A few weeks ago, I told you about the Enneagram class I took and showed you this graphic:
There’s a lot of silly stuff people post with regards to the Enneagram, but I thought this one was kind of fun. Each of the numbers are described in terms of adjectives, animals, biblical characters and for several, countries.
You’ll note that 3 is “mainstream America.” (Pretty sure that’s not a compliment.)
For the purpose of this post, please cast your gaze toward the words at the center of the circle:
If you spend any amount of time studying the Enneagram, it won’t be long before someone brings up your vices. I think my instructor mentioned them in the first hour.
You’ve heard of the seven deadly sins, yeah? She said the Enneagram gives us the seven sins, plus two for the Western world. (Haha.)
Obviously, it’s not like only the 1s have anger issues or that 4s have a monopoly on envy. But we all have tendencies toward particular vices, right? I think we can agree to that.
Except for me. I mean, hey, I’m a 5 and I am soooo not greedy. Ask anyone. I was a minimalist before Marie Kondo was born!
Alas, there’s more than one way to be greedy. In this case it’s referring to knowledge and time. I’m constantly seeking more of them.
If I’m researching a topic, every bit of knowledge I gain only makes me aware of how much I don’t know. And there’s never enough time for reading or just being alone with my thoughts, so I hold fast to my free time much as a miser with his money.
As for hoarding and stinginess? That’s my unwillingness to share my knowledge or gifts with others. I keep it to myself because I fear it’s not good enough.
(If I were to tell you how many drafts I started and deleted in the writing of this post… )
But here’s the thing: I’ve been spending a lot of time and… yeah, research… looking into this stuff and I’ve got to get it out of my head before it drives me nuts.
So let’s get started…
Disclosure: Please keep in mind I’ve had no formal training, though I did skim through someone’s doctoral thesis on the subject and all I have to say is: My God, the things I do for you people!
That out of the way, here’s the Enneagram in a nutshell:
- Two theories abound: Either we are born into the personality we have, or we are born “whole,” but at some point our personalities are fractured. It happens in our early childhood, about the time we realize the world is not the Hundred Acre Wood.
(Personally, I side with the “born whole” theory, simply because babies are so darn cute.)
- In any case, born whole or not, we have Fear. Big Fear. The kind of Fear that lodges deep in our psyche and takes on a life of its own. It influences our behavior and how we interact with others, though it does this sneakily. Without our knowing. This Fear is often referred to as our Shadow.
- Our mission, should we choose to accept it, is to understand how our Shadow controls us and in the process, grow into the best version of ourselves.
Before we get too far, do you know your Enneagram type?
Here’s a link to a free test if you don’t.
As we’re going to be tackling our Shadow today, here are the particular fears for each Enneagram type so you can play along at home. (This list can be found at a thousand other sites so I don’t feel bad about copying them.)
1 – The fear of being evil or corrupt
2 – The fear of being unloved
3 – The fear of being worthless
4 – The fear of lacking a unique identity
5 – The fear of being helpless or inadequate
6 – The fear of being without support or guidance
7 – The fear of deprivation or pain
8 – The fear of being harmed or controlled by others
9 – The fear of loss or separation from others
And here’s a graphic I totally pilfered from the aforementioned doctoral thesis, listing each type’s likes and dislikes:
Hopefully you can see a connection between the two? In particular, how your Shadow can impact your behavior and aversions.
And now we get to the nitty-gritty: How do we shake off this nasty part of our personality and overcome our Shadow?
So glad you asked. As it so happens, right now I’m reading a book by a Jungian analyst, Robert A. Johnson. (In case you missed it, the Enneagram is quite Jungian.)
The book is titled, “Owning Your Own Shadow.” Here’s an excerpt:
“We must be whole whether we like it or not; the only choice is whether we will incorporate the shadow consciously and with some dignity or do it through some neurotic behavior.”
Did you catch that? We’re not to overcome our Shadow, we’re to incorporate it.
How very Jungian!
And yeah, I realize I’m kind of mixing apples and oranges here, as the Jungian and Enneagram concepts of Shadow aren’t exactly the same. But they’re close – and they’re both fruit – so for the purpose of this post, we’re juicing them together. Because this is my blog and I do what I want.
Want to know how I picture my Shadow? She’s me as a little girl and right now she’s sitting in her bedroom with her textbooks, reading ahead. Even the math books!
She does this so that later when a lesson comes up in class, she won’t feel stupid.
Good Lord, little girl! Why aren’t you outside playing?!
I’ve spent a good portion of my adult life trying to pretend this insecure little girl doesn’t exist anymore. Why would I would to incorporate her?
According to Jung, ignoring or repressing your Shadow not only doesn’t work, it actually seems to strengthen it. Allowing it to gain control and unleash itself when you least expect it, and making your vices that much harder to avoid.
Your Shadow can also turn you into a bit of a stinker to have around.
Have you ever noticed how the failures you criticize in others are often the very ones you’re guilty of yourself?
I know it’s true for me.
At my previous workplace, there was a secretary who drove me up the wall with her insecurities. Every day, it seemed, she was fretting over something and needing extra confirmation she was doing a good job. I mean, I liked her, but there’s a limit to how much a gal can take, you know? And so one time I told her to get over herself and she punched me in the gut.
Okay, she didn’t really punch me in the gut, it just felt that way. What she did was say, “I’m not sure why I like you. You’re always so mean to me.”
And she was totally right. I was mean to her. And I’m not sure why she liked me either.
Was she insecure? Absolutely. But had I owned my own insecurity, she probably wouldn’t have bothered me so much. And I’m sure I would have had more compassion for her.
That’s really what all this is about. If we can accept our own Shadow, we can better accept the shadows of others and in the process, become less of a stinker to be around.
Though owning up to our Shadow isn’t nearly as much fun as focusing on our good traits, let me tell you. Then again, according to Johnson (and Jung!), our Shadow isn’t all negative. There’s good bits in there too.
Here’s another quote from Johnson’s book:
“It is also astonishing to find that some very good characteristics turn up in the shadow. (…) Some of the pure gold of our personality is relegated to the shadow because it can find no place in that great leveling process that is culture.”
This led me to wonder, could there be something good about being Insecure? Is that even possible?
After thinking about it a really long time, I came up with a couple of things.
For one, I can see how my Insecurity has made me extra diligent in whatever I do. My desire to appear capable and smart means I put in my best effort, making me a better worker and I suppose a more helpful person. That should count for something, right?
For another, owning up to my Insecurity would force me to be more humble. Not an easy trait to attain, but a far kinder one than the arrogance I typically assume.
I’m coming to realize this Shadow-work is a necessary process, especially if you have any inkling at all for improving yourself. It’s a lifetime job, to be sure, but not so bad once you get started. Especially when you find out your Shadow has some redeeming qualities after all.
Just like my Insecure Little Girl. Looked at in the right light, she’s almost lovable.
This is as far as my research has taken me — haven’t finished the book yet, so I might have some more thoughts I’ll share later on. (You see how I’m trying to be less stingy with what I’m learning? Aren’t you proud of me?!)
Let’s wrap this up with something fun. Husband found this video – it’s a parody of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, the Enneagram version.
Fair warning: he’s mostly focusing on the negative traits for each type. But hey, just one more reason to do your Shadow-work, right?
I feel so exposed.
I better go. I’ve got so much thinking left to do… 😉