactivity. That's not to stay they weren't told they were special and free to do anything they wanted - but what they perceived was an imbalance in their nurturing figure's words and actions.

That's a really important statement so I don't want to breeze past it. I know many threes have a hard time saying critical or negative statements about their loved ones, especially their moms, but you have to know that it's ok to critique your loved ones even if they're doing their best.

An important characteristic of Type 3s' childhood experience is that they are deeply affected by their nurturing figure, and most often, the mother is the nurturing figure in the family. 3s tend to have a mother who subconsciously creates an expectation of extroverted excellence.

So for example, playing the piano is great, but what would be better is to play the piano infront of the whole school at the talent show. This is caused by a deep disconnection with shame that permeates the entire family.

Seeking external praise & affirmation is just a way to help numb the pain of social guilt & shame. Ultimately, the lost childhood message of the 3 is that "you are loved for who you are, not what you do. So feel free to sleep in, read a book, and chill."

I added that last part because my wife is a 3 and I've seen her benefit so much from feeling that kind of permission.


TYPE 4 INDIVIDUALISTS


As children, 4s actually looked and felt like 1s. They had a primal sense of creation being perfectly in order. In their earliest years, 4s had a glimpse of the world they will spend the rest of their lives imagining.

However, fours quickly realized that their version of reality did not match their parent's view of reality - and they began to feel like outsiders in their own home. The classic childhood experience of 4s is feeling like neither of their parents truly gets them. One parent may give praise too readily, which is easily dismissed since the 4 knows when they've actually done something really special, and the other parent is often distant or stingy with praise, which is also dismissed since the 4 sees themself as extremely capable and impressive - and anyone who doesn't see that is a fool.

So what happens? 4s begin crafting a world inside of themselves that they can escape to for hours on end. And their parents usually chalk it up to having a "whimsical childhood imagination" rather than recognizing the deep identification their child has with this perfect, imaginary world.

This disconnect with both parents leads 4s to seek out a "rescuer" of some kind - it could be a playmate, love interest, or just a replacement parental figure like a neighbor or teacher that can mirror and affirm their vision of otherworldly beauty and perfection. Ultimately, the lost childhood message of the 4 is that "you are seen for who you are, and what you see, is wondrous, beautiful and necessary."


TYPE 5 INVESTIGATORS


As children, 5s embodied the power of 8s. They had a primal sense of being connected to a limitless power source, like a God of some kind that allowed them to feel capable of controlling their environment.

It's very common for Type 5s to have had a deeply held belief in an all-powerful God that protected and empowered them as a child. However, their sense of power & control was quickly fractured by an experience that made them aware of just how out of control they actually were.

My brother is a Type 5 and I know he had a season as an only child when my parents were financially stable and my dad's drinking wasn't out of control yet. But then I was born - and my parents filed for bankruptcy, my dad started drinking more n more, and eventually got physically aggressive. So my brother escaped by going internal. He lived in his room with his books, his video games, and his computer - because he knew if came up out that mental hiding place - there was nothing there for him except a minefield of traumatic experiences.

Type 5 children turn their attention away from the passionate emotions of their Type 8 essence, and into a world of objective, rational, or technical subjects. Since 5s feel their nurturing figure did not protect them from chaos and pain, they also begin to prioritize their independence over social connections. That's a huge aspect of Type 5's personality as an adult.

5s may truly love their mothers, but they see them either as a source of weakness or a hinderance to their self-sufficiency. This overemphasis on personal independence causes 5s to see social situations as a risk, since they think they have provide a unique gift or technical skill of some kind - rather than feeling free & comfortable simply showing up as they are with the hopes of cultivating a mutually beneficial relationship. Ultimately, the lost childhood message of the 5 is that "your desires are not a problem, and it's OK to need people."


TYPE 6 LOYALISTS


As children, 6s felt the serenity of 9s as they were truly present to everyone & everything around them. 6s had a primal knowledge of the interconnectedness of all things. They were not easily frazzled and assumed the best of those around them.

However, as 6s grew up they started to experience an imbalance in their parental figure's ability or desire to protect them. Many 6s report having one playmate parent, usually the father, and one stricter disciplinarian, which is usually the mother. This imbalance fractures the perfect harmony of the Type 9 essence, and is replaced with the trademark anxiety of the 6.

The 6's anxiety is caused by things feeling misaligned. They feel like they have a parental figure but they intuitively sense the flawed humanity of one or both of their parents from a very young age. This causes 6s to feel torn - because every child wants to be supported by a parent, but no child wants to be controlled, especially by an authority figure that lacks stability or integrity.

This internal paradox sparks a lifelong journey through anxiety. Type 6 children seek to alleviate their anxiety through an alliance with the protective figure, the father, so they can resist the overly controlling or burdensome presence of the nurturing figure, the mother. This perceived imbalance of authority in the home causes 6s to feel ambivalent about their parents' role in their life, or lose respect for them altogether. However, 6s have an ability to maintain relationships with just about anyone, so they don't typically leave their parents behind no matter how little esteem they may have for them.

No matter the quality of their parent's character or how secretly rebellious they may be, 6s prefer the family stays together and everybody play their parts simply because it's a familiar structure that provides some semblance of security. Ultimately, the lost childhood message of the 6 is simply "you are safe here."


TYPE 7 ENTHUSIASTS


As children, 7s had the mental fortitude of 5s. They had a vivid imagination that kept them satisfied and somewhat solitary. However, as their sense of reality expanded to include the negative aspects of our existence, such as suffering, pain, and death, they faught to subvert the growing presence of darkness in their mind with a constant, revolving door of new playmates and activities.

One key characteristic of the 7's childhood is an unconscious disconnection with their nurturing figure - usually the mother - not because she is unloving but because she isn't soft or attentive towards the 7. Some childhood psychologists chalk it up to being cut off too early from breast feeding - and thus they feel a sense of "Well I guess I have to take care of myself now."

One of my friends that's a Type 7 told me a story about coming home with an injury after playing with his older siblings, and his mom just told him "Welp if you wanna play with the big dogs, you gotta learn to pee in the tall grass." There was no "oh poor baby, let me patch that up for you."

Another Type 7 I know grew up in a home full of foster children, so his mother was constantly looking after a new, traumatized child - and instead of getting jealous over his mother's divided attention - he would simply make the new child his new playmate.

This lack of maternal nurturing causes a deep sense of frustration within 7s - DESPITE their external projection of playfulness and joy. Ultimately, the lost childhood message of the 7 is "It's OK to be hurt, you will be taken care of."


TYPE 8 CHALLENGERS


As children, 8s were extremely needy like 2s. For a moment in time, no matter how brief, they deeply enjoyed a sense of loving adoration, and felt a great deal of maternal warmth and paternal affirmation. It felt right that love & attention were so freely given.

However, this feeling ends early & abruptly as most 8s report that they had to grow up fast due to a lack of support in the home or looming danger in their environment, like growing up in a rough neighborhood.

Many 8s had a dad that left when they were a kid. And that keeps "survival issues" at the forefront of their mind for the rest of their lives.

In my experience of 8s, they can trace this survival instinct to a unique experience of feeling betrayed, rejected, or abandoned as a child. But the fascinating thing is, that most of them wear it like a badge of honor rather than a deep wound still in need of healing. Their stories of past trauma are recounted with bravado rather than remorse, because they have no value for gentleness or perceived weakness, only the ability to rise to power. Ironically, many 8s love little kids for two reasons: First, they're not threat to the 8's power. Second, 8s have a deep desire to rekindle the innocence of their expedited youth. I have seen Type 8 dads really struggle to embrace their sons as they grow up because 8's lost their childhood innocence at such an early age, they don't know how to embrace their sons' innocence, playfulness, or meekness once they start reaching middle childhood or adolescence.

Ultimately, the lost childhood message of the 8 is that "you will not be abandoned." And I would hope that 8s can pass that message on to their children rather than teaching them that toughness is a way of avoiding the pain of abandonment.


TYPE 9 PEACEMAKERS


In childhood, 9s start out looking like 3s, and they exude a sort of boisterous confidence because of the praise they easily attract. They feel capable of attaining any goal, right up until their external environment shows them how incapable they actually are.

Many 9s experience a familial trauma early on in life - like the death of a sibling, a messy divorce, or I hate to say this one but it's so common - sexual molestation of some kind, and that causes them to resign from any participation with the outside world.

Ironically, nines rarely describe their childhood as unpleasant or traumatic and this is because they develop an instinctive reaction to disassociate from painful experiences. This often causes 9s to endure long term relationships with extremely unhealthy people because they do not feel the pain of the relationship in a visceral manner. The positive side of this reaction, is that it allows them to be incredibly effective Mediators - as they have the ability to remove themself from all consideration. And that's a perfect example of how our deepest wounds can actually become our most profound gifts.


Now, taking a step back, type nine children found that it was best to be a "low maintenance" child, and that expressing their needs or emotions, especially anger, cause more problems than they solve. This prevents many 9s from becoming independent people, as they learn to love being in the background of someone else's environment. 9s suppress the energy of their Type 3 essence, and so they start looking to other people as a fuel source to motivate or direct their lives.


Ultimately, the lost childhood message of the 9 is that "your presence is powerful and you can direct your life."


FINAL THOUGHTS


Ok, that's a wrap on enneagram childhoods.

I know this topic may have dug up some uncomfortable thoughts and distant memories for you, so I want to leave you with a few comforting lines from a TS Elliot poem that have helped me make peace with this whole process:

We shall not cease from exploration And the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time.

I wish you the best on this long journey towards self-awareness and I hope that as you reflect on your childhood, that it gives you a fresh perspective on who you really are at your core, and that you eventually reach a place where you can go home see yourself for the first time.



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