Reaction formation is a psychological defense through which the human psyche turns something into its polar opposite to render it less threatening. So, in the face of "excessive demands and frustration" early in life, instead of feeling angry and rebelling, the One child takes on MORE responsibility, becoming a very good boy or girl. The fundamental fixation to be good and do the right thing motivates the One's focus on "positive" feelings and their denial or repression of their "negative" feelings.
Reaction formation serves to relieve the stress of this difficult internal conflict. Focusing on and expressing more acceptable "good" emotions allows the One to push "bad" feelings into the unconscious.
An example of reaction formation as an active defense might be the One's automatic tendency to be excessively nice to someone who they are actually angry or dissatisfied with. Reaction formation might also turn a rising feeling of envy at another's success into an expression of admiration for them. Through reaction formation, any emotion can be (unconsciously) denied by bringing forward its positive polar opposite.
Reaction formation also functions to deny ambivalence: instead of fighting mixed feelings, like resenting someone you feel grateful for or hating someone you love, the One changes mental focus to allow themselves to feel only the positive end of this complex set of emotions.
Reaction formation helps protect the One from outside criticism by ensuring that his or her expressions of emotion are controlled and appropriate. Reaction formation also defends the One against feeling the full force of internal judgement for feelings he or she feels is "wrong" or "bad" to have, much less express, like "inappropriate anger" or selfish desire.
When there is suffering, an anesthetic serves a purpose. The Two's primary defense mechanism is repression, which serves as some kind of psychological anesthetic. Repression restricts specific perceptions or emotions to unconsciousness. It helps to insulate a person's psyche from a deeper source of pain so that the personality can keep the person functioning. Repression leaves the wound untouched, but the person is able to tolerate it---unfortunately, other feelings, not just pain and humiliation, get anesthetized in the process.
Twos habitually repress feelings that might impede achieving a connection with important others. For instance, Twos often repress their anger because they believe it may create a separation from---or worse yet, prompt disapproval from---their loved ones.
Put in another way, when a Two experiences an internal conflict between what they are feeling or thinking and what they believe they need to present to form a connection with an important person, they will repress their real thought or feeling to protect the relationship. They appear to "get rid of" the parts of themselves that someone won't like. This habit is why some people may experience Twos as "fake" or inauthentic, especially in charged situations.
Repression is the defense mechanism that automatically anesthetizes Twos from the pain of early needs not being met. It is also the mechanism for pushing unappealing emotions like anger, sadness and envy out of sight, in the hope that others will meet the needs and desires they are too proud to express. As what is repressed inevitably leaks out, however, Twos can often be experienced as "needy" by those who can observe this leakage in ways that Twos can't, because their disowned needs have become a "blind spot" of their personality.
The defense mechanism associated with this early coping strategy is identification. By identifying with---by locating and matching a specific image or model---and becoming what others value, Threes attempt to satisfy their need for approval, which substitutes for their underlying need to be seen and loved.
Threes create such a compelling image to defend against the pain of not being seen and loved as they are that they begin to mistake their image for the totality of who they are. They OVER-identify with the image they create as a way to control how people respond to them, and in the process they may forget that they are not equal to their image. This is why they represent the prototype of something we all do: identify with our personality such that we don't realize we are more than our persona.
But how does "identification" operate as a defense mechanism? It may seem strange that identification is even considered a psychological defense, as identifying with someone or something or modelling yourself after another can seem like a normal, benign activity. And while it is true that some kinds of identification have few, if any, defensive components, many instances of identification are motivated by a need to avoid anxiety, grief, shame, or other painful feelings. Identification can also be a way to shore up a shaky sense of self or generate self-esteem.
Identification thus operates as a defense against painful feelings related to the early sense that love was conditional by allowing an individual to deliberately (though at least partly consciously) become like another person or an ideal of a particular kind of person. By adopting the characteristics of another person, or an image that others admire, you can reduce the threat of difficult feelings that grow out of a fear of not being seen and loved for who you are.
But what do Threes identify with, exactly? Naranjo explains that "central to type Three is identification with an ideal self-image built as a response to the expectations of others," which often starts with the defensive effort to match ideal characteristics their parents valued. Threes defensively transform themselves into what important others---people in their environment who they want to impress---admire and appreciate. By noticing and adopting characteristics that others regard as valuable, Threes seek to match an external model to assure approval.
Introjection is the Four's primary defense mechanism. It is a psychological defense through which Fours internalize painful feelings as a way to protect themselves. As psychologist Nancy McWilliams explains,
"Introjection is the process whereby what is outside is misunderstood as coming from the inside."
Introjection operates as a defense mechanism by allowing an individual to identify with and "swallow" another person whole. When you introject someone, you take that person inside you, and whatever that person represents to you becomes a part of your identity. Through introjection, you give yourself a feeling of being able to control that person and whatever they do or stand for. For instance, if someone important criticizes you and you introject that person, you now experience that person's criticism as coming from inside yourself. And while you are being criticized, at least you have a sense of control---the illusion that you can do something about it---since the critic is coming from the inside, giving you the feeling that you can manage it instead of being subject to it.
The appeal of this usually unconscious process is the implicit desire to exercise more control over the whole interaction. If we have been criticized, through introjection we can both manage the criticism and try to do better.
In seeing how this defense operates, we can gain insight into something we all do: take what we experienced as being done to us early on and do it to ourselves. If you were criticized, you criticize yourself. If your needs weren't met, you neglect your own needs. For Fours, this means that they continue to subject themselves to experiences that were painful from the inside, both as a way of taking it in and trying to manage it and as an effort to protect themselves from being reinjured in a similar way.
Psychologist Nancy McWilliams defines isolation as a defense mechanism in which people deal with anxieties and other painful states of mind...by isolating feeling from knowing." When using isolation as a defense, a person unconsciously separates out the emotion connected to an idea from the idea itself. Fives feel more comfortable with thoughts than emotions, so they automatically focus on the mental or thinking part of a situation and render any emotions related to what they are talking about unconscious.
Defensively reducing their awareness of their feelings protects from experiencing troubling emotions and also limits their (potentially dangerous) need for the support of other people.
The defense mechanism of isolation, like many defenses, has a positive use: isolation can be of value in situations where experiencing feelings may be detrimental, as when a surgeon needs to distance herself from her emotions to be able to cut into someone, or when a military general needs to plan strategy without being overwhelmed by the horror of war.
However, isolation can also lead to an inability to feel feelings at all, especially as fives overvalue thinking and underappreciated feeling. Fives also intellectualize emotions---talking about feelings without actually feeling them.
To protect themselves from having to feel painful feelings like sadness, fear or loneliness, Fives withdraw from people who might stir up these feelings, separate their thoughts from their emotions, and identify themselves with the thinking function.
Projection and Splitting
The primary defense mechanism of Type Six is projection. As in the case of introjection, when someone engages in projection as a psychological protection, the psychological boundary between the self and the world disappears. When Sixes "project", they unconsciously disown something originating from themselves and "project it onto", or experience it as belonging to, someone on the outside.
As psychologist Nancy McWilliams explains, "projection is a process whereby what is inside is misunderstood as coming from the outside. In its mature forms, it is the basis for empathy...In its malignant forms, projection breeds dangerous misunderstandings."
Oriented to detecting threats, Sixes psychologically defend themselves from their own internal sense of fear by unconsciously projecting it out or "getting rid of it", imagining that it originates in the outside world, often in another person. For example, if a Six is feeling judged or insecure about himself, he may imagine that someone else is judging him. By locating the fear as coming from the outside, he can avoid the pain of his own judgement or insecurity and then manage, or seek to control, the pain of inner judgement by relating to that other person in particular ways.
Sixes deal with uncomfortable feelings like fear or self-doubt by experiencing them as being caused by someone else. By attributing the motives, feelings, or thoughts they do not want to acknowledge in themselves to another person, they expel them from their internal experience and feel safer inside. If someone else is causing them an experience or bad feeling, they can move away or be nice to them.
Although projection serves primarily as a defense, easing a sense of inner threat, it can also cause many problems, as McWilliams notes:
"When the projected attitudes seriously distort the object on whom they are projected, or when what is projected consists of disowned and highly negative parts of the self, all kinds of difficulties predictably ensue. Others resent being misperceived and may retaliate when treated, for example, as judgmental, envious, or persecutory."
When you habitually locate the source of your own fear and discomfort in other people, you unconsciously create reasons to suspect, mistrust, or regard them as dangerous and potentially threatening.
In addition to projection, Sixes also make use of a secondary defense mechanism: splitting.
Splitting originates in an early stage of childhood and relates to the infant's need to organize its perceptions of people and things in simple terms of "good" and "bad". Developing at a time before young children can comprehend the fact that good or bad qualities can coexist in one person or one experience (which is called ambivalence, and is achieved at later stages in life), splitting operates defensively to reduce anxiety and maintain self-esteem.
We can see splitting occur---both in an individual and on a collective level---when someone makes one person or group all good or all bad. This happens in politics when one side demonizes their opponents, and in wars where we perceive the enemy as completely evil.
In individual psyches, and more specifically, within that of the Type Six individual, a person can use splitting to clearly differentiate who is good and who is bad as a way as feeling less fear---they locate the "badness", or source of fear, in a clear way so as to more easily cope with it. If you see yourself as bad and others as good, you can try to be better and rely on others to protect you. If you see yourself as good and others as bad, you can maintain your self-esteem and use your positive internal resources to protect you from a specific, localized threat from the outside.
Splitting is the psychological reason why Sixes experience a large degree of guilt and self-accusation, and a firm belief that they are somehow bad. It can go both ways, however, with the Six viewing some other person---someone who they dislike or see as untrustworthy---as all bad, even when the other person objectively possesses both "bad" and "good" traits.
Rationalization and Idealization
Type Seven's characteristic ease with reframing things into positive terms is connected to their primary defense mechanisms, rationalization and idealization. Rationalization as a defense entails finding good reasons for doing whatever you want to do, seeing things however you want to believe. Naranjo cites Ernest Jones, saying that "rationalization is the invention of a reason for an attitude or action the motive of which is not acknowledged."
All of us rationalize to create theoretical support for what we do or what happens to us. This allows us to buffer ourselves from the pain we might feel when something unfortunate happens to us or when we want to do something even though it's not good for us. If we've suffered a setback, we can think, "it was a good learning experience," which may make it easier to avoid feelings of defeat or failure. If we want to eat another piece of cake, but we know we shouldn't for health or diet reasons, we can say to ourselves "it's just a small piece" or "it's okay because I will run 5 miles in the morning".
Using rationalization, Sevens can find good reasons for whatever they want to do, think, or feel. And while finding a rationale for what you are doing serves as a defense in protecting you from having bad feelings connected to your behavior, it also keeps you from direct contact with your real motives and the feelings connected to the things you do.
Seeing things in largely positive terms---or more specifically, needing to see things in positive terms---also leads Sevens to use the defense mechanism of idealization. Idealization allows Sevens to perceive people and experiences as being better than they actually are, imbuing them with superhuman or super-positive qualities; this allows Sevens to avoid reckoning with any flaws those people or things might have or any less-than-positive emotions they might inspire.
In some ways, of course, idealization can be a normal component of loving someone. Children idealize parents when they want to believe that someone loves them and will keep them safe. But when Sevens idealize, they often do so to defend against feelings they might naturally have about the real person they are with. When this happens, idealization can keep them in a fantasy relationship instead of the one they are actually in. This can lead Sevens (often without their knowledge) to stay on the surface in a relationship and avoid a deeper experience of who the other person is, lest they tarnish the idealized version they have created in their heads.
Denial and Control
The main psychological defense mechanism used by Eights is denial, especially when it comes to the need to appear strong and hide vulnerability. In order to give themselves a feeling that they can take on any challenge, Eights habitually deny any vulnerabilities they might have. After all, it can be difficult or even impossible to be strong and win the fight if you are preoccupied with your weak points and vulnerabilities.
If you can totally deny that you have any weaknesses, you can experience yourself as invulnerable---and having confidence that you can't be hurt is a good feeling to have in trying to win a battle, dominate a situation, or survive difficult circumstances.
Psychologist Nancy McWilliams defines denial by explaining that one way young children handle unpleasant experiences is "to refuse to accept that they are happening." In this way, inconvenient or painful truths can simply be denied and made false. Denial can be understood by anyone who has experienced a catastrophe of some kind, like the death of a loved one. The first reaction a person usually has upon hearing this kind of extreme bad news is "it can't have happened" or "it didn't happen".
Another common defense mechanism associated with Eights is omnipotent control. Omnipotent control occurs early on in a child's life when a child "makes things happen" by evoking her mother's responsiveness. When the child is hungry, she cries, and the mother brings her food. When she is scared, the mother comes to protect her.
At this early point, the child's merger with the mother gives her the sense that she controls the world. Later in life, we can sometimes imagine that things can be made to be the way we want them through a combination of denial and self-assertion. Thus, Eights sometimes believe they can change the way things are simply by exerting control over them, defensively imagining that they can direct the course of events in whatever way they wish without being subject to the limitations imposed by reality.
Just as Nines represent the prototype of the human tendency to go to sleep to our own inner experience, their main defense mechanism, dissociation, is a component of all defense mechanisms as well.
When we are young, the defensive structure of the personality grows up in response to some sort of pain or discomfort that is too much for our young psyches to withstand. There are clear advantages to dissociating when we experience something traumatic or painful: we cut off the pain and the memory of something that is extremely difficult to endure.
The problem with this defense, however, is that when we use it habitually in situations in which our survival is not at risk---as a way to buffer ourselves from the minor discomforts of everyday life---we can lose touch with ourselves altogether in a way that prevents us from growing.
Sometimes referred to as "narcotization", the principal way Nines dissociate from psychological pain or discomfort is through a kind of dimming of awareness, through putting themselves in one activity or another---reading, eating, watching TV----Nines distract themselves as a way of avoiding their own feelings, needs, and wants. Through many different kinds of unconscious maneuvers, including joking around, talking too much, or focusing on inessentials, Nines water down their experience of life, their interactions with others, and their contact with themselves to buffer themselves against the pain of separation, of not being heard, or of not feeling a sense of belonging.
Source: The Complete Enneagram: 27 Paths to Self-knowledge by Beatrice Chestnut