In Enneagram language, we talk about instinctual variants or drives as being related to personality but also separate from it. Personality happens up in the prefrontal cortex where our rationality and judgement reside too. But the instinct drives are sub-perceptual in the way that we can’t really reason with them because they originate in the body. We don’t think them into being. Our bodies alert us to these instinctual needs by way of sensation. If you are hungry, you know it right? there are sensations in the body associated with hunger or thirst. Those sensations move us towards satisfying the need. What’s most important about this is that more often than not, people aren’t aware of their biases or the ways they prioritise one dominant instinct over other often neglected instincts.
Here is an important point, what makes these impulses healthy. To my mind if they are in the body they serve some purpose and therefore must be a useful reference point to keep life in balance. i.e. if you feel hungry you can probably trust what the body is telling you and eat something. But when there is an emotional pattern at play, it may disrupt or override the natural functioning of instinctual energy. The simple impulses in the body can then get distorted and we can end up doing things that really aren’t good for ourselves and those around us like over eating or neglecting nutrition, or hanging out with the wrong people or putting ourselves in groups we don’t want to be part of and the list goes on. All because for whatever reason, we weren’t listening to the intelligence of the body.
What are the instincts? there are three, base need is Self-preservation. that’s all about our immediate needs to survive – food, water, temperature, shelter, resources to live, skills and livelihood.
Next and one notch up on the chakra line is the sexual/ creative instinct and sometimes referred to as one-to-one variant. Although, I think that Russ Hudson makes an excellent point here that one-to-one can be misleading in the way it implies that this drive depends on another person. Its more accurate to see the sexual drive as an electrical-like energy that exists on its own and has no other purpose but to evolve life, to diversify and perpetuate this life into greater and greater forms of beauty, wisdom and truth. It is vital life energy that move us fearlessly towards the things that excite and arouse us. if we block or accelerate/ overuse this energy because of shame or guilt we get from the many avenues in society, we pay the price in attracting partners and people in our lives that reflect this imbalance. The emotional patterns that make us doubt our attractiveness or worth so often get in the way of us experiencing this energy in a free and natural way. When we are present in our bodies and paying attention to ourselves we can also be present with this energy. When we do this, we don’t do anything that will cause us more shame later. We just follow the innocence of the expression and in our vulnerability surrender to an aspect of ourselves that is there to move us out of our comfort zone. That is the essential purpose of this instinct, look at nature – male lions fight for their lives sometimes for mating rights. It is very much a question of life for life with the underlying current being a certain fearlessness that allows us to face the odds and move with an intelligence we simply cant control. That’s also why the end result always has the potential to be something more magnificent then we could have ever imagined from a limited left brain only state.
Finally, the social instinct is about our well-being in the context of the group. Its an essential part of our survival in the way that we are stronger together. Not only are we stronger together, we are biologically wired to be together. This is clearly shown in the way that the worst forms of torture have a theme of social isolation. Regardless of our preservation needs, we simply don’t survive on our own. We need other people to have a sense of belonging and place in the world. Without that, I’m not sure whether having meaning is even possible. Our social bonds make us more resilience in the face of adversity and keep us psychologically healthy when we have good relations within and between the groups that we belong to. Importantly, the social drive is not about being a good socialite. Rather its about knowing and sensing where ones best possible place is in the group and equally being able to discern whether the group context we find ourselves in is right for us. This can be the instinct that when healthy, drives us away from groups that have more destructive energies and outcomes. The social intelligence keeps us tuned in and awake to the collective energies and movements with the group.