According to the Enneagram of personality, each of us experiences the world in a distorted fashion. So powerful is this distortion that it affects every aspect of consciousness. Because of its power over us, we unconsciously assume that our type specific perceptions of reality are absolutely grounded in Truth. Under the guidance of this cognitive distortion, we repeatedly and automatically select out evidence which reinforces our prejudices, and are selectively blind to evidence which would refute our unacknowledged biases.
This cognitive distortion does not remain isolated. It infects our passions so that our emotional responses become conditioned and un-free. There is, for instance, an entirely natural and predictable response to the belief that the world is a dangerous place populated by individuals who are not what they seem to be, and that response is one of fear or pervasive anxiety. Clearly, our way of seeing the world has direct and obvious consequences for how we feel about it.
While the above example is an illustration of the cognitive fixation and corresponding passion of enneatype Six, each of the nine personality types operates in a similar fashion. Each of us suffers from a distortion which corrupts our intellects and controls our emotions. The Enneagram of personality illustrates for us the fact that none of us are free. Perhaps some awareness of our own type specific fixations can enable us to glimpse the bars of our own prison cells or to see through the spaces that exist between those bars. To that end, accurate descriptions which illustate our distortions and which resonate with our personal experiences can potentially serve a useful function.
Some description of those type specific patterns is contained in the type descriptions in other portions of this site, but we have, so far, left out of our brief discussion of fixation, one key element – the instincts. Claudio Naranjo, one of the first theorists who worked to develop the Enneagram, defines what he refers to as the “essential core” of personality as an interference with instinct by passion under the sustaining influence of a distorting cognition. Instinct, along with the intellect and emotions, constitutes the third center of human consciousness, and it too is constrained and bound by the influence of the dominant fixation.
According to Naranjo, Oscar Ichazo, the father of the modern Enneagram of personality, subdivided the instinctual center into three distinct individual centers, namely the instinct for self-preservation, the sexual instinct and the social instinct. Enneagram theorists have been working with these divisions ever since. These instincts are the most primitive portions of our being; they are that in us which is most akin to the other animals and they are affected by our fixations in ways that follow predictable patterns, in ways that are susceptible to analysis and description.
In the portions of this site which follow, some attempt has been made to describe the manner in which these instincts manifest. The general pattern which seems to occur is that one of the three instincts becomes preferred and over-utilized; it mixes with the second most preferred instinct, while the third remains generally undeveloped. Thus, to offer an example, in the nomenclature which has developed around the Enneagram of personality, an individual is considered to have a dominant fixation, type One for instance, and, (in addition to the favored wing, Nine or Two as the case may be), a dominant instinctual preference. A One, for instance, is either dominated by concerns related to the instinct for self-preservation, in which case she will be referred to as a self-pres One, by concerns related to the sexual instinct, in which case she will be classified as a sexual One, or by those of the social instinct, in which case she is referred to as a social One. In addition, it is useful to note which of the instincts comes second, in what has come to be known as “the instinctual stacking.” If a self-pres One’s second most utilized instinct is the sexual instinct, she will be called a self-pres/sexual One; it remains implied that her stacking is self-pres/sexual/social. Overall, there are six possible combinations of instinctual preferences; each one of these preferences manifests in ways that admit of some description. These combinations can be described independently of the dominant types, as each stacking preference will exhibit some commonalities across types. Each of these combinations can also be described as channeled through type, as there are some definite type specific differences. In the pages that follow, the “stackings” are discussed both independently of type and in accordance with it. A few words can be said in general about the various instincts. 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.
Claudio Naranjo describes the dominant instinct as a “weakness which looks like a strength.” By this, he seems to have meant that, as the dominant instinct is overdeveloped, it certainly will attend to the needs associated with that instinct; in this sense it appears to be a strength. But, as the instinct is unbalanced and guided by a fixated personality, it is not being properly utilized, and, in this disturbed state often does not actually best serve the overall interests of the individual who is in its grip. Those individuals who are dominated by the instinct for self-preservation often have a grounded or practical quality; they frequently develop a high degree of self-sufficiency, discipline and maturity. Many self-pres subtypes devote themselves to programs for self-improvement and, of all the subtypes are probably the most “focused.”
All of these qualities can clearly be beneficial, but when the personality is unbalanced, a dominant self-preservational instinct can manifest in an obsessive concern with questions of health, such as a focus on diet or exercise which might be punitive or otherwise excessive. Some self-pres types, when unbalanced, worry too much about health, mortality, finances or security. In fact, as life is ephemeral and safety an illusion, worry in general, of whatever sort, is a frequent manifestation of a dominant instinct for self-preservation.
When the instinct for self-preservation is last in the instinctual stacking, the individual will often be somewhat ungrounded or seemingly “immature.” Such individuals often have a hard time focusing on issues such as financial security or the commitment to the development of practical skills. Sometimes, issues of health are ignored. In the more extroverted types, individuals who are self-pres last, often find it difficult to develop “inwardness.” The sexual instinct focuses on attraction and excitement, or, what, apart from the self, seems to promise to expand and intensify life. The life of the self is found in the life of the other. As its name would indicate, individuals who are dominated by the sexual instinct are concerned with sexual fulfillment in the obvious sense of that term, but sexual subtypes are seldom interested in sex merely as a physical act.
In fact, a belief that sex is just another physical drive for physical pleasure is a pretty good sign that an individual is not a sexual subtype. Sexual subtypes generally have romantic longings for the ideal partner and hence have high expectations and ideals. By extension, the sexual instinct can manifest in a desire for intensity of many different sorts, but the primary manifestation will generally be a concern with finding the ideal partner, as the sexual subtypes tend to feel somehow incomplete or unfinished without a relationship to ground them.
On the high side, sexual subtypes often bring a certain passion and experimentalism to their lives; they are generally willing to take risks in order to attain their ideals. Sexual subtypes are also usually willing to sacrifice for those who matter most to them; they have an expanded sense of what constitutes the self and tend to merge with those they love. On the down side however, sexual subtypes tend to struggle with issues of neediness and dependency, as they tend to feel that they need relationships in order to reclaim lost or inaccessible portions of the self. In addition, the merging tendency, when taken to extremes, can lead to an inability to protect important boundaries. And the desire for intensity of experience can lead sexual subtypes to take unnecessary risks, to be somewhat impatient and to grow bored or frustrated with mundane reality. When the overall personality is unbalanced, thrill seeking or self-medication sometimes enter the picture, and can lead to various forms of addiction.
When the sexual instinct is least developed, the personality can lack a certain charisma and momentum. Such personalities often do not form truly intimate relationships, as they don’t feel driven to do so; consequently, their personal relationships can suffer from a lack of attention. As there are aspects of ourselves which we can only see when in close relationship to others, those whose sexual instinct remains undeveloped might find it difficult to cultivate some forms of self-awareness. The social instinct focuses on the group, hierarchy, status, the big picture; it essentially focuses on connecting to that which is larger than the self. Individuals whose social instinct is dominant need to feel a sense of “belonging.” They need to feel as though they have found a place in the group; they need to feel as though they are making their own contributions.
Individuals whose social instinct is first tend to be the warmest of the subtypes. They generally have lots of “connections” whether to friends, acquaintances, family members or professional colleagues. Social subtypes are the most likely to feel a sense of social responsibility to the needs of the group and to work to serve those needs.
On the high side, social subtypes are the most likely to sacrifice their narrow interests in service of that which is larger than themselves. They extend themselves toward others and often have a sort of generosity with their time and energy. They are aware of group dynamics and underlying emotional currents. On the down side however, social subtypes are the most prone to feelings of social shame; as they are the most acutely aware of the opinions of others, they suffer the most when they feel a sense of social rejection. Social subtypes can therefore suffer from self-consciousness. In less balanced personalities, this can lead to a need to conform to the standards of the group in order to achieve acceptance. Social subtypes can sometimes fail to focus on the needs of the self as they are searching for their identity in terms of the larger whole.
When the social instinct is least developed, the individual is going to find it difficult to see why it is important to form social connections or to cultivate multiple relationships. This, in turn, can lead to a certain amount of social isolation. And, as we all must find a niche in the larger whole, those whose social instinct is least developed, can find it difficult to negotiate the needs of the social realm which make this possible. Those whose social instinct is last in the instinctual stacking, find interdependence difficult and dependence on others barely tolerable. But all human beings are interdependent, and sometimes, dependent - when they are, for instance, young, weak, sick, old or dying. Those whose social instinct remains undeveloped are trying to attain a type of independence and self-sufficiency which is not possible for human beings. This “false independence” almost certainly leads to unnecessary suffering and impoverishment of experience.
Gurdjieff, whose work in many ways prefigured the modern Enneagram of personality, believed that none of us use our energies properly; in particular, he emphasized the fact that all of us engage in what he called the “wrong use of centers.” We use our intellects perhaps, when feeling is called for, or perhaps we focus on feeling when we ought to move into action. Each of the types of the Enneagram of personality engage in this wrong use of centers in type specific ways, but the wrong use of centers extends to the various distortions of the instincts as well. So, for instance, an individual whose social instinct is dominant might try to use the energy of the social instinct to further the needs of the instinct for self-preservation. This utilization is inefficient however. Too much energy goes where it is not needed and not enough energy goes where it should. The "wrong use of centers" does not further the overall true needs of the individual.
In the ancient world, health, like beauty, was considered to be a matter of balance and harmony, the proper relationship of the parts to the whole. Aristotle suggested that it was only when true internal harmony was achieved, when each aspect of the psyche was performing what it was primitively meant to perform, that an individual had developed the internal conditions which enabled him or her to be excellent and to achieve true happiness.
We do not have the knowledge of how to achieve this balance. We do not know how to achieve excellence or to be happy. In particular, we who have made contributions to this site are flawed and fixated and do not have the knowledge of how to achieve liberation. We also do not know anyone who has this knowledge. Perhaps it once existed and has been lost to us. Perhaps it has always been the case that, as Socrates maintained, virtue cannot be taught, even by those who charge high fees, although some degree of health, balance and virtue can nevertheless sometimes be attained. Surely, in order to achieve any kind of effective inner transformation, self-knowledge is a necessary first step. Perhaps, the Enneagram of personality can be of some small help to some few people and it is in that spirit that this site was developed.