Enneagram Basics: The 3 Instincts and 27 Subtypes

The Three Instincts:
We are all biologically hardwired with three specific "Instincts" within us that are necessary for our survival - both as individuals and as a species.  These three instincts are probably the least conscious aspect of our personality, yet they have a profound influence on us.  The instincts also help us understand why individuals of the same type can look very different from one another.
The three Instincts are:
Self-Preservation - focusing attention on individuality and independence, safety and security, adequate resources, maintaining well-being, avoiding danger, and survival.
One-to-One - (sometimes referred to as the "sexual" instinct) focusing attention on intimacy, creativity, passion, intensity, the quality of individual relationships, interpersonal attraction, and sexual connections.
Social - focusing attention on social relationships and community, forming and sustaining social bonds, and belonging to and recognition in social groups. 
One of these instincts will be dominant for each of us, and the area of life that we will normally attend to first.  Another instinct will be second and support our dominant instinct, and one will be third and the least developed and often avoided (and often a "blind spot").  The cake-like layers of these three instincts (first on top, second in the middle, third on the bottom) creates what is known as our "instinctual stacking".

9   x   3   =   27



The 27 Subtypes:

The three Instincts manifest through the nine Enneatypes creating 27 unique "Subtype" combinations. 

It's interesting to note that many Enneagram theorists believe that one of the subtypes (for each Enneatype) functions as a "countertype" - meaning a subtype that goes against the flow of the primary emotion of the type, and therefore looks less like (or a milder version of) the type in question. This is one reason why it can be difficult to type people – the countertype may look like they go against their type description, or they may even look like a different type altogether.  (For example, a Self-Preservation Three - the countertype for Threes - may initially look like an Enneatype One.) 

Let's take a brief look at the 27 Subtypes (with countertypes noted)... 



Self-Preservation Ones focus on making everything they do more perfect. They are the true perfectionists of the Enneagram. They see themselves as highly flawed and try to improve themselves and make every detail of what they do right. They are the most anxious and worried Ones, but also the most friendly and warm.

Social Ones focus on doing things perfectly in a larger sense—knowing the right way to do things—and modeling how to "do things right" for others. Often a more intellectual type, these Ones have a teacher mentality; they see their role as helping others live life ethically and to see the perfection that is possible.

One-to-One Ones focus on making other people—and society as a whole—more perfect. More reformers than perfectionists, they tend to display more anger and zeal than the other Ones. These Ones focus less attention on perfecting their own behavior and pay more attention to whether or not others are doing things right. (This countertype might be confused with Type 8.)


Self-Preservation Twos seek to gain approval through being charming and youthful. Less oriented to giving and more burdened by helping, they charm others into loving them as an unconscious effort to get people to take care of them. More self-indulgent, playful, and irresponsible than the other two Twos, they are more fearful and ambivalent about connecting with others.  (This countertype might be confused with Type 6.)

Social Twos seek to gain approval from others through being powerful, competent, and influential. More a powerful or leader type of person, they take charge of things and play to a larger audience as a way of proving their value.

One-to-One Twos gain approval through being generous and attractive. They emphasize their personal appeal and promises of support to make others like them and do things for them—this is a more emotional, passionate Two who can manipulate or seduce specific individuals.


Self-Preservation Threes work hard to assure material security for themselves and the people around them. Oriented toward looking good according to social consensus, they want to appear successful, but they don’t want to brag or self-promote in an obvious way. Self-Preservation Threes are self-sufficient, extremely hard-working, results-oriented, and modest.  (This countertype might be confused with Type 1.)

Social Threes work hard to appear confident and successful in the eyes of others. Oriented to competing to win and attaining the material and status symbols of success, they focus on getting things done and always having the right image for every social context. The most aggressive, competitive, well-known Three, Social Threes enjoy being onstage and know how to climb the social ladder.

One-to-One Threes focus on creating an image that is appealing to others and supporting and pleasing the people around them—especially partners, co-workers, and family members. They have more of a relationship or team mentality and often work to support the success of others.


Self-Preservation Fours are stoic,  strong, and long-suffering—emotionally sensitive on the inside, they often don’t communicate their darker feelings to others. While they feel things deeply, and may feel sad inside, they often have a sunny, upbeat exterior, as they often received the message early on that their caretakers couldn’t handle their pain or darker emotions. They may feel anxious inside, but they tough things out and have a high tolerance for frustration.  (This countertype might be confused with Type 7.)

Social Fours focus on their own emotions and the underlying emotional tone of whatever situation they are in. They compare themselves to others and tend to see themselves as less worthy or lacking in some way. They are more emotionally sensitive than most other types, they wear their feelings on their sleeve, and connect to themselves through the authenticity of their emotional truth.

One-to-One Fours are more assertive and competitive. These Fours are not afraid to ask for what they need or complain when they don’t get it. They can appear aggressive to others, and they strive to be the best.


Self-Preservation Fives focus mainly on maintaining good boundaries with others. Friendly and warm, Self-Preservation Fives like to have a private space they can withdraw to if they want to be alone. They focus on minimizing needs, finding refuge, and having all they need within their place of safety.

Social Fives enjoy becoming experts in the specific subject areas that interest them. They like acquiring knowledge and connecting with others with common intellectual interests and causes. They may be more connected to people through a social cause or area of expertise than the people in close proximity in everyday life.

One-to-One Fives have a stronger need to connect with other individuals–under the right conditions. These Fives are more in touch with their emotions inside, though they may not show it on the outside. They have a romantic streak that they may express through some form of artistic expression.  (This countertype might be confused with Type 7.)


Self-Preservation Sixes  tend to be the more actively fearful (the phobic or “flight”) Six. They doubt and question things in an effort to find a sense of certainty and safety that often eludes them. They seek to be warm and friendly to attract allies as a form of outside support or protection in a dangerous world.

Social Sixes tend to be the more intellectual types who find a sense of safety in following the guidelines of a system or way of thinking to feel protected by a kind of impersonal outside authority. They tend to be logical, rational, and analytical. These Sixes tend to be less doubtful and ambiguous, and can even become “true believers.”

One-to-One Sixes tend to cope with underlying fear (that they may not be consciously aware of) by appearing strong and intimidating to others. Of the “fight” or “flight” reactions to fear, they more often choose “fight,” and can tend to be risk-takers, contrarians, or rebels. They often have an inner program that tells them that the best defense is a good offense.  (This countertype might be confused with Type 8.)


Self-Preservation Sevens are very practical. Good at getting what they want, they readily recognize opportunities and know how to make things happen, whether through planning or a network of allies. They tend to have a talkative, amiable, fun-loving style.

Social Sevens want to avoid being seen as excessively opportunistic and self-interested, so they focus on sacrificing their immediate desires to pursue an ideal of being of service to others. They take responsibility for the group or family and want to be seen as good by easing others’ suffering.  (This countertype might be confused with Type 2.)

One-to-One Sevens are idealistic dreamers, who have a need to imagine something better than what might be true in their everyday reality. Extremely enthusiastic and optimistic, they have a passion for seeing things as they could be or as they fantasize them to be (as opposed to how they really are).


Self-Preservation Eights focus on getting what they need to survive in a direct, no-nonsense way. They have a low tolerance for frustration and a strong desire for the timely satisfaction of their material needs. They know how to do business and get things done and don’t need to talk about it very much.

Social Eights focus on protecting and mentoring others they are connected to or anyone they view as needing their support. While they can be rebellious and assertive, they appear less aggressive as they have a softer side when it comes to taking care of others.  (This countertype might be confused with Type 2.)

One-to-One Eights have a strong rebellious tendency and like to be the center of things. More provocative and passionate than the other Eights, they like to have power over people and situations.


Self-Preservation Nines focus on finding comfort in familiar routines and the satisfaction of their physical needs. Whether through eating, sleeping, reading, or doing crossword puzzles, Self-Preservation Nines tend to lose themselves in whatever activities help them feel grounded and comfortable.

Social Nines focus on working hard to support the groups they are a part of as a way of seeking a sense of comfort in belonging. Congenial people who like to feel a part of things, Social Nines tend to be light-hearted and fun, and expend a lot of effort in doing what it takes to be admitted to and supportive of the group or community.  (This countertype might be confused with Type 3.)

One-to-One Nines tend to merge with the agendas and positions of important others in their lives. Sweet, gentle, and less assertive than other types, this relationship-oriented Nine may take on the feelings and opinions of the people they are close to without realizing it.

** Subtype descriptions based on material from The Complete Enneagram: 27 Paths to                Greater Self-Knowledge, by Beatrice Chestnut, Ph.D. (2013).  Please see Resources page.


Our life task is to use what we have been given to wake up.

 - Pema Chodron

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Next Steps on Your Journey:
1. Of the three Instincts (Self-Preservation, One-to-One, Social) which do you recognize in yourself as being dominant?  How about second? And last?  This is likely your "instinctual stacking".  Not sure about your primary instinct and / or stacking?  Take this Subtype Test from  Archetypes of the Enneagram: Exploring the Life Themes of the 27 Enneagram Subtypes from the Perspective of Soul, by Susan Rhodes.  
2. Can you give some examples of how your dominant Instinct shows up in your life?  Can you give some examples of how you meet the needs of your dominant Instinct? 
3. Can you give some examples of how your second Instinct shows up in your life (perhaps in support of your dominant Instinct)?  
4. Can you give some examples of how your third Instinct shows up? How might you be avoiding or repressing it (remember, it might be a "blind spot")?  How might that be holding you back? 
5. What gifts might your third Instinct offer?  What steps might you take to better integrate your third Instinct?
6. In what ways does your Subtype (composed of your Enneatype and your dominant Instinct  - for example, I am a Self-Preservation Three) reveal more about you and how you relate to the world?
7. If your subtype is the countertype (for instance Self-Preservation is the countertype for Type Three), what are you noticing that might be different from the "usual" description of your type?
8. What else are you noticing about the Instincts and Subtypes?
9.  How are you doing at validating your proposed type?  If you are still trying to decide between two different types, here are some resources that you can use to try and differentiate between them:
The Enneagram Institute - Type Misidentifications
The Narrative Enneagram - Type Comparisons
10. Next, let's take a look at the Triads...