What is a Subtype?

Instinctual Drives

The three subtypes or instinctual drives are probably best understood, at least to start with, as the psychological arena in which we do the most compulsive thinking and are perhaps the most distorted in our energy and attention placement.

Katherine Chernick notes that "Our dominant instinctual drive is, in actuality, our area of greatest weakness. When our sense of survival (and instinctual means related to survival) is threatened, something has triggered whatever button happens to relate not only to our Enneagram point, but, more important, to our instinctual drive.

The fixation then becomes even more severe as we take on the additional fears of the instinctual drive. The important factor here is that the triggering element of the fixation is the instinctual drive's issue. Nevertheless, the flavor will always be that of the Enneagram type, as the fixation and the drive are interactive, linked and always related to the Enneagram type."

    There are three subtypes and they are called various things, but I will use the terms:
  • Self-Preservation
  • Intimate
  • Social

I love Margaret Frings Keyes' encapsulation of "the one, the few and the many." Some authors use the term sexual or relational instead of intimate.

Regardless of the terms, you can see concentric circles of attention. Some pay attention to themselves, others to their significant other and a third group to the wider community. Again, there is no gradation, no one subtype is better than the other. And when I say "pay attention," I mean they pay that kind of Enneagram-distorted attention. This is the area to which they pay the wrong attention.

An Enneagram coach will help you realize where your subtype energies get you into trouble and how to get out. After some years of coaching, it seems to me that subtypes cause easily as much friction in relationship as do primary Enneagram styles.

Resources: The two best books on subtypes are Tom Condon's The Enneagram Movie and Video Guide (from which, with permission, I borrow movie examples of subtypes) and Baron/Wagele's second book, Are You My Type? Am I Yours? Palmer's classic The Enneagram has a short section on subtypes and her introductory box has a single descriptive word to pinpoint the focus of each subtype. For example, her word for the self-preservation One is Worried (Anxious).