Enneagram Attachment Styles

Intimacy in Adult Relationships

Background on Adult Attachment Theory

In recent years, adult attachment theory has gained significant ground in popular psychology as a framework to understand how individuals perceive and respond to intimacy in romantic relationships. This new understanding of adult intimacy is based on the pioneering work of John Bowlby (1907-1990) and Mary Ainsworth (1913-1999). John Bowlby was a British psychologist, psychiatrist, and psychoanalyst who began studying childhood attachment to parental figures in the 1950s,[1] and Mary Ainsworth was a developmental psychologist who expanded on Bowlby’s work in the 1960s and 1970s by conducting extensive observational studies on the nature of infant attachments.[2] It was Ainsworth’s systematic study of infant-parent separations that led to the formal understanding and articulation of modern attachment theory.[3]

In 1969, Ainsworth published the first results of the Strange Situation Procedure (SSP), a technique she developed to measure mother-child attachments that is still in use today.[4] In the “strange situation,” infants and their parents were brought into a laboratory environment and systematically separated from and reunited with one another. Based on the behavior of the infants in response to separation and reunion with their parental figures, Ainsworth identified three main attachment styles in children: secure, anxious (insecure), and avoidant (insecure).[5] Secure children (about 60% of the population) became upset when the parent left the room, but were reassured and comforted when the parent returned; anxious children (about 20% of the population) began the experiment in a distressed state, became extremely distressed upon separation, and had a difficult time being soothed and demonstrated resentment upon being reunited with the parent; and avoidant children (about 20% of the population) didn’t appear distressed by the separation and avoided contact with the parent upon reunion.[6]

Fast-forward to the mid-1980s, when researchers began to extend the theory of attachment to adult relationships. Charlene Hazan and Peter Shaver (1987) began to explore the science of attachment in romantic relationships, postulating that the core principles of attachment theory apply not only to child-caregiver relationships but to adult relationships as well.[7] While the relationships are different in nature, they share many similarities – most importantly, an evolutionary argument for the necessity of attachment for survival.[8] In the science of adult attachment, four main attachment styles have been identified:

  1. Secure: Demonstrated by possessing a positive view of self and a positive view of others. People with this attachment style typically have positive regard for themselves, their partners, and their relationships. Hazan and Shaver’s paragraph to characterize this attachment style was “I find it relatively easy to get close to others and am comfortable depending on them and having them depend on me. I don't worry about being abandoned or about someone getting too close to me.”
  2. Insecure: Anxious-Preoccupied. Demonstrated by possessing a negative view of self and a positive view of others. People with an anxious attachment style typically have lower self-worth, are preoccupied with attachment, and seek high levels of intimacy, affirmation, and responsiveness from their partners. Hazan and Shaver’s paragraph to characterize this attachment style was “I find that others are reluctant to get as close as I would like. I often worry that my partner doesn't really love me or won't want to stay with me. I want to get very close to my partner, and this sometimes scares people away.”
  3. Insecure: Dismissive-Avoidant. Demonstrated by possessing a positive view of self and a negative view of others. While people with this attachment style (and all attachment styles, for that matter) do want intimacy, they place great importance on independence, self-sufficiency, and space, and appear to avoid attachment altogether. Statements characterizing this attachment style include “People want too much from me,” “I prefer not to depend on others or have others depend on me,” and “I’m comfortable without close relationships.”
  4. Insecure: Fearful-Avoidant. Demonstrated by possessing an unstable fluctuating view of self and others. People with this attachment style tend to feel uncomfortable with intimacy, typically doubt their worthiness of emotional closeness, and struggle to trust their partners. They often have negative views of both themselves and their attachments. Statements characterizing this attachment style include “I want intimacy, but I find it difficult to completely trust or depend on others,” “If I let people in I might get hurt,” and “I’m uncomfortable letting my guard down.” [9],[10]

Interestingly, there are mixed scientific findings linking the relationship between childhood, adolescent, and adult attachment. While some studies have linked them, others suggest that environmental factors and developmental changes can influence both adolescent and adult attachment styles.[11] This body of work is continually evolving, with acknowledged areas for further study.[12] 

With this in mind, the remainder of this article will explore the relationship between attachment style and Enneagram type, with the hypothesis that all individuals can exhibit any attachment style, but that each type has a predominant attachment style resulting from the manifestation of Ego in relationships. In the healthy Levels of Development, individuals are securely attached; in the average and unhealthy levels, the mistaken beliefs of the Ego and resulting behaviors are characteristic of a given attachment style for each type.


Anxious-Preoccupied Types: Two, Seven, and Nine

As previously mentioned, psychologists refer to the anxious-preoccupied mindset as characterized by a “negative” view of self and a “positive” regard for others. While this language doesn’t quite capture the subtleties of how each type approaches attachment at average or unhealthy Levels of Development, it points to the dynamic between the individual’s way of relating to self versus relating to others. This mindset gives rise to various anxiety-driven behaviors that attempt to re-establish or reinforce the sense of connection with the other.

Type Two: I want you to love me as much as I love you

At average or unhealthy Levels of Development, Twos fear that they’re unworthy of love and that the other person doesn’t return their level of affection. Their sense of self-worth becomes inextricably tied to how helpful, giving, and supportive they are to the other person, and they start doing things for the other person to “earn” their love. They focus their energy on demonstrating affection with the hope that it is returned in the form of appreciation. This dynamic gives rise to a great deal of anxiety – that their partner doesn’t love them back, that they’re not doing the right things for their partner, or that they’ll be rejected (translation: that they won’t be loved).

Type Seven: I want the relationship to be awesome

Sevens in an insecurely attached relationship feel enthusiastic about the attachment and their partner but fear that the relationship won’t stay “awesome.” As they think about the future, they develop anxiety that one (or both) of the partners will get bored or the happiness won’t last and devote their energy to occupying the relationship with activities to keep it exciting (e.g. planning lots of fun dates, trips, outings, etc.) Ironically, their partner may find this exhausting and it can become a source of conflict if the other person doesn’t have the same level of energy.

Type Nine: I just want you to be happy

Nines are prone to an insecure attachment style due to their focus on maintaining peace and harmony in their relationships. They’ll naturally have a positive regard for their partner (as they do for almost everyone), but fear that there will be conflict or that the other person will be upset. To prevent this from happening, they employ Ego-driven strategies such as accommodating the other person, merging with their partner, and failing to assert boundaries. They spend their energy trying to keep the other person happy and sacrifice or deny their own needs to stay connected.

It is certainly of note that anxious-preoccupied is the only attachment styles triad that overlaps with another known triad: the positive outlook types. This actually makes sense, as the anxious-preoccupied types have a “positive” view of others and their relationships, and positive outlook types approach problems, conflicts, and others with a positive mindset. This mindset is characterized by phrases such as “Things will work out,” “In the long run it will be okay,” and “Let’s look at the bright side.” This way of thinking will cause the person – consciously or subconsciously – to avoid acknowledging the downsides or problems with their partner or relationship. Rather, the energy will go into maintaining a happy relationship through Ego-specific strategies (as discussed above).


Fearful-Avoidant Types: One, Five, and Six

Psychologists use similar terminology for fearful-avoidant types: this attachment style is characterized by a “negative” view of self and a “negative” view of others. Again, this language falls short of explaining the nuances in how the types relate to themselves and others, but it points to the dynamic that gives rise to distancing strategies for all three types.

Type One: The relationship isn't "good enough" (perfect)

At average and unhealthy Levels of Development, the Type One pursuit of perfection applies to self, partner, and the relationship itself; the Ego becomes fixated on being the “perfect” person, having the “perfect” partner, and being in the “perfect” relationship.

The fixation on being a “perfect” person and the super-charged inner critic cause the individual to feel unworthy of love (“negative” view of self); the standards for finding “Mr. or Ms. Right” lead the person to find fault with every potential (or actual) partner (“negative” view of others); and the standard for having a “perfect” relationship causes the individual to doubt whether the relationship is good enough. All of this gives rise to “deactivating” or distancing strategies in which the One self-sabotages or pushes love away.

Type Five: People want too much from me

Fives at lower Levels of Development prize objectivity, rationality, and information, and discount the importance of feelings and relationships. They disengage from the world of “the humans” and go into their head, becoming private, reclusive, and distant. While they may actually want a relationship, they cherish their time and space and easily perceive intrusions. They often feel rejected, are easily overwhelmed by others’ emotional needs, and may feel that they’re “bad” for people (“negative” view of self). The passion of avarice is prevalent in relationships for Fives – they are prone to the belief that others want too much from them (“negative” view of others). Because of this, they may withdraw or cut off contact with people (a classic avoidant strategy).

Type Six: I'm not sure I can trust the relationship

All realms of an average or unhealthy Six’s life are shadowed by uncertainty and doubt - especially in relationships. Sixes value loyalty, trustworthiness, and reliability, and not only doubt themselves (“negative” view of self) but also doubt their partners, their trustworthiness, and whether they’re truly supportive (“negative” view of others). The “hot” and “cold” tendency of Type Six in relationships closely reflects the duality of the fearful-avoidant attachment style, which is characterized by a mix of anxious and avoidant behaviors. For example, Sixes will worry about whether the person is really there for them and want to be reassured at times, while feeling smothered and wanting more distance at other times.


Dismissive-Avoidant Types: Three, Four, and Eight

The final adult attachment style is dismissive-avoidant, characterized by a “positive” view of self and a “negative” regard for others. This terminology is especially flawed for the dismissive-avoidant types, as much of the avoidant behavior comes from fear (of rejection, being misunderstood, vulnerability, etc.). Another way to think of this dynamic is through the lens of surface-level superiority, which gives rise to distancing strategies.

Type Three: I’m a winner and you might compromise that

At average and unhealthy Levels of Development, Threes are hyper-focused on curating an image of success and admirability. Everything in their life “says something” about them: their job, their house, their car… and their partner. While this comes from a place of insecurity, fear, and shame, the external projection is that of confidence, success, and being a “winner.” It’s important to Threes that their partner not only acknowledge and appreciate them for their accomplishments but make them look good as well. If Threes believe that relationships will distract from their goals, reflect poorly on them, or lead to rejection or being “found out,” they will use deactivating strategies to push the other person away.

Type Four: I’m deep and you’re not on my level

Fours at lower levels are identified with their individuality and depth and may be prone to the belief that others are shallow or uninteresting. This sense of superiority couples with a tendency to become engrossed in their own emotional reactions and dramas. They become self-absorbed and entrenched in feeling states, making it difficult for them to validate the viewpoints or feelings of their partner. If they feel dismissed, invalidated, or disappointed by their partner – perhaps the individual or the relationship isn’t deep or meaningful enough – they may be prone to devaluing and rejecting them.

Type Eight: I’m strong and you might make me weak

At all Levels of Development, Eights strive to be strong. While highly functioning Eights understand that there is strength in vulnerability, Eights at lower levels equate vulnerability with weakness and are hesitant to let people get too close. When they do let a romantic partner “in,” they seek control of the relationship to maintain their feeling of strength. Eights at this level are prone to objectifying their partner and viewing them as an inferior who needs to be controlled. They are also, as a rejection type, sensitive to perceived rejection and may overreact by withdrawing or losing their temper. Eights will use distancing strategies in intimate relationships to reinstate the feeling of control and to avoid feeling weak or vulnerable.


The Enneagram, Attachment & Object Relations 

Worthy of discussion is the differentiation between object relations and attachment styles. Object relations is a psychoanalytic instinct theory describing “the relationship felt or the emotional energy directed by the self or ego toward a chosen object,” which is primarily conceived as another person in object-relations theory but can also be situations, states, or any object to which a subject relates.[13],[14] In the study of the Enneagram, the object relations are described as producing three “affects,” or “universal emotional states” that are the “building blocks of the personality.”[15] The three object relations triads include Attachment (Types Three, Six, and Nine), Frustration (Types One, Four, and Seven), and Rejection (Types Two, Five, and Eight); they relate not only to the way the personality types engage with other people but also to how they relate to their situations, states, world, and experiences. This framework is complementary to the theory of attachment, which relates specifically to how humans behave in attached relationships, and in the case of adult romantic attachments, how individuals seek and perceive intimacy. For example, while Type Three is an Attachment type, the attachment is to the positive regard of others for validation and at lower Levels of Development their insecure attachment style is dismissive avoidant; the two triads are complementary rather than mutually exclusive.


Observations: Symmetry, Patterns & Mathematics

When a Triadic Group is valid, a number of symmetries and patterns can be observed about the triads. The first test is whether the sum of the numbers of the types in each triad is equal to a multiple of three (e.g., in the Harmonics, the sum of the Positive Outlook types is 2+7+9=18, the sum of the Logic types is 1+3+5=9, and the sum of the Emotional Realness types is 4+6+8=18). In the Attachment Styles Triads proposed here, the same is true. The sum of the Anxious-Preoccupied types is 2+7+9=18, the sum of the Dismissive-Avoidant types is 3+4+8=15, and the sum of the Fearful-Avoidant types is 1+5+6=12 – all of which are divisible by 3.

Symmetry is another verification that the Triads are correct. As depicted in the figure below, the Attachment Styles Triads are horizontally symmetrical. The duality of this symmetry might be explained by the duality of the actual behaviors employed by anxious vs. avoidant attachment styles.

Furthermore, a number of patterns characterize the Attachment Styles. First, a person of any type will have access to all three attachment styles from his or her dominant type, line of stress, line of growth, or wing(s). For example, Type One is a fearful-avoidant type with a line to Four (dismissive-avoidant) and a line to Seven (anxious-preoccupied); Type Two is an anxious-preoccupied type with lines to Four and Eight (dismissive-avoidant), and a possible wing of Type One (fearful-avoidant); and Type Three is a dismissive-avoidant type with a line to Nine (anxious-preoccupied) and a line to Six (fearful-avoidant).

Second, following the direction of stress along the hexad (1-4-2-8-5-7) reveals an interesting pattern of alternating attachment styles: fearful-avoidant, dismissive-avoidant, anxious-preoccupied, dismissive-avoidant, fearful-avoidant, anxious-preoccupied. The same is true on the triangle (3-9-6): dismissive-avoidant, anxious-preoccupied, fearful-avoidant.



These patterns and symmetries suggest that the groupings of the three attachment styles triads are valid.


Concluding Thoughts

This article has presented initial theories on how the Enneagram overlays with adult attachment theory. There is significant opportunity for further study of this body of work. Questions for deeper investigation include:

  1. How do the attachment styles relate to other Triadic Groups (e.g. Harmonics, Hornevians, Object Relations, etc.)?
  2. What are the dynamics and variations of each personality type (e.g., how and why might a Two employ dismissive-avoid or fearful-avoidant behavior)?
  3. Is there a direct correlation between the Levels of Development and secure vs. insecure attachment?
  4. Is it possible for individuals who live at an average or unhealthy level to have a secure attachment?
  5. Could individuals with a dominant attachment style display a different attachment style depending on the relationship (e.g. could a One demonstrate anxious-preoccupied behavior) and if so, why?
  6. Does adult attachment style truly relate to early childhood attachment, as theorized by some psychologists?
  7. How, specifically, do mistaken beliefs and Ego manifestations give rise to a given attachment style? What mistaken beliefs do people of various types need to release to shift to more secure attachment? 

Ultimately, the recipe for fulfilling intimate relationships is to shift from insecure attachment (whatever the style) to secure attachment. This requires consciousness (moving up-level), honest self-reflection, a deep understanding of Ego-driven beliefs and assumptions, and hard work to shift to healthier behaviors, beliefs, and ways of engaging in adult relationships.



[1] Mcleod, Saul. “Attachment Theory.” Simply Psychology, Simply Psychology, 5 Feb. 2017, https://www.simplypsychology.org/attachment.html.

[2] Rosmalen, Lenny & van der Veer, René & van der Horst, Frank. “Ainsworth's Strange Situation Procedure: The Origin of an Instrument.” Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 2015. 51. 10.1002/jhbs.21729.

[3] Fraley, R. Chris. “Adult Attachment Theory and Research: A Brief Overview.” University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Department of Psychology, 2018, http://labs.psychology.illinois.edu/~rcfraley/attachment.htm.

[4] Rosmalen, Lenny & van der Veer, René & van der Horst, Frank. “Ainsworth's Strange Situation Procedure: The Origin of an Instrument.” Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 2015. 51. 10.1002/jhbs.21729.

[5] “PSYCH 424 Blog.” Applied Social Psychology ASP RSS, https://sites.psu.edu/aspsy/2015/11/23/infant-attachment-styles-mary-ainsworths-strange-situation/.

[6] Fraley, R. Chris. “Adult Attachment Theory and Research: A Brief Overview.” University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Department of Psychology, 2018, http://labs.psychology.illinois.edu/~rcfraley/attachment.htm.

[7] Fraley, R. Chris, and Phillip R. Shaver. “Adult Romantic Attachment: Theoretical Developments, Emerging Controversies, and Unanswered Questions.” Review of General Psychology, American Psychological Association, 2000.

[8] Levine, Amir, and Rachel Heller. Attached: Are You Anxious, Avoidant or Secure? How the Science of Adult Attachment Can Help You Find - and Keep - Love. Bluebird, 2019.

[9] Fraley, R. Chris, and Phillip R. Shaver. “Adult Romantic Attachment: Theoretical Developments, Emerging Controversies, and Unanswered Questions.” Review of General Psychology, American Psychological Association, 2000.

[10] Fraley, R. Chris. “Adult Attachment Theory and Research: A Brief Overview.” University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Department of Psychology, 2018, http://labs.psychology.illinois.edu/~rcfraley/attachment.htm.

[11] Cassidy, Jude, and Phillip Shaver. Handbook of Attachment Theory, Research, and Clinical Applications. Guilford Press, 1999.

[12] Fraley, R. Chris, and Phillip R. Shaver. “Adult Romantic Attachment: Theoretical Developments, Emerging Controversies, and Unanswered Questions.” Review of General Psychology, American Psychological Association, 2000.

[13] The Oxford Dictionary. Oxford University Press, 1992.

[14] Daniels, Victor. Object Relations Theory, Sonoma State University, https://web.sonoma.edu/users/d/daniels/objectrelations.html.

[15] Riso, Don, and Russ Hudson. “At-A-Glance: The Triadic Groups.” 2006.

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