Enneagram 4 Profile
I’ve seen firsthand how the Enneagram has influenced my therapy practice, my clients, and my own personal growth. In order to better understand its impact, I interviewed a representative of each number to see the world through their lens.
As a Four, it took me a minute to get over the realization that there are others like me, that I’m not as original or unique as I often consider myself to be. That was actually quite a jarring experience for me and included moments of anger and grief in the process of coming to terms with it. I had to sort through all the initial “You don’t know me!” internal finger wagging and stubborn, arms-crossed snarkiness. As I have sullenly come to accept the reality that I am but one of many who experience and respond to life in a particular way (which in no way means my individual experience is minimized or irrelevant), I have been able to lean into the beauty of having a way of conceptualizing my experience of life, particularly my internal experience.
What do you love the most about your number?
It is the normalization and validation of the internal experience that I have loved the most about identifying with the Enneagram Type Four. I think perhaps (and I use perhaps in a vastly understated way – just ask my wife), I think perhaps I have had a tendency throughout my life to lean toward the dramatic, toward exaggerations, toward flamboyant emotional expressions that are often far bigger than what any particular moment would seem to necessitate. I have been accused of being overly sensitive or reactive. I learned early on to keep my sensitivities a secret. I can have them, just don’t let others know I have them because they won’t understand.
The framework of the Enneagram felt to me like it gave me permission to have those internal experiences, even while it did not at all let me off the hook for needing to mature in my engagement with and utilization of the internal experiences. I think in many ways, the Enneagram has dovetailed incredibly for me with my learning of what it means to be an “NF” in Myers Briggs Typology, and my reading of Carl Jung, himself someone with a deep inner world.
I think, more than anything else, leaning into the conceptualization of “myself as a Four” gave me permission to affirm the validity of the possibility that I may indeed have an internal world that in almost any given moment feels more real to me than my external world. And I am not simply talking about having thoughts and feelings that exist in me that I don’t share. I mean having a completely alternate internal world and experience, one of symbolism, felt-ness, metaphors, and richness that at times is connected to the world we see around us, but often only briefly. Think of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia: an alternative reality that has its own time signature, culture, and experience, but in which things that are experienced absolutely impact the individual in ways that they carry with them when they return from Narnia to the earth-world.
I love that leaning into conceptualizing myself as a Four feels like it gives me permission to embrace and explore this without the historical judgement I have often cast upon myself, or has been cast upon me by others with whom I attempted to share my experience.
What is the hardest thing about your number?
Unquestionably, the hardest thing about identifying as a Four (outside of being identified as anything which means I am not as unique as I want to think that I am) is having to accept my greatest fear: I experience life in a way that others do not and in a way that most others will never understand. My experience of life is not simply cognitive and it is not always tethered to the world around me. Accepting this, while in one way freeing, in another way is deeply disappointing. Some of my deepest longings are to be seen and known. And yet in a way, identifying as a Four is to accept that my inner world will most likely not be deeply known (how could it be?! It’s metaphorical and experiential!). It has made sense of the many moments of pain and misunderstanding I have experienced in the past, but also invites me to accept that those moments were not the fault of others (as I would like them to be), but perhaps simply the reality of being different.
How have you used the knowledge of your Enneagram number to grow toward your best self?
In many ways, the recognition that my internal world is often more real to me than my external world has allowed me to develop practices that are internally-related. In the process, I have become conscious that much of the pain I find myself continuing to react to as an adult is pain from my inner world. This has made a ton of sense to me as to why all my practices that I was taught to use to cope with pain don’t work. The tools of that are useful in healing on earth are quite different than to tools necessary for healing in Narnia. I realize as I write this that the Narnia metaphor may not make sense to many people reading this. Basically what I mean is that identifying as a Four and leaning into it has given me permission to throw out strategies and tools that I was taught by others and instead find methods and tools that are specific to me. Things like sitting in the dark and “disappearing” from my the world. This is something I had always labeled as “escape” or “avoidance” and thus a bad thing. Yet for me, this is an essential practice to the healing of my internal pain and growth toward my best self.
As I have embraced my internal world, I have also come to recognize that I function, not in simile, but in metaphor. I use metaphors to describe and explore my inner world, but not in an effort to draw a comparison to the external (e.g.”my experience is like a boat floating in the middle of a lake with nowhere to land), but to literally describe my internal experience (e.g. “I am a boat floating in the middle of the lake with nowhere to land”). That may not make sense to anyone else, but it has been profound for me.
How has the Enneagram been useful to you during the therapy process?
In my work as a therapist, the conceptualization of myself as a Four has, more than anything, further encouraged me to value the unconscious experience and the process of bringing illumination to it. I think my strengths as a Four allow me to often feel and know the internal experiences of others (at times before they might be fully conscious of it). I have had to learn how to steward this, as not everyone is ready to have light shown on things they have, for very legitimate reasons, kept unconscious for a long time. At times, this can require me to see, feel, and know, but not speak of things for extended periods of time.
Additionally, it has increased my confidence in what I am seeing, knowing, and feeling. As a young therapist, due to my history of being identified as a bit “dramatic,” I found myself often questioning whether what I felt myself to know was real, particularly when it did not seem to be “logical” or “make sense” based on circumstantial evidence.
Finally, it has made sense to me of the experience many people say they have with me, that they feel safe. I didn’t quite understand what they meant by this for a long time. Now I recognize that they are experiencing (consciously or unconsciously) a felt sense that all of them is welcome with me, both the external and visible and the internal and invisible. My growth in my own clarity of the distinction between the two worlds has enabled me to hold both with value, and work in and out of each of them without devaluing one or the other. Perhaps I did this intuitively for a while (but often with a bit of uncertainty over the validity of doing so). Now I am able to operate this way with more confidence and understanding of what I am doing, why I am doing, and clarity over which moments need which kind of work.
What advice would you give to other people of your same number?
We are the feelers, we are not the feelings. We are the dreamers, we are not the dreams. Our giftedness to feel all things, to dream all things, to imagine all things (maybe “all” is a bit of a dramatization, but it feels that way), means that we can move into and out of a variety of feelings, dreams, and circumstances. What a gift that can be to others. Yet, to be able to move into and out of, requires us to draw the distinction that we have and hold feelings and dreams without being them. In fact, we must be more than them so that we can use them and not be limited by them. Otherwise, we will find ourselves stuck in a very limited capacity, frustrated with others, and discouraged when certain dreams come crashing down. Our strength (in health) is our vibrant and rich resiliency that has space for both sorrow and hope. Our weakness (in unhealth) is the way we can become trapped in sorrow and broken dreams, lost in a world of despair and isolation.