I love “a-ha moments” that make me reflect, “how could I have not seen that before?” Now I know why—I never looked or provided myself ample space to do so.

With insight, we gain agency.

Once we experience this realization, we can understand why we do what we do. Our behavioral instincts’ mission is to keep us safe and help us survive no matter the consequences. They constantly scan for threats in the background to proactively protect us and cause our bodies to jump into survival mode when we feel exposed. Understanding the root cause of our vulnerability can enable us to soften aspects of our personality and allow for new ways of being.

Understanding what drives us.

The Enneagram framework invites us to tune into ourselves and teaches us how to adopt more positive and healthy reactions. The Enneagram embodies nine interconnected personality types and strategies with distinct worldviews and approaches. Each type merges with one of three instincts creating a particular focus of attention that affects how we interact and relate to ourselves, others, and our environment.

These instincts are labeled self-preservation, one-to-one (also known as sexual), and social. All are “hardwired” in us for survival. However, we each have a dominant instinct, a second that supports it, and a third that is least developed and a potential blind spot. The following highlights the instincts as described in various Enneagram teachings.

  • Self-Preservation: Tends to notice their physical environment, safety, material security, and comfort in preserving their body, life, and functioning. They are concerned with food, money, housing, medical matters, and physical comfort. It’s important to note in this context that self-preservation doesn’t mean selfishness.
  • One-to-One: Tends to focus on the intensity of experiences and interpersonal relationships, energy, and meaning but is not necessarily tied to sexual intimacy. There is an intense drive for stimulation and a constant awareness of the “chemistry” between themselves and others.
  • Social: Tends to notice group norms, dynamics, and hierarchies in groups and communities. Social does not imply being sociable or extraverted. Instead, the focus is on interactions, relationships, fitting in, and forming social bonds. They are highly aware of other people and adapt themselves to serve the needs of the current situation.

How this plays out can cause tension with others.

When we feel threatened, our personality automatically becomes more defensive and reactive. We go into overdrive, and we’re “in the grip” of what Carl Jung would categorize as our inferior function. Having witnessed my “Sensing inferior” aspect coupled with my Self-Preservation bias, I’m amazed and appalled at how this has manifested in my actions. Like hunting down a must-have product and paying double since it’s the only place that has it. Then regretting the purchase moments later. Our instincts can also trigger others when their dominant instinct is the opposite of yours. It’s taken a lot of open, honest, and courageous discussion for my husband and me to appreciate and acknowledge how our instinctual differences are usually the underlying culprit in our upsets.

As we become more aware, we can lighten up and welcome new approaches.

We become less fixated when we view ourselves objectively and consider how we’re feeling—in our mind, body, and heart. We’re more attuned to what is happening in our nervous system and can pause and reassess the situation versus falling victim to our defenses. We can operate more effectively and activate our best by considering various perspectives and incorporating our least favored instinct into our lives.

The topics of self-reflection and personal development are passions of mine. If you want to learn more or talk about any of these concepts with a trusted partner, visit www.mindykantor.com and connect with me. You can also sign up for my free Activate Your Best monthly newsletter.

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