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Defense Mechanism: Guardians of our Type-based Ego Structure | Type 4

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 4.

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.

FOURS’ Ego Ideal | The Original Person | Always creative and authentic; never ordinary or boring

FOURS’ Fixation | Melancholy | Continuously thinking about what is missing, accompanied by thoughts of being disconnected from others

FOURS’ Passion | Envy | Consciously or unconsciously comparing self to others, with accompanying feelings of deficiency, superiority, or both

The FOURS’ Primary Defense Mechanism | Introjection

Introjection is a counterintuitive defense mechanism. Instead of repelling critical information and negative experiences that can cause a person anxiety or pain, individuals introject the information – that is, they fully absorb, internalize, and incorporate these data into their sense of self. Fritz Perls, the father of Gestalt Therapy, refers to this phenomenon as swallowing something whole without being able to differentiate between information that is true from information that is untrue. Fours introject negative information – and repel positive data – about themselves as a way of coping with painful information and neutralizing external threats. They prefer to deal with self-inflicted damage rather than having to respond to criticism or rejection from others.

Introjection Examples

Fours engage in introjection on an ongoing basis, unconsciously seeking clues that someone is upset with them or that they are deficient in some way. The defense mechanism is triggered most strongly when they feel anxious about impending negative feedback or when they become close to others and then worry about being rejected. With a lack of clear boundaries to differentiate what to internalize and what to not take seriously, combined with their tendency to absorb negative data but reject positive information, most Fours continuously defend against not feeling good enough.

Ironically, Fours don’t realize that the very defense mechanism they use to fend off negative information actually creates their reservoir of negative self-perception. Examples of the Four’s defense mechanism of introjection include the following: being highly sensitive to the possible negative reactions of others; having an intense desire to be fully understood; needing to express themselves at length; feeling deeply hurt when they believe others do not grasp what they are saying or empathize with their feelings; overidentifying with what they feel and believing that they are their feelings, rather than understanding that feelings are something they have; and tending to blame other people rather than themselves when someone is upset with them or they feel anxious, thus transporting the hurt and responsibility to someone else.

How introjection Serves as a Guardian of the Type Four Ego Structure

The type Four ego structure needs to maintain its idealized self of being the original person who is special, sensitive, intuitive and authentic and never out-of-touch, unreal or boring. To this end, the Fours’ fixation of melancholy and passion of envy work hand-in hand-to maintain their ego ideal of being original in every way, unlike any other individual. A person such as Four who feels a continuous ache in their heart from continuously comparing oneself to others and sustains a melancholic mind by focusing on what is lacking in themselves or their lives can easily sustain their sense of being special, unique and different. Fours often enjoy feeling that they are deeper and more sensitive human beings than the rest of us. That makes them special.

But what happens if and when Fours begin to feel optimistic or when they experience themselves as ordinary or even boring in some way. Here’s when their defense mechanism of introjection comes to their aid. With a reservoir of negatively information about themselves – the by-product of their continuously introjection of real or perceived information about themselves – they can re-adjust their inner lives to re-experiencing themselves as finely and uniquely tuned to the emotional ups and downs of life, to being a person so deep in feeling that others seem superficial and out of touch by contrast. And back they are to their dynamic of envy ¬ feeling better than or not-as good-as and melancholy, their fixation and passion once again operating in a mutually reinforcing, synchronized loop.

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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Shelby Nicholson
Shelby Nicholson
4 years ago

Very nice. thank you.

Linda S
Linda S
3 years ago

The introspection part really resonates for me. I have a name for what has dogged me my whole life. It perfectly describes it. I so appreciate your insight; it brings me to tears.