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Enneagram Theory: Three Things I Wonder About Subtypes

Although I have become immersed in learning, knowing, and using the 27 Enneagram subtypes in my work and writing, there are more and more intriguing questions emerging for which I don’t have answers. Here they are, plus some musings about them:

Question 1 | If each of us has a primary subtype (plus a secondary and a dormant one), when we access our wings and arrows, do we tend to access the same subtype of our dominant subtype?
Whenever I teach subtypes and a groups really “gets” the concept, this question almost always gets asked and we talk abut it. I ask them this: What is your experience with this? Do you tend to move to the same dominant subtype of their wings and arrows.

More often than not (75% of the time, people say yes, they do. Then they think about it for a while, yet come up with the same answer. My own experience is that yes, I do tend to go to social 3, social 8, social 1, and social 4 more than the other two variants of each ennea-type. As a social 2, in my 3 wing, I am image conscious (though not to the same extent as 3s), and I do access my arrow of social 8 most easily, with a need to protect groups and individuals with whom I feel a simpatico or responsibility. In my 1 wing, I am somewhat non-adaptable when I think I am right which is not most of the time, but does occur when I have a great deal of experience or knowledge. In my arrow 4, yes I am most prone to shame, fueled through suffering, though I don’t stay there for very long.

What do you think, but more important, what is your experience?

Question 2 | Although we have one subtype – the intersection of our type’s passion and one of the three human instincts: self-preservation, social, and one-to-one – that is dominant (well, some of us have two that are relatively equal), do we still act from our dormant subtype when circumstances elicit that particular instinct?
I have really been wondering about this, having observed myself, and my son most closely. This can be difficult to know about others unless we really know them, spend large of amounts of time with them, and they share their inner experiences clearly. My 20 year-old son is a social 3, and this was clear since he was about 8 years-old. He was very image conscious, even though he is a pretty evolved guy, and though a bit introverted, he loved to hangout with famous people. Once he walked up to Arnold Schwarzeneggeron Halloween (Arnold was out with his family), shook is hand, and said this: Arnold, I’m not old enough to vote and wouldn’t have voted for you if I could, but you’re doing a pretty good job! (Now my son would not say this, as Arnold started having big problems as governor soon after, these not related to his “love-child.”)

But when he really fell in love, he looked just like a one-to-one 3. Willing to devote himself to and sacrifice himself for his beloved, he upped his “masculine” image, engaged in activities about which he had zero interest (chick flicks!), and socialized with her friends more than his, even though her friends were somewhat uninteresting to him. Most recently, as a junior in college, he is worried about what to do with his life. He’s far more anxious than I’ve ever seen him, trusts less, is more honest about everything he feels, and so forth. He feels somewhat like a self-preserving 3, trying to be good, and not needing to draw much attention to himself.

So what do you think about the idea that circumstances may elicit our least dominant instinct? What is your experience?

Question 3 | Claudio Naranjo says (and I think he is very accurate about this) – that we have two active subtypes and these can switch in dominance at different points in our lives, what causes them to switch?
Maybe this is related to the 2nd question, but maybe it’s not. I do think that when I was younger (maybe until I was 40), my one-on-one instinct was much more active, maybe even stronger in some was than my social instinct is now. I will admit to never sacrificing a good cause for a relationship, but I did think about doing so at several times in my life. And until I was about 35, I did have a way of listening so closely to people that I was often told I made them feel like they were the only one in the world. This goes for male and female friends as well as romantic relationships.

So what do you think about what causes our two active instincts to change in importance (if they have for you, which many people say is not the case)? What is your experience?

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Adrienne | Enneagram Life Recent comment authors
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Adrienne | Enneagram Life

I think mine is clearly “self-preservation” on all fronts… I wonder if it still have to do with the core type as dominant. I mean the Enneagram Six. it’s all about security and how to achieve that… so to me “self-preservation” would make sense to everything I do. But I’m sure social is a big part of it too. Perhaps, this has to do with my wing of the Seven… trying to be that happy person inside… or that three get up and go type that’s there somewhere, deep down! lol I question my self daily, so I guess I’m… Read more »