The Enneagram and Neurobiology

April 7, 2023 | By TNE

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The Enneagram system is further validated by what the three centers of intelligence demonstrate across mammalian behavior. Modern affective neuroscience shows us that all mammals have three basic aversive reactions when three basic needs are not met:

  • Fear signals our direct knowing of what makes life secure, which lets us get on with everything else we get to do here.
  • Distress signals us to the deep need for, as well as the absence of, unconditional love, bonding, and being held and touched by others.
  • Anger signals us to the disruption of our essential worth, place and belonging to the world around us.


This reaction occurs when we experience a threat, challenge or danger to our very security. It is driven by the Head center of intelligence, which figures out what makes life certain and secure for us.

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This reaction occurs when we experience the loss of connection and bonding. It is driven by the Heart center of intelligence, which innately pursues the need for bonding and love.

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This reaction occurs when we experience not being treated right, being violated, or not getting what we want/need at any given point in time. It is driven by the Body center of intelligence, which senses what is wrong about the world around us and how we need to take action to correct it or fulfill ourselves.

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The Enneagram and Neurobiology

While fear, distress and anger are each critical to how we survive, develop and grow, we don’t do well in life if these are constantly in full throttle. The ability to recognize and value which center you are driving from is a wonderful first step toward self-awareness.

Secondly, to recognize, value and integrate all three centers of intelligence as equally competent drivers is crucial to all of us in attaining a fulfilling life and in cultivating relationships that flourish. It is vital to bring these into balance within ourselves first, and then in our relationships with others.

Interested in learning more?

Join us for one of our upcoming Enneagram Intensive Part 1 programs, online or in-person!

Source: David Daniels, MD (Co-founder of The Narrative Enneagram) You can find more of his in-depth writings on this and other topics at 

Somatics The Enneagram The Narrative Tradition

anger distress enneagram fear neurobiology


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