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Looking for the Core Emotion of the Heart Types by Deborah Ooten and Beth O’Hara

May 31, 2023
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This article was first printed in November, 2009 in Nine Points Bulletin, a publication of the International Enneagram Association, as a response to an article by Bea Chestunt entitled “Shame, Envy, Panic, Feelings, Hysteria, or Sadness?: Looking for the Core Emotion of the Heart Types”.


We are excited that you have opened this dialogue and discovery around the core emotion of the heart types. These are key questions and it is important that we explore these questions and others in depth for the system to be useful. To achieve that end, it is required that we join as an academic community in the continued deepening and clarifying of our knowledge and understanding of Enneagram.


Bea Chestnut asked 2 insightful questions: Why are there so many theories about the core emotion of the heart types, when there seems to be a consensus on the core emotions of the other two triads? Which of the varied theories is correct or most helpful approach to understanding the underlying experience of the heart types?


As we started exploring these questions, we only came up with more questions. The largest question is: Is the Enneagram of Personality limited in its scope and has it gone off course?


Beginning at the beginning questions, there is definitely discrepancy with the core emotions, and not just with the core emotion of the heart types but also of the other centers as well. If we dig back deeper in the lineage, Ichazo places anger with the heart types and sadness with the gut types. He also describes the types differently, some types quite differently than other authors.i And so the lineage seems to have deviated.


As we explored the questions of the core emotion for the heart types, we also looked at the other core emotions. While there seems to be much agreement on the core emotion of anger, we were curious whether anger is a core emotion or a defense mechanism? While we are also not convinced as yet that sadness is a core emotion either, people who are primarily fixated at points 8, 9, and 1 seem more sad than any other type when you look under and beyond the anger. Even when smiling, there is a sadness in their eyes. We all use anger to defend our type structures and the anger of someone fixated at point 4 can be just as volatile as anger from point 8, 9, or 1.


Looking at the core defensive emotion of the heart, we agree with David Burke’s research on Evagriusii and other scholars who have studied the passions, that envy matches as a core emotion around the heart centered ego constructs.


In terms of looking just at the heart types, points 2, 3, and 4 are image basediii. Why create an image? Asking this led us to think that image stems from envy. We experience envy when we believe that things should be different than they are. Envy “occurs when a person lacks another’s [perceived] superior quality, achievement, or possession and either desires it or wishes that the other lacked it.”iv Envy can indeed be an important driving tool for evolution and growth. It can also create deep suffering when we are unable to be grateful for what we already possess within ourselves and when we poorly and falsely attempt to reduce our own pain by wanting others to have less or be less.


When we believe that we should be other than who we are, we create an image of who we expect we should be. This image is an attempt by the personality to be loved in the belief that we are not lovable as we are and how we feel is not ok. This creates much of the separation that we experience at points 2, 3, and 4.


Fixated at point 2, we believe that we must be helpful and take care of others, rather than how we really feel – needy and feeling helpless. Fixated at point 3, we find ourselves using a mercurial presentation to strive for whatever we define as success and achievement, running a hamster wheel of doing rather than allowing ourselves to simply be who we are – usually insecure and feeling valueless. At point 4, when personality is fixated here, we believe we must be unique and special rather than who we really are – feeling insignificant as an ordinary human being. When fixated at these points, it is difficult to show others who we really are and how we truly feel beneath the image.


After looking at the core emotion of the heart, we started asking the question – why place a primary emotion on a particular center at all and why assign a primary fixation? Ichazo emphasizes the exploration of a primary fixation in each centerv, while Palmervi and others emphasize a single personality type.


Gurdjieff placed a “center” with each of the centersvii. The instinctive center has instinctual, emotional and intellectual components, as do the heart and mind centers. It follows that we experience core emotions differently depending on the center it arises from. For sake of argument, if we assign anger, fear and envy as core emotions, we can experience fear in the instinctual center as a physical threat, fear in the mind as an imagined threat, and fear in the heart as a fear of disconnection with others. We can fight back with a gut anger, be angry mentally, or have a passionate anger of the heart. Envy can also occur in all three centers – from the gut around acquiring resources, the heart around wanting things to appear other than they do, or from the mind in creating constant comparisons.


Gurdjieff, in his levels of human awakening, placed reactivity of the centers in progressive order: instinctual, emotional, and mentalviii. We certainly all experience all three levels regardless of our personality fixations and we can’t say that someone who we deem as primarily fixated at points 8, 9, or 1 is less evolved than at points 5, 6, or 7. It depends on the level we are reacting from the most.


The enneagram is a powerful, all encompassing, and transformative tool. According to both Gurdjieffix and Ichazox, we have to look at not just a 2-dimensional enneagram, but a multi-dimensional, dynamic system of evolution of humanity and how to transcend habitual reactivity and suffering. Have we limited our understanding of transformation and evolution with all the deviations of the system and desires to more uniquely or originally contribute to what has already been created?


While we are engaged in this important exploration to find common ground, let’s also keep in mind that the point of the Enneagram of personality is to allow us to elucidate how we suffer. Yet if we simply go deeper and deeper into the description and elucidation, when do we transcend? The enneagram teachings were brought to humanity so that we can recognize how asleep we are, to loosen fixations, and to move beyond into essence. While we are learning to self-observe, let us also remember who we are which is so much larger than the personality and fixations. Without this remembering, the enneagram has no meaning.





[i] Ichazo, Oscar, Autodiagnosis Training Workbook, The Oscar Ichazo Foundation, 2007, pp15-16.

[ii] Burke, David, The Enneagram of Evagrius of Pontus, The Enneagram Journal, 2008, p. 89.

[iii] Ichazo, Oscar, Autodiagnosis Training Workbook, The Oscar Ichazo Foundation, 2007, p15.

[iv] Parrott, W. G., & Smith, R. H. Distinguishing the experiences of envy and jealousy. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 64, 1993, p. 906-920.

[v] Ichazo, Oscar, Autodiagnosis Training Workbook, The Oscar Ichazo Foundation, 2007.

[vi] Palmer, Helen.  Enneagram in Love and Work, San Fransisco: Harper Collins, 1995.

[vii] Cravioto, Miguel Angel Sosa, Awakening Exercises For Students of the Fourth Way, GL Design, 2007, pp. 71, 177-181.

[viii] Fischer, Dr. Bruce S., The Gurdjieff Teachings, Subru Publications, 1996, p27.

[ix] Fischer, Dr. Bruce S., The Gurdjieff Teachings, Subru Publications, 1996, p27.

[x] Ichazo, Oscar, Autodiagnosis Training Workbook, The Oscar Ichazo Foundation, 2007.




Dr. Deborah Ooten is the founder and director of the Conscious Living Center.