Labeled “The Loyalists,” Enneagram 6s are recognized for their intensity, skepticism, and sense of responsibility. These children have busy minds and see things from many different angles. No matter what you say, they can always see the other side of the coin. No matter how good things happen to be, they can always sense how things could spiral out of control. But there’s more to the Six child than worrying and anxiety. Let’s take a look at some of the struggles AND strengths of the Enneagram 6 child and explore some tips for parenting this type.
Table of contents
Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
An Overview of the Six Enneatype:
- Part of the Head triad (along with Fives and Sevens)
- Can have a 5 wing or a 7 wing
- Vice: Fear
- Virtue: Courage
- Integrates to Nine (the Peacemaker) under growth
- Disintegrates to Three (The Achiever) under stress
- Basic Fear: To be without support or guidance
- Basic Desire: To feel secure and to handle the demands of life
Signs Your Child Might Be a Six Enneatype:
- They “overthink” a lot
- They change moods quickly
- They worry about safety more than most other children
- They can go from being “people-pleasers” to devil’s advocates quickly
- They have a heart for people who are suffering
- They talk in a quick, intense, or stuttery kind of way
- They regularly feel suspicious or skeptical
- They try to hide their anxiety under a façade of aggression (most common with Sexual subtype 6s)
- They crave security and a sense of knowing what’s going to happen
- They are authority-seeking and independence-seeking at the same time
- They follow through on their word
- They take their responsibilities seriously
- They dislike flattery
- They are pessimistic
Phobic and Counterphobic Sixes:
Sixes are unique in that there are quite big differences between Phobic Sixes and Counter-Phobic Sixes. Phobic Sixes try to keep a low profile, buckle down, and follow the rules so that they can feel safe. They look for authorities and supportive friends so that they don’t feel alone and without guidance. They are usually warm, self-deprecating, and gentle – accommodating others and trying to stay on people’s good sides. Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson wrote, “Phobic Sixes are fearful that the people on whom they depend will abandon them.” This innate anxiety in the Phobic Six underlies a lot of their quirks. The phobic Six is always looking around, always aware of you, always looking deeper even if their smile seems calm or trusting. They are always on alert for any sign of danger or rejection. Even the slightest sign of rejection can plummet them into a black hole of uncertainty, fear, and despair. Their minds will work to troubleshoot these feelings of rejection or anxiety, but often their thoughts loop in circles – never letting up or giving them a chance to breathe. One of the Six’s strategies for dealing with this anxiety is to put on a friendly, compliant, warm outer demeanor. By doing this they disarm other people and hope to win their support and loyalty. They think to themselves, “If I am nice, it doesn’t cause trouble and I will be safe and okay.” In this way, phobic Sixes can resemble Nines, who also try to be nice and accommodating to feel safe.
Counterphobic Sixes have a different strategy for dealing with their fear. Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson write, “Counterphobic Sixes are fearful that others will try to trick them or take advantage of them. When conflicts arise, they can be highly confrontational and even belligerent. Nevertheless, beneath their bluster, they are just as fearful and anxious as phobic Sixes.”
Counterphobic Sixes are likely to fight against the rules, question them, or challenge people in order to find out whether they can be trusted. They are quick to confront people, test their loyalty, and lash out when they feel unsafe or out of control.
The truth is, both phobic and counterphobic tendencies reside in every Six. This is why they can be so unpredictable and their moods can change so drastically.
“The key to understanding Sixes is that they are ambivalent: the two distinct sides of their personalities oscillate between aggressive and dependent tendencies. They feel both strong and weak, dependent and independent, passive and aggressive, sweet and sour. It is difficult to predict the state Sixes will be in from moment to moment. At each Level, they display a personality substantially different from what has gone before and what will follow.” – Don Richard Riso with Russ Hudson, Personality Types – Using the Enneagram for Self-Discovery
Strengths of the Enneagram Six Child:
The strengths of the Six are going to greatly depend on the health and security of the Six in question. That said, most Six children are responsible, trustworthy, and detail-oriented. They like having structure and a sense of routine, and if that isn’t existent in their home, they will try to create it for themselves. They feel safe when they know what’s expected of them and what to expect of others. At healthy levels, Six children are pragmatic, dependable, and helpful. They want to prove to their parents that they can be counted on to show up when they’re needed and that they can be just as dependable and hard-working as any adult out there. Counterphobic Sixes might question the rules, but they still like knowing that their parents will hold firm and provide the structure they crave. Phobic Six children are likely to be compliant, warm, and accommodating – often putting others before themselves and intuitively assessing how people are feeling. Counterphobic Sixes fight for independence and freedom, and this can give them a determination and steeliness that helps them circumvent challenges and grow.
One of the greatest strengths of the Six child is that while they can appear fearful and anxious, they can be surprisingly brave when they’re defending something or someone they’re loyal to. They feel protective of others, especially younger siblings and might lash out courageously if they feel that one of their friends or siblings is being bullied.
Struggles of the Enneagram Six Child:
Sixes struggle with a great deal of uncertainty and fear. They often feel like life is hurrying too quickly and their thoughts can’t keep up with all the changes that are expected of them. They tend to take longer than other types when trying new things. examining situations carefully, and moving forward cautiously. They need time to acclimate to even minor changes. As a result, they hate being pushed into new situations or being interrupted. They may retaliate with unexpected anger when they are surprised or expected to adapt quickly to something. A sibling barging in on them while they’re reading might be met by shocking shouts of anger and fury.
Because Sixes need to warm up to changes, it’s crucial for parents to gently introduce them to new situations and experiences. Give them an idea of what to expect, let them know it will be okay, and give them time to acclimate. Don’t throw a big, life-altering change on them at the last minute and expect them to just go along with it calmly. At the same time, it’s important to give Sixes regular exposure to new experiences so that they can learn that they are capable of handling it. If they are too sheltered they may live in more fear than necessary because they haven’t tested themselves and learned that they can handle so much more than what they’ve been shown.
Sixes also struggle with making decisions. A young Six tends to get jittery and nervous when they have to decide about anything even a little important. They often worry that they’ll be stuck with something unpleasant and the finality can terrify them. The feeling of people waiting for them to decide increases this pressure and they can grow panicky, irritable, and overwhelmed.
Young Sixes can fall into codependent habits if they’re not careful. This is especially true of Phobic Sixes who may feel that the only way to feel safe is to take care of other people’s needs and appear warm and accommodating at all times. In their effort to find security and inner-calm they may overwork themselves trying to follow every rule, please every authority, and build up layers of support from others by serving them.
Tips for Parenting an Enneagram Six Child:
- Gently introduce them to new experiences and situations so that they have time to acclimate and learn that the unexpected isn’t always scary.
- Don’t take advantage of their responsible nature by overloading them with chores and rules to keep track of.
- Be supportive and reassuring, but not overprotective.
- Notice what makes them feel confident and brave and try to recreate those conditions.
- Help them learn to trust their good instincts. When they seek approval or guidance, try to clarify with them what they believe. Teach them to trust their conscience and hone their instincts instead of feeling like everyone else has to be consulted first.
- Be dependable and follow through on your word. Inconsistency and dishonesty will propel Sixes into a world of uncertainty, darkness, and inner turmoil.
- Be patient when they’re fearful about bedtime or new foods. Make mealtimes calm and pleasant so that they associate food with positivity. Try not to force them or bribe them to eat foods they’re afraid of unless they’re at risk of malnutrition. Offer them new foods regularly from an early age so they learn that variety is “normal” and not something to be afraid of. Give them plenty of cuddles at bedtime and a night-light.
- Praise them when they show confidence and face new experiences bravely.
- Try not to barge in on them or interrupt them when they’re focused on something unless it’s important.
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