Tag Archives: Carl Jung

Types and Stereotypes

Latina: Systema taxinomicum

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Any system or method of classifying people has the potential to be used in harmful ways. But classifying things—and people—is one of the ways in which we organize and make sense of the world. Our brains do a certain amount of classifying on their own without our conscious intervention. If they didn’t have that ability, we wouldn’t have survived long enough to have this discussion. It isn’t possible or even desirable to dispense with our classifying behavior.

In order to classify, the first thing we do is observe. From our observations, we then make generalizations. Based on our generalizations, we create classifications.

In terms of the physical/material world, it’s good to know which classifications of mushrooms are safe to eat and which are not, which insects have a deadly sting and which are harmless, which sounds and smells signal danger and which are innocuous.

In terms of people, things can get a bit dicey. We have all kinds of classifications for people based on nationality, religion, race, gender, age, level of education, type of car people drive, whether or not they have children, physical appearance, the language they use, whether or not they just cut you off in traffic, where they live, and even whether or not you know them. We also, of course, classify people by their personalities or temperaments. The Greek physician Hippocrates is the first person we know of to come up with this way of classifying people. Carl Jung may be the most well-known for “typing” people as a result of the MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Inventory) based on his work.


Although there are some people who object to being classified by personality type, in general typing does not have the bad rap that stereotyping does. But in fact, typing and stereotyping are really the same thing. And I don’t think the problems we encounter with the misuse of typing are a result of stereotyping.

“What people call ‘stereotypes’ are what scientists call ‘empirical generalizations,’ and they are the foundation of scientific theory. That’s what scientists do; they make generalizations. Many stereotypes are empirical generalizations with a statistical basis and thus on average tend to be true. If they are not true, they wouldn’t be stereotypes (emphasis his).”

–Satoshi Kanazawa, Psychology Today

Most of us think that stereotyping people is wrong. I think it’s wrong. Or at least I did until very recently when I started to investigate the concept and came to the conclusion that it isn’t stereotyping that’s the problem. As Kanazawa says, “stereotypes are observations…neither good nor bad, desirable nor undesirable, moral nor immoral.” The problem is that we use stereotyping the wrong way. You could even say we abuse stereotyping.

The first way in which we abuse or misuse stereotyping is that we tend to forget about individual exceptions. Just because something is true in general for an entire group of people (let’s call it Group Type A) doesn’t mean it is true for every single individual within Group Type A. The generalization still applies—it just doesn’t necessarily apply to the particular person from Group Type A you happen to be talking to or working with or in a relationship with.

The second way in which we misuse stereotyping is by using stereotypes against people. The most egregious examples are racism, sexism, religious persecution, and the like. But we also use personality stereotypes against other people.

“Stereotypes tell us what groups of people tend to be or do in general; they do not tell us how we ought to treat them.”

But isn’t that one of the points—and benefits—of learning about systems like the Enneagram? To know how to get along with different types of people? It’s kind of a conundrum, isn’t it?


Difficulties arise because the “empirical generalizations” that underlie systems like the Enneagram are viewed by each of us through our own set of filters, biases, opinions, judgments, personal experiences, and type. We don’t live our lives as scientists, examining the world through a microscope and trying to be as objective as possible before proceeding from one step to the next. We make snap judgments, we jump to conclusions, we react emotionally. Inevitably conflicts arise or someone says or does something we don’t like. It may be tempting, if we know about the Enneagram, to blame behavior we don’t like on the other person’s personality type. And to let them know we’re on to them.

Using the Enneagram to understand other people better is one thing, but throwing someone’s Enneagram type in his or her face is never OK. Even if someone behaves stereotypically, we can’t be certain their behavior wasn’t the result of something totally unrelated to type. We can never fully know someone else’s story. If we judge them solely on their personality type, we’re doing ourselves, the other person, and even the Enneagram a huge disservice.

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.