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.