Before you continue reading, I want to make clear that I use the term “Karma” sort of loosely here, in the sense that I am slightly altering its original meaning to something more tangible: “Karma” being the collection of our past early experiences/actions in this one life, opposed to our “pasts” from many different lives. Personally, I do not believe in several past (or future) lives in the traditional Buddhist sense. I apologize if me altering the term offends any Buddhist – keep in mind I am simply trying to teach a life lesson.
The experiences from our early childhood form our personality in significant ways – one of them being our Instinctual Stacking.
I have found that most people share the same instinctual stacking as one (or both) of their parents/close caregivers. You could argue that the instinctual stacking is entirely inherited then, however it seems as if it is rather the life circumstances as well as the personality of the child that truly shape their instinctual stacking. In most families, one instinctual stacking and/or first instinct is being dominant – and I attribute that to most families going through a very similar way of upbringing, including living conditions, styles of caregiving, and so forth. Once in a while, a child will have a first instinct that does not seem to fit with the rest of the family. Why that is, is not easy to tell – it is most likely connected to the fact that the child has a personality type that reacts differently to its surroundings than the other family members’ – and also, the family’s lifestyle may have changed, and with that the child’s instinctual stacking is different.
According to its definition, Karma is about our actions in past lives influencing our current (or future) life. I would argue that our early childhood is like a past life of its own. Our entire past is our “past life” – as time moves on our past life becomes larger and our future life smaller in scope.
Connecting the idea of the Karma from a past life with our early childhood, and the fact that our instinctual stacking is predominately formed by our childhood experiences, we can arrive at the assumption that our instinctual stacking – primarily our first instinct – is our “Karmic Lesson” (Enneagram type itself likely being a part of it).
As mentioned earlier, there is usually one stacking and/or one first instinct running in families. You could say that this is the Karmic Lesson of the entire family. If two stackings are dominant (which usually occurs when a new person enters the family in the form of someone’s life partner, and their kids have their stacking – like it is the case with me and my family: my siblings, mother, and I are all So/Sx, whereas my father’s side of the family is predominately Sp first), that would mean that the family has technically two Karmic Lessons.
But what do I mean by “Karmic Lesson”? What is it made of, and what is its purpose?
In our early childhood, we were faced with situations that threatened our survival in one way or another – or said differently, those situations gave us the imperative that this particular thing has to be attained or cared for in order for our survival to be ensured. What exactly this “thing” is, depends on the particular situation, and will result in a specific instinctual stacking.
The purpose of the instinctual stacking, and with that of the Karmic Lesson, is essentially securing our survival for the present and the future.
Our early childhood experiences are so pivotal, they will ingrain in us this idea of a certain instinct having to be focused on or otherwise we perish. That is why the drive of the first instinct is so powerful – on an unconscious level, we believe that we will die if we do not find a way to fulfill it, hence it pains us so deeply when the first instinct finds no fulfillment. Again, this belief derives from our “past life”, our early childhood, when life itself taught us what it takes in order to live optimally. Whether we want(ed) them or not, our “past life” equipped us with certain instinctual desires, urging us to fulfill the Karmic Lesson of ourselves, our family and our ancestors, so that we survive and can pass on our genes to the next generation. As you can tell, there is a lot of value in understanding our Karmic Lesson and how to deal with it – because how well you are able to fulfill it will determine whether you feel fulfilled with your life in general, or whether you fall into depression and deem your life to be meaningless.
The first instinct is the “thing” you learned was overwhelmingly lacking but important in your early life, so your unconscious got to believe it was vital to your survival to develop yourself in this area and/or to keep an eye out for its fulfillment at all times.
SX (Sexual instinct) first individuals did not get the love and bonding they required or desired (for example, their parents got divorced and/or their main caretaker was being dismissive of them when they were young), and/or they learned that a close bond with their parent(s) or another important person in their life seemed to solve all their problems, so it had to be ensured the individual always got their “dose” of SX bonding to survive. As an adult, the SX first person will always (consciously or not) seek out this “special someone”, and only find internal rest and happiness once they have secured them. (Depending on how badly the person got “scarred” in their early life, romantic partners may always fall short to their expectations, because no living human being can be like their “ideal” of the “perfect partner” the SX first person has created in their mind when they were little for compensation. And/or the individual may have developed an anxious attachment style.)
SO (Social instinct) first individuals either experienced that they had to rely on and/or navigate social connections and interactions to get their needs met (mostly the “thing” of So/Sx), or that their social status was “too low” (in their eyes) and prevented or hindered them from living life to the fullest (mostly the “thing” of So/Sp). As adults, So/Sx people will feel the need to be part of people’s lives, belong to one or several social circles, and entertain and/or enrich the life experience of the people in their culture/society; whereas So/Sp people will work hard on raising their social status and try to get to know the “right people”.
SP (Self-preservation instinct) first individuals grew up in a family with little means. Their parents had to work hard to make sure they and everyone else in the family got fed. The living conditions were minimalistic or perhaps even archaic, for example rooms may have been too small or there was no running water. In extreme cases, they grew up in poverty. All of those factors weighed heavily on SP first individuals – SP second people may have had similar experiences, but they learned that their first instinct is more important for their survival. Whereas SP first people learned that getting their basic needs met, and focusing on those would be the most vital. Hence as adults, SP first people will always be focused on making sure their basic needs – food, home, work/money – are in check. Even when they become rich (which is a dream for most SP first individuals), they will never take the money for granted and tend to continually worry about losing it all and becoming poor (again).
The second instinct is the tool by which you primarily try to fulfill your first instinct. When you grew up this instinct’s needs were met or at least understood just right, so you adopted a balanced attitude and view on it. Your parents/caretakers most likely taught/showed you just right how matters of this instinct ought to be.
SX second people use intimate bonding, passions/interests, intensity and so forth to aid their first instinct.
SO second people use networking, friendships and so forth to aid their first instinct.
SP second people use grooming, “taking care of oneself”, acquiring resources, self-development and so forth to aid their first instinct.
The last instinct is the one that did not seem to deserve any special kind of attention, because it neither was perceived to be necessary for your survival, nor did it prove to be a useful tool for helping your first instinct (possibly because you were naturally weak at it, but not necessarily).
SX last people did not see how close bonding with others would be beneficial and necessary for their survival, so they never tried to acquire (or strengthen) that skill. Often times they grew up with parents who were overly affectionate. As adults, they generally refrain from establishing close intimate connections with others for the sake of attaining “more important” goals related to their first instinct.
SO last people were always surrounded by enough good friends, family members and/or acquaintances, so they never saw the point of acquiring more. They may have experienced moments of feeling “sick” of them when they were young, not getting enough space. In addition, their EQ and/or social skills may simply have not been high/good enough for the Social instinct to become their second instinct/tool. As adults, they are generally autonomous, not needing other people to feel like they matter or are “someone”. They may also try to keep their number of friends to a minimum because they don’t value friendship too highly.
SP last people either grew up in a household that was abundant and/or very adept at fulfilling their needs for food and shelter, or they did not find Sp-related activities to be helpful or paramount for their survival. They learned that interacting with others in beneficial ways was helping them more with survival than caring about self-preservation (especially when they are not good at it naturally). As adults, they tend not to worry or think about the material world of resources and so forth, relying almost exclusively on others to get their needs met, directly or indirectly through connections and benefactors.
Now that you know that your first instinct is your Karmic Lesson, which essentially is the way your unconscious tries to ensure your survival and happiness, you may see the neuroses of your first instinct in a different light. Yes, your Karmic Lesson is a burden of some kind. But, it is what you are meant to learn and get right. So, don’t fret, don’t give up – and fulfill the purpose of your Karmic Lesson.