Anyone familiar with the Big Five qualities of personality will realize we missed one of the five in our research.
That missing quality is called neuroticism.
Neuroticism is ongoing mental and emotional unrest that makes it difficult to cope with stress, so even the smallest issues of everyday life bring bouts of anxious tension, anger, and a generally negative outlook.
Neuroticism both stems from and enhances feelings of sadness, dejection, and discouragement.
Psychology researcher, Courtney Ackerman, breaks neuroticism into 2 components that should sound quite familiar, writing,
The anxiety and self-consciousness component of neuroticism was negatively correlated with achievement values, while the hostility and impulsiveness components of neuroticism relate positively to hedonism (or seeking pleasure without regards to the long-term and with a certain disregard for right and wrong) and negatively to benevolence, tradition, and conformity.
Consider this breakdown in light of your own values, and of what you see as hindrances to those values existing more in and through your life.
Does Ackerman’s “anxiety and self-consciousness component of neuroticism” not perfectly describe and illustrate the belief that difficult circumstantial roadblocks are keeping you from living the life you want?
Likewise, is “seeking pleasure without regards to the long-term” not precisely what falling to easy consumptive escapes (in place of striving to grow) looks and feels like?
So, neuroticism has everything to do with settling . . . with being convinced your deepest hopes aren’t actually possible.
And as we look a little closer, we’ll see it’s not the pressing circumstantial anxieties or hedonistic distractions that are holding you back, but your belief in them.
Your hindrances aren’t really hindrances . . . you’re just convinced they are.
How Could a Hindrance Not Be a Hindrance?
Let’s return to the simple example of deciding on something to eat.
So, you’re hungry.
You can’t eat everything, which means you have to choose.
Options occur to you.
What makes this scenario a good stand-in for all decisions is it’s easy to see a dichotomy where food choices based on taste, feel, or ease are “bad” hindrances to “good” choices based on the value of health.
But are pleasure and convenience not also values?
You could see all forms of fun as “bad” hindrances to the clear “good” of hard work.
But never resting or enjoying yourself winds you up tight into a bitter, cranky, arrogant shell who carries the world on your shoulders and resents everyone else.
And here we come to the crux of the problem…
Buried beneath neurotic beliefs aren’t the dark, evil obstructions to your values you see, but repressed alternative values you simply can’t appreciate or even recognize for what they are because of ego and the “I” self story you’re convinced of.
To you, those “missing” values represent a lack in your life as unbearable as nothingness and dissipation . . . what Carl Jung calls “the shadow.”
Your shadow haunts you from where it lies hidden beneath the veneer of every trait, quality, or aspect opposite those you find easiest to identify with.
Your relationship with your shadow is anything but easy and comfortable.
Approaching or attempting to live by any of your shadow values becomes a lurching mess of self-righteous resistance punctuated by bouts of shameful relinquishment.
These leaps are always sudden and compulsive, rising from dissatisfaction and unrest.
Diets that verge on self-mutilation cross over into regretful nights of succumbing to the drive-through window or ice-cream freezer.
And thus we come to a question we’ve been building to this whole series: How can you be what you are and also what you’re not (so as to be the best you that you can be)?
Values and Their Shadows
Life coach Tony Robbins describes inner conflicts between values and their shadows this way:
If you’re not getting what you want in life, it’s because you’ve got inner conflicts. You take 2 steps forward, and pull 3 steps back. You say, “I’m totally committed to this,” but then you don’t follow through. Maybe you want to be totally successful, but you’re also afraid at some level if you’re totally successful you won’t be loved. Or you might want to be in a position where you have total free time, but you also want to build a billion dollar enterprise. You could know you’ve got the tools and talents to make it happen, but then a part of you doesn’t think you deserve to succeed because of something you did at some point. These are inner conflicts between fighting parts.
Again, the fighting parts are various values interacting as you search for who and what you should be in order to make the most of your time, energy, experience, life…
So let’s quickly go through each of the traits we covered earlier, highlight the values behind that trait, explore how neuroticism interprets “hindrances” to those values, and then unveil how those hindrances are actually competing shadow values.
First, conscientious inward (introverted) sensing . . . awareness of your own experience and what’s worked for you before . . . values productivity, efficiency, predictability, safety, and the careful, efficient use of resources.
The same actually holds true for outward (extraverted) “results-oriented” thinking.
In the face of such values, neuroticism rears its ugly head to blow every potential threat and uncertainty out of proportion in irrational, hypochondriatic dread.
Inward sensors and outward thinkers detest the idea of wildcards, outliers, and unknown variables.
This is Batman—an introverted sensor and extroverted thinker—whose response to the anomaly of a Superman is to say, “If we believe there’s even a one percent chance that he is our enemy we have to take it as an absolute certainty.”
If your “I” self story is that of a practical, pragmatic rule-follower, then neuroticism parades anything unproven, risky, or wasteful as evil . . . something you must stay diligent to keep yourself above.
But how long before a life of pure order and task completion leaves a vast gaping void in your soul?
Where’s all your hard work leading?
What’s it all for if you never enjoy the fruits of your labor?
Shadow values of fulfillment, fun, and freedom start to lurk, tempting you until at times you fall into their grip and lunge poorly and ineffectually toward compulsive release.
Afterwards, you immediately make the very best plans to avoid such frivolity from here on out.
And those plans hold until you’re again possessed.
Next, we come to outward (extroverted) sensing and outward intuition . . . awareness of how the world around you is, and how it could be.
Those who can most easily identify with either form of extroverted perception value openness, novelty, and limitless possibility.
This is Jack Skellington launching his town with sheer wonder and abandon into a wholly unrealistic pursuit (to become Christmas instead of Halloween) as a way of escaping the boredom of his old routine.
Neuroticism is always right there with depressing reminders of how full indulgence in whatever new, next pursuit seems most promising also ultimately leaves a lack of consistent progress made in any direction.
You find yourself grimly terrified by images of a chaotic life flashing by unfulfilled with nothing lasting or meaningful to show for all its varied motion.
And though your spirits feel crushed whenever exciting opportunities must give way to necessary realities of boring, forgettable, day-by-day routines, you haphazardly, grimly push yourself to embody shadow practices such as buckling down and staying consistent.
But once all luster gets duly zapped, you release yourself to leap out and redirect your efforts once again.
When we look at both introverted and extroverted intuition . . . inner and outer awareness of possibilities and underlying meanings . . . we find the value of glimpsing fresh insight to potentially benefit humanity.
And the key word there might be “potentially.”
For all intuitives are bound at times by the abject horror of only seeing what could be, but never turning their vision into anything real.
Neuroticism writes off intuition as lofty, impractical pipe dreams.
You fear drifting through life as a detached alien seer, dissociated from both body and environment.
Dreading a future with your head stuck in the clouds but feet connected to nothing, you launch yourself, flailing and feeble, into shadow identities built around being present and grounded in the immediate.
But affected edges prove less than skin deep . . . and before long you retreat back to your comfortable headspace of only looking beneath, behind, and ahead.
Both forms of introverted conception . . . inward thinking (considering facts and reason for its own sake) and inward feeling (considering what people find worthwhile) . . . value new and open understandings of reality.
But neuroticism fixates on humanity’s innate unwillingness to think beyond the confines and consequences of what it knows already.
Inward thinkers feel a hellish detachment in their carefully measured worlds of endless detailed reasoning no one ever seems to want to follow along with.
The shadow of an inward thinker’s block-of-caveat explanations shows up reflected back in the glazed-over eyes of their hearers/readers bored from the get-go . . . populations seemingly entrenched in frivolous politics, useless small-talk, and strange interpersonal nuance.
After enough instances of failing to connect via pure reason, the inward thinker acquiesces to awkwardly berating their community with cringy fake (shadow) smiles everyone sees immediately as just . . . wrong.
For inward feelers, despite their ambition to stand for love, peace, and dignity, neuroticism loves to berate them with the facts of their worldly helplessness and impracticality.
An inward feeler might leap reflexively to some sort of shadow management role, only to soon find they hate everything about measuring whatever and whoever by use.
Besides, inward feelers are especially averse to living inauthentically.
So both the inward thinker and inward feeler succumb to living alone in mental worlds no one else can ever really know.
Both inward and outward feeling . . . conceptualizing about human values and how people are doing . . . value harmony in the collective achievement of what each individual finds worthwhile.
But for the extroverted feeler, neuroticism speaks up as bitter resentment for giving life, time, energy, and experience away, living below your personal potential for the sake of everyone else (since no one seems to notice or care in the least).
There is perhaps no more detectable a shadow than that of the agreeable outward feeler once you reach the end of your rope in working to help others live well at your expense.
You lash out in hurtful comments and actions, demanding your own self worth and fulfillment.
But your bitterness and anger soon turn inward, and you despise yourself for losing control and failing to show the world only the nice person you believe yourself to be.
So, for all personality types, shadow values show up in reactionary attempts to make up for all that neuroticism shows as [painfully] lacking.
Points on a Circle
In reality, values and their shadows are connected like points on a circle.
Shadow values feed into and complete one another, so that the effective pursuit of any value ends up resulting in and relying on its opposite.
Only diligent work earns what you find most fun or meaningful.
New possibilities have to filter down into routines.
Visionary insight reveals something to be made tangible and experiencial.
Abstract truth must be connected to what humans find important in order to be understood.
Following your heart involves measured, sequential steps set in place.
Being a hero for others requires a strong and stable foundation of self-satisfaction.
Again, how can you be what you are and also what you’re not?
The answer partly depends on which chapter of your “I” self story you’re stuck on.
Right now, are you releasing your life with ease to values and traits that come natural to you?
Are you pained to see everything those easy aspects lack?
Are you leaping to something foreign that’s really a shadow knee-jerk response?
In any case, attempting to live off of a fixed blueprint based on whichever value(s) currently hold your attention quickly leads to a state of unacceptable imbalance.
Still, it’s not like you can fully follow the leading of all your values (and their shadows) at once, right?
You can only ever give your focus to maybe a few driving “why” forces at a time . . . even though they each vie for your full attention and commitment.
You have to choose.
Next time we’ll complete this series by laying out exactly what that choice entails.
Ackerman, C. “Big Five Personality Traits: The OCEAN Model Explained.” PositivePsychology.com, 11 July. 2019.
Success Resources Australia. “Tony Robbins Live at the National Achievers Congress, Sydney 2015 .” 16 April, 2015, https://youtu.be/0RuzE6Zmn8o
Zacks CleverNetworker. “Tony Robbins Solve Your Inner Conflict .” 14 February, 2013, https://youtu.be/4JIzngH9UBQ