Enneagram type Four: The Individualist

Driving force: Shame being overexpressed

Spotting Enneagram Type 4s

4s are identified with being different. Sometimes they try to hide it, often they embrace it, and want their image to reflect exactly who they are, which is typically alternative or artsy. Just about every 4 has a creative hobby at least casually. Some are unmistakably flamboyant dressers. Others consider good taste very important or appearance too superficial. “Image” may instead mean their demeanor or identity. 4s have a strong sense of “I am like this, I am not like that.” They may be emotionally dramatic, shy, or simply present an image of how they would like to be. When they’re comfortable with you, their myriad feelings and dissatisfaction, with life, the world, and/or themselves, will become apparent if they haven’t already. Spontaneous admissions of feeling “broken” are not uncommon, and 4s will generally agree if asked with the sentiment of feeling like there’s something wrong with them. With the 3 wing there’s a distinct facade that may seem normal or over-the-top. Underneath is confusion about who they are, but still with emphasis on “who they are” as a question. 4s with a 5 wing may hide things or withdraw, but don’t cultivate a separate persona. They tend to have a “heavier” or “wispier” feel, not very connected.

Type 4s may make things worse for themselves by:
Self-hatred and self-consciousness
Unwillingness to act outside a narrowly-defined self-image
Envying an unattainable amount or type of things

Type 4s may make things worse for others by:
Pushing emotional drama on them
Minimizing others’ less dramatically expressed needs or problems
Frequent or high-stakes neediness

Why Do They Do That?

Being unique is their way around a deep sense of inadequacy. You can’t be a failed Tigger if you’re the only one. They display it to others because they are image types, like 2s and 3s, for whom others’ perception forms a core part of their self-image. Although 4s often reject the idea of caring what people think, what they are rejecting is others’ choices of values by which they find themselves wanting, such as beauty standards, income, or social norms. They may reject these things outwardly and still feel inadequate inside. 4s find it hard to erase negative qualities from their awareness for long. As alternative coping mechanisms, they identify with being flawed, try to spin faults as positive or tied to positive qualities, and develop a specific self-image in which the qualities they hate in themselves are part of an interconnected “who they are,” which they then must adhere to. They desire confirmation that this self-image as a whole is acceptable, but may not expect to get any from “normal” people, and may not believe that such confirmation is authentic or extends to the flaws that feel like their true self. Extreme or needy behavior is consciously a result of feelings of desperation and unconsciously serves as a test of others’ approval and an attempt to assuage fears of abandonment. Conscious testing is possible but usually appears more subdued. Dramatic expressions of feeling generally represent an attempt to translate an internal state that feels equally over-the-top.

What It’s Like To Be A Type 4

In some ways, it may be true that 4s experience “more” feelings, particularly around envy, which is more common than 4s show. However, the emotional character of 4s’ experience is also a result of seeking out strong feelings, which they find preferable to “empty” feelings, and of an inward-directed awareness encompassing things other types may not notice. Depending on level of health and wing, 4s’ motivations and emotional reactions may be anywhere from strikingly clear to them to an ever-present jumble. 4s are associative thinkers and often perceive idiosyncratic symbolism and metaphors that can accrete into a personal narrative. It fuels 4s’ alienation and frustration that these prominent parts of their experience are usually not things they can talk about meaningfully or reciprocally. They typically deal with the disconnect between them by rejecting the world, their inner selves, or both. They retreat into inner lives when bringing inner experience into the outside world is not well-received. 4s dream of finding someone who can fully understand and accept them, and encountering someone with whom raw feelings can be shared is typically a special, healing experience. Arts and music can serve a similar function.

You can make type 4s feel heard by:

Accept that it’s important to them to continue to stay true to themselves and their values and be original to bring something new to the world.
Accept that it makes sense for them to feel like putting a negative value on differences from the norm is an attack.
Accept that being drawn to things that give them strong feelings and away from environments where feelings are minimized makes sense for them to prioritize.
(You can still gently push on these things, but get into their position first and push from there.)

Welcome open discussion of quiet feelings, stray musings, and dark thoughts. Remind them that others may have similar thoughts that they don’t want to discuss or aren’t aware of and that their self-condemnation is unnecessary and it’s okay to exist as they are and receive love. If the force of their emotions is too much for you, you can emphasize expressing thoughts early and briefly when they arise, before they build up and become charged. Ask about their creative projects’ personal meaning. Don’t assume they enjoy or dislike something just because others do. Understand that their feelings and what they’re experiencing are real to them.