What do you do when you feel uncomfortable in social situations?
What is your automatic response when you feel insecure? Or when negative thoughts and feelings threaten your self-esteem?
What happens when you receive feedback from others that contradict the image of your self that you work hard to project and like to believe is true and accurate?
Most likely, the first and instinctual reaction to such situations is a defense mechanism.
Defense mechanisms are automatic, often unconscious, responses we employ to cope and protect ourselves from feelings of anxiety, threat and guilt. They serve the dual purpose of warding off unpleasant feelings as well as amplifying and idealizing good experiences.
Each Enneagram Type has its signature go-to defense mechanism that coincides with the personality structure it forms around its core needs, fears and motives. The manner in which each Type exercises its primary mechanism provides useful information to the other Types on the inner workings of the defense mechanism at play.
The primary defense mechanism for Enneagram Threes is is Identification. Identification deals with unacceptable feelings about oneself by identifying desirable images of others and mimicking them. It's a sort of role-playing that Threes employ in order to maintain an image of success and achievement.
Threes buy into the belief that "I am what I do." As children they notice that attention goes to those who are talented, successful and impressive.
Threes draw the conclusion that, "If I were like that, then I would belong. I would be noticed. I would be valued. I would be applauded. I would feel secure and happy."
When Threes encounter insecurities around their identity, they pick out an image they perceive to be successful and imitate it. If they can get others to turn their heads and notice them, their anxiety around insecurity and failure are relieved.
Threes use this attention to validate themselves as somebody important, valuable and worthy.
Identification enables Threes to avoid taking an honest look at unpleasant feelings as well as the areas of life that need growth. They keep pushing forward, striving for the imagined identity that will earn them external validation. Threes detach from their negative feelings.
When Threes relax into knowing they are loved for who they are, not just for what they do, they can let go of the need for image-management and the need to impress. This frees them to shift toward authenticity and integrity.
Threes aren't the only Types to use identification, of course. We all do it in some situations. But, Threes give us useful insight on how identification takes over.
How does identification operate in your life?