Enneagram 6’s Counterphobia vs Instinctual Subtype

Classic Enneagram theory represented the Type 6 as a fascinating amalgam of anxiety and bravery. Most poignantly: phobia and counterphobia.

Each 6 was assumed to possess their own unique blend of phobia and counterphobia, placed on a spectrum, leaning towards one side over the other, but being able to have moments of phobia or counterphobia, despite their primary position.

Essence of 6’s (Counter)Phobia

Phobic 6

… is filled to the brim with the conscious experience of anxiety (typically caused by “overthinking”), which leads to “flight” or “freeze“.

Counterphobic 6

… is often unconscious of or denying their underlying anxiety but prepared to attack or confront whatever scares them, which leads to a “fight” response.

The Cowardly Lion from “The Wizard of Oz” (1939) is a great example of the essence of Type 6 with its dichotomous tendencies towards either cowardice and/or bravery. The Cowardly Lion is arguably in the “middle”, leaning towards counterphobic, but also experiencing strong bouts of conscious anxiety, which can paralyze him.

As he matures, his counterphobia develops into true bravery. (As you can see in the video example, counterphobia alone is not truly brave by default, even if it may initially appear that way. It takes genuine courage and determination in face of the true fear/threat, resulting in personal growth.)

Misleading Instinctual Stereotypes

In contrast, more recent type descriptions (most notably by Beatrice Chestnut, 2013) of 6 including the instincts have created new stereotypes, by which the counterphobic 6 is always Sexual Instinct first, the phobic 6 is always Self-preservation Instinct first, and the “middle” 6 is always Social instinct first.

However, I must say, despite being a fan of Beatrice Chestnut’s book when I read it years ago, I see a glaring flaw in her categorical assessment I mentioned above. Or rather, how most Enneagram fans nowadays treat the issue of 6’s counterphobia and instincts. They disregard the dichotomous essence of Type 6.

Any 6 can be (counter)-phobic

Basically everyone I’ve talked with about the Enneagram 6 eventually either said something like “I cannot be Self-pres 6, because I am counterphobic” or “I cannot be a Sexual 6, because I am phobic“.

My response:

Any 6 can be phobic or counterphobic regardless of their first instinct, for that’s part of the unique configuration of the Type 6 itself.

Each individual 6 will vary in their degree of phobia/counterphobia, based on their own unique personhood, life circumstances, and/or certain Tritype influences.

Tritype Correlations

For example, 8 fix Sixes are usually leaning “counterphobic” – naturally, as the aggression aids in Counterphobia. Counterphobic 6s often “act” like 8s on the outside anyhow, as you can see in the video above.

9 fix Sixes are usually leaning “phobic” or “middle”, aiming at harmony and peace and not wanting to rock the boat; but some 9 fix Sixes are “counterphobic” when also Sx instinct first, for the drive to attract a mate pushes them outside their fear-zone into the spotlight.

Having said that, Sexual 6s can be phobic! Helen Palmer acknowledges this in her book The Enneagram in Love and Work: Understanding Your Intimate and Business Relationships, saying:

“The preoccupation with strength/beauty in one-to-one relating is more obvious in phobic Sixes, because it stands out against a timid behavioral style.”

(Nevertheless, Palmer’s description of the Self-pres 6 goes too far into the phobic spectrum again, in such a way it would be relatable to anyone who is a phobic 6, no matter their first instinct, hence I cannot recommend the entirety of her 6 descriptions.)

Ultimately, your blend of counterphobia or phobia will influence the expression of your instincts – not necessarily vice versa.

  • A counterphobic Self-pres 6 will “go against” others or their own fears in their acquisition of safety and resources.
  • A phobic Sexual 6 will be paralyzed and plagued by anxieties surrounding dating and relationships.
  • A phobic Social 6 will cling unto and submit to external social institutions to feel at ease.
  • A counterphobic Social 6 will try to disrupt, “go against” or defy the above.

Note: You will relate the most if you’ve got any significant connection to Type 6, especially as a core type or wing of your core type, e.g 7w6 core. Followed by a secondary 6 fix. You won’t relate if you have no 6 fix nor wing in your Tritype. Also, it’s possible for you to relate to both the counterphobic and phobic aspects of all instincts, depending on circumstance. Thanks to the dichotomous nature of 6!

Advice: Separate Instincts and Core Type

At the end of the day, I recommend separating your assessment of counterphobia or phobia from the typing of instinctual stackings.

The Enneagram “Subtypes” can be interesting to discuss, but when you want to type the instinctual stacking, most of the 6 subtype descriptions are too mixed up with static preconceived notions of phobia/counterphobia, which actually run counter to the essence of the Type 6’s mixed ego identity.

So please, come back to the basics of the instincts and the 6, separately. Once you understand those aspects on their own, you can combine them for the most accurate description.

Read my other articles on the Instincts to figure out your stacking or book a Get•Typed session with me!

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