The Instinctual Variants

The Instinctual Variants

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This is a discussion on The Instinctual Variants within the Enneagram Personality Theory Forum forums, part of the Personality Type Forums category; The idea of the three Instinctual Variants, or "subtypes," came from Oscar Ichazo who named the 27 combinations of Enneagram ...

  1. #1
    Type 8

    The Instinctual Variants

    The idea of the three Instinctual Variants, or "subtypes," came from Oscar Ichazo who named the 27 combinations of Enneagram types and Instincts, although there is an earlier basis for them in the teachings of Gurdjieff. According to Gurdjieff, the Instinctive (or "gut" center) was really a composite of three centers that he called "the instinctive center," "the moving center," and "the sexual center." These correspond to Ichazo's "self-preservation," "social," and "sexual" centers respectively. The idea here is that the personality is built on, and therefore tends to interfere most with, one of these three centers. We are currently studying the ways in which distortions of each of these centers effects the personality. There is a short discussion of the Instinctual Variants as we call them (because they are not truly "subtypes"—but rather, independent variables) in the new edition of Personality Types (1996), and much more in The Wisdom of the Enneagram (Bantam, 1999).

    We feel that the basic idea of the Instinctual Variants is solid and significant, although most of the material that has been taught in this regard needs a great deal more study and clarification. In our view, much of the short descriptions surrounding the Instinctual Variants has been muddled, and the titles traditionally used with them have often been misleading. Further, there is a lack of equity in the descriptions of the Variants: some are presented as much more neurotic than others, and this is not the case. In our language, there has been a lack of awareness of parity of Levels of Development.

    We feel that when the three Variants are properly understood in their own right—without reference to Enneagram type—then the way in which type affects the Variants becomes more clear and compelling. Too often people try first to understand the Instincts in their mixture with Enneagram types. Others have used Ichazo's nicknames for the 27 combinations of Enneagram type and Instincts and tried to make them "fit" with what they know of the types. While some of these names are illuminating, others are less so. For example, the term for the Social Seven, "The Defender," and for the Sexual Four, "Reckless, Dauntless" are misleading and have even led to mistyping. We have found it more useful to apply the type's passion to the Instinct, ponder the connections, and then ask people about their experience. For instance, what does envy in self-preservation look like? What does gluttony in the Social Instinct look like, and what would that have to do with being a "defender"?

    Nevertheless, we can discern significant differences within the same type that are caused by the personality's predilection for a particular Variant over the other two. We feel that the Instinctual Variants are especially significant with regard to relationship issues. We might also add that, in our view, people have all three Instincts operative: one Instinct is uppermost and we tend to rely on it excessively. A second also makes its influence felt, and the third Instinct is least developed and creates "blind spots" in our personality. Ultimately, many factors—wings, Levels of Development, acting out in stress and security, Integration and Disintegration—and more—are crucial for a complete understanding of our personality structures and hence, for giving us the tools to do our Inner Work.
    Inveniet, SFD Six, mushr00m and 3 others thanked this post.

  2. #2
    Type 8

    Self Preservational: The focus here is easy to understand from the name. People of this Instinctual type are preoccupied with basic survival needs as they translate in our contemporary society. Thus, Self-Preservation types are concerned with money, food, housing, health, physical safety and comfort. Being safe and physically comfortable are priorities. These people are quick to notice any problems in a room such as poor lighting or uncomfortable chairs, or to be dissatisfied with the room temperature. They often have issues connected with food and drink, either overdoing it or having strict dietary requirements. In the healthy to average Levels, of the three Instinctual types, they are the most practical in the sense of taking care of basic life necessities—paying bills, maintaining the home and workplace, acquiring useful skills, and so forth. When these types deteriorate, they tend to distort the instinct to the degree that they are poor at taking care of themselves. Unhealthy Self-Preservation types eat and sleep poorly or become obsessed with health issues. They often have difficulty handling money and may act out in deliberately self-destructive ways. In a nutshell, Self-Preservation types are focused on enhancing their personal security and physical comfort.

  3. #3
    Type 8

    Social: This subtype is focused on their interactions with other people and with the sense of value or esteem they derive from their participation in collective activities. These include work, family, hobbies, clubs—basically any arena in which Social types can interact with others for some shared purpose. The instinct underlying this behavior was an important one in human survival. Human beings on their own are rather weak, vulnerable creatures, and easily fall prey to a frequently hostile environment. By learning to live and work together, our ancestors created the safety necessary for human beings not only to survive, but to thrive. Within that social instinct, however, are many other implicit imperatives, and primary among them is the understanding of "place" within a hierarchical social structure. This is as true for dogs and gorillas as it is for human beings. Thus, the desire for attention, recognition, honor, success, fame, leadership, appreciation, and the safety of belonging can all be seen as manifestations of the Social instinct. Social types like to know what is going on around them, and want to make some kind of contribution to the human enterprise. There is often an interest in the events and activities of one's own culture, or sometimes, of another culture. In general, Social types enjoy interacting with people, but they avoid intimacy. In their imbalanced, unhealthy forms, these types can become profoundly antisocial, detesting people and resenting their society, or having poorly developed social skills. In a nutshell, Social types are focused on interacting with people in ways that will build their personal value, their sense of accomplishment, and their security of "place" with others.
    SFD Six, Kuja and TurranMC thanked this post.

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  5. #4
    Type 8

    Sexual: Many people originally identify themselves as this type, perhaps confusing the idea of a Sexual Instinctual type with being a "sexy" person. Of course, "sexiness" is in the eye of the beholder, and there are plenty of "sexy" people in all three of the Instinctual types. Furthermore, lest one think this type more "glamorous" than the other two, one would do well to remember that the instinct can become distorted in the type, leading to the area of life causing the greatest problems. In healthy to average Sexual types, there is a desire for intensity of experience—not just sexual experience, but having a similar "charge." This intensity could be found in a great conversation or an exciting movie. Much has been said about this type preferring "one-on-one" relationships versus the Social type's preference for "larger groups," but a quick poll of one's acquaintances will reveal that almost all people prefer communicating one on one than in a group. The question is more one of the intensity of contact, and the strength of the desire for intimacy. Sexual types are the "intimacy junkies" of the Instinctual types, often neglecting pressing obligations or even basic "maintenance" if they are swept up in someone or something that has captivated them. This gives a wide-ranging, exploratory approach to life, but also a lack of focus on one's own priorities. In their neurotic forms, this type can manifest with a wandering lack of focus, sexual promiscuity and acting out, or just the opposite, in a fearful, dysfunctional attitude toward sex and intimacy. Sexual types, however, will be intense, even about their avoidances. In a nutshell, Sexual types are focused on having intense, intimate interactions and experiences with others and with the environment to give them a powerful sense of "aliveness."

    Kuja, TurranMC and SFD Six thanked this post.

  6. #5

    Ok so which types of the enneagram are self preserving, social and sexual respectively? I am a four or a nine, so what would that make me?
    Grey thanked this post.

  7. #6
    Type 8

    All types use all three of the variants - these are called variant stackings. I, for example, am an 8w9 SP/Sx/So. If you would like to refer the specific variant stackings for types Four and Nine, have a look at these links:, and
    TurranMC and cardinalfire thanked this post.


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