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Enneagram Type Six Explained

Updated: Dec 30, 2023

A Complete Guide to Enneagram Type 6


If you or someone you know is highly responsible, prefers working in groups to working alone, loves their routines, and is a weird mix of valuing their independence and yet is deeply committed to their relationships, then they may be a Type Six Loyalist.


If you’ve tested or been told by others that you’re a Type One Reformer, Type Two Helper, or Type Eight Challenger, but you're not quite sure, then this may help confirm or change the Enneagram type you identify with most. Those three types--the One, Two and Eight--are often mistyped as Sixes. You can also reach out to schedule an Enneagram type consulting call.


Major Personality Traits


Type Six Loyalists are a confusing bunch. They’re responsible, yet rebellious; hard working, yet complacent; and committed yet suspicious. They also tend to adopt the traits of whoever is in charge, or whatever their current community values, which is why Type Sixes mistype themselves all the time. For instance, if a Six is married to a really strict religious person, they may test as a Type One Reformer because they’ve learned that their morality keeps their life stable and their relationships intact.


This reflective behavior is driven by the Six's core fear, which is the loss of security and relational support. They want to feel safe, so they’re constantly reacting to waves of anxiety based on how safe they think they are. If they feel safe, they’re your best friend. If they feel threatened, they’re your worst enemy.

There’s a funny phrase about Sixes: “they’re either at your feet, or at your throat.”

Sixes are unique in that they’re the only Enneagram type with two distinct variations. There are counter-phobic Sixes who react to their fear by charging head first into it, and phobic Sixes who react to their fear by running away from it. This is essentially the fight or flight instinct played out within the Type Six ego. This makes Loyalists a really diverse bunch because they could just as easily become a Navy Seal as they could be a stay-at-home mom that likes to watch soap operas in her free time (not to say that Navy Seals can’t enjoy a good soap).


What both classifications have in common is that they constantly defend their beliefs and their relationships. Sixes are very much a ride-or-die kind of friend, and that’s because Sixes need things to be concrete. They need their alliances, their businesses, their country, their brand, anything they’re committed to, to return a sense of security. Sixes feel that their unshakeable commitment earns them safety and protection by the broader organization.


In general, Sixes lack the inner guidance and confidence necessary to trust themselves, which is why they’re constantly attaching themselves to bigger, stronger partnerships and time honored institutions like the military, their country, or various religious organizations. If Sixes can overcome their fears and find security within themselves, they can become the greatest examples of courage and leadership under fire.


Childhood


In their earliest years, Sixes embody the sort of quiet confidence of Type Nine Peacemakers; however, something usually happens to make the Six believe that they’re not capable of living up to the standards of their protective figure. This is typically the patriarchal figure, but an overbearing mother can also step into this role. In fact, many Sixes report that their dad was a bit of a playmate or was frequently absent, and so their mother stepped into a strict, constant force of correction within the home.

Either way, Sixes felt deeply connected to their authority figure, which made them start to mistrust their own ability to make acceptable decisions and instead they began looking to authority figures to provide that sense of security for them.

But even as little children, Sixes could not escape their desire for independence, and so they wound up in a push-pull relationship with authority figures that makes some Sixes look like little rebels. If Sixes had like a really scary or abusive authoritative figure that would punish them for being disobedient, then they usually skipped the whole rebellious thing and instead they sought out a replacement for their protective figure in school with teachers, or in sports with coaches, or even with another family member entirely like a loving grandpa. They basically just wanted someone to show them how to be an adult so they can overcome their need of adults entirely, but all they end up learning is how to rely on or react to broader institutions for security and guidance.


Sixes need something to push against in order to feel grounded, because they still carry this childhood experience with them forever, and they project their relationship with their protective figure onto other organizations or even their workplace. As a result, they constantly wind up complaining or feeling mistreated because subconsciously that feeling of dissatisfaction with authority figures is more familiar than feeling seen, supported, and empowered. Sixes and Ones should probably start a support group just about this topic because they have so much in common here!


If, by the grace of God, Sixes have the most awesome, healthy protective figure imaginable, they usually grow up looking to marry a person just like their protective figure so they can bounce all their life choices off their partner, and so the journey to find their own inner guidance system continues.


Wings


Every Enneagram type has what’s known as a “wing”--it’s simply an overlap of traits with the personality type directly to the left or to the right of your primary type. So Type Sixes can either have a Five wing or a Seven wing. You always have a stronger leaning toward one wing over the other at any given time in your life.


The DEFENDER

Enneagram 1 wing 9

Defenders get their nickname because they are less concerned about pleasing people than Sixes with a Seven wing, and they’re far more interested in having the correct belief system. The Five wing creates a more internal, intellectual, and isolated personality type for the Six. They are curious folks who tend to be outspoken and potentially unpopular because of their willingness to question widely accepted beliefs. This can make them look like Eights, especially if they’re a counter-phobic Six, because they are frequently aggressive and outspoken, all in the name of doing what’s right. Another reason they are called Defenders is because they often advocate for the underdogs, as they too often feel like they’ve had to gut it out and find security the hard way, and are looking to pay it forward.


The Five wing also makes this subtype less trusting, so they’re more likely to find one or maybe two sources of guidance like a mentor, because they take pride in working it out themselves--this is another reason why Sixes are full of contradictions. The core traits of the Five are so different than the core traits of the Six in many ways. While Sixes normally seek attachment to people and organizations, Fives seek detachment from people and organizations. However, where these types align is in their technical expertise. Both Fives and Sixes like using their powers of observation to solve problems and come up with practical solutions. This makes Defenders more likely to work within a field that has defined rules like law, medicine, or education.


When they’re unhealthy, Sixes with a Five wing (6w5) are secretive, suspicious, can be a bit nihilistic, and potentially attack those that threaten the security of their beliefs or their loved ones. When healthy, they have great organizational leadership skills and are willing to go the extra mile for moral causes.


The BUDDY

Enneagram 1 wing 2

Sixes and Sevens have a lot of complimentary traits that make this personality super easy to be around, hence the nickname “the Buddy.” Sixes with a Seven wing (6w7) often seem like Twos because they are so committed to being helpful, supportive, loving, and kind to all their relationships, especially their romantic relationships. That makes them a bit less likely to share critical viewpoints than their counterpart, the 6w5. They prefer to keep things light, are super playful, and usually have a great sense of humor. The Seven wing also gives Sixes a much bigger gas tank for social activities, as well as making them far more interested in a wide variety of topics.


The Buddy is also much worse at handling their anxiety than the Defender. That’s mostly because they don’t stop to get alone with themselves long enough to process what they’re thinking and feeling. The Seven wing adds a lot of avoidant behavior, so Buddies would rather hang out all day than deal with their problems. When 6w7s become unhealthy, they get really manic because the quick thinking mind of the Seven mixed with the self-doubt of the Six starts to come up with a million reasons why things can and will go wrong. When it becomes obvious to others that they’re becoming emotionally erratic, they usually play it off with some well-practiced, self-deprecating humor to mask the depth of their problems. It usually sounds like: “Oh you know my life is a dumpster fire right now, but just another reason to start drinking at noon, right? Just kidding! But not really.” (Takes a sip).


Ironically, it’s the playfulness of the 6w7 that can be their downfall, because they lack the maturity to endure the painful process of healing from trauma. Even in the average range, this low pain tolerance manifests as a general sense of complacency, and so they cling to comfortable yet unfulfilling jobs or relationships.


When they are healthy, the Seven wing drives many Sixes to be outwardly loving, incredibly supportive, and can even make them great performing artists as they tend to be highly entertaining people.


Integration & Disintegration


The concept of a movement toward integration and disintegration is a central teaching of the Enneagram. It’s the idea that we embody the traits of other personality types depending on how healthy we are.


Disintegrated SIXES

Enneagram 1 disintegration to type 4

When Sixes are unhealthy, their movement of disintegration is to the Type Three Achiever, and they try to overcome their self-doubt by being overly cocky, competitive, and self-important. Often times this drives unhealthy Sixes to obsess about their career in order to “get ahead” and achieve the security they so desperately need to feel confident in their station in life. "Getting ahead” usually means becoming even more anxious, because now they need people to see them as capable, which makes it even more difficult to be honest about their fears or need for support.

Integrated SIXES

Enneagram 1 movement of integration to type 7

When Sixes are healthy, their movement of integration is to the Type Nine Peacemaker, and they finally put their anxious minds to rest. This allows them to be more present, calm, and confident. They finally embody the self-assurance that they’ve been seeking from an external source, and have instead found it within themselves.




Instincts


The Enneagram instincts describe the most basic ways we function in our daily lives. The pattern normally goes that we operate out of one primary instinct, then our secondary instinct really just serves the first, and the last instinct is usually repressed due to some formative experience we had growing up.


Instincts are the reason why people typically mistype themselves, or get mistyped by others. Your instinct can operate so intensely that it’s what most people experience when they’re around you, so they make a superficial read ("oh you're so extroverted you must be a Three or Seven").


The three instincts are the self-preservation instinct, the social instinct, and the sexual instinct.


Self-Preservation

When Type Sixes are primarily driven by the self-preservation instinct, they become the ultimate homemaker. They like nothing more than creating a safe, comfortable little nest to enjoy all that life has to offer. Self-preservation Sixes are very concerned with protecting the home, which makes them super strategic about how they spend money, who they choose as friends or neighbors, and especially who they choose as a romantic partner. Self-preservation Sixes see all these relationships as allies in the struggle for survival in a world that constantly takes your resources from you, and if the Six has a Five wing, this desire to hoard resources is amplified even more.


Self-preservation Sixes are likely the one in the family responsible for managing the budget because they like to have control of every major aspect of the home life, and money is definitely a major cause of their constant anxiety around survival.


Self-pres Sixes express their anxiety more readily to friends and family in the hopes that it will garner support. When self-pres Sixes become overly stressed, they react by clinging on to whatever’s familiar. Even in they’re in a bad job, a bad relationship, or both, they hold on for dear life because they feel terrified of losing what feels like their last shred of stability. When loved ones start to pull away or put up boundaries with the self-pres Six, their anxiety turns into aggression and they feel like they need to go on the attack against these former allies turned enemies.


However, when self-pres Sixes are healthy, they overcome this tendency to have catastrophic thoughts about the future, and transcend their personal anxiety so they can make bold choices that actually improve the quality of their life, friendships and finances.


Social

When Sixes operate primarily out of their social instinct, they become like relational super glue. They’re not going anywhere, and they tend to fit in with just about any and everyone, especially if they’re a 6w7. They believe in showing up for others because it’s what they most hope you’ll do for them when they’re in need.


Because social Sixes are image conscious, they can often be little goody-goodies that always follow the rules and end up looking a lot like Type One Reformers. The big difference between social Sixes and Ones comes down to the One's willingness to create conflict if they feel like the rules are unjust or if people aren’t being fair. Social Sixes are far more likely to let things slide so long as it keeps them in the good graces of whoever is in charge. Social Sixes are all about going with the flow, which makes it hard for them to advocate for themselves and makes them really uncomfortable with any success that makes them stand apart from the group. They’ve got major tall poppy syndrome and they’re afraid that success outside the group means sacrificing the support and camaraderie of the group.


When social Sixes don’t have a healthy ego, they’re more comfortable suffering within the social network of a company or family unit rather than leaving it to find true healing and growth. Some social Sixes are so afraid of being alone and unsupported that they fall in with gangs or radical groups on the fringes of society, but when they are healthy, social Sixes use their strength of leadership to create structure and community where there would likely otherwise be chaos and disconnection.


Sexual

When Sixes operate primarily out of the sexual instinct, they look like little Instagram models because they value physical power and attractiveness above all else. Cautious of unhelpful stereotypes, but for men it’s a lot about cultural ideas of strength and toughness, and for women it’s a lot about having the perfect body.


Sexual Sixes also want their partner to embody these traits. They need society to affirm that they made a good choice. Again, Sixes struggle to listen to their own inner guidance, so they look around at what culture admires and they try to manifest it in their physical traits.


Sexual Sixes tend to be more extroverted, direct, and intense individuals. Sometimes they can feel like Eights, especially if they’re counter-phobic, because they seek out dramatic challenges to prove their strength and have a sort of “don’t mess with me” mentality. However, if they’re a phobic Six with a sexual instinct, they’re far more subtle in their seduction and can look like Fours because of their coy, mysterious way of flirting. Either way, both phobic and counter-phobic sexual Sixes have the hardest time with authority because while they want support, they resist feeling controlled more than other Sixes.


When they get unhealthy, sexual Sixes resort to spreading lies and gossip about those they want to remove from power. They always have a very specific person they attack rather than broader groups or organizations like other Sixes might, and that’s because the sexual instinct is all about one-on-one intimacy.


At their best, sexual Sixes have a great eye for strength of character, and if they move beyond the superficial tendencies, they can really find and bring out the best in people that would probably go overlooked by mainstream society.


Triads


There are three triads within the Enneagram. These triads all group personality types based on shared behaviors that can really help you to understand why you’re so similar in one area and so different in another. The triads have evolved over time and are a major way the Enneagram integrates widely held concepts from mainstream psychology. They’re a great reminder of the ways we share so many behaviors with each other no matter what personality type we are.The three Enneagram triads are the Triad Centers, the Harmonic Triad, and the Hornevian triad.


Enneagram 1s as part of the Gut or Body Triad Center

Triad Centers

Sixes are planted firmly in the Head triad. In fact, they are the impinged type within the Head triad, which just means that they are smack dab in the middle of the triad between Types Five and Seven. Impinged types have the hardest time overcoming the blind spots of their respective triads.


All head types live in the future, and they struggle with a great deal of anxiety because they think, and worry, and anticipate threats to their security. Each head types deal with their anxiety differently. Fives run away from the dangers of the outside world by escaping into the comfort of their inner world. Sevens, on the other hand, escape the anxiety of their inner world by going out into the world seeking entertainment.


Sixes, since they’re impinged, do both. They constantly swing between a sort of “screw it, I’m going to take action and overcome these fears” mentality and immediately becoming afraid that their actions may have ruined their chance for a stable, secure life - and thus they retreat back into their mind. It’s a vicious cycle that creates a constant wave of anxiety for Sixes until they learn to master the art of quieting the mind and finding security outside of their circumstances.


Harmonic Triad

The Harmonic Triad is all about the way we cope with pain, trauma, or failure. The three groups are the competency group, the positive outlook group, and the reactive group.

Sixes are in the reactive group with Type Four Individualists and Type Eight Challengers, so when they experience a crisis they look around at their surroundings (primarily the people closest to them) to see if they’re either going to be supportive or if they’re going to leave. Sixes are a bundle of contradictions, and during times of crisis, they expect both support and leadership.


They don’t want to feel smothered, but they’re also terrified of being abandoned, so reactive Sixes test those around them in a few ways. They can push you away in the hopes that you come after them, or they can get in your face to test your loyalty and see if you’re too weak to handle yourself. Sixes feel that if you were in pain, they’d eagerly find the best way to support or protect you. Needless to say, it can be a bit confusing to know what Sixes want from you when they’re hurting.


Hornevian Triad

The Hornevian Triad is describes the general ways each type behaves social situations. Each type's primary instinct has a ton of influence here. The three groups of the Hornevian Triad are the withdrawn group, the compliant group, and the assertive group.

Type Six Loyalists are in the compliant group with Type One Reformers and Type Two Helpers. Sixes however, are the most traditionally compliant of the three compliant types. They adhere to the rules of whoever is in charge because they're afraid of losing the groups acceptance, and therefore losing their security. They enjoy being inside the safety net of a large structure or institution and typically do whatever they have to to ensure their place within it.


Even if Sixes look rebellious or “noncompliant,” they’re usually rebellious with a group of other rebels so that they still have support in some defined, structured way. Any controversial behaviors usually stem from a feeling of confidence they have in their association with that other stronger organization.


Practical Exercises

The Enneagram is incredibly critical and it touches on the most sensitive areas of our lives. That’s because it’s foundational belief is that the ego, or what most people call your personality, is just the YOU you’ve become to survive in this world.


There’s a layer below your ego called your essence, or your “true self.” Think about it like becoming the best version of your personality. Either way, the only process to get that true self out of you is to become aware of that top layer of your ego so that you can make healthy choices to either identify with it or transcend it.


Here are a few ways Type Six Loyalists can choose work on transcending their ego:

  1. Practice upcycling anxiety: The first thing Sixes can practice doing is simply sharing their thoughts. Fear grows in darkness, and your anxiety becomes more and more irrational the longer it stays in your head. The natural reaction is to medicate anxiety with pills or alcohol or frantic tasks, but if Sixes can learn to share their fears with a therapist, and especially with their trusted friends and family, then they can actually learn to use anxiety as a fuel source for personal growth. We don’t have be scared of anxiety, as it can actually point us to things we need to change or need to admit about ourselves. So practice upcycling anxiety by facing it head on with a healthy support system.

  2. Learn how to trust people: You can’t have a healthy support system without trust, and most Sixes struggle to let people in, with the exception of their biological family. But many of us aren’t born into a healthy family system, so we have to learn to risk rejection in order to find a few committed friends to call family. Sixes really benefit from putting themselves out there because what they crave most is a secure network of relationships, and that doesn’t happen without a ton of intentional work. All Sixs really need is two or three honest, vulnerable friendships to carry them through life. Ironically, Sixes tend to get people to like them pretty easily, but they don’t always lean into the friendship because they’re unsure of themselves or they think others are faking it and that they’re not really that interested.

  3. Apologize genuinely: A general problem Sixes have in relationship is their inability to apologize for their mistakes. They may be great at saying sorry but without really apologizing, and that’s because they’re afraid that their mistakes give people justification to leave the relationship. In fact, it couldn’t be more the opposite. Humility is one of the most attractive traits a person can have, so if you blow it, own it. Trust that healthy people will only love you more for being honest enough to admit that ya screwed up. If someone rakes you over the coals even after you’ve earnestly apologized, then you’ve just learned that they’re not worth trusting in the future.

  4. Get alone and feel your feelings: Sixes should try to notice when they’re overreactive to a bad mood or a stressful situation. Sixes quickly become overwhelmed by dark emotions when times are tough, so practice catching these emotional waves in the moment and getting grounded in stillness before taking action. Feelings are meant to be felt, so give yourself time and space to get alone, to breath, and create a habit of mindfulness in the middle of stressful seasons. Getting physically present is really beneficial to Sixes because a lot of anxiety manifests in the body, and when Sixes can become grounded in the physical moment they become far more confident and secure in themselves rather than continuing down the anxious thought spirals of the mind and then taking it out on a loved one.

  5. Develop inner authority: Sixes are prone to abdicate their own desires or their sense of right and wrong because of what an external authority tells them. While trusted advisors are important, and it's wise to make informed decisions, Sixes are prone to making harmful decisions with the excuse of “I was just following orders.” When Sixes feel helplessly deferential, that’s the moment they need to step aside and tap into their own internal voice of reason. It’s way better to make a few mistakes trusting yourself and then learning to make better decisions, than to go a lifetime letting someone else make your decisions for you and winding up down some “responsible” yet unfulfilling path.


Bonus Fluff


🇩🇪Country: For the Type Six Loyalist, the country is Germany. Think of their extreme nationalism and a tendency to submit to their authorities no matter how off track they may be. They’re also extremely hard workers that excel in structured industries like mechanics and engineering.


🦌🐺 Spirit Animal: The phobic Six spirit animal is the deer, very gentle and very skittish, and the counter-phobic Six spirit animal is the Wolf, a pack animal that works in teams to take out even larger animals.


✨ Famous Type Sixes: Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Jennifer Aniston and Spike Lee


🦸 Marvel: In the Marvel Universe, who is unshakably committed to their country and values? Captain America!



SOURCES: Much of this information comes from an amalgamation of sources, but the primary source of this information comes from the works of Russ Hudson and Don Riso of the Enneagram Institute (The Wisdom of the Enneagram, Personality Types, Understanding the Enneagram), followed by Richard Rohr's The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective, and Helen Palmer's The Enneagram in Love & Work.

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