The richness of the Enneagram is never lacking. The system is so dynamic and complex that once we understand the basic aspects of the system we are a step closer to understanding the complex human personality. The instinctual subtypes (or instinctual variants) are such a major aspect of The Enneagram they deserve a solid understanding as it strongly influences the type in a way that can drastically change the presentation of a particular style.
The instinctual subtypes can be understood as the dominant arena of life in which we focus our personality styles. They are the primal hard-wiring that can be seen as a sort of tribal, anthropological energy supporting the human ego. It seems that before we developed a complex personality structure we developed our instinctual styles. These are underlying coping strategies that allowed for tribal cultures to survive in which each individual was striving to maintain the equilibrium of the tribal society in a particular way so that overall human survival was ensured.
We access all three instinctual arenas (Social, Self Preservation, and Intimate/Sexual) but one instinctual arena will be dominant for us. It also appears that various points in one's life certain instinctual arenas will come more to the forefront than others (more on this later). However, for most people, one instinct, or sometimes two, will be predominant throughout the bulk of one's life.
The instinct can be understood as our id impulses (to use Freudian language)...the primal focus which we are monitoring at all times (whether consciously or unconsciously). The instinct for some can be a stronger drive than the personality type itself, so understanding the instincts is paramount to learning how to recognize types and the drives of the human being.
Looking at the instincts in a dynamic and organic way can help to identify the dominant instinct. Some teachers look at it almost like a three layered cake in which the most dominant instinct is on top, and the least dominant on the bottom. This is helpful but doesn't give an adequate image of the bleed-over you can have from the instincts mingling with one another. However, this provides a good image of what the instinctual drives might look like in an individual.
To utilize a self-pres metaphor, the first layer of the cake would likely be a dark chocolate as it so strongly influences the overall flavor of the person that you taste (and see) it most clearly, whereas the middle instinct may be a strawberry while the bottom layer of vanilla is the least strong but nonetheless still flavors the overall cake. The extent to which each layer is present seems to be a combination of both DNA and biological determinants as well as environmental considerations. For example a social subtype with a predominately self preservation family of origin will manifest more self-pres characteristics than a social subtype with a sexual/intimate family of origin.
Much of the information to follow is a conglomeration of all of the major teachers in the Enneagram community such as Don Riso and Russ Hudson, Helen Palmer, Claudio Naranjo, Tom Condon and David and Katherine Fauvre, as well as our own observations about the instinctual subtypes and their various foci and presentation.
The Three Instincts
Self Preservation Subtype:
Self preservation subtypes are focused on issues of the self and survival. This includes but is not limited to:
Health Weight Food Money Insurance Comfort Decor Disease Death Strength Vitality Nutrition Safety and Security The Environment Family/Genealogy
The Self Preservation subtype is concerned about matters of the self and their security. They often pay great attention to time, mortality and the preservation of physical satisfactory survival. Self preservation types may forgo glamor or social connection for physical comfort, security and planning for the future, and the survival of the family unit and themselves. The extent to which the self preservation element is present will be the extent to which anxiety may be present.
Self preservation types often experience anxiety around the above mentioned issues which can make them seem like a head type because of the need to plan and adequately predict unforeseen danger or possibly breaches in security. In addition, the comfort seeking element to self pres types can cause them to appear like gut types because of their desire to avoid too much complication or "fuss". However, ironically the self preservation type can be incredibly "fussy"...focus on things being just so, food sensitivities, focus on the decor of an environment or the texture of clothing or fabrics can create a neurotic fixation on things being "just right".
Of course the primary Enneagram type will influence to what extent this is played out. For example, a self-pres One will be more persnickety and focused on the particulars than a self-pres Nine but both types will be focused on their comfort, security and survival. I know a self preservation Eight who has a bit of the princess and the Pea syndrome, refusing to sleep on most mattresses because they simply don't feel right. This runs in opposition to the tough, resilient Eight style that can seemingly take on anything, but the self preservation element makes them focused on things being "just so".
Self preservation types tend to be more reserved in presentation and tend to appear more contained, quiet or conservative energetically. They also tend to have a more matter-of-fact way of speaking, preferring to leave excess conversational fluff out of the equation. In this way they can seem cold to others or removed and aloof (even if they are extroverted types such as 7s or 8s).
There is a tendency to shore up resources and possibly a strong sense of being frugal or sometimes even downright cheap. This is because resources must be properly maintained to ensure survival for themselves and those within their sphere.
Self pres types are grounded, earthy, self-contained and health conscious (or health irreverent). They may seem crusty and impersonal or warm and nurturing.
Social subtypes are focused on issues of the group, cooperation and shared values. This includes:
Friendship Politics Rules Protocols Standards Social Values Mores Manners Guidelines Gossip Inclusion/Exclusion Appropriate/Inappropriate Fame or Notoriety Influence Civic Engagement Clubs Culture
The social subtypes is the instinct which controls the human beings' inclination toward group activity. Issues such as what the group thinks or believes come to the forefront and influence the decisions and attitudes of the social subtype (even if they rebel against it). The social subtype primarily concerns themselves with how to go about in the world and make and maintain social connections. This is the type that is most likely to involve themselves in civic engagement, politics, or the pursuit of notoriety of fame. The focus is on making a valued contribution and being recognized for that contribution by their society or group. "Group" means many things to many people, but for the purposes of this discussion a "group" consists of 3 or more individuals. Groups can be as centralizes as a few select friends or clique or a strong identification with being from a country, state or particular culture. Whatever the case, when we move out of the individualized needs or comfort needs of self preservation and into the community needs of the social subtype we find someone who is often monitoring the social needs of the group and how to best meet the needs of the group. This does not mean that they deny their own self preservation concerns but the primary instinct shows us that which we are always consciously (and often unconsciously) monitoring. The social subtype person may say "but I don't like groups...." and this may be true, but there is always some finger on the pulse of what the group or community expects or demands of them, or a particular awareness of what the group needs.
Many instinctual subtypes may manifest their instinct in an "anti" way; a method of pushing against the dominant instinct that may appear adverse to the instinctual concerns. In this way the social subtype may look "anti-social". We do not mean this as in the way we use it in common colloquial language of breaking laws and having complete irreverence for all social convention (although it can manifest this way), but rather as a way of resisting or going against the dominant social paradigm and being a social rebel (we see this frequently with 4s, 6s and 8s who have a self perception of being someone "outside" the group) but to the extent to which they are monitoring what the group does and doesn't do is the extent to which they are still tied to that group or community.
Social subtypes often find they are naturally political (or apolitical) and know how to read the group and the groups' needs and respond to that depending upon their primary Enneagram style. For example the social Six may be most plugged into the the overall needs of the group in terms of safety and security (so can look self preservation at times), but they are concerned with the rules, protocol, and appropriate way to go about the world so as to avoid deviation (a major fear of 6s) or danger. This is your archetypal government worker who may dutifully work for the system but complain about or criticize the system and its rules in the company of trusted intimates. Or the quintessential sorority girl or fraternity boy who upholds the shared values of the organization and banding together to create a sense of common identity. Conversely there is the counter-culture rebel, or the trendy hipster, either way it's a focus on communal trends.
Social subtypes often have a dispersed energy that can make them adept at interacting with others quickly to get the overview of a situation (or conversely feel extremely uncomfortable in groups if they are withdrawn types such as 4s, 5s and 9s). Social subtypes enjoy catching up with people but may not want to become embroiled in long deep conversations that take them away from the group at large. Their energy is derived from the community interaction, even if that means actively avoiding it.
Social subtypes are often friendly, accommodating and sociable. They may be provocative, rabble-rousing and anti-social as well.
The Sexual subtype is focused primarily on pair bonding and the development and maintenece of the intimiate relationships in their lives. The foci of the sexual subtype includes:
Attractiveness Intimacy Intensity Connection Posessiveness Glamour Eye Contact Relationship Desire Sex (or abstaining from sex) Excitement Beauty Mating
Sexual subtypes are not to be confused with being sexy, which is a common reason for many people misidentifying themselves as sexual subtypes, which is why we sometimes refer to them as "intimate subtypes." People with this instinctual focus are primarily concerned with their connection with a desired other. They are monitoring the depth and level of connection with their intimate partner. The focus is on the dyad as opposed to the group or the self. This dyad can be (and often is) the intimate love relationship but it can be a relationship with a child, best friend, or even spiritual concept.
Whatever the case, there is a need to be in deep union with that which they are "in relationship with". Therefore sexual subtypes are often said to have an intensity, which can be seen in the eyes. There is a desire to stay connected to those they are interacting with so may stay glued through the eyes during conversation, in an effort to maintain the depth of this connection.
Sexual subtypes are monitoring the level at which they are connected or tied to those in their lives and feel unsafe or uncomfortable if they are not as deeply connected with those around them as they believe they should be. Along with this there is an unconscious need to be ready for the possibility of partnership at any time, so there is a focus on attractiveness and beauty or strength as these are the biological ways in which human beings attract mates. Sexual subtypes are prone to create a "cult of two" if they are in relationship together and often feel a strong desire to isolate to the exclusion of the rest of the world (which can be mitigated by the dominant Enneagram style or the secondary instinctual subtype).
There is often an ideal relationship and union and safety comes from the feeling of connection with that ideal relationship. Many sexual subtypes identify with Type Four because there is a tendency to feel longing for that special person or relationship and often a creative focus that accompanies the Sexual subtype. Therefore the when the sexual subtype and Four come together it creates a doubly intense, almost stereotypical expression of what one thinks of when we think of Type Four.
Sexual subtypes are passionate, intense, and magnetic but can also be erratic, possessive and controlling of their partners. They may seem engaging and playful or moody and dramatic.
Life Phase and Instincts
We all move through these instincts at various points in our lives. When we are ill, we are all in the self preservation instinct, because we are likely tending to our bodies, or when we are eating or cooking we are attending to our self preservation needs. Conversely when we interact in a group we are in our social instinct, and when we are looking for a mate or bonding deeply with another person we are in our sexual instinct. However, to the extent to which we are monitoring these concerns consciously or unconsciously all the time that is likely our dominant instinctual subtype.
Katherine and David Fauvre illuminate that at various life phases one instinct may be more dominant than others. For example the sexual instinct often awakens for everyone in adolescence or when we fall in love for the first time, whereas later life tends to highlight self preservation issues because of the various health issues that begin to arise for most human beings. Our social instinct may flare up in early adulthood (college years) and adolescence as the peer group and the norms of that group become important.
Instinct and Relationship
While many types can work well together in relationship we've found that when two instincts are in agreement there tends to be a common meeting ground for the two individuals that can transcend type. This is likely due to the fact that these primal drives, if in tandem, can create shared ideals and drives that can be quite complimentary and potentially reduce conflict. Conversely when the drives are out of agreement there may be a in instinctual pull that can become difficult to overcome for some. For example a social subtype may want to draw the sexual subtype out into their world or their group, however the sexual subtype may feel that this group activity is not leaving enough time for intimacy or bonding. Both types are monitoring their primordial impulse and thus must learn how to compromise and recognize the instinct of the other.
However when two people have the same instinct it can also create blind spots within the relationship that can be difficult to traverse. For example two self preservation types in a relationship can create a blind spot in the social arena in which there is great attention to resources, health and family structure to the exclusion of developing necessary social connections or involvement with others. Similarly there can be a gap in the development of real intimate bonding via the sexual instinct.