Updated: May 26, 2021
In a nutshell
Type 6s are stable, dedicated, and loyal people who have a tendency to become overwhelmed and reactive when they feel their security is threatened. They can be genuine, positive, and caring, able to connect with and support others simply because they want to. Being both future-oriented and people-oriented, they excel at thinking critically, seeing potential roadblocks and creating plans to circumvent them. However as their foresight mixes with emotions like fear and self-doubt, they focus less and less of their time on supporting those around them and more and more time on spotting issues.
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.
When emotionally healthy, 6s are strong, secure, and individualistic. They enjoy community and are likely to be productive and participating members of whatever groups they are part of. Because they value stability and predictability, they are likely to be a part of the same groups for a long time, and even maintain friendships over distances when they or the friend has moved. They react to stress and general issues with level heads, addressing them in a grounded, practical way.
In order to stay healthy, 6s should ground themselves in the present regularly. Being realistic is your strength, so remember that dwelling on the future too much can bring you outside your comfort zone.
As 6s feel less secure, they begin to look outside of themselves for feelings of safety. They offer commitments of loyalty to individuals or groups that they believe have to power to protect them, in a somewhat political way. They turn their practical thinking towards topics of social status and develop a strong sense of hierarchy - because they fear they will be unsafe without group alignment, they want to know exactly where they stand. They start to disconnect from others emotionally and causes become more pragmatic, becoming aggressive and doing whatever they can to increase their security/social standing, sometimes by attempting to knock others down a rung. They remain people-oriented in spite of the emotional disconnection, and focus on creating alliances with individuals or aligning with social structures (religious organizations, government, etc.) to feel safe. This represents a major shift; instead of taking responsibility for their own safety, they assign responsibility for their wellbeing to others. Because no other can possibly ensure someone's wellbeing as well as they can for themselves, this paradoxically creates a situation in which they can't be truly safe and provided for. Moreover, as they become more reliant on others for their safety, they become more fearful to "rock the boat" and may find themselves doing things they aren't comfortable with in order to maintain security.
In order to become healthier, 6s operating in this zone should work to cultivate a sense of security that is not reliant on association with others. If you're in a position where you're materially/financially reliant on someone else. Even if the people you rely on mean well, your subconscious will have a tough time feeling safe if you are not able to be self-reliant.
As 6s become less secure they become more scattered and inconsistent, fluctuating between trusting and doubting those close to them. This puts a lot of strain on their relationships and they often find themselves ostracized and rejected from the groups they so heavily relied on for their own peace of mind. At higher levels of health a 6 may have postured in an attempt to show the strength they wished they truly possesses, but unhealthy 6s have very low self-esteem and believe themselves to be incapable of providing for themselves on any level. They may wear their vulnerability as a badge, hoping someone will "save" them. Unfortunately though, in doing this they make themselves the perfect victims, and may attract predators who simply want to use them. As they degrade, they become visibly volatile. They are highly reactive and lack self control, responding to everyday situations as if they were life or death scenarios, often lashing out aggressively or violently for no apparent reason. Their anxiety is so great that they lose touch with reality and perceive threats everywhere, which to them justifies their extreme behavior.
To begin down the path to health and happiness, 6s operating in this zone should seek help and support from professionals so they can start to rebuild their sense of self. True support exists, but unhealthy 6s have typically rejected burned many bridges, and created many enemies, and associated themselves with predatory people, so it is important to work productively towards a better future with someone you can truly trust.
Wings / Subtypes
Every person has some degree of every type at work in their personality, but in addition to their primary type, Enneagram 6s are more likely to draw strongly from one of the adjacent types, 5 or 7. 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 6's type as either "6 wing 5" (6w5) or "6 wing 7" (6w7). 6s are the primary type of the Thinking Triad (comprised of types 5, 6, and 7) and so both subtypes are personalities centered very strongly around thoughts, fear, and anxiety.
6 wing 5
When compared to the 6w7, the 6w5 tends to be more serious and focused. All type 6s are oriented to people and look to establishment and authority to feel safe, but type 5s by contrast seek to separate their thinking from others, feeling safe when they are objective and un-influenced. With these opposing tendencies, 6w5s tend to be individuals who bring new thinking to established groups, hoping to influence the establishment they have attached to towards accepting their personal insights.
Healthy 6w5s combine the strengths of both types, applying their analytical prowess (5) towards areas of established study (6). They tend to become extremely well-versed in the establishment's viewpoint in various areas, and see themselves as defenders of society, upholding the standards and practices that lead to the best results. They gravitate towards fields with few unknowns so they can master a set body of knowledge and apply it in practical ways for the benefit of others.
At Average levels, 6w5s become more anxious and secretive. Where an anxious 6w7 may turn to others for advice or aid, the 6w5 is more independent and will tend to internalize their feelings and solve their problems themselves. They remain attached to and identified with whatever group or establishment they have chosen, but they begin to mentally cut off from the group while remaining emotionally attached. As they do this, they begin developing suspicions about others in the group and pushing their own agendas. They start to feel that they know better than the other members, and they develop a sense of superiority, though they would never reveal they felt this way, to the point of denying it adamantly if others suggested as much.
Unhealthy 6w5's covert actions and beliefs make them feel a growing sense of separateness from the group, which causes them even more anxiety. However they now externalize this anxiety, believing that the split is in fact a result of factors outside of themselves. Their once rationally driven behavior becomes more volatile as they put their energy towards eliminating threats to their position within the group which may or may not exist in the first place. Paranoid and plagued by feelings of inferiority, the shear level of stress in the unhealthy 6w5 can lead to highly aggressive and violent acts, which in their deluded perspective serve as necessary acts self defense.
6 wing 7
Compared with the 6w5, the 6w7 is much more upbeat and fun-loving. Like all 6s, they seek stability through union with groups, and due to their increased sociability from 7 they have an easier time being accepted than the other subtype. However, type 7 adds a drive to satisfy their own needs, and that poses a threat to 6s ability to mesh with a group, so this subtype can also get caught between conflicting tendencies.
Healthy 6w7s are generally lighthearted people who seek happiness and security in life. They take joy in the pursuit of stability, and once they have it they often seek to build further and apply themselves towards a healthy pursuit of material gain. However they are not likely to over-work themselves. They often have many interests and and will maintain work-life balance in order to protect their time and ensure they are able to do the things they enjoy. Because type 6 is their primary type, they remain highly organized and observant, and can dedicate a lot of their time to learning a craft. But unlike the 6w5 who desires to master every aspect of their field conceptually, the healthy 6w7 will develop a strong working proficiency and enjoy applying it.
As they enter the Average levels, 6w7s become less focused as they begin to experience more anxiety. They begin to look to others for comfort rather than relying on their own judgement, and seeking advice from many sources and becoming indecisive, nervous that they will make the "wrong" choice. Their tension grows and conflicts with their desire for things to be all-around positive, and they become moody and react with a kind of denial of the severity of their growing issues, holding out for someone else to provide a solution. This is because as 6s, they have aligned with a "higher power" of some kind, be it a religion they belong to, a company they work for, or any other organization, and they subconsciously assign responsibility for themselves to that entity, and clinging to the idea that they are "safe" through this association. To the average 6w7, part of being "safe" is that they falsely feel their right to avoid taking life too seriously is protected, and that they will be spared the consequences of their actions so long as they stay in line. This of course doesn't work well and their problems go unsolved, but rather than beginning to act with personal power to solve these problems, the 6w7 becomes bitter and angry at the powers that be. Where the average 6w5 begins to act independently and launch hidden agendas to shift the group, the 6w7 instead acts rebelliously may begin engaging in excesses like drinking or overeating, or simply by wasting time with others with no real goal.
Unhealthy 6w7s have rejected responsibility for themselves wholly and become highly dependent people. They allow themselves to be dependent on groups or individuals who mistreat them, feeling that they don't deserve any better, or that they are simply incapable of affecting change on their own lives. Not only have their external problems gone unsolved, but they have many anxieties that they have not learned to cope with and resolves. They become volatile as they alternate between trying to self-suppress to fit in with their support structure and lashing out to have their intense feelings acknowledged. Rather than becoming paranoid and aggressive like the 6w5, they become wild and manic as they attempt to reject their fears, and may experience extreme panic attacks as their fears escalate.
-No matter what you've come to believe, everyone is capable of protecting and providing for themselves. If you think that's not true for you because of some part of your personal story, try to prove yourself wrong and see what happens. You may have to work to develop new skills, but you can definitely find a way to stand on your own two feet.
-A secure situation that requires you to bury your true self is not really secure. If you insist on being yourself, you'll find yourself moving towards a life that accounts for all of your needs.
-Stay grounded in the present moment as much as you can. If you feel frequent anxiety outside of those situation, spend time creating relaxing and safe environments for yourself. Meditation and eating nourishing foods is helpful. Fear is a feeling that protects you when you are in a physically dangerous situation, but it doesn't help you in other scenarios.
-Get comfortable with the idea that the future is unpredictable. You can cultivate a life that is safe, but there are always unforeseeable events on the horizon, no matter how hard you try to see ahead. Cultivate security by preparing for things you can reasonably expect to happen, but don't spend too much time dwelling on it.