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Defense Mechanism: Guardians of our Type-based Ego Structure | Type 6

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 6. 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 the 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.

SIXES’ Ego Ideal | The loyal person | Always reliable and consistent; never untrustworthy or difficult

SIXES’ Fixation | Cowardice | thoughts of doubt and worry that cause the continuous creation of anticipatory or worst-case scenarios

SIXES’ Passion | Fear | Feelings of anxiety, deep concern, and panic that the worst will occur, that others cannot be trusted, and that they are not capable of meeting the challenges that present themselves

The SIXES’ Primary Defense Mechanism | Projection

Projection is a psychological defense mechanism in which individuals unconsciously attribute their own unacceptable, unwanted, or disowned thoughts, emotions, motivations, attributes, and/or behaviors to others. While the projection may be positive, negative, or neutral, it occurs because the individuals who are projecting perceive the projected attributes as difficult to acknowledge or threatening to believe about themselves. Because Sixes make these attributions unconsciously, they imagine that they are true, although at a deeper level they are not entirely certain about this. Although Sixes use projection as a way to create some certainty and thus reduce their anxiety in ambiguous, uncertain, or potentially dangerous situations, these projections – particularly if they are negative in nature – ironically raise the Six’s anxiety level. In addition, when Sixes project either something negative or positive that is untrue, they create a false reality without knowing they are doing so.

Projection examples

A Six feels frightened by a coworker, although there is no concrete data to support this idea. The Six believes that this person wants to compete with him or her for a desired promotion and is planning ways to undermine the Six in order to gain the new job. The Six begins to plan and strategize how to undercut the coworker, justifying his or her actions by believing they are necessary in order to prevent the coworker from causing harm.

Although Sixes project on an ongoing basis, they project most often and most intensely when they are anxious. The more anxiety they feel, the more difficult it becomes for Sixes to differentiate between a projection and an insight – that is, something that is true. Examples of Six’s negative projections include: blaming someone or something else for a failure, attributing malevolent motives to another individual, and assuming something negative is going to occur when this has not yet happened. Sixes also engage in positive projections that are manifestations of their hopes and desires – for example, imagining that a leader is extraordinarily benevolent or can perform Herculean feats, believing that someone they like has no flaws, and assuming another person is highly intelligent while incorrectly criticizing their own intellect.

How projection serves as a guardian of the Type Six Ego structure

The type Six ego structure needs to maintain its idealized self of being the loyal person who is loyal to friends, family, teams and organizations, sometimes at almost all costs. No harm, they think, will come to those who are loyal. They want to count on others – even though they fear they cannot – and want others to be able to count on them – even though Sixes can be relationally volatile when their passion of fear gets ignited.¬ This fear exists more palpably in the self-preservation and social subtype Six and less observably in the one-to-one Six who moves to action quickly at the onset of fear.

The passion of fear, for all Sixes, sets off the fixation of cowardice with its multitude of anticipatory scenarios. With the interplay between fear and cowardice, how does the loyal person maintain their idealized self as a loyal person, one who is consistent, reliable and available for the tribe? Here is where projection supports the effort. First, projection is used to generate the anticipatory scenarios. Without projecting or imagining the future and what could happen, there could be no future scenario creation. These projected scenarios then fuel the fear.

But projection works in another way to hold the ego ideal in place. Sixes project goodness and other positive attributes onto other people and organizations – a friend is trustworthy, an organization does good things, a vendor did an effective job – sometimes beyond what is objectively true. Projecting in this overly- positive way enables Sixes to maintain their loyalty to the person, cause or system and to, therefore, maintain their sense of self as the loyal person, And a loyal person in the Sixes’ view, is a good person. But once this “other” falls from grace, which can happen hard and fast once it occurs, Sixes then perceive this “other” as bad, also using projection to create untested negative assumptions or inferences. At this point, Sixes do not believe they need to be loyal, as to do so would be foolish. As a result, they do not perceive this counter-reaction as disloyalty, but as disappointing reality. Thus, they can maintain their sense of self as a loyal person.

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.

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 | ginger@theenneagraminbusiness.com

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2 years ago

Thank you for this thorough, clear and applicable post.
It helps me to see the mechanics and the Interplay of various forces which allows me expand my self awareness and who knows maybe apply it.

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