An Overview of Nines

How Motivation Creates Personality

We are shaped by our environments, but we are not blank slates. The assumption behind the Enneagram is that we are born with a general motivation: a sense that some value would be particularly meaningful, and the absence of that value would be particularly devastating. We can’t explain why, but the assumption does seem to help people make sense of their lives in a way that other assumptions can’t. From that motivation, we start learning which behaviors bring that value closer to us, and which ones make our worst fears come true. From this we develop habits, and in time those habits become so automatic that we call them character traits.

This is why personalities can seem so rigid, but also change over time. We tend to stick with behaviors that have worked in the past, but what worked in one situation might not work in another. Over time we might make a conscious effort to change our personality, but what motivates one person to change might not motivate someone else. This is where those core values come in: we do the best job of changing our behaviors when those changes support our core values.

As a writer, understanding how each of your character’s traits ties back to their motivations will tell you which situations to place them in, to create compelling arcs and meaningful conflicts.

Motivations of Type Nine

Nines tend to feel most fulfilled in the role of mediator. They are gifted at creating spaces where others can calm down, see each others perspective and find common ground, or choose a path of healing. This is often described as “seeking peace,” though I often like to say “seeking harmony,” to make a distinction between this and, say, a political pacifist.

One nice thing about Nines is that the world actually is full of people who go looking for a fight when there isn’t really any reason for one. When those people run into Nines, it is like watching someone tire themselves out by punching smoke. Nines need a good reason to disrupt their inner peace, and they can weather a surprising amount of drama. The downside is that sometimes they don’t get involved even when there is a good reason. Nines have an inner strength that they are afraid to get in touch with. Asserting themselves could lead to rupturing the harmony that makes them feel connected to others. As a result they can do harm to themselves and others through inaction.

Each type has misguided goals that are tempting, because they feel like more achievable versions of their core motivation. For Nines, these are things like calm, stasis, the absence of conflict. Nines can negotiate themselves out of every one of their wants and needs in an effort to please others, because pleasing others avoids conflicts. There is a thin line between a peacemaker and an enabler. That is the core tension that Nines have to work with: finding the balance between the two, picking their battles rather than avoiding them and knowing the difference between harmony and complacency.

Backstory and Traits

As a child, every Nine learns that people get into conflict. People have needs that cannot all be met at the same time, and they fight over who gets taken care of first. In order to deal with this uncomfortable reality, Nines tend to develop the following traits.

  • Simplicity. Nines learn that they cannot control the needs and wants of others, but they can control their own. By minimizing what they need and want, they can remove some conflicts from the field.
  • Patience. Because it is inherently satisfying to put off a conflict, Nines learn to wait a long time. Patience can be both a virtue and a liability for Nines.
  • Perspective. Nines often try to put themselves in everyone’s place at once. Of course, there will be variations in how good they are at understanding vs projecting, but the effort to see things from multiple points of view will generally be there.
  • Optimism. Nines are not always optimists in the bubbly, cheerleader sense, but they like telling themselves narratives where everything will work out for everyone in the end. Sometimes these are healthy reality checks that stop others from catastrophizing, and sometimes it is just wishful thinking.
  • Quiet Presence. Drawing attention to themselves does not come naturally to Nines. Hanging back, observing and providing gentle nudges works better for them.

Beyond that, the details of a person’s situation and upbringing can create incredible variation between Nines.

  • In Pride and Prejudice, Jane is a Nine who has been raised with the expectations of a Regency Lady, which have reinforced the best and worst parts of her type. She is admired for being quiet, compliant and cooperative, but also given space to be her gentle and forgiving self. Part of what sets her apart from less interesting ingenues is that the negative sides of her personality come with costs, such as when she is bullied into riding in the rain by her mother. Another thing that makes her work is how we see that her patient, accommodating nature is meaningful to her. She is not a passive character: she is choosing a life and mindset that works for her.
  • On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Dude from The Big Lebowski is a large, low-class guy who has realized that he likes a simple, even somewhat trashy life. He couldn’t be more different, externally, from the delicate Jane, but again, his character works because the writers show the positive and negative sides, while also making you feel how this simple existence is meaningful for him.
  • On Arrested Development, Buster Bluth is the youngest son of a domineering pair of unhealthy Eights. Because of the intensity of the personalities that surround him, he has developed a crippling codependency with his mother, retreating from the drama into a perpetual childhood.
  • In contrast to the other characters I have mentioned, Marta Cabrera from Knives Out never had the luxury of a wealthy family or independent self-sufficiency. She is a hardworking nurse from a poor immigrant family and takes on responsibilities for their sake. However, in her quiet, compassionate nature you can still see all the hallmarks of a Nine, and her story is a great illustration of how, when surrounded by petty conflict, not fighting can be a sign of strength.

Connected Types

Just as core values cause people to embrace and emphasize certain traits, they also push certain traits away, because they clash with the core motivations of the type. However, in unusual situations, people can learn that the very traits they label as “not me” are actually an important part of who they are. These are represented by the internal lines on the Enneagram, which for type Nine go to Six and Three.

As an easygoing, optimistic attitude feels most appropriate for Nines, they tend to resist paying attention to their anxieties. For this reason, they are usually easy to distinguish from chronically worried Sixes. However, as stress increases, they can often slide into a Six-ish headspace. On the positive side, this shift in mentality helps Nines deal with some of the problems they have been sweeping under the table, while the Six’s motivation to stay loyal goes well with a Nine’s desire to maintain harmony and connection. On the negative side, this shift can cause a Nine to simply ruminate on what has gone wrong without breaking ties that they need to break, or taking action in a meaningful way.

In contrast, Threes are busy and charismatic leaders, who are normally easy to tell from Nines, who are slow to action. But when Nines feel supported and empowered, they may find that stepping into a role of leadership is meaningful, as they can enter a Three-ish mindset. This may also come out in times of extreme stress, when shifting to Six has failed to help. In positive cases, they lead by example and put forward a likable image that helps encourage others to work together. In less healthy cases, Nines in this mentality can be increasingly dishonest with themselves and others about what they truly want.

In some cases, especially unhealthy ones, these are temporary shifts, where once the crisis has passed the Nine goes back to all old behaviors. However, when a Nine goes to Six or Three with a growth mentality, they may incorporate some of this once-excluded traits into their everyday personality, and grow into a more well-rounded individual.

  • General Iroh from Avatar: the Last Airbender was born into the royal family of the imperialistic, warmongering Fire Nation, which is not a comfortable place for a Nine. He is an example of a Nine who has used that stress to incorporate some of the healthy loyalty and leadership of Six and Three. At the same time, we get hints of his past, where he stressed to those types in a much more destructive way.
  • Aragorn from The Lord of the Rings and Laura Roslin from Battlestar Galactica are two more examples of Nines who are pushed into positions of leadership, and learn to integrate Three traits in order to protect their people.
  • A less healthy example is Heimerdinger, from Arcane. He has risen to the head of the Piltover University, where he puts forward the image of a patient, wise mentor. In reality, he turns a blind eye to the rampant corruption and the neglected people (unhealthy deception from Three) and lets his worries lead him when it comes to Hextech (unhealthy anxiety from Six), both of which lead to disaster.
  • Peter Gibbons from Office Space is a Nine who, at the start, has already slowly stressed to Six, worried about the direction of his miserable, pointless life, but strangely loyal to his company and his cheating girlfriend. After a hypnotherapy session he returns to the relaxed Nine and you can see that this feels like his real self. Then a series of layoffs leads him to plan a heist with his friends: a stress to Three with good intentions, but also not a great idea. Still, it all works out, more or less.

Signs That Your Character is a Nine

  • They tend to be overlooked at first, but others find their presence soothing.
  • They get along surprisingly well with characters who have a difficult personality.
  • They are either A. pushovers who are easily taken advantage of or B. easily mistaken for pushovers until you find that line where they have pushed too far.
  • Often they don’t know what they want. When they do know, the answers are usually simple things.
  • They are extremely compassionate and bond well with people, but they also need private time and space.
  • They like it when other people set clear boundaries, because it takes the pressure off of them to be the one to enforce it.
  • For unhealthy or immature characters: they are hard to dislike because they are so friendly and well-meaning, but they indirectly enable harm by placating dangerous characters and refusing to take action when they have a responsibility.
  • For healthy or mature characters: when necessary, they are firm but fair. Often they don’t need to do anything because they have taught others to take care of themselves and cooperate with others. They are good at leading by not leading.

More Examples of Nines

  • Bojack Horseman has two Nines with beautiful character arcs: Todd Chavez and Hollyhock Mannheim-Mannheim-Guerrero-Robinson-Zilberschlag-Hsung-Fonzarelli-McQuack (yes, I did have to write her full surname. She was adopted by a committed polyamorous octet of gay dads and I will respect every one of them… god, I love this show so much). Both of them do that Nine thing where they form a deep bond with someone who is very broken and difficult to live with, specifically Bojack, who is a seriously unhealthy Four. Both of them stand by Bojack for much longer than most others, and both of them hit that point where they have to question whether they have put up with too much already. I won’t say anything more, for fear of spoilers, but it’s a great show and Todd and Hollyhock are very distinct characters despite sharing a type.
  • Schitt’s Creek also has two Nines: Johnny Rose and Patrick Brewer. Both of them also are in relationships with dramatic type Fours. Luckily, in their case, said difficult and dramatic people are much more open to things like, “occasionally showing my patient loved one that I appreciate them” or “putting in effort to growing as a person instead of always leaning on my Nine to make things easy.” Johnny and Patrick are both social/navigating Nines as well, so they are good examples of that subtype. Johnny has more of an Eight wing, while Patrick has a One wing.
  • Comic henchmen like Smee from Peter Pan or Kronk from The Emperor’s New Groove show that unhealthy, enabling side of Nine, while still being engaging characters. They humanize scenes from the villain’s POV in a funny, endearing way, without undercutting the threat to the heroes.

This is far from the limit of Nines, but they help illustrate some of the variety that exists within this type. This type looks simple on the outside but is, as you can see, extremely complex inside. The most important thing to remember, when writing this type, that there is a difference between a passive character and one who is genuinely motivated by a quest for stillness. See the world through your Nine’s eyes, and understand why they want what they want.

Happy writing!

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