Although the name ‘Subtype’ implies something subordinate to Enneagram Type, in fact it probably pre-dates it and is in many ways more powerful because it is instinctual, body-based behaviour. 

Our Enneagram type describes our habit of mind (Head Centre) and the passion (Heart Centre), and hence our motivations. In the case of Type 6, for example, the habit of mind is to scan for danger and project out into the world to explain why I feel (in my heart) so fearful. With the subtype, we bring in the Body Centre and the three survival strategies of individual self-preservation, couple relating – known as one-to-one – and survival as a social group.

We use all three of these instincts in daily life, but one of them draws more of our attention and energy and this is our subtype. It is true to say that we may find we have more in common with others of the same subtype than we have with people who are the same type as we are. 

The subtypes are important variations of the personality types. Learning to manage subtype issues and preoccupations is an important tool for personal awareness, relationships and growth.

Self-preservation subtype

Often described as ‘warm’, self-preservation types can usually be found operating the physical infrastructure of the community. The food system – farming, transporting, selling, cooking and serving food – is in their domain.  This also includes the activities related to mothering and early childhood, from pre-schools through the early elementary grades.  At the other end of society, this subtype can be found operating the real estate and financial systems, such as banking, insurance, mortgages, taxes etc. (not that other subtypes can’t be involved in these areas as well, but that it is inherently a self-preservation domain).

As for all the subtypes, the issue is one of balance. The danger for the self-preservation types is that materialism can become their religion. For many centuries in most areas of the world, the human race has been living on the edge. Food, shelter, and survival issues had to take priority. But in developed countries, material affluence is more common than not. The challenge is to recognize when enough is enough, to refrain from over consuming, and to keep attention available for the other issues in life (including personal growth, social responsibility and spiritual development).

When self-preservation types are out of balance, when they try to resolve their insecurity or anxiety with eating, shopping, home making, etc., they are likely to neglect their social and sexual selves. Friends and intimates are low priorities, unless they fit into the preservation agenda. However, when they are managing their subtype well, they bring warmth and a grounded intelligence to everything that they do.

One-to-one subtype

The relationship with one other is frequently sublimated into an intense relationship with Spirit. St Augustine, for example, moved from a wild sexual life to a religious vocation.

In contrast to the ‘warmth’ of the self-preservation subtypes, one-to-ones could be described as ‘hot’ and, because of their intensity, usually have a strong effect on the people around them. On the one hand, this is enlivening and fun, but on the other it can be exhausting for both parties. Their primary issue is ‘energy management’. There is just more ‘juice’ or heatedness driving their personality, for better or worse. They can be overly zealous or worked up about everything, even the small tasks of daily life.

One-to-one types often have a certain glow about them. For example, their eyes may be very bright and shiny and they are usually direct and intense in making personal contact. Other subtypes can misinterpret this as being sexually seductive, even when it’s not intended to be, and one-to-one’s may have to watch that they are not unintentionally giving ‘green light’ signals of sexual availability.

Many one-to-one subtypes are drawn to activities or careers where there is lots of excitement, and are often the star performers of their world, whether it’s business, entertainment or psychology. Most actors and actresses, as well as gurus and tyrants of all persuasions, are probably one-to-one subtypes.

There are, however, many one-to-one subtypes who are satisfied to live in the small world of their one-on-one relationship. If they have a long-term partner, they can be quite uninterested in other people, social activities or the world at large. They expect most of life to be experienced within that dyad, putting a lot of pressure on the relationship. When all their needs aren’t met here, they can become very frustrated. Turning their attention outward can be a big challenge.

Social subtype

It is important to distinguish here between being sociable and being socially minded. Social subtypes are not concerned with being sociable, party-animals. Instead their focus is on what makes a community viable: government, infrastructure, hospitals, schools, libraries, committees etc. They therefore have a rather serious, formal style, which may be described as ‘cool.’

Any of the subtypes can become effective group leaders, but it’s the social types who have the most inherent ability to understand and operate the ‘infrastructure’ of organisations, whether it’s the church or temple, the political party, the corporation or the local Rotary club. The one-to-one types often provide the vision and the charismatic leadership at the top, but they will usually need a cadre of social types to build and sustain their organisation. Social types may also excel in organisational development, and provide help to businesses and institutions of all kinds in the areas of effective structure, systems and teams.

As for all the subtypes, the issue is one of balance. The danger for social types is their tendency to step into socially determined roles, which then form the parameters and limits of their lives. Group-determined thinking and behaviour can narrow our perspective and our options if our security rests entirely upon a need for inclusion and membership. Too much conformity can make individuals and societies overly rigid, or worse. 

Personality types that seek external approval (such as Ones, Twos, Threes, Sixes and Nines) may have real problems establishing their own values and finding their individuality. Even the more rebellious or non-conformist counter-phobic Sixes and Eights, if they are social types, can become trapped by their own group participation issues. They can get stuck in the role of troublemakers within an organisation, or they may become marginalized in an anti-social, alienated position on the fringe.


This description of subtypes was adapted from Peter O’Hanrahan’s Instinctual Subtypes Handbook. Visit his website at Enneagram Work or buy his handbook online.