My “5 keys to understanding the instincts” are based upon what has come up in my instincts courses as well as my general observations in discussions around this topic, and I think they clear up some of the confusion in this area. If “the instincts” don’t make sense, in my experience, it’s usually because one of these has not been taken into account.
Today, I wanted to say something about the 3rd key — the fact that each drive pertains to its own realm of awareness, and that it is incapable of relating to aspects outside of this realm. It’s like each drive has its own, limited-but-very-effective-for-the-job set of features; its own toolbox, as it were. But while for one drive the tools might be, say, actual tools — a hammer, a saw, a screwdriver — for another drive, the tools might be a set of torches for different size flames, whereas the tools for the third are letters and words. (It does not matter which instinct gets which toolkit in this illustration, obviously; I’m just trying to illustrate that they are intrinsically different. If we need to fix a broken appliance, words will be useless; if we are cold, no amount of carpentry devices will do us any good — et cetera. They cannot “adapt” to include something outside of their own realm of awareness.) And not only are these toolkits distinctly different — their actual, instinctual counterparts are also what gives each drive its own “flavour” and visceral or energetic fingerprint. But before I say more about that, let’s look at the three realms.
The drives, the realms, and their respective flavours
In short, instinctual self-preservation pertains to the awareness of self with an inward focus. Instinctual attraction, or the sexual drive, still pertains to an awareness of self, but with an outward focus. And social adaptation pertains to the awareness of others, including my place in relation to these others, as well as some collective aspects of life as a gregarious species.
As for grasping these different “flavours” or characteristics, from where I stand, this is essential for doing deeper inner work with the instincts. For one thing, they clearly distinguish the drives from one another. But also, and more importantly, they help us weed out or distinguish much of the psychological overlay that goes on — since we are not purely instinctual beings, but also in possession of emotional and cognitive faculties. If we realise through inner, actual experience that the sexual instinct is, indeed, about expansion of “me”, then we can notice when this happens — and we can also notice, when we want to establish a longer-term relationship or cosy up with our love interest on the sofa while learning all about them (for instance), there is something more going on than just “us doing our SX”. And so on, and so forth. The realms help us know what’s instinct in the first place, as well as what instinct it is.
(To make matters more complicated, some types’ ego personality like to twist their instinctual energy in tricky ways, such as when a Two leading with self-preservation starts cooking for everyone, or when Fours leading with sexual expansion spend dramatic ours passionately relating to their perceived other, missing half. But this only illustrates even more clearly that it’s imperial to know what’s what.)
“So I’m selfish, is that what you’re saying??”
At this point in the discussion, some people start getting squirmy or even indignant. “What do you mean, that the self-preservation drive is selfish and incapable of caring for others??”
Yes, I do mean exactly that. People that go on about how “each of the drives have their own way of” [caring for others/being intimate/enjoying food/WHATEVER] are operating out of the misunderstanding that the drives are equally positioned in relation to one another. They are not. But since we all have all three of them, this is not the discriminator that popular belief might paint it as.
So no, instinctual self-preservation is not registering “others”. And that still says absolutely nothing about the person who leads with the self-preservation instinct. If this is you, I’m not saying you are a selfish person. I’m only talking about the biological feature; the drive does not equal the person. And it’s the drive that has this limitation — not the people expressing it. So keep your shirt on.
Dominance is not “what you are” —
it’s just what we overdo
Likewise, the capacity for love and caring is not found within the sexual instinct. Not even a little bit. But since not only do we have all three centres in equal measure, but we also have all three drives present in working order, this is not a problem. Dominance — in type or drive — just says this is where our ego gets in with investments, hang-ups, and distortions. This is where the ego warps the natural, balanced flow of the feature in question. It does not say what we are capable of. If it did, “heart types” would be the only ones capable of love, and “gut types” would be the only ones with instinctual drives in the first place. This is clearly not the case. So, yes, when it comes to the drives, the first two instincts are, quite unequivocally, relating exclusively to ME. And no, this does not mean that “social firsts” are the only ones who are capable of relating to others in a meaningful way.
So us “leading with self-preservation” means we over-identify with it and likely over-prioritize it when it comes to our time, money, and other resources. We just, simply, like the feel of it! That does not make us incapable of caring for others or of being sexual creatures; we also do have an instinct for social adaptation as well as one for sexual expansion, wherever those may fall on our radar. (So, this is another thing: The stack is just the sticky-outy bits. But that’s actually key #5 and for another article.)
Whew. I’m glad we got that out of the way.
So what good is making this distinction?
If we can perceive the inner workings of self-preservation, attraction, and social adaptation, this means we can witness and relate to these drives operating within us in real-time (or likely, to begin with, as after-the-fact happenings, where we can choose to go back to the situation, feel into it and remember the experience with all centres involved). We will have a visceral, simple understanding of them, rather than a set of categories or a complicated teachings that only holds together (even if it holds together fine) by intellectual reasoning, and which we then have to make regular detours to the head to make sense of. When it’s about instinct, for inner exploration to actually work we need to connect to it within the body, and for that to work, we need to find clusters that make sense from a natural, body-based perspective rather than something that requires higher faculties to sort out.
Distinguishing instinct from type in inner work
If I’m a self-preservation Two with strong bonds to my family and I’m trying to address my self-preservation drive in inner work, experiencing and witnessing it entangled with my Twoness will make for a confusing ride. The aspects of Two will have to be addressed in the heart and head, too — I cannot reach them all through the instinctual centre. But as for the instinctual impulses, they need to be handled there, and viewing them through an emotional or mental lens will just send me on a wild-goose chase.
… and sometimes, it’s tricky 😉
At one point on an instincts retreat with Russ Hudson, I commented that the Eightish qualities — both the essential aliveness and the passion of lust — blended together for me as an Eight leading with the sexual instinct. His somewhat unhelpful response was, “Well, you just have a double whammy.” And for some subtype combinations, this is obviously the case. Or, as a client phrased it, “It feels like my leading instinct is colluding with my type.”
For this reason, some subtypes, e g the social Six, or the sexual Eight, might find overlaps where the type structure in itself lends some bias towards the expression of a certain instinct. While it might still be pretty easy for me as an Eight or Six to distinguish whether I am in fact leading with the drive in question, when this is indeed the case, the overlap will be there. This means I’ll do well to explore some issues in parallel, as it were, looking at them both through the lens of personality and the lens of instinctual expression. I might find subtle differences in my personality’s preferences and the instinctual ones.
Remember: You are working with you, not with your type
Of course, we do not have to suss all this out to the finest detail to start doing inner work on these pieces of ourselves. I do not need any of these distinctions to be able to work productively with them. At least not in theory, and going into the work, just start with that which is apparent and explore as you go. It’s when we are on this journey of exploration, as we occasionally get stuck or confused, that we might find explanations and new light shed through these distinctions.
It might sound like hair-splitting to say that it’s you, not your type, that is on the inner growth journey — but in the light of what we’ve been talking about, maybe you see how there’s a difference? As I see it, the best work happens when we start with an open mind and dig where we stand. It is a little like driving by GPS navigator: it is much easier to make sense of whatever happens when we are already in motion than if we try to figure the whole thing out before we have even started moving. We need to have some momentum before the equipment can tell us whether our next turn should be left or right 😉