Maslow’s Hierarchy and the Enneagram of Instincts


How are you doing with your Superego/Inner Critic? Are you noticing its influence in your life? Are you able to shut it up? It’s a life-long battle, but one worth fighting. Just today my Superego said something very rude about a woman, and I realized it was because that’s what my Superego is trying to “save” me from becoming. I told it to shut up, and it did. Eventually, its voice is not as loud. As my friends in the Diamond Heart approach say, the Inner Critic goes from being in the driver’s seat to the passenger seat, then to the back seat and eventually to the trunk of the car! So keep at it.

Now we’ll move on to the three primary instincts (again with the sets of three! I’m sensing a universal theme) that motivate people’s actions. This is an additional flavor, if you will, in the soup that creates your personality. Just as every person has all nine personality types, but one predominates, so it is with the instincts. They are: self-preservation, social and sexual.

In thinking about these types, I was reminded of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, depicted above. At last, that Intro to Psych class comes in handy. If you look at the base of the pyramid, you see the basic human needs listed: food, water and so on. These are topics that preoccupy the self-preservation types. Your Enneagram type will determine how this preoccupation is expressed. For a One, self-preservation shows us as anxiety regarding their physical environment and financial state, forcing them to work harder to make sure they’re taken care of. For a self-prez Seven, however, the focus is on personal comfort and making sure their physical “needs”—which are more often “wants”—are met. A Seven relative of mine has food socked away in every nook and cranny of her house to make sure she will never be without. A good deal of her stores are of the chocolate variety.

The social instinct is the orange bar, as I see it. These topics all relate to how you interact with and within society. Again, your personality base model will determine how this instinct will be expressed. A social Six will seek out groups and organizations that make him or her feel secure and supported. A social Three will work hard to attain all the degrees or material goods or whatever the group they’re in defines as valuable so that they can demonstrate their status.

The sexual instinct is not exactly what it sounds like. I correlate this instinct to the yellow bar in the pyramid, love and belongingness needs. It’s really about intimacy in its many forms, not just sexual. It’s about connecting with others. A sexual Two will work hard to become one person’s best friend, while a sexual Seven seek out fascinating new experiences. They may seek out the most interesting person at a party, or just as easily seek out the most interesting topic or bleeding-edge theory and become fixated on it…until they find the next fascinating thing.

It’s not wrong to have any of these instincts. In fact, you were hard-wired with them. If humans had no instinct to preserve their lives, they would not have attended to basic needs and probably would have taken even greater risks than some already do. Humans would not have survived for long as a race. And we were created not just to get our needs met but to be in relationship. The Bible is really a history of God’s relationships with people and people with each other. The social and sexual/intimate needs are met in community and in connection. I’m reminded of someone telling me long ago, “The word ‘saint’ never appears in the Bible; it’s always ‘saints.’”

However, what happens is that our fear, our separation from God, cause us to become inordinately preoccupied with one of these instincts. This creates imbalance. So, for instance, a self-preservation Seven can become so fixated on making sure their needs are met that they ignore their social instinct and end up alone and friendless. A social Six can become so fixated on making sure that they do what’s expected of them so their groups support and safeguard them that they forget their need for one-on-one intimate relationships.

Well, I haven’t even finished the pyramid! It turns out that there is yet more to say about the instincts and the pyramid, so I’ll continue on this topic next week. I encourage you to look into which instinct runs your life, either by taking the online test or reading about the instincts. Then, observe the imbalance in action. Can you think of ways already that one of these instincts drives you? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below.





  1. […] the Self-Preservation, Sexual and Social instincts. I’ve written in more depth on the Instincts here, so I’ll sum up now by saying that all people have all three—just as all people have all nine […]

  2. […] Now it made sense. Of the three primary instincts humans have, self-preservation dominates in me. Everyone has all three of them, but one is out of […]

  3. […] you use the three main instincts at all (Self-Preservation, Sexual, Social) in this work? I’m asking because I’m a Self-Pres […]

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