Enneagram Defense System: Access Points for Self Awareness & Growth

(Written by: Peter O’Hanrahan and Ginger Lapid-Bogda

1) Ones use reaction formation to avoid anger (i.e. direct anger) and stay in control of their feelings and instincts in order to maintain a self image of being right

Reaction formation is feeling one thing and then expressing the opposite or at least something unrelated, such as feeling resentful but acting nice, feeling a need to rest but working harder. The relentless demand of the inner critic to be good and do good at all times replaces personal needs and shuts down feelings.

2) Twos use repression of personal needs and feelings to avoid being needy and to maintain a self image of being helpful

Repression is putting one’s “unacceptable” feelings and impulses out of awareness by converting them into a more acceptable kind of emotional energy. Self-esteem depends on winning the approval of others. This can take the form of being overly nice, flattering people, and a superficial friendliness. Or it can show up as an attitude of entitlement. Their genuine need for connection takes the form of “you need me.”

3) Threes use identification to avoid failure and maintain a self image of being successful

Identification is stepping into a role so completely that Threes lose contact with who they are inside. The pressure to keep up a winning image prevents access to personal feelings and needs. Attention goes to the external environment: the tasks to be done and the expectations of other people. Threes find it very difficult to drop the role, or drop the image, since they get so much positive reinforcement in a society that values achievement and success.

4) Fours use introjection to avoid ordinariness and maintain a self image of being authentic

Positive introjection is an attempt to overcome the feeling of deficiency by seeking value from an idealized experience, work or relationship and internalizing this through the emotional center. This also leads to negative introjection: Fours tend blame themselves for whatever goes wrong in personal relationships. Their experience of loss or abandonment can take form inside as a self-rejecting voice (a negative introject) which leads to pervasive feelings of unworthiness.

5) Fives use isolation to avoid the experience of inner emptiness and maintain a self image of being knowledgeable

Isolation can be physical withdrawal from others, but it also means withdrawing on the inside from one’s emotions and staying up in the head. Acquiring knowledge becomes a way to create safety and self worth, but an over-emphasis on the intellect prevents Fives from connecting with the life force in their bodies and the support available in relationship with others.

6) Sixes use projection to avoid rejection and to maintain a self image of being loyal

Projection is a way of attributing to others what one can’t accept in oneself, both positive and negative. Positive feelings are projected onto a romantic relationship or an external authority figure in order to assure safety and justify loyalty. Negative feelings are projected onto others to justify internal feelings of fear and distrust. Sixes support their projections by finding and amplifying the information which fits their premise.

7) Sevens use rationalization to avoid suffering and to maintain a self image of being OK

Rationalization is a way of staying in the head, explaining away or justifying things in order to distance from painful feelings and refuse to take responsibility for their behavior. Everything can be re-framed towards the positive. Their ability to think of new options and possibilities allows Sevens to leave the present moment with its limitations and live in a seemingly unlimited future.

8) Eights use denial to avoid vulnerability and to maintain a self image of being strong

Denial means to power up in the body center and forcefully re-direct energy and attention through willfulness and control. Vulnerable feelings are automatically put away and not experienced. Emotional energy is reduced, while instinctual energy is increased. Receptivity necessarily involves some vulnerability, so Eights seek to impact the world and other people rather than be receptive to them.

9) Nines use narcotization to avoid conflict and to maintain a self image of being comfortable or harmonious

Narcotization is using food and drink, entertainment, or simply repetitive patterns of thinking and doing to “put oneself to sleep”. Even productive activities can keep Nines narcotized if they become too habitual. Avoiding conflict with others keeps Nines from being fully present in relationships. Avoiding internal conflict leads to inertia and self-forgetting.


The idea of defense mechanisms appears to have originated with Sigmund Freud and has been part of our modern psychological understanding since his time. There are numerous names for the most common defense mechanism people use, and modern psychologists sometimes group them in categories from “pathological” to “healthy.” But even healthy people use psychological defenses.

In addition, Gurdjieff refers to ‘buffers” that keep the ego in place, although he was likely referring more to the fixations or mental habits that align with each of the nine styles or the passions – emotional reactivity patterns – that get triggered when our egos are driving our responses. By deduction and by definition, defense mechanisms are “psychological buffers” that keep our psychological egos in place. By further deduction, reducing the impact of our defense mechanisms reduces the ego’s hold on us.

In terms of the Enneagram, I learned the primary defense mechanisms listed above from Helen Palmer’s first book, The Enneagram. I would assume these come from the work of Naranjo rather than Ichazo because Claudio is widely credited with having placed the psychological aspects of the 9 styles on the map, thus adding Western psychology to the Enneagram map. Given that psychological aspects of type include defense mechanisms, my logic has it that Claudio deserves credit for this. In addition, when I attended his 27 Enneagram Subtypes program in 2010, he artfully reviewed these mechanisms.