Enneagram Subtypes and Characters

One fascinating part of the Enneagram are the “subtypes.” I’ve heard subtypes described as the part of Maslow’s Hierarchy that we are most concerned meeting. (And the numbers are our strategies for meeting them.)

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs represented as a pyramid with the more basic needs at the bottom. Vector illustration.

There are three subtypes, or instinctual variations: Self-Preservation (Preservers), Sexual (Transmitters), and Social (Navigators).

Self-Preservation-focused people are primarily concerned with the first two levels of the Hierarchy: ensuring that they and their families have enough to meet their safety, security, and psychological needs.

People driven by the Sexual instinctual bias (Transmitters) focus on the third and fourth bands of the hierarchy, but mainly on seeking one-on-one interactions. (It says ‘sexual’ but it isn’t limited to mates.) They use their strategies to draw people toward them and create deep emotional connections.

While people driven by Social instincts (Navigators) focus on the third and fourth bands, but more on the social group and structures than the other types. Their concerns are how they fit into the group, what the group’s hierarchy looks like, how groups can operate harmoniously, and so forth.

Obviously we all need everything on Maslow’s Hierarchy, the subtypes are just looking at which is most important to the individual character.

For example, my husband is a nester. He wants his home to be in good repair, clean, and he is deeply concerned that we have enough money for our needs. He is less concerned about social hierarchies and in our early relationship I doubted he even saw social hierarchies.

But that’s because my focus is absolutely on the social relationships between people and groups. I’m a social type and I spend a lot of time contemplating how groups of people work. This relates to the fiction we love as well. One of my very favorite scenes in all of literature is the dinner party in Dune, which is rife with subtext and political intrigue. Steve loves The Martian, which is absolutely a Self-Preservation-focused story at the most primal level.

Realizing this helps me understand why some stories speak to me and why others aren’t as appealing. It’s a much more intense way of learning what our writing desires are than just looking at genre. And writing scenes that appeal deeply to our own sensibilities is the key to truly enjoying writing.

Characters and Subtypes

Characters’ subtypes will put them at odds with others in the story and this makes for conflict and suspense. One of the best ways to see this is in movies. A YouTube channel called Type Cast does a great job of illustrating the subtypes for each Enneagram number. The same people also do a podcast that does an even deeper dive into these topics, illustrating the point with movies. I highly recommend both to you. Watching Type Cast videos has helped me channel the voice and frustrations of each number into my own characters.

I’m going to leave things here for now. I’ll talk more about the Enneagram and using it for writing later.

Be well, friends!

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