Self-Preservation Instinctual Subtype

A separate and important component of the enneagram is the instinctual subtypes. The three instinctual subtypes, self-preservation, social, and one-on-one, are unconscious and yet all pervasive. Oscar Ichazo, recognized by many as the founder of the enneagram, described the subtypes as “three fundamental reactions of our organism to sustain life.” The subtypes are indeed three distinct approaches to long term survival. Each instinctual subtype represents one third of the truth. The best option for survival is to have all three subtypes fully developed and available to us.

In general, we do have and use all three subtypes but one is usually dominant. The next most prominent subtype is still strong and available to us, but the third is often underdeveloped. There are people who seem to move fluidly from self-preservation to one-on-one to social and approach problems with more flexibility and more options for decision making and resolving conflict. Our goal should be to have equal access to all three subtypes.

Today, I want to focus on self-preservation as a subtype. It is an ultimate subtype for survival and contains one-third of the truth. Individuals with this subtype concentrate their efforts on obtaining food, clothing and shelter. Their primary goal is comfort and security. They tend to be individualistic, self-sufficient (in their eyes) and do not believe in dependency on social organizations for themselves or others. They might well be the Libertarians in our political system.

For self-preservation individuals, comfort includes temperature, touch and general well-being. Furniture, linens and personal clothing must accommodate this need. There is some degree of correlation between self-preservation types and kinestheseology. Many self-preservation individuals report having a favorite blanket made from soft, comforting materials such as fine wools.

In modern society, and especially for self-preservation individuals, security includes freedom from violence as well as financial stability. This translates into 401K plans, job security, savings accounts, bill paying and even health insurance. Hoarding is problematic for self-preservation individuals and toilet paper is a common item to hoard. A well-respected enneagram teacher told me in a casual conversation that sexual addictions were more common in self-preservation individuals and perhaps is an expansion of the hoarding compulsion.

One of my personal interests is how the different instinctual subtypes interact with each other. For example, where are the conflicts between self-preservation and social subtypes? In general, the self-preservation type wants to stay home, have a good meal and sit in their favorite, comfortable chair. Socializing is not a priority. The social subtypes feel that security comes from social contacts and they may have an extensive rolodex that they want to maintain and expand. The social person will push to go to meetings, parties or gatherings of almost any type which will create conflict with their stay-at-home, self-preservation partner.

In contrast, the one-on-one subtype wants intense interactions with their partner. Even though all of us can understand this need in a dating relationship, the self-preservation subtype will revert to home, hearth, food and their general comfort after solidifying a relationship. As a result, the one-on-one person may feel abandoned, even though that is not the intent of the self-preservation types who welcome sharing their security and comfort. Indeed, many self-preservation individuals report that the way they show love is by meeting the self-preservation needs of their partner, even if that is not what their one-on-one partner is looking for. One of the differences between self-preservation and one-on-one is that the self-preservation subtype is more comfortable with side-by-side interactions with their partner while the one-on-one subtype wants face-to-face interaction. This is true both physically and emotionally.

So, how do these instinctual subtypes impact our everyday decisions? Subtypes impact almost every segment of our lives from marriage to work to vacations to book and movie choices to sporting activities. For a self-preservation subtype, professional choices will revolve around job security and will focus on potential insurance and retirement benefits. Sports will be more fitness oriented…running, weight-lifting, aerobics…and will not necessarily include social aspects like golfing outings or team sports. Books and movies will often focus on rags-to-riches or hero-achieves-success themes. Self-preservation music will focus on independence and solidity within one’s self.

In summary, all three subtypes have equally valid worldviews. The most complete and effective position is to have the flexibility to move between all three subtypes when the situation dictates. For example, dating is clearly best served by the one-on-one instinctual subtype while job hunting is well served with numerous contacts that might be contained in the rolodex of a social subtype. Wholeness, then, will include using all of the options available to us.

Steve PurdomSteve Purdom