The Enneagram is one of the most effective companions to contemplative practice, a sacred map giving us new ways of seeing what we’ve been unable to see and new ways of finding our way home.”Christopher L. Heuertz, The Sacred Enneagram: Finding Your Unique Path to Spiritual Growth
Note: My new online course on the Enneagram, Insight to Integration, is now open for enrollment.
If you’re using the Enneagram as a tool for awakening, then you’re doing Shadow Work! You just may not have been aware of it.
‘Shadow’ is a degradation on consciousness, preventing us from receiving impressions and interpreting them in a non-distorted way. The Enneagram is (among other things) a map of the nine patterns of distortion. Far be it from nine descriptions of who we are, the Enneagram helps us to locate and study when and how we are not being ourselves.
So why do we do Shadow Work, with or without the Enneagram? It’s pretty hardcore inner work.
For me, the more internal laundry I do, the freer I feel from the habitual mental and behavioural patterns getting in the way of me living my best life. I believe and I sense that these pesky Shadows bind me. I’m ready to “clean up,” as the integral community says.
In this post, I want to highlight some of the patterns I see between the nine types and the three classes of Shadow as identified by Shadow expert Kim Barta, who I have been hanging out with on Zoom lately. I want to do that because I feel the Enneagram is an incredible support and in lots of ways, a shortcut to doing Shadow Work.
Shadow Patterns (stages and types) in Shadow Work
Psychotherapist Kim Barta and Integral Scholar and researcher Terry O’Fallon have developed a framework for tracking Shadow which they call (bit of a mouthful) Evolution of Shadow Resolution. This model helps us all to understand how Shadow moves from unawareness to resolution.
It isn’t strictly necessary to know the stages that Shadow moves through in order to do Shadow Work. However, doing so offers a more conscious approach.
It’s also useful to those in the helping profession – coaching, counseling and therapy – for supporting clients in their Shadow Work. Personally, I can see that learning the stages of Shadow has probably given me a sharper ability to ‘look as’ my clients.
The Five Stages of Shadow
At this stage, we don’t recognize that there is an issue or problem with our behavior or way of being. Being unaware of Shadow comes in many forms, but think denial, blame, somatisation (the tendency to experience and communicate psychological distress in the form of somatic symptoms, and seek medical help for them). Think also Enneagram type fixations – more on this below.
2. Symptom aware
When Shadow is at this stage, the symptom – the pain, the overeating, the undereating, etc. – is the problem, so we direct our efforts at fixing that, rather than the underlying issue.
3. Trigger aware
Our belief at this stage is what’s wrong is “out there”: with him, her, them or it. We may try to solve the problem by removing or withdrawing from the trigger.
This is an important step, because if we can control the triggering events by not being around them, we buy ourselves time for a deeper contemplation of what is really going on.
4. Internal process aware
When at this stage, our Shadow invites us to try to understand the deeper issue behind all the above. This is a threshold, as we begin to treat triggers as valuable insights into ourselves.
5. Conscious conceptualization
At this stage, the Shadow is resolved. This stage of itself has seven steps, including discovering the source of the Shadow issue, deconstructing the seed or core lie, and reconstructing a new truth.
How long does all this take?!
We can move through the stages very quickly – Kim says it happens in one therapy session. However, if we lack a proper exploration of each stage, we may find our Shadow issues resurfacing years or maybe even decades later, as we come into contact with new triggers.
How do we actual get rid of the Shadow?
A person may use a range of healing modalities to assist with the final stage, and these are outside the scope of this post. The only healing mechanism I refer to is that of ‘Witnessing Consciousness’, which is powerful in and of itself. More on this later.
What’s the hardest stage to be at?
For you or everyone else?
Seriously, moving from unaware to aware is the most difficult step. Think about it: Shadow is unconscious!
How do we get to symptom aware from unaware?
The suggested practice for moving from unaware to aware is a body scan. I have been working with body scans a lot more recently, having really over-relied on my mindfulness practice for self-insight. I recommend.
Can we be at multiple stages at the same time with various Shadow aspects?
Totally. You might be at stage four with one Shadow, and stage one with another.
The typology of Shadow – introjects, projections and split ego states
Firstly, not all psychological disturbances are Shadow. You could be going through grief, for instance, or be innocent of the particular situation in front of you. These things cause a disturbance, and there may not necessarily be anything in your psyche to “clean up”. So do be mindful. Shadow is usually accompanied by some defensiveness. That’s the hallmark.
There are many forms of Shadow, and millions of unique styles of expressing it. There are, however, three primary Shadow patterns we need to be aware of.
Developmentally, they come online in this order: introjection, projection, split ego state.
An introject is a distorted perception (it could be a belief about self or something in the world) that comes from external authorities. The classic example given is the thing many fathers tell their sons – “boy’s don’t cry”. The guy grows up treating that as truth, with pretty dire consequences.
Introjections aren’t a totally negative thing, given our personalities are formed from them. I have one that I should be polite, that I am not going to get rid of any time soon!
The point is that the source is external, and not an innate truth (although I’d have to question whether any internalized truth is truly free from internal biases in how we pay attention – which I hope explains my next point).
If the concept of introjects is making you think of the Enneagram types’ delusions/cognitive errors, then you and I think alike. More later.
You probably already know something of projection – it’s the inverse of introjection. Whenever we project, we take our own information (conscious or otherwise) and unconsciously attribute cause to others or the world. “If you changed your behavior, I would feel better”, kind of thing. We also do positive projections (“without you, I wouldn’t feel good”).
(Incidentally according to Kim, most anger issues are projection issues. This does not mean that the content of what a person is angry about is necessarily a projection – although this is often the case as well. What is projected outward is one’s personal power.)
In split ego states, we divide ourselves into parts and “wall off” one of our sub-egos. Split ego states aren’t necessarily Shadow, as they are a consequence of natural development. The Shadow happens when we aren’t inclusive of developmental split ego states. When that happens, it’s like a Committee meeting where not everyone is allowed to speak. Alternatively, a split ego state could be culture or trauma-derived.
Each type of Shadow needs a different technique to resolve it. Introjects require a releasing process (expressive techniques), projections require a reowning process (such as Wilber and the Integral Institute’s 3-2-1 process), and split ego states require integrating (for example, Gestalt therapy). Often, a Shadow issue may be a result of two types of Shadow, and so you need multiple resolution techniques.
Let’s bring this all together using a Shadow issue of mine. (Notice that I do not discuss the stages linearly – at stage one, I wouldn’t know there was any issue.)
Let’s say I discover that I generate some irritation (internal process aware) when I perceive that my private space is intruded upon, or my partner borrows my things without asking. At stage unaware, I get angry without knowing why. When at symptom aware, I’m focused on ‘solving’ my anger. At external trigger aware, I link my anger to perceived intrusions, and so I decide to hoard things, and organise my life so that intrusion minimised.
During inquiry (internal process aware), I reflect that I may have walled off my boundaried sub-ego; I may have a projection that people are inconsiderate and thoughtless; and/or an introject that I’m selfish if I want my space and things.
I decide that it is probably a projection based on a split ego state. I take that projection back using a 321 technique, and I integrate my egos by holding my need for privacy in unconditional loving awareness.
Shadow Work and the Enneagram
Before I continue, the Enneagram will not point to all the Shadow Work we will need to complete over our lifetimes.
Shadow is ruthlessly formed throughout the developmental process, as well as at sites of trauma (trauma occurring every time we encounter something in our experience that exceeds our present ability to cope).
Also, as with Kim and Terri’s model, the Enneagram isn’t of itself a healing method for Shadow issues. What it does do (very well) is facilitate reflective awareness.
The Enneagram, combined with Witnessing Consciousness, supports new awareness (the move out of stage one), and conscious conceptualisation (at stage five). It also points towards potential introjects, projections and split ego states.
Is there a correlate between Enneagram types and Shadow types?
When I first learned of introjects, my mind went to type fours. I associate projections with types three, seven and eight. Split ego states have types one and two written all over ’em, and potentially nines too – especially nines with a one wing.
I can’t prove any of this, naturally. But it seems to me that inherently in the type make-up is a predilection towards one or two of the three types of Shadow.
Using the Enneagram to support stage five
Seeing as the Enneagram illuminates the seed self-deceptions of each type (sometimes called the ‘core wound’, but arguably better thought of as confirmation bias in action), we can use it to support movement between stages four and five (‘internal process aware’ to ‘conscious conceptualization’).
Recall that the difference between being at stage four and five is that we identify the source of Shadow issue and reconstruct a new truth.
Below is a list of the core wounds of each type, along with the ‘lost childhood message.’
I wouldn’t assume that you have Shadow related to your type’s core wound: you may not be “true to type” on account of the other factors which shaped your development. I recommend using this as a springboard for inquiry.
List of Enneagram type unconscious childhood messages and lost message
One: “It’s not ok to make mistakes”, negating “you are good.”
Two: “It’s not ok to have your own needs”, negating “you are wanted.”
Three: “It’s not ok to have your own feelings and identity”, negating “you are loved for yourself.”
Four: “It’s not ok to be too functional or too happy”, negating “you are seen for who you are.”
Five: “It’s not ok to be comfortable in the world”, negating “your needs are not a problem.”
Six: “It’s not ok to trust yourself”, negating “you are safe.”
Seven: “It’s not ok to depend on anyone for anything”, negating “you will be taken care of.”
Eight: “It’s not ok to be vulnerable or to trust anyone”, negating “you will not be betrayed.”
Nine: “It’s not ok to assert yourself”, negating “your presence matters.”
So how do we use this during inquiry?
Let’s say that I, being dominant in Type Seven, have been holding my unconscious childhood message in my awareness (I have). And let’s say that I’ve become aware lately that I have some judgment in response to what I perceive to be neediness (internal process aware). This could be a split ego state (my dependent, needy sub-ego being the walled-off one), born from an introjection that I am on my own in life.
As I continue to explore, I might connect with the ache of a memory of not being able to get what I needed from my Mum (Sevens are typically frustrated with the nurturing energy). As a consequence, I may be able to reconstruct that old story at root, rewriting history, and no longer being burdened by my judgment of other people’s neediness. I’d integrate my needy sub ego, and release the introject that I am on my own in life. I’d replace it with a larger truth: that I will be taken care of. If by nobody else, then by me.
When we do this tender work, it is important to ask ourselves about the positive intent in the Shadow. My split ego state has kept me independent and proactive about getting what I want and need.
It just might not be serving me at this point.
Using the Enneagram to support the development of awareness (out of stage one)
1. Observing your type’s fixation
Your type’s fixation (also called Passion, but I’m not a fan of that term) is a key pattern to observe when doing Shadow Work to move from unawareness to stage two and beyond.
The fixation is almost always active, unless you’re making a conscious effort to observe it. This is not a good thing. The fixation is the central source of our suffering. “We suffer because, and to the extent that, we are not consciously aware of what this passion looks and feels like,” says seminal Enneagram teacher Beatrice Chesnut.
The fixation has a cognitive, emotional and somatic signature, which is helpful nuance if you struggle to connect with the generic term given to your type’s energy pattern.
[Big unabashed plug: I go into this in the online course I am developing about how to use the Enneagram, which is designed for those who have identified their type, but feel confused on where to go with it. Please sign up to my email list to stay informed about that.]
The fixation, basically a pattern of energy, is Shadow. There is much wisdom in being able to just observe it neutrally. I practice this every single day, and every single day I notice myself ‘anticipating’ (the cognitive expression of Seven’s gluttony).
The Enneagram Type Fixtions
Ones – ‘Anger’
Twos – ‘Pride’
Threes – ‘Deceit’
Fours – ‘Envy’
Fives – ‘Avarice’
Sixes – ‘Fear’
Sevens – ‘Gluttony’
Eights – ‘Lust’
Nines – ‘Sloth’
2. Follow the lines
One major theory among big Enneagram thinkers(for example) is that there is Shadow material in the Enneagram type before our dominant type, as well as along the lines.
So me, a Type Seven, would have some Shadow information at Type Six as well as Types Five and One (my connection types). I may also have some ‘Golden Shadow’ (positive unacknowledged traits) at Type Eight. (We hold strengths in our Shadows, as well as ‘negative’ traits. At the unaware stage, this may look like being easily infatuated, possessive, obsessed, overly attracted, or there is an ongoing idealization that structures our motivations or mood.)
Here’s a list of the Shadow types for each type. (The sequence is Wing Prior, Movement Away, traditionally called ‘Disintegration’, Movement Towards, traditionally called Integration, and Wing Ahead). Again, I’d avoid making assumptions, as your Shadow may not follow this pattern.
Shadow Types for each Enneagram Type
Ones – Nine, Four, Seven, and maybe at Two.
Twos – One, Eight, Four and maybe at Three.
Threes – Two, Nine, Six and maybe at Four.
Fours – Three, Two, One, and maybe Five.
Fives – Four, Seven, Eight, and maybe Six.
Sixes – Five, Three, Nine and maybe Seven.
Sevens – Six, One, Five and maybe Eight.
Eights – Seven, Five, Two and maybe Nine.
Nines – Eight, Six, Three, and maybe One.
This list is a good reminder to learn and work with the Enneagram system holistically, rather than just focussing on our own types. The dominant type is just a small part of the picture if you want to use the psycho-spiritual tool for contemplation.
Here’s how the above exploration might look for a person dominant in Type One.
I have definitely found Shadow Work at the connection types for my type, Seven.
However, the four types I am missing a connection to also point towards some Shadow Work. For me, those types are Twos, Threes, Fours, and Nines.
Have I ever found myself to be triggered by the competitiveness and success of the Three; the depth and internal focus of the Four; the generosity and overbearingness of the (unhealthy) Two; and the passivity of the Nine? Perhaps you can tell from my questions. 🙂
Finally, I have to mention the three Enneagram instincts and the information that they potentially contain regarding Shadow. We know that each of the 27 Enneagram Subtypes has an instinct that is less available to them (usually referred to as ‘repressed’). What does that tell us about Shadow material?
I suspect, quite a lot. Further (and this is totally my own hunch), I think it’s necessary to look at the instinct through the lens of type, and see what could be hidden from view.
In my case, as a Self-preservation Seven, with the least active Social instinct, I am asking myself if I have anything around the self-sacrifice and puritanical behavior associated with Social Sevens.
The exploration continues…
This is the first in a series of Enneagram- related articles that I intend to write over the coming weeks and months. If you’d like, you can subscribe to my mailing list to be sent new posts directly.