4: The Need to be Special

“You’d find it easier to be bad than good if you had red hair… People who haven’t red hair don’t know what trouble is.”

Anne Shirley, Anne of Green Gables

Anne Shirley is one of literature’s most memorable characters. She can, according to her guardian Marilla, “make a mountain out of a molehill.” The previously unwanted and forever scarred by it girl often gets caught up in the “tragic romance” of life, is forever obsessed with her great misfortune in being born a freckled, red-headed girl, and is unwilling to forgive or forget insults such as the one Gilbert Blythe leveled at her by calling her carrots. She will wax poetic about a mouse drowning in the sauce (which she forgot to cover for the night) or fly off the handle and smash her slate over a boy’s head, in stark contrast to the suppressed emotions of her guardians.

To do anything else isn’t true to her character, isn’t authentic to her experience of deep, uncontrolled emotional spirals. It simply wouldn’t be Anne. One must be true to one’s emotional trials, one must be sincere about one’s misfortunes in life, one must wallow in the deep envy one has for other, prettier girls with raven-black hair, and one must, above all, keep all wounds open so they can bleed. If one does not do this, one does not know the exquisite pain of life. She is an Enneagram 4.

Read on to learn more about them.

The Need to be Special

4s are highly sensitive and spend a great deal of time over-emphasizing their differences from other people and their personal misfortunes. Longing shapes their life, often for the unattainable and what they cannot possess. Possession brings them little joy, because longing is more important than having. As soon as they possess what they desire, they feel disappointed. This can make them complicated partners. They may move heaven and earth to get someone, then feel their attraction fade. If the person leaves them, the appeal of them returns. Unless they are careful, they can engage others in an endless spiral of “I want you… no, I don’t want you… please come back…”

4s find it hard to live in the present, because it is defective, and long for what the future holds or what the past gave them; they over-romanticize the past, because it is “gone” and now unattainable. Life will never be as good in the present as it was before, they think. And if they attain what they desire for the future, they may find fault in it! They especially find the daily mundane aspects of dealing with a normal, imperfect partner intolerable, because dealing with the boring chores and responsibilities of being in a relationship are not as deeply moving or romantic as they thought it would be. Others’ quirks can become major irritants to them, especially on matters of taste (“how can he/she like such a plebeian thing?”). If intimacy requires them to sacrifice their elite standards, 4s may drive away partners with their refusal to compromise and then blame the relationship failure on the other person. Much of this is a defense mechanism against exposing themselves to true love. Actual intimacy, without artifice or drama, triggers their fear of being found defective and then abandoned.

Deep down, the fear of abandonment and rejection drives the 4 in all their motivations and decisions. Many of them experienced a ‘deep wound’ and the experience of being different from early childhood. They were the only girl in kindergarten with an ‘ugly’ birthmark on their face. Or the only boy with a heart defect who spent most of his time in the hospital, unlike the normal kids. Whatever it was, they feel the loss keenly of not having been normal, of being separate, an alien in a strange country where no one understands them. Rather than face their fear of being unlovable, they force others to deal with their outer persona of uniqueness as a challenge (either accept me for who I am, or leave). They craft a bold image to cover up their actual sore point and lack of confidence—some of them become the “weirdo” rather than drawing attention to their deeper insecurity.

As heart types, they base their decisions more on how they feel and their shifting moods than on the facts. They remember the tone and innuendos of conversations (especially if they perceived an unspoken insult) more than the words they shared. This constant shifting emotional mist makes them feel alive, so they increase their inner intensity by “overreacting” to everything to prolong the passion of the moment. They believe the highs and lows of their emotional life are on a deeper level than most other people experience. Because they react with so much more intensity, they feel like a deep, mysterious outsider, different and strange, but to give up these intense feelings to fit in would mean sacrificing the sense of being special that drama creates. They refuse to settle for a pedestrian life.

4s may become preoccupied with pain to support in their aesthetic self-image. They’d rather starve in a garret for their art than sell out for a lucrative income. They think genius requires suffering. Loss makes one tragic and special in that for a time, they feel more deeply than others. 4s can attach themselves to personal moodiness. They may swing constantly between frustration and hyperactivity.

They can become self-absorbed in their search for meaning while wondering why they cannot find happiness in the things that make other normal people happy. They assume they are defective, but are also proud of that being their special tragedy. Their elitism conceals their jealousy toward others for being so easily satisfied by life.

Being a 4 means living at the extremes of their emotional reactions. There is not much in-between, either love or contempt. They can comb back through previous conversations and interactions looking for the insult. Or spend more time in their own reveries about how someone made them feel than experiencing their true, more subtle feelings. This constant seeking of ‘extremes’ causes them to fall out of touch with themselves. Their constant unconscious exaggeration of their emotions effectively blocks their genuine emotional reactions. 4s fear unless it is a big reaction, their emotions may not matter. They may even feel themselves remembering and sorting through different oversized remembered imaginings when asked how they are, rather than lingering on their present reaction—as if they are searching for a more dramatic answer than the instinctive one.

The gift of the 4 is that their ability and willingness to endure pain makes them able to sit with others through grief, without offering to “help” or “fix” the situation (unlike a 2). They are simply there in support. Though it is impossible for them to overlook the flaws in the people they love, 4s secretly believe genuine love will redeem them. They are constantly comparing what their partner gives them to what they think others receive, and longing for the evasive joy others seem to have found in their relationships. In this way, 4s are unreasonable in their expectations. They over-romanticize everything and then feel disappointed by the more mundane reality. 4s want love above all, but unlike the 2, do not “move toward” others to get it. A 2 will pursue you out of the belief they have something to offer you; a 4 will wait for you to come to them, pursue them, recognize their specialness.

As an image type, the 4 fixates on presenting an idealized image to others, but one that is unique. The 4 rejects everything that is “not me” and then must bring out what is “me” through their aesthetics, tastes, interests, etc. 4s may be eccentric or dress strangely to draw attention to themselves. Compromising on matters of personal taste seems like a betrayal to their true self, so they cannot do it. They will not mind if others object to them, since they have no desire to be seen as agreeable. 4s are often self-absorbed. Immature 4s may be catty and elitist, convinced of their superiority, and bored by “ordinary people.” They fear revealing their true self to others (free of all inflated emotional reactions and crafted personal oddities) would prove themselves so intolerable as not to receive love. It takes time for them to truly learn how to love other people and not let their fickle enthusiasm for them come and go. Immature 4s will use others as emotional triggers without caring for them beyond their own needs.

The 4’s life is as carefully staged as the 3’s—they select their clothes, furniture, hobbies, décor, and habits with care to show you they are different, either more refined or someone who “doesn’t care” like others do. They can sense who has “more”—creativity, refinement, taste, talent, ideas, intelligence—and become envious of it. They fear meeting someone more special, unique, attractive, or creative than they are, because they struggle against constant deep feelings of insecurity. The thought of being like other people makes them fly into a panic. More than any other type, they will stubbornly refuse to change to suit anyone else or to be more accepted. They don’t want to fit in like everyone else. Being different has gotten them the attention they crave. Immature 4s don’t want this spoiled. Then one day, they realize how egocentric and unloving they are. Even then, they take a long time before they will give up their self-image. They can joke about being moody or a snob, but find genuine self-criticism hard to stomach.

All 4s dwell in their suffering and often use it to spur on their creative pursuits. Any type can be creative, but 4s feel like they must put their special, crafted “mark” on what they do; if they are not “feeling” it, they won’t do it. If it is not enough of “them,” it is not good enough. The 4 exposes their sorrows and emotions in what they create and ‘bleed onto the canvas.’ They can become so preoccupied with needing to do this, they may face creative paralysis. Death, loss, suffering, and anger are a theme in many of their stories. A “normal” happy ending impairs the greatness of a tragic, dramatic, violent end; a marriage defeats the purpose of a tragic, doomed love affair that ends with a broken heart and a body in the ground. They may even romanticize or daydream about their eventual funeral, and how beautiful and sad it might be.

Their appearance dissatisfies most 4s, who make it a source of shame and a public defect they cannot fix. They want to feel seen for “who they are,” but are so constantly thinking about who that is, they may not realize they are presenting an image of authenticity and not authenticity itself. The mere idea of this will sicken them, since they assume crafting themselves into something completely and utterly separate is what being “real” means (not like you is my identity). Unlike other types who want to be different (and are fighting the urge to get in sync with others), 4s aren’t aware of trying to be different; they just assume they are. Their differences come from a place of assumed defective separateness. 4s enjoy the frustration that produces. It’s hard for them to recognize or accept that they might have things in common with “normies,” and stop viewing them with disdain.

Part of their image is being broken, and they want you to know that you cannot fix them. They will shoot down all suggestions that might resolve their problems, because to fix it means they can no longer feel frustrated by it. 4s assume others cannot understand them, since others have not been through the hard things they have faced. If not careful, they will make everything about “me and my issues.” Unlike other types, they won’t attempt to “lighten up,” but find comfort and beauty in their active frustration.

The constant over-shaping of identity can mean an immature 4 will not allow themselves to find common ground, have a good time, be a good sport, or accept what others say. They can get so wrapped up in obsessing over how they are coming across, they forget to empathize with others (unlike the 2). The 4 assumes they are the only one who can see beyond the mundane into the tragically beautiful. They are not judgmental about right and wrong, but are super critical of the things they hate. Immature 4s experience grief as the vastness of their own suffering and refuse to accept help. Rather than mourn and move on, their loss becomes a deep chasm of enduring anguish. A wound that never heals. They cling to what they have lost.

4s need friends and partners who will bear with their ups and downs without getting sucked into their emotional turmoil. The unhealthy 4 will put their partner through criticism, moodiness, overreactions, rejection followed by longing, and over-dramatics. They need others to lead them toward the “normal” happiness most people experience.

Above all, they need to learn balance. Since they know all the trials of the human soul and have experienced all the emotions, if they learn to discipline their feelings and question whether they are overreacting or being unreasonable, they can create distance between a false overreaction and a genuine reaction that allows them to sensitively deal with “real life” rather than inflated fabrications. They must stop over-indulging their feelings, playing with their moods, and forcing them upon others. The art of a healthy 4 that has done this is like Shakespeare’s creations, deep, profound, full of intense and rich meaning, but also self-aware. They must learn to choose their battles, meet people where they are, remind themselves not to focus on others’ flaws, force themselves not to over-romanticize the past, and find happiness in the present. It’s important for them to question whether they are self-differentiating in ways that hurt other people, or if they are rejecting someone just because they seem too “normal.”

They need to learn to develop a sense of healthy expectations based in reality and set reachable goals rather than lofty extremes. They must learn to find their energy for life without it being hinged on constant dramatic extremes. They must learn to accept reality, even if it’s inadequate. 4s must face their self-importance and recognize it as the way they avoid feeling inadequate. They must learn not to focus on constant envious comparisons to other people and their situation, and recognize that their assumptions about others’ happiness are not always true. The dark, difficult and complicated feelings of others do not intimidate healthy 4s, since they have lived through it all. They can deal with feelings other types find difficult to face. Healthy 4s provide the world with beauty, depth, and refinement. When they learn how to balance out their extremes, they also discover the ability to make important creative contributions to its beauty.

Envy and Depressive Masochistic Character

The envy of the 4 involves a painful sense of personal deficit and a craving toward what they feel is lacking in their life. They see goodness as something outside themselves. Their envy comes from an excessive craving for love resulting from their chronic sense of inner scarcity and badness, but this only serves to simulate their frustration and pain. As a result, the 4 becomes over-identified with “suffering.” The 4 gravitates around an excessive concern with their self-image. Unlike the 3, who identifies with an idealized image, the 4 obsesses over that part of themselves that fails to fit an idealized image and is striving to attain the unattainable. The 4’s vanity comes from failing to reach their goal because of their inner sense of worthlessness.

Though 4 and 5 share a sense of irrelevance, depression, guilt, and self-lacking, the 5 adopts moral indifference, apathy, and emptiness. The 4 becomes a marshland of emotion, turmoil, and turbulence. Their most notable trait besides envious motivation is self-victimization and frustration. 4s are prone to masochistic and self-defeating personality traits, depression, and a constant emotional awareness and emphasis on sad emotions. They are pessimistic and skeptical.

At their worst, the 4 becomes an embittered, overly serious individual for whom ‘everything is somewhat rotten.’ They may manifest joy as a way of escaping sadness. The 4 compares themselves to others who live happily and reflects on their unhappiness; then regards those so easily sated by ‘easy pleasures’ as beneath them and makes their own suffering noble in comparison. They see suffering as a merit and reflect and ponder the bitterness of earthly life. They turn their melancholy into a preoccupation with appearances and seek to stand out through how they dress, how they decorate their home, and how they live. The 4 can be ill-humored, selfish, irritable, critical, even mean or ill-intentioned. Their pessimism in the face of all things and regarding their own fate has an obsessive quality to it. At their most unhealthy, they rejoice at new failures and desire nothing good for others.

The 4 can refuse life by not taking part in it, yet see in it a sort of unrequited love; if only they could have what they seek… what others possess so easily… they reflect, brood, and romanticize their suffering. One may call them “eternally discontent.” They often have a profoundly pessimistic outlook on life, accompanying attitudes of depression, withdrawal, passive-receptive behaviors, a feeling of insecurity, a need for assurances, and ambition that combines an intense desire to climb with a feeling of un-attainability. The 4 can have a grudging feeling of injustice, sensitivity to competition, and a dislike of sharing. They translate suffering into verbal or written complaining. The 4 inflicts emotional pain on and debases themselves.

The 4 has learned they can get things more easily by telling people about their troubles, thus drawing attention to oneself. This can develop into a stubborn refusal to move on from victimhood and a rejection of others’ attempts to ‘save’ them—if the 4 is saved, there is no more suffering. If saved, they find some additional torment to focus upon. 4s are known by their variability of mood, self-condemnation, rage, impulsivity, excessive dependency, and tempestuous transference.

The 4 feels terrified of loss, isolation, or abandonment because they believe they lack the wherewithal, the know-how, and the equipment for taking mature, self-determined, and independent action. They dread and expect potential loss, seeing it as ‘already happening’ when it is not. It is also difficult for them to believe those on whom they depend think well of them. They are fearful others will depreciate them or cast them off. They are on edge, prone to the anxiety of separation, and ripe for anticipating the inevitable desertion. They will meet events that stir up these fears with idealization, self-abnegation, and attention-gaining acts of self-destruction, self-assertion, or impulsive anger.

Their virtuous martyrdom is a ploy of submissive devotion that strengthens others’ attachment to them. Their pleading anguish, despair, and resignation release their tensions and externalize their inner torment. Rather than turn to anger, many 4s sulk or become lethargic. Some may use depression as an instrument to frustrate or retaliate against those who have failed them or ‘demanded too much.’ By exaggerating their plight or moping endlessly about it, they avoid responsibilities, place added burdens upon others, and instigate suffering and guilt in those who ‘take care of them.’

The 4 feels miserable more often and more intensely than others, and places a great deal of idealistic belief in ‘love’ as being the only possible way to salvation. Love seems to be the ticket to paradise and the end of all woes: no more loneliness, no more feeling lost, guilty, or unworthy; no more responsibility for self; no more struggle with a harsh world for which the 4 feels helplessly ill-equipped. Love seems to promise protection, support, affection, encouragement, sympathy, and understanding. It will give the 4 meaning to their life, a feeling of worth, it will be salvation and redemption. Thus, the 4 envies love.

The 4 has strong empathetic abilities (particularly regarding the distress of others), is vulnerable and prone to adopting the ideas or attitudes of others, imaginative and absorbed in their creative output; drawn to purity and unity, but looking over their shoulder toward the sullied and the sorrows. Because of their own identification with such things, the 4 is quick to sense others’ repressions, rejections, thwarted longings, and victimization. They find it hard to move on from past sorrows and find a melancholic note in artistic beauty. The 4’s deep desire for romantic love (with its enormous potential for pain, disappointment, and sorrow) may lead them to place themselves in relationships that will inevitably lead to grief.

Similar traits to depressive-masochistic personality: the 4 may place oneself in self-defeating situations with painful consequences even when better options are clearly available; reject reasonable offers of help from others; react to positive personal events with guilt or depression; act in such a way as to cause others to reject them, confirming their ‘knowing’ of being unwanted; avoid opportunities for pleasure; and do things for others out of an exaggerated sense of ‘self-sacrifice.’

Identifiable Traits:

Envy: a characteristic process of self-frustration; the 4 always craves what it cannot have, and what it sees as others having in abundance. This can be sexual, with the 4 choosing to be counter-cultural (identification with homosexuality, asexuality, etc), or social, with the idealization of the upper classes and a strong social climbing drive; it can manifest as pursuit of the extraordinary and the intense, along with dissatisfaction with the ordinary and non-dramatic. The 4 suffers from intense envy toward others and their own sense of shame and vileness in “being” envious.

Poor Self-Image: the 4 feels inadequate, is prone to shame, has a sense of ridicule, may feel unintelligent, ugly, repulsive, rotten, etc. This self-denigration creates the ‘hole’ out of which arises their envy.

Focus on Suffering: 4s use pain as spite and an unconscious hope of obtaining love through suffering. They are sensitive, intense, passionate, and romantic, but suffer from loneliness and may dwell on or harbor a tragic sense of their life or life in general. They possess a deep nostalgia and are often forlorn. They are usually pessimistic, sometimes bitter, and often cynical. Associated traits are lamenting, complaining, despondency, and self-pity. A persistent feeling of loss echoes their authentic experiences of loss and deprivation, sometimes manifesting as a fear of future loss and impending suffering from the separations and frustrations of life. 4s have a prolonged mourning response, not only to people but also pets. They give an imaginative amplification of the expressions of suffering and find satisfaction in crying. For them, crying is a bittersweet thing. The pain of loss feels real to them, even though they are ‘amplifying it.’

Moving Toward: more than any other type, the 4 is ‘love-addicted’ and their craving for love is supported by a need for recognition they cannot give themselves. In their dependency, they cling to relationships that are frustrating for them, and project a sense of ‘helplessness’ others may interpret as a maneuver to attract attention. The 4 may feel a need for financial protection, besides the desire to feel cared for, since they doubt their ability to meet their own needs.

Nurturance: 4s are thoughtful, understanding, apologetic, soft, gentle, cordial, self-sacrificing, humble, and submissive. This is not only a form of “giving to get,” but on an empathetic identification with the needs of others. 4s may draw exaggerated attention to their ‘caring for others’ to contribute to their sense of self-sacrifice.

Emotionality: the 4 is incredibly emotional, with a mix of intellectual interests and introversion. Their intense emotionality applies not only to their expression of romantic feelings and their dramatization of suffering, but also their expression of anger. Envious people feel hate intensely, and their screams are the most impressive.

Competitive Arrogance: the 4 compensates for their bad self-image with an attitude of superiority. Though they may seethe in their own self-hate and self-deprecation, the attitude they show the outside world is one of ‘specialness.’ If frustrated, they see themselves as a ‘misunderstood genius.’ The 4 can develop wittiness, interesting conversation, imaginativeness, deep analysis, or a depth of feeling to contact and elicit feelings of admiration from others.

Refinement: 4s prefer refinement and detest grossness. They often prefer stylish, delicate, elegant, tasteful, artistic, sensitive, arty, affected, mannered, and postured behaviors. The 4 is covering up their sense of inner lacking by being something ‘other than what they are’ or admire, often of a higher class. The lack of originality in such an imitation perpetuates their envy of originality.

Artistic Interests: the 4 may idealize pain through their art and alter it, to the extent that it becomes an element in the design of beauty.

Strong Superego: the 4 seeks refinement, which leads them to self-discipline. This, they share with the 1, but the 4 is more keenly aware of their high personal standards and most of them are aesthetic-based rather than ethical. The 4 can also be rule-oriented, to combat their shame, self-hate, and self-denigration.

Defense Mechanisms:

Introjection—the need of external approval and love to compensate for the inability to love oneself. It can mean the casting of self upon another or the casting of another onto oneself. The 4 internalizes external rejection and reacts to it through chronic suffering and a dependency upon external acknowledgment. It is truest for the 4 that “familiarity breeds contempt.” The illusion breaks under the ‘intimate knowing’ of another and finding them lacking. Thus, the idealization of a relationship can turn to disappointment and nitpicking of the other person’s faults. The 4 is as critical and harsh on others as on themselves, seeking to denigrate them, especially in their most intimate relationships (finding fault with the lover, and being dissatisfied with them when they are there; then mourning their absence after they leave and wishing to have them back again).

Turning Against the Self: aiming the anger of frustration not only at the source of this frustration but also at oneself. The 4 may repress their anger and shift their superiority into guilt-laced inferiority (feeling and being undeserving of what they really should have). In this way, the 4 can never be the ‘victor’ in a dispute, for they self-sabotage themselves into ensuring the problem persists. They feel guilty in demanding what they want, and turn to envy and intensified emotions rather than simply making their desires known.

What created them: a perceived ‘lacking’ in childhood, which the 4 made part of their identity (differing from other kids, not having the same experiences, being ‘damaged’ through physical attributes or a perceived lack of attractiveness to oneself). The 4 remembers what they have lost at an emotional level. Sometimes, the 4 experienced an intense period of disillusionment or felt ridiculed; they felt a sense of poverty or alienation because of racial differences with others and noticed a ‘not having’ that others possessed, which sparked their envy of their perceived happiness. Above all, the 4 grows up feeling different, or does not feel their family life is ‘normal.’ The 4 can fall into the trap of lamenting over the past to avoid self-growth, which is to become fully emotionally independent—to learn to care for, acknowledge, support, and love oneself, and truly believe in oneself as ‘good.’ The 4 needs to learn to stop self-distorting (through the continual pursuit of something different and ‘better’ and ‘nobler’ than what one has), and stop self-frustrating themselves in love through creating criticisms to invoke a sense of dissatisfaction within the relationship. The 4, more than any other type, needs to develop the self-support that comes from appreciative awareness and the sense of the dignity of self and life in all its forms.

Enneagram 4 Wings

4s present in two different ways based on the influence of their preferred wing. While it’s possible to have balanced wings, or no wing at all, most people can relate to the traits, fears and defense mechanisms of one wing in particular.

4w3: The Aristocrat

4w3s want to be both unique and the best at everything. They are competitive and more aware of how others are responding to their persona than 4w5s. They are aware of the need to dial back their emotional intensity in certain situations to gain social acceptance, but are also melodramatic and outgoing. They are highly productive, and want to turn their dreams into realities, but experience frequent mood swings. They want you to know how broken they are but still accept them and find them beautiful or desirable in their signature way. If they choose to moderate themselves to accommodate others, the 4w3 will feel inauthentic and ashamed of it. They can be picky, bitchy, and elitist in their taste. They show their hatred and disdain through special refinements.

Character Example: Compared to her stoic sister Elinor, Marianne Dashwood in Jane Austen’s Sense & Sensibility is an unbridled romantic, brimming over with passions she is eager to share with the right people. Though the tragedy of Colonel Brandon losing his first love to death and despair and continuing to love her memory appeals to her on a romantic level, she finds him too mundane (especially since other people want them to be together) at first, and pursues a more “intellectual” choice in the dashing Willoughby. He has “more passions,” can equal her in fervor, loves the same tragic romantic poets and wildflowers, which are “not as ostentatious” as the hot-house flowers Colonel Brandon brought her. When Willoughby breaks her heart, rather than move on from it, Marianne wallows in her misery, shedding many loud tears in her sister’s presence, and even falling in through a traipse in the rain to see his country house from the top of a hill so she can weep over her lost love. Happily for Marianne, through her sister’s trials and tribulations, she learns to be more circumspect, to question her moods more, and makes a fine and sensible match in Colonel Brandon, who patiently waited his turn to show her his own brand of deep romance—which is less flashy than Willoughby showed her, but far more everlasting.

4w5: The Bohemian

4w5s are introverted, unconventional, and sometimes anti-cultural, because of the independence brought in with the 5’s desire for detachment from needing outside resources. They have much less of a need to feel noticed than 4w3s and are quietly different, eccentric, and prone to dwelling in their deeper emotions. They don’t care about being likable and often dwell in dark, depressive moods. It’s frequent for them to develop a nihilistic state of mind and assume all life is meaningless and nothing matters. They are often blunt and find fascination in the grotesque, the surreal, the strange, or the “grit” of life. Their aesthetics are often anti-beautiful, disturbing, or provocative. It’s more important for them to be authentic to themselves than to appeal to you. They are more cerebral and less personal than the 4w3.

Character Example: Mary Shelley of the same-titled film explores the deep emotional mindset and personal trials of a 4w5. A girl who strives in all ways to live according to her authentic principles, Mary rejects her father’s moral standards and becomes the mistress of the man she loves, Percy Shelley the poet. Caught up in a whirlwind life of excesses in the company of such notorious individuals as Lord Byron, Mary constantly struggles against her feelings of brokenness and abandonment that stem from her mother’s death in her childhood, her father’s neglect and emotional preoccupation (and rejection of her for her choice to live with a married man), and the own tragic loss of her child as the result of her husband’s irresponsible behavior. She takes all of her hurt and pain and crafts it into an exquisitely personal novel, Frankenstein—in which she is the Creature, broken, misshapen, a victim of those who Created her (her father and Percy) and then neglected to founder about in the world in abject misery. The deep personal nature of her experience and the dark, morbid art she transformed it into, makes her a best-selling author whose literary fame outshines even that of her eventual husband.

Social Variants:

Social variants determine how we respond to the world and where our major priorities in life lie. Attentiveness to bonding, social responsibilities, and how we ‘appear’ to others is in the realm of social (soc). Survival, fulfilling all of one’s needs, and a focus on ensuring one always has enough resources for a comfortable life is self-preservation (sp). Sexual displays, competing for attention, being like a moth to a flame in your pursuit of another person, or competing for a mate falls under the realm of sexual (sx). Read through each to determine which resonates the most with you.

Self-Preservation 4: The Sensualist

These are the most practical and materialistic of the 4s, but also the most neurotic about their body and lifestyle and any overblown “issues” related to it. 4s magnify and obsess over problems in their life, and the self-preservation 4 often makes this about “there is always a problem with me, my life, or my appearance.” They over-focus on this and make it an area of obsessive self-concern (but not something they can “fix”). They are always sick, their appearance is less than desirable, others will not want them because of their problems at home, or with their personality, etc.

These 4s love the finer things in life and want to surround themselves with beautiful objects. They relate strongly to the sensuality of the material world and enjoy cultivating a “nest” (home) filled with items that have both aesthetic appeal and emotional resonance. The presentation and symbolism of gifts often move them, and they enjoy presenting such items to others, such as a rose for their beloved. They are the most introverted 4s; having comfortable aesthetic surrounding supports them during periods of social isolation. They are particular, even obsessive, about their physical surroundings, wanting soothing textures, mood lighting, and a comfortable temperature.

Eventually, their desire for emotional intensity interferes with basic life functioning. They often develop a throw-caution-to-the-winds attitude that comes from the excitement of being on a temporary emotional high. At the other extreme, they are self-indulgent to soothe emotional lows. They allow emotional whims to dictate their behavior, in either case. These 4s may attempt to maintain a rarified lifestyle at the expensive of their security and physical well-being (like buying expensive items when the rent is not paid). Like 7s, they can become frustrated divas, craving rich food and luxuries. They frequently fall into poor eating habits and health routines, staying up late watching movies, listening to music, drinking, and eating to excess, as if to ask, “What difference does it make?” Their self-indulgent habits become a compensation for an unlived life.

In the unhealthy range, these 4s are highly susceptible to alcoholism and drug abuse. They feel attracted to situations that undermine the stability of their lives, even to danger (like the proverbial moth to the flame), involving themselves in illicit love affairs or other destructive relationships. They can be extremely irresponsible, showing a total disregard of their livelihood, or even of the need to have one. Feeling emotionally overwhelmed, they may not bother to show up at their job or to pay their bills. Long-term self-destructive behavior through drug abuse and personal neglect is common.

This 4 can look like a 7, because of their self-indulgence. These 4s may display the high energy characteristics of 7s and have a need for fun and playfulness as an escape from their pain, but these 4s possess greater access to their emotions than the avoidant 7s.

Character Example: In the third and fourth seasons of The Crown, an example of a self-preservation 4 comes to the forefront in Prince Charles. A man of deep unhappiness in his current circumstances, unable to marry the woman he loves because she married another man and unwilling to fake any emotion he does not feel for Diana, Charles turns all of his attention instead to his dietary restrictions and his desire to make his castle beautiful. He spends much of his time planning the house and grounds, making it “an external embodiment” of his personality and his soul. He sees it as an outward reflection of his inner self. He wants its grounds wild and to seem untamed and unplanned in their careful structure, for he “hates straight lines” (a reflection of his loathing for his family). Charles at first plays to the desired role of a husband, but then becomes increasingly pursuing of his own happiness at the cost of his reputation. He continues to see his mistress in private, as a way to self-soothe himself. His family and mistress make wisecracks about his ultra-picky eating habits (Camilla says she took him to a restaurant, and “he loathed it… in part because they sent out his dish without egg sprinkled on it… don’t you know, he eats egg with everything now?”). His tastes and opinions shape all his reactions, from his disdain for a “common” dance his wife performs for him in public, to his pickiness about his rooms. Charles wants his life organized the way he likes it, for his food to taste the way he wants it to, and to make his home his castle.

The Social 4: The Outsider

This 4 appears emotionally sensitive (or oversensitive), feels thing deeply, and suffers more than most people. For this Four, there is a desire for others to witness and see them in their suffering. They hope that if others sufficiently recognize their suffering and understand it, they might get forgiven for their failures and deficiencies and loved unconditionally. In public, they repress “frowned upon” emotions like anger or hatred and may appear sweet, friendly, and soft… but in private, they may express the emotions they store up in social situations and become aggressive.

Average 4s see themselves as unlike others, as being unique (and not in a positive way; though they transform this into a “shield” of defense, by transforming their separation into a “desirable” one). They experience their uniqueness both as being a gift they bring to others, and a burden they must bear. They are socially active and engaged. They long to get involved with others and be part of the world, but often feel they do not know how. They constantly compare themselves with others and feel they come up short. They desire to be among the beautiful, glamorous, and elite, yet doubt they are really up to it or can compete on that level.

Feelings of shame in social settings eventually lead them to believe they do not know how to function like normal people. They envy others’ happiness, while rejecting them as crude or insensitive. They often adopt a glamorous, exotic image to cover up their social insecurities. They may become attracted to alternative lifestyles to compensate. Some of them may aggressively pursue success as a compensation for their nagging feelings of inadequacy (“they won’t make fun of me now!”). They react strongly to any statements about themselves, often sifting through past conversations for any hints of a slight. They may both defend their defects and feel disadvantaged by them (“of course I’m aloof around such coarseness and selfishness—but I wish someone loved me!”).

In the unhealthy range, fear of rejection can lead these 4s to withdraw almost completely from involvement with others. Shame and their expectation of humiliation become so pervasive that they do not want to risk being seen. Their insecurities render them unable to work in any consistent way. These 4s often become extremely dependent on family, friends, or a significant other. Isolation along with fantasies of achievement may cause unhealthy social 4s to waste their lives. These 4s can look like 6s in their focus on what’s missing or wrong in their lives. However, unlike 6s, they have a desire to feel special as opposed to the 6’s identification with the “every man,” and they spend less time in fear and more time feeling emotions related to sadness, pain and shame.

Character Example: In Titanic, Rose appears to have it all. She has a fiancé who can afford to take them on the most expensive, most glamorous ship in the world, who lavishes diamonds upon her, and wants to cater to all her whims… but she is miserable. The ship does not impress her, but the paintings she bought in Paris that Cal disdains are a symbol of her higher aesthetic taste (“The difference between Cal’s taste in art and mine is that I have some”). While mostly appropriate in public and even willing to suppress some of her unhappiness for appearance’s sake, she channels her unhappiness into subtle rebellions (“Rose chose lavender for her bridesmaid dresses… she knows I detest lavender…”) hoping someone, anyone will see her and care about her suffering and unhappiness. (“All around me were people… no one who cared…”) She tries to throw herself overboard—only for Jack to save her “in all the ways a woman can be saved.” At first, Rose isn’t sure she wants others to see her with Jack—it doesn’t look “proper” in other people’s eyes. He should remember his class and not ask impertinent questions. They should not be spitting in public. In all ways, she tries to be polite and appropriate according to social structures… until she grows tired of it. She cannot stand being fake one more minute. And that’s that. Years later, rather than living in the present, she is still pining and longing for the man who died in the sea. The one who saved her and gave her life meaning… and then left her forever.

The Sexual 4: Infatuation

Average sexual fours most exemplify the romanticism, intensity, and longing for a rescuer that characterizes the 4. They can be sweetly vulnerable and impression, but also aggressive and dynamic, especially in their self-expression. There is an assertive, seemly extroverted component to them, and they are unlikely to let their romantic fantasies remain fantasies for long (unlike the other two 4s). Often turbulent and stormy, their emotional lives revolve around the person they feel attracted to. Intense feelings of admiration, longing, and hatred for their object of desire can all coexist. Sensual and seductive, they can be jealous and possessive and want to be the only person who matters in the other person’s life.

They often have severe doubts about their own desirability, so they strive for accomplishments that will make them admirable to the other—being a great artist or star—while being resentful of those who achieve those things. Envy is one of their most clear, recognizable traits. Relationship problems arise because the 4 often become romantically involved with people who have qualities they admire o want in themselves, but they then end up resenting and envying their loved one for having those same qualities. Idealizing the other can quickly shift to rejecting them for their slightest flaw. They are often attracted to people who are unavailable. They may spend a great deal of time longing to have the desirable other to themselves and detesting anyone who has the other’s attention.

In the unhealthy range, intense envy of others can lead to a desire to sabotage them in order to get revenge. Unhealthy sexual 4s live by the adage “misery loves company” (“if I’m going to suffer, so are you!”). They may create competition and rivalries and feel completely justified in undoing their opponents or in hurting those who have disappointed them. They are prone to rapid shifts in their feelings toward others, even toward their protectors and loved ones. Their emotional chaos may lead them to rash acts of violence against themselves or the people they believe have frustrated their emotional needs.

Sexual 4s are most likely confused with 8s or sexual 2s. Like 8s, they have easier access to anger than most types, but they differ from 8s in the wider range of emotions they regularly feel. 8s rarely need to get angry, whereas a 4 frequently feels misunderstood or envious, so they may show anger more often. They can also look like sexual 2 (because both types can be aggressive and seductive in relationships) but the 2 is more oriented toward pleasing others.

Character Example: Kylo Ren/Ben Solo in the new Star Wars trilogy thinks he has suffered more than most people suffer. His dad was never around, her position as a General in the Rebellion preoccupied his mother, and his uncle tried to kill him. Misunderstood and confused, he creates his own persona—and forces himself into a shape that does not entirely fit him. By Yoda, he is going to make it work. He WILL be Kylo Ren. He WILL master his explosive emotions. He WILL do this on his own, be the person he has decided to be, even if everyone argues against it, and he will change for no one. And then… he sees Rey. A fusion happens between them, a fanatical obsession with the girl he thinks can save him, can rule by his side over those who do not understand their suffering, their abandonment, their specialness. She is like him. She has known pain. Fear. Trials. He would burn heaven and earth to convince her to be with him. They fight each other. Challenge each other. Feel pulled toward each other. He stives to become powerful to attract her. And a miraculous thing happens. Rey heals him. She saves him from death. Ben abandons his crafted image, his fake self, and becomes the Real One. A man no longer ashamed of his past, of his mistakes, no longer willing to wallow in them, but who will move forward and make the ultimate sacrifice, to give his life force to Rey so she might live. He can do nothing else. She is “his” in his mind. And he finally knows how to love her… by thinking of someone other than himself.

Spiritual Growth Suggestions

As 4s work on themselves and become more self-aware, they learn to avoid the trap of seeking but blocking love to prove their worth by seeing what is good in themselves and not just what’s missing, taking the risk to believe in their own lovability, and opening up to receive the love and longing they long for.

Notice when you are…

Holding onto a strong belief in your own deficiency so that you close yourself off from others in the expectation of abandonment. Observe your tendency to engage in intense self-criticism and self-loathing. What kinds of thoughts and beliefs do you have about yourself? What negative things do you tell yourself about yourself on a regular basis? Notice when you do it, what it looks like, and how and when it happens. Observe how you focus on your flaws and devalue or dismiss compliments or positive feedback. Recognize how you generate negative feelings about yourself based on your negative self-opinion, and if you see yourself as special or unique or superior as a way of defensively compensating for your inner inadequacy.

Distracting yourself in various ways from your own growth and expansion through your attachment to various emotions. Observe how you create suffering for yourself through negative thoughts about yourself and dwell in that suffering to distract yourself from taking action to address the causes of suffering. Notice if you use depression as a defense, by focusing on the hopelessness of things to avoid deeper kinds of pain or won’t do anything to generate a more hopeful outlook. What are you avoiding when you get attached to your sadness? Notice if you are making bigger your emotions or causing drama to avoid inner emptiness or avoid the realities of your life.

Focusing on what’s missing, so nothing ever measures up and nothing can be taken in. Observe how your focus goes to what’s missing in any situation. Notice if this helps you improve things or is an excuse to dismiss or devalue what’s happening to avoid constructively engaging with reality. Observe how you apply this to people, distancing yourself or thwarting potential connections by focusing on other’s flaws. Notice if you get stuck in ambivalence by only seeing what isn’t good enough. Do you focus on the past to avoid the present? Do you push and pull in relationships? Why? Do you fixate on what’s missing and “throw the baby out with the bathwater”?

Questions to ask yourself:

  • How and why did these patterns develop?
  • What emotions are these patterns designed to protect me from?
  • Why am I doing this?
  • How are these patterns operating in me?
  • What are my blind spots, because of these patterns?
  • What do they keep me from seeing?
  • What are the consequences of continuing to be this way?
  • How do my coping mechanisms trap me?

Self-Development:

To counter-act holding onto a strong belief in your own deficiency so that you close yourself off from others in the expectation of abandonment.

  • Challenge your unwavering belief in your inferiority. Only becoming aware of your vicious cycle of envy, need, shame, and inferiority will help you step out of those patterns that become self-reinforcing and self-frustrating. Realize and embrace the truth of your own goodness and lovability. Notice your self-negativity, challenge it, and recognize that it is false. Consciously compare your belief in your own deficiency with the evidence available, and challenge yourself to consider the positive evidence. Realize the falsity of the belief and expand your view of yourself to include your real value. Challenge your shame by focusing on all the ways you are good.
  • Actively work to reverse your self-debasing tendencies through efforts at self-love. Learn to accept yourself and not beat yourself up for your “deficiencies.” Learn to find the love and acceptance you crave within yourself, learn to appreciate who you really are, and let go of your constant need to focus on the ways you are unworthy or bad. If you do not love yourself, you will block yourself from love. This is what keeps your defensive cycle going. Notice and embrace all the positive things about yourself. Catch yourself being harsh to yourself and stop it.
  • Recognize envy, competition, and masochistic behavior as danger signs. Notice if you compare yourself negatively to others and strive to prove yourself, wallow in feelings of inadequacy, or get aggressively competitive. See these behaviors as the hallmark of excessive self-judgment and self-debasement and realize the cure for these feelings is self-love and self-acceptance. Notice when you’re engaging in these behaviors based on an assumption of your inadequacy—and actively work to appreciate and care for yourself. Consciously shift your attention and behaviors.

To counter-act distracting yourself in various ways from your own growth and expansion through your attachment to various emotions.

  • Observe and accept your emotions instead of over-identifying with them. Consciously identify and accept your emotions without becoming attached to, or over-identified with certain ones. Notice when you get stuck in certain emotions, especially regret, sadness, or hopelessness. Recognize how this might be avoiding moving through and mourning real losses and getting to the other side. Allow yourself to have feelings, move through them, listen to what they tell you, and then let them go. Recognize how getting lost in your feelings protects you from taking action or reaching out in productive ways to actually get what you need. Make the choice to let them go, when you’ve felt them sufficiently. Shifting your attention from feelings to thinking or taking action will help you avoid fixating on them in unproductive ways.
  •  Notice and work against your desire to create intensity and drama. Notice if you are making things bigger to avoid specific experiences (boredom or emptiness) and challenge yourself to value the “here and now” even if it feels uninteresting. Allow yourself to be with any emotions you are experiencing, rather than distracting yourself with “drama.” Consciously focus on what is good and pleasurable in the here and now, and by working your way through any painful feelings you have been avoiding.
  • Learn to see your suffering, hopelessness, and longing as a defense against living and opening up to possibilities. Notice if you are taking comfort in “familiar” feelings of hopelessness, disappointment, and longing. Is it an addiction for you? You must learn to see that these feelings hold you back from getting the love and appreciation you crave. Remind yourself it’s just as possible to focus on hope as hopelessness, or on what makes you happy instead of what makes you suffer. Shift your focus to all the love and possibilities for connection that will be open to you if you let go of your negativity and see the positive potential in your environment.

To counter-act focusing on what’s missing, so nothing ever measures up and nothing can be taken in.

  • Align your desires with what’s possible. Waiting for perfection or having unrealistic expectations are defense mechanisms against opening up to getting the love you want. Notice when you do the latter to defend against disappointment. Experiment with moderating your expectations and requests. Notice if you avoid accepting something good because you’re busy finding fault with it. Challenge yourself to see all the things that could be satisfying and “good enough.”
  • Apply your idealism to seeing the worth inherent in yourself and others. Instead of imagining what you want is only available through the attainment of some distant ideal, become more aware of the worth of yourself and those around you. Focus on their positive aspects. If you see what’s good and ideal in everything and everyone, even the everyday, you can identify and receive the gifts of even “mundane” experiences.
  • Actively shift your attention to see the positive. Make it a constant practice to see the positive in everything—in yourself, in others, in life. When you catch yourself focusing on a lack of justifying your frustration, make a list of all the good things that are happening and support yourself in embracing and moving toward those things. Have the courage to shift your attention to what’s possible instead of dwelling on what’s impossible.

Using your integration and disintegration numbers for self-growth:

Move to 2 by allowing for a balance between self-referencing and other-referencing, between meeting your own needs and those of others, and between being your authentic self and adapting to other people. Moving to 2 can bring you out of your self-absorption, intense feelings and isolation, find creative ways to express who you really are, and open yourself up to connecting with others. It makes you more sensitive to others’ needs, able to see what’s possible in a relationship, and manage your feelings and needs in light of others’ feelings and needs. Be more adaptable and supportive of others in a way that enlarges their value and worth. Reach out more to nurture others, instead of using their fault as a reason to complain about them. Consciously embodying an attitude of service can bring about your optimism, generosity, and cheerfulness. This will help you work against your self-deprecating tendencies.

Move to 1 by using self-evaluation, self-discipline, and structure to support yourself instead of punishing or devaluing yourself. Learn to enact practical ideals and a belief in your ability to control what happens through your hard work. Take action to manifest your ideas. Choosing to be more direct and perfectionistic in your work can give you a sense of control and accomplishment. In working hard to support or improve others or themselves, you can feel more powerful and confident.


Sources: Richard Rohr, The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective, Claudio Naranjo, Character and Neurosis, Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson, The Wisdom of the Enneagram, Beatrice Chestnut, The Complete Enneagram: 27 Paths to Greater Self-Knowledge. Sections quoted or paraphrased. Please purchase the original books for more information.