When we encounter the Enneagram, sooner or later — and nowadays sooner rather than later, I think — we are also introduced to the instinctual drives. At that, many of us get excited, as this piece of the puzzle seems to promise such gems of wisdom, and also explain some of the things that the personality types as such don’t cover.
This page is not intended to be an introduction to the instincts as such. However, it is meant to offer a bit of an orientation, without which learning about the drives tends to be confusing and potentially frustrating. I also refer to some material around it in video and written format.
Why all the disagreements?
There are plenty of levels of disagreements in the various schools on the instinctual drives (or “instincts” for short), and some biases and over-compensations in the teachings that stem from one teaching wanting to clearer illuminate specific points. This, and the fact that everyone calls them by the same name, implying that they are actually teaching the same topic, makes for some (at times great) confusion.
At the basic level, one might say that there are two families of “instinct teachings”: one that spring from insights about their original role/s in evolution and nature, and another that springs from panels and empirical data on humans, against the background of the idea of their original role/s in evolution and nature. These teaching lines, followed to fruition, veer heavily apart once we get to discussing the instinctual expression in humans.
Apart from these two subtly but distinctly different primary approaches, there are smaller deviations and differences in interpretations, that might make even schools following the same “root approach” seem like they are contradicting one another.
One of two opposing statements is not necessarily wrong
The classic way to regard opposing views on (what seems to be) the same topic is that one side is wrong, while the other is right. The two statements are, after all, mutually exclusive. As one example, in the context of the instinctual drives one such opposing pair of statements might be whether the sexual instinct includes focusing on long-term mating. But if we look at where the different teachings originated, we realise they are not necessarily talking about the same thing.
Using the same example, if we look at the two main branches in “instinct theory” within the Enneagram world, we realise that when taking our cues from how things are expressed in humans — and in this case, as it happens, emphatically in the image triad, i e types Two, Three, and Four — the sexual instinct very much seems to entail finding a long-term partner, or at least a more-than-temporary partner. Then things such as the mirroring of other within the connection come into the picture up, as well as identifying with the love relationship (or lack of one). If we look at the sexual instinct in nature, as an evolutionary force, there is none of that in it; it does not really take an “other” into account as such, but is more interested in what said other might offer me, by way of expanding my energy, my self, and my experience in the present moment.
So the fact that the teachings originate from different perspectives sometimes makes them come out radically different. This does not necessarily mean that either perspective is “wrong”, or useless. It does however mean that combining them and attempting to understand them in coalition will not be very productive.
On the side of nomenclature, I lean towards disagreeing with the teachings talking about “instinct” but referring exclusively to how they are expressed in humans (and sometimes in a select group of humans, at that). As far as I’m concerned, if it’s only found in humans and not in the natural world and the majority of the species within it, it is not purely instinctual. And when our interest in this work in general is about inner growth, this is relevant in another, more important way, too: it makes a difference for how we can understand and work with the drives experientially.
The zones — an illuminating game-changer
A number of years ago, the renowned Enneagram teacher Russ Hudson started teaching the instincts divided into three zones each. The zones are not “hard facts”, neither are their distinctions set in stone or even absolute. However, they go a long way to both illustrate what the drives are even about and to capture the scope of each one of them — which might be much more far-reaching than we might have imagined, and sometimes in quite different directions than popular belief would advertise!
Aspects of You by Cicci Lyckow Bäckman (i e, yours truly) | This book provides a deep-dive into the centres of intelligence, such as they appear in all of us, and the instinctual drives. The overwhelming majority of Enneagram introductions (even the good ones!) tend to leave us with a feeling that some people have more of one centre than the other two, or even lack access to a certain centre, depending on where we sit on the Enneagram cycle. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Experiential work with the drives
From my natural inclination to focus on the implementations for inner work purposes, when I started exploring the instinctual drives more deeply, fairly soon I realised how these drives feel, inside myself, and as a visceral or even energetic fingerprint, is key to working with them. I realised that from an evolutionary standpoint, as a distinct felt sense in the body, each instinct pertains to an equally distinct realm of awareness, outside of which it is not really capable of relating. (This insight ended up as Key #3 in the Keys to Understanding the Instincts — the cheat-sheet to which you can download in the Members’ Area when logged in. Membership is free of charge, and you can register here.)
This distinction is helpful when working experientially with the drives, in two ways:
- It helps us connect with the felt sense of these impulses — a modality without which any inner work is just partial.
- This in turn helps us set our cognitive (and often distorted) ideas about the drives aside and plug in to a more direct understanding of them.
To have more light shed on my understanding of and work with the instincts, please refer to the book Aspects of You, the material linked above, a brief video on how the instinctual zones devised by Russ Hudson can help clarify your instinctual preferences, and various snippets from my courses on the topic. There is also various downloadable resources in the Member’s Area.
Work directly with Cicci on the instincts
For personal work, I offer both a recurring online course and individual sessions explicitly for exploring your instinctual preferences from a zone-informed perspective: