August 23 rd


Confusion. Anger. Shame. Exhaustion.


Confusion. Anger. Shame. Exhaustion.

What do you do when these feelings arise? What internal messages accompany these feelings? What do you notice in your body?

I have had a rough week and these feelings have been hanging around like old friends tugging at my feet while I try to move on to my next adventure. The details, the story and the drama (don’t we all like a good drama?) are really not that important.

In fact, what is a lot more interesting is that when life gets difficult for me, a particular set of cognitive and emotional patterns kick in. And if I don’t catch myself, a set of habitual behaviors follows suit. And all of this happens unconsciously and rather predictably.

I am a type One on the Enneagram. (See last week’s post to learn more about the Enneagram system of personality and finding your type). The One is sometimes called the “Perfectionist”, the “Idealist” or the “Reformer”. Those of us with One as our core type came to believe that we are loved and accepted for being good, responsible and conscientious. In whatever field is important to us, we have a strong work ethic and tend to exceed expectations. Integrity and improvement are important to us. We have a strong “should” detector. At our core, we came to believe that good behavior is expected and bad behavior is judged negatively or punished. The focus of attention is on what needs to be improved internally and externally.

When things get difficult and I lose my center, this is what I notice in my body . . .  my jaw clenches, my throat tightens, my neck and shoulders grow rigid, I hold my breath, and I feel a pit in my stomach. If this goes on for a long time, I may also experience pain in my neck, shoulders and lower back. And occasionally I get headaches.

The feelings that routinely come up are: confusion, anger, shame, and exhaustion. And while all of this is happening, my mind begins to issue a particular set of directives: “keep going, get it done, do it right, just one more thing.” My fierce inner critic takes hold and suddenly I am on an obsessive-compulsive hamster wheel striving to be good enough and measure up.

And the kicker? All of this happens unconsciously and in a split second. If this continues for any length of time then certain behavioral patterns kick in: I get cranky. My language grows terse and curt. My words may sting. I become rigid and indignant. Resentment builds. I judge others. I criticize myself. I rationalize and self-justify. I also withdraw and mostly turn all of this ugliness inward.

Not a lovely picture is it? Well, we all have our own versions of this. We each have a set of adaptive strategies formed unconsciously a long time ago to protect us, to keep us safe, loved, and connected to the important people in our lives.

The Enneagram shows us how these unconscious patterns show up in each of the nine types. When these strategies are operating, we are on autopilot. We are operating from our type structure rather than from the essential self, from the essence of who we really are.

The Enneagram shows us where we put our attention, what our energy looks like, what our strengths are, what causes us stress, what makes us angry, how our anger is likely to show up, what the aim of our development is, and what supports our development. (For a quick rundown on each type, check out The Essential Enneagram).

The Enneagram shows us why one size does not fit all. It shows us nine different paths of development. Because we each have a type (whether we are aware of it or not), our type frames the way we see the world. It signals what we pay attention to, who we may be drawn to or not, and directs us to our most efficient path of growth.

At its core, the Enneagram is an invitation to awareness. When we slow down and observe ourselves, we develop awareness around our patterns. With that awareness, and some curiosity, we begin to watch these cognitive, emotional and behavioral patterns arise. With consciousness, we have greater choice. Rather than be run by these automatic patterns we can look at them and make conscious decisions about what to do next.

Confusion. Anger. Shame. Exhaustion.

Although these feelings are not fun, they are normal. They accompany me even as I write this post. My inner critic pokes and prods, it tells me this post is silly, and I feel shame. I wonder if what I am writing makes sense and whether I have offered something of value. Confusion sets in. I usually post on Mondays and this one will post on Tuesday. Seven weeks into blogging, I broke my Monday streak and I feel frustrated. I berate myself some more, and exhaustion sets in. When I stop and notice my body, I am hunched over my laptop, leaning forward. My shoulders and neck are locked in place, braced in a protective stance.

Despite the heaviness of these feelings (and how extra silly they sound on the written page!), they are more like clouds than boulders. They come, they go. They float in and out and they eventually pass. What is important is to notice them, name them, sit with them, and eventually mine the message. These feelings are part of the cycle of life. As I notice them, by body opens up. The rigidity in form and thought, softens.

The Enneagram is not required to experience awareness and presence. What the Enneagram adds is a framework and a lens for understanding what it is that we see when we are present and how to work with it. It furthers our meaning-making and it expands our compassion. When we understand the Enneagram, suddenly our behavior and the behavior of others begins to make sense.

I will close with a poem from David Whyte. This is from his book: House of Belonging. When I am in a dark place, this poem brings me solace.

Take action now. Click “like” if you like this post, share it, tweet it, and leave a comment.

What triggers confusion, anger, shame or exhaustion for you? What do you notice in your body? What lines in the poem speak to you? What do you do to self-soothe when you are in a dark place? I would love to hear your stories.



  1. Kathleen says:

    Oh my dearest, Laurie! Thank YOU! Thank you for this post and sharing your vulnerability. I noticed you were missing. I thought you were perhaps on vacation. And, in a sense, you were. I am so glad I found you peeking through on my facebook homepage! thank you for showing up!

    YES! I say yes! Let us embrace you/me fully here in our Darkness… the other side which carries us into an even deeper truer union with Self. Our conscious selves truly work so hard at being good at what we do. And yet, by its very nature, we leave out huge swaths of who we fully are. We must descend. We must ‘fail’ and feel these harder to bear places. They hold such wisdom for us! They reveal that which we do not know. I am so glad that the Enneagram is as complex and deep as we are.

    You are such a devotee of LOVE & SELF! I so appreciate your very personal care of me. thank you for showing up in this phase of yourself as truly as in the other. It serves me deeply.

    If we can remember as you suggest to sit before our mirrors in the most exiled of places and chant our mantra… I love you. I love you here too. There truly is hope for our world. xo

    • Kathleen, your comment brought tears to my eyes. You have such a gift with words. Your writing is like an art form and your heartfelt comments are a breath of fresh air.

      I had plans to write about other things and it seems that darkness is what I needed to write about this week. The descent is not an easy place for me to go, but you are right that we need the darkness to experience the light. This was an uncomfortable post to write and post publicly. I am so much more comfortable with my competent and cheerful side. It feels good to know you appreciate all of me.

      Rather than make this “all about me”, I thought I would try to use my experience to show how the Enneagram helps me navigate my darker emotions. I’m not sure if it worked, or if I did the Enneagram justice with one One’s experience, but I am glad that I didn’t skip this week.

      Yes, I was offline for about five days. Thanks for noticing my absence and missing me. 🙂 xoxo

      • Kathleen says:

        Sweet love exchange. Thank you! your words and kindness to me and to others is witnessed and felt. You need to know this.

        One of my favored ways of seeing/being in Life is through a depth psychology perspective (Jung,, being that the descent is vital to the health and well being of our psyches. And because we don’t do it consciously as we once did in ancient times through ritual, it is often brought on through emotions/moods, depression, anger, all the stufffff most see as ‘negative’. And yet, it often is aspects of ourselves that are not integrated yet. The Bitch. The Depressive. The Jealous one. All these are shunned by the conscious self, and yet at the same time, the ego needs these energies to set boundaries. Who better than the Bitch! haha! If we are not taking care of ourselves then she is going to show up. If we invite her in consciously to draw boundaries even when we feel a little bad doing it, then she doesn’t have to wipe out a home unconsciously!

        In my ideal world, when these states come forth… I stay close to them… give them a voice… an image (painting or drawing) a movement… and allow them to speak and tell me things I refuse to otherwise see by the narrow slant of my ego. It doesn’t always happen. Sometimes I make the mess and then go to my room to find out what is going on. But always, ALWAYS wisdom is found there.

        I would like to explore more of how the Enneagram works with this side of the self. The shadows are so important to me!

        One that I REALLY don’t like though, is the critic you describe. Its so awful to be berated by this one. And its even worse to hear someone you care about be attacked this way! (you!) But even here, wisdom would have it that this energy needs to be worked with. Tricky. Good friends who know how to give me the space to express but not attach anything to it are invaluable in helping me sort.

        Thank you for receiving my writing here and honoring it as you have. It truly springs forth from my heart when I care! Very protective of those I love!

        • Kathleen, once again, your post gives me goosebumps. (When I get chills or goosebumps I know that some profound truth is being spoken).

          Thanks for this elegant reminder of Jung and the shadow. I have studied some Jungians (James Hollis, Robert Johnson, Marion Woodman, and Clarissa Pinkola Estes) and although I know about depth psychology I have not studied it. I am sure I could learn a lot from you on this topic!

          What I can say is that the transformational work of the Enneagram for every Enneagram type is about integrating the shadow. In fact, every connecting line between types reflects a pair of opposites that may be reconciled and integrated. Robert Johnson in his book “Owning Your Own Shadow: Understanding the Dark Side of the Psyche” (1991, p.91) points out that “conflict to paradox to revelation … is the divine progression.” This also reflects the Enneagram’s Law of Three which says that three forces are essential to transforming energy (active, passive, and reconciling or neutral) and that the process of transformation requires the three actions of affirmation, denial and reconciliation. Does this make sense or is it too abstract without examples?

          I have done some work with Jung’s active imagination process as well as visual journaling (which I can imagine is right up your alley!). They are both great arenas for working with the shadow. In fact, I had been thinking about integrating visual journaling with the Enneagram so perhaps we have a virtual collaboration in the making?! You are so right about making the space to let these parts express themselves. I have done that from time to time and yet the work is never finished. There is always more and accepting that is part of being gentle with myself as well. I have a particularly brutal inner critic. And today it’s not quite as fierce as it was yesterday when I posted.

          Thank you for writing from your heart and with tenderness and care. Your protection feels sweet. I can’t wait to be in a room with you live one day! I can only imagine what I can learn from you and what we can cook up together. xoxo

  2. Sending you light and love, Laurie. Thank you for sharing this post and your resources. You have most definitely added value to my life in more ways than this post. xo

    • Stephenie, thanks so much. I appreciate your kind words and your feedback. That means a lot. Especially right now in this moment. You radiate light so thanks for sending some my way. 😀

  3. Amazing. I was going to send you that exact poem yesterday when I was thinking about you. The same one was given to me by a lovely enneagram Five when I needed support for a similar situation to yours.

    You have great detail in how you describe your inner noticing. I’ll bet you are a great model for others as they learn to better know themselves.

    And how wonderful to be missed simply because you weren’t online for a few days. That more than anything else tells me that you are a force for good in the world, my dear.

    BTW, I was talking about you this morning with the lady whose novella you represented. You are burned into her brain with the advice you gave her about a tele seminar for writers. She’s listening to it now, I believe. “I can still see her face right in front of me,” she said about you, “telling me ‘I feel compelled to let you know about this.'”
    Talk about making a difference, Laurie.

    • Thanks Rachel. I appreciate your feedback. And thanks for reminding me that I add value. When confusion, anger, shame and exhaustion run rampant, it’s hard to remember that. I do know that it’s only a part of me and that that part means well. Thanks for popping over here and leaving some love. xoxo

  4. Hi Laurie,

    Thanks you so much for sharing your personal story. I can be a bit of a perfectionist myself and end up with my body showing me some of the exact same symptoms that you have shared. At these times I have to be gentle with myself, go for a massage, read, journal and bring out the lavender:). These time although hard, can make us stronger and teach us something new about ourselves. Anyways that is what I find for myself. Sending hugs xoxo.

    • Sasha, thanks for the self-care reminder. You are so right that these are times to be gentle with myself. I love reading about what you do … massage, read, journal, invoke lavender! Excellent ideas! I have a daily practice where I do a form of morning writing called “morning pages”. Interestingly, when they get sporadic (or I miss an entire week!) I see a correlation between the gap in my pages and a gap in my heart (compassion toward myself). Good to remember! Thanks for the hugs too. xoxo

  5. Ellen says:

    What struck me was the scan-ability of this article. (Full disclosure, I’m at work and this is a bit long for me to fully digest at my desk) BUT with the spacing and bolding, I feel like I am already absorbing from this, and starting to learn more about the enniagram and it’s limits/possibilities. And about myself 🙂 I LOVE the ‘invitation to awareness’. Love it. Thanks for sharing!

    • Ellen, thanks for scanning and leaving some honest feedback. I know this post is a little long. I am glad the spacing and bold formatting helped you take in some key points with a quick scan. I am working on a website overhaul and soon the font and spacing will be easier on the eyes as well! 🙂 As for length, that’s another area I need to tackle. 😀 Thanks for popping over here and welcome!

  6. Loretta says:

    being that the descent is vital to the health and well being of our psyches. And because we don’t do it consciously as we once did in ancient times through ritual, it is often brought on through emotions/moods, depression, anger, all the stuffy most see as ‘negative’. And yet, it often is aspects of ourselves that are not integrated yet. The Bitch. The Depressive. The Jealous one. All these are shunned by the conscious self, and yet at the same time, the ego needs these energies to set boundaries.