Ego Defenses ll By Rich Brodt

Today, I am taking a pause from writing about self-care, to discuss a topic that I have been seeing in my sessions quite a bit recently: ego. When the average person hears that term, the assumption is that we are talking about someone’s arrogance, cockiness or big-headedness. However, the term actually has several definitions, and that is only one of several meanings. 

When I refer to ego, I do so with the psychoanalytic definition in mind: the part of the psyche that experiences and reacts to the outside world. More specifically, I want to discuss ego defenses. I see ego defenses as personal and specific to each individual – we all have ingrained, learned ways that we interact with the world in order to get what we want from it. 

I find that one of the easiest ways to understand how different personalities have different ego defenses is to look at the Enneagram.

For the uninitiated, the Enneagram is a personality typing tool that helps the individual understand their own patterns of behavior over the course of their life. After a screening process, the Enneagram user self-selects which type best represents them. From there, a myriad of resources related to their type are available to help with growth through the Enneagram. Each type, when unhealthy, often displays a set of behaviors related to their ego drive. These behaviors were developed early in life to avoid pain, but they end up doing the opposite as individuals move to later stages of development. 

Here are a few examples from the Enneagram. The ego drive of type 2, the giver, is to give of the self in order to receive love. This leads to a loss of self, resentment and exhaustion. For the type 6, the loyalist, the ego drives toward anxiety and worry. Type 6 individuals believe that they are only safe as long as they are thinking several steps ahead, causing difficulty being present – which leads to constant anxiety. Type 8, the challenger, seeks control through dominance of others. This often leads to fractured relationships, behavior that others can find abrasive, and a loss of touch with one’s emotions.

These are just a few examples, but I use them to illustrate how different ego can look from one individual to another. So the 6 who is trying to plan out for all possibilities that might occur during a short weekend trip, is actually clinging to their ego just as much as the individual who constantly talks about their achievements in order to earn praise. They are both doing the thing that their ego believes will keep them safe. 

I call attention to those two different examples to illustrate the importance of reserving judgement of individuals who are having a hard time breaking through the behavioral patterns initiated by their ego.

These are deeply engrained and likely started at a very young age. Sure, some are more difficult to be around than others (everyone loves a giver), but that does not mean certain behaviors are inherently worse than others. 

Without fail, just about everyone can take a second to reflect on what behaviors they employ without thinking when life becomes difficult. Withhold judgment, recognize that these are patterns that developed early in life. The best way to change these behaviors is to simply be more aware of them. Notice when you are doing “that thing,” and you will end up with a better grip on how to avoid it. Even if people respond positively to your ego defense, it is still important to discover why you are doing it, and whether or not it’s something that feels good to continue.

About Rich Brodt, I provide therapy and counseling for individuals. My style integrates various techniques, but I tailor my approach to each client’s unique needs. I am committed to helping people that experience anxiety resulting from trauma, work-related stress, legal issues or major life transitions. Together, we will work to calm your mind and create lasting change.