the three instincts
Humans all have three main survival instincts: Self-Preservation, Sexual, and Social. Our enneagram type is a strategy used to meet the needs of these three instinctual drives. Our personality tends to have an imbalance with the three rather than use them equally. Which one do you think you most identify with? Before understanding how our particular type interacts with our particular instinct, it’s important to have a thorough understanding of what each instinct is in its natural state.
Below you’ll find information on each instinct, common misconceptions that follow, and very brief iterations on subtype. The instinct information at Enneagrammer differs somewhat from more traditional information about the instincts due to new research.
What is it?
The self-preservation survival instinct is the instinct of physical self-protection. As living species, our bodies are the catalyst for our lives. This is the most basic ubiquitous survival instinct. If our bodies fail, we cannot live. This instinct is concerned primarily with one’s own physical body and its health, stability, protection, and ultimately that it continues to live.
How does it manifest?
1. Physical Well-Being
The self-preservation instinct is primarily focused on the body itself, and its well-being. This includes health, strength, diet, fitness, and endurance. This facet of self-preservation is like a management system for your body. It seeks to find a root cause for problems in the body, and it can seek to test the body’s endurance to harm or stress.
Possible examples of thoughts:
Is this food healthy? Why do I feel so tired today? When can I get back to the gym so I can feel more energetic? Could I climb to the top of this mountain? Could I survive in the forest for one month?
Concrete examples: Buying only organic because it’s better for you, high focus on working out or fitness, health and medicine, diets, fasting, boundaries
2. Self-Regulation and Skills
The basic tasks and errands that are required by life to keep one in a healthy routine are a facet of preserving the self. This also includes the skills necessary to take care of oneself such as maintenance, repairs, and the ability to adapt to new circumstances should they arise. These are the most basic and fundamental survival skills according to whatever circumstances a person is in. A person will not necessarily find pleasure in focusing on these things, but they will be a focus nonetheless. The sense of building something also goes along with these skills, whether it be making furniture or building a business. The lack of this skill can make a person see goals without having any patience or knowledge of how to reach them, such as in low SP people. In general, there is sense of practicality in these skills.
Possible examples of thoughts: Can I take this apart/fix it? How does this work? What work needs to be done to get what I want? How can I autonomously create my own life? Did we do the laundry? Are my affairs in order? Will I be able to settle in a new place? How do I make this more convenient?
Concrete examples: Business savvy, investment skills, home improvement, errands, administration, mechanics, sports, transportation, logistics, craftsmanship, surgery, survivalist skills
3. Foundations and Resources
This facet of self-preservation focuses on the tangible aspects of life such as a home, earth, food, shelter, etc. Much of this manifest into a focus on money, since we live in a world where in order to gain resources, we need money. There is also a focus on making things permanent and secure. In general, SP people may not like massive changes to their lives or uprooting something that was once a stable anchor. However, people can also test the endurance of their own ability to survive by jumping out of stable situations. Either that, or they will seek “adventure” in terms of lifestyle (ex. travel). What separates this behaviour from SP-blinds is the inner motivation to build endurance and skills, rather than the SP-blind tendency to not register foundations and resources as being something that needs to be worked for specifically. The lifestyles sought after by SP people can vary wildly between frugal and simple to opulent depending on enneagram type and individual scenarios. The idea of foundations also brings the drive to preserve things foundational in general, which can spurn an interest in things that are concrete and old or historical.
Possible examples of thoughts: Is owning property better than renting? How much money do I have this month? Where’s the closest grocery store? Why am I stuck here when I really want to travel and see the rest of the world? Why isn’t there enough nature in this city? Do I have any savings?
Concrete examples: Finance, eco-friendly initiatives, saving money, mutual funds, property, land, the earth, animal care, monuments, history.
What is it?
The sexual survival instinct is the instinct of attraction and seduction. Beyond the physical drive to actually have sex, this instinct is the drive to attract sex. As a species, mating is a means of keeping the human race alive. However it is often not easy to ensure a mating partner. We have choice in who we mate with, and humans have developed attraction strategies to ensure that they are consistently able to seduce the interest of a mate. Sexual selection has ensured that our most attractive qualities be genetically passed on through the ages. For example, the female peacock is attracted to large, colourful plumage, and so it evolved to grow larger and more elaborate. In people, this instinct is an over-identification with the attraction strategies and elements of mating (beyond the act of copulation itself).
How does it manifest?
1. Arousal vs. Repulsion
The sexual instinct seeks to be aroused and also illicit that response in others. It wishes to be energetically “turned-on” by people/things. SX-doms tend to be a slave to the things that arouse them, moving intensely toward these things in the manner of a drug addiction. When humans are sexually aroused, studies have shown that they are less likely to be disgusted by the smells of their partner’s body or even feel as sensitive to physical pain. It’s nature’s way of ensuring that the intense and boundary-destroying act of sex be a deep need in us, and that we are not deterred from mating by other instinctual boundaries. However, when one is not sexually aroused, the idea of sex with the unwanted mate is repulsive and can produce a disgust response. This is also nature’s way of ensuring we mate with the right person and be turned off by the wrong person according to the sexual instinct’s innate intelligence. We are either “turned on” or “turned off.” While a SX-dom does not necessarily wish instinctively to repulse or be repulsed, in a way, repulsing another can be confirmation that they are having an effect. If there’s no response, then they are not adequately sending attraction signals, since people’s response to sex is either turned on or off.
Possible examples of thoughts: Is this arousing me? Do I crave it? Do they crave me? How deep can I penetrate this? Why aren’t they hooked on me? Will they be turned off if I do this?
Concrete examples: Pushing a person’s boundaries, trying to get a rise out of someone, invading their comfort zone, locking someone into you
2. Transformation via Seduction & Display
The sexual instinct aims to fuse chemically with another, this fusion transforming both parties. In a sense, this need for fusion on in both parties can be objectifying. It is not a caring social fusion, but rather a chemical need to infect and be infected, to have the other person grow inside you and alter you, thus each person transforming into something else. Achieving this fusion via seduction and display manifests in two ways:
a. Loss of Self - The Orifice - Feminine
There are certain creatures (such as cicadas and male preying mantises) who work vigorously to mate only so they can die immediately after. There is a sense of giving oneself completely over to fusing with another being that you completely lose yourself in the process. Metaphorically, this is the feminine aspect of this instinct (we all have both feminine and masculine regardless of gender). It is the open hole, the receptive socket for self-transformation. “Make me one with you.” Often, the depictions of the sexual instinct in subtype literature focus only on the aggressive/masculine tendency of this instinct. But both the feminine and masculine are present in all of us, and SX-doms in particular can tend to wear more androgyny. This is the aspect of sexual that is creative, open, receptive, soft, and is a complete opening of all boundaries. This can soften certain enneagram types such as 8 or 5 who normally have physical/emotional/mental walls up. This brings the walls down in a way that SX-blinds would be opposed to.
b. Aggression/Display - The Phallus - Masculine
In most animals species, it is the male species who displays themselves to attract a suitable female partner. The peacock has its feathers, other birds have their intricate nests and special dances, etc. Humans have their creativity, or the thing that makes them stand out beyond others for display. These displays can be pointless from a survival standpoint, but they aim to attract a mate. For example, the peacock’s feathers slow him down and make it more difficult to escape predators. Point being, this instrument of sexual display actually threatens its self-preservation. However, the pointless display is important for its attraction strategy because it’s the hook that gets him mates. Humans can advertise their special scars, talents, exposing the underbelly of what’s beneath them, metaphorically the exposed phallus.
Note: In humans, both the masculine and feminine strategies are present in all of us regardless of gender or sexual orientation. One may be more of a focus than others. However in both these strategies, there is an intense psychological nudity stemming from making oneself vulnerable.
Possible examples of thoughts: Are we one? Am I penetrating? Am I leaving my scent or my mark on this person? Do they want me? Will they find someone else to be hooked on? Why aren’t they addicted to me? What can I become? What can I transform into?
Concrete examples: Letting yourself be taken, emotional/psychological nudity and openness, displaying something that’s an emotional or physical scar, deliberate androgyny as an attraction strategy, allowing yourself to be changed or transformed by another, having a particular attraction strategy, fluid boundaries
The sexual instinct needs to feel the chemistry of being hooked into someone/something and have it returned. SX-doms can feel like a hunter waiting for their prey, or prey waiting for their hunter. They are sending out pheromones wherever they go, aiming to leave their “scent” on others. Their biggest fear is being undesirable or losing that chemistry. Not being captivating or interesting enough to attract a mate is devastating. To use the peacock example again, the male peacock can put a great deal of mental and physical energy into their display, and still the female might just not think it’s arousing enough to mate. The synergy that is craved in SX is a sense of simultaneous giving and taking (although the giving isn’t altruistic). It can be paralleled abstractly in vampire literature where the vampire bites and drains blood but the victim gains pleasure from it, or at the very least, this is usually eroticized. During intercourse or other kinds of mutual sexual activity, both people involved crave the other as an object to “take” but also enjoy “being taken” by the other. Both people are objectifying each other but getting what they crave in the process. This chemical synergy of objectification on both sides locks both people into a chemical flow.
Note: This kind of chemistry is not the same as love or connection, however, humans of course have the ability to mix love with sex. However the Sexual instinctual drive is a separate domain. Connection and bonding is more in the Social instinct domain. And love and intimacy are not instincts.
Possible examples of thoughts: Is there a building energy between us? Are we magnetically drawn to each other? Can we sustain this? If it’s gone, what else is out there?
Concrete examples: A heat between you and another that registers as sexual, a sense of addiction or obsession, possession, turning off most people to attract the one that likes your scent.
What is it?
The social survival instinct is the instinct of connection. Connection is a gigantic domain and so this instinct is multi-faceted and adaptable, which is part of its innate skill. The prehistoric human brain became larger and larger very quickly, which resulted in offspring being born out of the womb less developed in growth than other species. Many species’ offspring are born almost fully formed, and the period of infancy is much shorter. However, because the human brain is so large, offspring were born early with a long period of helplessness before adulthood. This meant that young sapiens needed a strong bond with a caregiver that could protect them for several years, including the parents and other tribe members. The red-alert response we get when we hear a baby crying is the social protection drive in all of us.
This drive to form connections with another human being developed deeply in humans to point where we are able to live in extremely large societies cohesively. Few other species are able to do this. Bees and ants are examples of other very socially cohesive creatures. In humans now, this instinct is an over-identification with relationships with other humans in various ways whether they be deep or cursory.
How does it manifest?
1. Connection and Care
Our brains have built-in mechanisms that register threats to our connections as pain (the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex and anterior insula). This facet of Social has a two-way street that begins in childhood and stays with us as an archetypal duality: the parent and the child. Even as adults, we not only long to be cared for, but we instinctively long to care for others. This is the instinct of closeness and “common ground.” All bonds whether they are friendships, relationships, or familial have a common ground space. It is a collection of common-denominator activities, interests, feelings, etc. that two people (or a person and a group) share. The two social stackings will find common ground in different ways, depending on their blind spot. This sense of connection and care leads humans to get a positive feeling reward when they are altruistic without any personal motivations behind it.
The darker side to this is registering the people one should not or cannot connect with. SO-doms can be particular about who they do or don’t connect with, and they can have a negative reaction to a person or group that they see as a threat or someone to stay away from. This is nature’s way of protecting us against the “diseased” dangerous person/tribe. Examples of this are: racism, prejudice, exclusion, seeing the other as unclean (ex. hygiene, home cleanliness), seeing differences as a threat, etc. Part of protecting “us” is being a unit that unites against the dangerous “other.” This skill is useful when used against a person who is actually a threat and becomes problematic when turned into prejudices.
Possible examples of thoughts: Who are we? What do we have in common? What connects us? Are we an item? How close are we? Are we close enough that I can call them after 9 pm? Will anyone be there for me? Does that person have germs? Why isn’t she responding to my text? Why can’t I find anyone to hang out with? Did my boss get me a birthday card? Why can’t we spend quality time? Do I have these people under control?
Concrete examples: Asking a person how they are, active listening, friendships and close bonds, family, power seeking, group leading, group control, teaching, lecturing, imparting, social media, providing, making a difference, making an impact
Humans, unlike other species, are able to interpret the actions of other humans as having not just consequence but also motivation. We can even personify inanimate objects as having their own “minds” or “souls.” For example, “That willow tree looks so sad and the wind seems angry.” Our brains also have built-in mechanisms (the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex and the temporoparietal junction) to essentially make assumptions about not only the feelings of others, but their goals and aims. Seeing other humans as individual minds that have separate thoughts and motivations from us is instrumental in our success in connecting with others, knowing what they need, and reducing the pain of social rejection. This process of mind-reading is called mentalizing, and studies have shown that this region of the brain is active even when when we aren’t doing anything. We mentalize in the background all the time. In order to do this well, humans and animals have all kinds of unspoken rules and contracts for behavioural expectations, and it can be devastating/disorienting when these are broken. These vary depending on location and time period of life.
Possible examples of thoughts: Does the cab driver want me to get into the car? Is this person waiting for me to pay? Is that person going to cross the street? Is my mother mad at me? Am I the only one with my windshield wipers on? Is what I’m saying too harsh? Is this polite? If that person is standing up, does that mean I should too? Should we bring a gift?
Concrete examples: Knowing how to respond in any human interaction from paying at the grocery store to a job interview in order to create either a positive (or deliberately negative) bond/response
3. Harmony & Social Role (You vs. Me)
This aspect of the social instinct also has two facets: the self and the other–the “me and you” instinct. We all have a sense of self (the medial prefrontal cortex in the brain) that includes our thoughts, feelings, likes, dislikes, etc. However, this entire sense of self has been heavily shaped by society and our surroundings our entire lives. Many of the things we think or our viewpoints or ideas are shaped heavily by our external circumstances and the influence of others. When we transport ourselves to another social ecosystem elsewhere in the world or into history, we see that a sense of “normalcy” always exists, but it may be completely different than what it currently is for us. Our private sense of self in a sense is also a communal “us.”
Self-control (ventrolateral prefrontal cortex) allows us to harmonize with others, the reward being acceptance by others. This means that our ability to shape the way we are to fit what is required of us externally requires a sense of self-control and mediation of what’s inside vs. what’s outside. Our attempt to harmonize our internal “us” with the external “them” is part of where our social “role” comes from. It allows us to put our individual selves forward in a way that will still allow us to be valuable to the group. Included in social role is also pecking order, hierarchy, and social status. These are all ways to measure who we are in comparison to others.
Possible examples of thoughts: Who am I? Is this person problematic? Are they using appropriate terminology when describing identities? Am I offending anyone? Should I post this photo? Is this the right thing to wear? How should I say this? How do our political views differ? What makes me me? How do people see me right now? Who’s in charge here?
Concrete examples: Getting along with others, forming alliances, living harmoniously with other humans, forming lines, having a sense of self that you consciously present to others, knowing how you come across, knowing how to behave, protesting, unionizing, understanding social protocol (one can reject social protocol, but Social would be aware of this deliberate rebellion, rather than Social blinds not registering the situation), consciously accepting or rejecting what others expect you to be, feeling social humiliation.
Below are some distinctions between instincts and other human elements that will assist in understanding these concepts:
1. Self-Preservation Instinct vs. Sensation and Body Awareness
Self-preservation is the instinctual drive that is focused on the physical self and its well-being. However, this is not the same as simply enjoying or having sensitivity to sensory pleasures or comforts. There are many people who have a high sensitivity to sensory input, but may or may not be SP. Enjoying food or insisting on a comfortable chair purely for comfort is not the self-preservation drive, unless the motivation behind these wishes is self-preservation.
Self-preservation is also not the same as body awareness or being in the body centre of the enneagram. Gut types have a focus on how to “exist” in physical space with the body as the locus of their being. There is overlap here in terms of a general body focus, but SP is an instinctual survival drive with specific needs.
2. Sexual Instinct vs. Sex Drive, “One to One,” and Intensity
The Sexual instinct as far as we identify with it in the enneagram is an over-identification with attraction. This is not the same as the human body’s sex drive. The drive to want to “do it” or just physical arousal in itself is something that is present regardless of instinct. One can be aroused and have sex without this over-identification with it. Seeing how the Sexual instinct in itself always poses a threat in the sense of being boundary-destroying, most people can have insecurities about sex regardless of instinct.
The Sexual instinct is also not the same as “one to one” connecting or bonds. Any kind of human connection where two people share a bond is in the domain of Social. Both Sexual and Social interactions can be either one-to-one or group-focused. New research dispels the myth that prehistoric humans were sexually monogamous. Group sex or having more than one partner has existed for a long time, so there is no reason to view the Sexual instinct as being strictly one-to-one connections. However, when SX people hone in on a specific target, the level of self revealing and psychological nudity offered to the other person can feel like a more “intense” one-to-one bond than most people are used to. SX has a way of pushing through the boundaries around acceptable social interaction.
The Sexual instinct is also not the most “intense” of the three, although as stated in the last paragraph, it can feel intense or “invasive” to people. All three instincts can become extremely intense when their needs are threatened. Different enneagram types and combinations can carry different levels of intensity, and that word is very vague to begin with anyway. It is also not necessarily the most aggressive instinct, seeing as how it has very open fluid boundaries, allowing the subject to be filled and changed. SP is the instinct with the strongest boundary up, and SO has a preoccupation with the self and its relation to others.
3. Social Instinct vs. Love, Extraversion, Positivity, and Enjoying Groups
The Social instinct aims to create bonds of all kinds with fellow humans. Some of those bonds will have love and others will not. For example, friendships, romantic partners, business partners, parent, child, crossing guard, etc.
Not all people with heavy social instinct are necessarily socially extraverted, meaning that many SO people still enjoy spending much time alone to recharge. And there are SO-blind people who are happy to be amongst lots of people all day. Introverted Socials might focus on a smaller number of connections, or find less active ways to keep those connections alive such as texting, long distance friends, less time spent together, etc. Social can also manifest in smaller ways like trying on a new outfit that puts you in a new "genre," or considering your relations from a detached viewpoint.
Being a SO type does not necessarily mean that one has a positive attitude toward people or humanity. Many socials can be more on the positive side of how they view life. However, any social type can be completely antagonistic towards people, humanity, social norms; they can protest, rebel, break rules, be a tyrant, etc. It’s the preoccupation with these issues and reactivity to them that speaks volumes. Social can go pro-social or anti-social. In either case, there's still a focus on how to properly do social.
To continue with the distinction between SX and “one-to-one,” it should be stated that social instinct is not the instinct of “groups.” In a sense, yes, the instinct in humans at large has allowed us to form gigantic cohesive groups which is one of the main reasons humans rule the earth. However at a more granular level, SO-doms will not necessarily want to spend time in groups rather than one-to-one interactions. If anything, Socials will be more particular about who they spend time with and in what contexts whether it be group or duo. Socials can end up curating specific people that they care about the most.
When instinct interacts with type, a subtype is created. It's important to study the type descriptions and the instinct descriptions FIRST before coming here. The following are very very brief, abstract iterations on subtype and are by no means meant to be a complete description of the full complexity of type and instinct mixing. They are listed here to counteract the descriptions of the subtypes which circulate online (originally conceptualized by Claudio Naranjo) which the Enneagrammer team respectfully believes to be inaccurate in light of new instinct research.
SP 9: Merging with SP, stuck in side tasks, asleep to important SP needs, needing specific comforts but not always having the drive to get them, the toughest 9, can look very different depending on tritype, the most common subtype
ex. Ryan Gosling, Beyonce, Janet Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Melania Trump, Norah Jones, The Weekend
SO 9: Merging with people, oscillating between completely available/open to absent, social role is open, fluid boundary, there are different versions of "me" that are all "me"
ex. Barack Obama, Mark Zuckerberg, Nelson Mandela, Albert Einstein
SX 9: Merging with attraction, triangulation with people, not fully present to attractions, won't be firm on what they want, attracting and withdrawing, Dracula's mist
ex. Carl Jung, Mariah Carey, Björk, Sade, Jimi Hendrix, Jaden Smith
SP 1: Rigidity in SP, the right way to do things, "anger with the stroke of a pen," strongly-worded letters, being prepared for anything, firm boundary
ex. Bernie Sanders, Noam Chomsky, Yoko Ono, Martha Stewart, Emma Watson
SO 1: Double super ego, focus on good behaviour, ideals, morals, lofty, rigid
ex. Jordan Peterson, Ghandi, Ayn Rand, Hilary Clinton, Judge Judy
SX 1: Rigidity in attractions, moral purity spilling over into the snake pit of SX, some of the 1 boundary comes down with SX
ex. Jane Fonda, Rose McGowan, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett
SP 2: Taking care of others in a SP way, aggressive providing, morality of care
ex. Michele Obama, Mr. Rogers, Beatrice Chestnut
SO 2: Being the go-to person, the likeable connection, the helpful expert
ex. Dr. Phil, Liberace, Arsenio Hall, Sarah Palin
SX 2: Being the most pleasing seducer, being "needed and craved," "The charming predator"
ex. Dolly Parton, Stevie Wonder
SP 3: Can't stop moving, taking care of things, body is a machine, must "do"
ex. Taylor Swift, Kanye West, Rachel McAdams, Paul McCartney, Tom Cruise, Anderson Cooper
SO 3: Image of success, publish a book, own an art gallery, "shine," being great at all the elements of social
ex. Drake, Justin Bieber, Justin Trudeau, Justin Timberlake, Will Smith
SX 3: Being successful at SX, the best at hooking people
ex. Madonna, Billy Idol, Whitney Houston, Elvis Presley, Britney Spears, Angelina Jolie
SP 4: Self-sabotage your own lifestyle, hopelessness with SP, something is always wrong with my body/my life
ex. Anna Wintour, Anne Rice, Nicole Kidman, Joni Mitchell
SO 4: Public artist, picky about connections, anti-social, broadcasting the aesthetic of a broken person
ex. Marilyn Manson, Oscar Wilde, Jean-Michele Basquiat, Michael Jackson, Adrien Brody
SX 4: Double nudity, open hole, bruised and exposed
ex. Prince, Rufus Wainwright, Bob Dylan
SP 5: Double detached, minimalist, "scientist," work hard for their special interest
ex. Bill Gates, Thom Yorke, Alfred Hitchcock
SO 5: Considering humanity from a detached perspective, social role of intellect, "connection with autism"
ex. Jacqueline Kennedy, Mary Roach, Tim Burton, Russ Hudson, Tim Burton, Claudio Naranjo
SX 5: Hooking people in with strange ideas/displays, still emotionally detached
ex. John Lennon, Trent Reznor, Lars von Trier, Marina Abramovic
SP 6: Over-concern with an element of SP and double-checking, tightening the screw so tightly that it breaks the wood
ex. Jerry Seinfeld, George Clooney, Adam Sandler, Tina Fey, Ellen Degeneres, Jennifer Aniston
SO 6: Friendly, gossip, "...but don't tell anyone, no one needs to know," morality of humility, SJW, outspoken but friendly
ex. Kendrick Lamar, Oprah, Eminem, Bill Nye, John Stewart, Rachel Maddow, Anne Hathaway
SX 6: Attraction with uncertainty, fear of making a mistake, overdoing toughness/vulnerability
ex. Mike Tyson, Marilyn Monroe, Al Pacino, Ozzy Osborne, Mel Gibson, Julianne Moore, Woody Allen
SP 7: Life is like a big piece of cake to eat, inventive, epicurean
ex. Steve Jobs, Gordon Ramsey, Elon Musk, Anthony Bourdain, Charlie Sheen
SO 7: Positive social role, fun, sparkly, not too serious
ex. Brad Pitt, Betty White, Mike Myers, Liza Minnelli, M.I.A., Amy Schumer, JFK
SX 7: Maniac, attraction with goofiness/royalness
ex. Robin Williams, Cher, Fiona Apple, Pete Davidson, Freddy Mercury, Adele
SP 8: Conqueror, intensity and control about SP
ex. Camille Paglia, Donald Trump, Gene Simmons, Vladimir Putin, Marlon Brando, Picasso
SO 8: Double control, being the big-energy person who has power and clout
ex. Frank Sinatra, Adolf Hitler, Steve Bannon, Alec Baldwin
SX 8: The 8 boundary comes down to open to another being for fusion, attraction displays are "loud"
ex. Chris Hemsworth, Beethoven, Bruce Lee, Gurdjieff, Bono