“Don’t give in to your fears. If you do, you won’t be able to talk to your heart.”
― Paulo Coelho,
“Fear doesn’t shut you down; it wakes you up”
― Veronica Roth,
Of all the nine numbers of the Enneagram, Type Six is the only one with two variants: Phobic and Counter Phobic. Many scholars believe that Sixes will fall somewhere on a spectrum between Phobic and Counter Phobic, having a dominant variant instead of being strictly one or the other. Let’s discuss the main features of both the Phobic and Counter Phobic Six, as well as the basic features of the type in general.
Type Six Generalities
At their healthiest, Sixes are quite adept at problem-solving. They use their analytical skills to confidently lead their own unique life and take control of situations. They trust themselves, their hearts, and their instincts and can take individual action based on their gut instincts. They move about in the world with confidence in their decisions. Type Sixes can become productive troubleshooters who are amazing at spotting future problems or potential issues. Integrated Sixes can see the uplifting and inspirational side of life and develop a good sense of humor about things that go wrong. At their best, Sixes are sensitive and loyal friends, family members, employees, and citizens.
In autopilot, the main downfall of the Six, namely, their unrelenting fear, becomes the focus of all their attention. They are in the Head Triad and so their minds begin to fill with constant anxiety. The Six feels helpless, self-doubtful, and emotionally unstable. Left to stew with their churning, fearful thoughts about worst-case scenarios, they become hyper-cautious and tense; unable to make decisions or take action. It becomes almost impossible for them to trust their own judgment. They start to feel they can’t handle even the smallest of obstacles and become complainers about small injuries. Sometimes, they aggrandize their perceived helplessness so that another “stronger” person will take charge.
“Doubt involves a loss of faith. The [Six] child reacted with fear to losing the permanent security of essence, initiating a lifelong preoccupation with courage. Fear creates dependency on rules and protective authority, which mimics the certainty of faith. The Enneagram’s Fear type has a parallel in the Doubting Mind category of Buddhist practice, in which attention shifts from belief to intense internal questioning…The path of faith begins with the firmly held beliefs seen in psychologically mature people, but, like all of the qualities that originate in essence, faith can transform consciousness.” – (The Enneagram in Love and Work, Helen Palmer, pg.151,152)
Fear is the central emotion in Sixes; a Phobic Six will flee from whatever causes them fear. A Phobic Six will literally exude nervousness. Their speech will be hesitant and sometimes they might stutter or mispronounce words. Their gaze will be scattered, moving around the room, not settling on anything for long. They can also put on a calm, compliant, warm front—in order to disarm other people. A Phobic Six will either consciously or unconsciously think, “When I am nice, it doesn’t cause trouble and I will be safe.” Their smiles will look strained and you may catch a suspicious sort of look in their eye; even while they’re working hard at being engaging. A Phobic Six is always watching you, always testing you. They are obedient to authority but also very suspicious.
A Phobic Six tends to complain a lot, in a very whiny manner. They talk about dangers, risks, undesirable outcomes, or worst-case scenarios. “I have a stomach ache,” they think, “it must be cancer.” Type Sixes often disempower themselves and in reaction they empower forces outside themselves, trying to make other people do what they believe they can’t. They show devotedness to an authority who feels safe – they become a loyal soldier. Once safe inside the care of authority, they check to make sure everyone else is adhering to set guidelines, traditions, or beliefs.
They talk about their fear so much to diffuse it. Sixes feel their fear in their bodies and can frighten themselves to such a degree they need to vent their anxiety. Otherwise, it becomes very overwhelming inside of their minds and hearts.
Phobic Sixes in autopilot (see paragraph one for more healthy Six characteristics) are often over-reactive. Their emotions are felt in extremes. They dramatize challenges to seek attention, magnifying small injuries and making mountains out of molehills. Their tone of speaking is negative and pessimistic. On the flip side, more integrated Phobic Sixes can be quite funny and have a good sense of humor. This humor helps them to deal with anxiety by making fun of it in a self-deprecating way.
The Phobic Six will often take a position in a group discussion they don’t necessarily agree with. They want to engage others in order to test the quality of the argument and identify weaknesses or to disprove or discard the argument as a whole.
Counter Phobic Six
Fear is the central emotion in Sixes; a Counter Phobic Six will confront and jump into their fears in order to overcome them. They can even seek out their fears at times.
Their body-language will be an overcompensation of their inner fears—Counter Phobic Sixes are often mistaken for Type Eights. They appear strong, powerful, and authoritative, with direct, probing eye-contact. An Enneagram Eight will be very distant and secure in their power stance, you can differentiate the Counter Phobic Six by the small glimmers of anxiety that seep through their facade: rapid eye movements and blinking a lot. They have quicker and more reactive hand and arm gestures when talking.
The Counter Phobic Six will still talk a great deal about dangers and risks, but they will emphasize how unafraid they are. They want to anticipate dangers and to do something about them. “What needs to be done to handle this worst-case scenario before it’s too late?” Counter Phobic Sixes focus on preparation, tools, and plans. They also like to speak about us vs. them situations. They are usually loyal to one organization or authority because it brings a sense of belonging and security, and so they are active in promoting their own team. My church vs. your church. My corporation vs. your corporation. My sports team vs. your sports team.
This Six variant wants to show you they’re not afraid. Inside they are actually very afraid, but they handle it by creating safety in preparation, plans, a safe authority, and keeping risky people at a distance. In a strange mini-twist, the Counter Phobic Six will also be very wary of their chosen authority figure; they are obedient but distrustful. They will continually test the authority or organization, looking for red flags or warnings that something might become untrustworthy.
Counter Phobic Sixes are bold when they are healthy and authoritarian when they are stressed. In stress, they will expect submission from you, becoming contentious and argumentative. They will intentionally cause controversy, ask a lot of questions, and initiate arguments.
In summary, a Phobic Six is afraid. A Counter Phobic Six is afraid, but they will karate chop that fear into tiny, wee pieces. In doing their work and moving toward integration, both variants are confident, smart, decision-makers who are great friends and employees. You want a Six by your side in life!