Hello. Perhaps you’ve landed on this page because you’ve done an Online Enneagram Personality Test which has given you a Four as your main personality type, and now you’re scratching your head wondering what this means in terms of your self-development or therapy journey.
Are personality types no more than just a description of different traits – like a star sign? Or can a deeper understanding of our personality structure, or “self”, and the way it works at a psychological level, help us to play the game of life with a little bit more grace, and less suffering?
[Read more about Personality-Focused Psychotherapy]
One way to think about the Self is that it might work as a kind of Lens or “Operating System” through which our psyche (?) mind (?) “life force” (?) or “soul” (?) flows. Whenever we express a thought, or belief, or opinion about our lives and our struggles, it is usually the Self (an “I”) that is doing the talking for us:
I feel sad about…
I feel satisfied with life when…
I don’t understand why s/he said that…
I find this [thought/feeling/situation] painful to think about or deal with.
Of course we don’t normally think about these utterances as a “Self” talking through us, because it (we) are always just sort of here in the conscious experience of “I”, of Self, with its particular filter on the world always present. Like fish, we swim in the “waters” of Self, but are usually completely oblivious to what “water” actually is.
Therapy is perhaps an opportunity for us to look at, and work through the content of our experience, the different ways we might have filled the gaps above to describe what is going on in our lives, but also to pay a slightly different kind of attention to how our struggles are often being shaped or contained in a certain ways for us through this “Self”, or Ego, or “I”. Not in the negative sense of having a “big ego”, but simply in terms of this psychological “I”. Which is to say: our personality style, character, Ego, Self.
This is not our whole Being or Consciousness. We can also step back (as we often do, especially in therapy) and look at the Self from a more detached, less conflicted perspective. Maybe from the perspective of someone who cares for us, but also knows us really well. This perspective might also become one we develop in our relationship with that person (“me” or another therapist) who would like to accompany you and assist you with your journey into understanding, healing, and developing your Self.
Most of the time though, we experience our Selves either from either the perspective of an Inner Critic who tells us how we’re failing at Life (or how Life is failing us), or from the Driver’s Seat of our Core Self.
Whoever that Core Driving Self is (pick a number!) whoever is driving the bus –driving us to do the things we do, or make the choices we make– it clearly has a special way of operating. Others can often see, for better or worse, how we tend to operate, as we can also see their Selves at work in how they talk, think, and behave. In therapy, we can try to get to know this Core Self a bit better (as well as those of the people we’re in relationship with), and hopefully find out what we’re all about.
As you read about your Four “Self” below, a portrait that reveals both the light and shade of “you”, try not to judge your Self, or feel bad about how this Self comes across when laid out in this somewhat reductive, psychological way.
If reading through this portrait makes you feel a bit uncomfortable, ashamed, or exposed, that is a good sign, it really is.
This is certainly how I felt when I first read about my own personality style. “Am I really like that!?! Oh dear. Well, OK, for good or bad, that does seem to be how “I” roll… [sigh]”
This kind of response might perhaps indicate that we are gaining new insights, or at least a bit more humility about our Selves, especially when embarking on the kind of therapeutic search that you’re engaging with for your Self right now by reading and reflecting on this.
With insight, we can hopefully learn how to handle our Self/Selves a bit better in terms of how we deals with those generic but often unpleasant realities of life: physical and emotional pain, uncertainty, as well as the various forms of constant work, both inner and outer that we seek to fulfil. The Self is always the interface through which we learn how to do this, trying as best we can to put into practice the lessons we’ve learned.
If you find when reading about the Four “Self” described below, that it doesn’t feel like the kind of “I” you identify with, please have a quick look again at my Overview of The Nine Personality Types.
Your Core Self will make itself known to you there, as when you catch sight of yourself in the reflection of a shop-window or a mirror. Each of us holds aspects of every personality type within us (we all come from the same species,) but at a psychological level, our Core Self is usually present through our entire life journey, and shapes how we see the world, inwardly and out.
Human happiness and satisfaction seems to be strongly connected to getting the best out of our core Selves (i.e. our particular personality style, as well as following our unique threads), alongside learning how to manage with the not-so-great, and at times even “crappy” stuff that comes with each “I” or person-ality.
1. SNAPSHOT OF A FOUR: HOW MANY OF THESE TRAITS DO YOU IDENTIFY WITH?
If you identify with most or all of the following characteristics, you may have a Type Four personality style:
- I see the work I do, as well as all my relationships through the lens of my internal experience. My sense and meaning of life is strongly connected to my emotional world and inner experiences. This is especially the case when interacting and reacting to others. My Operating System is largely emotionally-driven. I am a “Heart” type.
- I want to be seen and understood for who I am. It’s crucial for me to be appreciated by others as who I understand myself to be on the inside, not as who others might perceive (or misperceive) me to be.
- I seek to connect with others in meaningful ways and don’t like superficiality. I have a hard time doing small talk because I seek depth and meaning.
- I can’t help comparing myself to others and dwelling on how I am lacking or how I am different, or “particular” in relation to other people. I may feel envious of people who appear to have something I don’t have. Or, I may work hard to get what I want so I don’t have to ward off envious feelings.
- I am sensitive to the experience of not being connected (to the world/other people) when I’d like to be. Sometimes, or even often, I may feel like I don’t fit in—like I am on the outside looking in.
- I find satisfaction in expressing myself in a way that communicates my somewhat different experience of the world. Self-expression is very important to me; I enjoy the richness of the challenge of translating my inner experience into art or other creative work projects.
- I place a high value on being authentic. While some people avoid expressing emotions, I believe that as long as the emotion is an authentic one, there’s nothing wrong with me having my feelings, and ideally being allowed to express them to others.
- I can sometimes be emotional, oversensitive, or moody, and strong emotions have at times caused problems for me in relationships. While I may feel self-conscious about expressing my emotions, feeling my feelings is one of the primary ways I connect to myself and understand my experience. But others may struggle to make space for the intensity of these feelings when relating to me.
- I enjoy connecting with people on the basis of shared authentic thoughts and emotions—so it’s really important for me to feel understood. I consider it necessary to express myself authentically and I hope others will too. I may have a hard time faking it, and if someone fails to understand me, I may then have a difficult time moving forwards in relating to them.
- I can sometimes feel inadequate or deficient because I can’t help comparing myself to others and noticing what I am lacking. I may at times feel “less than” when I believe other people have things I don’t have, or are somehow in a better position than me.
- It’s easy for me to see what’s missing in a given situation. My attention naturally goes to what is lacking, what is non-ideal. But when I point this out to people, they can sometimes perceive this as a criticism or as me being unnecessarily negative, even though that is not necessarily my intention.
- I have a talent for sensing what’s going on at the emotional level among people, whether it’s in my family, partner, or my work environment. I often play the role of truth teller, which can lead to people feeling supported by me when I name something important that may be happening under the surface, but can also lead to people discounting me when they don’t want to face what is really going on. I can usually see what’s going on (or at least I think so), and want to make this known. I can often struggle to keep my truths on the back-burner, or just for me to reflect on and process.
- My comfort with deep and sometimes difficult emotions means people seek me out when they need to talk about how they feel or when they are in pain. My ability to feel a range of emotions and my familiarity and comfort with painful thoughts and feelings means that I can be present when people are feeling their feelings and expressing them too. And yet, I can also feel quite often that people aren’t able or willing to do that for me in the same way that I can do this for them. And this breeds resentment. Resentment (i.e. returning to a painful feeling again and again, until we feel angry and upset about it) is a core emotion for us Fours.
2. WHY AM I LIKE THIS? THE PSYCHOLOGICAL DEVELOPMENT OF A FOUR
Have a read of this “Origin Story” or Trauma Story which resonates for a lot of Fours.
“Once upon a time, there was a person named Four. When she was young, she thought she had a total connection to the world—with nature and the people around her. She felt cherished by her parents, as all children should. But then something happened that changed everything. A baby was born, or perhaps some other childhood event. And at this point, it was as if Four’s perfect world ended. No longer was she the centre of her parents’ attention. No longer was she the most special child in the world. When she wanted someone to play with or a hug, everyone was busy taking care of the baby or their own problems. She felt unimportant, alone, and ordinary.
Four made sense of this terrible new situation by believing that she must have done something wrong to cause the loss of connection with her parents. After all, they didn’t seem to care about her the way they did before. It must have been her fault. They must have discovered there was something wrong with her. What other explanation could there be?
Four’s new way of thinking caused her some pain and distress, but gradually she got used to feeling bad, and feeling sad. And, she reasoned, if it was her fault that she had lost the connection she had once felt—maybe that meant she could do something to make things right. Maybe she could somehow make a connection with others and the world again by showing everyone how special she was— or by making them see how much she was suffering by acknowledging that she wasn’t as special as she had thought. In the meantime, her sadness became a familiar friend that kept her company when she was lonely.
Over time, Four tried different ways to rebuild the connection she had lost. She tried to get people to see her as special again. She showed them how extraordinary and unique she was by drawing beautiful pictures, saying authentic things, and expressing her emotional depth by singing sad songs. But no one seemed to notice her specialness. They just said she was being “too sensitive” or “too dramatic.” She tried telling people all the intricate details of her pain and loss, in hopes that they would do something to ease her suffering. She tried to show how strong she was by withstanding her suffering without complaining. She tried getting angry and competing with others to prove her superiority. But no one ever gave her the understanding and deep connection she longed for.
None of her efforts made Four feel understood or special, but eventually these ways of feeling, thinking, and acting became habits. She couldn’t stop longing for love, understanding, and deep connection. But at a certain level, she also couldn’t stop believing that she was totally unworthy of those things. Driven by the need to feel connected again, she continued to focus on and experience the emotions she felt about the love she had lost. She couldn’t stop seeing all her flaws. She couldn’t stop noticing all the good things that others had that were missing in her life— and yearning for someone or something to help her feel worthy.
Without realizing it, the strategies Four had adopted to cope with her feeling of loss came to rule her life. A lot of people thought it odd that she tried to get love and understanding by focusing on being unworthy of it. But every once in a while, her strategy did work to get her some attention, even if it was negative attention. And perhaps that just reinforced her habits.
Occasionally, someone would see that Four was special and try to give her the love she longed for. But she struggled at times to receive the love they offered. Frustratingly, she couldn’t stop creating situations that confirmed her belief in her own inadequacy, or caused conflict with others. She couldn’t stop pushing people away to make sure that they wouldn’t abandon her. Perhaps because deep inside her Self she knew they would. She would always be disappointed, disappointed, sad and alone. Trying to believe anything else only increased her pain. Maybe it was better to be sad all the time to protect herself from the hope of something good. This is how Four can become trapped in “the cage” of her psyche. How might she suffer less with a personality type like this?
Fours often report having experienced some sort of loss of connection early in life that shapes their style of coping in the world. Often, they have a memory of being loved by or enjoying meaningful contact with a parent or caregiver, and then something happened to change that important connection. A younger sibling came along, or a life event made the parent unavailable or less available, and the Four child felt this as a loss of love or a painful shift in a life-supporting relationship.
Motivated to try to regain what was lost, Fours strive to prove themselves worthy, or communicate their suffering, or assert their specialness. They develop an adaptive strategy of engaging with the feelings of loss and longing as a way of managing what happens in their connections, expressing themselves in unique ways to invite connection with the right people, and identifying with a deficient or superior sense of themselves as a way of protecting themselves from re-experiencing the early sense of abandonment.
This focus on feeling and emotion makes Fours’ coping style less suited to the conventions of the western workplace than other types, which is why a lot of Fours end up working for themselves. It may be difficult for Fours to get the understanding they crave from coworkers with other styles, and it can be hard for non-Fours to see how feeling “bad” feelings or identifying with darker emotions like pain and sadness can serve as a self-protective strategy. But people who persist in non-Four environments and lead or serve with a Type Four style do bring much-needed qualities and strengths to others—they naturally see what is lacking and needed to make things more whole, more beautiful, more functional, or more balanced. Plus, their ability to attune to others and empathize with their emotional experiences makes them uniquely suited to understanding key elements of work and working relationships, including what people need to relate to each other in productive ways and how authentic self-expression can lead to visionary and innovative creation.
3. CORE MOTIVATIONS OF A TYPE FOUR PARTICIPANT: WHAT “DRIVES” A FOUR?
The strategy of presenting themselves and the things they do in a way that allows them to express themselves, connect with others and be understood focuses Fours’ attention on what is going on inside them. Fours seek to connect to themselves (and others) through an ongoing experience of their inner emotional territory. They automatically see what is missing—including what they lack that makes them feel unworthy or inadequate—and automatically focus people’s attention on what is necessary that is being left out.
At work, but also in relationships, Fours tend to focus on human interaction and the creative aspects of their situation. They will usually have an opinion about how something works aesthetically and how to improve it, and will offer insights on how people are getting along and what’s happening (especially emotionally) at a deeper level among colleagues or with family, friends and their partners. Their perceptual bias prioritizes meaning, depth, and authenticity—so they may be preoccupied with addressing or fixing people or relationships that don’t feel sufficiently connected, effective, or meaningful.
People with a Type Four personality style are “self-referencing,” meaning their attention goes immediately to their own inner experience rather than what other people are feeling and doing and needing. They may be more aware of what’s going on in their internal landscape than what’s happening to you. It’s not that they aren’t interested in others—they pay a great deal of attention to their relationships and can be very attuned to others when they want to be. It’s more that their primary focus is on what they are experiencing.
4. FOURS AT WORK & IN RELATIONSHIPS
Generally, individuals with a Type Four style view what’s happening in terms of how it measures up against an Ideal. Like Type Ones, they make automatic mental comparisons about themselves and their circumstances, but while Ones focus on detecting and correcting errors in a matter-of-fact way, Fours tend to make value judgments based on how meaningful (or not) something feels. They are attracted to the extraordinary and disdain the mundane, which can give them a “the grass is always greener…” outlook. To Fours, what’s distant and unavailable is often more interesting and worthwhile than what’s present in the here-and-now.
Fours want the world to see and affirm their worth as unique individuals. However, their lived experience often shows them that people misunderstand them (and each other) or fail to validate their value. Fours sometimes feel like their sensitivity to the emotions most people would rather not feel, like pain and sadness, makes them misfits, especially in the working world, where emotions are not valued as a meaningful source of data. Fours understand that the information emotions bring has great value, especially when it comes to assessing what works and what doesn’t or what has meaning or doesn’t or who is connected to whom (or isn’t).
Type Fours can’t help being open and sensitive to the emotional level of things, even at work, which can sometimes lead them to feel devalued or undervalued. When naturally emotionally intuitive Fours get the message that their sense of things is not appreciated—perhaps because others want to ward off the threat of their own emotional awareness. This can confirm the Four’s inner sense of inadequacy. While many Fours develop an inner strength around standing up for their emotional truth, they may also feel sensitive to the judgments and assessments of the people around them, and may doubt their worth in work settings dominated by people who believe emotions have no place in business. Conversely, where this kind of meaning is part of the work, Fours may feel comfortable in the knowledge that they contribute in meaningful ways and their contribution is valued.
5. UNDERSTANDING WHY FOURS THINK, FEEL, AND BEHAVE THE WAY THEY DO?
Fours think in terms of comparisons and relationships; how others will evaluate what they are producing, how they stack up against others, and how to infuse the things they do with meaning. Deeply connected to their own inner life, Fours fantasize a lot about what could or might happen and ideal scenarios they’d like to manifest, and may focus on the disparity between what they imagine and what is actually happening. They think deeply about what goes on among people and how to communicate with others to express what they are thinking and who they are. Fours can be insightful and intellectually creative, and when they balance their emotional sensitivity with clear and objective thinking, they can be particularly effective in the things they do.
Fours are more comfortable with emotion than any of the Enneagram types—they live more in their emotions, have more emotional ups and downs, and believe in the value of emotions and emotional connections. They typically have access to a wide range of feelings, which they feel intensely, and can dwell in darker feelings like melancholy and longing, shame and inadequacy, fear (of abandonment) and anxiety, and anger and frustration. However, they may also avoid certain feelings, sometimes by focusing on other feelings that are more comfortable or familiar. For instance, Fours sometimes take refuge in feelings of sadness or melancholy (or false happiness) as a way of defending against the pain of shame or the fear of failure. Fours may also “hang out” in some emotions more than others, because they are more habitual, more aligned with their preferred self-image, or more useful as a protection against other emotions. Fours are especially attuned to the beauty that can be found in pain and the poetry and richness of deep emotional experience, and can readily feel the flipside of difficult feelings, as they deeply experience a full range of emotions, including excitement, joy, and happiness.
A Four’s behavior varies to a large degree according to which of the three kinds of Fours (described below) we are talking about. Some Fours tend to be hard-working and focused on being tough and accomplishing tasks to prove their worth. Other Fours can overidentify with their emotions and may have a difficult time moving out of feeling and into action—they may dwell on what they don’t have or a sense of inferiority that can be paralyzing. Still other Fours may actively compete to win or prove themselves superior as a way of asserting and communicating their value. Generally, some Fours can be more depressed and withdrawn, and others can be more active, or even hyperactive. When overly attached to feelings of inadequacy and low self-worth, they may have trouble taking action, but when they feel good about themselves, they can be motivated to achieve high levels of excellence.
6. WHAT YOU’RE REALLY GOOD AT AS A FOUR
- Artistic impulse/Aesthetic sensibility. Fours see and seek to highlight what’s beautiful or poetic in everyday reality. They naturally tune in to aesthetics and what can be done to make things more pleasing.
- Emotional intuition. Fours automatically sense how people are feeling, what tensions and conflicts may exist among them, and the status of their invisible emotional connections.
- Large capacity for depth of feeling. Fours make good counselors, sounding boards, and friends in that they aren’t afraid to empathize with you, even if it means joining you in a painful or upsetting emotional space.
- The courage to be authentic. Fours value being real, and tend to be truth tellers who would rather displease someone than communicate in a way that feels false.
- Sensitivity to the status of human connections. Fours have an ability to see and understand how well (or not) people are connected to each other, the obstacles and challenges in the way of relationships, and how open or not people are to relating authentically.
However, as for all of us, our greatest strengths can also trip us up at times. If Type Fours overuse their biggest strengths (and don’t consciously develop a wider range of skills), they can also turn out to be their Achilles’ heel. Let’s see how this can happen.
- Artistic impulse/Aesthetic sensibility. Fours can get hung up on getting the aesthetics just right, which can slow down the process of completing something. They may become frustrated when the reality of what they create doesn’t live up to the ideal they imagine.
- Emotional intuition. Fours can overwhelm people who aren’t as comfortable navigating emotional territory when they insist on surfacing feelings others aren’t ready to face.
- Large capacity for depth of feeling. Fours may express too much emotion for others to process, may hold up work processes when they insist on their feelings being validated and understood, and may judge others who can’t access their emotions in the same way they can.
- The courage to be authentic. Fours can push others to be honest in ways they may not be ready for, and may express more authentic emotion than a situation requires. They may judge those who are unable to adhere to their high standards of emotional truth as inauthentic.
- Sensitivity to the status of human connections. When Fours focus too much on how people are relating, they can get stuck in wanting to fix relationship issues and neglect work or relationship-regulating priorities. They may have trouble accepting the real limitations of some connections or individuals.
Fortunately, Fours’ sincere interest in people and forging meaningful connections means that they can often learn that in order to work well together, they may need to temper some of their requirements for mutual emotional understanding. When they can balance their own needs and feelings with a realistic understanding of what’s possible in their work and relationship settings, they are able to offer their gifts and talents in a way others can appreciate.
7. HEALTHY VS. UNHEALTHY FOURS
When stressed to the point of going to their “low side,” Type Fours can become moody and temperamental, and tend to make everything about them and what they are feeling, thinking, and needing. Some Fours get more self-punishing under stress, while others will (often unconsciously) punish other people. They may complain more openly or angrily about what’s not working for them and how they aren’t getting what they need; or they may sulk and stop cooperating as a way of signaling that something is wrong and they need more attention.
Some Fours on the low side may act more withdrawn and melancholy, becoming depressed or shut down, while others may speed up and work harder in an anxious way. They may appear more reactive and respond more emotionally to things, and they may have a difficult time moderating the emotions they express. Some may try to control themselves, knowing their emotional reactivity may alienate people, others will let go of any concern about impression management and just get mad, and still others will control their feelings initially, but then explode if they get angry or hurt enough. At their worst, they can be like Eeyore, the Type Four donkey from Winnie the Pooh—big downers who focus only on what’s negative or not working to the point where others see them as pessimistic or obstructionist.
On the “high side,” when Type Fours become more self-aware and conscious of their programming, they can be wise, creative, and compassionate. They draw on their deep capacity for empathy to create a bold vision of the work that needs to be accomplished in a way that can inspire their people. At their healthiest, Fours balance clear contact with their inner experience—a conscious sense of their needs and emotions—with a sense of generosity and gratitude in understanding and supporting others. They learn to engage their feelings, receive the information they bring, process them or communicate them with self-awareness, and let them go.
Healthy Fours demonstrate how emotional intelligence and sensitivity can be a great strength in the workplace and with friends and family. They use the wisdom they develop learning to navigate their own emotional terrain to guide and mentor others, and can bring people together, sensitively mediate conflicts, and name emotional issues that need to be faced so teams can become more cohesive. Unafraid of intense feeling or interpersonal stress, they support others in communicating more honestly as a way of welcoming more of people’s “real selves” at work, creating an atmosphere of authenticity and support where individuals can thrive and enjoy what they do.
8. THE THREE KINDS OF FOURS: HOW THE THREE INSTINCTUAL BIASES SHAPE THE THREE TYPE FOUR SUB-TYPE PERSONALITIES
According to the Enneagram model, we all have three main instinctual drives that help us survive, but in each of us, one tends to dominate our behavior. The Type Four style is expressed differently depending on whether a person has a bias toward self-preservation, social relationships within groups, or one-to-one bonding.
The Self-Preservation (or Self-Focused) Four
Self-Preservation Fours are the least outwardly emotional Fours. Having received the message that their emotions were too much for people (usually a parent early on), they try to keep a lid on darker feelings like sadness, disappointment, hurt, and anger, leading some people to think they can’t possibly be Fours at all. In reality, these Fours connect deeply to their emotions; they just keep their negative feelings to themselves so they don’t alienate the people they want to be connected to. Instead, they lead with friendliness and an upbeat, happy exterior presentation.
Self-preservation Fours tend to be more anxious than the other two Fours, although they are typically stoic and strong, and learn to endure pain without showing it. Outwardly, they are more “sunny” and helpful and work hard to prove their worth. Instead of dwelling in envy or dissatisfaction at not having enough or being good enough, Self-Preservation Fours strive to get what they want, and hope to earn others’ respect and affection through doing for others and not burdening people with their pain. They can be tenacious in working toward a goal, but also reckless, throwing themselves into an effort to achieve or help others by sacrificing themselves or disregarding their own safety. They seek to earn others’ admiration by showing how much they can do, sometimes silently taking on more than their share of the work and shouldering more of the burden.
As leaders or work colleagues (but sometimes also as friends and romantic partners), Self-Preservation Fours provide others with a heroic model of how to work hard in support of a cause or to improve conditions for others. They may resemble Threes in their dedication to their work, but they will also be attuned to what’s happening at the emotional level of the group. Self-Preservation Fours tend to be humanitarians, committed to alleviating the pain of others, and will typically throw themselves into whatever they do. As one Self-Preservation Four leader told me, “If someone tells me I can’t do something, I don’t stop until I do it.” This reflects the determination and tenacity that drives the overall Four-at-work style, which blends a deep concern with and compassion for emotional experience with a work style motivated by a desire to prove they can do whatever they decide to do. Self-Preservation Fours temper this intensity with a lightness and sense of fun that helps them transcend their pain and connect with others.
The Social (or Group-Focused) Four
In contrast to the Self-Preservation Four, the Social Four is more emotionally expressive and more melancholy. Social Fours wear their emotions on their sleeves, hoping to gain attention and support through communicating their difficult feelings. Social Fours are sensitive people who feel deeply connected to their emotions—and connect to themselves at a deep level through experiencing those emotions.
More than the other two Fours, Social Fours have a habit of comparing themselves to others and winding up on the bottom, viewing themselves as in some way inferior or inadequate. This can seem puzzling to people close to them because they are often (objectively) competent, attractive, successful people. Yet they can be so stubborn in their insistence that there is something wrong with them that you want to ask, “What’s wrong with you that you think there’s something wrong with you?”17 As explained above, this can be understood as Social Fours’ way of hiding out in a negative self-image as a way to protect themselves from the even worse feeling they might have if they go to all the trouble of taking action to get what they want—and ultimately fail.
As leaders, Social Fours have a talent for reminding people of the need to be more authentic and effective by tapping into deep feelings—even if that means facing some pain. They don’t shy away from taking a strong stand for the value of emotions and emotional intelligence in informing the work people do, and their own fearlessness in the face of pain and grief allows them to be courageous and bold when they take action to express themselves creatively. Although at times they may focus too much attention on what feels challenging, at their best they make it safe for others to face their vulnerabilities as a way to develop greater strength as individuals or within teams.
The One-to-One or Relationship-Focused Four (aka The Sexual Four)
One-to-One Fours are the most competitive of the three Type Four sub-types. They automatically compare themselves to others and want to come out on top, and can become so focused on getting what they need and proving their superiority that they leave impression management behind. And while they adopt this superior attitude as compensation for an underlying sense of inadequacy (that they may not be consciously aware of), others may perceive the One-to-One Four as arrogant or difficult. These Fours may project their pain outward, acting out envy through competing or by expressing anger that others aren’t meeting their needs. They tend to believe “the squeaky wheel gets the oil,” which can result in a vicious cycle, as the One-to-One Four gets demanding, people react negatively, and the Four becomes more assertive or insistent, which intensifies others’ reactions.
One-to-One Fours’ deeper motivation is a refusal to suffer the pain at feeling less than other people. They may focus on how the outside world doesn’t measure up or affirm their worth, and may try to minimize others’ accomplishments to elevate their own. More shameless than shameful, One-to-One Fours don’t have a problem expressing anger, which is why they sometimes get mistaken for Type Eights, who also aren’t afraid to confront someone if they need to. They may express an elitist attitude, and can have an all-or-nothing view of success—if they don’t win decisively, they will be left with nothing.
As leaders, One-to-One Fours can be bold visionaries who are willing to fight to be heard and do whatever it takes to achieve success. They tend to have an upbeat, active energy that fuels them to work hard to prove their worth and demonstrate their superior abilities. When they are less self-aware, they can be hard to work with—they will complain when they don’t like what others are doing, protest when they don’t get what they need, and, when they feel inferior, may express anger as a way to assert power and manipulate situations. However, when they are more conscious and aware, they can be interesting and attractive, deeply engaged in their work and their relationships, and passionately committed to doing what it takes to achieve success in whatever they do. They can be innovative and artistic visionaries (like Steve Jobs) who energetically work with others to do great things.
9. HOW FOURS MIGHT STRUGGLE IN WORK AND IN RELATIONSHIPS: STRESS-POINTS AND TRIGGERS
Type Fours sometime feel like being in relationship and/or working with others is hard because:
- I often don’t feel understood by the people I’m in relationship with.
- It can be hard to know how to collaborate, or be around people who don’t share my vision/way of seeing things.
- My coworkers/friends/family/partner don’t place the same value on emotional expression as I do.
- I feel dismissed when others won’t take the time to listen to me and make an effort to understand how I am feeling.
- I sometimes compare myself with others and can get stuck in the emotions that are stirred up by feeling less than (or more than) other people.
- My bosses or coworkers won’t deal with the underlying tensions within the team—and don’t want to hear it when I try to surface them to urge people to address them.
- It’s hard for me to work well or be in a relationship with someone if they haven’t taken the time to connect with me and understand who I am on a personal level.
- I can have a difficult time relating to people I perceive as fake or inauthentic.
- It’s hard for me to engage in small talk or superficial conversations, so I sometimes feel awkward and uncomfortable communicating with coworkers, or in other social interactions which I don’t know well or with people whom I perceive as shallow.
Type Four Personalities Can Become Triggered…
- When people can’t slow down long enough to get to know me, or put in the time and effort to do so.
- When people don’t value my contribution or appreciate the work I do.
- When people perceive me as negative or pessimistic when I am trying to help by bringing attention to what is missing or not working.
- When people don’t understand what I am saying or how I am feeling but keep insisting that they do.
- When others prioritize speed and efficiency over getting the aesthetics/framework right.
- When my bosses make me spend a lot of time working on mundane tasks that don’t have meaning to me.
- When I don’t get rewarded or compensated in a way that feels commensurate with my talent or abilities.
- When people tell me to “just get over it” or “look on the bright side” when I am having difficult feelings about what’s going on.
- When I’m not heard, or people don’t value my feelings or intuition.
- When other people don’t care about the aesthetics of the physical environment, or create a negative atmosphere around me.
What people often love and maybe even admire about Fours in work and in relationships:
- We bring a lot of passion and dedication to the work and the people we find meaningful or important in our lives.
- We are great people to talk with if you are having difficult or painful emotions (which can be hard to find at work).
- We make you feel deeply supported when you are going through something that’s hard to know how to handle.
- We love the creative process, offer a lot of innovative ideas, and help you to access your creativity.
- We are really good at tasks that require an artistic eye or design talent or an aesthetic sensibility.
- We have a lot of depth and intensity and so can be fun to talk to, especially about more substantive and meaningful topics.
- We make an effort to understand you and connect with you.
- We can be great collaborators when you are aligned with them around a common creative vision.
- We care about what’s happening among people and have the courage to speak up when something needs to be addressed to enhance team cohesiveness.
- We aren’t afraid of tough conversations or giving honest feedback.
Challenges for People Who Work with (or are in some kind of relationship, especially a romantic one) with Fours
- When something isn’t perceived/felt to be working, we will likely confront people about it and express our displeasure openly.
- We can seem moody in a way that’s hard to know how to deal with, and may slow down work processes or put pressure on the integrity of the relationship when we are upset by something.
- We can get upset when we don’t feel understood or supported. (And it can be hard to know how to make us feel understood and supported.)
- We may resent you if you have had some success that we haven’t achieved.
- We may dismiss people because we judge them as too superficial or as emotional lightweights.
- We may harbour grudges, or at least feel quite resentful for a time, if we feel wronged by someone.
- We may appear self-centred and self-absorbed.
- We may insist on surfacing issues people don’t want to deal with.
- We may get upset or angry if we think our contribution isn’t valued enough.
10. SELF-MANAGEMENT CHALLENGES THAT FOURS MIGHT WANT TO WORK ON IN THERAPY
- Welcome but also moderate emotions. Accept your emotional nature as a strength, but also learn what you need to do for yourself to have your feelings, process them, channel them with awareness, rein them in when necessary, express them in conscious ways, and rise above them or let them go when appropriate. For Fours, this last piece is particularly important.
- Build confidence in a positive sense of yourself. Learn to value yourself more from the inside so you don’t need so much validation, understanding, and affirmation from the outside to know you are valuable and good.
- Temper your emotional reactions to things. Although your emotional intuitiveness is a great strength, learn to give yourself the space you need to be with your emotional responses for a while before you express them in the work environment or a personal relationship. Consciously combining your feeling responses with intellectual insight and an awareness of the context and the other people involved (and their capacity for emotional understanding) will help you to be more effective when you express both your thoughts and your emotions.
All the types can learn to be less reactive and better at collaborating with others through first observing their habitual tendencies, then thinking about the things they think, feel, and do to gain more self-insight, and then making efforts to manage or moderate their automatic reactions to key triggers.
Fours grow through first observing and then learning to moderate their habitual reactions to key triggers like feeling misunderstood, being dismissed for being moody or difficult, or not feeling valued for who they are and what they contribute.
When Fours can watch what they do enough to “catch themselves in the act” of doing the things that get them in trouble, and then pause and reflect on what they are doing and why, they can gradually learn to moderate their programming and knee-jerk responses. Here are some ideas to help Fours be more self-aware, more emotionally intelligent, and more satisfied at work (and at home).
- The problem with noticing what’s missing. While it’s a strength to be able to discern what is needed and lacking, putting too much attention on this too often can lead to others perceiving you as overly negative or unsupportive.
- Going for depth, meaning, and intensity. People who lead with a Type Four style value what feels meaningful and can disdain what feels superficial or lightweight. If they overdo this tendency, they may judge others for not being as deep and intense as they are. While meaning is important, it may also be vital to allow for levity—and for the reality that different people have different capacities for engagement and there is a value in a diversity of approaches and tones.
- Notice the difference between thinking with your feelings and just thinking in a more objective way.
- Develop an ongoing awareness of your relationship to your emotions: do you suppress them? Overindulge them? Amp them up to create drama as a way of avoiding something or defending against the emptiness of the mundane? Get stuck holding onto them? Use them to impact or influence others?
- Be aware of any tendency you might have to hold on to feelings past their expiration date and have a hard time rising above your emotions or moving on.
- Notice how you compare yourself to others. What is your thought process like when you do this? How does this make you feel? What motivates it? What are the consequences?
- Observe your tendency to focus on what’s missing or what isn’t working. Notice what motivates that and how it impacts others.
- Notice if you have a hard time focusing on what’s positive in the work you are doing or the relationships you have. Be aware of ways you may devalue what’s happening that’s actually good or great through longing for something better—something you may be idealizing because it’s unavailable or distant.
- Observe any tendency you might have to compete with others as a way of proving your worth or combatting underlying feelings of unworthiness.
- Notice any desire you might have to need to have others see you as special or extraordinary to defend against a fear of being ordinary or inadequate. See if you can detect what’s underneath that—what motivates that?
- Observe your tendency to focus on the past or old hurts or disappointments.
11. LIFE-TRAPS THAT FOURS MIGHT WANT TO WORK ON IN THERAPY
Here are some of the existential blind spots that us Fours often don’t see in ourselves, but others see in us:
- Ignoring what’s working well or positive in the here-and-now current situation. People who lead or engage with us with a Type Four style often display what Carl Jung called “positive shadow.” That is, they focus more consciously on what isn’t working or feels bad so that their “shadow,” or the “dark side” elements they don’t want to acknowledge, relate to positive aspects of who they are or what they do.
- What’s great about you—your gifts, strengths and positive qualities. Fours tend to focus their attention on what they are lacking, so their strengths and positive capacities—what they do really well—may be blind spots. If they don’t see what’s good about what they do, they risk undermining their efforts or sabotaging themselves by not seeing the good in themselves.
- Your tendency to be overly “self-referencing”—making things about you and your feelings (when it may not be about you). Fours automatically tune in to their feelings and thoughts—their own inner experience—as a primary focus. Sometimes they may not realize that others see them as overly self-focused, that they make things all about them when they aren’t.
- The deeper feelings of pain, fear, and inadequacy beneath the emotions you’d rather focus on as a diversion. Fours have more comfort and fortitude when it comes to difficult emotions, like melancholy or pain, than other types. For this reason, they may not always see how they take refuge in a specific feeling (like sadness or pain) as a way of distracting themselves from a deeper, more painful feeling, like fear of failure or rejection.
- All the things you have to be grateful for—and the power of actively remembering to feel gratitude for specific things. Gratitude can be a relatively easy way for Fours to remind themselves to see what’s good in their lives. When they don’t own their positive qualities (see above), they may also forget to think about how rejuvenating and uplifting something like intentionally expressing gratitude can be.
12. WHERE TO START WHEN FOCUSING ON YOUR OWN PERSONAL “FOUR-STUFF”: STRENGTHS TO LEVERAGE & ENQUIRY QUESTIONS THAT I OFTEN ASK TYPE FOUR CLIENTS
It helps Fours to be aware of, actively pay attention to, fully own, and leverage:
- Their natural ability to understand the emotional level of interactions. Like Deanna, the “empath” (psychic) ship’s counselor on the television show Star Trek: The Next Generation, Fours’ ability to understand what’s going on among people at a deeper, more emotional level can provide useful insights that can help people understand what’s really going on in relationships and within teams. Instead of devaluing this attentiveness to emotions, draw on this wisdom to enhance team dynamics.
- Their dedication to creating a pleasing and comfortable working environment. People with a Four style place a high value on how things look and feel—they understand that the aesthetics of their physical environment can have a positive impact on people. Fours also naturally tune into people and feel motivated to make sure they have what they need to feel supported in doing their work. By focusing on the emotional tenor of things, they try to remove any emotional obstacles to people doing what they need to do to do their work.
- Valuing and championing the importance of forming connections. Fours understand that people who feel connected to each other are likely to work better together, and that people who share meaningful experiences will have an easier time producing meaningful work.
- Their fearlessness in the face of emotions many people don’t want to face. Fours tend to express a greater willingness to deal with whatever emotions might arise. A great strength of people with this style is a real willingness to meet difficult situations—and their attendant emotions—head on, and work through them.
- Their intensity, passion, and the courage of their convictions. Naturally passionate people, Fours bring a real depth to whatever they do. When heartfelt feelings and a desire for deep meaning can be channeled into the work being done, it bodes well for the quality of the results.
Some Enquiry Questions for Myself (Steve) and my Fellow Fours:
- Why is it sometimes difficult to let go of specific emotions and rise above your emotional reactions and move on?
- What do you get out of focusing on what’s missing? What are the consequences on dwelling on your feelings relative to what’s missing or lacking?
- Notice your tendency to compare yourself to others and feel “less than” or “more than” other people and try to understand what motivates that.
- How and why do you focus on feelings of melancholy or anger? What’s behind your focus on those feelings?
- What is happening when you focus a great deal of attention on needing to be understood and affirmed by others?
- What is happening when you amp up your feelings to create drama, or alternatively (if you are a Self-Preservation Four) if you get masochistic and focused on toughing things out alone or needing to prove yourself?
Fours can also grow through consciously becoming aware of the self-limiting habits and patterns associated with their personality style and learning to embody the higher aspects or more expansive capacities of the Type Four personality:
- Learn to become conscious of comparing yourself to (or competing with) others and aim at rising above the mind-set of measurement. Allow yourself to feel good about exactly who you are without regard to how you stack up against someone else and remember that everyone has talents and challenges.
- Learn to become conscious of when you are overidentified or over-involved with a particular emotional state and intentionally rise above it. Aim for equanimity as a higher state in which all feelings are equally important, but all feelings come and go. As the saying goes, if emotions are like clouds that pass by and pass away, identify with the sky, not the clouds.
- Learn to recognize when you are getting overfocused on what’s missing or what feels disappointing and consciously pay attention to what is going well and what feels good.
- Learn to be aware of any fear of loss or rejection or misunderstanding you might experience and try not to take things so personally. Learn to let things (or people) go when they don’t serve you.
- Learn to be aware of avoiding certain emotions through focusing on other emotions. Notice when dwelling on a specific pain or sadness or frustration may be a way for you to distract yourself from something deeper, and allow yourself to welcome whatever is true, knowing you will find a way to cope.
- Learn to be more conscious of any negative beliefs you hold onto as a way of avoiding any fears you have of what it will mean to embrace your goodness and your competence. Question old automatic thoughts about lack and substitute a belief in your own abundance.
Overall, Type Fours can fulfil their higher potentials by observing and working against their habit of overfocusing on their own interior sense of how they might be lacking or what their environment might be missing, and by learning to balance their need for deep connection and emotional expression with a sense of what is right or appropriate for the situation or the relationship/team/family set-up. When they can value themselves and their own contributions more consciously, they will need less understanding and affirmation from the outside. When they can have compassion for themselves and learn to value their real strengths, they can communicate more of who they really are and have a greater impact without needing to be validated by others or evaluated according to other people’s achievements. And when they can combine their dedication to meaning and creativity with an acceptance of their own and others’ real capacities, without needing to see them as more or less, they can lead and engage with others by inspiring them through a kind of deep appreciation, respect, and openheartedness.
And what if you’re not a Four, but would like to get on better with a Four in your life. How to do that? Here are some tips:
- Understand us. Fours are sensitive to feeling misunderstood, so if you make a sincere effort to understand us, you will take a giant step toward getting along with us. (However, it bears repeating: us Fours will often be the judge of whether you understand us or not, not you, which can make understanding us a sometime tricky thing to do.)
- Let us express our emotions without reacting or “fixing” us. If you let us vent our emotions and make a sincere effort to hear us out, those emotions may subside and the underlying issue may resolve itself. If you don’t let us express ourselves, we probably won’t “shut up”, and the issue probably won’t be resolved either.
- Let us know you value us and our unique contribution to the team, or family, or the relationship. We Fours long to be seen and recognized for what we do, especially when we are doing something that expresses our singular gifts. Take the time to tell us you appreciate us, and if possible, be specific about why you appreciate us.
- When we have a problem, don’t tell us to “look on the bright side.” If your Four friend, partner, family member or co-worker takes issue with something or highlights what’s missing in their lives or a situation, either seriously address the nub of what we are pointing to, or let us know in clear, kind terms why you aren’t going to be able to help us with this problem.
- Be authentic. Affirm our desire for authenticity. Fours have a sixth sense when it comes to detecting inauthenticity and insincerity. Be real and honest in the same way that we are and it will strengthen our working and intimate relationship with you.
- Connect with us in a meaningful, and personal way. Show us you care about knowing who we are and forming a meaningful connection to us, by listening to us and taking the risk of sharing a bit of your own personal information and vulnerability.
- Help us to see beyond the emotional level of our upset without devaluing our emotions. You can support us Fours in your life by validating our expressions of emotion, but also telling us when you think we may be overdoing it (even if we blow up when you do so!). And remember: we will generally hear you more clearly (and not get as defensive) if you honour our feelings as “heart types” first.
FURTHER RESOURCES FOR FOURS & THOSE WHO LOVE THEM:
This is a great, easy-to-follow overview by Russ Hudson of the Four personality style, which also offers some practices which Fours (or all of us) might find helpful when struggling with “Four-Stuff” in our lives.