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Enneagram Object Relations Triads

Updated: Dec 30, 2022

Object Relations: What is it?

Object Relations is a psycho-analytic theory that describes the relationship or emotional energy felt by the subject toward a chosen object. These object relations tend to form from an early age into predictable patterns we express throughout in our relationships throughout our lives. These patterns become so predictable and prevalent that gaining some language around these can give us a better idea of how we are projecting our early years onto our current lives.

Why Does it Matter?

Object relations offer us the ability to see how we are playing out old, negative patterns in our lives. Russ Hudson (Enneagram scholar and expert) even says that most of our interactions are object relations patterns being played out on some sort of scale and only becoming aware of these patterns allows us the ability to see ourselves and our relationships more clearly. Being able to cut through our knee-jerk reactions to people, places, and things offers a level of clarity that will allow us to choose actions that will propel us forward instead of keeping us mired in the same ol' stuff.

What Makes Up an Object Relations Pattern?

In an object relations pattern there is always a subject (the "I" of the experience), an object (the other person in the situation), and an emotion between these two parts. Since these patterns first develop between the ages of 0-5 years old, experts discuss these relationship patterns using the archetypal relationships children need at those ages to develop healthy egos, namely the nurturer and the supporter/protector. The interactions with these two types of relationships and the needs met by or not met by these archetypal figures will create the basis for the future relationship patterns--namely of either feeling frustrated by the nurturer/protector, feeling rejected by nurturer/protector, or modifying the self to feel attached to the nurturer/protector.

The Nurturer

The Nurturer is stereotypically considered the mother figure (though this can be any nurturing relationship or function in the early stages of the child's life) and has a special bond with the child that helps the child feel seen and known. When the need of feeling seen is not perfectly met by the Nurturer, each Type has to figure out how to handle this "miss" in order to maintain their own ego state and make sense of the world.

The Protector/Supporter:

The Protector figure (stereotypically the father figure, but can be any figure that helps the child separate from the mother and establish an "I") has a bigger impact on the child when they start the phase of separation from the mother around the age of 1. This figure helps the child establish the separate self from the mother and gives support in the form of showing the child what to do and how to navigate on their own. Without this figure, the child becomes too attached to the mother and does not have the means, know how, or confidence to do the things they want to or need to do.

Enneagram Triads and Object Relations: Frustration, Rejection and Attachment

In the Enneagram, the triads linked to object relations address how each Type and therefore each Triad relates to the two essential needs of feeling seen and feeling supported are either met or not met. Each Type interpret to these scenarios differently and are grouped in either reacting to the imperfect situations with either Frustration (1,4,7) at the situation, person, or life; Rejection (2,5,8) of those needs that were unmet to ward off future rejection; or Attachment (3,6,9) which causes the Type to modify themselves and their needs to better attach with the subject.

For each Triad there will be a Type who felt their needs were either missed by the Nurturer, the Protector, or both (as seen below). You can see from this diagram, that those who felt their needs were missed by the Nurturer, the Protector, or both also group into another Enneagram Triad (the Compliant. Aggressive, and Withdrawn).

The Frustration Triad

The frustration felt by those Types in the Frustration Triad originates in the subject having an unmet need that leads to these Types feeling that the unmet need will never be met--now or in the future. Unlike other Triads, these Types maintain a sense of self and a sense of the need that wasn't met. Other Triads will also have unmet needs, but may disown what they needed or change themselves due to the unmet needs. Once this pattern has been established for each Type in their early years, they will continue to play it out in future relationships.

Type One:

Type Ones didn't feel the ideal level of support they needed and decided in that moment that they never would feel the support. This leads to a frustration that they need to figure out how to do everything on their own and hold the weight of the world on their shoulders.

Type Sevens:

Type Sevens didn't feel the ideal level of being seen and known by the Nurturer in their lives and decided they never would. From this frustrated state, the Seven decided to feel only positive feelings and continually experience only fun stimuli to distract themselves from this lonely state.

Type Four:

Type Fours felt that they were not ideally known or ideally supported by these two key figures (and never would) and as a result withdrew into themselves where they could attempt to see and support themselves internally. Fours from this state of feeling unseen and unsupported can fall into almost actionless despair if they are not careful.

Rejection Triad

Types in this Triad felt intensely rejected when their needs were not met as children by the Nurturer, Protector, or both. In order to avoid these feelings of rejection in the future, these Types actually cut themselves off from the needs that, in their minds, caused the rejection and become over-identified with the parts of themselves that they feel gives them their ticket to belonging.

Type Two:

Type Twos felt rejection when their need of support and separation was unmet by the Protector/Supporter function in their lives. As a result, Twos over-identify with the nurturing side of themselves that connects deeply with others and cuts off their needs to differentiate themselves and explore their own goals in order to avoid rejection in the future.Twos believe that by offering their gift of love and care, they will be able to ward off future rejection and find belonging with others.

Type Eight

Type Eights did not feel seen by the Nurturing figure and felt rejection from this unmet need. As a result, Eights over-identify with the separated, differentiated, powerful Protector/Supporter figure and cut themselves off from the vulnerable, deeply connecting feelings associated with the Nurturer. They believe that by offering their gift of power, they will find acceptance and belonging.

Type Five

Type Fives felt both unseen and unsupported by the Nurturing and Supporting figures in their lives and so rejected these needs (and other needs of connection and support) and withdrew into a world where they could intellectualize their needs. Fives feel that if they can avoid all of their intrapersonal needs and offer their intellectualism and objectivity to others that they will find acceptance and belonging.

Attachment Triad

The Attachment Triad shows the other side of the scope from the Frustration Triad--where the Frustration Triad maintains a sense of self and a sense of what they needed, the Attachment Triad Types believe that any amount of unmet need of feeling seen or supported is a direct result of something wrong with themselves. Attachment Types respond to this belief by changing themselves to elicit the response they wanted from the Nurturer or Protector, resulting in skewed senses of self, and personal desires. Each modification these Types make to remain attached to these first relationships results in ultimately losing themselves and a sense of what they really want.

Type Three

Type Threes felt unseen by the Nurturing figure and as a result changed themselves in order to be "seen" better by the Nurturer. Played-over a lifetime, Threes will lose touch with their true selves, their true interests, and true personalities and morph to whatever image the Nurturer deems as successful. This extreme desire to be seen, known, and connected to others will result in them not knowing themselves.

Type Six

Type Sixes did not feel the support they needed to differentiate and pursue their own interests by the Protector figure and so modified their pursuits to fields that were supported in order to maintain the connection they desired. This changing of what the Six pursues will ultimately result in them pursuing goals, careers, and relationships that stay in the realm of support without any real interest in them. They will frequently complain that they do not know what to do, when what they really mean is that they don't know what to do and maintain the support they need.

Type Nine

Type Nines felt both unseen and unsupported by these important figures in their lives. As a means of maintaining connection to these relationships, Nines will merge with others preferences, agendas, and avoid all conflict. This constant changing of the self for the sake of maintaining connection leads to the Nine forgetting themselves and their interests entirely and living in a fog to their desires.

Images for Triads


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