Self-preservation: This is our primary instinct to stay alive, as an individual and as a species. It is before all else in life, and all forms of life have this drive. It is so primal that it is mostly unconscious. It includes our basic need for physical well being – eating, sleeping, movement, and ease – and our need to care for ourselves, provide housing, manage our resources, and be safe. When our instincts are trustworthy, free and flowing, we feel substantive and secure, and at home in our own body, free to love, create, speak, and experience delight.
Social: This is our drive towards relationship and bonding, our heart’s instinctual desire to feel connected. Out of this comes empathy and compassion, and our ability to care for one another. This can manifest with another or with a group. What can emerge is our sense of belonging and knowing that our presence matters. At its deepest root, we experience unconditional love, a felt-sense of Oneness — with ourselves, with others, with the earth and the universe.
Sexual: This is the instinct towards resonance and aliveness. It awakens our body and provides us with a felt-sense of potential and possibility, drawing us towards people, things, and ideas that excite us. When we are intimately connected with and sourced by the ground of our being, we feel vibrantly alive, joyous, creative, sensuous, responsive to and in harmony with our True Nature.
These instincts originate in the body as a form of natural intelligence. These instincts are not thoughts or concepts, nor are they physically permanent, but rather are experienced as energetic movements in our bodies. Conditioned by life experiences, our instincts become distorted and hijacked in service to the needs of our ego or wounded self. When they are bound in service to the ego or conditioned self, we usually experience a dominance of one instinct, a suppression of one, and one that is neutral or flowing naturally.
A dominant instinct is our go-to strategy in life, the one we prioritize for survival. A self-preservation dominant person might strive to have their safety needs met before all else, even relationships. They may think often about whether they have enough or whether they’ll have enough in the future. A dominant sexual person might find themselves constantly looking for stimulation outside of themselves or in their fantasies. A dominant social person might have their identity driven by the groups they belong to, or be preoccupied with whether they belong. These are only a few examples – each personality will favor and use the instincts in particular ways and combinations for its survival strategies.
A repressed instinct is one that we’ve become unconscious to or lost touch with. A self-preservation repressed person might show up as someone who can’t manage their finances or hold a job, or even someone who forgets to eat and nourish themselves. A sexual instinct repressed person usually results in a kind of dullness and an inability to be excited about life. A social instinct repressed person can manifest a lack of meaningful intimate connections with others.
Cultivating a balanced, healthy flow of life energies is essential for feeling substantive, secure, and vibrantly alive, connecting in authentic, mutually-nourishing relationships, and embodying the luminous transparency of our authentic nature.
Cynthia Riha is a Realization Process teacher and executive coach in the San Francisco Bay Area. Cynthia’s work with the Enneagram Prison Project has given her a deep conceptual, somatic, and perceptual understanding of Enneagram types and instincts. Her decades of meditation practice and her years of Realization Process studies have underlined the significance of subtle, nondual embodiment practices in freeing ourselves “from the prisons of our own making.”