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Enneagram Triads: Instinctual, Harmonic, and Hornevian

Updated: Mar 18, 2023

Enneagram Triads: What Are They?

The Enneagram offers a unique system of categorizing the similarities shared between Types by grouping them into "Triads". These groupings of 3 different Types show the similarities shared between Types and offers nuance into their differences as well.

Currently, there are four main types of Triads that are the most common in the Enneagram: the Instinctual, Conflict Coping, Interpersonal Relationship, and Object Relations. Many of these Triads can have different labels, but they describe the same function and relation.

Enneagram Triads | Instinctual | Harmonic | Hornevian | Enneagram Reflections

The Instinctual Triads:

The Instinctual Triad is the most commonly used Triad in Enneagram circles. This Triad describes the primary way we process information either through the Head (5,6,7), Heart (2,3,4), and Gut (8,9,1). Each Type uses all three centers to process, but what the Instinctual Triad illustrates is that each of these Types gathers life's stimuli through their heads, their hearts, or their guts (or instincts) first before moving to other centers for further processing. The center for our information processing does not determine how we act, but how we first gather information.

The Types in each of these Triads also share commonalities around certain emotions and topics that preoccupy them and influence their decision making. Though all Types in these Triads will share the same issues, they will deal with them very differently. The Head Triad (Types 5,6,7) struggle with the emotion of fear and are constantly preoccupied with their own feelings of security and safety (though with 7s, this preoccupation is with safety and security from their own feelings that they try to drown out with constant stimulation and fun). The Heart Triad (2,3,4) emotionally struggles with shame and unworthiness and can easily become preoccupied with discovering or establishing their own identity and significance. The Gut Triad (8,9,1) emotionally struggles with anger and easily becomes preoccupied with autonomy and justice for themselves and others.

In an over-simplification of this idea, given the same stimuli, a Type from the Head Triad will first gather the information through thinking about the matter, where they will assess the situation for safety in order to assuage their deep fears. Someone in the Heart Triad will first feel the emotions of the situation and assess how they can bolster, create, or recreate their own identities around the information in order to hide their deep shame. Someone from the Gut Triad would gather information from the instinctive level and would process the information on how to maintain their autonomy and find justice for themselves and others in order to quell their instinctual anger.

Enneagram Harmony Triads | Enneagram Triads | Enneagram Reflections

Conflict Coping Triad or Harmonic Triad

This Triad groups how we relate to and deal with something frustrating to mildly angering. It is important to note that this triad only addresses mild to moderate frustrations, not full blown attacks on our psyches. The Triad groupings are Reactive (4,6,8), Optimistic, (2,7,9) and Logical (1,3,5).

The Types in the Reactive Triad will react to frustrating or conflicting scenarios immediately and will call out what they feel, what they interpret, and what they want to change. Reactives are usually the first to speak up and they are shocked that others do not speak up as well. If a Reactive Type were expecting painters to come to the house and was snubbed for the second day in a row, they would likely call the contractor, tell them what happened, and what they expect to happen in the future. Others may find this to be an overkill in the moment, but the Reactive would not understand why others had not spoken up as well.

Types in the Logical Triad (1,3,5) try to remove all emotion from the equation so that they can get to the heart of the issue in an objective, logical matter. In a crisis, they are likely to be able to be the most cool-headed Types in the group and are focused on solving the problem the quickest and with the least amount of drama. In the example of the unreliable painters, the Logical Triad Types would have objectively assessed the situation and made plans for how to prevent the confusion in the future about the expectation of when they should come. They would have calmly called the contractor with a plan and let them know the way to solve any hiccups moving forward.

The Optimistic Triad (2,7,9) try to keep a positive view of themselves, the situation, and the people involved in the situation and avoid any negative thoughts, situations, or feelings. Though at first flush, this staying on the the bright side sounds like a a praiseworthy outlook on life, but the reality is that they will ignore problems until they cannot be ignored anymore and are causing massive problems or conflict. In the example of those pesky painters again, the Optimistic Triad Types may try to stay positive with the contractor and ignore evidence he is lying about the delays until Day 14 when they finally explode (ask me how I know).

Hornevian Triads Enneagram | Interpersonal Coping Triad

Interpersonal Coping Triad or Hornevian Triad

This Triad groups how Types interact with others in order to fulfill their needs and goals. The Triads group Types based on if they move toward (Compliant), away from (Withdrawn), or against (Aggressive) others in order to meet their personal needs.

The Compliant Types (1,2,6) all dutifully comply with the expectations of others to reach their own personal objectives. They move toward others and meet others' (and society's) expectations in order to have their own needs (autonomy, love, security) met. Secretly, these Types feel slightly superior to others in how they can fulfill expectations better than anyone--Type Ones in their ability to be good; Type Twos in their ability to be loving; and Type Sixes in their ability to be loyal.

The Withdrawn Triad Types (4,5,9) all move away from others in order to meet their own needs (significance, autonomy, and security). These Types feel more separate from others and naturally feel others' expectations hinder their ability to meet their own needs, so they pull back to fill them by themselves. These Types have a tendency to feel they do not fit in or belong to the same degree as other people.

The Aggressive Triad Types (3,7,8) move against people in order to reach their ultimate goals of significance, security (from their inner emotions) and autonomy. These Types frequently (and sometimes very energetically) thwart or ignore others' expectations in order to achieve what they really want. They assume a certain level of energetic dominance when they are particularly driven to achieve something (yes, even 7s do this) and assume that whatever happening with them is most important at the time.

Object Relations Style

This amazingly complex and helpful Triad has become more and more prominent in the Enneagram world as Attachment Theory and Object Relations Theory has gained traction in the Psychology world. This Triad shows the types of patterns we psychologically built as children to adapt to our environment and offers ways of observing these patterns in our current lives. Given this Triad's complexity, I will devote the next blog post to this topic.

Why Does This Matter?

Understanding how your Type or another person's Type initially processes information, deals with conflict, and gets their needs met can be immensely helpful in heading off or mitigating conflict when it arises. Understanding that a Type Six will want to comply with the expectations placed on them but will react (sometimes strongly) to frustrating situations will be helpful for for the Type Three who will aggressively try to achieve their goals, but will respond to frustration with logic. Both Types armed with this knowledge will be able to head off immense misunderstandings and will be able to move forward faster. Furthermore, if you find that they way that you handle conflict or processing information is not getting the results that you want, you can choose from the resources you find in other Types and Triads to be able to move forward.

Images Borrowed from the following websites:

Harmonic Triad:

Instinctual Triad:

Hornevian Triad:


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