Bullying and the Enneagram

The Enneagram: The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander

While the topic of bullying has received much attention, the enneagram adds understanding to some of the dynamics in this painful phenomenon. The nine behavior patterns appear in the roles of a bully, a victim or a bystander.

Bullying is defined as repetitively exposing an individual, seen as vulnerable, to the negative effects of harm, intimidation or coercion. In the literature on the topic, two elements emerge in the bully’s profile . . . harboring contempt and having a low tolerance for differences. A bully sees the victim as less than a person, as an object . . . an “it.” This new category, no longer human, allows the bully to take aggressive measures. The victim, no longer possessing any humanity, is deemed not worthy of respect.

A bully also remains intolerant of individuals who are different in any way such as race, gender, or ethnicity. Any number of physical characteristics can also be singled out, including, being overweight, tall, short, elderly, wears glasses, has acne, or a disability. A vulnerable child with few friends may also experience ridicule. Sometimes a creative child, or one who excels in school will be set upon by bullies.

A bully often comes from a family where the parents model bullying behavior. Kids overhear their parents make negative comments about people who have physical differences, who have an unusual name, or who are different in any way. The offspring are set up to carry on these attitudes and practices. The child grows up imitating the contempt and distain, following their parents’ view of anyone who differs from the majority. Within these families, the parents often bully their own kids or look the other way when older siblings bully the younger brothers or sisters.

Enneagram types tend to have different motivations that shape how this contempt and low tolerance for differences functions. Underneath the role of bully or bystander lies these two problematic themes. The following observations, while not complete, list ways that bullying looks from the nine perspectives at the average to lower functioning levels of development.

     Type Ones hold contempt for anyone not following the rules, or who violates their sense of correctness. While they may resist assuming the role of bully due to a personal code of conduct, they may feel their contempt is justifiable, reasoning others should try harder to fit in. Or they may become a crusader bully, insisting on conformity.

A type one might become the victim, if their need for order is viewed by a bully as odd. As the type one evolves, they learn tolerance and respect for others who are different.

    Type Twos may reach out to individuals who seem different, or they might remain a bystander, not wanting to get involved in the fray, or risk their standing with the bully. On the other hand, a type two may manipulate behind the scenes to set someone up as a victim. As a two evolves, they act independently, and become more likely to object when they see a bully.

   Type Threes may shun a victim if there is a chance their association might lower their status in a group.  A type three might wait and watch to see which way the wind is blowing before they take a stand on the popularity of a new classmate. If it suits them, they may rescue the victim, or avoid taking a stand if it serves their own purposes.

As the type three evolves, they can become courageous leaders who stand up for principles, using their skills to support the community. A three may also find effective ways to restore the victim’s place in the group.

    Type Four’s contempt has to do with not respecting others who appear uncouth or too ordinary. Type fours also can be targeted because they pride themselves on being different, remaining unwilling to conform. Driven by envy, a four may act as a bystander, who watches the bully take a victim down. As they evolve, the four values fairness, and respects others as special in their own way.

 Type Five may have eccentric interests that set them apart. Their introverted nature can catch the attention of a bully who views them as an easy target. If the five develops the type seven’s wit, they may ward off attacks with a quick tongue. A type five may harbor contempt if they see others as superficial or uninformed. On the other hand, they likely have a high tolerance for differences as their studies have provided them with a sophisticated and cosmopolitan outlook.    Type Six sees others as holding the power. Fearing the bully, they seek to maintain a low profile. Sixes may have a low tolerance for differences, and even feel contempt, as they might worry about outliers who buck the system, threatening the status quo. They may act as the bully, taking up the role of inquisitor who must punish those who do not follow tradition. As they evolve, the type six learns the power of trusting that others are doing the best that they can. So rather than judge or persecute, they lend a hand.

 Type Seven can be a bully, taking an opportunity to garner attention. They like to keep things exciting and singling out a victim to be the butt of the joke can satisfy this need. Or they may play the role of sidekick to the bully, supporting the hazing and torment.

If a seven is targeted, they may brush off the attack so that the bully moves on to a more sensitive target. The type seven often has a high tolerance for differences in other people. However, if they harbor contempt, they may use humor to needle and harass a victim. As the type seven evolves, they can use their wit to disarm the bully with a humorous comment, speaking truth to power.

 Type Eight may be the classic bully, aggressive and intolerant. Projecting strength, they can target a vulnerable kid, “moving against” them to display their power. The eight may also just enjoy stirring things up by engaging in bullying.

Harboring contempt, and disrespecting others fades as the eight evolves, and begins to show empathy. Then eights use their power to protect the weak and the bullied. If they find themselves in a group of other eights, they can turn into a bystander or victim. Eights may have a high tolerance for differences, respecting those who buck the system.

 Type Nine is a natural bystander, dialing down their feelings. They tend to maintain a low profile, blending in and not speaking up when a victim is targeted. They may respect differences in others, but often prefer to reserve their energy. The nine likes to blend in, and to not rock the boat. Any contempt, or anger may lie buried. When they evolve, the nine can act as mediator and peacemaker, opening the door to tolerance in the community.

Enneagram patterns contribute to the roles of the bully, victim or bystander. The dynamics of bullying are better understood by looking at how each type harbors contempt and shows a low tolerance for differences.

Julia Twomey, Psy.D. worked as a therapist in the Early Intervention Program in Illinois. She has incorporated the enneagram since she learned it in 1983 at Loyola University.

She is the author of  The Pythagorean Path, a Young Adult Fantasy, based on the enneagram to be released in 2021



Bullying begins early. Elementary and pre-schools across the country have taken steps to prevent this toxic culture from developing. One innovation is offering neutral play materials for young children. Rather than limiting play to “girl toys” or “boy toys” that can set kids up for a platform of bullying, neutral toys open up kid’s experiences to creative play schemes.

Cas Holman, a product designer from the Rhode Island School of Design, creates playground sets that encourage kids to think in new ways. Children negotiate original play schemes with oversized ladders, beams, and barrel components. Kids assemble these pieces with special bolts that don’t require tools. Holman feels good “toys” makes good people. Children exposed to this type of play experience are less likely to tease, as they learn to respect kids with other ideas after seeing the value of their contributions.

For decades, child experts have encouraged parents to provide toys that allow for multiple schemes of play, and to avoid toys that limit the possibilities to a few prescribed scripts. Rather than a stale army game, or repeating the same tea party, kids are free to build on fresh ideas. With Holman’s play equipment, kids learn resilience when a design fails, and they need to rework the plan together. Problem solving, conflict resolution, sharing, and communication skills improve with these open- ended opportunities for higher level interactions.

Strategies that reduce bullying in the school environment:

  1. Surveys to determine the extent of bullying in a school
  2. More supervision in the cafeteria, playground, halls, as these areas are hot zones for bullying
  3. Classrooms are set up with rules that are displayed and discussed, emphasizing respect and kindness
  4. When kids gather at a home, cell phones go in a basket at the front door to prevent posting inappropriate photos and recordings.

5    Eat With Us Table…kids text message to reserve a spot…so everyone has a place at            lunchtime

  1. On the playground if kids see a bully in action, the kids chant, “Knock it off!”

6.. Team picking strategies…kids add up their phone numbers, then line up by the sum.     Alternate kids in the line make up teams.

  1. Ban Dodge Ball or any version where a child is used as a target
  2.     Discuss characters in literature, pointing out examples of contempt, low tolerance for differences, reaching out and compassion.
  3. Second graders learn about empathy (Mo Willems illustrated books) The teacher points to a character’s facial display and asks how they might be feeling.
  4.      Resilience strategies…victim of bullying is encouraged to build up interests and friends outside of a problem group.
  5. Wrap Around program…. (Restorative Justice) . . . work with bullies…may involve paying for art lessons, or carpentry work, channeling the bully’s energy into a positive activity. For every dollar spent, there is a savings of eight dollars, spent later the criminal justice system


  1. Victims may be referred to speech and language pathologist for communication skills…scripts to join a group, learn to read a social situation

13.Check out the bullying prevention programs in the local school