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Instinctual Drives: An Overview

Though often pushed to the back of our consciousness and buried under layers of ego, every human at their instinctual core is just trying to survive. At this instinctive level, there are three main areas of concern that help the individual survive in an uncertain world: Self-Preservation, Sexual, and Social. These make up the bestial side of us humans, a part of our lizard brain that watches for ways to keep the body safe, procreate, and live harmoniously with our fellow humans in order to live another day.

We all use the three instincts, though to greater and lesser degrees and with more or less mastery. We call the instinct we naturally use (without any real thought) our dominant instinct with the instinct that is our least developed and least utilized our repressed instinct. The secondary instinct we use is something that supports our pursuit of our dominant instinct and gives us skills to do so, while also not causing us many problems like the dominant or repressed instincts will. This instinctual stacking (Dominant, Secondary, and Repressed) is believed to be fixed at a very young age and is very unlikely to change, unless you're being chased by a bear...then we're all Self-Preservation Dominant.

Self-Preservation (SP):

The Self-Preservation Instinct is primarily concerned with the protection and maintenance of the physical self. This instinct aims to survive by ensuring physical well-being of the person; the stability and security of their resources; and their self-regulation and self-reliance skills.

Three Main Areas of the Self-Preservation Instinct:

Physical Well-Being:

The SP instinct influences an individual to value caring for and maintaining the physical well-being, including valuing their health, safety, and comfort. This could mean taking steps to ensure an individual's own physical safety, such as avoiding dangerous situations or taking precautions to prevent illness or injury. They are attuned own physical experiences and needs for comfort and actively create environments or experiences that promote comfortable physical experience.

Self-regulation and Skills:

The SP instinct influences an individual's focus on self-regulation and practical skills that allow for stability and self-sufficiency. This may look like taking care of the practical day-to-day tasks (not necessarily with enjoyment) with the thought that this will ensure well-being, predictability, and stability in their lives. This instinct, with its emphasis on balance and stability, inspires individuals to build systems, method, or processes that can be repeated.

Foundations and Resources:

Building stable foundations and securing resources for stability, safety, and well-being is also a part of the SP instinct, which inspires individuals to delay gratification, plan for the future, and build foundations that can last beyond their lifetimes. This may involve a foundational work and investments that will pay off in the long run.

Sexual (SX):

The Sexual Instinct is primarily concerned with the attraction of and connection with a special person and groups of people that will ensure the survival of the individual. Unlike the steady, grounded Self-Preservation, the Sexual instinct aims to create, push boundaries, lose oneself in others or in something larger than themselves, and energetically attract others.

Three Main Areas of Sexual Instinct:


The Sexual instinct drives an individual's desire for energetically attracting and "clicking" other people, groups, and activities that allow for the feeling of aliveness and vitality. This instinct enhances a person's sensitivity to energy and chemistry between themselves and others and allows them to find those scenarios in which they can feel both excited and known. Though attraction may be the ultimate goal, the SX instinct can equally enjoy the repulsion side of the energy flow as this can feel intensely alive and unpredictable.

Boundary Pushing/Intensity:

The SX instinct can also involve a desire for boundary-pushing experiences that bring a sense of intensity, aliveness, or chemically attunement. This can result in individuals seeking out experiences that are beyond the norm, creative, enlivening, and have the potential for exciting possibilities.

Loss of Self/Merging:

The SX instinct also involves a desire to merge (or lose oneself) with something beyond oneself and to become part of a larger whole. Displays of this instinct could look like seeking deep connection through energetically fusing with a person, concept, or experience that allows the individual to blur the boundary of themselves and connect to something bigger and outside themselves (for example, losing oneself in a deep conversations or in the energy of a moving collective experience at a concert or religious event).

Social (SO):

The Social instinct operates on the belief that the connection and belonging with a person's tribe will ultimately help the person survive and thrive. The SO instinct drives individuals to be concerned with connecting and belonging; adapting the self in order to live harmoniously; and participating in a system of reciprocal contribution that fosters inclusion and importance.

Three Main Areas of the Social Instinct

Connection with and Caring for Others:

The Social instinct involves a strong desire for connection and caring for others through finding a mutual shared purpose, reciprocity, and collective service for the greater good. This instinct puts value on emotional intimacy, maintaining close relationships, and finding common ground with others. This instinct influences the formation of cohesive groups and, thus also inspires the formation of parameters of the group--who or what is "in" and who or what is "out".

Mindreading and Social Cues:

The SO instinct also involves a strong focus on the dynamics between individuals and what behaviors, lifestyles, and appearances "fit" and which do not. In this way, the SO instinct allows individuals the ability to mind read and interpret social cues in order to fit in and adhere to the expectations of the community. This high attunement to the emotions and needs of others and desire to be accepted and belong to the group, though beneficial to group harmony, can increase an individual's sensitivity to rejection and their fear of social exclusion.

Context/Vocation: Social role

The Social instinct also informs an individual's sense of their role in the larger context and inspires their purposeful contribution to the greater good. Looking at the larger context, the individual is able to determine what is "I" to oneself and what is "I" in proximity to others. This is where the social mask is formed as well as where the social mask is informed of how it fits with others. Though this can be seen negatively, in reality the mask allows others to harmoniously work together, resolve conflict, and build something greater than any one individual could.

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