The three ways we relate to others

This was used without permission, but look how good it is to have so many friends even in your autumn years.  Could anything be better?

This was used without permission, but look how good it is to have so many friends even in your autumn years.  Could anything be better?

The social blind spot has been on my mind because of a dating situation that happened recently with me.  Without going into the details, I'll just say that our instinct stack didn't match up-- it had to do with the placement of the social instinct-- and it got me thinking about how one might heal the bottom instinct if it's social, and you don't have anyone to practice becoming more social with.  What are you supposed to do about your social anxiety?  Because the older you get, with a social blind spot, if you're not cultivating an awareness practice around it, the more and more you isolate yourself from others, and you get fewer and fewer chances to practice it, and hence, fewer and fewer friends!  Which explains why some seniors are just always alone and sad.  To live full vibrant lives, we need friendships that nourish us.

In Enneagram language, each of us has three instincts- self-preservation, social, and sexual.  This means that as far back as when our ancestors functioned with a less evolved brain, we still had three fundamental drives- 1) the drive to take care of our physical bodies by staying hydrated, maintaining a comfortable body temperature, and seeking out a feeling of personal security and comfort; 2) the drive to connect socially with others, to engage in community and understand our social standing with others and find out information about other people relative to ourselves; and 3) the drive to connect one-on-one with a select few others in a direct, intimate, and more intense interactions.  This third instinct is called "sexual", and sometimes it relates to sex, both often it just refers to the intensity with which we engage in a deep and meaningful interactions.

There has been a longstanding problem around the instincts for us humans, though, and that is this awkward situation that we don't have equal access to all three instincts.  Each of us has one dominant instinct through which we are constantly filtering our experiences; a secondary instinct that we rely on as a back-up, and a third instinct that we really have a tough time engaging in, especially as we get older.  It just takes extra work, and in mindfulness language, it takes practicing presence in those situations.  In some Enneagram circles, that bottom instinct is called the "blind spot", and perhaps that's not the perfect term, but I'll use it for today's purposes.

So for example, let's say we have someone with a sexual/social/self-preservation stack.  That would mean that their primary way of interacting with the world is intense and fiery- they're looking for the juice in any given interaction and laser-focusing on it.  Now, whatever that "juice" is depends on their Enneagram type, so the object of their attention could be issues of authority or issues of control, or identity, but it's going to be sparkly regardless. 

Secondarily, they also have a very decent ability to attune to others and understand where they fit into the social order of the social circles they belong to.  They can "read" the dynamics of a group really well.  And thirdly, there's the ability to take care of their own person, to pay their bills and make a home, remember to shower every day and clip their toenails.  This instinct is there--make no mistake about it-- but it's been neglected, discouraged, or underdevelopped.  There's no real science to explain this stunting yet, as I'm aware of, but from personal observation and guesswork (I work in a school and get to observe little kids interacting all the time), it seems that when we fail at something associated with the lowest instinct, we make up for it by diverting our attention away for it and strengthening the top instinct.  As a result, the bottom instinct gets "starved".  Therefore, we tend to have some kind of "excess" issue around the top instinct that is colored, or tainted, by the Enneagram type we are. 

When that diversion of energy happens over time- and it happens to all of us- we become out of balance.  In our example, that "sparkliness" I mentioned that's associated with the sexual instinct turns into more like a grasping energy, an amping up of the volume; provocation, or roughhousing.  Maybe it's just so much sparkliness that it's overkill.  It can really come on too strong for the context, and the person probably isn't aware of it.  Meanwhile, in this same example character, there will be something that's neglected in their lives around self-preservation, like perhaps they're not managing their money very well, and not putting as much thought into it as they do into other areas, or perhaps their house is a mess and few people want to come over to visit. 

Regardless, the wonderful riddle that is so fun to think about (but hard to put into practice) in the Enneagram tradition is that when we pay attention to the bottom instinct, our top instinct starts to fall back into balance, and life gets a little easier.

Over time, and with practice, you can get a feel for a person's dominant instinct is by how they pose for pictures.  A sexual person may be grinning intensely from ear to ear and have a really intense gaze, or the intensity might manifest as smouldering eyes looking deep into the viewer's soul.  Self-preservation people are really all about preserving their energy, and sometimes look like they're half asleep, and when the camera-person tells them to smile, they're like, "I AM smiling."  Social people are somewhere in the middle- they'll have a softer gaze, but still look engaged.

Corporate culture can have a sexual, social, or self-pres feeling too, and a lot of it will depend on who the leaders are, their values, the corporate values, and what kind of people they've hired. 

On the cast of Seinfeld, there's a more intense one-on-one energy between the characters.  It has a "hot" energy to it.  This is the territory of the sexual instinct.

On the cast of Seinfeld, there's a more intense one-on-one energy between the characters.  It has a "hot" energy to it.  This is the territory of the sexual instinct.

I've got a great example about TV shows.  A casting director has an important job to maintain a particular feel on a TV or movie set, and it really comes out in the episodes.  For example, the feel on Seinfeld is quite self-preservation/sexual, in that- I believe- each of the main characters has self-preservation and sexual as either their top or middle instinct, and correspondingly, the story lines reflect that: the cast always remained small, they could go into intensity really well and often, and a lot of the story lines were built around two people only, or where there were only two people on set.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, on the cast of High Maintenance, a new internet TV show on Vimeo, everyone has social as one of their top two instincts except for the Assholes!  (The casting director, ironically won an Emmy for her work.  And I mean, she is excellent, I'm not disputing that.  She's trying to maintain a certain feel on set, but you can tell what the writers' and producer's bias is in human interaction.)

The energy on the set of High Maintenance is a lot more refracted and "cool".  This is the territory of the social instinct.

The energy on the set of High Maintenance is a lot more refracted and "cool".  This is the territory of the social instinct.

Anyway.

That "excess" around the top instinct is for another blog post, but just to note that it exists.  I want to focus mainly on healing the bottom instinct when it's been neglected, and now that I've written all this, I need to say, "To be continued" because this is getting too long.  So I'll finish this tomorrow. 

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