Home | Blog | BTS and the Enneagram: Part 1 | Self-Preservation Instinct

BTS and the Enneagram: Part 1 | Self-Preservation Instinct

Why would I write a blog about BTS, the ever-popular, vastly creative K-pop “boy band,” and one of the most successful musical groups globally? First, I love their music and their performances, and I am fascinated by the seven BTS members themselves. Second, I am deeply intrigued by their rise globally and how they have been able to do this. In this way, I’ve also been exploring parallels between BTS’s popularity and that of Taylor Swift, particularly in terms of social context and their appeal.

From an Enneagram perspective, the three basic instincts  – self-preservation, social, and one-to-one – provided me with a framework. Self-preservation refers to issues related to physical existence, safety, security, danger, resources, structure, and control. The social instinct includes the importance of belonging, community, groups, social relationships, and influence. Finally, the one-to-one instinct is a focus on the individual about one other person, affection, intimacy, bonding, and attraction.

This first of several blogs focuses on BTS and the self-preservation instinct: the issues, challenges, and how BTS transformed the challenges into opportunities. BTS and the other instincts will be in subsequent blogs.

BTS and the self-preservation instinct

Self-preservation issue 1: Scarce resources
BTS was formed in 2010-2011 under the umbrella of Big Hit Entertainment, an agency considered at the time to be less prestigious and far less resourced than the other three big South Korean agencies. In addition to being small, Big Hit had just spent time and money on what is called a “girl band,” and this band was not successful.

Self-preservation challenge 1: Scarce resources
How did the seven BTS members deal with the challenge of being highly under-resourced by their agency? How would they support themselves, given that most of their families of origin were not wealthy? How would they find the resources to provide themselves with housing, food, and training (vocal, dance, and more)? Just as important, there was limited money for promotion and developing a fan base.

Self-preservation opportunity 1: Scarce resources
This challenge became their opportunity. Without external resources available, they cross-trained each other. Two BTS members were already excellent dancers – J-Hope and Jimin – and taught the others. Similarly, RM and Suga were known rappers and serious musicians and shared what they knew. And so it went.

K-pop is generally a cross blend between pop, hip hop, and rap, and amongst them, BTS members already knew these musical genres. BTS went beyond these. Although RM, BTS’ leader, was a well-known rapper, he was also an expansive musician and insisted that all BTS members listen to and learn from a variety of musical genres: jazz, R&B, soul, and more. Because the other BTS members respected RM both as a musician and a leader, they complied. A listen-and-learn approach does not require money, just time and commitment.

In addition, with limited resources to publicize themselves using conventional paid channels, BTS members got creative and generated their own free resources. At the time, there was no path or prototype for promotion without extensive financial commitments. BTS members had to get creative and inventive. They used social media, filming themselves just being themselves: eating, playing games, watching TV, practicing their routines, and being silly together but in unscripted and highly spontaneous ways. They started captivating a fanbase that would become ever-loyal. At the time, almost no other groups were doing this.

Self-preservation issue 2: Self-care at a young age
The BTS members did not initially know one another. They were talented but very young. By Korean age calculations, the oldest (Jin) was 20; the youngest (Jung Kook) was 15. However, these ages are Korean ages, which are not the same as calculated in other countries. In Korea, you are one at birth and depending on the month you were born, Korean age could also be two years ahead of US age. By US age calculation, Jung Kook was about 13 when he joined BTS, while Jin was about 18. They were in middle school (Jung Kook), high school, or just starting college. In addition, none of the BTS members lived or were raised in Seoul, where they were all required to move and also give up living with their families.

BTS members were required to live together dormitory style all in the same room, with bunk beds, clothes everywhere, and barely enough time to sleep. They were in school, practiced up to 10 hours each day, needed to feed themselves, had to do their own laundry, and essentially be away from their families, as none of them came from Seoul, where Big Hit is located. They came from various smaller cities, towns, or villages, where life was simpler and more relaxed than in the big city of Seoul. They also had to leave their friends.

Self-preservation challenge 2: Self-care at a young age
How did seven adolescent boys, who were suddenly thrown into a new and large city and had been nurtured by their families manage to take care of themselves without their support systems?

Self-preservation opportunity 2: Self-care at a young age
The challenge became their opportunity. Jin, the eldest, often cooked for the others and taught/inspired them to nurture the other members and themselves. Jin also drove Jung Kook to middle school, and the other BTS members were on hand when Jung Kook started school as well as when he graduated. The four older BTS members – Jin, RM, J-Hope and Suga – essentially stepped into older brother roles with the younger members – V, Jimin and Jung Kook.

For the most part, BTS members seem to have come from supportive families, where at least some family members believed in the BTS members’ dreams and aspirations. Their families also made it OK when, at times, BTS members wanted to quit at various times because the work was just too hard and demanding. There appears to have been no parental pressure for them to be “on stage.” In a sense, BTS members became family to each other, even using Korean family names for one another: “hyung” for older brother and “maknae,” referring to BTS members who are younger. They celebrate birthdays with a cake, buy each other gifts, support each other emotionally, and fight and make up, just like families do!


Trust, risk, and fear are also concerns in the self-preservation instinctual area.

BTS members had to learn to trust each other as individuals as well as performers. Their fan base, which became known as ARMY, needed to trust them and vice versa. ARMY needed to not only trust them musically but also as people. Through their social media platforms,  BTS showed themselves as they were without being pre-scripted or artificially posed. They wrote their own music, reflecting their own personal themes and experiences, which resonated with their audience. The more ARMY trusted BTS, the more BTS relied on ARMY’s support.

Risk and fear
None of them knew when or even if they would debut as a “boy band.” Hanging over them was the understanding that they might never debut or that any one of them could be eliminated as a BTS member by their agency Big Hit. The uncertainty was high.

BTS debuted as a “boy band” in 2013, with all seven BTS members intact. The photo above* was taken one year after their debut.

Music Video

Although “Permission to Dance was first performed in 2020, seven years after BTS debuted, the theme of overcoming obstacles is ever present in this inspiring music video.
Watch “Permission to Dance” here. This is my “happy place.”

About Ginger

Ginger Lapid-Bogda PhD, author of nine Enneagram books, is a speaker, consultant, trainer, and coach. She provides certification programs and training tools for business professionals around the world who want to bring the Enneagram into organizations with high-impact business applications. TheEnneagramInBusiness.com | ginger@theenneagraminbusiness.com

* This photo is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license and was downloaded from the Wikimedia Commons site. Through Wikipedia Commons, an independent reviewer confirmed that this image was under the stated license on that date listed. BTS is very careful and diligent with their copyrighted materials, which we respect and follow. All photos for this blog series will be obtained from Wikimedia Commons and have an International Creative Commons copyright.

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