Instinctual Drives (aka Subtypes)

The instinctual drives as described by the Enneagram can be seen as areas that consume much of our attention and time, and that we share in common with other human beings.  Our primary instinctual drive (often called the subtype) has a powerful effect on our lives and how our Enneagram type manifests.   We have all three drives, attend to them all to some degree, but have a tendency to over-focus on one.  And of course, we bring all three of our instincts into our relationships.  People have often found that their subtype orientation is more important than the type when it comes to daily life.  This is the realm of instinct and emotion, ruled by our reptilian and mammalian limbic system, and not entirely a function of the rational mind.  Understanding subtypes is a way of bringing this to our conscious attention and having a language to describe it.

PRIMARY CONCERNS of the drives:

Self Preservation

  • Matters of safety and security
  • Survival issues (body, money)
  • Seeks security and assurance in an intense way
  • How do I meet my physical needs?


  • A concern with the need for 1-1 relationships
  • Issues of intimacy and sexuality
  • Seeks intensity
  • How do I deal with my peers?


  • Related to the need for social relationships
  • Concern with place in group and belonging
  • How do I deal with the group?

How we pay attention to our inner and outer worlds also differs depending on the drive and the area of concern.  Remember the Enneagram describes how we pay attention.  It works the same with the drive.  We are compelled to pay attention in a particular way to attend to the concerns of that drive. 


Self Preservation needs encourage us to pay attention inwardly and in a singular fashion.

Social needs encourage us to pay attention outward in a panoramic and inclusive way.

One-to-One needs encourage us to pay attention to the special other in a  focused and intense fashion.

(in gratitude to Helen Palmer, Terry Saracino and Peter O’Hanrahan for their information and teaching on this subject)