The Three Subtypes or Instincts

We are influenced by three instincts also called subtypes - self-preservation, social, and sexual/attraction. We have all three but they are almost always unbalanced as a reaction to our childhood environment - subtype stacking - one is dominant, another secondary, and a third is of little concern.

Our type significantly influences the subtype and vice versa. The influence of the subtype results in a lot of variability within each type. Understanding each of the 27 type and subtype combinations is critical for accurate enneagram typing. 


This instinct is about protecting the self. In childhood, they feel their parents are unable to care for them so a need to care for themselves develops. They are always planning for physical needs - carrying water, snacks, layers of clothes, etc. They do not want to rely on others.

They are concerned with the overall well-being of the physical body including safety, health, energy, and comfort. They will prioritize and preserve material things - money, food, housing, and physical comfort.

There is an emphasis on the body, even if their type is not from the body triad. They tend to be more practical and introverted. They like to “nest” and their domestic space is a place to retreat and nurture physical needs.


This instinct is about the spark, chemistry, energetic stimulus, and resonance between two people with or without sexual attraction. They are primarily motivated to bond intimately with one person. In childhood, intimate bonds were weak or chaotic. 

It is easy to misidentify this type because all instincts are interested in one-to-one relationships. What distinguishes a sexual subtype is the perpetual awareness of an attraction or lack of attraction to others. 

They are more aggressive and competitive. They are intensely emotional even if the type is not in the heart triad. They crave intense connections and like to “merge” with others. They are content with one or two strong intimate relationships and can spend an endless amount of time with a partner.


This instinct is about making social connections and finding a role in the “pack”. Growing up, their sense of belonging in the family was insecure.

They need to find their function in group settings and they feel insecure until they find it. They like to join groups and social gatherings but may also feel socially awkward. They are sensitive to the needs of others within the group and to the system needs of the group.

They are concerned with making an impact in their families, work groups, communities, nations, and the world. They are engaging and friendly and more socially responsible than the other subtypes.