“The lizard brain is hungry, scared, angry, and horny. The lizard brain only wants to eat and be safe. The lizard brain will fight (to the death) if it has to, but would rather run away. It likes a vendetta and has no trouble getting angry. The lizard brain cares what everyone else thinks, because status in the tribe is essential to its survival. A squirrel runs around looking for nuts, hiding from foxes, listening for predators, and watching for other squirrels. The squirrel does this because that’s all it can do. All the squirrel has is a lizard brain. The only correct answer to ‘Why did the chicken cross the road?’ is ‘Because it’s lizard brain told it to.’ Wild animals are wild because the only brain they posses is a lizard brain. The lizard brain is not merely a concept. It’s real, and it’s living on the top of your spine, fighting for your survival. But, of course, survival and success are not the same thing.” ― Seth Godin,
What happens when we figure out our Enneagram type, then we figure out our wing and then we begin the personal, relational, and spiritual work of the Enneagram to move out of type and into our True Self? There’s still more to uncover! We’re on the path, we’ve got a bit of a map….but not quite all of it yet. To make this ancient wisdom tradition/typology even more complex and difficult, there are these amazing three categories within each type called subtypes! Each number on the Enneagram wheel can be broken into one of the three subtypes, thus creating twenty-seven Enneagram Subtypes.
So what are subtypes? I like to think of them as the lizard-brain lenses. The “limbic system of the brain has been implicated as the seat of emotion, addiction, mood, and lots of other mental and emotional processes. It is the part of the brain that is phylogenetically very primitive. Many people call it “The Lizard Brain” because the limbic system is about all a lizard has for brain function. It is in charge of fight, flight, feeding, fear, freezing-up, and fornication.” (Your Lizard Brain, Joseph Troncale, M.D. Psychology Today)
The three subtypes are categorized by these lizard brain functions: Self-Preservation, Social Interaction, or Sexual (One-to-One Bonding). They shade your thought patterns and behaviors. So a Self-preservation Three will seem quite different than a Sexual Three because they will have different survival mechanisms operating within the realm of their personality. We have each of the three survival instincts hard-wired into us, but usually one of the instincts will show itself more dominantly than the others — sometimes two will emerge which is called stacking. Stacking is a whole other blog post! For now, let’s take a brief look at each of the subtypes to try to understand this concept more fully.
Self-Preservation: Attention and behavior are focused on anything concerning physical comfort, safety, and survival. People that are “Self-Pres” direct their energy into making sure they have enough food, shelter (good shelter), clothing, and are healthy. They try to avoid danger at all costs and like to have structure in their lives. “In addition, they put effort into having enough money, securing their future, making plans, and aligning themselves with people who provide for them in emergencies or times of scarcity.” (Self to Lose, Self to Find, Marilyn Vancil, pg. 145).
Social: People with a Social subtype are usually concerned about the health and well-being of the social circle they find themselves in. They are also focused on finding and maintaining a good place within that particular tribe. Survival of the community is directly tied to the survival of the individual in their minds and so they work for the flourishing of the whole. Their attention will be focused on belonging, relationships, and recognition and they will feel threatened by anything that jeopardizes their role in society.
Sexual or One-to-One Bonding: This subtype’s behavior and attention are concerned with anything that has to do with the quality of a relationship with a specific individual. They are person-to-person focused — which makes sense if you think about how much effort it has taken from an evolutionary standpoint to procure a mate. Mating is the way we survive, though a Sexual subtype is not all about sex. This Subtype is also concerned with intimate friends and knowing key and influential people. They will have a longing to create connection, warmth, and intimacy with another person as a means of security.
Since I used a Type Three as an example above, let’s get a brief summary of how a Type Three might look as a Self-Pres, Social, and Sexual Subtype:
“The passion of Type Three is vanity. The three distinct Type Three subtypes each express vanity through the need to achieve and maintain a successful image, but this manifests in three different ways. [The] Self-Preservation Three is more focused on working hard to do things in the best way possible and less focused on being the center of attention; the Social Three likes to be on stage more than the others Threes and craves recognition for performance; and the Sexual Three seeks attention through attracting a romantic partner and promoting and supporting the important people in their lives rather than just manifesting their own achievements.” (The Complete Enneagram, Beatrice Chestnut, pg.327)
Now we have a primer of the three subtypes from which to dig a bit deeper into who we are as unique individuals and how the Enneagram can free us from the trance of type and help us learn to embrace health and wholeness and our true selves. Knowing our subtype helps us become more self-aware of our conditioned thoughts and behaviors; it is yet another useful Enneagram tool. For more information on subtypes I’d highly recommend The Complete Enneagram by Beatrice Chestnut, The Wisdom of the Enneagram by Riso and Hudson, or the blog post “Intro to Instinctual Subtypes” by Oceanmoonshine9.