How Learning My Real Enneagram Subtype Changed My Life

The Enneagram has had a lot of my and my clients’ attention over the last 5 years.  There are barely interpersonal interactions that go by where I don’t reference an Enneagram perspective.  And I have written before about my delight at grocery shopping in Boulder and overhearing shop assistant and customer talking eloquently about their burgeoning Enneagram interest.  Not the world I grew up in!

There has, however, been a slight uneasiness in my own placing on the Enneagram.  Mostly because of how people view my type – type 7.  We are known as fun-lovers, party-animals and experience-junkies. And while I can identify with all of them, I don’t feel they define my experience of who I am and what I bring.

And then this summer I read a book which allowed me to relax into my type more than any other I had read because it said things about social 7s in a depth and language I hadn’t come across before.  I tracked down the author of The Complete Enneagram:  27 paths to self-knowledge because I wanted to share her work with you.

Enter Beatrice.


When I learned the Enneagram of Personality 24 years ago from Dr. David Daniels, one of the leading teachers of the system, it changed my life. Not only did it help me see myself more clearly and start to work on my “issues,” it changed the course of my career when I decided to go back to school and become a psychotherapist.

But for the first 14 years that I studied the Enneagram personality types, I developed a strong dislike for the “instinctual subtype” part of the teaching. The instinctual subtype personalities are sub-categories of the nine personality types that make up the Enneagram of personality. There are three different “subtypes” for each of the nine types. Your “subtype” is determined by the passion of your type (one of nine) mixed together with which of your three main categories of “instincts” is most dominant: for “self-preservation,” ”social” relationships or “one-to-one” [Jack: aka ‘sexual’] bonding. In contrast to the descriptions of the nine types, the definitions of the 27 sub-types just weren’t very clear or very well-developed.

Despite loving the Enneagram and all it helped me learn about myself, I sometimes got bored and left the room when Enneagram teachers started talking about subtypes. I just didn’t get it. I was bothered by how vague and confusing they seemed. I couldn’t find my own subtype—and it seemed like there wasn’t much “there” there in the subtype material. The main books about the system only had a paragraph on each subtype and different authors talked about them in different ways using different names and language. Overall, the subtypes didn’t seem comprehensible or compelling compared with the lengthy and substantive material on the nine types.

But everything changed when I heard Enneagram pioneer, Claudio Naranjo, describe his latest take on the 27 subtypes at the International Enneagram Conference in Washington DC in 2004. I had (sort of) thought I was a one-to-one Two, because I (kind of) thought your instinctual focus was based on what area of life made you the most neurotic—and for me, that was romantic relationships. But Naranjo and his team of therapist-teachers guided me to a subtype that fit much better, once I understood what it meant. It turns out, according to Naranjo’s 21st-century descriptions of the 27 subtypes, I was a Self-Preservation Two.

Learning that my subtype was Self-Preservation Two revolutionized my understanding of myself. Now I could see that there was a whole huge swath of my own behavior that I was totally unconscious about, despite about eight years of therapy, 14 years of Enneagram study, and 4+ years of group work.

Like your garden-variety Type Two, I considered myself relationship-oriented, independent, and driven to achieve and be liked by others. However, when I understood what it meant to be a Self-Preservation Two, I discovered I was actually repressing a huge amount of fear about relationships. This manifested in: dependence on others (while denying it completely), resistance to growing up (and not seeing the consequences of this), deep mistrust of others (while believing I was a trusting person), and ambivalence about all the “giving” and “connecting” Twos are supposed to do.

When my dominant instinct for “self-preservation” mixed up with my Type Two “passion” of pride, it made me deeply fearful of the close relationships I thought I wanted to have with others, and it made me hide out in the pose of a child still waiting for the love and emotional support I never got. And this was all true even while I pridefully thought of myself as a fully-formed grown-up perpetually mystified by the fact that I couldn’t make a relationship work or express myself powerfully in the world.

These “passions” are the emotional core of the defensive self-structure, which basically define our personality. While I am still in the process of discovering how exactly our passions interact with our dominant instinctual drives to create a whole new layer of unconscious behavior, I believe it has to do with the centrality of these emotional motivators—what Fourth Way teacher G. I. Gurdjieff called our “chief feature.”

According to Naranjo, when we are very healthy, our instincts are “free.” We behave in harmony with the “animal wisdom” that our instinctual behaviors express. But when we are under the sway of the “fixated” or “conditioned” personality—which is most of the time for most of us—we are largely driven by the (often unconscious) dictates of this emotional preoccupation. Interestingly, the “passions” of the Enneagram are equal to the Christian Church’s seven “deadly” sins, plus fear and deceit.

As a Two, my passion is pride. And in my opinion, pride is the trickiest passion. It’s apparent meaning seems like a good thing—a positive feeling you have about yourself or something you’ve accomplished—and at the same time, it’s the “sin” that’s at the lowest pit of Dante’s Hell. Of course we each feel all the passions to some degree, but each of the nine types “lives” disproportionately in one of them (and is the prototype for all the others). In Enneagram terms, pride is a need for self-inflation. It’s a kind of false generosity in the service of seduction and self-elevation, and it fuels a pattern of (mostly unconscious) self-idealization and grandiosity, often followed by (more conscious) reactive devaluation and self-criticism. This is why the name “helper” or “giver” when affixed to Type Two is more ironic than most people realize.

According to the theory behind the Enneagram, we all have three “centers of intelligence”: a head center that thinks, a heart center that feels emotions, and a body center that is the seat of “moving” and “instinct.”  To operate in the world, the personality’s centers need to “talk to” one another—to coordinate the way we process information and express ourselves in the world. A person’s “subtype” personality is a more specific form of the personality. I am a Two (one of the nine types), but because my dominant instinctual focus is on Self-Preservation, I am a “Self-Preservation Two,” and that means I have an even more specific focus of attention—and am distinctly different from—the other two kinds of Twos. My passion of pride drives my Self-Preservation bias instead of my need to “preserve or protect my self” being more spontaneous and free-flowing and natural.

The main point of knowing the Enneagram personality types is so we can map specific patterns of our personality in order to know ourselves in a deeper, more truthful way. For me, understanding Naranjo’s version of the subtypes and what it means that I am a Self-Preserving Two means having access to a deeper level of information about what I am doing and why I didn’t see that before. And that has helped me enormously to see myself more as I really am as opposed to how I wanted to see myself. It’s been painful to face this truth about myself that my subtype has led me to, but it’s been worth it! Now I can grow through dealing with what’s really true about me instead of spending all that energy lying to myself about who and how I am—and not even knowing I was doing it.

Beatrice Chestnut, PhD is a psychotherapist and has been working with the Enneagram for 24 years. She is author of  The Complete Enneagram: 27 paths to self-knowledge and has a psychotherapy, coaching and business development practice in San Francisco.  www.beatricechestnut.com

Want to learn more?  Stay tuned for my interview with Beatrice on the webshow!

About Jack Butler

Jack Butler is a social entrepreneur, coach, workshop leader and speaker. His latest venture provides full spectrum human development through coaching, programmes and other development resources for leaders and entrepreneurs. He founded Future Foundations (www.future-foundations.co.uk), a leading youth personal development training organization. He is a professional member of the International Enneagram Association and a former fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. Jack was the IAB 2007 Young Entrepreneur of the Year runner-up and took a double first class degree in Social and Political Sciences from the University of Cambridge. Jack spends his time between London and Brighton in the UK and Boulder, CO and the Bay Area in the US. In his spare time, he enjoys physical challenges (3 Peaks Challenge 2010, Tresco Marathon 2006) and supporting The Simultaneous Policy Organisation (www.simpol.org.uk). He is a Partner in Passion and Purpose of the Grubb Guild, a voracious reader of personal, cultural and spiritual development, and likes to inquire, journal, travel and write.
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