I may receive commissions from purchases made through links in this article. Full Disclosure

Welcome to Enneagram Subtypes 101!
What are enneagram subtypes? What is a subtype stacking. How does this affect your enneagram type?!

Note: This post covers HOW subtypes work. If you would like information on all the subtypes you’ll want to check out my post on the 27 enneagram subtypes.

What Are Enneagram Subtypes

What Are Enneagram Subtypes?

Enneagram subtypes (sometimes called instinctual subtypes or instinctual variants) are a combination of your type and your instinct (how you are wired to try to survive).

Main enneagram type + instinct = subtype.

While we no longer struggle to survive like our ancestors of years past had to, we still have survival drives and they present themselves in three forms.

No matter what enneagram type you are, you are wired towards one of three instinctual subtypes.

What are the Three Instinctual Subtypes?

The three instinctual subtypes are Self-Preservation, Social, and Sexual (better called Intimate or One-to-One).

Self-Preservation (SP):
This instinctual subtype gives priority to physical needs such as health, finances, food, shelter, and family.

Social (SO):
This instinctual subtype gives priority to belonging and being accepted by the group or community.

Sexual/Intimate/One-to-One (SX):
This instinctual subtype gives priority to connecting intimately with individuals. Having “chemistry” with others but this does not necessarily need to be sexual (hence why “sexual” is not the best name for this subtype)

Instinctual Subtype Stacking

Instinctual Subtype Stacking

Everyone has one dominant instinctual subtype… but that doesn’t mean they don’t have access to the other two options.

This is where Instinctual Subtype Stacking (or sequencing) comes in.

We have access to all three instinctual subtypes but they are in different levels or priorities.

These three levels/priorities are dominant, secondary, and tertiary.

Dominant = Over aware
Secondary = Neutral
Tertiary = Under developed, a blindspot.

This is why you will see people list their subtype stacking with their enneagram type.

Example: I’m a SO/SP 1. Social is my dominant subtype and self-preservation is my neutral secondary subtype, and I don’t need to list sexual/intimate (SX) because it’s obviously my last stacking and thus my blind spot.

There can be a little bit of shifting between instinctual subtypes depending on your circumstances in life.

For instance, your neutral subtype might kick in during a particularly hard time. However, generally your stacking stays the same although the goal is to bring all three instincts into balance.

27 Subtypes

27 Subtypes – How Your Subtype Affects Your Type

Every person who has the same enneagram type as you will have the same core motivation as you.

In other words, all 1s will have the same desires and fears as I do as a 1.

However, how your type plays out or looks can vary based on your subtype. A social type 9 will seem different from a self-preservation 9.

They both have the same core motivation but how they go about things is different because one is wired to focus on self-preservation strategies and the other is wired for social strategies.

As so we have 27 different subtypes (3 instincts multiplied by the 9 types equals 27 subtypes).

Enneagram Countertypes

There Is A Countertype For Each Enneagram Type

There are only three instinctual subtypes and each of the nine enneagram types can have one of those instinctual subtypes as their dominant subtype.

However, one of those subtypes will act as a countertype causing the enneagram type to look different than what is sterotypical of that type.

Example: A sexual/intimate type 6 doesn’t look as fearful as a stereotypical 6 seems. So much so that a SX 6 can seem like an 8 and even mistype as an 8! However, the core motivation is still the same as all 6s thus that person is a 6 even if they seem a bit like an 8.

If you want to learn more about the subtypes, I highly recommend picking up Beatrice Chestnut’s book: The Complete Enneagram. It focuses and explains the 27 subtypes in great detail.

How To Find Your Subtype

While there are some subtype tests out there, it’s always better to discover your subtype by digging deep and seeing what you truly believe. (Tests are all too often incorrect whether that is for your main type or subtype!)

A common way to try to figure out your subtype is to ask what you focus on when attending a party.
Do you focus on the food, where the chairs are, the temperature of the room? Then you might be Self-Preservation.
Do you focus on finding your group of people where you’ll feel safe? Then you may be Social.
Do you focus on finding select individuals that will provide you with deep connections and chemistry? Then you might be Sexual/Intimate.

For more subtype information check out my post on the 27 Enneagram Subtypes!

instinctual subtypes - instinctual variants