In Conversation with Russ Hudson

Russ Hudson is one of the principal scholars, leading teachers and innovative thinkers in the Enneagram world today. Co-founder of The Enneagram Institute, he is the co-author of best-selling books The Wisdom of the Enneagram, Personality Types, Understanding the Enneagram and Discovering Your Personality Type.

Here we share a snippet of the conversation Siewfan Wong and Paul Chan had with Russ on shadow work. Siewfan and Paul are the organizers of The Enneagram of Shadow and Virtues with Russ Hudson in May 2019.

SW | What is Shadow?

RH | The shadow is a concept that is generally seen as coming from the psychologist Carl Jung, who was a student of Freud. Simply put, the shadow is any aspect of ourself that we’re not aware of. So the idea is that most human beings, we are aware of some things about ourself, but there’s other parts of ourself we don’t know very well. Those could be certain feelings that are suppressed, or it could be motivations that we’re not aware of. Really, the parts of us that we’re not familiar with.

Sometimes, shadow is created by difficult childhood experiences. Painful emotions, or times where we were very scared or shocked, and so we can psychologically repress those kinds of experiences, but they are still influencing us. And you can know when that kind of shadow material is coming up because it can make us do impulsive things that we would not otherwise do, kind of hard to explain.

But you know, shadow material can also be positive things. Some people aren’t necessarily aware that they are happier or their life is better than they think it is.

So basically, most serious psychology, and I see the Enneagram as involved with serious psychology, is in some sense an investigation of shadow material. What about me do I not know about? If I already knew about it then, well, I could do something about it. But the Enneagram helps us see the parts of us that we don’t usually recognise, especially in the areas of motivation as I was saying.

PC | Many people talk about shadow work in psychology. How does the enneagram help?

RH | Well, it’s part of why, I think, the Enneagram is more effective but also not as popular as some tools because the Enneagram really is explicitly looking at shadow work.

When we talk about the passion of each type [of the Enneagram] related to the sins in terms of the Christian view of it, you know, envy and avarice and pride and gluttony and all these kinds of things, or the fixated view, the Enneagram is really helping us see both emotions or motivations that we’re not aware of, but also it’s helping us see how our perspective on ourselves and life is more limited than we would usually recognise.

When we have shadow material going on, we don’t know that our view is limited. And you know most of the time, for most human beings, our view is limited somewhat.

The Enneagram is helping us see how we’re limiting it. It’s helping us see some of the underlying emotions that we might be feeling or have covered over in some way. It’s helping us see motivations we might not initially recognise that we have. Things like working very hard for success because we want our parents to love us and approve of us. Probably when we’re working we’re not conscious of that motivation. But if we were to look deeper we’ll see it’s there.

So the Enneagram helps us to see what we’re really after, what we’re seeking, and also points to maybe better ways to get the things that we’re looking for on the deepest level.

The Enneagram of Shadows and Virtues with Russ Hudson

Listen to Russ Hudson on the Enneagram Types.

Journey to the Dark Side

Dark Side of the Moon

We all have an identities we like to project. We become what we identify with – the “I am” – “I am responsible”, “I am kind”, I am ethical”, I am smart”, “I am successful”……. Then we have all that we reject – the “I-am-nots”. And the “I-am-nots” get pushed into the shadow. There they furtively exist, rejected, unacknowledged, denied, unlived.

Sometimes they slip out and add mystery to our ordered lives. The wise, from time to time, allow their dark side to show: the straight-lace accountant who has a weekend gig in a heavy metal band, the suburban housewife riding with a motor-cycle gang. For the most part the really bad stuff get pushed into the dark: festering, rejected, ashamed, furtive, craving, indecent – all that unconscious jealousy, greed, guilt, shame, anger, fear, defeat, hopeless despair……. There they influence our lives in unfathomable ways. Do you have impulses which are “not you”? Are there days where an uncontrollable anger takes you? Do you react in unsavory ways when under pressure? Do you have a secret life that you are hiding? Compulsive behavior and addiction? Mid-life transition, or mid-life crisis? You may have to journey to the dark side and do a little integration work.

Either we are in touch or we aren’t, but we all have dark sides. The dark side is a scary place when we are standing in the light. Our eyes play tricks on us and we fill up with fear. When we journey to our dark sides, they become illuminated. If we go arrive there without judgement, without fear and without presumptions, instead of an inner-demon, we notice a wounded child. When we heal our wounded children, we are suddenly less fettered to our identity, our personality, our ego.

Suddenly we become less bound by our habitual “I-am”, because we discover that I am many things in different contexts at the same time. “I-am-not” is part of “I-am”. In the end, perhaps, “I-just-am”. But if we don’t also know the dark, we will never really relax to the light.

P.S. Also see The Hero’s Journey: Descending into the Underworld.

Surviving Mid Life Transition

The problem with cliches, is that they are horribly trite but generally true. Such is the dreaded mid life transition, usually labelled mid life crisis. I remember thinking, when I was 17, that life was generally over when one gets past 30. Then my 30s rolled around, and I liked that decade better than my 20s. Then came my 40s, and I liked that better than my 30s.

But then something morphed. A deep unseating, dislodging, unhinging. We journey into that long dark night of the soul. The ego is built up in the first parts of our lives. Then mid-life rolls around, and we begin that process of painful dismantling, uncomfortable realisations. We ditch things that no longer work for us: jobs, relationships, self-image.

Misery, confusion, frustration, struggle…. these are all going to be there. Like it or not, it will be more painful, or less painful, but pain is going to be there. On a scale of one to ten, it is generally at least a level six in terms of intensity.

The thing is to allow and embrace the changes (eventually) and be in touch with the unfolding of our own inner wisdom. Easier said than done. One needs direction. One needs context. One needs techniques.

Would anyone be interested to explore this issue? Drop me some comments please.

Oh, and here are some snippets from my journey.

There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something. You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after. – J.R.R Tolkien