Brief Overview

The instinctual subtypes or variants add an additional distinction within each of the nine Enneagram personality types.

There are two approaches to using the instincts for each type.

With the more traditional approach, each of the nine personality types has three subtypes based on whether an individual's primary interest is in self-preservation (sp), one-to-one (sx), or social (so or soc) activities. A subtype is often indicated by prefixing the type with the instinct abbreviation (e.g., for type 1, the subtypes are indicated as sp1, sx1, so1 or soc1).

A more recent approach, often called variant stacking, orders the instincts according to primary, secondary, and tertiary preference (e.g., an sp/sx 1 individual has a primary preference for the self-preservation instinct, secondary preference for the sexual instinct and a tertiary preference for the social instinct - notice the tertiary or last preference is generally omitted from the stacking descriptor).

Detailed Overview

The instincts are not represented on the Enneagram symbol itself. Traditionally they are described as survival instincts.

  • Self-Preservation: survival by going it alone
  • Sexual or Intimate or One-to-One: survival in partnership with another
  • Social: survival as part of a group or community

They can be thought of in association with Enneagram personality type (instinctual subtype) or independent from type (instinctual stacking, preference, or variant).

Instinctual subtypes create three distinctions for a given type: the self-preservation, sexual, and social subtypes. Instinctual subtyping increases the 9 original types to 27 instinctual subtypes (3 subtypes for each type).

Instinctual stacking, preferences, or variants creates six distinctions for a given type: sp/sx, sp/so, sx/sp, sx/so, so/sp, and so/sx. This increases the 9 original types to 54 instinctual variants (6 variants for each type).

When thought of as independent of Enneagram personality type (instinctual stacking, preference, or variant), two people who prefer the same instinct will be alike in ways that two people with different preferred instincts would not (e.g., disregarding Enneagram type, two people preferring the self-preservation instinct will be more alike than one person preferring the self-preservation instinct and another preferring the social instinct).

Self-Preservation (sp) Subtypes

Below are common labels for the self-preservation subtypes. The descriptions represent one possible interpretation.

  • Sp 1: Anxiety – worries about negative consequences if a mistake is made.
  • Sp 2: Privilege – feels entitled to special treatment from others because of sacrifices made.
  • Sp 3: Security – accumulates possessions that project an image of success and assure security.
  • Sp 4: Dauntless – autonomous, counter-dependent; refuses to be a victim.
  • Sp 5: Castle – seeks private space, reduces needs; avoids expectations from others.
  • Sp 6: Warmth – friendly and engaging in attempts to disarm threats or determine intentions of others.
  • Sp 7: Like-Minded – preserves personal ideals by surrounding themselves with like-minded people.
  • Sp 8: Satisfactory Survival – accumulates resources, controls privacy and space, preempts being controlled.
  • Sp 9: Appetite – seeks physical comfort and substitutes for essentials (food, TV, hobbies, etc.), falls into routines.


Sexual (sx) Subtypes

Below are common labels for the sexual subtypes. The descriptions represent one possible interpretation.

  • Sx 1: Jealousy – feels unworthy of idealized partner with resulting insecurity, possessiveness, and jealousy.
  • Sx 2: Seduction – adapts self to entice other based on perception of other’s needs, interests, and desires.
  • Sx 3: Masculine/Feminine – portrays idealized sexual image.
  • Sx 4: Competition – envious comparisons of self to other may produce hatred of other or sense of inadequacy in self.
  • Sx 5: Confidence – shares intimate secrets with another expecting those secrets not to be shared with anyone else.
  • Sx 6: Strength/Beauty – portrays strength and beauty to compensate for doubts about possessing either.
  • Sx 7: Fascination – seeks fascinating and stimulating interests and relationships.
  • Sx 8: Surrender – searches for someone equal in strength and trustworthy enough to surrender control to.
  • Sx 9: Union – merges with other and finds sense of self in relation to other.


Social (so) Subtypes

Below are common labels for the social subtypes. The descriptions represent one possible interpretation.

  • So 1: Non-Adaptable – maintains rigid social beliefs on right and wrong, no grey areas.
  • So 2: Ambition – seeks attention, social influence; ingratiates themselves to those in power.
  • So 3: Prestige – presents an image valued by social group; seeks credentials, recognition, and status.
  • So 4: Shame – fears not measuring up to social standards and being seen as defective.
  • So 5: Totems – seeks knowledge important to the social group, becomes the keeper of that knowledge.
  • So 6: Duty – loyal rule follower of authority that is fair, can rebel against unfair authority.
  • So 7: Sacrifice – sacrifices short-term pleasure for long-term gains and realization of ideals.
  • So 8: Friendship – loyal to friends that can be trusted and counted on.
  • So 9: Participation – gets caught up in the group agenda, prefers to participate rather than lead.