One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.
—C. G. Jung
Take a look at your community of friends. What types do you tend to choose? What types do you tend to avoid? Are your friends ones whom you’ve cultivated, or did you fall in together due to mutual friendships or common workplaces, schools, neighborhoods or churches? Is there a difference between them? There’s no judgement here nor any need to go out and try to change things. Just notice the patterns.
I for one have a tendency to avoid types in the aggressive triad (Three, Seven and Eight), with the occasional exception of a handful of Sevens. I’m much more drawn to other withdrawns (Four, Five and Nine) like myself with a secondary preference for compliant types (One, Two and Six). We withdrawn types all tend to get each other rather quickly despite our individual type differences, and I really appreciate the “live and let live” attitude that most withdrawn types live by. Three and Eight being triggers for me can either be due to having grown up with a Three sibling and an Eight father, or it could be due to the fact that as a withdrawn type, I’ve admired but have never been entirely comfortable with the high energy of aggressive types. Perhaps it’s a combination of both.
Anyway, the reason this is a good exercise is it can really help guide us to some of our blind spots. If there’s a type that consistently triggers us, we can bet that there’s some shadow material there.
Shadow material refers to those parts of ourselves that we split off from during the process of ego-splitting (for more information on the shadow, see this wikipedia article). Basically, those elements that we decided we didn’t identify with, didn’t recognize or we didn’t feel were validated in our environment end up in our shadow. The reason our shadow material is important is that just like we have access to all nine of the Enneagram personality types, our shadow really is a part of us, we just chose to not bring it on board during our development for whatever reason.
The reasoning behind it is relatively irrelevant, so I’ll save you the years on the analyst’s couch figuring that out (you’re welcome!). What is important is that we recognize these rejected aspects of ourselves and work on bringing them back into the light. This process is what Jungians call shadow work and it’s a highly effective technique for personal and spiritual growth. If you’re interested in learning more about it, I would recommend checking out Emotions and the Enneagram: Working Through Your Shadow Life Script and the work of Marion Woodman.
Now just a quick note on the word “shadow.” The term refers more to the idea that those aspects that we’ve relegated to the shadow don’t exist in the “light” of our accepted egoic personalities, than to the idea that everything in the shadow is dark and scary. In fact, we have a tendency to split off from some really positive qualities of ourselves along with all the stuff we don’t want to deal with. Let’s say that as a little kid, we found ourselves in a family of introverted intellectuals who had spoken and unspoken disdain for anything other than the “higher” pursuit of academics. But we started to show some early preferences and talents for performing and entertaining. Little kids are like psychic sponges, they pick up on the tiniest nuances of their caretakers’ expectations and that significantly influences character development. Growing up in this environment, we might have chosen to hide, neglect or dismiss our talents in lieu of pursuing a career as a medical doctor. Delving into our shadow later in life might help reveal these talents and allow us to finally develop our gifts.
The Enneagram can help us with our shadow work by being the framework by which we understand and discern our patterns. It can be a bit of a shortcut in that in pointing out the things we tend to avoid, we know what direction to look to find our shadow material.
In addition to that which we avoid—or are repulsed by—that which attracts us can also be a clue. If something does both, then you know you’re really onto something. In my case, Three and Eight both fit that bill. When I’d come across Threes (of average health), I would be both leery of the aggressive energy but fascinated and awash with admiration at their persistence and apparent unflagging self-confidence. The Eights in my life (again of average health) usually pretty much terrified me but I couldn’t help but be drawn to their frank “what you see is what you get” demeanor.
Exploring my avoidance of Threes has really helped me to see that I’ve got some underdeveloped skills in the self-promotion department. This has hindered me in life in everything from not adequately standing up for myself to avoiding asking for well-deserved raises and undervaluing my skills and abilities. Exploring my avoidance of Eights has helped me to realize a new dimension of embodied, empowered, grounded Presence that I had previously not recognized, and boy has it been revolutionary!
So look at your community of friends. Are there any apparent holes in type representation? What conclusions can you draw from that? A useful and revealing exercise is to make two lists of the qualities of those types: those you admire and those you’d rather avoid. Once you’ve written your lists, click here (no peeking!).