By Steve Purdom, MD (Type 3, SP/1:1/SC)
Type 4’s have a unique way of using their enneagram personality to defend themselves from others, or perhaps to emotionally distance themselves from others. They view themselves as flawed and their focus on their inadequacies keeps them from seeing what is good and hopeful. In addition, they search for idealized situations or idealize people, which again keeps them from seeing that the situation is adequate or that the person is good (but not perfect). If they focus on idealized relationships that are unobtainable, then they can ignore the potential of a good relationship. All relationships have their challenges, but fours seem to see acutely the flaws in their partners, rendering them unacceptable. Instead they wait for the perfect partner, who almost never comes.
In addition, fours have longing and envy, which is a barrier to the attainment of what might provide them satisfaction in life. The envy also moves the resolution of their frustrations from inner work to an outward process. They see their happiness in other people’s accomplishments, material goods, or relationships. The place that fours need to focus their energy is internally. Why am I so frustrated with myself? My accomplishment? My relationships?
The Passion of the Nine Enneagram Types
Type 4’s also can use their suffering or personal drama as a distraction from their inner work. They can actually choose a path of suffering that is more tolerable than the emotional pain that is the real cause of their suffering. Type fours frequently give a long history of not being loved or understood by parents, siblings, friends and their adult relationships. The only place they can achieve unconditional, consistent love/understanding is from themselves. Again, looking outside themselves for these emotional needs is futile and simply a distraction. In addition to focusing on their suffering, fours can create drama in their lives as a distraction. If we are fighting over some perceived offense–or perhaps even a real one–then the type four can escape temporarily from focusing on their inner pain. What do I need? Love? Understanding? Is that too painful to contemplate?
“I dream of getting the love I won’t ever have.” This quote from Beatrice Chestnut’s book The Complete Enneagram aptly summarizes the dilemma of type 4. Dreams and fantasies are a substitute for real life experiences. Since fours doubt they have the “right stuff” to attract love, they live in their fantasies rather than choosing to believe that they are loveable as they are. Choosing love and actively pursuing the relationships that allow this to happen is too painful a choice if you believe you are fatally flawed and will simply be disappointed again.
Idealization also results in what is called “Push-Pull” relationships. If you are at a distance and unavailable then the type 4 can see your perfections, but if you are present and available then they see your flaws and mundaneness. One of my first encounters with a type 4 was a lady whose husband traveled during the week and only came home on the weekends. She said that all week long she missed him and longed for his company. When he returned on Friday, she then longed for his departure on Sunday night. That story occurred 20 years ago and it still resonates with me today. I miss you/ you are here/ now please leave. That could be difficult in a relationship.
Type fours are no different than the other eight types. Each uses their personality type to interact with the extroverted world but also to defend themselves. Each enneagram type just has its own style to view the world and its own style of defense.
All nine enneagram types have a payoff for their behavior. So what is the payoff for type four? They are very comfortable with emotional issues and are very capable of being present in the presence of intense emotions—even anger or overwhelming sadness. Type fours make great therapists.
Fours also see the beauty and art in emotional pain or suffering. Frida Kahlo, the Mexican artist, clearly paints her own emotional pain in her art. For examples, see “A Few Small Nips” and “My Birth”. I think that type fours hold these emotional pains for all of us and artists are expressing our pain when they paint. Fours see the aesthetic in many situations such as food or fabrics or sculpture or interior design and they share those aesthetics with the rest of us. Fours also use the tragic and romantic to express their deep feelings in poetry or theater or books or film. The list is endless.
“The Column” by Frida Kahlo
So the payoff for Type 4 is passion and creativity. They live their lives with emotional intensity and are able to hold emotional intensity when others find it difficult. They also crave emotional authenticity and recognize when it is not present. I think that these rewards sometimes are so substantial that it is hard for type fours to consider a more mundane existence. It feels like it is too big a compromise. As one t-shirt said: “Anything but Normal”.
I love my type four friends and wish for them that they retain their emotional intensity and creativity while embracing the benefits of the Normal or Mundane.
What a great life that would be.