Did you hear about the notion that you can be either positively negatively identified with any instinctual drive — regardless of where this drive features in your preferential “stack”? Here I’ll say something about this perspective and point to some of the common misunderstandings that make this information seem like a game-changer when it comes to understanding the instincts.
My response to some questions I’ve encountered on this topic has had my thoughts go in two directions: One, what it means that an instinct is dominant or leading, and two, what is and is not part of “instinct“ in the first place — and how both of these things need some looking into. Let’s start with looking at the former.
The “doing it well” misunderstanding
The most common aha!-type realisation people share together with this material is that they didn’t think they were leading with a certain instinct as they were performing so badly at it, or at parts of it. So here’s the first thing we need to understand is that having a “dominant” instinct: it does not mean that you’re necessarily acing the arena that this particular drive is handling. As one example, I’ve seen strongly self-pres dominant people who were anorexics. Now, I think we can all agree that anorexia isn’t an efficient way to “self-preserve”, whatever spin we put on it. So leading with a certain instinct does not equal having no issues in that department.
But if it’s not excellence — then what is the tell?
But then what does it mean to be leading with self-preservation — or, for that matter, sexual, or social adaptation? It means its realm of focus is getting VIP treatment from your neurology. It means who- or whatever is running your system is happy to allocate band-width, resources, and focus (and also, most likely, cash 😉) towards ends and endeavours within that realm of existence — whereas the realm of our so-called blind-spot (that is, our least favoured or resourced drive) gets short-changed. A drive dominating means that you, or something within you, prefers devoting time and energy to it over the other two. It does not, however, promise an impressive return of investment.
Also, when I read the descriptions of positive and negative identification with the sexual drive (which is easily my strongest instinctual faculty), the description of positive identification does not resonate with how my life has been, and most certainly not if I look at my younger self. But the thing is, not only was I leading heavily with sx this whole time, but the Magnetism zone (i e the part of this drive concerning things like attraction, interests, instinctual competition and “peacock” display”, which for some reason seems to become the focus of the identification in the descriptions) is one of my two strongest zones overall. While I seem to qualify as a “negatively identified” sx dominant according to the descriptions, there is not a test, a course or any known teaching about the instincts that would have put me anywhere but as leading with the sexual instinct.
The true face of a “dominant” instinct
The point of sharing the above information is that when an instinct dominates, this will show. There is no such thing someone leading with a certain instinct, just with such a strongly negative identification that the dominance is not visible. Yet, that is the sort of conclusion I often see people drawing, quoting some version of this identification theory: “I was afraid of the opposite sex, I had zero success in relationships and basically just dreamed about my beloved — but now I can see I have been leading with sexual all along, I was just negatively identified.” And, sure, it’s possible that you were — as leading with sx doesn’t mean you always score, or think you look a million dollars.
But then again, possibly not. Anyone can long for a significant other, or yearn from afar, regardless of where the sexual drive features in their instinctual preferences. The question to ask in such cases is, in what other ways does the leading focus on attraction and expansion show up? Are you an intense person, to the extent that sometimes others find it irritating? Do you tend to “go all in” when you focus on something? Are you, or something within you, competitive by nature, even when you don’t wish to compete? Of course you don’t have to tick all the boxes for any drive to be dominant — but my point is, again, that a leading instinct will make itself known.
To me, the concept of instinctual zones, first established by Russ Hudson, sheds a lot of light on how differently our instinctual preferences can manifest, even in the same instinctual realm. I might be highly interested in self-care while also being totally bored by anything concerning finances — both of which are areas covered by the self-preservation drive. Or, I might be very adept at reading people and interested in recruiting them for various causes, yet lack all interest when it comes to maintaining my own personal relationships — all of which pertains to the realm of social adaptation. Et cetera. Also, as I mentioned, we might be “good” or “bad” at the various skills that each instinct brings — but regardless, if it’s strong, we will devote lots of resources and focus to it. The zones straighten a lot of question marks in this arena, and if you want to get into the zones material, feel free to check out the Understanding the Instincts course.
So should I not bother with the identification bit, then?
Well, here is where the second direction of response comes in: the distinguishing of instinct from what we might for now call “personality stuff”. There is nothing inherently wrong with looking at yourself from the identification-with-the-instincts perspective; if you feel it gets your inner work forward, please go ahead. However, my concern is that the single biggest obstacle that seems to stop people from really “getting the instincts” — understanding what they are, seeing their own preferences and using these insights for deepening their inner work — is that the concept of instinct is constantly meshed together with the concept of personality. The instinctual preferences, or the “instinctual stack” that might be of use for us to discover is not an aspect of personality, but something prior to that. This means that any identification happening around them is secondary.
So viewing the drives in the light of positive/negative identification already puts the spin of personality onto them. Of course, things like self-esteem or personal experiences strongly influence our identifications, but neither of these things are, in themselves, aspects of the instinctual faculties. I’m not staying we can’t be positively or negatively identified, or even that, as human beings, personality and history aren’t great influences. Of course we can, and of course they are.
Distinguishing what’s useful — and for what it’s useful
So sure, it can be useful to work therapeutically with such identifications. However, it is does not really shed any additional light on the instinctual drives and their place in our inner work, but rather risks confusing the matter further. My experience is that once we integrate this understanding, it gets much easier to see what’s instinctual and not and how we can approach our inner findings and experiences. But before this clarity has settled, it’s likely that an undifferentiated cocktail of ego personality, personal history and instinctual expressions will just add to the confusion (or worse, be “confuseful”: lend itself to inner work but still keep us in the dark about the deeper structures and thus, essentially, having us walk in circles). And if our aim is making sense of either types, instincts and/or ourselves, that is obviously not very helpful.
Again, as so often, it seems the question is not whether something is true or useful, but rather in what way it is true or useful. If it is true in a way that is relevant to me and useful for what I want to accomplish, great. If not, I might want to look elsewhere to find something that is.
Understanding the instincts
When we want to understand the topic of instinct, and when we want to bring the awareness of them into our inner work, we first need to see them clearly for what they are — prior to our ego personality muddying the waters. If you want to delve into the instinctual realms, have an experiential awareness of the drives and understand what they are and how you can work with them, please join Understanding the Instincts, an interactive, 5-module online course starting September 12:th ❤️.
PS — In my experience, a popular drive to be misidentified as the lead when looking at it through this filter is the sexual instinct. My best tips for sussing out where it ranks in your preferential “stack” is, like I mentioned briefly above, looking at the aspects of your life that do not involve relationships, love or sex. How does this drive show up in your life in general? In your level of intensity? In your take on hobbies or projects? In your work? Expressions of the sexual instinct that are only discernible in the context of love relationships are often just a sign that this instinct is alive and well (as it should be) — not that it’s necessarily on top of your overall preferences.