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  • Writer's pictureHeather Mitchell

Showing up in the world via Instinct

If you were to attend my Enneagram 101 class, our first topic of conversation would about be about the Enneagram Subtypes, also known as Instincts, which might be used interchangeably.

Coined Self Preservation, Social, or Sexual/One-to-One, these Instinctual Subytpes are a central aspect of how you show up in the world and are the key biological drives and fundamental values that influence your feelings and actions. You have all three of them within you; one, however, will seem to take precedence in how you express yourself. Knowing this about yourself, gives further understanding of the observable traits that work independently from your Enneagram type. It helps with understanding others and their motivations as well.

To uncover your most prominent Subtype, I might ask you the question:

Where does your attention go throughout a week?

  • Are you primarily attending to your material needs and life necessities for security or comfort? That is how a self preservation subtype shows up.

  • Are you involved in and enjoy interacting with others towards a common purpose throughout the month? If so, you might be leading with a social subtype.

  • Are you making sure you have deeper connections, spending energy towards bonding with special others in your life? A person who has the sexual/one-to-one instinctual drive would focus attention this way.

To further explain, the Subtypes help clarify the variation among people with the same Enneagram type. I can have three Type 6’s sitting in front of me and although they share very common characteristics of Type 6 personality, their dominate instinct makes them function differently from one another. Without getting into the nuanced version of each subtype within a type (making 27 all together—check out B. Chestnut’s book The Complete Enneagram, it’s an excellent resource), let me describe the Instincts briefly.


Self Preservation Instinctual Subtypes are preoccupied with getting and maintaining physical safety and personal comfort needs taken care of. They apply their energy towards taking care of their basic life necessities (maintaining a home, paying bills, grocery shopping). These individuals tend to be self sufficient and disciplined, generally putting energy towards being prepared. Words associated with this type might be: self care, comfort, preserving, practical, appetite, ritual, calculating.


Social Instinctual Subtypes are preoccupied with being accepted and belonging within the social system. They like to feel involved and enjoy interacting with others for a common purpose. These individuals tend to thrive within community and focus on their sense of accomplishment for a greater good. Words associated with this type include: navigating, amongst, cooperating, belonging, systems, participation, everybody.


Sexual (commonly called One-to-One) Instinctual Subtypes are searching for a deeper connection with one other. They focus their attention towards the quality and status of relationships with specific individuals. Their energy tends to go towards the maintenance of bonding to others they have an interpersonal attraction towards. Words associated with this type: transmit, attract, favorite, connect, mutual, between.

Regardless of your Enneagram type, understanding your subtype can illuminate key aspects to where your attention is drawn, what is prioritized throughout the day/week, the habits you exhibit, and how you survive under stress. If you would like help navigating these concepts, please contact Bridge City Enneagram for guidance and conversation. #enneagram #bridgecityenneagram #enneagramsubtypes #enneagraminstincts #selfdiscovery

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