Category Archives: Nature/Nurture

Only the Shadow Knows

shadow on sidewalk

shadow on sidewalk (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In A Little Book on the Human Shadow, Robert Bly calls our shadow “the long bag we drag behind us.” He describes a process whereby children, beginning at the age of 2, start stuffing aspects of themselves into this bag that others (primarily parents at that point) do not like or approve of. Parents being individuals, however, each one tends to have his or her own temperament, expectations, personal history, and likes and dislikes. So the same behavior could—depending on the proclivities of the parent—be rewarded, ignored, or punished. Luck of the draw, really.

If you accept the idea that our Enneagram type is the result of our early experiences, particularly our relationship with our parents, this all fits together nicely. But we know that who we become is a result of nature and nurture. Our Enneagram stance (aggressive, withdrawing, or compliant), if not our actual type, is likely innate. So then where does the shadow come from?

Carl Jung points us in a different direction:

Whereas the contents of the personal unconscious are acquired during the individual’s lifetime, the contents of the collective unconscious are invariably archetypes that were present from the beginning. …The archetypes most clearly characterized from the empirical point of view are those which have the most frequent and the most disturbing influence on the ego. These are the shadow, the anima, and the animus. The most accessible of these, and the easiest to experience, is the shadow, for its nature can in large measure be inferred from the contents of the personal unconscious.

He also wrote:

The collective unconscious is a part of the psyche which can be negatively distinguished from a personal unconscious by the fact that it does not, like the latter, owe its existence to personal experience and consequently is not a personal acquisition.

While the personal unconscious is made up essentially of contents which have at one time been conscious but which have disappeared from consciousness through having been forgotten or repressed, the contents of the collective unconscious have never been in consciousness, and therefore have never been individually acquired, but owe their existence exclusively to heredity.

The Cat–er, the shadow–is out of the bag

So rather than being a bag we pack as we are growing up, and then must unpack as adults, our shadow, like our type, is innate to us. This view seems much more logical to me since it appears at least part of our shadow is directly related to our type.

At one of the IEA Conferences I attended several years ago, Jerome Wagner, author of The Enneagram Spectrum of Personality Types, gave an outstanding and highly entertaining presentation on shadow issues and defense mechanisms. (His take on the formation of the shadow seems to align more with Robert Bly’s view, but that  isn’t critical for our purposes.) Jung wrote that it is easy for other people to see when someone is projecting his or her own qualities onto another person. That was amply demonstrated when Jerry had his audience, as a group, create two lists for each type: one under the heading I Am and the other under the heading I Am Not.

Under I Am, we listed keywords describing the positive qualities of each type—the way that type preferred to see itself. And under I Am Not, we listed keywords describing all the qualities that type refused to accept (either denied or projected onto others). I’ve since added to both lists for all nine types and have found this material to be extremely useful personally, as well as in a variety of settings.

As Jung wrote (quoted above) the nature of the shadow can be inferred from the contents of the personal unconscious. He added, that it can be seen through and recognized fairly easily.

So let’s see what we recognize when we explore our shadow issues.

Coming up: the shadow and type 1.

The Nature/Nurture Continuum

The debate about how we become who we are used to be framed in either/or terms: nature versus nurture. To take the side of nature was to argue that our personalities and behaviors are entirely the result of our genetic inheritance, already fixed in place when we’re born. To take the side of nurture was to argue that nothing of our personalities and behaviors is present at birth; we are totally at the effect of our environment, our relationships, and the myriad of influences we experience growing up.

Both extremes always seemed fairly hopeless to me, each in a different way. Fortunately, there are no longer many people arguing exclusively for either side. It’s pretty commonly accepted that who we are is a result of both nature and nurture.

They’re the opposite ends of a continuum, sort of like the male and female brain I wrote about in my previous post. I don’t know that a formula exists to say this percentage of me (or you) is a result of nature and this percentage is a result of nurture. We all come into the world with some attributes, characteristics, and preferences in place. Depending on what they are and how strong they are, they may even override some aspects of nurture. On the other hand, for someone who’s forced to deal with extremely difficult circumstances (physical, mental, or emotional) as they’re growing up, nurture could have a more powerful effect than it might on someone raised under more favorable conditions.  Continue reading