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Instinctual Drives and Change

Nobody likes change. It feels unsafe, insecure, and scary. Though sometimes change can afford us the opportunity for the new and exciting, it is also laced with all the uncertainty of our routines, our patterns, and our tried-and-true being different than before and from what we expect. We experience this change both at the Ego level (which is where our Enneagram Type hangs out) and at the Instinctual Level. This Instinctual Level is the older part of our brain--the lizard part--that cares only for the survival of the organism. In the Enneagram world, there are three main Instinctual Drives-Self-Preservation, Social, and Sexual--that speak to the deep, gut-level drive we have to survive and explains how each of us defines what survival is and how we believe we will succeed in doing so. As with all things Enneagram, being aware of where we go when change comes knocking at our door is a good first step in creating understanding and space around how we can act and interact more consciously.

Self-Preservation and Change: Secure the Resource

For those with a penchant for SP, change can hit pretty hard. SPs value stability, routine, and the known in the physical, tangible world. This tangible world involves--in part or in whole--the body, the physical environment, and the financial environment. SPs naturally create stability and build foundations for the future that allow for MORE stability. They may take risks and push themselves outside their boundaries, but it's a conscious, deliberate choice.

When change comes for a Self-Preservation Dominant person, the first thing that they will lockdown and sure-up is their physical, tangible resources. Now, this doesn't mean that all SPs run for the bunker at the slightest sign of change (though they'd be the most likely to do so), but it does mean that when change comes knocking that they will feel more capable of handling the change after they have taken measures to ensure their physical safety, environmental safety, and financial safety. Some of the measures they take will be obvious--such as checking their bank accounts and getting the doctor's appointment--but some can be more nuanced--such as reaching out to their network of friends in attempts to lockdown the resource of help.

Socials and Change: Secure the Position/Belonging

For those who are SO dominant, change can also hit pretty hard, but especially hard if it affects their tribe or feeling of belonging. Belonging to a tribe and being considered indispensable by that tribe is paramount to the SOs way of life and their ultimate survival. Unlike the SPs and SXs, a SO Dominant will believe that surviving from breakfast to dinner will depend mostly on being in good standing in the group, contributing something meaningful (and thus indispensable), and being protected by other members in that group.

When hit with a massive change, the first thing a SO Dominant may do to ensure their survival is to rally their tribe around them and connect to ensure that relationships are safe and secure. Unlike SPs who may see this networking as a way of securing the RESOURCE behind the connection, the SO will see the CONNECTION itself as the means of survival--thinking, if I belong, then the group will protect me. This is why when change involves the SO's tribe--such as a falling out or a move of some sort--that many SOs will experience even slight change as a feeling of utter loss and unmooring.

Note: Social Dominant does not speak to Extroversion (an unfortunately confusing term that seems to mean a mixture of social capability and desire to socialize), but to the feeling that being connected to others or the greater whole creates meaning and safety for the individual. In other words, there are many many "introverted" SO Dominants.

Sexuals and Change: Secure the Connection/Intensity

SX Dominants seem to adapt to change in some areas with the most flexibility and may even some excitement. They see the move to another country as exciting and can handle changes to their tribe with more equanimity, but will experience changes and hindrances to their deep connections and their ability to tap into the intensity/creativity of life as threats to their survival. SXs instinct drives the belief that the person's survival depends on the ability to deeply connect with the few and be allowed to feel and live into the intensity and creativity of life--without it, they will cease to exist.

When faced with change, SX will first look to secure their deep connections and ability to feel intensity and creativity. This may look like leaning into close relationships even more, going on a massive trip just to feel the spark of life in another country, or spending time on deeply creative projects. In these cases, the intensity that the SX is drawn to has the two fold purpose of allowing the SX to feel alive and to attract and deeply connect with others--in other words, intensity without the purpose of connection is not desirable, but the intensity with the promise of connection feels like survival. Where the general vibe of a SP in the midst of change is a hunkering down and waiting out the storm, the vibe of the SX in the change is standing out in the storm and feeling the rain their their skin.

Enneagram Types and Instinctual Drives

In the Enneagram world, the Enneagram Type (or the ego structure) functions as a MEANS of achieving the Instinctual Drive not the other way around. So the Ego may show up first to the party, but it's only there to get the Instinctual Drive what it needs. Let's look at some examples:


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