August 20th, 2017
The Instinctual Subtype Dimension of the Enneagram
This is my story of how the subtypes helped (and didn’t help) me to grow. In it, I explain why I think understanding the instincts and subtypes is so important to using the Enneagram for self-development. AND–you can find short descriptions of the 27 subtype personalities below.
I’ve been studying the Enneagram for 27 years. For the first 14 years, I didn’t use the subtype piece of the system in my inner work in any way. I learned the Enneagram through the Narrative Tradition approach founded by David Daniels and Helen Palmer. I am very grateful to Helen, David, Peter O’Hanrahan, and Terry Saracino for all they did to teach, support, and guide me in the first decade of my Enneagram studies–I learned so much from them and they inspired me to do Enneagram-based inner work. But I didn’t focus much on the instincts and subtypes in the early period of my Enneagram training.
Looking more closely at the Enneagram’s 27 subtypes
In the early years of my Enneagram training, I never saw the subtypes—the 27 instinct-based “sub-personalities”—as very helpful to my personal growth. I think Enneagram teachers were doing the best they could with the small amount of information that had been conveyed about the subtypes early on, but the subtype descriptions seemed more abbreviated than the much fuller picture of the 9 types that had been beautifully articulated by early (modern) Enneagram authors and teachers. But in my opinion, the subtype information was not very substantive.
While there was a lot of attention paid to describing the 3 instincts and the behaviors that flowed from their influence, there wasn’t much clarity about the subtypes. I spent a bit of time in academia, and in the language of an academic, “the literature” on subtypes was not very developed.” There was very little written about the subtypes in books, and what was written and talked about wasn’t as clear or as unified a teaching across different books and by different authors.
First, I think it’s helpful to get clear at the outset on some definitions:
- the three “instincts” refer to our biological survival drives—those of 1.) Self-Preservation, 2.) Relating to others generally and in Social groups, and 3.) Sexual relationships, or One-to-One bonding, and other types of fusion experiences.
- There are 3 main instincts, 9 types, and 27 subtypes, which result when you mix the dominant instinct with the passion and patterns of each of the 9 types.
- The subtypes are the 27 personalities –more specific, more nuanced versions of the main type, with distinct traits and patterns–that you get when you multiply 3 x 9. Rather than being just “added” together — as in Type X + Instinct A = Type X who does Instinct A behaviors, the mixture of the main Type passion and patterns with a specific dominant instinct (and even mores an “instinct sequence” — which is first, second, and repressed — is more alchemical. The work of Claudio Naranjo in discerning and articulating these very accurate and revealing subtype descriptions, in my view, cannot be overstated.
- note: “subtypes” have also been called “instinctual variants” by some authors, leading to some confusion. What I am calling “subtypes” sometimes gets referred to as “instincts” when the term “instincts” is used as a shorthand for “instinctual variants.” It’s good to know about this use of “instinct” as a synonym for “subtype” because if you don’t know this, it can make the language mourned this topic confusing.
Throughout the 90s, when I was doing my early Enneagram training, I couldn’t figure out which “subtype” of Type Two I was. I didn’t understand very much about any of the subtypes—or, most importantly, how the subtype aspect of the Enneagram enhanced inner work. And I didn’t see a path to learning more about what the subtypes were all about.
All that changed for me in 2004 when Claudio Naranjo and his 17 collaborators came to the International Enneagram Association in Washington DC to do a 3-morning training on the subtypes. The first morning Claudio described all 27 characters. I was immediately struck by how much new information he was including in his descriptions that I had never heard before. His descriptions of the 27 personalities that emerged from the mixture of a specific dominant instinct and the passion and patterns of the type were greatly expanded and much more interesting than any I had heard before.
The next day, Claudio and his associates divided the whole conference group (about 350 to 400 of us) into nine groups according to type—and then divided each of the nine type groups into three groups according to subtype. The day before they had asked us to write down on a piece of paper what type and subtype we thought we were and why. I had said I was a Two and that I wasn’t sure what subtype I was, but that I thought I was a Sexual Two because my impression was that your main instinct reflected the area of life where you were the most neurotic. And I was pretty dysfunctional when it came to one-to-one relationships. Apparently, on the afternoon and evening of the first night, Claudio and his team read all of these papers, looked at some video they had taken of many of us, and re-classified us into the types and subtypes they thought we were.
When they asked us to break into groups by subtype, I saw that they had written on my piece of paper, “Self-Preservation.” They thought I was a Self-Preservation Two. I remembered that the day before, Claudio had described the Self-Preservation Two as being childlike. I didn’t like that. I remembered thinking, “that’s not me…I’m not childlike.” So, my defenses went up when I read that they thought I was a Self-Preservation Two. My pride got involved as it always does and so my reaction was, “I don’t want to be seen as childlike…I don’t think the image of being childlike is very attractive, so I don’t see myself as childlike.”
Luckily, I had several years of therapy and self-observation under my belt at this point and so saw that I was being defensive—protecting my ego instead of challenging it—and I consciously decided to lower the defenses that had been activated in me by this accusation. I summoned a degree of awareness that allowed me to at least open myself up to the possibility that there could be something to learn in this Self-Preservation thing. So I asked one of Claudio’s teachers why they thought I was a Self-Preservation Two.
And then the most incredible thing happened. The guy stood right next to me and said, in his gorgeous Italian accent, “When I stand next to you like this, I do not think you are going to protect me. I think I need to protect you.” For a brief instant I noticed myself gearing up to argue with him. But then, I felt something sweep through my entire body—an emotional and energetic recognition that told me he was right. I couldn’t argue with him, even though my pride wanted to. If I was really honest with myself, I did feel like I needed protection. I wanted to say I could protect him, but I felt, so clearly, in my body, it wasn’t true. So, I went and sat in the group with the two other Self-Preservation Twos.
What happened next initiated a revolution in my self-understanding that I didn’t see coming. With the help of another of Claudio’s collaborators, we talked about our relationship to fear, the way we had a hard time trusting others, and the ambivalence we felt with regard to connecting with others. I gained insight into why I had always felt different than other Twos on Enneagram panels, when they talked about “liking” to help people in a way I never did. Oh, I helped people, but it was never because I wanted to or liked to—it was much more of a survival-based compulsion, or a neurotic habit, not anything I felt very good about. And I discovered a big blind spot in that I realized I often reacted to people and situations in childish ways, while never really seeing what I was doing as childish.
After the conference I told my therapist about the many huge insights I’d had about myself upon learning my subtype. I told him I saw more clearly how fearful I was and how I had been repressing my fear in a way that I was not aware of. Interestingly, he wasn’t surprised. He expressed relief that I finally saw and owned my fear. He told me every time he went to get me in his waiting room I appeared terrified. And it was true. I realized I was incredibly anxious whenever I drove to therapy. Sometimes, the only way I got to my appointment was because I promised myself a delicious lunch afterward at a restaurant near his office.
So, learning the subtypes in 2004 directly from Claudio Naranjo totally changed my life and greatly deepened my inner work. His detailed description of the more specific subtype patterns of the Self-Preservation Two revolutionized my understanding of myself and helped me to get much, much clearer on what my work on myself was about and what I needed to do to develop.
As a Self-Preservation Two, I (very) unconsciously adopted a stance of helplessness. I automatically, totally without seeing it, took the position of a child in the family—because I never got the love of care I needed early on (especially emotionally) I had created unconscious dependencies all the while (pridefully) believing myself to be independent and autonomous. But, I needed to grow up. Even though in many ways I was highly functional, there were ways I was “staying young” and not taking care of myself. It’s extremely humiliating to say this in a public forum, but I was 40 years old and still being partially supported by my parents. I needed to stop waiting to be taken care of—or unconsciously forcing others to take care of me or put up with my over-sensitivity and childishness—and learn to do some hard things, like supporting myself fully and doing certain things for myself. Of course, like other Twos, I also have a hard time asking for and receiving help—but this paradox is what made my Self-Preservation Two subtype pattern so confusing and hard to see!
Now my main growth tasks as a Self-Preservation Two are very different from the main growth tasks of the Social Two—who in many ways is my opposite of the Self-Preservation Two in that the Social Two is a more adult Two who focuses on power and appearing influential. Unlike the Self-Pres Two, who seduces through being cute and charming (in a “youthful” way) the Social Two seduces groups through being super-competent and successful and powerful.
Why it’s vitally important to know the Naranjo version of the 27 subtypes if you use the Enneagram as a growth tool
After I learned my subtype at the 2004 IEA conference, and it had such a big impact on my self-knowledge, I was excited for the whole Enneagram community as we would now have this new aspect of the Enneagram teaching—from the same authoritative source who gave us the 9 types in the first place! —to use in our growth work. But, much to my surprise, everyone acted as if this experience never happened!! Everyone went back to teaching the subtypes the way they did before as if this new information (from one of the original sources of the Enneagram types) hadn’t been introduced to us.
So, stimulated by the way this new subtypes teaching had impacted my growth, and seeing how it was helping me understand my psychotherapy clients in a much deeper way, I went on a mission to learn all I could about Claudio Naranjo’s modern interpretation of the subtypes. I wanted everyone to have the increased clarity that I had about myself. I cared deeply about the Enneagram teaching and wanted to help make it better and more powerful.
I scoured Naranjo’s writings and audio recordings and gathered everything he had been teaching about the 27 subtypes. As I researched and presented Naranjo’s approach to the subtypes I tried to be very receptive around it—I wanted feedback from others about whether this new version of the subtypes teaching was as powerfully clarifying for them as it was for me. And, over and over again, people said it helped them enormously, it helped them type themselves correctly, see more deeply into the specific ways they acted out their type patterns, and learn things about their unconscious habits they hadn’t seen before. Nearly all the people I talked to –both informally and in classes—resonated deeply with Naranjo’s subtypes.
Over time, I’ve received many invitations to teach this approach to the subtypes in different places, to sincere Enneagram students really doing their inner work. And it was always the same. Everywhere I go, people say: “you really can’t understand the Enneagram fully without this particular subtype piece.”
Here’s why I think the “modern Naranjo” descriptions of the subtypes is so important to completing and clarifying the Enneagram system of personality:
- They show us that three subtype versions of each of the nine personality types reflect a complex mixture of the combination of the dominant instinct (and really the whole instinct sequence—the instincts that are dominant, second, and repressed) and not just “additive.” We had been assuming that subtype could be determined rather simply by just finding your type and then determining which of three generic instinct descriptions we related to most—when it’s more complicated than this.
- They define the differences between people that share a type more effectively than which “wing” you have. I think wings have been doing the job of describing to people why people of the same type differ in clear ways—when really, subtype provides a much better rationale for what two people of one type can be so different. I think the wings flavor the main type, but they aren’t such a static set of traits as they are sometimes presented as. I think subtypes provide a much better window into why people who share a type don’t share all the same characteristics of that type.
- They reveal that there are personality types that are fully and clearly articulated by Naranjo’s 27 subtypes that are not described at all (!!) by the nine types alone. Before I learned Naranjo’s subtypes I had never heard a Self-Preservation Four accurately described—or a Social Seven or a Social Nine or a Self-Preservation or Sexual Three! These types just don’t exist in most descriptions of the nine types. And, don’t we want to include all the possible types in the most accurate way possible?
- In a very important way, they help with typing. There is so much mistyping and difficulty with typing when working with the Enneagram—even among Enneagram experts. Finding your type can be a rich growth process in itself, but if we are going to use the Enneagram as a map to show us our patterns and our blind spots, don’t we want to use the best and more detailed map possible? I realize that if you don’t know this subtype map yet you may question whether it provides a better map—but don’t you owe it to yourself to at least check it out?
- They clarify the personality at an even more granular level than the 9 types alone—and also clarifies the specific growth paths of the 27 subtypes. So, it shows us that there isn’t just one set of growth insights that will apply to all Fours or Sixes or Eights. In some cases, these subtypes can be opposites along certain dimensions and so need to do very different things when seeking to use the Enneagram as a guide for growth. If you are therapist or a coach using the Enneagram, you need to know this! Otherwise you are mistyping and misleading people around who they are and how to use the system to gain the best ideas possible about how to develop.
Over the last 4 or 12 years, my efforts to communicate this new teaching about the subtypes have been both energizing and discouraging. It’s been exciting and fulfilling because when people really listen to this approach and seek to understand it, it creates a world of new possibilities for their personal growth—and that’s a beautiful thing to see and be part of. One of the best parts about working with the Enneagram is that I get to meet the greatest people from all over the world who are deeply committed to their own growth. And the students of the Enneagram I meet who learn this approach almost universally express their appreciation of the deep insights this subtype approach provides into our most unconscious patterns.
But it’s also been a bit discouraging, because it seems like it can be hard for the larger Enneagram community of teachers to consider, discuss, and incorporate potential new ideas that can improve the power of the system. There are some points of theory within the Enneagram world that people don’t agree about–and the subtypes is one of them. And while it might be okay for people to agree to disagree, I can’t help wondering if the lack of theoretical agreement and collaboration may be inhibiting the growth of the use of the Enneagram.
I can’t help imagining how great it would be if we could all talk together about what’s most helpful in inner work and how to bring in best new ideas to help us improve our Enneagram work. I think we are still decoding all the Enneagram has to teach us. I’ve learned it can be hard on our egos to learn something new—even if it’s about a system designed to help our egos be open to learning new things.
Here is a short summary of all of the 27 subtypes according to my interpretation of Naranjo’s presentation.
The 27 subtype personalities
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. These people 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. An intellectual type, these Ones have a teacher mentality; they see their role as helping others see what they already know–how to be perfect.
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.
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 liking 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.
Social Twos seek to gain approval from others through being powerful, competent, and influential. More a powerful, 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 seduces specific individuals.
Self-Preservation Threes work hard to assure material security for themselves and the people around them. Oriented to being good (as well as 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 (because that wouldn’t be good). SP Threes are self-sufficient, extremely hard-working, results-oriented, and modest.
Social Threes work hard to look flawless 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 a relationship or team mentality and work very hard to support the success of others (rather than their own).
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.
Social Fours suffer. They 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, SP 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 they connect with through a social cause or are of expertise than the people in close proximity in everyday life.
One-to-One Fives have more 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.
Self-Preservation Sixes are 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 are 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 concerned with reference points and benchmarks. They are more sure of things than the SP Six, who expresses more doubt and ambiguity, and can even become “true believers.”
One-to-One Sixes cope with underlying fear (that they may not be aware of) by appearing strong and intimidating to others. Of the “fight” or “flight” reactions to fear, they choose “fight,” and tend to be risk-takers, contrarians, or rebels. They have an inner program that tells them that the best defense is a good offense.
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 pragmatic planning or a network of allies. They tend to have a talkative, amiable, hedonistic 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.
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 imagine 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.
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, SP 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.
One-to-One Nines tend to merge with the agenda and attitudes 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.
Announcing a new workshop experience of the instincts and subtypes
If you are interested in learning more about this subtype dimension of the Enneagram, I am teaming up with my good friend and fellow Enneagram teacher, Uranio Paes, to offer an experiential retreat that represents a deep dive into the instincts and the way they combine with our the type patterns in the 27 subtypes. We will work to understand the instinctual sequences and subtypes and how we can use insights from observing our instincts, passions, and subtype patterns for growth.
Uranio has a deep intuitive understanding about the instincts and the instinctual sequences and how they operate. He has much to teach about what it means when a specific instinct is “dominant” or “repressed.” I’m thrilled to be teaching this course with him as I think it will help many people take their Enneagram inner work to a whole new level.
It’s called “Rising Above the Instinctual Subtypes: An Experiential Enneagram Retreat” and registration is open for the following workshops. You can find more information and registration links on the “Workshops” page of this web site.
San Francisco Bay Area (Petaluma’s Earthrise Retreat Center), April 25-29, 2018
London, UK, May 9-11, 2018 we do a 3-day version of this work on the instincts and subtypes
If you’d like to explore this incredibly clarifying approach to inner work through the 27 subtypes, please consider joining us for one of these events!