There have been quite a few discussions relating to Instinctual variants, and a whole lot of misunderstandings surrounding what each variant signifies. So, I am going to share an informative article here that not only covers the three instincts but also goes into detailed accounts of variant stackings. The article will form the base, and other resources will be called upon to address relevant material. Understanding the instincts is as important as figuring out and understanding your core type. So, you're encouraged to read through the information presented.
a) The main article is taken from SP, SX, SO Instinct Variants and Stackings
b)I will be quoting excerpts from Intro. to Instinctual Variants (the Ocean Moonshine's page) and the Enneagram Institute whenever appropriate to provide a more comprehensive overview.
c) Another resource that is just about a goldmine of info. on the instincts (containing information from RH's workshops): EIDB Instinctual Variants and Stackings (RH Notes and Discussion)
d) Naranjo Subtypes
Alright, I am posting this in four parts for ease of reading. I will begin with RH's definitions of the variants. It's recommended reading.
On to their definitions:-
Self Preservation: 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.
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.
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."
Part 1. The Three Instincts: Self-Preservation, Sexual, Social
In course of our evolution as human beings, we developed a set of three core instincts referred to in the Enneagram as the basic survival instincts, instinctual energies, "drives" or "subtypes". These instincts are part of our body-based intelligence and key to our biological imperatives. They are built deep into our unconscious nature and aid in our survival as individuals and as a species. Instincts are thus more fundamental than enneagram type; they relate to our 'animal soul'. From the perspective of the enneagram, we want to know how these drives manifest and function both as defined by each instinct alone and in terms of their alignment, known as "stacking".
Self-preservation instinct is the first instinct to have evolved. This is an orientation towards survival, health, and comfort. SP drive checks in with the body: "Is this not enough or too much?" and orients by what the body reports on its needs. Of the three instincts, this is the oldest one; it dictates: “I must survive.” Animals are highly attuned to their self-preservation needs. Modern humans, however, are somewhat more distant from basic survival needs. That is, we have more sophistication in the sphere of physical needs and more complex regulation—once survival is taken care of, we aim for comfort and pleasure.
The SP energy manifests as "conserved", "grounded", "tightly coiled", "planted", "immovable". The energy is usually heavy in its nature, as if the person is carrying some great weight on his or her shoulders and conserving energy for later personal use. This subtype will "sacrifice for self" to insure survival, rather than look to their group or mate to resolve their problems and challenges. Self-preservation types may forgo social standing or intensity of experience for physical comfort, security, and other factors that ensure their own survival. For example, a sp-first person may have "princess and the pea" syndrome, refusing to sleep on most mattresses because they simply don’t feel right. These people "look inward" based upon an inherent recognition that "I'm on my own" and "I have to take care of myself."
Self-preservation instinct responds to practical concerns of everyday life. SP types express concern centering around issues of security, food and health, employment, sustainability. At times this may make them look like enneagram head types, because they be in habit of planning to predict unforeseen mishaps or possible breaches in their security. In addition, the comfort seeking element to SP types can cause them to appear like gut types because of their desire to avoid too much complication or “fuss”.
In relationships, sp-first people focus on nesting, building a cozy home with someone, or may fantasize about such scenarios. Key words: self-maintenance, domesticity, practical know-how, finances, work, establishing practical foundation in life, back-up plans, fear of scarcity.
In neurotic SP types, there is fear of not having enough resources, food, shelter. This fear can distort the natural use of the instinct and turn into eating disorders, compulsive buying, or hoarding. There is a tendency to shore up resources and possibly a strong sense of being frugal or sometimes even downright cheap. This is because resources must be properly maintained to ensure survival for themselves and those within their sphere.
Topics SP types might bring up in conversation: food, dining out, dieting, nutrition, health, fitness, appearance and looks, money, savings and sales, shopping, employment, benefits, insurance, comfort, clothing, decor, interior design, strength, vitality, sickness, death, noise, discomfort, safety, security, environment, quality or durability of objects such as car, clothing, furniture, physical sciences, engineering, architecture
Summary of SP instinct:
- primary concerns - physical safety, comfort, and well-being; securing an orderly and aesthetically pleasing way of life (food, clothing, money, housing, and physical health)
- primary focus - security, comfort, and well-being of the environment (lighting, temperature, comfortable furniture, aesthetics, food quality)
- primary ambition - using practicality and financial sense to create a secure environment in the home and workplace (paying bills, acquiring skills to ensure the orderly flow of life)
- primary stresses - money, sustenance (how they will get food, when it will come, if they will like it, if it fits their diet)
- coping methods (unhealthy) - over-stocking, overbuying, overeating, overpurging, oversleeping, undersleeping, overindulging in aesthetics or comfort foods, mistreatment of comfort and security as is skewed by the secondary instinct
N.B. The instinct for self-preservation is attuned to the protection of the self, to its needs, health, comforts, security, and stability. This instinct is the strongest and most fundamental in virtually all life forms, and can easily override the other instincts should the life or safety of the individual be in immediate danger. In such threatening conditions, all of us are dominated by the instinct for self-preservation. But, in more general circumstances, when our health, life or security is not obviously or immediately endangered, this instinct will take a back seat, if the individual is dominated by the sexual or social instincts.
Sexual instinct can be called the instinct of attraction. It’s aggressive, competitive, single-minded, "all-or-nothing". Use of this energy is intensely fiery and affirmative, go-get-it approach, a life-and-death matter e.g. salmon swimming upstream to mate and die. With this instincts you are either turned on or you're not - it is what it is; you cannot fight mother nature. With this instinct one's attention is wholly captivated energetically by someone or something.
The SX energy is described as "high energy" and is often experienced as "intense", "assertive", "laser-like", "intently focused", "playful yet penetrating" in nature. The feeling of SX-first is sometimes compared to being on a roller-coaster ride even though you aren't on one. This subtype will "sacrifice for the relationship" to insure intensity connection. This intensity does not have to be met by another person—it can be satisfied by a project, hobby, or special interest. Rather than looking inward or to the group to resolve their problems and challenges, these types tend to look to close relations and activities that can guarantee them an experience of liveliness and intensity.
SX-first people enjoy feeling invigorated. They may fantasize about scenarios that make them feel alive and that are emotionally stimulating. Key words: activation, immersion, charisma, broadcasting displays, fusion, inspiration, volatility.
Sexual subtypes are not to be confused with having a healthy sex drive or being sexy, which is a common reason for many people misidentifying themselves as SX-primaries. The name of this instinct is misleading as, in the end, all instincts play into sexuality. SP is the body-to-body part - cuddling, sensuality, autonomic regulation. SX is riding the waves of energy, the invisible forces of attraction between the people, but it doesn't need to be actively physical. In a union, all three instincts combine - warmth (self-pres), energy (sexual), affection (social). One can have the sexual instinct operating in a group of friends—being in the heat, stimulated, energized, engaged. In relationships, there is a desire for endless engagement and fascination.
Topics SX types might bring up in conversation: experiences, personal likes and dislikes, emotional and mental states, excitement, elation, ecstasy, intensity, energy, attraction/repulsion, passion, connection, desire, wants and wishes, possessiveness, jealousy, beauty, attractiveness, relationships, intimacy, sex, closeness, mating, risky activities, action sports, rebelliousness (sx-first people often report having strong personal preferences)
Summary of SX instinct
- primary concern - intense experiences, connections, and contacts, wide-ranging and exploratory, in order to find something to "complete" them inside (sky diving, deep conversations, exciting movies)
- primary focus - people and attractions promising intense energy and charge
- primary ambition - looking outside themselves for the person or situation that will complete them, and then obsessing over that completing element
- primary stresses - lack of intense mental or emotional stimulation, lack of an intense connection or experience
- coping methods (unhealthy) - scattered attention, lack of focus, sexual promiscuity, intensely avoiding intense experiences and connections with a fearful and dysfunctional attitude toward sex, intimacy, and other intense "completing" experiences, as is skewed by the secondary instinct
Social instinct is not the same as socializing. This instinct is aimed towards species survival as a whole. It acts in species where families and groups exist to protect the vulnerability of mother and child. The social instinct provides a holding environment. It needs group viability for a sense of well-being.
Emphasis on cooperation, reciprocity, roles aimed at mutual survival. There is a need to be involved and contribute, a desire to be wanted and accepted by the group. It can sense when a behavior is damaging to group survival. It forms a sort of unconscious clusters where mutual support is an issue. This instinct is also attuned to hierarchy and possesses political awareness. It has a good sense and understanding of group boundaries and what groups can accomplish.
The SO energy is often described as "split energy" experienced as "scattered" and projected outward, appearing personable and cursory in nature. This subtype can "sacrifice for the group" to insure status. These types tend to "look outward," based upon a belief that "my value is dependent upon how I am perceived by the group." The survival strategy is an emphasis on sociability or unsociability. There is a noticeable inclination to categorize oneself in terms of others. The question "who am I?" is defined by "how comfortably and successfully I experience my group". Focus is on the issues dealing with how the person is being perceived by the group.
Topics SO types might bring up in conversation: cultural and political movements and developments, popularity, popular songs books movies memes, manners, social values, societal standards, rules, guidelines, social power structures (or subversion of the same; keep in mind that there can very well be a counter-culture or counter-group streak in Social firsts, and when the instinct is operating in health, this can be used to counter injustice or other forms of oppression etc. in ways that benefits society at large. A lot of social leaders that strongly and actively countered prevalent institutional discrimination and other oppressive norms were social firsts, Dr. King being a good example. It's about time that the social first=sheep stereotype be discarded), appropriateness/inappropriateness, friendship, family, inclusion/exclusion, fashion, glamor, fame, notoriety, organizations, clubs, group divisions pertaining to nationality religion race, etc., patriotism, civic engagement, influence.
Summary of SO instinct
- primary concern - building their sense of personal value, accomplishment, and a security of place with others via interaction with people in a broader sense (through family, group, subculture, mainstream culture, community, nation, world)
- primary focus - the status, approval, and admirability of themselves and of others in the minds of any number of different groups; "subtle" power structures and politics; knowing what is going on in the world; a contextual intelligence that allows them to see both their efforts and their broader context in the world
- primary ambition - interacting with people in ways that will build their personal value, their sense of accomplishment, and their security of place with others; to touch base with others to feel safe, alive, and energized; may include pursuit of attention, success, fame, recognition, honor, leadership, appreciation, and the security of being a part of something bigger than themselves
- primary stresses - being able to adjust to others and be acceptable; others' reactions to them, whether they are being accepted or not; may include intimacy, which is tended to be avoided
- coping methods (unhealthy) - antisocial behavior, detesting or resenting society at large, displaying poorly developed social skills, fear and distrust of society, resentfulness at having had to change to gain approval causes a stubbornness against doing what is necessary to get along with people, social resentment and avoidance as is skewed by the secondary instinct
I am ending this post with a quote from RH. Here, they explain how it's best to thoroughly understand the variants independently first, before turning to descriptions combining instincts with types, as their effect becomes more clear. I'd go so far as to say that, for an Enneagram beginner, relying heavily on variant+core type combined descriptions for self-typing, which also outline behavioural traits that could overlap between multiple types, can result in mistyping. Essentially, combined descriptions are extremely useful (in fact, necessary) for understanding type and instinct interactions but not for strictly self-typing purposes.source: What is Your View of the Instinctual Variants?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.