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The Three Instincts

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Origin and Differentiation

The instinctual variants/subtypes are an addition Claudio Naranjo made to the theory, inspired by Ichazo's enneagons of Social Relationships, Conservation, and Syntony and Gurdjieff’s moving center of the Sex, Instinctive, and Motor functions, as explained by Frederic and Bernadette Schmitt:

In 1970, Naranjo attended 10 months of the one year spiritual retreat under the guidance of Oscar Ichazo in the desert near Arica, Chile. During that retreat Ichazo taught three enneagons respectively named the enneagon of conservation, the enneagon of relation and the enneagon of syntony (later modified to adaptation). There are nine key words specific to each of these three enneagons. Lately, Ichazo gave up these three enneagons and they are no longer used in Arica School. At that time (1970), neither Ichazo, nor Naranjo spoke about subtypes.

What’s most interesting is that before knowing Ichazo, Naranjo followed Gurdjieff’s Fourth Way teaching. According to this teaching, there are three main centers: intellectual, emotional, and moving. (...) Naranjo had, at that point, a brilliant idea: he put the three original Ichazo enneagons (conservation, relation and adaptation) in the three functions (sex, instinctive, and motor) of Gurdjieff’s moving center. The subtypes were born.

  • Gurdjieff’s Sex function was merged with the
    Syntony/Adaptation subtype, and renamed by
    Naranjo as sexual subtype ,
  • Gurdjieff’s Instinctive function was merged with
    the Conservation subtype, renamed as self preservation subtype and
  • Gurdjieff’s motor function was merged with the
    Relation subtype, renamed as social subtype.

- Enneagram Monthly #211 Subtypes: A Paradigm Shift & an Integrative View

It's thus important to notice Ichazo didn't consider his enneagons as "subypes" or "variants", but rather described as "definite patterns depending on his fixation"[2] that show distortions in how a type will act in terms of social relationships, syntony, and conservation of the being. Furthermore, what Ichazo called "instincts" (Conservation, Relations and Adaptation) are not equivalent to the variants but the triads of the enneagram, in which Conservation is Gut, Relations is Heart, and Adaptation is Mind. It is imperative to note that the instinctual types of Clinical Enneagram (Naranjo) and those of Protoanalysis (Ichazo) are not the same. The SO instinct does not correlate to the head triad, nor the SX instinct to the heart, and so on. Clinical Enneagram has an entirely separate instinctual system.

How Do They Work?

The variant is the area neuroses are focused at; they warp the mechanical manifestation of a fixation in which the most vulnerable and sensitive will cause the passion to distort itself into a subtype. The subtype represents the passion twisted into a neurotic problem that makes the person behave in a certain pattern. For example, the passion of Gluttony of Type 7 is distorted into "Suggestibility" when directed to the sexual area and "Family" when directed to the preservation area. 

Just like everything else in the Enneagram, the instincts are double-edged swords which were ultimately forged out of a feeling of being threatened. The conservation instinct felt like their safety was threatened early on, either materially or psychologically (such as someone close to them dying abruptly), the sexual instinct felt a threat in the syntony with one of their parents, and the social instinct felt like their sense of belonging was threatened. Although externally they may appear "strong" in these areas, they are internally very sensitive and vulnerable to them.

According to the theory of the enneagram as taught by both Ichazo and Naranjo, each of us has one instinct that is a more central preoccupation than the others are, which is referred to as our subtype. There are three instincts, which Ichazo calls conservation, social, and syntony; and which Naranjo calls self-preservation, social, and sexual. The conservation or self-preservation instinct is a primary focus on physical survival, maintenance, and sustenance, although Ichazo seems to expand it to include the satisfaction of emotional and intellectual needs as well. The social instinct focuses on our relationship with others as a group and with society as a whole. The sexual, or syntony, instinct has to do with intimate relationships and our need to be syntonic or in tune with others. The theory goes that one of these arenas is more of a central concern for each of us. Just like our ennea-type, our subtype does not change. Because this life area is a focal point for each of us, we are primarily oriented toward its satisfaction. We could say that we are sensitive to this area of life, in much the same way that we are sensitive to our Holy Idea: it is an area we feel vulnerable about and hence much of our energy goes into it.

The Spiritual Dimension of the Enneagram, Maitri

The Instincts


“The most important thing is contact and communication and the relationship with the world in general, more beyond oneself and family.” 

The SO type is one whose attention is often placed on large, global groups of people, the cultures within them, authorities that rule them, the roles and hierarchies of its people, and the values that govern them. They want to belong to a tribe, to secure their worth through the group with success, developing a love of admiration, and therefore typically become more attentive to an idealized self-image. Usually, with some exceptions, this entails some form of inflation of self-importance, and a more extroverted response to the environment. Most important is the desire to belong and be in contact with the world.

The SO instinct is the most intellectual out of the three, which does not mean that they are the most intelligent, but that their connection to the importance of cultures and authorities creates an emphasis on knowledge and intellectuality. For this reason, the types who as a core are labeled “anti-intellectual” may suddenly become more intellectually inclined.

The predominance of the SO instinct in one’s psyche implies that the sphere of relations and groups is the most unstable in the individual, because it is the most compensated for. This does not necessarily mean that it is the weakest, as people with this dominant instinct tend to fare better than others in social relations and have a keener eye for identifying and adapting to authorities and groups, as well as excluding people from these groups. Thus, the desire for belonging arises from a neurotic fear of not belonging.



“When it dominates leads the person to concentrate on the couple and the family”

The SX instinct seeks to be in syntony with the world, not as someone seeking global connection like the SO, but as someone who is constantly emitting and receiving the strongest and most subtle signals in order to attract the ideal mate, and repel those who are undesirable. In this way they are controlling the vibrations of these signals, seeking to be “in-tune” with an other or to be on the same wavelength, or perhaps to contrast the wavelengths of those they want to repel. This leads them to want to understand the quality and status of relationships with specific individuals, applying a chemical quality to their inter-relational life in which they have specific “reactions” with other people in order to develop an affective relationship resulting in some form of unity or fusion.

The over-emphasis of this intimate relationship often results in an intensification of their experience with everything, becoming engrossed in their passions and desires often stimulating an intense character. This is because they exchange of signals and of paying attention to the attraction/repulsion factor, or the tension between the self and the object of desire creates an awareness of how these things arouse each other, and an intensification of this arousal only multiplies the satisfaction the SX type gains from their intimate need to fuse. Sex is one way, and often the primary one, to demonstrate this interaction of arousal. The self is satisfied with “being taken” by their mate, as well as “taking” their mate, resulting in a mutually bond with which both merge.

The predominance of the SX instinct in one’s psyche implies that the sphere of affectivity and chemical unity is the most unstable in the individual, because it is the most compensated for. That does not mean that they don’t know how to operate within the mechanism of their instinct, they tend to fare better than others at securing an affective and passionate relationship with an other, but the need to do so stems from a neurotic notion of being “out-of-sync.”



“Reflected in the search for security, health, and money”

The SP type’s utmost concern lies in how stable or unstable oneself is in the satisfaction of their needs and their survival. They always have a stark awareness of their entropy because of an idea of not-having or not-surviving, which is a notion of things ultimately dissolving into lesser states because of a lack of resources to sustain them. They are always protecting these resources and themselves, placing special attention to the sphere of attack and defense. They have a tendency to worry often over their well-being, and work to ensure these matters are well-taken care of at all times because of the idea that material security and safety is equal to personal fulfillment.

Oftentimes this can lead to a confusion between the boundary of needs and desires, a hypochondriacal disposition, materialism, proactivity, and overexertion in making sure they are secure. SP types exist around the dichotomy of dependency and independency, because to survive we must either depend on a source for our needs or become the source, and this often results in many SP types becoming both hyper-dependent and hyper-independent at the same time. This also places them in the sphere of selfishness/sacrifice, as the constant concern for one’s own needs drives a selfish outlook on life, but they may use sacrifices of resource or security as a way to show affection, or as a means to create more security.

The predominance of the SP instinct in one’s psyche implies that the sphere of security and health is the most unstable in the individual. This does not mean that they struggle with getting what they need, in fact, their obsessive focus on this aspect of life can make them quite skilled at getting what they need in different ways, but they neurotically believe in a notion of “not-having” or of insecurity which drives this self-destructive cycle of psychological hypochondria about everything.


Instinctual Variants Stack Descriptions:

Can Instinctual Variants Stand as their Own System?

The instinctual variants have core fundamental traits that define them and set them apart from the other types in the system, just like the Enneagram does, so yes, it is viable to use instincts as an individual system. Specific instinctual variants can be delineated in other people without first delineating their core enneagram type because they may show certain predispositions towards one of the three areas of life that the variants cover. For example, someone of a Sexual type may show an orientation towards intimacy but an evident lacking in the spheres of Social and Preservation such as lack of concern for interpersonal interaction or physical well-being. 

Considering both systems individually is integral in understanding them as a synergy. Even if there are lengthy descriptions of subtypes to abide by, which can be incredibly useful in assisting a typing, there are visible influences from both the variant and the enneatype that go into making the subtype and without understanding these individual differences large distortions in typings can easily be made.


[1] Enneagram Monthly #211 Subtypes: A Paradigm Shift & an Integrative View.

[2] Lilly, J.C. & Hart, J.E. (1975). "The Arica Training".

[3] Maitri. S. (2001). "The Spiritual Dimension of the Enneagram".

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