Instinctual Subtypes

Instinctual Subtypes are basic survival behaviors in the Enneagram system. They are emotional responses to our lives, which is why they are instinctual subtypes. These behaviors are acted out in three different areas of life, but only one of the three is primary depending on our personal history:

The Enneagram Instinctual Subtypes are important parts of our personality directing us to a deeper understanding within our Enneagram Point. It also explains how people of the same Enneagram Point can look quite different, and it's because they're a different subtype.

Just because one particular subtype is dominate, does not mean that we do that subtype well; often the opposite is true. Typically, the subtype reflects the place where we are deeply wounded, and therefore are obsessed by this behavior to compensate.

The needs or strategies of a person who is motivated by the Instinctual Subtypes of Self-Preservation (the Right to Exist), Sexual (the Right to be Loved) or a Social (the Right to Belong), all play out quite differently. The Self-Pres Subtype is driven by the ongoing search for survival and well-being. The Sexual Subtype is driven by the ongoing search for intimacy and connection with one other. The Social Subtype is driven by the ongoing search for family and community. We experience the affect of all Subtypes in varying degrees, but one Subtype is the primary influence in our lives.

Self-Preservation (Me)

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The Self-pres Instinctual Subtypes are driven by the ongoing search for survival and well-being. Anything that could possibly damage, endanger, or exploit the self is of concern. The focus of attention is subtly on the self and your world. The primary desire is for security, which is manifested by continual perceived quest for well-being and for the essential needs of life, such as food, comfort, safety, protection, and resources.

Sexual One-to-One (You and Me)

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The One-to-One Instinctual Subtypes are driven by the ongoing search for intimacy and one-on-one relationships. The focus of attention is on the beloved and intimate world. The drive is especially representative of the masculine and feminine energies and the issues of strength and beauty, which are the very qualities that determine the strongest and most desirable of mates. The primary desire is for a mate, which is manifested by a perceived need for wholeness, affinity, and closeness in a continual search for the other half.

Social (All of Us)

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The Social Instinctual Subtypes are driven by the ongoing search for groups and community, akin to the herd instinct in animals, where there is safety and security in numbers. The focus of attention is on the group and the larger world. The primary desire is for groups, which is manifested by a perceived need for people, recognition, popularity, honor, status, and social acceptance.

Compensatory Preoccupation

For example, one who is preoccupied with having one-to-one connections (Sexual Subtype) is not going to be as concerned about remembering to bring water to drink at the picnic (Self-Preservation Subtype), nor will she be much concerned or interested in the group (Social Subtype) that will be at the picnic.

Helen Palmer offers an analogy of the damaged 3-legged stool to explain this habit of attention. A cowhand sits on a 3-legged stool for milking, but one of the legs is damaged. So, as he sits on his milking stool, his field of perception is slanted toward the damaged leg of his stool, which is necessary for balance. The irony of course is that his preoccupation with the damaged leg prevents true balance.

If all three legs or areas of our lives are in balance then our energy is freed up to experience more of who we are in life. Raising awareness so that none of the subtypes dominate our lives is the goal.

Many misunderstandings and problems arise in our relationship with others, because we don't understand our own preoccupation, or the position of another. When we unconsciously favor one particular subtype too much or too little, it creates difficulties that we are blind to without a clear understanding of what's really at work. Having awareness about what is driving our emotion or passion, allows us to see the distortion of reality we create, and then we have the conscious choice of change. The Enneagram is a superb tool to give us an objective picture of ourselves, and gives us the roadmap for making that change.

What Palmer proposes in her illustration is, the milk refers to the nourishment of personal growth and nourishment in life. So in our search for nourishment we have one of three primary areas of relationship more afflicted or wounded than the other two. As a result, a tendency develops to lessen the anxiety surrounding this area of our life, and as a result we compensate by our primary attention in that direction, while neglecting the other two.

One of the ways to determine one's subtype is by observing what causes your anxiety to rise. There are key descriptive words associated with each subtype, which were assigned by various teachers, and some may not fit exactly. However, with the help of a knowledgeable teacher or counselor, you can determine with pinpoint accuracy what your specific disposition may be.

Why not register for the Enneagram Subtype Workshop where you can deepen your understanding of Instinctual Subtypes?