After my first blog about some of my experiences as an Enneagram Type 8, I struggled with writing a second one. I spent several weeks thinking about follow-up topics, but I had no ideas and finally realized that I wasn’t experiencing typical writer’s block. My drawing a blank was actually a result of my Type 8’s natural defense mechanism: denial.
What is a defense mechanism?
A defense mechanism is a protective, psychological strategy, whose function is to keep us within our own comfort zones. It is primarily triggered in uncomfortable or difficult situations in an attempt to reduce our anxiety or uncomfortable feelings. Its purpose is to maintain our self-image, and each Enneagram Type has a different one. In my case, it keeps alive my self-image of “I am strong and not weak”. Our defense mechanisms operate automatically and unconsciously. Unless we are in observer mode, we aren’t aware of when they are active.
Denial is the refusal to accept a certain reality, thought or feeling. Its purpose is to protect the ultra-sensitivity and vulnerability that is buried beneath an outer veneer of strength and control. Denial is a simple process. I ignore and filter out any information that contradicts my preconceived ideas of what is needed to survive in an unfair world. In order to avoid painful feelings of weakness and powerlessness, I kill them. As a result, what I deny simply does not exist, enabling me to feel safe and comfortable again.
For example, when I think about blog topics, I immediately wonder what the people most important to me, both friends and colleagues, will think about them. My gut churns from fears of judgment, criticism, rejection and powerlessness. It feels like too much to bear! Acting like a red flare signaling danger, my gut sends urgent commands to my internal army. These metaphoric soldiers quickly mobilize, surround and isolate my uncomfortable sensations. Then, they hunt down and kill every last one of the offending enemy. Mission accomplished! The negative feelings no longer exist because they are all dead. Even though this battle takes place quickly, it uses a considerable amount of my energy.
Denial comes in a variety of forms. In addition to killing any strong negative feelings, I may:
The Impact of Denial
Denial isn’t always negative. It also:
Of course, denial also causes problems for me. Over the years, it has left a sense of deadness inside and has covered me with a thick layer of emotional armor that only intensity can pierce. While seeming to provide protection, its also:
Like all other defense mechanisms, the only “cure” for denial is to become aware of when it is happening and experience the pain that it tries to alleviate. Over the last several years that has been the path of my personal development. Gradually, I have developed the ability to be present with it. With patience, the denial process subsides and I can now access a new wealth of feelings and sensations. New, better ways of being and relating are now possible. (For example, I can now consume massive amounts of Kleenex during a sappy movie. Progress, I guess).
Denial will always be with me as an integral part of my personality. Now, I am learning how to recognize it as it happens. Rather than letting it control me, I consciously choose whether or not denial is beneficial in this individual circumstance.
I hope my sharing generates curiosity about your defense mechanism and how it operates in your life. Here is a summary of defense mechanisms by Enneagram Type.
Ones use reaction formation to avoid anger and to maintain a self image of being right.
Twos use repression of personal needs and feelings to avoid being needy and to maintain a self image of being helpful.
Threes use identification to avoid failure and maintain a self image of being successful.
Fours use introjection to avoid ordinariness and maintain a self image of being authentic and unique.
Fives use isolation to avoid emptiness and maintain a self image of being knowledgeable.
Sixes use projection to avoid personal rejection and to maintain a self image of being loyal.
Sevens use rationalization to avoid suffering and to maintain a self image of being OK.
Eights use denial to avoid vulnerability and to maintain a self image of being strong.
Nines use narcotization to avoid conflict and to maintain a self image of being comfortable or harmonious.