Nine Core Needs Through the Lens of the Ego

By Nicola Albini, J.D., M.A. -This article originally appeared on June 30, 2017 on

“We see the world not as it is but as we are conditioned to see it.”
– Stephen R. Covey

The Enneagram is a rich, deep and insightful tool for determining personality types – and it plays a big role in my coaching work. The more I dive into the study and understanding of this powerful system, the more inspiration and self-awareness I uncover, both for myself and my clients.

As a student of the Enneagram, I’ve had the humbling opportunity to see my personality – the good, the bad and the ugly – in action. At one level, the Enneagram is a dissertation on the ego. Yet, it’s also a roadmap out of the ego, because it points us to the growth that is available when we cultivate qualities inherent to our true nature.

A great place to begin learning about the Enneagram is by studying the nine ways we experience our core needs.  You can also think of this as nine different approaches to life when we come from a place of unconscious need.

If you tune into the vibration of the word “need,” you will feel how it is very different from that of “want,” which is rooted in desire.

“I need to be liked,” comes from a very different place than, “I desire connection.” Need comes from scarcity and fear; desire comes from conscious creation.

Let’s look at the nine essential needs, according to the Enneagram. (To be clear, each of us lives out some aspect of all of the nine needs, but on our life journey we gravitate toward and operate from one core need.)

Which of these best describes your core need?

1. The Need to be Perfect
This person follows all the rules down to the letter. However, the need to be perfect all the time is extremely exhausting. If your attention is always on figuring out how to be good, how can you ever make room for the trial and error that comes with being truly great?

2. The Need to be Liked
The need for everyone’s approval can translate into a cycle of toxic and co-dependent relationships. In extreme cases, someone who has a compulsion to be liked may find themself embroiled in relationships that are emotionally dependent, and they may lose their sense of internal balance and integrity.

3. The Need to Win at All Costs
The need to “outshine the rest” is a drive to be at the top of your game, all the time in everything you do. This can cause a person to over-achieve and engage in meaningless busy-ness. Each of us must find time to relax and be present with ourselves and the moment, otherwise we lack discernment about where to focus our energy and what our true priorities are in life.

4. The Need to be Special and Unique
Making sure you are original and authentic all the time can be very tiresome! The tendency of this person is to remain constantly aware of what others are doing (for better and for worse) and compare oneself accordingly. The challenge here is to stay out of judgment and purely appreciate all the wonderful diversity of life.

5. The Need to Understand Everything
It’s impossible to understand everything – some mysteries are divinely guided. When our identity is hitched to knowing everything right away, we miss the bigger picture: the Universe unfolds and reveals itself with timing that is in perfect alignment with what we actually need for growth –  not the timing our ego tells us is correct. Needing to understand everything is an excruciating way to live (for ourselves and the people around us too!).

6. The Need to be Safe
Of course, we all need safety on basic levels, but always looking for a threat can paradoxically lead us into danger. This is because where our attention goes, the energy flows. Just as one cannot truly prepare for peace by building an arsenal of weapons, it is also difficult to experience safety when all one sees is the potential for harm.

7. The Need to Experience it All
It is beautiful to give ourselves new and peak experiences, but if we’re constantly jumping from one thing to another, we create a separation between our self and the present moment. A constant need to “do” and “experience” can often be used as a method to avoid painful emotions. Ironically, by trying to avoid pain, we create even more suffering.

8. The Need to be in Control
Controlling life is an illusion of the ego. Yes, science can predict the weather, but no one can truly predict the future. All we can do is live intentionally and choose to be open to possibility... but trying to control the outcome of everything sucks the joy out of our experiences.

9. The Need to Keep Balance
This person cannot relax until everyone else around them is ok. The compulsion is to maintain balance and peace with everything and everybody, and as beautiful as this desire is, it can quickly lead to self-abandonment. This person with this need tends to forego the safety and relaxation that is available to them in the present moment by worrying about every one else’s present moment instead.

The Antidote
When we see these needs arise within ourselves, we can choose to approach them mindfully, rather than reactively. In doing so, there is the possibility of letting go of the needs. We give ourselves permission to unattach from the circumstance that is bringing the need into focus and create more spaciousness to experience it (and ourselves) differently.

Bring Your Awareness to the Nine Needs in Real Life
Whether you’re operating in business, sports, or relationship, pay attention to when your core need shows up. Notice when you become fixated on getting your need met.

When you come from a place of fixation, you are not coming from an aligned, centered and grounded place. You’re moving away from your essential nature and your connection to true power and resourcefulness.

To be clear: there is nothing wrong with the nine needs I listed above. It’s when we take action out of the fear that our needs won’t be met that we create suffering and pain for ourselves and others.

Next time you find yourself entranced by one of these fears, it’s a great idea to ask yourself a corresponding question, like:  

What will happen if I don’t show up perfectly in this circumstance?

Am I taking this action so that others will like me at the expense of my own integrity?

Is this really the best place to put my energy at this time? Or am I acting out of an old need to be the best at everything?

Am I comparing myself to others right now?

Is it really true that I don’t have all the information I require in this moment?

Am I actually unsafe?  For example, do I have air to breathe, food to eat, water to drink and shelter?

Is this just the next shiny thing I’m going after so I can avoid the present moment?

What freedom is possible if I let go of trying to control the outcome of this situation?

Am I trying to make sure everyone else is ok and forgetting myself in the process?

When you are able to manage your needs from a place of awareness, you come into your essential nature, and that benefits yourself and everyone else around you.

Yet, the fact is, the eye cannot see itself. Would you like support pinpointing your core need on the Enneagram and learning more about how to break the spell it has on everything you do? If so, email me at and let’s set up a complimentary appointment to chat one-on-one.