Self-compassion, Self-Love and Self-Directed Kindness, Working With Painful Emotions

Month Ten and Eleven of Beautiful Breathing: Dealing with Our Shadow Side

Last May, I realized I was having problems with shallow, erratic breathing and that it was causing a lot of anxiety[1], low energy, and other problems. I began a simple breathing practice to help some of these issues. It has brought a lot of beautiful changes in my life like increased energy, the ability to walk long distances, and a motivation to be in nature more, as well as to create more internal and external space in my life.

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I have been blogging about these changes almost every month, and you can find links to the other months at the end of this post.

A Lesson I Learned Through All of This

My breathing adventures taught me something important: My body is on my side and wants me to thrive. It is constantly communicating to me, and I can learn important things from it if I listen. I also realized that some of the things that frustrate me about myself—like my periodic low energy or my anxiety–are actually signals for me to pay attention and take care of myself. Understanding these things have helped me become a better ally with my body. You can read more about this here.)

Becoming an Ally with Our Body, Becoming an Ally with Our Emotions

For much of my young adult life, I had a mistaken impression that there were good bodies and bad bodies. Good bodies were the ones that looked like pictures in the magazines, and bad bodies were all the other ones.

Over the years, and especially lately, I have realized that all bodies, including mine and yours, are good bodies capable of amazing things when we take time to listen to them and become allies with them.


Lately, I have been applying this ally lesson to another area of my life: my emotions. To explain this more, I need to tell you how I met the dark side of myself this last January. I blame it on the Enneagram.

The Enneagram

The Enneagram is an ancient personality test that has become more mainstream in recent years through the work of folks like Don Riso and Russ Hudson, as well as Richard Rohr. (I recommend this book on the Enneagram by Richard Rohr.)

Now there are a lot of personality tests out there, but I think the Enneagram is special because it not only tells you your personality type, it also helps you understand that your personality type exists on a spectrum of healthy, average, and unhealthy expression.

So, for instance, there are nine basic personality types on the Enneagram (see the picture below). Each of these personality types has a motivation and fear particular to it.  In addition, each of the personality types has a healthy, average, and unhealthy expression.[2]


For example, I am an Enneagram 2—The Helper (sometimes called The Giver). A 2’s main motivation in life is to love people and help them, to encourage them and make them feel special. (There’s a reason my blog is called Love is Stronger, People.) A helper’s main fear in life is to feel unloved, unneeded, or unrecognized.

When 2s are emotionally healthy, they love with no strings attached and are genuinely glad to be a part of people’s lives and to contribute in a meaningful way. When I am healthy, this is definitely how I feel about people and my ability to contribute to their lives.

A lot of 2s become teachers, counselors, pastors, and writers (bloggers!)

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Hi, I’m Shelly, your friendly neighborhood Enneagram 2 blogger.

This is all very good, but there is also a shadow side to 2s. One of the reasons that 2s help so much is that they often have an underlying fear that people will only love them if they are helpful, useful, and essential. So, while healthy 2s genuinely love people for their own sake, unhealthy 2s help people primarily to get love and attention from them.

In addition, an unhealthy 2 can become angry, petulant, and full of self-pity when she (or he) feels like her helpfulness is not recognized, appreciated, or reciprocated. Unhealthy 2s also sometimes have poor boundaries and get really possessive of people. I am certainly aware of times in my life when I have exhibited these traits.

Enneagram Depression

When I took the Enneagram test and read about the strengths and weaknesses of 2s, I was depressed initially. (By the way, this is a pretty common initial feeling when you take an Enneagram test.)

I have always felt proud of the way that I love and help other people. But when I took the Enneagram test, I suddenly felt like I loved people not for their sake primarily but to manipulate them into giving me love and attention. Furthermore, I felt like my love for others was not the result of a thoughtful choice I had made but the result of some secret personality mechanism out of my control.

Folks who follow my blog might remember that I took a social media/blogging break in February. I did this for a lot of reasons, but one of the reasons I did it was to take time to process what I was learning about my personality and to consider when my social media use was a healthy expression of my personality and when it was unhealthy.

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A New Realization and How This Applies to You

The Enneagram can indeed be depressing at first. Reading about your Enneagram type will likely heighten your awareness of your most painful and embarrassing shortcomings.

You may also feel like the strengths of your personality are not as meaningful or cool as the strengths of another type. For example, I really admire 4s—Individualists–because of their sense of style and their ability to bring beauty and originality into the world. I sometimes wish I could be a 4. On the flip side, some of my friends who are 4s report wishing they were more like 2s.

But as I have learned more about my personality type over the past few months, I have realized something. The Enneagram system is an expression of our collective Highest Human Self, and each of these unique personality expressions in the Enenagram bring something beautiful into the world:

1—The Reformer: Contributes high ideals and excellent principles

2—The Giver: Contributes caring, love, and warmth

3—The Achiever: Contributes pragmatism and plans for achieving goals

4—The Individualist: Contributes beauty and understanding of emotion in a way that inspires others

5—The Investigator: Contributes insight and innovation

6—The Loyalist: Contributes loyalty and commitment to others

7—The Enthusiast—Contributes fun and spontaneity

8—The Challenger—Contributes confidence, courage, and a strong will

9—The Peacemaker—Contributes agreeableness and harmony

As I mentioned, I think of the Enneagram personality types as an expression of our collective Highest Human Self.


Religious or spiritual folks who use the Enneagram sometimes speak of the Enneagram types as expressions of Divine character. I like to think of them this way, too, because it resonates with the notion I often express on my blog that we all carry a light inside of us. I think of this light as an expression of Divine Love.

No one can possess all these character traits to an equal degree. (We would be a perfect human being or God if we could.) That is why we need each other. When we express our personality in a healthy way, we teach each other an important lesson: how to be more principled; how to love better; how to achieve pragmatic goals more effectively; how to feel our feelings, be authentic about them, and use them to bring more beauty into the world, etc.

This is why we must become allies with our emotions and learn to take care of ourselves. If we are unhealthy emotionally, it becomes difficult or impossible for us to teach the important lessons we have to share with the world.

We become unhealthy emotionally when we do not understand our personality; when we are out of touch with our emotions; when we do not listen to the signals they send us; when we do not understand our unique needs and fears and how to deal with them.


When our personality becomes unhealthy, we develop significant character failings, personality weaknesses, addictions, etc.


But this is not because our personality itself is bad. It is because our personality, which is a good thing, has become diseased and needs healing or nourishment, extra support, or love expressed in a certain way.


One of the things I have been working on lately to nourish my personality is appreciating the good things about myself that have nothing to do with helping other people. I have also been working on a self-care kit to remind me that I need to take care of myself just like I try to take care of other people.

Grounding Kit

This is a self-care kit I made for myself recently. It’s full of things I can turn to take when I feel overwhelmed: Cards with exercises for dealing low energy; a journal to write in; affirmation cards; soothing lavender oil to smell; colorful pens to write in my journal with; rocks to feel that can help ground during anxiety. While a kit like this can seem hippy-dippy (ok, I am kind of a hippy), it contains something to nourish each of the senses, which is a great way to care for one’s self. What would you put in your self-care kit?

During my Enneagram adventure in January-March, I realized something important: My emotions are on my side and want me to thrive. My emotions constantly communicate to me, and I can learn important things from them if I I listen.

I have also realized that some of the things about myself that frustrate me—like my tendency to over-help people, to have poor boundaries sometimes, and to get possessive–are often warning signals that I need to take care of myself. Understanding these things have helped me become a better ally with my emotions, to love myself more, and to set better boundaries.


How This Relates to You

I used to think that there were good people and bad people. The good people were the people who had everything together and were always kind, successful, principled, and cool. The bad people were everyone else. I spent a lot of my young adult life afraid of becoming one of the bad people.

Now I realize that there are only good people[3], like me and you, who are prone to vices and weaknesses when our personality becomes unhealthy. We can do amazing things when we take time to listen to our emotions and become allies with them. We can also become really dark, mean, destructive, and unreasonable when we don’t listen and take care of ourselves. Even in our times of unhealth and dysfunction, our good, original personality is always waiting there for us, and one of the ways it speaks to us is through our emotions. How can you listen to your emotions? How can you become an ally to them?

You can read my last post in my breathing series here:

Twelve Cool and Surprising Things That Happened When I Practiced Deep Breathing for a Year


If you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing it on social media.

You might also enjoy this post that discusses the beginning of my breathing adventure and contains links to other posts describing my breathing adventures this year:

I Practiced Deep Breathing for a Month and Here are All the Cool Things That Happened


1. Consider taking the Enneagram test. You can do that for free here.

2. Riso-Hudson have an excellent Enneagram site here that has an in-depth description of each of the personality types, as well as a description of the healthy, average, and unhealthy expressions of each type. In addition, there is an explanation of how each personality type can develop a more healthy expression. Consider reading about your personality type and its various strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for growth.

Also, if you don’t want to take the Enneagram test, you can likely figure out your personality type just by reading through the Enneagram descriptions at the link above.

3. What is something you can do this week that encourages healthy growth in your personality? What is one negative influence or behavior in your life that you can avoid or decrease in order to help your personality become healthier?

End Notes

[1] I still run a little anxious because I’m a highly sensitive person, which means I have an especially sensitive nervous system, but my breathing helps to calm my anxiety. If you think you might be a HSP and want to know more about it, you can read more here.

[2] Riso and Hudson have a great introductory site about the Enneagram here. Just to let you know, the Enneagram is a really complex system. The basis of it is the nine Enneagram types, which you can read about here. But each of the personality types also has an arrow towards integration (health) and an arrow towards disintegration (disease or dysfunction). And there are some other parts of the Enneagram system as well. Don’t let the complexity of the system scare you. Just start with learning about the nine types and specifically your type. You can explore the other parts of the system when you are ready.

[3] Please note that I am not ignoring the fact that there are really bad and stupid people in the world. I am only suggesting that human badness and stupidity is a corruption of an underlying good personality, just like diseases are corruptions in good bodies.

6 thoughts on “Month Ten and Eleven of Beautiful Breathing: Dealing with Our Shadow Side”

  1. a wonderful post! i’ve always used the DISC personality assessment. it is so important to know our style and others for the best communication, management, and self assessment!

  2. Whatever types we are, I think it is important to be able to reflect on our tendencies and behaviours, always with the proviso that we do this with kindness and compassion. I seem to have taken quite a few of these tests recently and always worry that they reflect the kind of mood I was in at the time! Or whether they reflect the way I want to be at that time. They are another useful tool in our thinking, and I guess they can change at different periods of our life. Similarly to you, I find myself wanting to be less of a helper and more of an enthusiast or innovator. I think this reflects my recent thinking about gender stereotypes, and that I feel it is more acceptable to myself to be ambitious.

  3. Another very thoughtful post…lots to reflect on here. I’m tempted to go and have a look at those Enneagram sites but realise that I need to be able to give them a bit of time…

  4. I was introduced to the Enneagram about 12 years ago and it has changed my life. I remember the humiliation and chagrin I felt when I realized my shadow side was in charge much of the time. I’m a 4, by the way…..but the call to freedom in a 4 is authenticity, which was a real revelation. The Enneagram is so much more than a “personality test”, I found it to be a great spiritual tool.

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