What Are Your Instincts?

Did you know under every action or decision you make, thought or feeling you have, there is an instinct? In the enneagram world, there are three instincts that determine how you experience the world and how you then react and show up in the world. Today we are going to answer the question, “What are your instincts?” and discover how they impact your life.

Instincts actually go beyond enneagram types and cross over any, and all numbers. They are the basis, or foundation on which we build all other things. They determine our world view and how we interact with people. The under current of our lives that flows through our motivations can be traced back to our instincts.

So what are the 3 instincts?

The three instincts are:

1. Self-Preserving

2. One-to One

3. Social


People that have a self-preserving instinct are aware of how things affect them personally and are concerned with basic needs being met. They want to be secure, have a comfortable/ stable living situation, and keenly notice when things are uncomfortable. Think of these types of people as “pressing on the brakes,” of life. They slow down, conserve energy, and make sure they have “enough.” Enough could be any number of things… money, food, warmth, shade, attention, acceptance, etc.

Self-preserving types may seem more stiff or hard to get to know. This is because they are always protecting themselves. They will put up walls to make sure the things they need are safe and stored away, possibly before letting you in. These types also have less energy than the other two instincts.


Those who have the one-to-one instinct are the most intense. They value time with others one on one the most, and really desire deep and meaningful conversations. You would find them at a party, off in the corner somewhere, sitting with the person they long to be with most, engaged in conversation as the rest of the room disappears.

The One-to-One instinct has the most energy. Think of it like “putting the foot on the gas” of life. These people like to speed up in life and relationships and move into high gear. They are often “doers,” especially if they can be with thier person while they get something done.


The social instinct is focused on the group and where they fit in. They are constantly “reading the room,” and judging against their own beliefs how they should act in relation to what they think the room needs or what response they desire from the group.

There is a sense of “safety in numbers” from this instinct. They like to be included in community because it makes them feel safe and not alone. These social types know their place and strive to live up to it so there is balance in the group and they can please others.

I am often asked, “Which enneagram types pair well together?” My answer is often, “Any two types can get along and make a relationship work if they are both committed to the work.”

But here is the real secret:

Couples (or friends/any relationship) will have an easier time if they are the same instinct. Since your instinct is the foundation of your world, it saves a lot of stress and conflict if two people happen to be in the same starting place.

However, This often doesn’t happen, so the next best thing is understanding where each other is coming from.

Dominant, Secondary, and Repressed

The next thing you need to know about instincts is that we occupy all three, but one is dominant, one is secondary and one is repressed. One way to look at it is that we spend too much time in one area, some time in another, and completely neglect the third. It is like stacking up first, second, and third place, like a sandwich and taking a bite. All three are there, but one still gets first place and one gets third.

Through The Instincts, Sub-types Are Born

You may have heard of enneagram sub-types. I tend to shy away from teaching about them because it can confuse people! It is a lot to take in along with all of the other enneagram knowledge. I am only going to introduce it here as it relates directly to instincts.

Within each of the nine types, all three instincts exist. This creates subtypes, meaning you can have an enneagram type one that identifies as a self-preserving type one, a one-to-one type one, or a social type one. The same goes for all of the enneagram types. As the instinct flows through motivations and all other aspects of each type, you can begin to see how three completely different sub-types emerge, leaving us with 27 different types.

This blew my mind when I first found out about sub-types. It also helped clarify other things for me. Sometimes you come across someone who is the same enneagram type as you, and yet they don’t “feel” like the same type. This could be because they are a different sub-type from you. Sub-types within a number can look very different.

I am a “Self-preserving” enneagram type six, which means I kind of look and feel like I have a double dose of anxiety… though I hate to admit it. My self-preserving nature flows through my core passion of fear and causes me to overthink and see the world through lenses concerned with basic needs and worries.

A social type six, or a one-to-one type six, though still driven by fear and security, don’t have quite the same flavor as the self-preserving type six.

Thanks, as always for reading! It is my hope that you learn something valuable here that will impact the way you see yourself, others, and your world!

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