Updated: May 26
In a nutshell
Type 7s are extraverted, highly engaged individuals with the tendency to avoid self-reflection. They live for fulfilling experience and do so in a balanced way, but run the risk of beginning to distract themselves from their deeper emotions rather than dealing with them. Overall they are positive, upbeat, and fun-loving. Their curiosity drives them into many interesting areas, and they can often become jacks of all trades, bringing value wherever they go. When anxiety sets in, they become less engaged in the present and look to the future. However, they can subconsciously react so quickly to these worries by drowning them out with something "fun" that they don't get a chance to process the feeling. The more they do this, the faster they learn to react, and the more out of touch they become.
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, 7s live much of their lives in the moment, appreciating life for what it is and not requiring distraction to feel at ease. In general 7s can have a childishness about them, and in healthy 7s that quality manifests as lightheartedness without giving up the acceptance of reality that comes with being a mature adult. Of course they don't live in a constant state of bliss, but when tougher situations and feelings arise, they are able to deal with and resolve them actively and energetically. Getting a realistic understanding the overall affect of a healthy 7 requires taking a bird's eye view of their life. While they value joy, fun, and fulfillment, they understand and accept the realities of life which require them to spend time on other things. For example they may have demanding careers in spite of wanting to spend all of their time with their families. The point is that however they spend their time, they deal with their practical realities in order the create a life in which they can sustainably have what they desire most.
To remain healthy, 7s operating in this zone should try not to distract themselves when they start to feel anxious. If you begin to feel anxious more often, know that there may be an issue you're hiding from yourself - pause for a short while until you have found and dealt with it.
As 7s begin to ignore more of their fears, they may shift emotional defense strategies. Where in the healthier zone they responded energetically to their issues directly, average 7s become satisfied doing just about anything regardless of whether it addresses the core issue. The stimulation they feel simply from doing anything may be enough for them, and they begin to stop short of solving the problem. For example, they may have an issue with their boss, and then put it out of their minds after complaining about it over a drink with coworkers. The issue was not addressed, but they did something fun and vented their stress, and now they are content to put it out of their minds. Only the issue was not truly resolved, and it may come back to haunt them. They may dig deeper into self distraction and may begin to come across as stubborn and selfish. The mature lightheartedness of the healthy 7 turns into simple childishness. They channel themselves towards fulfilling their whims, while rejecting responsibility for fulfilling their needs. They don't exactly expect others to take care of them, but they don't expect to have to take care of themselves. Because of this, they may get frustrated and lash out when a true need arises that they don't want to fulfil, creating pressure for others to fulfill it (similar to a baby crying when hungry). Their true needs aside, they will certainly show frustration or even overt anger when people refuse to go along with their whims, or even worse when people ask them to slow down and self reflect. Fulfilling their whims at this point is compulsive, and the 7 is not too aware of their inner world/subconscious mind. Slowing down or refusing themselves risks leading to a flood of awareness that they simply do not want to accept.
To become healthy again, average 7s need to slow themselves down at all costs, both physically and mentally. Creating space allows what you've been repressing to come forward and resolve. The goal is not to resolve problems so you can get back to living how you have been. You're cultivating patience so that you can lead a truly, sustainably fulfilling life.
If the average 7 gets too comfortable with distraction as a coping mechanism, the unresolved issues begin to pile up, as do their unresolved feelings, and they can eventually find themselves overwhelmed. The weight of dealing with a mountain of issues is exponentially scarier than dealing with just a few, and even those few proved too hard to deal with, so they may react by diving deeper into denial instead of finally getting to work. As that happens, they rely more and more on stimulating, pleasure-inducing forms of distraction. They remain active and experience-driven, but anything humdrum is simply not exciting enough, so they turn to things like alcohol, drugs, and sex. They're often living in a state of exhaustion but keep themselves in perpetual motion with stimulants, living life in a highly addictive pattern. The joy is gone from these activities, but the stress their self-abuse causes still feels better to them than confronting the inner self they've neglected for so long. Sometimes they "hit rock bottom" and choose to reverse and head in the right direction, but they also may continue on this path and essentially drive themselves to self-destruction.
In order to become healthy again, unhealthy 7s should seek professional help, particularly if they have developed any addictions. They have likely reached a point where their environment is not stable, and professionals can help them reestablish a sense of balance and boundaries in their lives.
Wings / Subtypes
Every person has some degree of every type at work in their personality, but in addition to their primary type, Enneagram 7s are more likely to draw strongly from one of the adjacent types, 6 or 8. 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 7’s type as either “7 wing 6” (7w6) or “7 wing 8” (7w8).
7 wing 6
Compared to the other subtype, 7w6s are more friendly and people-oriented. Both types 6 and 7 are focused outside of themselves – 6s look to others for a sense of security and 7s look to experiences for feelings of personal fulfillment. These factors combine to form an individual focused on enjoying people-related experiences.
Healthy 7w6s are simultaneously fun-loving and productive, making everything they do fun for themselves and others. They enjoy bonding with the people around them and are often the best people around to make others feel better when they’re having a hard time. While 7w8s are largely on their own track, healthy 7w6s see themselves as part of a whole, and they work to make the people around them happy and drive the groups or organizations they’re a part of to be better on the whole. They do this both through practical work and by shining their personal light wherever they go. And shine they do, they are often talented in many areas as well as witty conversationalists, bringing a lightness to those around them.
Average 7w6s tend to become scattered and less productive, unlike the average 7w8 who remains a driving force. Their anxieties begin to grow and rather than applying themselves towards resolving their fears, they are stuck between their desire to lighten things up (7) and their desire to project responsibility for their own wellbeing onto others (6). They wear their nervousness on their sleeve, and tend to “jump around” between people, groups, and activities as they try to flee from these more difficult feelings. Being people-focused from their 6 wing, others become part of their self-distraction coping mechanism, and they often try to get others to go along with their thrill-seeking plans so that they can simultaneously run from their problems while maintaining the sense of security their personal connections offer. As their anxieties intensify, this method of coping can wear down at their connections who begin to see that they are being used (albeit in a seemingly friendly way). Even if the 7w6 maintains their friendly/upbeat persona, they become increasingly self-serving as their desire to self-distract increases, and they steadily lose the capacity to be accommodating to others.
Unhealthy 7w6s become compulsive and thrill-seeking, focusing on finding people who will be complicit in their intense self-distraction. They reject self-reflection outright and seek to keep themselves stimulated to avoid it. Simultaneously, they compulsively seek approval from others, hoping to both live on their terms and get others to support them. They may play games with others, pressuring them to solve their problems. This simultaneously gets their needs met (7) and reassures them that they are not alone (6). They can quickly alternate between “hot and cold”, one moment asking someone for help and lashing out at them the next. Highly susceptible to addictions and other self-destructive actions, they become incredibly dramatic, overwhelming themselves and those around them.
7 wing 8
Compared to the 7w6, 7w8s are more outward and aggressive. The 7's drive towards having their needs fulfilled combine with the 8's decisiveness and action-orientation, and the result is a high energy individual who cannot be stopped from doing what they want, when they want to.
Healthy 7w8s have a fantastic appetite for life, enjoying everything the world has to offer. They practically apply their curiosity and intelligence towards their personal goals, which they usually accomplish due to their tremendous willpower. Due to their drive and ingenuity they fit comfortably in leadership position where they have the freedom to exercise their will while meeting their personal desire for financial gain. Money is often a goal for them as it enables them to pursue more fulfilling activities and to experience more of what the life they love so dearly has to offer. The qualities of 8 bring a grounded quality that is not present in the 7w6, and as a result the healthy 7w8's enthusiasm is channeled towards expanding themselves in the real world (rather than towards expanding the environment they share with others). That said, like healthy 8s, 7w8s can have a smaller set of people they care about deeply and aim to protect.
As 7's fear of being deprived grows, average 7w8s begin to become more attached to intensity, seeking out stimulating personal experiences because they feel rewarded simply from the adrenaline rush it gives them. As with average 8s, their propensity for self preservation declines because they repress their vulnerable side. They see fewer reasons not to do what they want to, and so end up doing more of it. They may even seek out conflict situations for the stimulation that brings, willingly dealing with the consequences. However they are not focused on a few specific likes or dislikes, they have an appetite for intensity in all its forms, and end up constantly seeking new outlets. While 7w6s at this level are overly enthusiastic and childlike, 7w8s are bottom-line-focused realists, behaving in a much more "adult" manner.
Having exhausted the excitements available to them in the normal spectrum of life, unhealthy 7w8s compulsively fulfill their whims, chasing the feelings their past endeavors brought them. The full force of their manic tendencies is felt by those around them as they barrel through social boundaries to fulfill their desires. They get a sense of elation from living dangerously because it satisfies the unhealthy side of both types. For 7 it provides a thrill, and for 8 it quells their anxieties as they prove how "strong" they are to be able to face such things. Their risk-seeking lifestyle not only wears away at them over time, but it is likely to bring them to physical harm.
-Slow down! Even healthy 7s have a tendency to move fast, and that may make it hard to appreciate everything around you. Stop and smell the roses...often.
-Learn the difference between appreciating something and simply being gratified by it.
-Your glands secrete hormones like cortisol and adrenaline when stressed, and that makes you feel more energetic. Because of this, you feel "rewarded" by things that are actually causing you harm. Obvious examples are caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol, but there are also less obvious examples like exercising too much, not sleeping enough, or skipping breakfast. Learn to tell the difference between the things that "perk you up" and the things that bring you sustainable joy, and focus on the latter.
-Don't have more than a few areas of focus (i.e. family, career, hobbies, friend groups, communities, etc.) It's fine to be interested in many things, but when it comes to choosing how to spend your time, try to make it count. If you spread yourself thin, you won't experience anything in depth and you'll be missing out on true fulfillment.
-You have the tendency to over-focus on what you want, and you may overlook or invalidate others to fulfill them. Take the time to ask what others want, and try going along with what they want. They'll appreciate it, and the experience may be rewarding.
-At average levels, some 7s feel that they would rather live life on their terms and deal with the consequences. Consider the fact that your desires shift as your intentions do. You choose your desires, they do not control you.