Instinctual Variants

Posted by on July 5, 2013 | Comments Off on Instinctual Variants

Self-Preservation     ≡     Sexual     ≡     Social

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The three Instinctual Variants (a.k.a. the Instincts) work in conjunction with a person’s Enneagram type, and weigh roughly equal to Type in terms of influence exerted on the personality.  Each of us is subject to a hierarchy of Instincts as they’re stacked in order of predominance (i.e.- the stackings, of which there are six possible combinations in total). The predominant Instinct (the highest or first in the stacking) makes up the majority volume of a flux coursing through the Type’s infrastructure, animating and augmenting our type’s fixation.

Discerning the Instincts as they move and operate in us (and others) is often less simple than recognizing one’s Enneagram type, partly due to the Instincts’ nature as perpetual flux…in contrast to the relatively more static quality of the Enneagram type structures. As alluded to above, the relationship between Type and the Instincts is something analogous to a house (our Enneagram type) with a characteristic energy current (the Instincts) whooshing through its duct-work. So, to be discerning the Instincts at play is to be observing the Type fixation in operation as well, and vice versa.




(SP):  This Instinct’s “eye” habitually lands on the various conditions of the physical self — ‘me’. Concerns here include shelter, food, attention on one’s own health and finances. And the immediate conditions of the tactile environment (hot/cold, light/dark, dry/humid, clean/dirty, quiet/loud, etc), which, for some people, can translate to prominent perceptions about the emotional charge or tone of a given space, the intangibles of a setting: inviting/disturbing, familiar/haunting, enticing/disquieting.  SP-dominant people are often those who put much attention into the principles animating their overall day-to-day way-of-life. On some level, there’s a tendency to unconsciously monitor their gauges closely, referencing back into themselves, weighing how much energy or time or money is being expended in any given action/process or interaction with others.  “How much time and energy is this interaction, right now, worth to me?” Much value can also be placed on cultivating resources – money, tools (of all kinds), time, practical know-how, material provisions and objects of various kinds for various purposes, etc. – stockpiling for future expenditure in service of survival and/or comfort. Particular worth is placed on ‘getting things done’ and building or acquiring things that will last. The majority of the World’s population is SP-dominant, also referred to as SP-first to indicate the highest totem in the Instinctual stacking. This overall global predominance of SP is one reason we see the general public so easily swung around on the end of a stick by news of natural disasters and imploding financial markets.





(SX):  Besides the hunger for sex itself, this is the ‘need for heat’, the hunt for ‘electrical juice’, risky excitement and fevered decadence as a narcotic, pushing the envelope, the edge, seeking that peak something, simultaneously exposing oneself to total self-destruction.  Also, ‘the World as a mating dance’, the compulsion to broadcast beautiful attractive ‘colors’, casting a net (or a pheromone) out for that special someone to complete an electrical circuit, a nose for the individualized scent of the soul we long to burn our imprint into, and they into ours. Chemistry, not intimacy. Involuntary attraction and repulsion. Archetypally, this Instinct rules the alchemical processes, transformation/transmogrification, base metals into gold, phoenix rising from the ashes, the wild-eyed shaman whirling in fire and blood and radical rebirth.  Some authors have sought to tame this Instinct with new names, such as Intimate or one-to-one, but any attempt at reworking the Instinct into something wholesome/spiritual/romantic misses the mark: the Sexual Instinct is raw unbridled wanting, untethered by ethics/morality.  Recklessness.  A live wire longing to burn…and be burned to death. The classical image of Eros’s arrow (erotic attraction) shot through the heart accurately alludes to the danger here: potential ruin and destruction under the guise of Love.





(SO):  Here, the eye lands on the health of the collective, building mutual support, being for someone or some group, affiliating, co-creating, participating, contributing, involvement.  Bonding and relationship-building belong in this category, not with the Sexual Instinct.  Social gives us the ‘intelligence’ to read people and respond to them, adapt to them, communicate and interpret subtleties. All language, words, verbal exchanges fall under the purview of this Instinct.  SO can go low though: It sparks the response that burns witches at the stake, exterminates populations that are deemed ‘diseased vermin’ or those that are lesser/lower in some way… or can also put an undue amount of attention into status, rank, respectability, pedigree, reputation, strata, provenance. Otherwise, wholesome cleanliness and the ‘white light’ Apollonian themes of order, law, history, medicine, higher education, government, lofty eternal principles and ideologies get their first push and continued attention from the Social Instinct.  According to evolutionary biology, this Instinct is the latest to have emerged, perhaps the ‘more advanced and complex’ Instinct, i.e.- the stuff that animates our impulse toward the Humanities, altruistic vision, goodwill, the ‘higher good’, the conceptual space of civilization and religion. Social is the bodily sensation of not being a closed circuit. Perhaps the bridge or link between instinct and the wider-view emotions that inspire animals to care for their young; this is the parenting instinct. The connection to history and participation in the collective human journey.

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Conceiving of the Instinctual Variants as elements lends insight into the nature of their various processes and styles of movement:

sp = earth / matter
sx = water / fire, (higher vibrations) ice / electricity
so = fresh air, wind & sunlight 

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Sample card from the ‘Enneagram Instincts Cards’, available on the Products page


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