The Enneagram:

How our Instinctual Drives affect our Creativity

We may think we all go about creativity in the same way, but do we? Are the motivations to create different for different people? The instinctual drives help us understand why, what and how we create.

What are the instinctual drives?

Our three main instincts (self-preservation, social and sexual) are nature’s way of ensuring the survival of the species, rather than the individual.

The instincts are enormously powerful motivators, even though, for the most part, we are unconscious of them. They can be studied separately from the Enneagram, but when overlaid with the nine Enneagram types, provide a further 27 subtypes. The instinctual drives are aspects of the Enneagram Body Triad (as opposed to the Head and Heart Triads). We tend to have one more dominant drive and one that we utilise far less. (The ideal would be to be able to draw on them equally.)

Is your focus of energy going towards physical survival – feeling secure, having a place to stay, enhancing or preserving your body, physical comfort and stability? That would make self-preservation (SP) your dominant instinct.

The social instinct (SO) is about how we navigate within society by forming relationships and interacting with others.

The sexual instinct (SX), in its most basic form, is survival through procreation. To attract a lover, we need to put effort into how we can draw others to us – our appearance, clothes, etc., or what we need to do to pursue someone. The sexual instinct arises when we experience the buzz of connecting intimately, which may or may not involve sex.

The instinct with the most potential for our growth is the one we use least.


We are all creative (even those who claim their creativity goes only as far as drawing a stickperson). We each have this desire to create, be it a painting, a poem, a song, an app., a business, or a garden. I’m interested in what drives our approach to creativity. That’s where the instincts arise.

Self-preservation dominant creatives

From a creative perspective, with self-preservation as your dominant instinct, you’ll be focusing your efforts on how to be creative whilst ensuring a regular income, security, a safe place to sleep and enough food to eat – a more sensible approach to creativity. When combined with stress, self-preservation could manifest as driving yourself too hard to achieve the above, worrying constantly about your survival and/or neglecting the body’s needs. “Can I survive as an artist? Let alone thrive? Perhaps I should change my writing style to something more commercial to sell more work?”

Depending on your Enneagram type, some self-preservation creatives may be minimising their needs to follow their creative passion, while other types may seek a more lavish lifestyle.

Self-preservation types tend to be more serious and have better natural business know-how than the other two instinctual types. This can be helpful as we bring not only creativity, but practicality to our approach. We can figure out what needs to be done to get our creations to market, devise manufacturing skills, or ensure that the studio’s bills are paid.

However, there can be a downside to this happy marriage of creativity and practicality. If you find a style of work that brings financial success, you may be less inclined to explore different creative directions. As a result, you may focus your talent on earning, rather than being creative. Your work can become formulaic and, ironically, in seeking a creative lifestyle, you lose creativity.

Social dominant creatives

Unconsciously or consciously our approach to creativity is a product of our environment (or rebellion against it). The focus here is going to be creating what gets you noticed. As a result, you want the work to create fame, fortune and/or power in your chosen field.

Here, we learn to balance the world outside’s expectations of us, with our expectations of ourselves. We also learn through the social role lens, how we see ourselves and others in the hierarchy of our creative fields. We view ourselves as more (or less) successful, more (or less) talented and more (or less) wealthy, for example.

You’re generally skilled at using social media to promote your work. The social instinct also drives you to interact with other like-minded creatives, sharing thoughts, techniques and ideas. We seek influential others to help boost our success, while helping others achieve theirs. Social creatives can feel mortified when society sees their work in a bad light.

Social instinctual dominant types enjoy being seen to be someone in their creative fields. You can understand the motivations and goals of your peers and pupils. “What does this person need to do to improve? Was I overly critical? How can I be more supportive?” This instinct can also show itself as: “To be good your creativity needs to create or conform to how or what I do.”

Sexual dominant creatives

Sexual types desire to seduce individuals, rather than wow the crowd – it’s a more personal approach. You want to push boundaries to elicit a strong response (positive or negative) – to create shock, arousal, or excitement. Your creations are part of the seduction – a way of tantalising the viewer. (Think fashion designers.) There’s a buzz of connection when someone ‘gets’ your work. The pleasure comes from another’s response. The worst thing would be for your creation to be ignored.

If it were about actual sex, others would have accepted your seduction or rejected it. Looking at the work of another creative, as a sexual dominant type, you’d be asking: “Does this work connect with me? Does it penetrate my psyche? Do I desire to own it?” While as the creative you’d be looking for clues such as: “Are they turned on by my work? Are they interested enough to find out more? Does my work create a need for me? Does it create a reaction in them?”

Sexually dominant types can be more androgenous than the other two instinctual types – it broadens the scope of potential partners. The anima (the unconscious feminine side of a man) and animus (the unconscious masculine side of a woman) often appear in their work as orifices (female) or phallic (male) symbols. The feminine role is that of surrender. Creating in this space is one of flowing, receptivity and openness. Creating from the masculine side of ourselves is more penetrative, self-aggrandising, attention-seeking and provocative.

You may also make your creation more personal by depicting yourself, revealing previously hidden aspects of yourself, or your physical or emotional wounding. I’ve just watched the series Blown Away on Netflix (it’s a competition involving glassblowers). It was fascinating to see the different instinctual types appear in the participants’ approach and work.

Sexual dominant types want to leave their mark on others. The viewer then is not just a random person but intrinsic in their response to the art itself. The creator could be said to objectify the viewer as part of the desire for their incorporation into the work. It’s not love-making as such, but a more basic grasping for fulfilment, unlike the desire for bonding of the social type. “Can you feel the energy between us?” It’s obsessive, exciting (and even possibly addictive).

Becoming aware of the instinctual motivations behind how you engage with your creativity helps shift you to new levels of exploration. When you consciously work with your least dominant instinct you often discover real creative gold.


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The Three Instincts


Ann Gadd

Ann is a professional member of the International Enneagram Association, IEA World Conference presenter, author of four books on the Enneagram, 10 children’s Enneagram books and certified iEQ9 Enneagram coach. A long-term student of the Enneagram, she spent 10 years as an alternative therapist.. Ann’s focus is to inspire change and personal growth. 
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