This blog series describes how the primary defense mechanism for each Enneagram type functions as a guardian of the type-based ego structure, and this particular blog focuses on Enneagram Type 3.
You’ll learn the following: how the type-based fixation and passion form a continuous loop that helps generate and sustain the type-based ego structure; what happens inside us when this loop contradicts the type-based ego ideal or idealized sense of self; how the ego does not like or know how to integrate this contradiction; and how the type-based primary defense mechanism then colludes with the type-based passion to lessen the dissonance created.
Below is a review of the major concepts: ego ideal; fixations and passions, and defense mechanisms.
Ego Ideal is how a person wants to be perceived by self and others, an idealized self that seeks to be continuously reinforced. In a sense, the ego ideal is the aspirational self, whereas the ego-structure includes far more than only ego ideal, with additional elements such as the type-based fixations, passions, false reality, worldview, deepest longings and more.
Fixations and Passions are the ongoing states of functioning (mental and emotional respectively) that continuously play and replay in our Mental Center and our Emotional Center, thus fueling our emotional response patterns. The specific fixations and passions that go with each type create a self-reinforcing loop that become a core element of each type’s ego structure.
Defense Mechanisms are unconscious psychological strategies we use to deal with uncomfortable, difficult and anxiety producing situations. These mechanisms to reduce a person’s fear, sadness, and/or anger and to also maintain his or her self-concept and ego structure, appearing primarily when a person is either avoiding something or experiencing a threat of some sort. Although individuals of all Enneagram types use a variety of defense mechanisms at different times, there is one specific defense mechanisms that is most strongly associated with each type.
THREES’ Ego Ideal | The Effective Person | Always professional and competent; never idle or inadequate
THREES’ Fixation | Vanity | Strategic thinking about how to create an idealized image based on being or appearing to be successful
THREES’ Passion | Deceit | Feeling you must do everything possible to appear confident and successful, hiding parts of yourself that do not conform to this image
The Threes’ Primary Defense Mechanism | Identification
Identification is a psychological defense mechanism in which a person unconsciously incorporates attributes and characteristics of another person into his or her own sense of self. Identification is a way of bolstering one’s self-esteem by forming an imaginary or real alliance with an admired person, then taking on that person’s characteristics. When Threes model their own behavior after someone else or the idea they have of someone, they are usually not aware they are doing so. For this reason, it becomes complicated for them to untangle who they really are from this internalized image. In particular, Threes identify most with images of individuals who are admired in the Three’s desired social context, and the person/image with which Threes identify can change as their context changes, as well as change over time. In addition to identifying with people, whether real, famous, historical or even fictional, Threes also identify with what they do or with their roles as a vehicle to generate the admiration they want from others.
A Three feels quite nervous before making a presentation at a big meeting. Rather than reveal this outwardly in any way, the Three maintains a convincingly self-confident manner, appearing to be both composed and self-assured. Although some Threes may be aware that they are feeling anxious and covering this over, others may be totally convinced that they are just fine even when this is not the case. In this situation, the Three has an internalized image of what a successful presenter looks like and acts like, and he or she then plays this role.
Examples of Three behavior that stem from identification include: being hypersensitive to criticism of what they do (their work product, hobbies, and behavior) as if it is a personal criticism of them because they think “I am what I do”; becoming very different people to various groups (“shapeshifting”) to fit the image of that group as a way to “fit in”; joining clubs, forming friendships, or seeking memberships to organizations and institutions because these have prestige that then transfers, in their minds, to them; overworking and going into hyperdrive for excessive periods of times with a relentless fervor due to over-identifying with a particular activity or being active in general; and not being completely truthful – for example, deleting information in which they might look bad or not showing emotions that might tarnish their sense of self as being like an admired person or an idealized role.
How identification Serves as a Guardian of the Type Three Ego Structure
The type Three ego structure needs to maintain its idealized self of being the effective person who is always confident and effective, the “can-do” person who seeks success and avoids failure. To this end, the Threes fixation of vanity operates smoothly. Having a specific image of how to be and how to act – and believing this internalized image is actually you – reinforces the Three’s image of being so very capable. The passion of deceit removes or minimizes data – feelings, thoughts, and real experiences – that do not conform to and confirm the image. And when this fixation-passion loop gets disturbed in some way, the Threes’ defense mechanism of identification becomes even more active: find new individuals to identify with, internalize and emulate; ramp up the activities which you use to define yourself; accentuate and intensify the roles that you believe are actually you or add new roles if the current ones do not suffice. In turn, the fixation of vanity then intensifies, as does the passion of deceit.
Please note that fixations, passions, ego ideals and defense mechanisms are some, but not all, of the elements that comprise the 9 different ego structures. You can read and view more information about the components of ego structures for each type in my book, The Art of Typing, which you can purchase on Amazon here: The Art of Typing
Special note: the ego-ideal names and basic descriptions are from the work of Jerry Wagner PhD.
Ginger Lapid-Bogda PhD, the author of seven Enneagram-business books, is a speaker, consultant, trainer, and coach. She provides certification programs and training tools for business professionals around the world who want to bring the Enneagram into organizations with high-impact business applications, and is past-president of the International Enneagram Association. Visit: TheEnneagramInBusiness.com | firstname.lastname@example.org