In the Raw: Enneagram Instinctual Variants and Subtype Stackings (2008 Riso/Hudson Training Notes & Discussion)
This cluster of posts, primarily by EnneagramInstitute contributer “logical lee“, are offered in their unedited, raw form. I made a few format changes for an easier reading experience, otherwise they are untouched. I highly recommend you read the source thread and the 10 or so pages of continued discussion on the Riso/Hudson/Gayle Scott Training notes. There is some debate, but also priceless gems for the conscientious sifter –editor, the RFB
Note–I’m sharing here what I learned at the training, hopefully without distortion of Russ and Gayle’s teaching. I’m working from my notes and memory.
At the training, Russ and Gayle spent a whole day on the variants. Russ said that work with the instincts has the potential to be most transformative. They are more fundamental than type. They relate to our animal soul, our creatureness. Taking an honest look at the variants requires courage, so he urged approaching them with kindness and clarity. Working on the instincts is hard, but brings the most liberation, Russ said. We have narcissism in not wanting to deal with the animal part of our nature. We can have rejection or shame regarding these basic human needs. Liberating the intelligence of the instincts helps one find balance in life.
The instincts are intelligences of the body (the belly center). They help us to survive as an individual and as a species.
The three instincts–self-preservation, sexual, social
Self-pres is the first instinct to evolve. Bacteria have it. The organism finds the proper environment—how am I doing? Orientation to survival and comfort. Humans have a complex nervous system. Self-pres checks in with the body—not enough or too much? The body reports on self-pres needs. Animals will do what they need to do in the moment. They don’t have to stick to a schedule. They are attuned. Root brain. Oldest, deepest, instinct. “I must survive.” Humans are kind of distant from basic survival needs. That is, we have more sophistication, with a wider sphere of comfort, and complex regulation. Once survival is taken care of, we aim for comfort.
Self-pres orients to practical concerns. Energy is conserved, out of a sense that there’s only a finite amount. Same with time. Gayle talked about aborigines—they don’t waste energy because they believe that each life has a finite amount—and when you use it up, you’re done for. In neurotic self-pres, there is fear of not having enough resources. This fear can distort the natural use of the instinct.
The instincts affect how we show up in relationships. For self-pres, there’s a focus on nesting, domesticity, life partner, building a home with someone—that’s the fantasy, anyways.
Sexual – is NOT one-on-one. One-on-one—romance—is a heart issue. This is sometimes mistaken for an instinctual choice. In Nature, sexual reproduction helps to genetically diversify the species—conduces to survival. Russ calls this instinct “attraction.” It’s aggressive, competitive, single-minded, on display, the animal finds smells, stimulation. Use of energy is intensely creative, fiery, go-get-it, a life-and-death matter. E.g. salmon swimming upstream to mate and die.
We live in a sea of magnetism—attraction/repulsion—we don’t control this, or what we are drawn to. Most being-drawn doesn’t lead to the sexual act. We’re turned or not. It is what it is. You can’t fight mother nature. Attraction is smarter than social needs. Russ and Gayle gave the story of how someone has shown that arranged marriages conduce to a more stable society but one which is more susceptible to being wiped out by epidemics. Attraction has an unconscious intelligence. (pheremones).
In relationship, there’s desire for endless engagement and fascination. One is captivated energetically by someone or something. Not after domestic simplicity. One can have the sexual instinct operating with friends—being in the heat. Stimulated, energized.
All instincts play into sexuality. Self-pres is the body-to-body part—cuddling, autonomic regulation, sensuality. Sexual—waves of energy—riding the waves, force between the people. Doesn’t need to be actively physical. Social—sharing of energy. Affection, bridge between the primal instinct and emotional life. In good sex, all three instincts combine—warmth (self-pres), energy (sexual), affection (social).
Social – is not the same as socializing. There’s concern about the well-being of the other, caretaking, adaptation. This instinct is aimed towards species survival and evolved with mammals and some insect species. Species where society is organized to protect the vulnerability of mother and child. Organisms with more complex nervous systems take longer to be viable. The social instinct provides a holding environment.
Emphasis on cooperation and roles aimed at mutual survival. A need to be involved and contribute. A desire to be wanted and accepted. This is an instinct—hardwired. Need a group viability for a sense of well-being. Reciprocity. Attunement to hierarchy, political awareness. Ability to read people. A recognition of when behavior is damaging to group survival. Formation of unconscious clusters where mutual support is an issue. Can manipulate the environment. Has an understanding of what groups can accomplish.
Stacking (material from notes at the training)
Everyone works out a formula for how we prioritize the instincts. The more present you are, the more easily you deal with issues as they arise. With more presence, you get more equilibrium. As you move down the levels of health, the priorities get more compulsive. You pick what’s important according to instinct. And it’s generally obvious to others where you’re a mess. The dominant instinct is where you’re neurotic or obsessed.
The dominant variant is the one given top priority. What gets conscious attention, what causes those sleepless nights. Where your buttons get pushed and you start decompensating. Thus taking an elevator trip to a lower level of health. A lot of this behavior is unconscious. Self-growth happens if you can be present to when you act out of the instincts.
The secondary variant provides support to the first or is where you go on vacation from neurotic stuff. You don’t think about the operation of this instinct much, you’re generally not stressed or neurotic about it. One is least self-conscious in this arena. Not a lot of issues are attached or projected.
The third (last or bottom) variant in the stack is what Russ calls the “blind spot”—it’s like an unused muscle. One might think that it’s not important and that you can do without it. There’s often a negative reaction when you see it operating actively in others.
For example, Sp last people might get impatient with people who fuss about making themselves comfortable. Russ acted out someone fiddling with the room temperature, fiddling with a seat cushion, arranging their bottled water and sweater around their place, etc. (Me, I get bored to distraction if I’m trapped in a conversation about food, home decorations, or money (unless one is talking about these things symbolically).
Sx last people might get the creepy-crawlers with people making out in public—wish they would go get a room someplace.
Soc last people might get impatient with “chit-chat”—they want to get down to business.
Russ said that there’s enormous shame associated with the blind spot variant. A sense of deficiency, being far behind, less of a person. The deepest fears about the self are in this domain. You feel like you need remedial help. You’re not practiced in this area.
On the other hand, one takes the dominant instinct as a given. Thinks that everone should be this way. And are sometimes surprised that everyone else isn’t. In a relationship, if you share the dominant instinct, you’re both going in the same direction, so this gives stability to the relationship.
Russ said that if you address the blind spot you will go up the levels of health faster. It brings balance. However, regarding the last instinct, there’s a tendency to resist and procrastinate. Or make an end-run around it. But if you deal with it, then things can land in the world. You can learn to ask for support from friends.
Dominant and blind spot expression of the instincts
Sp dominant—think about comfort and survival. Habits, routine. You will take care of your needs. People set up little homes for themselves wherever they go. Sp firsts are the grounded version of their type. It becomes neurotic when fear and habit distort the instinct. E.g. eating disorders. One has “issues” that drain energy and cause one to lose Presence. Easily thrown into compulsions. When called on it, one gets angry and doesn’t want to hear about Presence.
Sp blind spot – lack regularity in life. Not much of a foundation, don’t think much about sp stuff. But one isn’t clueless—one feels good when dealing with this stuff. One feels pride and a sense of accomplishment. The fear is of being an eternal child. Hopeless, won’t take care of ones’ self. Expectation of failure. Fear of being a flake. Tend to denigrate this domain. Cynicism that self-pres dominant people “don’t have a life.” It takes will power to do the activities of the blind spot variant. You have to work at it.
Sx dominant – become the moth to the flame. You see where the charge is. Electricity. Obsessions, stalking. “loose cannon.” Life gets out of control. Set self on fire. It’s hard to settle into something. Fear that the need for intensity won’t be sustained. Hard to sustain a committed relationship. (This is easiest for Sp). Obsessed, days without sleep, not thinking about others. High cost—“all or nothing” attitude. But you can learn to tame the fire.
Sx blind spot—subvert the fiery energy. Tamping down the fire. Procrastinate, don’t honor your passion, hard to act on the passion—postpone. Avoid anything stimulating. Inertia. Fear of being a boring person and amazed that someone wants to spend time with you. Afraid of having no juice.
Dominant—neglect other things in favor of focus on contributions—workaholic. Being included is important. A need to be plugged in to something. Finding a place in the world. One can manipulate people to get this need met. Can be a narcissistic need. Focus on politics, jockeying for position and role. This can be pathological. Issue of willingness to pay the price of admission. Danger of over- accomodating. You may not want to join in but are aware of the issue—do I participate or not? A focus on “what will I get out of this?” “Is this worth my while?” One is dancing with the issue of one’s place in life. Likes gossip. Want to know what’s going on with people—this is a way to uncover the hierarchy. Talk is currency. (Sp and Sx don’t care so much.) Discourse is a social instinct thing. Exploring—how can we bond? Are we on the same team? Who can I trust? Healthy expression—how can this help everyone? Unhealthy expression—what’s in it for me? Issues can turn into warfare—the darker side of politics.
Soc blind spot—It’s hard to concern self with another’s agenda. Don’t want to deal with “their stuff.” Dismissive. Cynicism around idealism—connecting socially will cost me something. Interactions are draining. Fear of being emotionally crippled. Can’t connect with people. You’re “broken.” A self-knowledge of being ungracious. It’s hard to take in the gifts and generosity of others. One doesn’t let oneself try to interact or find out. Projected fear—if I ignore others, they will ignore me. There’s an expectation of humiliation. A desire not to impose self on people in fear of not being wanted, or being klutzy. And you can’t repair the social blind spot in isolation. You need others. Ask for help.
Russ said that your actual lived life is a testament to what your choices have been. Your life is a monument to your stack—it can be healthy or neurotic.
Russ said that the life script of a self-pres dominant tends to emphasize continuity, organic development. Sexuals tend to have chapters, and have sometimes “gone down in flames’ with what they’re attracted to. Socials tend to have “pods of affiliation”, that is different groups or activities they’re involved with.
Look at your actual behavior. If you’re not doing your dominant instinct, then you might feel like you’re taking time away from what’s important. If you have to put in effort in the realm of the instinct, this may be your blind spot. There’s an intelligence to the way that your soul has set things up. Look at it. Look at your particular programming. See what you’ve taken yourself to be. What supports you is an issue of stacking. Relax around it—just look at where the attention goes or does not go.
Russ said that it doesn’t work to tell someone to “not do” their dominant. But if you work on the blind spot, it brings in balance that helps you deal with the dominant. With balance, you don’t need to get ALL the needs met via the dominant instinct.
In awakening (showing up) we recognize what we really love—and there’s a remorse of conscience, as we see the ways that we haven’t honored it. Work on the instincts brings up the neglected parts of ourselves, and the rejection hurts our hearts. When you work on the blind spot, the temptation will be to go back to the dominant variant. Russ said it takes courage to cross the waters, especially the shark-infested waters. To deal with the blind spot, ask for help. Enlist friends to engage, but not overwhelm. Take little steps.
(Aside–the day spent on the variants and the stacking was intense for me–lots of tight throat holding back tears. Frustration. I went into the training unsure of my stacking, and this got worse as the day went on. I felt like my inability to answer this meant that either I wasn’t understanding this material or that I didn’t know or was deceiving myself. It was hard, for example, for me to sort out the intensity that comes from fusing thoughts with emotions, like I can do at the lower levels of 5 health in contrast to the intensity that comes from belly center electrified awareness. At my lowest point, all three were fused, and this resulted in a major “flame out” chapter of my life. As I was typing up my notes yesterday, though, I took the advice given at the top of this post, namely I looked at my life as a whole, and this leads me to soc/sx/sp as the more comprehensive answer.)
Dominant variant and type
The three variants involve different uses of energy–conservation for self-pres; intense expenditure for sexual; sharing for social
Russ said that you act out the passion of the type in the dominant instinct.
You’re cynical in the domain of your blind spot.
Anxiety or fear around the instinct results in doing the opposite of what the instinct is designed to do. That is, the instincts are what our needs are. The type pertains to how we get the needs met, i.e., how we go about it. As you go further down the levels of health, use of the instinct is more compulsive. Less response to the actual need of the moment. The enneagram type passion creates distortion in the dominant instinct. Put differently, the passion of the E type most plays itself out in the dominant instinct. “Acting out.” Instincts operate at a deeper level than type. So your dominant will be dominant in the wing/stress/security pts also.
I’ve said this before in other topics, but the way I see it, the variants represent your needs and priorities. The types are more like your internal issues. Your own problems. The internal problems you focus on (the conflict between ego, superego and id). The variants, by contrast, focus on the outside world. The outside problems you focus on.
Therefore, the social type focuses on society as a whole, and… well… social problems. That is – your job, your school, whether you have homework to do, whether you don’t have homework to do, how well are you doing in life, how well are other people doing in life, how well are you doing in life compared to how other people are doing in life, your role, etc.
It compells you to desire to interact with others, and focus on the interactions between you and others, as well as the interaction between you and… things even. It’s a thought that’s very… gear-like. Very… mechanic.
There’s always movement. They are aware of also the interactions between others and others, and others and the environment as well as themselves and others and themselves and the environment. It’s being aware of interactions in general. How everything interacts with each other. That’s what makes it very gear-like. One gear affects another, and their aware of how they can harm and help this whole entire process (of interacting with others and stuff).
When they lose someone, they feel that a gear was just lost. They can’t interact with it anymore, and it’s gone. That something’s missing (and they know what it is).
Sx-firsts, on the other hand, aren’t as aware of the interactions between them and others and the environment, rather… their more aware of the chemistry. So while the so-firsts are more “mechanical”, the sx-firsts are more “chemical”.
Focusing on sx-first issues involve: Am I close to my gf/bf? Am I close to my family? How much in common do we all have? Do I really like this thing? Am I attracted to it? Is that person attracted to that other person? etc.
They’re more aware of the bonds and the chemistry between them and people, as well as environment, and other people and other people, as well as other people and the environment. They really like being close to their intimates, and are generally passionate about things.
Likewise, they fear that those chemical bonds could be broken, and when they are, they are emotionally hurt. They feel literally separated, and ripped away from the other person or object.
Finally, sp-first issues revolve around: Am I healthy? Do I look good? How are my financial issues? How is that person’s financial issues? Am I hungry? etc.
In other words, sp-firsts worry more about fitness. Fitness in general, of course, not necessarily just body fitness. Therefore, they worry more about how fit they are in their environment, as well as how fit other people are in their environment. They want to be fit. I guess this represents more of… potential energy, rather than mechanical and chemical energy.
When someone leaves them… I guess perhaps they feel more unfit, since I’m sure they may rely on others to keep them fit. Though, its still more important for they themselves to be fit on their own.
Therefore… now… stackings:
So/Sx– Mechanical energy -> Chemical energy (-> = then)
Focus on the interaction of things, and how their “chemical energy” influences these interactions. They use their “chemical energy” to help them interact better. They seek a bond with everything they interact with.
Sx/So– Chemical energy -> Mechanical energy
Focus on the chemistry of things, and how their “mechanical energy” influences the chemistry between them and others. They may rely on interactions to help their “chemical bonds” remain stable (such as asking a friend for advice on the relationship, as well as interacting with the right objects to help the relationship remain stable).
So/Sp– Mechanical energy -> Potential energy
Focus on the interaction of things again, but then they also focus on their fitness, and how fit those interactions are. Use their fitness as a away of reinforcing the strength of the interactions as well (“I will do better at work if I am well-suited”).
Sp/So– Potential energy -> Mechanical energy
Focus on their fitness, while also focusing on the interaction of things. How those interactions affect their fitness. They may, for this reason, seem more business oriented. (“If I take that offer, it might help me more”).
Sp/Sx– Potential energy -> Chemical energy
Focus on their fitness, as well as the chemical bonds they’ve developed with people. They also focus on how those chemical bonds affect their fitness.
Sx/Sp– Chemical energy -> Potential energy
Focus on their chemical bonds, as well as fitness. Basically, the fitness of those chemical bonds, and what they can do to make them “fitter”.