Sevens may be motivated to change for a variety of reasons, among them: boredom, feedback from others, problems with commitment, weight loss or substance abuse, problems with impulse control, because they are worried negative future consequences or because life is good and they want to make it better. Some Sevens arrive in therapy as “mandated clients”, ordered to do so by an outside agency for their uncontrollable behavior, or, say, want to quit drinking after an arrest for drunken driving. The world clamps down on them and the motivation is external, but possibly still sufficient. Other Sevens intuitively begin to feel that they are borrowing from the future, accumulating a kind of “pain debt,” recognizing that short term gains sometimes lead to long-term pain and future regrets.

NLP distinguishes between people who are motivated to go towards a positive outcome versus others who are negatively motivated, by something they want to get away from. Most Sevens believe they are only positively motivated and when healthy, they actually are. More entranced Sevens, however, are motivated by both but are often unconscious of the negative motivation. Sevens who know themselves well or who are depressed beyond their capacity to deny it, may recognize their mixture of motives.

This distinction is relevant because a Seven client may unconsciously fear loss of function and feel trapped if they believe that their lifestyle will be crimped by a problem. So they may make a change because they unconsciously fear a greater limitation. One Seven, for example, heard about a friend – a wine dealer – who was told by his doctor that he could never drink again. The thought of such a sweeping limitation so frightened the Seven that he began taking better care of himself.

Another unconscious negative motivator: Most Sevens fear they are inadequate and unconsciously compare themselves to others. This creates a “worse than/better than” subtext in the back of their minds. A Seven can feel inferior to someone whom they admire and then defensively act superior towards someone else to even the balance. Coaches can stress the value of changing as a source of adequacy and competence.

Generally good goals for change are: discovering a path of joy that incorporates pain. Learning to face facts in both their positive and negative aspects instead of compulsively making the best of things. Becoming a whole person, well-rounded, a true renaissance person. Learning to live at the center of your wheel.

Sevens need to learn to identify triggers that lead to feeling confined, insecure or afraid and then attend to them sooner rather than later. Developing the emotional freedom to be able to choose discipline rather than unconsciously setting it up as a jail and then breaking out of it. They claim the power to self-confine, instead of pushing it away and feeling like its victim; discovering the discipline that makes true freedom possible. They also need to learn good sense about what to commit to as well as learn how to inch up to the painful, dark side of their experience and find the power to manage it without running away.

Therapists and coaches working with Sevens may need to watch for too- quick progress and faltering motivation. While a Seven client may be motivated enough to come to therapy she may still try to keep one foot out the door or argue that her problem is not really a problem. A Seven could also be seeking pain control techniques – hypnotic and otherwise – hoping to shortcut the therapeutic process and control their pain just as they do in daily life.

Since motivation is at issue, you may need to explore a Seven client’s reasons for being in therapy and then later remind the client of them during hesitant moments. After finding a motivational button you can push, you might push it more often than you would with other clients. The idea is to keep the Seven remembering why she is in your office and what’s at stake.

Practitioners can use a Seven’s reframing to their own advantage by helping the Seven clients address any painful issues a little bit at a time and avoid diving in head first. Keep it light stimulating and don’t get discouraged if the Seven jumps around a lot. Avoid being preachy or giving too much advice as the Sevens can react badly to a Oneish tonality. Anecdotes, metaphors and stories can be an especially effective tool for communicating with the Seven client.

Some, and occasionally all, of the work in therapy will be in getting a Seven client ready to face the possible pain of changing. After the Seven has honestly and successfully wrestled with that prospect, the actual changework often happens quickly. Sevens are quick learners and can require surprisingly minimal interventions. After a long “pre therapy,” suddenly its over.

NLP, hypnosis, Brief Therapy and other approaches have reputations for being fast, painless and effective. But, most Sevens generally need to settle into their experience, to learn how to endure themselves, to face their fears or learn how to, at least, sample their pain.

If you’re drilling for water it’s better to dig one 60-foot well than 10 six-foot wells. Sevens often benefit from taking time to ruminate, to interiorize, be alone, and identify their fears. While long-term classic psychoanalysis has gone out of fashion in favor of faster, more tangibly effective types of therapy, several Sevens have told me that they benefitted from the consistency and inward focus of both Freudian and Jungian analysis. Therapists with no affinity for these practices might still take a cue and structure their work with Seven clients so that the pace is steady. You might also think about homework assignments that require consistency. Sevens can be easy trance subjects, responsive to guided imagery and fantasy exercises, from which they may report powerful fascinating experiences. But, a Seven client could, however, have a strong experience in your presence that ultimately doesn’t leave a mark on their problem; or seems to lead to other changes but not the one the Seven came to therapy for. The question is whether the experience sticks, whether the Seven actually changes. Not all change is progress anymore than all movement is necessarily forward.

Sevens usually have a different relationship to authority than Sixes. While Sixes romanticize or fear authority, Sevens are more ambivalent, less intimidated and usually avoid overt power struggles. It might be good to equalize your relationship with a Seven client, for example, by asking questions that presuppose your equality: “What can we do about this problem?” This will lessen the Seven’s desire to charm or distract you. Positively reframing a Seven’s pain is like offering cookies to the Cookie Monster; you simply play into their defense. It is more important to teach them how to stay with their pain, to delay their escape. Otherwise therapy stays mental, from the neck up, without touching the Seven’s feelings. The Seven pattern of self-jailing and escaping is almost always rooted in locked up, unconscious emotions.

It is good to chunk problems down and focus on a few things. It’s better to have a list of four things to work on as opposed to forty. It also helps some Sevens to recognize that they are borrowing from the future, accumulating a kind of pain debt. Short term gains sometimes lead to long-term pain and future regrets. If the Seven can become aware of the fact it may motivate them to work on themselves now.

Some Sevens go to therapy unconsciously expecting to be plunged into overwhelming pain. A therapist may need to divine and address this expectation and reassure the Seven that the point of dredging up any unpleasant feelings is to make them manageable. Since the Seven’s basic defense is specifically designed to avoid intense, bottomless pain that the Seven feels helpless to resolve, its best to avoid having therapy mimic the very thing that the client’s defenses are designed to avoid. If you plunge a Seven client into a long-forgotten memory that will fit their expectation and they won’t come back.

One Seven jokingly described therapy as “open heart surgery, performed an hour a week.” This is a good way to think about the rhythms of changework for this style. The general goal is to acknowledge pain but to chew through it in bite-sized pieces bearable pieces. The general idea is to take them into their pain a little and then bring them out, possibly teaching them skills to cope with their pain or just helping them learn that it is endurable.


Excerpted from The Dynamic Enneagram by Tom Condon

Copyright 2009, 2013 by Thomas Condon

Available as an ebook serial at Tom’s website


Tom Condon has worked with the Enneagram since 1980 and with Ericksonian hypnosis and NLP since 1977. These three models are combined in his trainings to offer a useful collection of tools for changing and growing, to apply the Enneagram dynamically, as a springboard to positive change. Tom has taught over 800 workshops in the US, Europe and Asia and is the author of 50 CDs, DVDs and books on the Enneagram, NLP and Ericksonian methods. He is founder and director of The Changeworks in Bend, Oregon.