Four is one of what I jokingly call “nature’s Enneagram styles.” In extreme old age people often slow down, grow laconic and mellow; turning Nine-like, no matter what their true personality style. In their early twenties, many young adults pass through a natural Sevenish phase when they first venture into the world to sample life’s variety and delights.
In a similar way, nature temporarily turns all teenagers into Fours, in that the universal teenage experience contains many of the elements of Four psychology: a sense of alienation; a conscious search for identity; a preoccupation with who you are as unique from others; a tendency to romanticize death; the conviction that no one has ever felt what you feel and a keen awareness of both the elation and pain of love. The famous poetry teacher John Ciardi was once asked whether people have to suffer to become poets. “No,” he replied, “Having been a teenager is quite enough.”
Like Ones, Fours compare reality with what could be. While Ones look for imperfection in the world around them and want to correct what’s wrong, Fours turn away from reality to live in their imagination, feelings and moods. While this leads Fours to a creative, idiosyncratic point of view, they can also get mired in their own subjectivity.
Healthy Fours are idealistic, have good taste and are great appreciators of beauty. They filter their outer reality through a rich, subtle subjectivity and are often good at metaphorical thinking – the ability to link unrelated facts and events; to understand and experience one kind of thing in terms of another; seeing what anthropologist-philosopher Gregory Bateson called “the pattern which connects.”
Fours naturally practice a mild form of synesthesia – a chronic blending of the senses that can produce rich complex reactions to ordinary events. A Four entering a new situation could see something that triggers a mental image, which in turn evokes a feeling, which then reminds the Four of a song. The song could evoke more images which in turn evoke more smells, tastes and feelings. The Four’s senses can run together like a watercolor in the rain; they can see sounds, hear feelings, smell images – a kaleidoscopic rinse of impressions. Asked what he likes best about his personality style, a Four says, “I don’t know if a lot of other people can appreciate things and places and events with as much detail and richness and largeness. Even when I’m bored it’s intense boredom.”
This sensory richness is like the raw material of creativity and healthy Fours give themselves ways to express their intense inner life. A Four songwriter says, “When I write a song it reminds me that I have an identity. It’s like I get all my feelings out on paper. Then I can look down and really see them. They become manageable.” “From the beginning,” a Four actor comments, “acting seemed like therapy, since I could transform my pain into something creative.” In Enneagram books, Fours are often described as artistic and many famous artists have had this Enneagram style. Otherwise, Fours have all kinds of occupations, although they try whenever possible to make their work creatively interesting.
Like Ones, healthy Fours can be morally courageous, idealistic and work hard for what they believe in. They are contributors rather than complainers, often committed to improving an imperfect world. Some have a distinct need to realize an inner vision in the outer world, perhaps by initiating innovative projects that have humanistic or artistic aims. To this end, they can be daring, determined and practical. “When I’m on my deathbed,” says one Four, “I hope I can look back on my life and be proud. I don’t want to waste my life on the frivolous.”
Fours are sensitive to the suffering of others and want to minister to it. “I feel like I am in a position where I can affect other people,” a successful Four explains. “I enjoy giving back. I have to have something that fills me with drive and purpose and passion. Service to others does that more than anything.” Another Four adds, “Having experienced pain and loss has made me more understanding of other people’s suffering. And more generous.” Fours can be empathetic, foul-weather friends, able to understand the distress of others, especially willing to attend to a friend’s pain when others might turn away.
At their best, Fours express the universals of human experience for all of us, articulating and affirming the reality of the inner life; insisting that dreams and feelings are as real as tables and chairs. Fours can be fine teachers and therapists in this regard. As one Four says, “The ability to describe internal experience as a result of having gone through it myself, and to work with other people therapeutically because I have devised ways to work with myself – I relate to that very well.” Fours can also be open advocates of the passionate life. “Avidity, curiosity, passion and anger are my conscious constructs,” a Four says, “They keep me from being too sad, from giving up.” Learning about themselves and applying the knowledge are strong tendencies for healthy people with this style.
In 1782 Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a Four, began his autobiography Confessions this way: “I am undertaking a project which has had no example and whose execution will have no imitators. I am unlike any of those I have seen. I am bold enough to believe I am unlike anyone in existence.”
When Fours are less healthy their creative originality mutates into a need to be seen as unique that is based on comparison to others and driven by a sometimes grandiose self-image. Fours can seem very in touch with their feelings, but in the trance of their style they defensively translate genuine feeling into melodrama and grandiosity. Their once-healthy capacity for synesthesia now turns on them. Instead of swimming through their own ocean they start to drown in it, feeling like they are a victim of their own reactions and depth.
There’s an old joke about an elephant and an ant who meet and fall instantly in love. They spend a wild rapturous night under the stars making mad passionate love. In the morning the ant wakes up to find that, during the night the elephant – probably due to the strenuous lovemaking – has died. “Damn it!” says the tiny ant, surveying the vast body of the elephant. “One night of passion and now I have to spend the rest of my life digging a grave!”
When Fours are less healthy they often focus on what is unavailable or missing in their lives. They become negative and critical, finding fault with what they do have, seeing mainly misery in the present and projecting that into the future, if they see the future at all. They then turn inward and use their imaginations to romanticize other times and places, filling themselves with lament and nostalgia. An aging melodramatic Four said, “I sit home and I think about the past, about all the things which I once did, about the regret and things that could have been. I don’t think about the future, all I can see of the future is The End. Unhappiness is a disease – I have it.” Asked the secret of happiness, another Four replied, “Insensitivity, I guess.”
Unhealthy Fours can be moody or hypersensitive while exempting themselves from the need to follow everyday rules. Buoyed by their sense of defective specialness, they might give themselves permission to act badly, be selfish or irresponsible. They may refuse to deal with the mundane and the ordinary, reasoning that they are different and not of this world anyway. Fours also incline towards feeling guilty, ashamed, melancholy, jealous and unworthy.
Fours anticipate the world’s judgments with more devastating self-judgments. Expecting rejection, Fours then imagine or engineer it in the world around them, and hold it as a permanent expectation. Then they feel safe; paradoxically, the possibility of being accepted and fulfilled feels threatening.
Deeply unhealthy Fours can inhabit a harrowing world of torment. They may be openly masochistic and extravagantly self-debasing, prone to drastic, terrifying mood swings. Some are bridge burners; destroying their life as they live it, burning their past behind them in melodramatic blazes of recklessness – marriages, friendships, hopes and dreams are all squandered to prove that nothing good can ever happen to the Four.
Fours at this stage can also be “traumatophiles,” ruinously addicted to the dark side of life. The life stories of spectacularly self-destructive artists often reflect this kind of scenario. In essence, they are willing to wreck everything to prove they are someone they are not – their romanticized self-image.
At this point, Fours can become unreachably alienated. Stricken by a profound sense of hopelessness, they can sink into morbid self-loathing and suicidal depression. They see their sense of difference in entirely negative terms and banish themselves into a life of exile. The desire to punish themselves and others – especially those who love them– can be quite strong.
Confused Feelings and Envy
Fours are part of the trio of Enneagram styles who reject themselves, overidentify with roles and have trouble knowing how they really feel. Fours specifically reject their “normal” qualities in favor of playing a role of someone distinctive and unique. “Unique” could mean anything from being exceptionally accomplished to defective and unable to function.
Some Fours, for example, report feeling like they are from another planet, as though they are victims of a cosmic paperwork error that caused them to be dropped here and accidentally raised as human. Life on earth is a form of exile and the Four feels like a perpetual expatriate who can never return to her home planet.
Beneath this ostensibly sad storyline is a kind of vanity. The Four could be proud of their alienated plight. Being from another planet reinforces their sense of being special and exempts them from normal responsibilities. Extraterrestrials don’t have to pay taxes, for instance.
A Four friend of mine, who lost his job teaching high school literature the same week his wife left him, sank into a depressive melancholy funk. For months he sat watching television all day. Whenever I talked to him he sounded genuinely depressed and could only repeat the same litany of complaints about how bad things were.
One day, I heard a slightly different tone in his voice. He was complaining in the usual way but he sounded almost playful. I asked him: “Why do I suddenly feel like you’re starting to enjoy your situation?” After a pause he replied wryly, “Well, I do make a lovely shipwreck…”
After early French anthropologists first studied native tribes in the South Pacific, they returned to France extolling the virtues of the islanders’ way of life. Many popular books and newspaper articles were written about the islanders, some recalling Rousseau’s book, The Noble Savage, which compared civilized man unfavorably with indigenous people. The anthropologists were praised and awarded for their work and the details of native culture gripped the imagination of the French public. The anthropologists theorized that modern Europeans were descended from people like the islanders, who had once lived more naturally and instinctively, in harmony with nature, uncorrupted by modern ways.
Two years later the anthropologists sailed back to the South Seas and began to interview the natives in greater depth. They were surprised to learn that the islanders believed that they had descended from a people who once lived more naturally and instinctively, in harmony with nature, uncorrupted by modern ways.
Fours control through envy. After rejecting the ordinary in themselves they compensate by internally comparing themselves with others who have qualities the Four lacks or believes he once had but lost. This induces a feeling of longing, a yearning for the unavailable that is not unlike the melancholy a lonely single person might experience on Valentine’s Day. Many people also feel this way in the autumn or during festive holidays or when they are homesick.
Envy is more than just wishing you had, say, another person’s money. At bottom, it’s an unconscious desire to be another person, someone with qualities you lack. In Fours, this takes two forms: longing to be someone else or longing to be a fantasy version of yourself. In their book, The Wisdom of the Enneagram, authors Don Riso and Russ Hudson write perceptively about the Four’s Fantasy Self, a compensatory, sometimes grandiose version of someone a Four wishes they were. This Fantasy Self is designed to counter the Four’s sense of rejection; it is who the Four will someday be when he is truly lovable. The Four, in effect, envies himself.
So a Four entering a new situation might look around and begin comparing herself to others, seeing them as “normal” and herself different and unique – but somehow lacking. Next, she internally rejects herself, telling herself, “I don’t belong here,” and begins to list her flaws to herself.
Next, the Four starts to envy someone nearby who looks like the kind of person she “should” be. She might also see a married couple and envy what she thinks is their good life together. Or she could see someone attractive but unavailable and begin to wish that person loved her.
The Four could feel that she has to justify her presence in the situation. She might then try to prove that she belongs there after all by adopting the behavior and appearance of someone “normal.” Or she could begin thinking about becoming her Fantasy Self – a being so redemptively unique and extraordinary that people in the group will have to accept her after all.
Fours protect themselves with the defense mechanism of introjection, which means taking people inside you and relating to them in your imagination, thoughts and feelings. While we all introject others – our parents, for instance – Fours introject habitually and the capacity has a specific function within their psychology. A Four will introject a loved one or someone whom they have idealized and who is out of reach. Then the Four has a relationship with their fantasy of that person. The Four holds this imaginary person between himself and others, as a barrier, to protect against rejection. Meanwhile the Four feels the fantasy person to be present, as if comforting himself with an imaginary friend.
I once asked a Four friend of mine why he didn’t call me more often. “Why?” he replied, “I talk to you every day.” Many Fours carry their friends and lovers inside them and may feel closer to the loved ones when they are physically absent. “In terms of the lost love,” a Four explains, “the fantasy of the person is always much better than the actual person.”
Once, when I had a private practice, a married couple walked into my office for their first session obviously upset. The woman was crying and the man looked terrified. An hour before the session, he had confessed to her of a one-time sexual liaison with the woman’s main business competitor. The wife reacted to this news with shock, tears and recrimination.
The man was a Four and the woman a One. At various times during the session she grew accusative and judgmental, reacting from a raw, obvious sense of injury. But, when upbraided, the Four defended himself by retreating into his introjected memory of the infidelity.
“How could you do it with her?” the wife yelled. “Of all people! What a squalid pathetic little encounter that must have been.” Dreamily the Four replied, “Don’t talk that way about her. She has qualities you don’t know about. The day we spent together was one of the most beautiful days of my life.” The more accusative his wife became, the more the defensive Four retreated into the memory of the “beautiful” day and affirmed it – exactly the wrong tactic to use with his deeply wounded spouse.
Introjection is a reaction to the present even when the Four subjectively retreats into the past. The defense is to recreate a set of feelings that were once satisfying as a way to dissociate from immediate events. Fours can introject places and things as well as people. The point is to hold something between themselves and the world, a padded barrier against rejection.
This defense partially explains why Fours can find it exceptionally difficult to grieve the actual loss of someone they love. If the loved one lives inside the Four and that person leaves in reality, it is as if the Four has to separate from an inner part of herself. Grieving the loss can feel like surgically removing an internal organ.
Fours are prone to “envy schisms,” ways they subjectively divide and separate parts of their lives between their actual circumstances and an envied alternative. Some Fours develop schisms about work – creating a chronic conflict between their boring “straight job” and a creative avocation that the Four would love to practice. Such a Four might say: “I’m working in an office as a secretary for now, but someday I’m going to move to Paris and become a painter.” Other Fours create schisms in their love lives, for example, by seeing their mate as dull and predictable while fantasizing about glamorous strangers. Still others create schisms between their public and private lives. They could have a thriving career but be unhappy in love; productive by day, but lonely at night.
At his fiftieth birthday party a man sighed and said, “I wish I could be 20 again and know what I know now.” Smiling, a friend of his replied, “Yeah, just think of how lonely you’d be.” Another possible schism is between the present and the past, which a Four might express by being habitually nostalgic. Nostalgic Fours can savor memories from which they derive comfort, stimulation and nourishment. When unhealthy, however, they can become vampires of memory, turning away from the present to constantly redrink the past.
Whatever their content, envy schisms are products of the Four’s creative imagination and the old saying about envy – “the grass is always greener on the other side” – has a literal meaning with this style. Fours see what they actually have in a very different way than they see what they envy. When they think about the boring job, dull spouse, or uninspired present life, a Four might mentally view them as gray, fuzzy and static. By contrast, the Four could see an envied alternative as colorful, clear and moving – sensory qualities associated with something desirable and exciting.
One Four client described her marriage as “safe” and her husband as “steady, faithful, hardworking and dull.” She was romantically attracted to a handsome writer she didn’t know well and who lived in the mountains, but sometimes came to town.
I asked her to visualize the two men in her mind’s eye. She saw her dull husband in black and white and the writer in color. The dull husband was static while the writer was engagingly in motion. She saw the dull husband as physically distant while the image of the writer was close to her.
I then asked her to use her imagination and change the image of her husband from black and white to color, bring his image closer and see him moving. Next, I asked her to make the writer distant, static and colorless. After concentrating intently for a minute, the Four said, “Hmmm. My husband just got a lot more interesting.”
Singer-songwriter Paul Simon, himself a Four, alluded to the sensory qualities of envy in his witty, subtle song Kodachrome: “If you took all the girls I knew when I was single, and brought them all together for one night, I know they’d never match my sweet imagination. And everything looks worse in black and white.”
Excerpted from The Dynamic Enneagram by Tom Condon
Copyright 2009, 2013 by Thomas Condon
Available as an ebook serial at Tom’s website http://www.thechangeworks.com
Tom Condon has worked with the Enneagram since 1980 and with Ericksonian hypnosis and NLP since 1977. These three models are combined in his trainings to offer a useful collection of tools for changing and growing, to apply the Enneagram dynamically, as a springboard to positive change. Tom has taught over 800 workshops in the US, Europe and Asia and is the author of 50 CDs, DVDs and books on the Enneagram, NLP and Ericksonian methods. He is founder and director of The Changeworks in Bend, Oregon.
Tom can be contacted at: http://www.thechangeworks.com