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Essence and the Enneagram: Rediscovering Who We Really Are Part II

by Andrew H. Hahn, Psy.D. with Joan T. Beckett, M.B.A.


In the first paper, we described the Core Fears of the nine points of view, and then we described a simple psychospiritual practice (Essence Process) for transforming these fears. In this paper, we will briefly review the existential presuppositions that are the foundation of the Essence Process. Then we will apply this practice to Centers – our fundamental ways of experiencing the world, to Subtypes – our deepest instinctual drives, and lastly, to the emptiness of Essence which is no thingness and Unity Consciousness.

Overview and Review

The Embodiment Identity Pattern is something we all experience. It is intrinsic to the human condition.

Balancing the Embodiment Identity Pattern using the Essence Process (which we presented in the last paper) facilitates our rediscovery and experience of our essential Self, by helping us identify and transform our Core Fears and all the ways we compensate for (obscure, try to avoid) these fears. In other words, to experience who we truly are, Essence, we need to face and willingly allow, with courage and love, what we believe to be the most difficult truths about ourselves.

What It Is

In Essence we are free-flowing energy, the Infinite, which is Unity Consciousness. This is the state of our awareness in Spirit form before embodiment.

The process of embodiment is, in part, experienced as traumatic to a soul that previously felt totally free and infinite. In the illusion of duality, we now identify with our finite physical form, a form we experience as “limited.” From the perspective of duality and limited finite form, fear of death can exist and escalate to an existential terror of non-existence.

What our limited form calls “non-existence” and spends all of its time and energy trying to avoid, is, in fact, the infinite Unity Consciousness which is Essence. We have called our True Self “non-existence” rather than its true name, “Essence.” This mistake is the root of all our difficulties.

In an effort to avoid the existential anxiety of non-existence, we choose to take on an identity, believing that if we have an identity, we must exist, and we must matter. To put it differently, we choose to protect ourselves by covering over our truest, most beloved self with an obscuring identity because part of us believes if we were this truest self we would be annihilated – cease to exist. As is the case with all such choices, it is made while we are traumatized, and so the part of us that makes the seemingly best choice at that time is no longer available to us. Therefore, we come to believe that we are the choice, the limited identity, even when we know it profoundly limits us.

This limited identity is filtered through our traumatic experience of embodiment. As with all traumas, this results in reversed beliefs, fear of experiencing feelings, and boundary problems, which, when combined, result in negative ways of experiencing ourselves and all life. All of these limited negative identities are obscuring identities that cover over the True Self we wrongly believe is “non existence.”

The fears that arise in the process of embodiment we refer to as Core Fears, what we are most afraid or ashamed to admit about ourselves. They are our most fundamental negative limited identities that protect us from this existential anxiety of non-existence. By becoming aware of, allowing and accepting our Core Fears and all the ways we compensate for them, we can transform them and open the doorway to who we truly are, our Essence.

Core Fears and the Enneagram – An Overview

The model we have found to be most efficient and elegant for identifying, understanding and transforming our Core Fears is the Enneagram.

The basic organizing principle of this model is that nine personality points of view are arranged in three triads, the thinking (5,6,7), feeling (2,3,4) and sensing (8,9,1) triads that correspond to the Centers of perceptions (head, heart and belly) through which we experience the world. The nine types are further characterized by subtype or their most fundamental instinctual drive to either survive, connect or to belong.

The Enneagram, as we know, is a system that helps us understand both our own and one another’s core motivations, and our ways of relating in the world, each with its own gifts, natural limitations and blind spots. It helps us understand and appreciate our differences, move to a place of receptivity versus reactivity and open to the depths of gifts that flow through us individually and collectively. Emotional maturity significantly increases our access to our gifts and strengths, while more limited emotional development tends to increase reactivity and produce destructive rather than constructive behaviors. Emotional maturity is developed by being able to allow our fears on four levels as opposed to compulsively compensating for them.

Core Fears are a reaction to Embodiment Trauma and these Core Fears can best be understood through this model. It teaches us that we are afraid that who we are is limited negative identities on four different levels:

Four Levels of Enneagram Accompanying Limited Negative Identity

While the anxiety of non-existence plays out on all four levels of the Enneagram, each level is nested in the preceding one: Personality is nested in Center; Subtype is more foundational than either Personality or Center, and non-existence of the separate self is fundamental to Personality, Center, and Subtype.

While these limited negative identities of Personality, Center and Subtype are less terrifying than the existential anxiety of non-existence, they too constitute Core Fears that most of us spend our lives compulsively avoiding. It is the compulsive avoidance of our limited negative identity (our Core Fear) that gives rise to the obscuring, counterbalancing, compulsive, limited positive identities of our Personality, Centers, Sub-types and existence.

Fortunately for our soul’s evolution, our Core Fears, which we experience as emptiness, have the quality of a black hole that keeps trying to suck us into it. We can never truly get away from it. When we choose to let go and go into the black hole, we discover that our anxiety was misplaced; we discover Essence.

Figure 12-1

Embodiment Trauma – Core Fear

Movement from Essence to Limited Identities to Core Fear and Personality


Free-flowing Energy – Infinite expansion and connection

Embodiment Trauma

Limited Form & the Fear of Non-Existence

Take on Limited Identity – I exist/I matter

Core Fear of Personality, Center and Subtype

Compulsively Avoided

Personality – Center – Subtype

The Four Levels of Working

When working with Embodiment Identity Patterns we will work with one or more of the four levels – Personality, Center, Subtype and/or Non-existence/Essence. In the previous paper we described the Core Fears of the Nine Points of personality.

In the following pages we will discuss the levels of Center, Subtype and Existence in greater detail.

The Level of Centers

Three Centers

The Enneagram model is based on the observation that people experience the world in three significant ways, through feeling, thinking and sensing and that these three ways correspond to three Centers that mediate our experiences – the Heart for feeling, the Head for thinking, and the Belly for sensing. While people use all three centers, each Enneagram type prefers to predominantly use one of them for perceiving and responding to life.

Each of us has a core fear of our associated center. The core fear of the Heart Center is I am no head/I can’t think and discern, of the Head Center is I am no body/I can’t sense and do, and of the Belly Center is I am no heart/I can’t feel and desire.

Just like at the level of personality, each center covers over and binds the anxiety of their Core Fear with an obscuring identity.

Heart Center

Lost in image, Heart Centers care how people perceive and relate to them. Core Fear: I despair that I will ever be loved for who I am and so, in trying to get other to like me, I lose connection with my head and my capacity to think and discern.

Let us explore these fears in more depth. If I, as a heart center person, am stuck in my fixation of creating an image so I can gain approval and be liked, I lose my capacity to be discerning. I may know how to succeed, take care of your need, to be special. I do not know wisdom.

I use the feeling I receive from being liked as a way of trying to bind the anxiety that I associate with longing and with the shame of my fear about myself that I am no head – that there is a black hole where my head center was to be. Therefore, I can never truly experience feeling.

Head Center

Lost in paranoia, Head Centers “think” things through as a way to preempt their fear in a world they experience as dangerous. Core Fear: When I am afraid there is danger, I lose my connection with my body and my capacity to sense and act.

If I as a head center person am stuck in my fixation of experiencing the world as dangerous, I lose my capacity to act. I may know how to be somebody, to be fulfilled, to be self-sufficient. I do not know presence.

I use thinking of how to avoid danger as a way of trying to bind the anxiety I associate with fear and the shame of there being a black hole where my belly center was to be. Therefore, I can never truly experience thinking.

Belly Center

Lost in self-forgetting, Belly Centers take action in the world from a gut sense, sensing anger because they feel they were forgotten. They perceive that no one asks them how they felt, what they desired.

Core Fear: When I forget myself, I lose my heart and my capacity to access what I feel and desire.

If I, as a belly center person, am stuck in my fixation of forgetting myself, I do not know my true heart’s desire. I may merge with who and what you are, know how to be powerful and in control, know what is right and what is wrong. I do not know my deepest passion.

I use sensing and acting in the world as a way of trying to bind the anxiety I experience with the overwhelm of not knowing my heart’s desire and sensing a black hole where my heart center was to be. Therefore, I can never experiencing sensing and acting.

Within each triad, each point handles their core emotional issues in a different way. One point is out of touch with their core emotional issue (3,6,9), one internalizes their core emotional issue (1,4,5) and one externalizes their core emotional issue (2,7,8). We will discuss this in greater length in our next paper.

The Level of Subtypes

Three Subtypes

Subtypes are our most fundamental drives – to survive, to connect and to belong. While they are intrinsically part of the human condition, they also have a compulsive quality in that they protect us from a core fear – basic insecurity, disconnection and unbelongingness. While each of us has all of these fears, nonetheless one predominates. Our need to be secure, our need to connect, our need to belong binds our anxiety around the Core Fears of the Instinctual Drive by externalizing the problem so we can bring our attention outside of ourselves as opposed to within.