The Three Instincts

There is something unseeming and strange about the instincts, these forces of nature that manifest through our animal self. They really can’t be put in a neat box although there is great effort to do so. Everyone appears to have the ‘way of the instincts’ mapped out and yet on closer look there is much that has not been answered or clarified. In truth I believe we’ve got the instincts about 65% accurate, which is a pretty good figure considering we’re trying to define 3 Centers in the Instinctive Center that are invisible. That’s right, you can’t see them which makes the situation ripe for all kinds of distortions and hallucinations. And if that doesn’t make you stop and shudder and let go of any certainty about how you’ve defined the workings of these three centers, well then, you might be hopeless. (But that’s okay, many are.) I invite you to listen and look at what you discover and to believe nothing. That is, become a scientist and discover what is true for you. That’s the only wisdom that will be worth your while. In so doing you might add some deeper understandings of the Instincts that have been hidden. Ultimately this means learning to observe yourself in ways that are sometimes deeper and more subtle than discovering your Enneagram Type. 

This overview is the culmination of my experience teaching the Enneagram using an initial structure received from Don Riso and Russ Hudson, and of what I’ve learned in my direct experience. You, as the reader, are instructed to believe none of it, but to observe for yourself how the instincts function within you. This is no easy task. Clarity regarding how the instincts operate is a work in progress and nothing is etched in stone. It is my hope that you will receive insights that are beneficial for your growth and maturation. See what you discover! 

Perhaps one of the most profitable areas for growth and expansion is to explore the impact of the Three Instincts in one’s life. Each human being is endowed with a Self-Preservation Instinct, a Sexual/Attraction Instinct, and a Social/ Adaptation Instinct. These three instincts comprise the animal soul, the biological hard-wiring that in many ways provides the foundation for our human experience, our survival, and for much of what we love to do. So inherent to our experience, they often operate entirely unconsciously and when finally identified, provide some amazing possibilities for healing and transforming one’s life. Many of the more difficult manifestations of our personality type find their way into expression through the unconscious and compelling power of our instincts.
Before we define each of the three instincts keep this in mind. Of the three instincts, one of them is dominant. That is, under stress we go to it addictively. We overuse it. And when healthy, it provides wonderful support and motivation for what we love and contributes greatly to our happiness. We ‘do’ this instinct effortlessly. It’s hard-wired into us. When we are less healthy or avoiding suffering that we need to transform, the dominant instinct is the driving force of our neurotic Enneagram Type patterns i.e., the passion of our type. Because of its ability to bring us a sense of the familiar, a certain predictable ‘feel-good’ experience, giving us a particular positive ‘rush’ of experience, we can and do get addicted to it, particularly as a way to avoid experiencing difficulties in our lives, or to avoid stepping into growth experiences, or as an attempt to lesson stress and emotional suffering. But, like any addiction, it brings immediate pleasure and longer term suffering. When less healthy, the dominant instinct drives us in a direction that is often contrary to what is healthy and expansive for us. Yet, it can feel right, can feel good, like any true addiction. And under stress we can feel like we will die or perish if we don’t express the needs of the dominant instinct. Hey, our instincts are wired into our deep passion to live and exist. So, of course when triggered, its game on, and the dominant instinct jumps into action. When it comes to our dominant instinct we feel we are masters of the universe and often can’t understand why others don’t operate as well as we do in this terrain (especially those individuals whose blind-spot instinct is our dominant instinct.) When less healthy our dominant instinct has a will and way of its own and can take us for a ride, while we fail to notice how we are being driven unconsciously. Like any good addiction, it can be hard to notice when it’s in charge. Not a bad idea to understand it before it leads us into the jaws of our own self-sabotage, while feeding us with feel-good, comfortable, temporary experiences. 

We also have a Blind-Spot Instinct. This is the one that we are least in contact with, and which we tend to avoid or procrastinate about because of the inherent shame we feel in regards to our ineffectiveness in this territory. In fact, we feel like we didn’t get the instructions to properly navigate the Bling-Spot instinct, and amazingly, even we set an intention to take it on, we forget about, as in “presto—gone!” Our best intentions get subverted and we often need group support of some kind (the ‘nurturing’ kind) to stay on task. We will fail miserably over and over again with this blind-spot until we don’t. The Blind-Spot is a fertile place of growth and transformation, that when activated and worked with consciously, can bring us into higher levels of presence and can also weaken the driving, addictive force of our type’s passion/emotional habit which is the driver for the over-expression of our dominant instinct. We also have a Middle Instinct which tends to operate healthily, and is less laden with neurotic over or under-use. 

Self-Preservation Instinct
Let’s begin with the Self-Preservation instinct. The Self-Preservation has a great deal to do with conserving and utilizing our energy to create stability. It’s about anchoring stability, creating predictability. It’s about maximizing safety and steadiness in the three zones of the Instinct. The three zones of the Self-Preservation Instinct are: Well-Being, Resources/Practical Know How, Home & Domesticity. Let’s look at these three areas from the lens of ‘healthy’. 1. When an individual has a healthy self-preservation instinct they are often positively attuned to many of the great qualities we associate with “Well Being” (Zone One) which include a clear and conscious sense of how to take care of one’s health, be it via exercise, eating well, stress reduction, attuning to the nuances of one’s particular health needs, etc. In fact, this capacity for self-care feels good and often comes easily. The individual sees their needs here and responds with right action. Present to the self-preservation instinct, they are attune to their body’s needs, the rituals/habits it needs to maintain optimum health (regular sleep, exercise, times one eats), and those factors that contribute to ill-health—be it stress, overwork, unhealthy foods, or whatever factors that are missing in their life that affect the health and well-being of their body. Attuned to this aspect of their experience, they are often able to notice the signs and symptoms of ill-health or impending illness and take appropriate action to heal themselves. That said, they are great at true self-care, and often bring this gift of health awareness to others. In addition, they often have their eye on the most recent health care innovations. Not unusual for healthy self-pres folks to know what supplements their body needs, what foods support their health and well-being, what environments are attuned to maximizing their energy. That is, they pay attention to these factors and do something about them, when something is ‘off’ in their health. They get medical help when they need it. They check all the angles on health and transformation, be it appropriate exercise, acupuncture, chiropractic, naturopathic health. They don’t take these areas for granted. 2. The second zone of experience of the Self Preservation instinct is named “Resources and Practical Know How.” (Zone Two) When individuals are healthy in this zone they have an uncanny ability, or awareness, for taking care of their financial lives, for spending money wisely, for securing and conserving the use of their resources, for understanding what it takes in the real world to expand and enhance their financial security and foundation. This practical intelligence for taking care of their finances extends into a natural ambition and know-how for creating structures in the world that allow their financial capacity and skills to expand and strengthen and find practical application in the world. Able to translate their talents into structures of useful support in the world, they are practical, methodical, and wise in the ways of financial expression, and wise in understanding how to protect their resources. They like to know what’s coming next, like to be self-reliant, and like solid structures of consistency for maintaining their resources. In addition, they possess other practical skills, that is, they know how to fix stuff. They spot what is broken and go directly to the task of fixing it. In addition, they like to be self-reliant, as they don’t want to be affected by the chaos of others. They are responsible, conscious and practical about money and resources. They attend to these factors mindfully. 3. The third zone is called ‘Home/Domesticity: Maintaining a Home.” (Zone Three) Healthy SP folks know how to create a cozy nest or home to abide in. They attend to domesticity, creating a safe haven they can relax and settle in. Aware of the nuances of their abode, they fix things that are broken, and do things that make home a place of safety, comfort and support, i.e., their refrigerators are often well supplied with necessary food, they have back up plans for protecting their food support or energy supply, they’ve got comfortable furniture, etc. They possess the capacity to create a home environment that is sturdy, well cared for, and safe. They are conscious of the factors that contribute to this, and enjoy doing whatever it takes to create a sense of ‘home’ or home base. They take care of their home and make it warm, cozy, aesthetically pleasing and organized. They love creating a beautiful and solid home structure. When traveling, they tend to take a version of ‘home’ with them, creating a nest at the hotels or inns they stay in, bringing smaller versions of ‘home’ with them. They often create a ‘nest’ wherever they go. And, not unusual, they bring their kitchen with them, i.e., all the foods they need to feel nurtured and healthy, including their vitamins! The like comfort, stability, and familiarity in their routines. 

Rate yourself on a scale from 1 to 10, ‘10’ meaning you have strong capacity in the particular zone of the instinct, and ‘1’ meaning that you are not in touch with the healthy functioning of the zone of this instinct.
Well Being:                              Practical Resources/Know-How:                                                   Home/Domesticity— Making a Home:

Sexual/Attraction Instinct
The Sexual/Attraction instinct has a lot to do with tracking and following what inspires and excites an individual. While the Self-Preservation Instinct is about conservation, and securing what is known and solid and helps us create safety and predictability in a number of arenas, the Sexual/Attraction energy is about going beyond the known boundaries of experience, breaking through dead or stultified routines, expanding our known world to enhance it. This instinct inspires us to explore, to risk breaking into new and unknown territories, to courageously step into that which is not stable or not yet explored. The three zones of this instinct are: the Evolutionary Impulse, the Broadcasting/Attraction impulse, and one’s ability for Emersion/Fusion. 1. Let’s look at the Evolutionary Impulse (Zone One). This represents our ability and drive to push the envelope, to go beyond what is, to engage in creative exploration. This means stepping beyond the known edge of our life, beyond our comfort zone (Dominant Sexual Instinct folks love to do this…and often!) When this zone is strong we are turned on by taking risks and seeking new adventures, and enjoy breaking up routines that are predictable. We like the ‘edges’ of things. “Into the Unknown” is the mantra of this zone. Or, as Buzz Lightyear put it: “To Infinitely and beyond!” In this zone I’m attune to what lights me up, turns me on, inspires me, and I go for it. I like going for it. I love the challenges, and love tracking my excitement and what moves me, and love the intensity of tracking my passion (put simply: I love intensity! I love the zing!). When healthy I don’t hesitate to follow my passion, follow what juices me, and love the energy of encountering risk and unpredictability. The Sexual Attraction instinct is about what lights me up, and being willing to put myself at risk to go for it. When healthy, I learn to trust my attractions as profound guidance, giving me the guts to break patterns, to go to the depths of my soul, to listen to what truly makes my soul sing. Dominant sexual instinct types are the most aggressive, and this shows up as aggression for what attracts me energetically, be it an idea, a spiritual path, a book, an encounter with another human being, etc. It gives me the guts and courage to show up for my passion. 2. The Broadcasting/Attraction (Zone 2) energy reflects our need to light ourselves up, to display our attractiveness, to strut our stuff, to express our charisma, our sexiness, our aliveness, our juiciness, our excitability. It’s how we do our dance, how we radiate our aliveness, how we allow our inspiration, attractiveness, sexual juiciness to show (show time!), to be displayed, to come through us, to not hide it under a barrel, but to live it out loud. Here we embody the body electric and allow it to glow. Our light shines though and lights others up. We share our juiciness and charisma. When strong in this I broadcast this energy freely, and I pick up on those who are also lit up, and move towards them. “Go towards the juiciness, go towards the sexiness, go towards the attraction” is the mantra here. Spot who’s got this energy cooking, and move towards them. That is, we are reading other people’s broadcasts (not their emotions), their aliveness, their attractiveness, their cha-cha-cha, reading what turns us on! Looking for someone who is on our band width of energy. We notice that a lot of people’s attraction signal is turned down or off, and juicy, alive, intense attraction energy is not being emanated. Their life-light is turned to low. When this instinct is alive we are aware of the magnetic field of the room, and attuned to those whose magnetism is strong and awake or smoldering hot. This zone also reflects our Attraction & Repulsion mechanism. If we are conscious we realize that we are experiencing attraction and repulsion towards people all day long. This is the working of the broadcasting/attraction energy 6f which I registering/attuning with…I’m attracted to this person, place, book, idea, or…I’m repulsed by this person, place, book, idea, partner. We feel this in our bodies all day long! 3. The Emersion/Fusion (Zone 3) aspect of the Sexual Attraction energy reflects our ability and capacity to totally immerse and dissolve into oneness with the ‘other’ (but not lose ourselves or our identity), to strip ourselves bare of any pretense, to be naked emotionally and authentically with and join the other, to dive deep with another. This can lead us to the depths of intimacy (if our heart is open and on board). With the heart open, we can be completely immersed in someone and have no physical contact at all. Fully in contact with our body electric, the zing of our sexual/attraction energy, we open to the capacity for ecstasy. In addition, with emersion/fusion we have an intense, one-pointed focus and reflects our ability to deeply focus our attention, to zero in, to immerse ourselves in whatever has captured our attention. The ultimate drive of the Sexual Attraction energy is in wanting to be completely absorbed in something, breaking through boundaries into the unknown. Emersion can be in a book, a piece of art, an art practice, trekking the internet. It gives one the quality of immersing and absorbing oneself into someone or something, and feeling the intensity, excitement, juice, yumminess of this. It gives one the fire and passion to completely give yourself to whatever you are doing—total involvement, one-pointed and singular. When the heart is on board, it creates a channel for powerful loving connection. 

Rate yourself on a scale from 1 to 10, ‘10’ meaning you have strong access to the particular zone of the instinct, and ‘1’ meaning that you are not in touch with the healthy functioning of the zone of this instinct.
Evolutionary Impulse:                  Broadcasting/Attraction:                                 Emersion/Fusion:

Social/Adaptation Instinct
The Social/Adaptation instinct has to do with our capacity to work with people in teams, to cooperate, to read the social signals that allow for better communication and resonance with others, such that one can create strong social alliances for one’s survival in the world. This instinct, when healthy, enhances our ability to connect, form bonds, and feel connected with others. It enhances about our ability to feel a part of the world, to feel we have a true place here, that we are welcome and wanted and supported. When this instinct is impaired we feel we don’t belong, we don’t have a niche. This sector is broken into three zones: Reading/Adapting, Bonding/Affiliating, and our Contribution to Others. 

1. The Reading/Adapting (Zone One) part of this Instinct reflects our ability to read faces, bodies, emotional nuances and the intentions of others. It’s our capacity to accurately interpret (via body, voice, facial expression, movement) what others are communicating. We can read between the lines and pick up on the nuances of people and what they are saying, overtly or covertly (We ‘get’ where they are coming from.). We can put ourselves in their place and sense what they are communicating. This instinct reflects our ability to adapt intelligently to what we read in others, and gives us the capacity to read whether others like us, or are interested in us, or whether they can be a true support for us, i.e., be an ally. That is—are they friend or foe? When this instinct is healthy we can read what’s going on around us, can discern clearly what communications would work, and are able to notice how our communications land on others, and how they take it in. I clearly notice the affect I have on others by my words, tone of voice, body language. At best, an individual can read the emotional temperature of the room, and intuitively attune to a group and to what will further communication and a sense of teamwork. This is the intuitive intelligence of the social instinct. It gives me the ability to learn and adapt new behaviors in my endeavor to work with others, and gives me the confidence to interact and join the human family. I know how to connect, how to communicate, how to find my niche and place, how to interpret others accurately. I can adapt to the needs of others, like a great parent. 2. The Bonding/Affiliating (Zone Two) part of this instinct gives me the ability to co-create with others, to establish and build relationships with others even if I don’t like them necessarily. I can bond with others for the higher purpose of serving a goal together. I can create a bond that helps ‘us’ move towards a mutual goal. At my best, I create the feeling that everyone belongs, is a part of the team. I help people attune to their social instinct, and call it forth. I put principles before personalities (like Alcoholics Anonymous) with kindness and grace. I naturally come by the art of staying connected with others and inherently pick up on the social actions necessary for this, sending emails to friends, birthday cards, anniversary cards, etc. This instinct gives me the skill and capacity to create mutual support with, and for, others so as to create win/win situations (I care about the team.). In this zone, I can respond gracefully to the needs of others for the betterment of our mission together. I can give, adapt, and support others…and have the natural ability to see beyond myself. I know how to develop reciprocity with others, to create teamwork and team spirit. I’m for you and you’re for me. And…I enjoy bonding with others, it feels good, it delights me. I like the sense of connection and warmth with others, and I generate warmth towards others that invites them to connect and work with me. I create a landing strip for teamwork to unfold. I’m very approachable and I exude a warm-heartedness that is inviting. Skilled also at sustaining connections with others, I know how to apply the social glue. I’m aware of what my connection with another person is (the state of my connection, is it good or bad), and how to facilitate building a better bond. Doesn’t mean I’m a social butterfly, or that I like groups, but that I have this skill and can apply it in areas that I value. 3. Contribution to Others, (Zone Three) reflects my involvement and participation in Altruism. This reflects my instinctive desire to contribute to others, to give my gifts away for the betterment of others. It’s my instinctive desire to serve the greater good. Healthy social instinct individuals (in this zone) are passionate about contributing, helping and feeding the social good, and finding their particular mission to serve. I am aware of the unique gifts I have to contribute the best to others, and I wish to give these. I feel a part of the world and its troubles and feel an innate responsibility to help others. It feels great to contribute and serve. I know my calling, what I am here to serve, what my true and meaningful relationship with others is. This instinct gives me the capacity to participate in what is happening, to step in to life, to be a part of this life—to be a participant. (When people are weak in this social instinct sector it’s all about me, or I feel that I don’t have anything to offer). When healthy, there are things that are more important than me and what I want—I see the needs of the greater whole and feel strongly motivated to act upon what I see. I contribute, I give away my gifts, while feeling a part of the good I am contributing to. I serve a meaningful purpose that connects me to the tribe of humanity. 

Rate yourself on a scale from 1 to 10, ‘10’ meaning you have strong access to the particular zone of the instinct, and ‘1’ meaning that you are not in touch with the healthy functioning of the zone of this instinct.
Reading/Adapting:       Bonding/Affiliating:           Contribution to Others/Calling:

The Challenging Blindspot  The Undeveloped Instinct When the Self-Preservation instinct is our blind spot, we tend to neglect, avoid or be uninspired to activate it, or to engage in the capacities inherent in this instinct. We resist it! When it comes to the issues of this instinct we feel like little kids in an adult world, and feel ashamed that we don’t know how to deal with self-preservation issues. It’s as if we have a missing gene in ourselves that would inform us how to deal with the practicalities of life, be it in our health, financial world, or domestic environment. We don’t know how to stabilize our lives, and we’re oddly not that interested in it. We seem to lack ambition in the areas reflected in the Self-Preservation Instinct. We avoid the strengths of the Self-Preservation Instinct even when we try to engage them. It takes huge work, compassion and focus to shift this aversion. When the Sexual Attraction instinct is our blind spot, we can’t feel our passion, can’t feel what lights us up, don’t have the energy, aliveness, gutsiness to go after what lights us up or turns us on, don’t feel the juice of our aliveness, and don’t feel comfortable letting ourselves be lit up, on fire with what we care about. When we are inspired we draw our attention elsewhere, letting the passion slip through our fingers unattended. We don’t feel attractive, or juicy, or desirable but feel that we are boring drones that no one would feel attracted to. It’s very painful, and humiliating to experience this. Theirs is nothing worse than feeling that we are not attractive to others, that we are flat and dronelike. As a result we hide our light, we don’t shine, and we don’t think we can shine or have a right to shine. And we look down on others who shine, or who draw attention to themselves, or who don’t hide their sexual yumminess. When the Social instinct is the blind spot, we don’t feel liked, and we’re not sure we like people that much. When people gather to connect, work on a team project, we don’t understand how to be a team player; we don’t read others well, we miss the cues that create social connections, we feel desperately out of place and unable to form alliances. Sometimes we can feel “Who cares” and “What’s the point?” of friendships, what’s the big deal, while secretly feeling incapable of forming real bonds with people. We also have a difficult time getting in touch with our calling, what we want to contribute to life and others. It’s like there’s no motivation to do this, and so our sense of relationship and kinship with the world feels distant. We don’t feel like we really belong, or are a part of the web of life. We don’t feel a calling or drive to contribute to others, to make the earth a better place. As one Blind-spot social instinct said, “I don’t really like people that much, and I’m pretty sure I’m not very likable.” Out of tune with the flow of people and the messages they are sending, we make errors of judgment, take things wrong, speak out of turn, don’t understand the flow of communication around us, and make more mistakes, and simply feel worse about ourselves. Better to withdraw and not risk humiliation. 

Michael Naylor, M.Ed., CPCC, LADC, CCS, is an International Enneagram Accredited Professional Teacher, Certified Professional Co-Active Life Transformation coach, Licensed Addiction Therapist & Recovery Coach, and a Men’s Transformational Facilitator and Teacher. He is also an Authorized and Certified Riso-Hudson Enneagram Teacher and is the Director of the Maine Enneagram Center for Transformation and Change, located in South Portland, Maine. He teaches and coaches in the USA and Internationally, and works with corporate teams utilizing the Enneagram for the development of emotional intelligence and empowered action. In addition, he is a partner with Anderson & Rust, a highly successful consulting organization which serves international corporations in their endeavor to bring forth their highest productivity through increasing conscious awareness. The Enneagram is a key part of this process.

He has worked in the field of transformation and empowerment, and in the field of addiction the last 26 years as therapist, coach, and educator, most recently at Serenity House for 14 years, a men’s rehabilitation center. He lives with his beloved Type Two wife, Donna, spunky alive Type Two daughter, Chloe, and his mysterious and off-the-grid Type Five son, Christian. You can find his articles on the Enneagram and Addiction Recovery at www.enneagrammaine.com, michaelnaylor51@wordpress.com/ and www.ninepointsmagazine.org.

His forthcoming book is The Enneagram & Addiction: The Heart of Transformation and Change. You can reach him at michaelnaylor@msn.com.       


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