An Enneagram Journey: Type, Tritype, and Instincts

Credit to Katherine Fauvre for creating, writing and developing tritype, instinctual stacking theory and Positive / Negative instinctual identification, and for giving her time to discuss her experience and ideas. You can find more by visiting her website here 

Hi. My name is Jonathan; I’m an INFJ, and this is my Enneagram journey. If you are just getting into Enneagram or typology in general and have trouble making sense of it, I hope my story will help.

I first learned about the Enneagram shortly after I seriously got into MBTI. I’d found out about Myers-Briggs years and years ago when I was still a teenager, and I thought it sucked. I took the online tests, usually got INFP or INFJ, read the descriptions of all the types and thought they were too simplistic. I decided like many people that it was just a semi-interesting fad that didn’t have anything of substance underneath it. I came back to it on and off over the years but usually came to the same conclusion – it was interesting on the surface, but there wasn’t much to it. I had also done some Psychology classes in college and later read up on personality disorders and styles while at University (studying History), so the fact that none of these referenced MBTI didn’t help matters much either (though they helped me quite a bit later down the typology line).

All that changed a few years ago. I retook the Myers-Briggs test, got the same results (INFP and INFJ), and for some reason got angry and frustrated. I was tired of coming back to this system that I didn’t think had any value. I decided to research it more thoroughly and put to rest once and for all whether it had anything to it or if it was (as I thought at the time) just a bunch of rubbish. It was when I did THAT – through watching videos and shelling out money on some books – that I discovered the cognitive functions (which most online tests don’t talk about), and more in-depth descriptions. I realized there might be more to it after all. Afterwards, I was able to type some of the people around me and eventually settle on INFJ as my best fit type after all.

Finding the Enneagram and My Type

This led me to check internet forums like Personality Cafe and 16types, and through them I discovered Enneagram. At the time, I saw Enneagram as a bunch of random numbers and So/Sp/Sx’s that made no sense to me at all. Since I was just getting into the cognitive functions and making sense of them, I decided to put off the Enneagram for awhile. It was only a few months after this that I gave Enneagram any serious thought (this was also where I first encountered Socionics, but that’s another journey altogether).

Like most people, I started out doing the same thing I did with MBTI and took the online tests and read the online descriptions, which gave me 5w4 and 4w5 as my two most likely types. Some more online research and some YouTube videos caused me to run into some problems with those types. I found other INFx 4w5s and didn’t really relate to them that much (mostly because they were dressed all in black – which is a bit of a stereotype in hindsight). I also heard some say that INFJs cannot be a 5w4 even if they type as that and that certain Myers-Briggs types can’t be certain Enneagram types. (My current stance on that thorny topic, for the record, is “the jury is still out,” but I do agree that some combinations are at least more likely than others). So, as I did with MBTI, I spent money and bought some books to settle the matter.

(In case you were wondering, the book I got was Herb Pearce “Enneagram Basics.” Shortly afterward I also got “Personality Types” by Don Riso and Russ Hudson, and later still “The Complete Enneagram” by Beatrice Chestnut. My current Enneagram library has now disturbingly swollen into at least a dozen books.)

By this point, I’d already heard from some sources that your Enneagram type is the one that gives you a feeling of revulsion or that repels you. I got that feeling from reading about Enneagram 4, but those were again just the short online descriptions, and in hindsight, it was more the “less healthy” side of 4 that I was relating to uncomfortably. When I read 5w4 though, I related to it much better: in fact, I thought it was as if someone had looked into my head years ago when I was in school and based their typing on what they heard me think at the time.

5w4 seemed settled, but then I started looking into the other types to get a complete picture. The first on the list was Enneagram 1. If the type 5 description sounded like it was reading off thoughts I had when I was at school, the type 1 was like getting to my very core and reading thoughts I had my entire life – the perfectionism, the inner judgment, the procrastination, the ethics – everything about it read like it was me. When I got to the subtypes – 1w(ing) 2 vs 1w9, the “wing” meaning that a type “borrows” from one of the types next to them – I read that the 1w9 can resemble a 5. I also learned that an Enneagram 1 can go to 4 under stress (Enneagram 4 and 5 also appear to be common mistypes for INFJs regardless of their actual enneatype) which seemed to explain everything. Reading on about the other Enneagram types in various books, I could also quickly identify people I knew or had come across in real life. I could see more clearly how they were different from myself and why I had agreed or disagreed with them (and vice-versa) on so many occasions. A great deal of the mental landscape suddenly fell into place.

Health Levels

For Health Levels, I’ve already said that I had looked into personality disorders long before I got into typology, and this concept fits neatly into what I’d already learned. In brief, there are different approaches to personality disorders.

The first, now somewhat discredited, is called the Categorical view, which gives you a list of symptoms for each disorder. If you meet a certain number of symptoms, you may have the disorder; otherwise, you don’t. This takes the view that there are hypothetical “normal” people and disorders are simply illnesses that you can catch.

Another is the idea that personality disorders are just extreme or unhealthy manifestations of normal personality styles that everyone has due to genetics, upbringing or whatever, and this is closer to what Don Riso and Russ Hudson were talking of on their website and books. Essentially, there are nine health levels for each of the nine Enneagram types (the exact number is arbitrary), with levels 1-3 being Healthy, 4-6 being Average (neurotic, but most people are at these levels), and 7-9 being Unhealthy (psychotic). By this point, you are well into the realm of whichever personality disorder(s) the given enneatype corresponds to, though it should be noted that levels 5-6 can be deeply in trouble as well.

The Enneagram types don’t match particular disorders QUITE as neatly as Riso and Hudson perhaps imply, but it was good for me to see the correlations between “real” psychology and something like the Enneagram to help validate it. It helped to see them from a more psycho-analytic, in-depth point-of-view, and one that gave a more complete, well-rounded picture of a personality style from high point to low, than much of the other stuff I had read.


Tritype was another concept I had come across by this point, and it isn’t one that has enough material out there, except on some forums and online sources. Luckily, I’ve had the pleasure of doing several live online chats with Katherine Fauvre by now (and you can watch them right here). As she is the developer of tritype theory, this has given me many insights into the concept, and its development.

I had come across similar ideas when I was looking into styles and disorders, that people often have two or three different styles, one of which is the main. The notion of tritype – and trifix, its antecedent – is that, while we may have (or “use”) all 9 Enneagram types with one being our Core (as is Enneagram orthodoxy), we essentially have a “preference” in each of the three Centres of Intelligence – the Gut (types 8, 9 and 1), Heart (types 2, 3 and 4) and Head (5, 6 and 7). This goes a long way in explaining the differences between people of the same enneatype even when other factors like MBTI are taken into account, as well as helping to explain mistypes. The specific order of your tritype matters (e.g. a 358 is qualitatively different from a 583, but both are the same tritype – The Solution Master), but people who share the same tritype in any order will share certain core traits and themes in their lives and thinking irrespective of their core type.

At first, after settling on Enneagram 1, I assumed (thanks to my test results) that I had 4 and 5 in my tritype, so I typed as 145 / 154 (The Researcher) for a few months. However, not fully relating to certain aspects of the tritype description, I did some research and realized that Enneagram 2 was more like me and the 125 tritype. I then had to decide what the exact order was. While I related to 2-ish values and ideals more than 5-ish ones, looking at my behavior (I’m basically a recluse, amongst other reasons) and considering I got 4 and 5 most often on tests, I realized that 125 was the more extraverted and 152 fit me better.

Instinctual Variants

I first learned about the instincts around the same time as tritype and the rest, but it took me a bit longer to get around to figuring them out, which is strange in retrospect since I think the instincts are one of the easiest things to learn about.

For those who don’t know, the instincts are the Social (So), the Sexual (Sx) and the Self-Preservation (Sp). These are separate from the Enneagram so you don’t need to know your enneatype to learn them, but they nonetheless affect how your type manifests (for instance, a Sexual type who is a 1 is different from a Sexual type who is a 3 and so on). You have all three Instincts, but you have them in a certain order called your Instinctual Stacking, or sequence – So/Sp, Sx/Sp, Sp/So, etc.

Your first instinct is what you want, or your neurotic preoccupation in life. Your second is what you are best (or, “least worst”) at, or most comfortable with. Your third is your blindspot or hidden agenda – you use it, but in general, you don’t focus on it as much as the other two, and too long with it can make you uncomfortable. You may feel like you want to see the other two instincts taken care of before you see to the third, if you care to see to it at all. Recently, I learned about being Positively(+) and Negatively(-) identified with your instincts from Katherine Fauvre, and how that impacts your life, thoughts, and behavior. People who negatively identify with any of their instincts, particularly their first, often report painful early childhood experiences in this area, though painful experiences at any point in life might “wound” your instinct.

At first, I thought I was Social last, since I am an Introvert to shame other Introverts, but that wasn’t how it worked. Social doesn’t mean “Sociable.” It is more about “social awareness,” and things like being group minded, being aware of who belongs or doesn’t belong and whether or not YOU belong, being aware of status, being attuned to social justice matters whatever you think of them, and so on, and that described me to a T.

Social + is more of a social participant, and is confident, comfortable and drawn towards sociability. Social – is more of a social observer, is less confident and comfortable and might mistake themselves for Social last, as I did. But they still have a strong desire to belong and are attuned to group issues more keenly than most (this has nothing to do with Introverts or Extraverts mind, or what your Enneagram type is, though naturally there are trends). Obviously, to me at least, I am Social-.

The Sexual instinct is not about sexuality; rather, the focus is on intimacy, intensity, attractiveness, personal identity and experience. Also called the “One-to-One” or “Intimate” instinct, it is harder to describe but often easy to recognize. People with this instinct feel drawn to specific individuals and relationships (not always romantic), and failing that may try to satisfy their intimacy cravings with intense devotion to a project, ideology, a cause, or experiences. They also sometimes wish to leave “something” behind before they die to pass on.

Sexual + types generally feel attractive and have been told they are such – whether due to looks, intelligence, charisma or whatever – and they are confident in establishing and making relationships, though most Sx types will say they prefer to be with their “favorites.” Sexual – meanwhile feels less attractive and thus less confident in this area, and either forgoes relationships completely (while still paying neurotic attention to them, at least in their head) and transfers their attention more completely to other areas of their life or fixates more clearly on certain individuals.

Lastly, Self-Preservation types focus primarily on resources and whether they have “enough” to get by in life – money, career, home, health, fitness, and so on. They think about comfort, well-being, independence, practical necessities and so on. They might also learn to focus on hobbies and personal interests.

Self-Pres + types are geared towards prosperity and are more confident in attaining it. They are confident in their ability to get “what they need” through hard work and effort, though all Self-Pres types might have a secret fear of poverty or powerlessness underneath. Self-Pres – meanwhile is more focused on survival and might either decide to minimize their needs or, conversely, become hoarders or even reckless risk-takers, fearing either way that what they have might be taken from them at any moment by some unforeseen disaster.


So, to summarize, if you are new to the Enneagram or are having trouble figuring out your type (or the type of someone else), here are some guidelines.

First of all, remember that all tests – no matter how good they might be – are just a guide and a starting point, and you aren’t necessarily going to get your correct result no matter how many tests you take.

The second, whether or not you believe that any Jungian type can be any Enneagram type, it would be useful to familiarize yourself with the trends – though there might be conflicting information on what even these are. Keep in mind that some type combinations are at least more or less likely than others and that your Jungian type might well skew your test results at times.

The third, and most important, is to DO THE RESEARCH. Get your hands on the best books you can, and keep in mind that different Enneagram authors will have their particular points of view so read widely and deeply. Books, articles, videos, consult with experts (more than one – and not necessarily experts you have to pay for). You can’t really learn about type until you dive deep into what the types are and how they truly work, or as close as you can get.

Fourth, remember that you – and anyone you read or consult with – are prone to unconscious biases, some of which may involve your particular type. This can affect how you see your own type and how you see other types, as well as how easy you find it to correctly type yourself. Some types are more likely to either incorrectly identify themselves, or have trouble identifying their type at all. Some are also more likely to prize their own opinion and interpretations, while others might be more inclined to trust the opinions of people they see as more knowledgeable than themselves on any subject matter, never mind their own psychology. These things can be clues as to what your type is, but they might also be obstacles or hurdles on the path of how you are coming to understand type in the first place.

And lastly, just remember that THIS. TAKES. TIME. Everyone, no matter how good they think they are, will have to take weeks, months or even years to become even reasonably good at this, and everyone will be prone to make mistakes or change their perspective on types, people and the system in general. This is normal and necessary. As long as you remember to be patient and not too stubborn or proud, you will be able to grow in understanding what your type is and how types themselves work.

That’s all for now. I hope my little journey can help everyone have a better understanding of their type and typology in general. Take care, everyone!


Want to Learn More About the Enneagram? Check out:

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An Enneagram Journey: Type, Tritype, and Instincts #Enneagram #INFJ

Showing 6 comments
  • Chantel

    Infj 4w5 (451) INFp (socio) here, great in depth article. You definitely sound or at least write with a very high Ti flavour…. you’ve delved deep into shadow functions and looping in Mbti I presume ?
    I still resonate deeper with Mbti, and astrology honestly, but find enneagram very intriguing, just beginning to understand tritypes …. thanks again for your time.
    Love and light

  • Julie

    Hi I am a fellow 5w4 and also an INFP. I do have a personality disorder, Avoidant Personality Disorder, which I was recently wondering how it relates to the enneagram #5. I was thinking how the #5 seemed a lot like AVPD, just less intense! Is it possible that I am an intense 5? Also wondering how 5’s disintegration to 7 shows up when it comes to AVPD. Where can I find the writings that you referred to about how personality disorder relates to the enneagram?

    • Jonathan

      Hi. I’m not a 5w4, but a 1w9; I have 5w4 in my tritype and I used to get 5w4 on tests though.

      You can find discussions about Enneagram relating to personality disorders in Character and Neurosis by Claudio Naranjo and Understanding the Enneagram by Riso and Hudson…however, both of these were originally written in the 1990s, and their descriptions of both enneagram types and the disorders are somewhat outdated as a result, so take with a pinch of salt. My own readings were more that I researched personality disorders first, then came to the Enneagram later and noticed the correlations, such as they were.

      You also need to remember that personality disorders are more biased towards behavioural patterns than enneagram is and so easy one-to-one conversions between an enneatype and a disorder are not 100% possible, as they are coming at the psych from quite different angles.

      5s can be perfectly intense, in fact 5s can be MORE intense than any typical description of Avoidant Personality Disorder, at least once things like instinctual stacking are taken into account. I would say that 4s, 5s and 9s (perhaps including as a wing or in tritype) can all meet the criteria for Avoidant Personality Disorder if they are sufficiently stressed or less healthy; 5s also bring to mind the related Schizoid Personality.

      7s is not just about being extraverted, it is about seeking distractions or pleasure to deal with anxiety or other issues, so a 5 under stress can, say, waste time playing too many video games, binge eating food or whatever and still be very avoidant and introverted. Though I should add that you can Disintegrate and Integrate to both of your lines of connection, so a 5 can go to 7 when healthy and 8 when less healthy too.

      Hope this all helped 🙂

  • Francesco D'Arcangeli

    Hi there,
    probably one of the best articles about “Enneagram from the point of view of a learner” I’ve ever read.
    The concepts are well summarised and the emphasis you put on researching and taking your time is 100% true.

  • Pamela Spragye

    As an infj, 6w5 I think you’ve done an excellent job explaining both the complexity and the accuracy of the ennegram. Like any study of philosophy, it takes time and honest self analysis to gain understanding. Thank you!

  • Jennifer Hodges

    Thanks for this, it’s pretty interesting! I’m just looking into this a little now. I couldn’t quite nail down my Enneagram, & my frustration led me to Myers-Briggs (I really enjoyed reading up on their journey too!). I seem to be falling right between INFJ/ENFJ, but I came to the same conclusion that you advise here..that it takes time, research & patience! It really seems to be a validating journey, as self acceptance must be one of the key outcomes, I would think:)

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The INFJ in the Enneagram #INFJ #enneagram