Enneagram Defence Mechanisms - Our Psychological Protective Buffers - E-Mediate

Enneagram Defence Mechanisms – Our Psychological Protective Buffers

The world, as Louis Armstrong sings so hauntingly, is wonderful. Sadly, though, it’s also a place where anxiety and guilt occasionally threaten to overwhelm us. This is when we rely on our defence mechanisms to help us deal with these uncomfortable and difficult situations.

Although Sigmund Freud, who is generally credited with “discovering” our defence mechanisms, would not have described them this way, they are, essentially, the human equivalent of a computer firewall. They defend against harmful or abusive relationships, while still allowing normal, nurturing and healthy relationships to pass through.

Different people use different defence mechanisms, and these are often catagorised by modern psychologists as ranging from “healthy” to “pathological.” But even healthy people need to use defences on occasion to keep their psychological egos in check.

When it comes to the nine different Enneagram personality types, each type displays different defence mechanisms when dealing with difficult issues. Although they may use different mechanisms at different times, they most often default to a dominant, or primary one. The stronger your defensiveness, the more actively your ego is in self-defence mode.

The Defence Mechanisms Of The Nine Enneagram Personality Types

Type 1: Reaction Formation

Type1s have a very active inner critic, telling them what is and isn’t acceptable. When they find themselves feeling anxious because of the way they’ve behaved, thought or felt, their instinctive defence mechanism is to respond in way that is actually the complete opposite of how they really feel. In other words, when they think their true feelings are unacceptable, they try to convince themselves – and others – that they really feel totally differently. An example of this would be being very kind and polite to someone they intensely dislike.

Type 2: Repression

Twos are prone to hiding their true feelings, wishes, fears and needs when they feel they’re too difficult to consciously acknowledge. Of course, these repressed feelings don’t just disappear, and continue to influence Twos’ behaviour.

Type 3: Identification

This type of defence mechanism is characterised by the unconscious adoption of another’s traits and attributes. In this way, by taking on the characteristics of a person the Type 3 admires, their self-esteem is given a much-needed boost. It can sometimes then be difficult for them to untangle themselves from the person they’re emulating.

Type 4: Introjection

This is actually a counter-intuitive defence mechanism. Instead of repelling negative experiences, 4s actually incorporate them into their inner selves. They do this as a way of coping with painful or difficult information, and find it easier to deal with damage they’ve inflicted on themselves than coping with rejection or criticism from other people.

Type 5: Isolation

This doesn’t refer to physical isolation – although this can also occur – but rather to mental isolation. Fives cut themselves off from their feelings to stop themselves feeling empty and overwhelmed. Fives are skilled at separating their work and personal lives, and tend to also compartmentalise their various relationships so that their different groups of friends are kept separate from each other.

Type 6: Projection

This type of defence mechanism involves the unconscious projection of unwanted emotions, attributes and behaviours onto others. Because these projections are unconscious, Sixes believe them to be true, even though all they’re doing is creating a false reality.

Type 7: Rationalisation

This is, essentially, the practice of putting a spin on undesirable or unacceptable thoughts and behaviours in such a way that their original effects or intentions are completely obscured. Sevens rationalise by justifying and reframing their negative behaviour so that it starts to look like a positive. In this way, they can avoid pain, sadness, anxiety and guilt, and absolve themselves of any and all responsibility.

Type 8: Denial

The classic ostrich with its head in the sand, Eights unconsciously negate anything that makes them feel anxious by denying its very existence. This could be denying the truth of unpleasant information, playing down the gravity of a situation, or denying personal responsibility for a particular outcome.

Type 9: Narcotisation

Although the word sounds similar to narcotics, this defence mechanism has nothing to do with the taking of drugs, but is rather about their numbing effect. To cope with difficult situations, Nines induce a kind of numbness by the performing of familiar, repetitive activities that require little thought or external input. These could include washing dishes, continually flicking through channels on the TV, or working in the garden. These rituals immunise Nines against the full awareness of the unpleasant thing happening around or to them.

If you’d like to find out more about Enneagram, and the amazing impact it can have on your team dynamics and productivity, contact Ellen Edwards on 082 940 2486, or email her at ellen@emediate.co.za.