The other day, I wrote about the woes of growing up sexual in a self-preservation or social family, where the need to concentrate the energy in the room into an argument, or drama, or a party is met with a look that says, "Whoa". And sometimes, "Why?"
In Enneagram language, "sexual" is the name of one of three instincts that tells how we relate to social situations. People can either prefer sexual, social, or self-preservation instinctual approaches to their membership in the global tribe.
People who prioritize the sexual instinct prefer one-on-one interactions because it's easier to contract the energy between two people, and they don't have to take too many dynamics into consideration, (which just gets complicated). The caveat here is that this isn't always about sex- it can be, because we all know that sex is the consummation of directed energy- but it can also simply be excitement about travel plans, a project, a cause, or an otherwise interesting discussion.
Then there are those who prefer interacting with a group where the energy is a lot more spread out. They're actually really good at reading the dynamics between everyone in the group-- they have an intelligence for it-- so for them, numbers aren't a problem, in fact, it's being alone that's the problem. There's an itch to go find people to hang out with to get some relief from the suffocation after long stretches of solitude. Nobody likes being alone too much, these guys just have a lower tolerance for it. These are the people who prioritize the social instinct.
Thirdly, there's a more subdued version of the other two. They still have a preference for either the sexual or the social scenarios, but even more important than that to them, is their self-preservation. How this manifests depends on the personality type, but there's generally a concern for preserving their energy so as not to run out of it. Things that "cost" them their energy can be physical discomfort, or just simply being out of their element or away from home . It can also mean financially- are their bills paid? Is there food in the fridge? Anything that is essential to what it means to feel "safe" for them. Don't get me wrong- they also like socializing or being one-on-one with someone, they would just rather do it at home or where they're comfortable.
(I'm not sure if that was the best description of self-preservation people. Go here to read from the masters.)
Anyway, yesterday I found a study linking the instincts of the Enneagram to how our particular nervous system operates. It's the digest version of findings by a therapist in Colorado, Elan BenAmi for Nine Points Magazine. I just love the connection to brain science here.
We can think of the three instinctual subtypes (self-preservation, social, and sexual) as drives originating in the reptilian brain that revolve around survival. The passion (emotional habit) of each Enneatype is lodged in the limbic center (Ohlson, 2013). I think of the passion like the parable of the monkey whose fist is caught clasping food in the jar… If only he would release the food in his hand, he would be free! Unfortunately, he’s mistakenly convinced that this food is what he needs for nourishment and so he keeps his hand clenched tightly.
Often (though certainly not always) a dominant self-preservation strategy presents as a parasympathetic response in the nervous system. This is characterized by a low energy approach, and an over-reliance on the auto-regulation (as opposed to dyadically or in a group setting) of distress. Those who over-rely on the sexual/one-to-one subtype tend to be sympathetically dominant, experiencing high arousal and increased emotional reactivity (especially in the context of love attachments). The social subtype generally appears more energetically split between hyper and hypo arousal. If unchecked, the social subtype can end up feeling as though they have one foot on the gas and one foot on the brakes (Ohlson, 2013), (Ogden, 2006, p. 28-32). [Source]
I don't understand the thing about socials with one foot on the gas and one foot on the brakes, though. If someone wants to explain that to me, please do.