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The Self-Preservation Instinct

This is the first post in a three part series examining the Three Ruling Instincts that modulate our personality: the self-preservation instinct, the sexual instinct, and the social instinct.

Our personalities are usually “ruled” by one dominant instinct which functions as our primary energy source in terms of how we live our lives and where we put our time and attention. If you are interested in discovering your dominant instinct, I would suggest reading all three overviews of the instincts, by clicking on the links above and asking yourself two simple questions:

  1. Does this feel like the kind of energy/instinct which “decides” for me (consciously as well as unconsciously) where I might put the focus of my attention at any given moment?
  2. Is this instinct where I find my primary joy and sense of purpose, but also the place where I can suffer at times? A dominant instinct, like a dominant or needy partner, child, or family member, might function as our most “beloved” relationship with ourselves, but because it “rules” our person-ality, it also has the potential to cause us worry and distress. If Self-Preservations is your dominant instinct, it is very likely that when it feels like it is being threatened in some way, or not allowed to manifest in the world as we (or it?) might want and need, we can begin to experience physical or mental health issues.

If you would like to work out your the dominant instinct for your personality type, here’s a quick and easy way to do that.


This instinct is less easy to confuse than the other two instincts (the social and sexual instinct), as its priorities and preoccupations revolve around very pragmatic and grounded concerns: the physical and emotional wellbeing of ‘me and my world’.

The Self-Preservation instinct thus has us pay attention to all things earthly, practical and sensual: health, money, home, family, lifestyle. Sustainability is a big theme, as is the material and emotional quality of life, and how to optimise it.

Self-preservation continually monitors and gauges our immediate physical state. It is the drive that motivates us to test and express our physical capacities and aggression, rest and relax.


  • Self-Pres types end to seek experiences that contribute to a healthy and full life. Their attention naturally lands on what encourages and sustains growth and what allows themselves and others to thrive.
  • They most focus on the body’s direct feedback and state, and can easily become preoccupied with it. When healthy, they are skilled in balancing activation with relaxation, value and make time for themselves, and give themselves permission to just be. When not so healthy (see below).
  • They value personal autonomy and self-reliance. Self-preservation types typically have carved out living and working situations where they won’t have to rely on other people to meet their basic needs.
  • They are sensitive to levels of comfort, sensual pleasure, and the emotional associations and impact of food, environments and material things.
  • They often live the struggle in the polarity between indulgence versus abstinence.
  • They value consistency and stability, but commonly have an athletic or adventurous streak. Self-preservation types often have an outlet that provides a consistent way of engaging the body’s aliveness directly that enhances physical capacity and health.
  • They enjoy challenging and testing aliveness through acts of endurance.
  • They usually have a strong capacity for working and for putting effort in a focussed direction. Ambition is a major theme for Self-Pres types, although it means different things for each of the nine personality archetypes.
  • One of their great challenges is finding a creative direction to apply their drive. Self-preservation types can struggle to find a meaningful focus for their tenacity.


Russ Hudson has identified three zones (or sub-domains) to the self-preservation instinct:

  1. Self-care and wellbeing
  2. Maintenance and resources
  3. Domesticity and home

Let us look at each of these in turn.

Zone 1: Self-care and wellbeing

  • Diet
  • Exercise
  • Sleep/rest
  • Relaxation (time in solitude, walk in nature, meditation, yoga, etc.)
  • Adequate stimulation (reading, listening to music, healthy sex life, watching documentaries, etc.)

Zone 2: Maintenance and resources

  • Money/finances
  • Time-management (self-management, time to self, time with others, being on time, etc.)
  • Practical application and skills (being able to address practical needs, fix things, manage life, etc.)
  • Work habits/persistence (the ability to follow through, finish tasks, discipline, habits around practical ventures, ways you are handy, etc.)
  • Energy management ((how we use our energy, deal with stress, balance silence with activity, etc.)

Zone 3: Domesticity and home

  • Comfort/domesticity
  • Safety/security
  • Structure supports life/base of operations (home management, home as a solid launchpad).
  • Beauty and holding (comfortable and inviting living/workspace, feeling held by your home, etc.)
  • Recharging/restoration (home as a place to restore).


Each of our instincts can manifest in a healthy (i.e. somewhat uncomplicated, non-neurotic way) or as a more unhealthy focus.  Usually if the instinct is our dominant instinct, there is a greater chance for it to “take over” our lives and create an imbalance in our personalities which will add to our suffering as human animals. Instincts can also be repressed (i.e. we consciously, or unconsciously don’t allow much space in our lives for the instinct to express itself). Here is a way for you to see how this instinct manifests in your personality.

Healthy/Functional Version of the Self-Preservation Instinct:

  • Self-care and health: Listening to body awareness. Genuine self-care. Getting real nutrition and exercise.
  • Practicality/Resources: Having a practical streak. Maintaining a sense of persistence and going for long-range goals. Working to maintain the foundations of life
  • Domesticity and home: Grounded, stable domestic life. Prefer to be at home than to travel or go out. Develops skills for making the home comfortable and practical, sometimes even beautiful.

Less Healthy/Functional Versions of The Self-Preservation Instinct:

  • Self-care and health: Overeating or starves. No exercise or over exercise.
  • Practicality and resources: Constant worry about resources and a grasping approach to life, never feel relaxed or sufficiently secure.
  • Domesticity and home: Talent for domestic order can become a pattern of lethargy and becoming stuck in ruts. Fears of stepping outside of familiar tracks.

Repressed or ‘Blind’ Versions of the Self-Preservation Instinct:

  • Self-care and health: Avoiding medical and dental check ups. Having haphazard relationships with exercise, rest and diet.
  • Practicality and resources: Lacking focus on resources, hoping others will handle this part of life. Overall, having a life that lacks structure and regularity. We do things more randomly and our schedule tends to be more changeable.
  • Domesticity and home: Avoid focus on domesticity. Our home may be more of a ‘crash pad’. May fear getting trapped by domestic life, seeing it as drudgery and heaviness.

A few more points to note when considering how the Self-Preservation Instinct functions for you:

  • Being present in the self-preservation instinct means attending to these life areas in healthy, non-neurotic, relaxed ways. It is knowing there is a need and meeting it without excessive thought and struggle.
  • Being neurotically over-concerned or fearful about self-preservation is a pointer towards the self-preservation instinct being on overdrive.
  • Being apathetic, negative or judgmental towards others who honour this instinct may indicate a repressed relationship with this instinct.
  • Rarely are we effective across all three of the areas – even when the instinct is dominant or secondary.


Here are some factors that might arise if this instinct is not allowed to find a place to contribute to our personality structures.

  • We may struggle to undertake sustained efforts that are supportive and beneficial for our own wellbeing. If we are blind in Self-Pres, we may pay too much attention to relationships, and not enough to our selves.
  • Something about working on our own self-interest might feel selfish and boring, and it can be hard for us to anticipate the benefits of doing so. We may rationalise this as selflessness when it’s actually about not wanting to take energy away from our usual instinctual agendas.
  • We may struggle to muster the force for moving ourselves in an independent direction unless there is significant sexual or social interest there. We might fail to cultivate self-reliance in a number of areas. Typically, we might struggle with creating foundations and sustainable pathways towards aims and goals.
  • We may fear that time spent cultivating our foundations and supporting our wellbeing only takes away time and energy from social and sexual pursuits. We may even fear that focusing on Self-Preservation areas in our lives ( boring and unavailable for connection.
  • Resist individuation.
  • Unconsciously outsource facets of care for their wellbeing onto loved ones, friends and acquaintances. They can therefore become a burden on others. Unaware of the full scope of what is outsourced, they tend to underestimate the toll it takes on others and can feel entitled to others’ support.
  • Attempts others make to help the self-preservation blind person may actually evoke a feeling of deficiency. This may reinforce a tendency to want to seek out novel connections whilst downplaying the ones they already have as intimates have an ‘inside look’.
  • Often in the position of waiting for others to initiate new directions and endeavours that lead to growth or sustainable changes.
  • Often don’t give the task at hand the necessary complete attention for it to unlock, nor do they trust in their own resourcefulness.
  • They can lack discernment around relationships. There is a lack of input of the self-preservation’s eye to whether a specific connection might be a divergence from one’s own path, a waste of time, or dangerous.
  • Can stay locked into relationships that seem to support the self-preservation needs they don’t feel prepared to address themselves. Their time tends to be given away to other people rather than treated as something precious.
  • Can easily become scattered and depleted of energy because they are typically poor at cultivating habits that are restorative or authentically restful.
  • Frequently mistake ignoring the body as a form of physical resilience and strength, blind to the cost.
  • Pattern of living can be a consequence of the interpersonal circumstances they find themselves in rather than by intention.
  • Susceptible to fostering grandiose fantasies about themselves due to a lack of groundedness. They grow from learning to tolerate loneliness by attending to present state.


Each Enneagram personality archetype has its own Achilles Heel, or Lifetrap: a way in which our personality leads us towards a kind of intrinsic “vice”. As a Type Four, for example, my Achille’s Heel is “envy and resentment”. So if Self-Pres were my ruling or dominant instinct, this Lifetrap would manifest through the seeking out of satisfaction in the three Zones of Self-Pres (see above):

  1. Self-care and wellbeing
  2. Maintenance and resources
  3. Domesticity and home

If you know your type and suspect you may be dominant in Self-Pres, here are the ways in which the seeking and striving parts of your personality structures will be inflected by the instinct:

Type One: Seek to experience essential integrity through lifestyle and wellbeing. This may at times result in the Lifetrap of Resentment.

Type Two: Look to experience essential love through attending to wellbeing, comfort and health of others. This may at times result in the Lifetrap of Pride.

Type Three: Strive to experience essential value in their accomplishments, lifestyle and careers. This may at times result in the Lifetrap of Vanity.

Type Four: Seek to experience essential depth through their lifestyle, creativity and self-expression. This may at times result in the Lifetrap of Envy.

Type Five: Seeking essential quality of insight through lifestyles and interests. This may at times result in the Lifetrap of Avarice.

Type Six: Seek to experience essential truth in their lifestyle, path of personal growth and resources. This may at times result in the Lifetrap of Angst.

Type Seven: Seek to experience essential freedom through experiences and sensual pleasure. This may at times result in the Lifetrap of Gluttony.

Type Eight: Seek essential power through lifestyle and resources. This may at times result in the Lifetrap of Lust.

Type Nine: Seek essential harmony through lifestyle and interests. This may at times result in the Lifetrap of Sloth.