One of the fundamental ways that our passions create their disguise is through our subtype behavior. Understanding how the instincts become distorted through our personality patterns is essential to understanding and shifting our behavior.

The Sequence of How the Instincts Function through Your Personality

Dominant: compensate for a perceived lack with excess, putting excess of attention on it.

Secondary: tendency to be closer to normality but being influenced by the dominant or the repressed.

Repressed: compensate for a perceived lack by forgetting about, depreciating it, or giving up this whole sphere of life.



Non-Ego-Distorted Self-Preservation: associated with the virtues of preservation, silence, stewardship. Directs energy toward safety and security concerns, including having enough resources, avoiding danger, and maintaining a sense of structure, order, and being in the world in terms of whatever that means for a specific type.

Ego-Distorted Self-Preservation in the dominant sequence position: organization skills, punctuality, regularity, caution, aversion to risk, seeking evidence (more skeptical), attention to self-care themes (like health, money, or food), more attention to self than others, self-sufficiency, self-referencing, introversion, pragmatism, hard to trust others and life, anxiety.

Ego-Distorted Self-Preservation in the repressed sequence position: boldness, propensity to risk, distracted, disrespect bodily needs (food, temperature, going to the bathroom, etc.), irregular and routine-avoidant, more extroverted, “puer aeternus.”


Non-Ego-Distorted Social: associated with virtues of being in service to others and to our essence, as a small part of the whole. Directs energy toward whether or not one is included and recognized in the group or community and how one is positioned in relation to and regarded in groups in terms of whatever that means for a specific type.

Ego-Distorted Social in the dominant sequence position: seeks approval and recognition, concern about social image, concern with leadership and team cohesion, valuing job positions and status, proximity to important people, more attention to others, manipulative, political, seeks for power, big ideas and ideals, attention to the group and not to the individual, conflict resolution ability.

Ego-Distorted Social in the repressed sequence position: low social skills in a group and inability to see group dynamics, skepticism, irony towards social actions and non-profits, individualistic, disconnects from the group, becomes less influential, risks reputation more often.


Non-Ego-Distorted Sexual: virtues of merging with the other, and the yin-yang concept of the non-dual state. Directs energy toward the achievement and maintenance of specific
relationships and connections with important individuals through one-to-one bonding or fusion in terms of whatever that means for a person of a specific type.

Ego-Distorted Sexual/One-to-One in the dominant sequence position: intense, “irrational,” lack of logic, impulsive, aggressive, competitive, high energy, impactful, nosy, seductive, possessive, persuasive, sensual/erotic.

Ego-Distorted Sexual/One-to-One in the repressed sequence position: lack of intensity, low energy, “rationality,” non-impulsive, excessively calm, non-expressive, shy, not jealous, gives up more easily, looks as lacking motivation, low charisma, low voice.

To fully understand the instincts when it comes to human behavior is to consider each filtered through the lens of your type, and these are what we call the subtypes.

All 27 basic subtypes are described in my book, Shock Point: The Enneagram in Burnout and Stress, but let us consider how the instincts become what we call subtypes briefly. There are many ways we might categorize or conceptualize our instincts. As Enneagram practitioners, we have more or less “agreed” to break them down into three instinctual drives, which we call the Self-Preservation, Social, and Sexual (which can be called One-to-One for contexts like the business world where to use the term “Sexual” might be misunderstood and misapplied).

On their own, without the distorting influence of the meat grinder that our personalities run them through, these basic drives work for a reason. They are free and necessary and we see them function in the behavior of animals all over the world. For many of us, who are extremely disconnected from nature (and not just our own nature), we might have to look these examples up on YouTube. When you observe a pair of birds bringing mouthfuls of worms to their nesting young, you see an aspect of the Social instinct at work. When you see the elaborate display of a male puffer fish working tirelessly for days on end to create what looks like a sundial on the ocean floor you see an aspect of the Sexual instinct. When you see Emperor penguins protecting their egg, you witness the Self-Preserving.

Of course there are endless variations, but the point is these instincts aren’t bad or good. They just are. If you want to call them “good” because they are created from the God source, that is fine too. The point is they are in us. They are deeply embedded, even deeper than some of our unconscious emotional passions, or our mental blind spots.

In terms of where the subtypes fit into Enneagram theory, they weren’t clearly understood, researched, or documented throughout the 1990s and even into the early 2000s. Naranjo was working on them, researching, and discussing them in various parts of the world during much of this time, but it wasn’t until he was invited to speak at an event in North America in 2004 that Beatrice Chestnut first heard the descriptions he had been working on for years. She began to recognize the critical importance of this understanding especially through the lens of the Enneagram’s structure. It had been vague, especially in North America where so many other variations of Enneagram teaching had originated.

Now, she felt we had an even more finely-tuned instrument into discerning behaviors and the apparent contradictions even between types, than ever before. She made it her mission to bring this understanding to the world, and first did so with a major contribution to the field with, The Complete Enneagram: 27 Paths to Greater Self-Knowledge.

When you connect any one of the three different instincts to our types, you then call them subtypes. On their own they are called instincts. When filtered through our personality’s construction, they become what we call a subtype. Instincts are pure and free-flowing and perform a necessary function in us when they are not restricted by the fears, motivations, blind spots, and shadow sides of our egoic behaviors. Subtypes are subjected to all the above, and, spoiler alert, you will never be completely free, no matter how mature and spiritual and transcendent you become. But you can grow in your levels of self-awareness and this will show in the fruits of your spirit as you become more fully awake to yourself, and subtle shifts occur in your motivations and behaviors.

Although different practitioners call them by different names, we tend to follow the language of the original sources, based on Naranjo’s work. Oscar Ichazo taught them, too. He called them Conservation, Social, and Syntony. We are more familiar with Naranjo, who first brought these early teachings to North America where they took shape among many of those early students and beyond. Although, we must say that the idea of “conservation” may be helpful in further defining and understanding what we mean by the “self-preserving” instinct.

When the Self-Preservation instinct is most pronounced, you tend to be most occupied with survival, especially through material security. You may have sensitivity to your own state through signals in the body, such as through sensations and physical impressions. Your biological drives direct your energy toward safety and security. This focus tends toward having enough resources, maintaining a sense of structure, often through processes and routines and resourcefulness.

When the Social instinct dominates, you are oriented toward achieving a sense of belonging, a place and status in the community. You may think in terms of navigating the layers, boundaries, and subtleties of social situations and dynamics. Your biological drives direct your energy toward whether you are included or well-positioned in groups. It also relates to your power or standing relative to others in a group, as well as to the world at large.

When the Sexual or One-to-One instinct is most deeply instilled, you tend to focus most on the quality and status of relationships with individuals. You may broadcast yourself, or put yourself on display with the intention of attracting some and repelling others. Your biological drives direct your energy toward pursuing and maintaining relationships, which does include sexual connections, but is also about bonding with others more broadly.

Understanding the instincts on their own can lead to misunderstandings about their application. Where the power for self-awareness and growth really hits is at the ignition level of understanding your instinct in combination with your Enneagram type’s passion.

The 27 subtype personalities each have specific steps they can most usefully take to grow. So, even people of the same type may have different–or more effective–growth work. Wings are neighboring styles to our Type. We may tend to lean in a given neighboring style, or to be more familiar with one over another. These neighboring styles have a lot to teach us about our own Type’s style. We view them far more as growth stretches, and not as a subtype descriptor.

Finally, the concept of countertypes is important. The countertypes are subtypes that run “counter” to the visible passion characteristics of the given type. This is one reason for their enormous contribution to the Enneagram canon.

The countertypes run as follows: SX1, SP2, SP3, SP4, SX5, SX6, SO7, SO8, and SO9.

Excerpted from Shock Point: The Enneagram in Burnout and Stress by Chad Prevost, Ph.D. used with permission.

Shock Point uses the explosion in stress research with a psychological overlay, giving you a comprehensive and accessible entry point into your type and subtype. Gain insight into the many macro and wider cultural forces that play into our burnout epidemic. Most importantly, learn the Enneagram as you never have before. Learn to use it as a tool for growth and expansion out of chronic stress and into a consciously-designed life. 

Dr. Chad Prevost is an organizational consultant specializing in communication, leadership, and self-awareness. He is a certified ontological coach, also certified as an Enneagram professional, in Mindfulness, and is a Leadership Circle Profile 360 facilitator. He loves balancing these tools to form a comprehensive coaching program for people living in chronic stress and disconnection. He also hosts The Humanist podcast.