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Enneagram Type 1 - the Reformer

Updated: May 26

In a nutshell


Type 1s are principled, objective, and altruistic people who have a tendency to be perfectionistic and rigid. They tend to live life very deliberately because they believe strongly in doing what is "right". They think through what they feel is right and wrong and by an early stage in life have a working personal philosophy - a view of how they, others, the "world" should be. In fact for type 1s, their philosophy extends to every part of their lives because they want the whole picture to make sense. This mode of being is motivated by a Core Fear of being "bad" or "evil" which gives rise to the Core Desire to have integrity.


Levels of Development


Each of the nine personality types are formed based on a Core Fear we develop at a young age. This fear keeps us from being our fully actualized selves and acting from Essence, the version of ourselves that exists when we let go of our fears and ego identifications and allow ourselves to simply be. In response to this fear, we develop a Core Desire, which can either lead us back to self actualization and Essence, or towards deeper fear and false identity.


The Levels of Development are an aspect of each Enneagram type discovered in 1977 by Don Richard Riso. They provide us with a map of how we degrade as we hold on more strongly to our Core Fear, leading us to progressively deeper and more complicated emotional defense mechanisms. There are 9 separate levels of development for each type (not to be confused with the 9 types themselves), starting with self actualization at Level 1 and going down to pathological thoughts and behaviors at Level 9. Each level represents what happens when a new fear is introduced, and a new desire emerges in order to defend that fear. These levels are grouped into the "Healthy Levels" (Levels 1-3), the "Average Levels" (Levels 3-6), and the "Unhealthy Levels" (Levels 7-9).


For a detailed understanding of what happens to each type at each level, I recommend reading the Enneagram books co-written by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson. That said, it's important to have a general understanding of how each Type behaves at different levels, so I've provided an overview of the Healthy, Average, and Unhealthy levels below.


Healthy Levels


Type 1s who are emotionally healthy are genuinely relaxed and objective, often bringing a strong degree of clarity and acceptance to the people around them. All 1s have deep principles which guide their view of the world, but in the case of healthy 1s, these views are grounded and realistic. They understand what is, and strive for what might be. When their core fear of being "bad" arises, healthy 1s deal with it by productively moving to address or correct the source of the fear - whether that is within themselves or in some external situation. While they are highly self-motivated, they still openly and willingly accept input from others.


In order to remain healthy, 1s operating in this zone should recognize their tendency to over-rely on themselves. Remember to open yourself up to others and your environment - the solution to any problem is just as likely to come from outside yourself as it is from your own mind.


Average Levels


When 1s give too much power to their core fear or being "bad", their standards for themselves and others become more unrealistic. They dial up the self-pressure, expecting themselves to be "perfect" and trying to do everything themselves. At the same time, they develop a strong sense of shame in themselves, as well as a sense of disappointment in others. Nobody can possibly meet their standards, but they begin to feel superior simply because, as far as they're concerned, they're trying and nobody else is. They begin to attempt to "fix" the world, pestering others over their behavior and crusading for a moral causes. This creates more distance between themselves and others, as well as between themselves and reality. They fight to control their natural impulses in order to embody an ideal version of themselves, but they try to repress too much of themselves and the pressure gets to be too much. They find themselves jumping to correct others, seeing it as their duty to tell them the difference between the "right" and "wrong" way. This extends to all areas of life - they become the Alpha and Omega of every topic ranging from morality to workplace efficiency to cooking. No matter their level of experience with a topic, they behave as if they are the only one with the answers. They are harder on themselves than others, but people will tend to see them as simply arrogant and self-important. At the Average Levels they are still capable of admitting they're wrong, but as they approach the Unhealthy Levels that becomes less and less likely.


To restore a healthy attitude, 1s in the average levels of health should begin by loosening the grip on themselves. Their criticism of others is essentially a projection of their self judgement, and they can relax all around if they begin to accept their own limitations and admit that they, like all people, are not in a position to be objective.


Unhealthy Levels


1s may eventually reach a point where they cannot cope with their own elevated standards, but still aren't willing to give them up. If that is the case, they disassociate their self image from reality to the point where they view themselves as the embodiment of their impossible standards regardless of their true actions or capabilities. Their disassociation allows them to break their own rules openly while maintaining the belief that they are holding them up perfectly. Initially their behaviors won't vary significantly from the lower average levels, but the important difference at this point is that the unhealthy 1 has entirely stopped assessing themselves - they simply assume they are perfect and objective and refuse to entertain any thoughts that may contradict this "fact". It becomes one of the rigid definitions that they apply to the world. This split is tremendously damaging as any form of reality check brings the weight of their delusion to the forefront, causing extreme distress. They cannot deal with these feelings and degrade into highly compulsive behavior, acting angrily and vindictively towards others in order to deflect the possibility of viewing themselves accurately. They tend to develop "release valves" for the pressure, and may become addicted to substances that allow them to escape the intensity of their self-judgement.


Type 1s operating in the unhealthy zone should work with professionals to help them reconnect to a balanced sense of self and view of the world. Letting go of anything is hard for 1s at any level, but with time and dedication you can loosen the grip and begin to relax and work towards a happy life again.


Wings / Subtypes


Every person has some degree of every type at work in their personality, but Enneagram 1s are more likely to draw strongly from one of the adjacent types, 2 or 9. Because of this, we treat them as distinctive subtypes known as “Wing Types”. Not everyone has a strong wing type, but a majority of people do, so we generally describe a 1's type as either "1 wing 2" (1w2) or "1 wing 9" (1w9).


1 wing 2


Compared to 1w9s, a 1w2 will generally be more outward. Type 1 wants to be "good" in the sense that they want to adhere to their personally defined principles, and Type 2 wants to be "good" in the sense that they believe others will only love them if they demonstrate that they are morally "good" by putting others ahead of themselves.


In healthy 1w2s, these strategies integrate well, yielding a person who is both morally principled and insistent on bringing the benefits of their objective views to the world. The desire to help others may integrate into this individual's world view, bringing about a highly integrated, devoted, altruistic person. The healthy aspects of 2 make this type 1 more personal, more involved, and more proactive when compared to the other subtype, 1w9.


In Average 1w2s, the two strategies lead to more volatility as they mix. Average type 1s pressure themselves harder and harder to live according to their own standards, while average type 2s look to others to validate their "goodness". In many ways these tendencies are in direct competition - to satisfy one type, you may need to invalidate the other. These individuals may appear intense, pushy, and difficult to deal with, as both types tend to lose empathy and simultaneously become more dominant at the lower average levels.


In Unhealthy 1w2s, the volatility increases even further as the competing internal pressures mount. In type 1, they view themselves hypocritically as the embodiment of their standards regardless of whether their actions follow their standards or not. In type 2, they similarly ignore their negative impacts on others, dominating and manipulating them while simultaneously trying to maintain their image as a "good" person. The combination of hypocrisy and dominance can torture those around them, making it hard for them to maintain their self-flattering delusions of in the company of others. Still, their 2 side needs others in order to maintain its story, so they may cling to others desperately while compulsively criticizing them.


1 wing 9


Compared with 1w2s, a 1w9 will generally be more detached and cerebral. Both types are in the instinctive triad, meaning they both center on themes of how the individual relates to the world, and both by definition repress their instinctive drives in some way. Type 1 attempts to repress any parts of the self that do not match a set of principles or logical structure, while Type 9 attempts to repress any assertive parts of the self in order to avoid conflict and keep the peace.


In Healthy 1w9s, these two strategies synergize to create a person who is clear-headed, serene, and considerate. Where a healthy 1w2 is more likely to personally enact his/her principles in the world, a healthy 1w9 would instead prefer to focus on providing insight, teaching, and mediating. The 1w9 will tend to be more concerned with the "how" of a situation than the "what", focusing more on the vision than the plan. They want things to go smoothly, but not at the cost of accuracy, and will work diligently to keep themselves and their environments aligned with a greater vision.


In Average 1w9s, the two types' strategies combine to form a detached, distant perfectionist. The Average 1w9 will tend to be less volatile than the 1w2, but will likely become hypocritical earlier. This is because average 9s dull their awareness of issues, and average 1s repress any part of themselves they view as imperfect, making the 1w9 overall more repressed and less connected to their physical selves than the other subtype. Though they may seem outwardly less chaotic, inwardly the 1w9 will be more withdrawn and likely experience more depression. They will still act strongly, correcting or critiquing others even when it's not their place, but overall they will not push as hard or as often because their average 9 side wants to accommodate others and find peace at any cost. The mounting pressures as they move down the levels will be highly internal compared to the highly externalized experience of the 1w2.


In Unhealthy 1w9s, much of the 9 side's restraining effect will have degraded into deep anxiety rather than a desire for peace with others. This anxiety adds a tremendous amount of generalized tension to the unhealthy 1w9, making the once sharp and discerning person much hazier. Their standards are more poorly defined than the unhealthy 1w2 due to the confusion their 9 side brings. This individual has detached out of a realistic self understanding in line with both 1 and 9, and identifies with their ideals while openly taking actions that contradict them. But rather than "doubling down" on their unrealistic beliefs and using them to dominate others like the 1w2, the 1w9 will internalize the negativity and feel the strength of their self-doubt in their own minds, withdrawing into a harsh, rigid mental landscape that leaves them no way to "win".


Growth tips


-Accepting things that contradict your principles is a big challenge. Try to get better at it, you don't have to power to fix everything.

-Understand that no matter what is genuinely right or wrong in any given situation, everyone has free will and has the right to choose to do what they want to.

-Try integrating change into your world view. Any philosophy that does not account for change is fundamentally inaccurate.

-If you haven't already, explore ancient philosophies or religious texts. They all represent attempts to summarize what works and what doesn't based on the nature of our existence as human beings. Whatever messages you choose to incorporate into your own world view or not, you will be accessing some very balanced perspectives that have brought peace to many people.

-Observe your relationship with your loved ones. They likely don't meet 100% of your expectations, but you love them anyway. Know that you are lovable in the same way, regardless of the expectations they have for you or you have for yourself.

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