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The "Big Guy" and the Three Big Paradoxes: An Interview with Cliff Barry

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January 2014, by Cindy Vargas

Read this article as a PDF file

Cliff Barry I've been spending time with Cliff working on the Shadow Types Model and encouraged him to begin sharing a more complete context for how he came to be the Shadow Work® creator and "Big Guy." His answers are full of fascinating anecdotes and teachings worthy of a book. Someday. But in the interest of making this more immediately accessible, we decided to collaborate on some writing. Those of you who have been trained by Cliff know that he is supremely happy when he gets to go full steam ahead on this subject.

CV: You created Shadow Work® and have become like its "guru." And now you've developed a way to see people in a personality typing model. How does this fit within the Shadow Work® Model?

Cliff: It's true that I am the one who gets the credit for creating Shadow Work®. Of course, that's not accurate. No one person creates a whole body of work without major contributions from lots of other people.

I think I can answer your question and even show you some of the ways people contributed to the model "I've created." In the process you can see the evolution of the model and how easily it can be understood and become useful for anyone who is interested.


CV: For people familiar with Shadow Work®, we'd assume you will start with the four archetypes. Rumor has it that you aren't doing that anymore.

Cliff: I think I'll start with an outrageous statement —

CV: — and that's new?

Cliff: "Everything we experience can be understood by analyzing it through the Three Big Paradoxes."

This is where the rumor comes in: "Wait a minute, isn't Shadow Work® a system in which everything can be seen through the four archetypes?" And you would be right.

But in the last years the Shadow Work® Model has evolved many new facets, so now there are dimensions based on Threes, and dimensions based on Sixes, and Twelves, and Twos and even One-Hundred-and-Eights. And when we look at all the dimensions, and wonder which ones contain the deepest stuff (versus the ones that can be understood most readily by newcomers) we discover that the dimension of Fours is pretty deep. Maybe too deep. So deep that most people can't relate to it quickly or easily.

When we talk about the four archetypes, there's always the one called the Lover. Now, that can be embarrassing for some people. "Who wants to talk about being vulnerable as 25% of everything? Really? Do we need to bring the Inner Child into this? And doesn't the name 'Lover' imply some kind of illicit sexuality? Can't we just leave that one out and talk about the other three, as if they made up everything? Please? This is going too deep too fast."

I have been struck by the realization that I may have been singing about Shadow Work® in a key that's hard for the world to hear. Like trying to introduce professional jazz to an eighth-grade music class. It contains chords too complex for immediate mastery. Our culture likes Threes better (Father, Son and Holy Ghost; Executive, Legislative and Judicial).

CV: Are you abandoning the four archetypes then?

Cliff: Not a chance. They form the foundation of this work. But I am backing up a step or two so that this way of seeing ourselves can become accessible to a wider population, not just the deep, committed people who want to facilitate human growth. When we've got the more general description available, we can go back to how the four archetypes function to create the whole model.

So let's talk about Threes. And I'll use my life to give examples.


"How much is Shadow Work® my stuff,
and how much do I owe to the others who helped me?"

This is a paradox. It's the most basic paradox, I think. It's a good place to start.

Let's go back to the Shadow Work® Guru label that some people have applied to me. I am always uncomfortable when I am being credited with being "The Creator" of Shadow Work®.

But, of course, I am equally uncomfortable if someone else seems to be getting more credit than I do.

And there you are. Just another beautiful day in Paradox.

On the one hand, I have devoted my life more than anyone else to planting Shadow Work® in the world. I have done almost nothing else with my life, beyond the intimate relationships I have enjoyed and the children I helped to raise. When people ask me how I got into Shadow Work®, I usually answer that I must have been born to do this, because at a certain point everything I had ever done and everything I had ever learned just seemed to come together. And from then on I knew what I wanted to do.

But on the other hand, my insights always seem like something I receive, not something I create. I mean, when an exciting idea pops up in my head as I am getting out of bed in the morning, who does that belong to?

When I was a little boy, I was taught that all our thoughts come to us through "spirits", who are around us all day and who provide us with all our thoughts and feelings. So I still say, "Thanks!" when I get a really good insight.

Being aware of the transcendent nature of my own inspiration, how can I call Shadow Work® mine?

And what about all the other people who contributed? The wise and wonderful women who have graced my life with their willingness to hold me in my crazy-making process of putting this together, and who have shared their insights with me? What about the comrades who worked tirelessly alongside me and gave me their own ideas to use? What about all the feedback I've received, and the collective creativity we shared?

I am uncomfortable calling Shadow Work® "mine." I want to honor all those who have helped me make it real. I want to stay connected to them.

But at the same time, I want the independence to lead Shadow Work®. After all, it's been my whole life's work. And I'm the one who has taken the most responsibility for it, and sacrificed the most for it. My identity and role have formed around my leadership in this work.

That's the paradox, the first one. The most basic one. We call it the Needs Paradox.

CV: And this is where we get to insert some visuals; not that they make a lot of sense yet.


Cliff: The Needs Paradox contains two opposing things: Connection and Independence.

The Needs Paradox: Connection and Independence

For reasons I'll explain later, these two will oppose each other catty-corner in this graphic. I believe the needs they represent embody the most fundamental paradox in life. I need to be connected, and yet I need to be independent. This started when I was born and it quickly became the most fundamental job in my life. It remains the most basic paradox today.

I was born connected to others. In fact, when I was newly born I didn't even know that I existed apart from others. I didn't know I wasn't my mother. Heck, I didn't even know I wasn't my crib. I didn't know where that crying sound originated. I didn't know those things hitting my face were my own hands. I was just completely enmeshed with everything. Maybe that's why I can't remember that time. There was no one there yet to remember it, really.

And then, as I started to grow, I began to build my sense of self, separate from Mom and Dad, and my brothers and sisters. And now you can think of me as a separate, independent individual. I have an ego. Good job, Cliff. That was the very first task in my life, and I did it. What is more, I did it so well that I now take the whole process for granted by thinking of myself as being selfish, when, in fact, I have to be selfish sometimes, or I couldn't show up as a powerful adult.

Now that I'm an adult, with the fully-formed and constantly-maintained ego that's required to be an adult, I keep myself together without giving it much thought. But it's why I am always so busy. Even though I long to slow down, and even though I really try to slow down, I keep pretty busy, because busyness builds self, and I still need to maintain my ego. If I go too long without doing something, my ego starts to slip, and I start to wonder, "Who am I, really?"

And so I am always balancing these two very fundamental needs: to be connected and to be independent. It happens either consciously or unconsciously, but it happens all the time. And they are a paradox because they are continually at odds. When I connect very deeply with my wife, Vicki, for too long a time, I begin to wonder: "Am I losing my self in this relationship?" "Do I need to create some distance so I don't disappear?"

But as soon as I become a little too independent, I become lonely because now "there is no one to share it with."

For most of us, this paradox shows up as a split between our "working world" and our "family or personal world." Many people notice how they can show up as a different person when at work than how they are at home. We all learn to temper these two needs so we have the right amount of connection for our needs and the right amount of independence. And we all have different needs around the way these two things get balanced. Some of us want to live very independently, and get a "hit" of connection every now and then. Others want to be so connected that we go for our independence only occasionally.

Maybe your experience with connection in your family of origin wasn't so wonderful, so you went for more independence. Or maybe you had to be too independent when you were young. Maybe you missed out on connection, so you prefer more connection now.


CV: How does someone go about figuring out what side of the Needs Paradox he or she prefers?

Cliff: We have a survey you can take which will measure how much you prefer one side of this paradox over the other. You can answer some questions online, and see what your balance looks like. Joe and Julie Mandarino have constructed a brilliant and well-tested survey which will highlight where you sit on this paradox, and on the next two we discuss.

My own results show that I am pretty balanced between connecting and independence. This makes sense to me, since I have always been in a very close intimate partnership, usually both living and working with my woman partner. So I very much need the one-on-one connection. But I'm not a great casual connector. I was raised in a very close-knit religious community of about 500 people, where the neighborly connections got to be too much for me. I was seen as a rising star in the community, slated to become a prominent minister, but I didn't like the fame. It seemed that everyone had their own idea of who I was, and who I should be, and I wanted to be freer, more independent. So I eventually left that world for a much more private personal life. Even as the leader of Shadow Work®, I have avoided notoriety outside of the Shadow Work® world. I think it was so unsafe for me to be who I really was in the community from which I eventually fled, that I created a life where I mostly dealt only with people who had learned Shadow Work®. I have often reflected that I needed to create Shadow Work® to have somewhere it was safe for me to connect with others. I'm a little ashamed of myself for that, but it's true.

My level of independence is higher than average, I would say. I have created my own brand of personal work, without looking to others much. I am not well-read, for example, in my field. I sometime say, "Well, I could read other people's work, or I could wait for the same ideas to appear in my head. And when they appear in my head, I can call them mine." I should be more than a little ashamed of that, don't you think?

The truth is that I will naturally take on the responsibility for doing things myself without initially even thinking of collaborating with others. I had to learn the value of collaboration. Nowadays, I won't embark on any new project unless I am working with someone with whom I want to become much closer. My motto about new things has become two-fold:

"Who I am working with may be even more important than what we're doing."


"Whatever quest you are planning, don't go alone!"

I'm a good example of someone who has learned the value of teamwork and collaboration. You might be able to measure yourself in this regard by asking yourself this question:

"How do I approach a project? Am I more likely to start out building the connection I want with others and then move into accomplishment, or do I start out acting independently and then move towards connection along the way?"

If you want a clear example of what it means to start in connection, my wife, Vicki, is a natural connector. Vicki lives for connection with others. Lucky for me, really. I have learned so much from living with this creature who does not need to be on some quest to change the world. She is willing to be connected to me by helping me with my life's mission, but she isn't compelled to dream up quests on her own.

I am learning to connect more. It's a work in progress. I am still extremely uncomfortable at parties where people are making small talk about what seems to me to be meaningless things. But I am expanding my ability to be present for others, just for the sake of connection.

So it's been helpful for me to look at my life as it lies across this Needs Paradox. It has helped me to see where I'm good at one side, and need to bring in more of the other.

CV: You talk about how there isn't a wide difference in your scores around connection and independence. It's easier to see how the balance between them serves you. But what about when the paradox is marked by a larger gap between the two sides? What does that mean?

Cliff: We can look at that in the next big paradox: the Action Paradox. Let me explain it a bit first and then move to the answer to your question.


I enjoy seeing how these paradoxes begin to emerge from birth. I believe they show up from the very beginning. I was born into thinking that life was safe. Or rather, we might say that I was born not knowing how to think that life was not safe. I didn't know how to think that I could get hurt. I would have crawled right into the fire, if no one stopped me. You can see the remains of this assumption in young people who act as if they are immortal. My favorite name for this is Security. We are all born believing that we are somehow secure, even if we really aren't. Children in a war zone play in the street.

But there is a paradoxically opposed force. Even when I was a tiny infant, I began to seek action. I wanted to do the next thing. I wanted to turn over. I wanted to sit up. I wanted to crawl, to walk, to run. I was impelled by the force I now call Questing. And of course every new quest put my security at risk in some way, because you simply can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.

At the time, it was my parents' job to watch out for my security, because I was completely enmeshed in my sense of security, and at the same time I was completely enmeshed in my instinct to quest, so I could not know how to even think about the risks. But as I grew, I had to learn how to balance this paradox. I had to learn to weigh the price versus the prize. I had to balance my Questing force with my Security force.

In the graphic below, the Action Paradox is represented by two loops that oppose each other by lying crosswise to each other.

The Action Paradox, Questing and Security

As an adult I am constantly balancing this paradox in my life, and for me this is not easy. I seem to have gotten more than my share of the Quest force. I am a fool for my quest. Once when I was creating a new project with a group of men, I jokingly dubbed us "The Fools Club," because while you didn't have to be a fool to belong, it really helped. The name stuck, and we called ourselves by that name when we met.

If you're going to be a guru, or a leader in anything new, it really helps to have lots of Questing energy. For me that means that it's hard for me to stop dreaming up new thing to bring into life, and it's equally hard to stop working for their creation. Here's an example: the minute I began to realize that I may have found a way to write, I was overcome with making it a huge quest. Because new ideas come to me while I'm exercising, and because I now exercise for at least an hour every day, I could picture myself writing while I was exercising. This feat would, of course, require a few new gadgets, so I was soon the owner of an iPad, with a carrying case and strap that doubles as a writing platform, so I can type standing up anywhere. And as I write these words, I am trying to navigate the icy patches on the sidewalk in Boulder, Colorado, so I don't go flying and break my good hip, or get run over by a car, because I am writing and walking at the same time. In this case my Questing force is overwhelming my Security force.

My way of engaging with this second big paradox is my desperate drive to bring something good into reality. When I cannot be doing that, I am sad, and torn and angry. My survey scores for Questing are so high they are off the charts. But other people do it differently. For some people the Security becomes the mission, and the Questing is sacrificed.


CV: So if you have high scores on Quest, does that mean you don't do Security?

Cliff: A low score on one side of a paradox doesn't actually mean that I don't have that energy. It's just more likely to show up in a "shadowy" way. That means it will be less organized, less balanced and less mature.

So I have some very strong Security circuits, but they tend to be more compulsive and off balance. For example, there's the way I keep track of my tasks. When I was pretty young (about 10 years old, I think) my parents started giving the message that I wasn't a "good finisher." They pointed out to me that I was good at beginning projects, but then my attention would drift and I wouldn't finish things. This message must have been driven home pretty hard, because I compensated for this flaw in very compulsive ways for the rest of my life.

In college I began keeping a list of my tasks and commitments on 3x5 cards, which I would keep in my breast pocket right alongside a pack of cigarettes. And while I battled with my nicotine addiction for many years, and finally beat it in my fifties, I didn't particularly recognize my task lists as an addiction. I had a terrible dread of making false promises to others and then forgetting them, so I wrote everything on my list, so I couldn't forget. Over the next forty years, the jobs-to-do lists grew and grew. Sometimes I would have hundreds of reminders crammed onto dozens of cards, some of which I carried in my breast pocket in the leather carrier I was given by a friend, and some filed away in other places. I had lists of jobs on my computer, and on my iPhone, too. Jobs, jobs, jobs.

When I began to work more seriously with my eating addictions, I came to realize that my heavy jobs load was a primary contributing factor to my compulsive eating. In fact, it wasn't until I was diagnosed with needing a hip replacement, and was often dizzy from painkillers while waiting for the operation, that I found I could lose weight. I lost 40 pounds before my operation, primarily because it became harder for me to work, and I didn't need to eat so much to reward myself for the sacrifices of working non-stop and bearing the weight of tons of unfinished jobs every moment. I finally realized that I didn't actually have an "eating problem," I had a "working problem."

CV: That might be a new way to see weight issues for a lot of us. If you are calling this paradox the Action Paradox, how does Security figure as "action"?

Cliff: Because while Questing is the pursuit of bringing something new and good into reality, Security is the prevention of something bad happening. To make this distinction clear by exaggerating it a little, I could say that "every action we take, and especially every mission we adopt, has one or both of two primary motivations: to make something good happen, or to keep something bad from happening." And the tension between these two powerful forces is often the difference between whether we are a "positive" thinker or a "realistic" thinker.


CV: I suspect Questers would call Security people "negative" thinkers but Security people consider themselves "realistic."

Cliff: Of course, everyone thinks both ways at times, regardless of what they call it. But I tend to work from one side of the paradox to the other. I usually start by dreaming up something good that I could make happen, and then I have to deal with whatever harm might come as an afterthought. Whereas Vicki, for example, is much more likely to envision something bad that could happen, and figure that in addressing the prevention of what's bad, she will then be making room for something good to be created afterwards.

I think that you can often see this paradox as parents polarize in their approach to raising children. One parent is more likely to be the "fun parent," who strives to feed the children with new and positive experiences from which they can grow, while the other parent will often see the pitfalls and potential harm that can come to the child, and work to prevent that harm from happening.

As I have said, both are needed to balance anything, including good parenting. But we each tend to enter the paradox more naturally from one side and then work towards the other.

My jobs lists were clearly motivated by a desire to keep something bad from happening. The idea that I would let someone down by forgetting a promise I had made, or that I would have made a commitment to do something and then not do it, was so abhorrent to me that I developed a compulsion, and listed my tasks in an immature, inflated way. We could say that I kept my jobs in a shadowy way.

This was apparent to me only sometimes, if I lost my list of tasks somewhere and went into a panic attack, or if one of my children or grandchildren would mischievously steal my list just to make me chase them. As I raced after them, I would notice an anger arising in me that was completely inappropriate to the circumstance. My children learned that "whatever you do, don't steal Dad's list." It was my version of "don't step on my blue suede shoes."

So it's not like I don't do Security. I just tend to do it in an imbalanced way. We all enter from one side or the other, but if we have a strong preference, we might leave the other side in shadow.


CV: So far, you've described two paradoxes and how in the first, you don't have a large gap in your preference for one side or the other, and in the second, you have a distinct preference. What does that mean for the third paradox?

Cliff: Everyone shows a preference for one side of two of the paradoxes in varying degrees. As I talk about the final big paradox, which is the Learning Paradox, you will see that I have a strong preference for one side of this paradox as well. Everyone has at least one that they highly prefer and another that is in second place. The scores help us see what might be more in shadow.

The Learning Paradox, like the others, starts when we are very young and completely enmeshed in one side, but with a compelling urge to develop the other side. In this case the two sides are called Experience and Theory.

Little babies simply experience life. They are feeling whatever is going through them without filters. They cry when they are sad, withdraw when they are afraid, and laugh when they are happy. One of the things we love the most about babies is their innocence in expressing themselves without censure.

But at the same time babies develop a powerful urge to learn. As they grow into children, they start to want to know. They are seeking the theory of life so they can understand what is happening around them. As Kurt Vonnegut put it, "Tiger got to hunt, bird got to fly, man got to sit and wonder why, why, why?"

In the graphic below I have positioned Experience and Theory opposing each other in a catty-corner fashion, much like Connection and Independence, but in a different color.

The Learning Paradox, Experience and Theory

I was the second-born child in my family, and the first boy. For the first years of my life we lived in an apartment in the basement of my father's parents' house in peaceful Glenview, Illinois. For me, life was a paradise of wonders. I can remember being stuck inside for a week once when I had the chicken pox, and longingly gazing out the basement window at the luscious green lawn in the glorious sunshine, and just weeping without restraint because I was trapped indoors and could not go out and play. This was my experiencing side.

But it wasn't long before my theorizing side took over. I have always had a great desire to figure out what makes people tick. It may have come from watching my father suffer from the way he learned to repress his emotions as a result of his experience as a Marine who saw a lot of combat in the Pacific in World War II. My father could barely attend church, after what he had seen and done in the war between the ages of 18 and 21. Or it may have come from watching my mother's fear of life outside of her prescribed circle inside our church community. It may have come from the ever-present confusion of being completely surrounded by a world in which every adult appeared to believe the same things, expressed by the same religious phrases, when some of those beliefs were painful for me. I was presented by such a monolithic wall of unified belief about what life is, that the only way out for me was to dream about a whole different life, and whole different system. Dreaming was my escape, and later it became creating theories.

By the time I reached high school, in a Swedenborgian boarding school a thousand miles from my home, I had reached the point where I could actually imagine a wholly different spiritual system, with a different relationship between God and man. And it looked to me like the system I had imagined would work much better than the system I was being taught. I had figured out how God could have created man so it looked like man had the power of choice between good and evil, when in fact this choice was mercifully moderated so that half of humanity did not need to be wasted by suffering an eternity of torment in hell. But this put me in an awful bind, because now I had to choose what to believe. Hard for a high school student to believe he knows better than everyone else. Hard for a high school student to realize he must choose between what he wanted to believe and what was believed by everyone he knew and loved. Hard for a high school student to face the consequences of being wrong: namely, that he was a heretic and would undoubtedly pay for his heresy with condemnation and eternal torment after death.


I remember thinking about it like this: "Well, if I can see a better way to have created the universe, so that many more people are saved, then I must:

  • be God
  • be smarter than God, or
  • these people around me must be mistaken."

That did it for me. I couldn't be smarter than God, and I surely didn't want to be God. One of my favorite songs back was sung by Shawn Phillips: "Struck with the thought of being God, I respectfully decline. There really wasn't very much money, and the work was awfully hard."

So, as a youth I was put in a position where I had to find another way to see things, or give up on my heart. I had to figure out how things worked on a spiritual and psychological level or perish. I had to get out of experience and deal with theory.

In some way, we all go through this. We are enmeshed in an experience, which does not fit us in some way, so we learn to detach and find another way. It was so for our ancestors on the savannahs of Africa, who learned to walk upright, and it is so in smaller ways today. We all begin by working from the Experience side of this third paradox to the Theory side. And if you know anything about little children, you know how powerful the drive to learn can be.


CV: How would Theory and Experience be easily recognizable to us?

Cliff: I will often ask people the question, "Do you prefer to read, think about, listen to, study something and then go and do it? Or do you prefer to jump in and try things and then form theory around it?" This seems to help people divide the way they learn into a starting place.

I am happy talking for hours about the thought process and patterns that my theories illuminate. But at some point, Vicki, as someone who prefers Experience, will say, "Get your head out of your model, Cliffie." Probably in every organization, this will become evident at a meeting. Those who prefer Experience will vote for action and to please stop talking it to death.



CV: You've covered all three of the big paradoxes. What would be helpful to someone who wants to learn more?

Cliff: For each of us there are these three tracks: Needs, Action and Learning. In each case we are born into one and are driven by deep instincts to develop the other.

If we get wounded, discouraged or shamed as we try to move to the other side of a paradox, we will subconsciously decide to stay on the first side. Or if we are being wounded on the first side, we will hasten to the other side, and develop a preference for that side over the other. And so our personality is developed across these three lines of tension, as we learn to bring forward one side for one situation, and another side for another situation. But in the end, everything can be analyzed across these three big paradoxes. I have not found a dynamic which cannot be usefully understood by applying these lenses for viewing ourselves and for viewing one another.

CV: And now what does this mean for the archetypes?

Cliff: They form the intersections between the sides of the Paradoxes.

The Three Paradoxes and the four archetypes

Don't worry. They're not lost. They are the building blocks out of which the paradoxes are made. But the paradoxes are easier for someone new to understand because they don't use archetypal names. Once someone understands the paradoxes and has done some work with them, it becomes easier to introduce the archetypes. So then we can take up with explaining the archetypes in our customary way.

CV: This seems like a way to give people the option of wading slowly into the pool as opposed to jumping in the deep end first. Both ends of the pool are valid sources of enjoyment and learning. And it's all connected. Of course, this is an Arizona metaphor, but I can't seem to make it work as well with the idea of shoveling snow.


Cindy Vargas Cindy Vargas is a Certified Shadow Work® Coach, Certified Shadow Work® Group Facilitator and Licensed Massage Therapist in Phoenix, Arizona. Read more about Cindy. If you'd like to take the survey mentioned in this article and get a reading from Cindy, you can reach her at

This article originally appeared in our free email newsletter in February 2014. To subscribe, visit our subscription page.

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