Enneagram Series: Type Four
~converting vice to virtue on the path of personal transformation
Transcending our enneagram type happens moment-by-moment and is based on mindfulness. It is not a destination that we reach where we are no longer compelled by our conditioning and tempted by our core defense mechanisms. Rather, it is an awareness that allows us to respond differently to life, even as we coexist with our cravings for control, esteem, or security until they pass. Courage and self-compassion are essential in the process.
This is the fourth article in a series reviewing the core features of each enneagram type.
The Individualist or The Need to be Special
“. . . here the individual learns to get ‘negative’ attention through the intensification of need — which operates not only in a histrionic manner (through the imaginative amplification of suffering and the amplification of the expression of suffering), but also through walking into painful situations — i.e., through a painful life course.” (Naranjo, 1990, p. 73)
Claudio Naranjo named type Four, “Seeking Happiness Through Pain,” and Oscar Ichazo called this disposition, “Ego-Melan[choly].” Type Fours are emotionally expressive, emotionally available, sensitive, romantic, nonconforming, and self-aware. For Fours, there is always something missing, and, “I feel, therefore I am.” Self-indulgence, a tragic sense of self, and self-pity are issues for the Four. Life is a drama being lived on an emotional roller coaster, and Sleeping Beauty (or Beau) is awaiting the kiss from her handsome prince (or his princess) to rescue her (him) from her (his) tragic dream. A type four may say, “I don’t belong, and I need to understand why. Suffering is noble, and I am entitled to be compensated.”
When aligned with Essence, Fours feel inspired, channel their creativity into productive activity, and are able to integrate their experiences into a meaningful narrative. The invitation for Fours is to stop reliving the past and to accept the renewal that the present moment offers. The holy idea or inherent truth of type Four is Holy Origin, which states that there is inherent belonging, and as communicated by Almaas, who originally studied under Naranjo, “Everything is the unfoldment of Being, and hence, everything is always intimately connected to Being” (p. 186).
Fours are part of the heart triad who try to manage emotions, most readily feel shame, and have hidden hostility. Being on the edge of the thinking triad, Fours can easily drop into fear and anxiety. According to Riso and Hudson, in childhood, Fours, “. . . most wanted attention: to be seen and validated by their parents” (1999, p. 63). Fours focus on creating a unique self-image in order to attract the attention and validation that they crave.
Four’s core temptation is envy (feeling fatally flawed), and their mental fixation is melancholy or the longing for what is missing. Helen Palmer, famous enneagram teacher, described the Four’s focus of attention as a preoccupation on what is absent or missing. Fours typically see themselves as special, unique, and misunderstood. According to Riso and Hudson, the internalized message is, “It’s not okay to be too functional or too happy” (1999, p. 31). In pathological terms, Naranjo correlated unhealthy Fours with depressive-masochistic personality disorder and borderline personality, dependency and a desire for negative attention, and the defense mechanism of introjection (especially of the abandoning parent).
Type Four’s basic fear is of being insignificant and without identity, and their basic desire is to show up authentically and significantly in each moment, which can lead to self-absorption. Fours identify with a self-image of being the hopelessly flawed outsider and most want to hear that they are seen and appreciated for who they are by others. They resist acknowledging their own positive attributes and similarities with others; hoping, instead, to be viewed as unique, intuitive, sensitive, and deep.
Fours attempt to solve inner conflict by withdrawing. They identify with their emotional experience and retreat into their own inner world, often hoping to be found and rescued. They fear abandonment and sometimes abandon themselves, meaning that they agree with the internal narrative that says that they are somehow defective. Fours defend against loss and disappointment by being reactive. They prioritize emotional expression and want others to mirror their own upset. The thought is, “I feel really hurt, and I need to express myself” (Riso & Hudson, 1999, p. 68).
When Fours handle stress unskillfully, they move toward the unhealthy Two. They become needy, overly accommodating, and dependent on reassurance from others. When Fours respond maturely, they exhibit self-discipline, make positive contributions to the world, and have a balanced sense of identity, like healthy Ones. At their most mature, Fours embrace the virtue of equanimity and embody individual significance.
The path of growth for Fours is to let go of the need for a particular self-image and to relax into the flow of life as process. Fours must dis-identify with their emotional upheaval and relax into the freshness of the present moment. Ultimately, Fours must learn to take a more objective stance, unselfconsciously translating their talents into positive action and knowing that they do not need to be rescued because they are just fine as they are, without fatal flaw.
Coming soon: Enneagram Type Five
Almaas, A. H. (2000). Facets of unity: The enneagram of holy ideas. Shambhala Publications.
Chestnut, B. (2013). The complete Enneagram: 27 paths to greater self-knowledge. She Writes Press.
Hudson, R. (2021). The enneagram: Nine gateways to presence [Audiobook]. Sounds True. https://www.amazon.com/Enneagram-Nine-Gateways-Presence/dp/1683645790#:~:text=With%20The%20Enneagram%3A%20Nine%20Gateways,self%2Dknowledge%20and%20spiritual%20attunement.
Lilly, J. C., & Hart, J. E. (1975). The Arica Training. In C. Tart (Ed.), Transpersonal psychologies, (pp. 329–351). Harper & Row.
Naranjo, C. (1994). Character and neurosis: An integrative view. Gateways/IDHHB.
Naranjo, C. (1990). Ennea-type structures: Self-analysis for the seeker. Gateways/IDHHB Incorporated.
Palmer, H. (1988). The enneagram: Understanding yourself and the others in your life. Harper & Row.
Riso, D. R., & Hudson, R. (1999). The wisdom of the Enneagram: The complete guide to psychological and spiritual growth for the nine personality types. Bantam.
May your mind be peaceful and calm, may your body be relaxed and comfortable, and may your heart be filled with love.
Thank you for reading.
Blessings and gratitude, Ani