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Working with the Instincts and Why I Might Want You to Throw Me a Parade.

If you follow my social media, you know that I have been putting some focus on the instincts, both in my work and in my personal life. I recently worked with a client who demonstrated why this part of the work is so fundamental to how we show up in the world, and why self-discovery around it can be life-changing.


A client recently came to me and in our “how are you,” part of the call, she expressed frustration at a partner who kept losing important documents and forgetting appointments. Hmmm… I hear judgment on one side of this partnership and a potential instinctual blind spot on the other.


We set to task to deconstruct this in terms of our human instinctual drives.


Someone strong in the self preservation instinct, tends to focus on things like


  • wellness (physical & emotional health, getting enough rest, etc.)
  • keeping to a schedule or having systems that keep them on task (for financial fitness, energy management, & getting things done)
  • and/or their home (keeping it comfortable, getting things fixed, it is a place they can recharge)


We call this the self-preservation instinct, and my client identified strongly with this.


But here’s the thing: if you are really, really focused in this area, you may think you are a rock star, but there are downsides too.


Generally, you also


  • have another area that suffers; that you neglect or procrastinate because there just isn’t enough energy left over to attend to all three at this level of intensity
  • find it really hard to understand why others don’t put this focus there, and can be judgmental of them for their “weakness” in what is “so obviously important!”
  • will give up really important things to keep this inflated instinct running


My client’s judgment was getting in the way of how she felt about her partner and how she felt about living in her home. This was a problem.


And she wasn’t paying adequate attention to one of the other instincts which meant she wasn’t paying adequate attention to


  • the things that excite her
  • the ways she actually strayed from her habits and got uncomfortable for the purpose of adventure and stimulation
  • relationships that brought a certain level of intensity or surrender into the other


This instinct, called the sexual instinct, is about intensity and using energy, where self-preservation might be about conserving it.


Once we identified this in her, the path towards addressing much of her frustration came, as well. Rather than try to make what mattered to her matter less to her (have you ever tried that?) we put some focus on making a plan to refocus some attention on the sexual instinct.


Even the conversation was exciting for her. She chose a couple of ways she wants to stretch herself, take social risks, and create a home that can allow for entertaining, game-playing, and even “off-the-beaten-path” decor. She had these ideas in her, but they are the things she always put off, avoided, or neglected. Putting some attention here will naturally pull some attention from that inflated instinct and make it more right-sized.


There is a third instinct, called the social instinct, which I’ll say more about in another writing, but if you are dominant in this area, you might be really good at reading the room, creating relationships, finding commonality with people and getting involved in groups, boards, and causes you care about that tend to be about something with real impact in the world.


Think about your own instincts. What is it that you tend to procrastinate? What isn’t taken care of in your life?


And at the opposite end of the spectrum, what do you consider “not optional”? What is so important to you that you truly can’t understand why others don’t find it equally as important (hint: this is the area in which you judge other people)?


What is the impact? If you say “none,” call me. I want to know what this looks like in someone (that isn’t a joke, by the way!).  The instincts are out of balance for most of us, but the degree to which they are out of balance shifts. So, I’m curious.


I’ll tell you that for me, I know my blind instinct because if I do something that falls in that area, I feel like the world should throw me a parade.


“I went to the cleaners today!” I announce proudly to my family, immediately crushed by their lack of excitement for me. But I know what I know.


And it really, really helps.

Picture of Christina Granahan

Christina Granahan

Enneagram-informed coach + therapist

I teach you how to use your Enneagram type to realize the relationships and success that you’ve been chasing at work, home, or school. Let's connect and see how I can help you.

You have one life. Let’s get you living it.

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