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Enneagram Type Four Explained

Updated: Dec 30, 2023

A Complete Guide to Enneagram Type 4


If you, or someone you know, is creative, sensitive, can be fairly dramatic and often feels a bit melancholy about life, then they may be a Type Four Individualist.


Also if you’ve tested or been told by others that you’re a Type Six or a Type Nine, but you're not quite sure, then this might help confirm or change your thinking, as those two types often misidentify themselves as Fours and vice versa. You can also reach out to schedule an Enneagram type consulting call.


Major Personality Traits


The Enneagram Type Four is called “The Individualist” because they, more than any other type, are concerned with establishing a unique identity for themselves. Their core fear is that they are not significant and that their life adds no special value to this world. This fear leads Type Fours on ever-winding and illusive journey to “find themselves.” They are generally uninterested in anything too mainstream or too mediocre, and despite their ability to become friends with people from all walks of life, they maintain a subtle sense of elitism.

This is caused by the fact that they feel different than everyone else.

Feeling “different” is the source of both their pride and their sense of envy--even though they may be judging everyone around them, they also tend to think that everyone else is better off than they are.

Fours feel uniquely gifted and uniquely wounded. Fours are constantly thinking about, reflecting on, and discussing their pain. This can be overwhelming for those in relationships with Fours, but it also makes Fours very comfortable with the dark side of life, which ties into their greatest gift. Perhaps the best thing Fours have to offer, aside from their intense creativity, is their ability to ride the emotional waves of life--through trauma, triumph, and everything in between.


You can really never “overshare” with Fours as they’re not afraid to talk about the pain you’re experiencing. In fact, sharing pain is one of the most intimate experiences a Four can have, as it feels like their darkness finally has a companion.


Since the Four's life experience and identity is rooted in their feelings, their identity is constantly changing depending on who they’re around and the culture they find themselves in. Fours suffer from an overly active imagination that’s fueled by their feelings. This becomes their escape from reality and helps them avoid dealing with the very practical day to day steps needed to heal from their past experiences and move forward in health. At their best, Fours have a keen eye for beauty and an ability to both experience and express deeper truths about the human condition that alleviate the burden of doing life alone.


Childhood


The central experience for Type Fours as children is a feeling of disconnection from or frustration with both parents. That’s not to say that Type Fours had bad parents--in fact they may have been very loving and ever present parents--but the problem stems from the fact that Type Fours start out in their earliest years, very attached to the idea of perfection and beauty. They essentially start out looking like a Type One Reformer, believing in order, purpose, and a general goodness to all creation.


Something happens to Fours that makes them realize their desired version of reality does not match their parent's view of reality, and they begin to feel like an outsider in their own home.

Fours then begin to use their imagination to create this world inside of themselves, which is either explicitly or subtly dismissed by their parents as a "whimsical childhood imagination," and they fail to recognize the deep attachment their child has with this perfect, imaginary world and the attachment they have to a perfect imaginary version of themselves.

This disconnection leads Fours down a path of seeking out a "rescuer" of some kind. It could be a friend, a neighbor, or even a replacement parental figure like a teacher that can mirror and affirm their vision of otherworldly beauty and perfection.


Ultimately, Type Four children just needed their imagination affirmed, so that they could feel affirmed. As Fours age, they will continually feel frustrated by both authority figures and nurturing figures for their inability to support the Four's unique and ever changing desires.


Wings


Every Enneagram type has what’s known as a “wing”--it’s simply an overlap of traits with the personality type directly to the left or to the right of your primary type. So Type Fours can either have a Three wing or a Five wing. You always have a stronger leaning toward one wing over the other at any given time in your life.


The ARISTOCRAT

Enneagram 1 wing 9

An aristocrat is someone of noble birth and is stereotypically known for having an elevated view of themself (think Downton Abbey, but less… surreal). Fours and Threes are pretty different types at their core, but they do share one major similarity: they’re both in the Heart Triad, leading this subtype to deal with a ton of shame around their public identity.


The Aristocrat cares a lot about what others think of them, and they want others to see them as having “great taste” in all things--be it their knowledge of fine wines, cool clothes, and even their romantic partners. Type Three Achievers are very practical, success-oriented people so that makes Fours with a Three wing (4w3) tend to suppress their emotions more often for the sake of their image.


Now, while 4w3s deeply desire success, they’re also really afraid of attaining it. They tend to be scared that the spotlight of success will also expose all their flaws and failures (imposter syndrome). This tension between craving success and fearing exposure can make them really turbulent people that are always contradicting themselves. One day it’s “I’m going to become a public speaker!” and the next day it's “Nah, I don’t care about that anymore.”


At the end of the day, 4w3s are the more extroverted, romantic, creative, and egotistical of the two subtypes.


The BOHEMIAN

Enneagram 1 wing 2

Fun fact about the Enneagram: the shape really matters. When you take a closer look at the shape of the Enneagram, you’ll see the biggest gap between any two numbers is the gap between the Four and the Five. These two numbers represent the edges of the Heart Triad and the Head Triad. When someone bridges this gap, they tend to have a very unique perspective because they’re interpreting the world through two distinctly different antennas, if you will.


This makes Fours with a Five wing (4w5) the most purely creative of all types because they combine all the gifts of the head and the heart. Bohemians can tap into a mixture of emotional awareness, intellectual curiosity, and insightful observations about the deeper truth of life to come up with incredibly profound works of art. But that’s only if they can motivate themselves to put in the work necessary to produce a final product. Bohemians are notoriously slow to act on their creative imagination, and they often become obsessed with following their muse down any and every dark rabbit hole.


The Five wing makes Fours far more withdrawn, private, and less concerned with public opinion. In some ways that allows them to feel far more free in their creative aspirations because they’re not so concerned if their final product will receive public approval. On the other hand, that also makes them stall out because they don’t care if anyone sees the final product or not. If Bohemians get too isolated in their imagination, they can start to lose touch with reality and feel like nothing matters anyway, so why bother? Overall, 4w5s are far more minimalist in their desires when compared to the fancier 4w3s, and they’d be happy living an independent, unconventional life where they can endlessly express their creative vision for the world.


Integration & Disintegration


The concept of a movement toward integration and disintegration is a central teaching of the Enneagram. It’s the idea that we embody the traits of other personality types depending on how healthy we are.


Disintegrated FOURS

Enneagram 1 disintegration to type 4

If you look at the shape of the Enneagram, you can see lines connecting the Type Four to Type One and Type Two. So when Fours are unhealthy, they disintegrate to the worst characteristics of the Type Two Helper. Twos are highly relational, needy people, so unhealthy Fours typically start to foster unhealthy relationships with romantic partners or become overly antagonistic with those responsible for the Four's sense of security. Ironically, Fours see themselves as highly independent people and so when they’re not doing well, they project that failure onto others and it becomes of a game of “you're not good enough to me” and “I just need to find the perfect person that’s on my level and that’ll fix this mess.”

Integrated FOURS

Enneagram 1 movement of integration to type 7

When Fours are healthy, they integrate the best characteristics of the Type One Reformer. Reformers value objectivity and moral goodness, so healthy Fours begin to transcend their narcissistic emotions and they work proactively to create a stable environment for themselves and others. Integrated Fours pause the endless need to "find themselves” and are able to sit with true self-esteem that allows them to foster healthy, honest relationships both personally and professionally.


Instincts


The Enneagram instincts describe the most basic ways we function in our daily lives. The pattern normally goes that we operate out of one primary instinct, then our secondary instinct really just serves the first, and the last instinct is usually repressed due to some formative experience we had growing up.


The three instincts are the self-preservation instinct, the social instinct, and the sexual instinct.


Self-Preservation

Self-Preservation Fours will often be more introverted or withdrawn than the other instincts and can sometimes look like Sixes as they focus on furnishing a safe yet interesting space to live. Their homes need to feel like a fuel source for creativity, and they most definitely need to reflect the unique identity of the Four themself. Much in the way that 4w3s want an interesting partner to mirror their identity, so too do self-preservation Fours want their physical space to mirror them, no matter the cost.


This passion for a beautiful material life can lead Fours to overspend on the most nonessential items, like designer clothes or fancy art, when they can barely even afford to pay rent. Fours would almost rather go hungry than have a boring looking space or ugly clothes. This can make self-preservation Fours look like Sevens because of their lavish spending and constant desire for new stuff. Self-preservation Fours also live with a paradox, because they want to feel financially stable so they can afford nice things, and yet their desire for independence makes resent needing a job or needing a relationship that provides financial stability. At their best, self-pres Fours are capable of building a sort of creativity cocoon that feels uniquely warm and inspiring.


Social

Social Fours are driven to find their identity through their unique relationships and exclusive networks. This instinct puts them in a constant push-pull relationship with the outside world. Social Fours want their elite, powerful, or famous peer group to confirm that they are indeed special, but since the Four's ego is filled with shame, they’re never truly confident in their peer group’s acceptance.


When social Fours encounter rejection or are in an unhealthy emotional state, they become hopeless about their social standing in life and start to think that something is just categorically wrong with them. They typically cope with this feeling in two different ways: 1) if the social Four has a Five wing, they usually cope by creating or joining an "outsider group" with people on the fringe of society who actively critique the mainstream world (like an island of misfit toys); 2) if the social Four has a Three wing, they usually overcompensate for their shame by getting competitive and seeking out an undeniable level of success that they can then use to shame those below them. This can make social Fours become really needy managers, creators, or entrepreneurs that only hire "cool people" just so they have someone respectable to constantly affirm them.


Less motivated social Fours will end up wasting their entire life fantasizing about being on talk shows and sitting court side with celebrities rather than cultivating a vibrant community with the friends they already have. If they have a healthy self-esteem, social Fours can again look like Sevens as they become the life of the party with their warmth, insight, usually some dark humor and wealth of unique stories.


Sexual

Sexual Fours thrive on competition and infatuation. This tends to make them more direct and engaging than most other Fours that are predominantly withdrawn. The sexual instinct is all about a desire for intensity, not physical intercourse, but Fours are hopeless romantics at their core, so the sexual instinct does fuel an even more spicy love life.


The way sexual Fours seduce people is with intense expressions of vulnerability or confessions of the soul. Since all Fours deal with a lot of shame, the sexual Four has to do some emotional judo and ends up using their potential shame as a source of pride, like “look at me, I’ve been through so much and experienced so much of life.”


Sexual Fours have strong opinions about their loved ones and are shameless in their fantasy life. This can make it hard for sexual Fours to feel settled in a committed relationship, and it can also make their partners feel like they could never possibly live up to their partner’s expectations. Sexual Fours may not admit it, but what they want most is the perfect rescuer to take them away from a dull existence. Since the “perfect” person doesn’t exist, sexual Fours often resign themselves to being a perennial bachelor or bachelorette.


When the sexual instinct is healthy and balanced, sexual Fours are unshakably committed to their friends and lovers, as they use their warmth and creativity to keep their relationships fresh and alive.


Triads


There are three triads within the Enneagram. These triads all group personality types based on shared behaviors that can really help you to understand why you’re so similar in one area and so different in another. The triads have evolved over time and are a major way the Enneagram integrates widely held concepts from mainstream psychology. They’re a great reminder of the ways we share so many behaviors with each other no matter what personality type we are. The three Enneagram triads are the Triad Centers, the Harmonic Triad, and the Hornevian triad.


Heart Triad Center

Triad Centers

In the Enneagram, the triad centers represent three ways of "knowing" and how we process our experiences: through The Head, The Heart, and The Gut (or the body). Type Fours are in the Heart group along with Type Three Achievers and Type Two Helpers. Each heart type deals will shame tied to their identity, but they all process this shame differently.


Unlike Threes or Twos, Type Fours internalize their shame and begin to tell themselves that they’re inherently flawed or inherently special--so much so that no one will truly understand them. While it's easy to think Fours constantly express their dark or brooding emotions, they actually under-communicate their true emotions, which is what drives them to express themselves through artistic outlets rather than directly communicating their true self. Furthermore, Fours read the world through a lens of ever-changing emotional reactions, and this makes balance, discipline, and objectivity both a real challenge and a major goal for them.


Harmonic Triad

Reactive Group of the Harmonic Triad

The Harmonic Triad is all about the way we cope with pain, trauma, or failure. The three groups are the competency group, the positive outlook group, and the reactive group.

Fours are in the reactive group along with Type Six Loyalists and Type Eight Challengers. Fours are dramatic, emotional people by nature, and so they often respond to pain or sudden change by assuming the worst. Fours often believe pain is more real than things like joy or happiness, so they need others to be as equally shaken as they are so that their worldview can be affirmed, especially since their childhood experience was defined by not really feeling understood by their parental figures.


Fours also react to feelings of loss or separation by unloading their emotions in extreme acts of intimacy, and then suddenly pulling away into their own world. This push-pull interaction often keeps people clinging on to them as if the Four is playing hard to get. They’re not. Fours often don’t even want the people they've enticed to chase them to be their friends, and many Fours experience a codependent relationship with Type Twos or Type Sixes that want to rescue or parent the turbulent Type Four.


Hornevian Triad

Withdrawn Group of the Hornevian Triad

The Hornevian Triad is describes the general ways each type behaves social situations. Each type's primary instinct has a ton of influence here. The three groups of the Hornevian Triad are the withdrawn group, the compliant group, and the assertive group.

Type Fours are in the withdrawn group along with Type Five Investigators and Type Nine Peacemakers. At their core, Fours are naturally introverts, even if they’re performance artists. They re-charge by tapping into their imagination, which can be a place they spend days at a time. While Type Fours crave attention, they don't usually like to fight for it and definitely don’t like to advocate for themselves--unless they have an incredibly strong Three wing or hyperactive social instinct.


Fours would much rather attract people by being unique or mysterious. The problem is they can be so mysterious that they don’t really feel seen by anyone. If people aren’t actively affirming the Type Fours creativity or allowing space for their emotional reactions, Fours will pull the 'ol Irish goodbye and withdraw into their own private space without a moment’s notice.


Practical Exercises

The Enneagram is incredibly critical and it touches on the most sensitive areas of our lives. That’s because it’s foundational belief is that the ego, or what most people call your personality, is just the YOU you’ve become to survive in this world.


There’s a layer below your ego called your essence, or your “true self.” Think about it like becoming the best version of your personality. Either way, the only process to get that true self out of you is to become aware of that top layer of your ego so that you can make healthy choices to either identify with it or transcend it.


Here are a few ways Type Four Individualistss can choose work on transcending their ego:

  1. Tiny acts of self-discipline: If you’re feeling like your life is a mess or you’re struggling with dark emotions, you will not be able to think or feel your way out of it. You need to do your way out of it. Start with the most tiny act of self-discipline. A few years back, there was a commencement speech from a navy admiral that went viral because his whole message was “If you want to change the world, start by making your bed.” The little things like making your bed right when you get up and organizing your desk so you can work in a place that doesn’t feel chaotic and messy leads to bigger, bolder decisions to advance the quality of your life. So don’t fixate on your setbacks, just make your bed, clean yourself up, and do the next smallest thing you can to stay productive no matter what kind of “mood” you’re in. This will lead Fours to take on the kind of major challenges that they know, deep down, they’re capable of.

  2. Acknowledge your feelings, don't identify with them: This will be a lifelong journey for Type Fours as they feel like they are their feelings, rather than noticing the feeling, accepting it, and letting it pass. Fours tie their self-worth to how they’re feeling that day, so it helps to have a space and time to feel their feelings (whether that’s at therapy or during meditation or journaling about them), and then once that time is over, move on with the day rather than wallowing in self-pity. Fours are like marathon runners when it comes to getting lost in their self-pity--they can just go on and on and on. One of the major ways to get out of that cycle is to pull up and get into other people’s lives.

  3. Connect with community: So much of the Four's self-pity comes from a sense of separation or disconnection from community. Fours have so much to offer in relationships: they’re warm, supportive, and unshakeable in their ability to empathize and endure with friends through their painful experiences. Fours thrive when they have relationships with people they can serve with their gifts. Whether it’s joining a religious organization or a community service group, it’s vital that Fours overcome their instinct to withdraw and instead lean into restorative relationships. The Four's narcissistic tendencies lead them to always try and “find themselves,” and they often feel like outsiders because of this, but this narrative only goes away within the context of meaningful, committed relationships that can mirror and affirm a grounded sense of self.

  4. Stand up for yourself: A few practices Fours can take on with their friends, lovers and even coworkers, is to 1) not take things so personally, and 2) stand up for yourself. These things go hand-in-hand because Fours will often interpret people’s actions through a lens of feeling inadequate or self-pity, rather than just asking people what they meant by something they did or said. That takes a bit of boldness for Type Fours because they’re not confrontational by nature. Fours need to practice sticking up for themselves because they’ll often wind up in relationships with people who project their dysfunction onto the Type Four, because the Four already believes they’re the dysfunctional one in the group. By having healthy, honest conversations about relational conflict, they can establish a far more objective perspective on who they are and what they deserve.

  5. Be kind to yourself: Fours can take their negative self-talk to a pretty dark, depressive place that they’ll end up using as an excuse for any number of bad behaviors. For example, the viscous cycle Fours often wind up in is something like going out and drinking too much because they feel unlovable, and then they wake up feeling gross and hungover, which affirms what a loser they think they are, so then they give themself permission to eat garbage food and stay on the couch all day like a loser would, which then makes them feel even worse about who they are. We’ve all had bad days and rough nights out, but Fours need to notice when one mistake gives them permission to make 99 more “mistakes” because it’s just "who they are." There’s a line between feeling guilty about what you’ve done and feeling ashamed about who you are. When Fours begin to embrace a narrative of self-love, it’s going to feel alien or like writing with your opposite hand when compared to the familiarity of self-deprecating narratives that you’ve been holding on to since childhood.


Bonus Fluff


🇫🇷🇯🇵Country: There are two for the Type Four--one is a little more obvious than the other, when you think about an artistic, somewhat elitist country: France. Think smoking a cigarette, sipping a cappuccino and talking about how no one appreciates truly great art. The second is Japan--Japanese art and craftsmanship is laced with a great deal of unspoken emotion and self-expression that permeates their culture. It’s also a culture defined by avoiding shame and seeking out honor.


🐶🕊️Spirit Animal: Fours are represented by the basset hound, a lovable and melancholy looking pup, as well as the dove, which represents a hope that transcends pain and conflict.


✨ Famous Type Fours: Johnny Depp, Prince, Bob Dylan, Miles Davis, Amy Winehouse, Anne Frank


🦸 Marvel: Black Widow is a pretty solid Type Four with her dark, mysterious past filled with torrid love affairs.



SOURCES: Much of this information comes from an amalgamation of sources, but the primary source of this information comes from the works of Russ Hudson and Don Riso of the Enneagram Institute (The Wisdom of the Enneagram, Personality Types, Understanding the Enneagram), followed by Richard Rohr's The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective, and Helen Palmer's The Enneagram in Love & Work.

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