Enneagram Book Review: The Instinctual Drives & the Enneagram

Enneagram Instinctual Drives

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“The ego must be humiliated over and over. It must be seen as the nothingness it is, and we must be able to bear its nothingness…The true aim of inner work is to become humble, to become ordinary, to become nothing special. This allows us to sacrifice our self-involvement.”

Have I got your attention?

These are but a few of the vastly quotable lines to be found in John Luckovich’s The Instinctual Drives & the Enneagram. John is the co-founder of New York Enneagram and the co-host of The Big Hormone Enneagram Podcast. He spent time as Russ Hudson’s assistant, which is the context I (briefly) met him in during a six-day class with the Enneagram Institute.

I’ll say it plainly: I love this book. It takes an aspect of ourselves that we rarely investigate – our three primary instincts – and dives deep into what they are, where they come from and why we need to get a handle on them. And it does so with intelligence, clearly backed by research and lived experience.

That means this book is not a quick read. And, I think, it shouldn’t be. This topic is so foundational to personality formation and manifestation that at least one Enneagram teacher, Mario Sikora, teaches it before teaching about the nine personality types. In her book The Complete Enneagram, Dr. Beatrice Chestnut uses the instinctual differences to describe the types, which then number 27 (nine types X three instinctual drives).

Here’s how John puts it in the first chapter:

“In the context of the Enneagram, we are concerned with how the body and psychology impact consciousness, and therefore, ow consciousness becomes identified with instinctual agendas. We don’t become identified with pure physical appetites like hunger or lust, but we can with the motivational drive to care for our physical well-being, with the drive to elicit the sexual choice of a potential partner, and with the drive to create relationships and increase our sense of belonging.”

The Instinctual Variants

These are the three primary instincts that drive humans: self-preservation, sexual and social. If you want a quick overview of these instincts, take a look at this blog post.

We need these instincts, and we each have all three, but one of them becomes the dominant underlying force in our lives. As Russ Hudson says, “Your life is a temple to your dominant instinct.” So, what we’re looking for is balance among all three, not the refusal of one or another – or the elevation of one over the others.

The author goes on to discuss the Centers of Intelligence and the concept of self-remembering. When our Centers don’t operate as they should, due to instinct-based fears, we do thinks like think with our emotions and feel with our instincts. The Centers interact and interfere with each other, which makes it difficult for us to remember who we are. Thus the need for self-remembering. This requires a complete presence, which is why we do the work of personal transformation.

This is at least one of the reasons people study the Enneagram; it’s such an accurate map of personality and how to move past it to the true self. I’m reminded of another Russ saying: “Jesus is the only one who never forgot himself.” This reminds me of what it can look like to self-remember, and that spurs me forward.

The Instinctual Stack, and much more

John then looks at the instinctual stack. The chart on p. 63 (paperback version) is quite illuminating, as is this quote:

“The Instinctual Stacking structures our attention such that the ego is ‘conning’ us into perpetually dwelling on, investing attention in and trying to make external situations conform to servicing the needs of the Dominant Instinct.”

It’s a great discussion that I recommend paying particular attention to. He then goes into a deeper discussion of each of the three primary instincts.

Chapter 4 focuses on “Identity, Ego and Individuation.” It’s also a great, though heady, read. This is importance stuff, with more great graphics to illustrate key points.

The book is actually pretty wide-ranging, so I’m not going to cover every section or chapter. I’ll just hit the main remaining ideas here:

  • integrating the blind spot (the instinct you ignore),
  • the Enneagram of essential qualities and passions,
  • how the instincts show up in each type, 
  • how conscious breath and breath practices can help, and
  • the Enneagram of virtues.

I marked up about half of the last chapter, “The Opening of the Way,” which is where the quote at the beginning of this blog post came from. It’s full of reminders of how necessary this work is and hints of what’s possible.

I’d be lying if I said I agreed with every statement or quote in the book, but when does that ever happen? My philosophy is: Chew up the meat, spit out the bones. I can learn from others who don’t believe exactly as I do. It’s clear that John put a lot of time, research and love into this book. The information he presents is important, helpful and worth knowing.

So, I can heartily recommend this book for anyone who wants to go deeper in The Work and put more awareness on how your Dominant Instinct is affecting your life.



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