Enneagram 4 vs 9: Three Key Differentiators

While it would typically be unusual to mistake an Eight for a Five or a Seven for a Two, some Enneagram types can be harder to tell apart – at least, on the surface. Such can be the case with types Four and Nine. So, let’s take a look at how these two types are similar and how they differ. It seems that the main factor that would make Type 4 and Type 9 look alike is that they are both Withdrawn types (see my post that mentions the Hornevian groups). This means they respond to stress by withdrawing from the world and into an inner world of imagination. Type 5 is the other member of this group. These folks tend to be quieter than some other types, though they certainly can engage in conversations and enjoy human relationships. I have multiple Enneagram 4 and 9 friends who hang out with me! However, Fours and Nines do tend to be softer-spoken that some other types. From my experience, I find that Nines speak calmly and more slowly than other types because they don’t want to rock the boat. They don’t want something they say to disrupt the peace they long for. Fours often take a while to say what’s on their mind; you can see them listening and considering how they want to respond. I’d say this rumination is based on their depth – all the thoughts and feelings they’re sorting through – and the fact that they’re Shame types. They truly want to express themselves and contribute to meaningful conversations, but they don’t want their listeners to demean or discredit what’s so important to them. In her book The Art of Typing, Ginger Lapid-Bogda, PhD, notes that Nines may mistake themselves for Fours due to the Nine’s merging quality. They “lose themselves in the person” they feel an affinity for. So, if they’ve merged with a Four previously, Nines might so identify with Four qualities that they mistype themselves. As with everything in the Enneagram, it’s about motivation. That’s not something we on the outside can necessarily know. But we can look at motivation-based behavior clues to help us better understand ourselves and others.

Enneagram 9 vs. 4 Differentiators

Having said that, let’s explore three key differentiators for these types.

1. Center of Intelligence

Take a look at this Enneagram symbol, which has the Centers noted.

You’ll see that Type 4 resides within the Feeling/Heart Center, while Type 9 resides within the Instinctive/Gut Center. This means that Four and Nine are operating on different dominant instincts, and that’s a big deal! As members of the Feeling Center, Fours are focused on self-image. As The Wisdom of the Enneagram points out, they “have issues with identity and hostility.” With their fellow Heart types, Two and Three, Fours deal with the wound of not being valued for their selves in childhood. So, as Riso & Hudson explain, “Their energy and attention go inward to maintain a self-image based on feelings, fantasies and stories from the past.” Nines “have issues with aggression and repression.” Aggression may sound like hostility, which might lend to the confusion between 4 and 9, but it’s a kind of forcefulness that Instinctive types either embrace or try to repress. For Nines, this can show up as passive-aggressive behavior, as their energy is “directed against both inward and outward threats” to their equilibrium. Another seeming similarity between the two is a focus on the interior world of fantasy. But while Fours retreat into fantasy to create and shore up their self-image, Nines do so to deny disturbances of their peace. They “compensate for being out of touch with their instinctual energies” by retreating “into their minds and their emotional fantasies.” The distinction between these types comes from the personality’s motivation, but you can’t see that on the surface, which is why you might confuse the two. In fact, Riso & Hudson point out that Nines can sometimes mistype themselves as Fours due to all of the “feeling” that’s going on.

2. Underlying Emotion

As a member of the Feeling/Heart Center, Type 4’s underlying emotion is shame, while Type 9’s is anger (Instinctive/Gut Center). Fours are focused on their self-image, and shame can cause them to feel “less than.” Operating under shame about who they are, Fours feel that they are fundamentally flawed and unfixable in the core of their being. While Nines don’t have that particular struggle as part of their operating system, they – like any other type – may also feel that way at times or consistently. But Nines may be made to feel insignificant or discounted over time because they try so hard not to rock the boat that they rarely give their opinion on matters. Even something as simple as where to go to dinner could create tension, so they often respond, “Oh, anywhere’s fine.” So, people may stop asking them, which causes resentment and may result in an episode of explosive anger. But Fours are no strangers to anger just because shame is their dominant underlying emotion. They have the capacity to act out in anger, usually in response to threats to their self-image or key relationships.

3. Harmonic Group

Riso & Hudson discovered a way to group the types according to how they cope when they don’t get what they want. The Groups are Emotional Realness (4,6,8), Positive Outlook (2,7,9) and Competency (1,3,5). The Emotional Realness types have a strong emotional reaction to problems, and because they don’t feel they can trust others, they want others to mirror their reactions. “I’m upset; show me you’re upset, too!” They don’t just let a problem lie; they have to express their emotions in the moment. The Positive Outlook types, on the other hand, are wired to look on the bright side. They put a positive spin on things that disappoint them. Rather than expressing their unpleasant emotions when something goes wrong, they have trouble looking at their own “dark side.” Their motto is usually, “Problem? What problem? It’ll all work out.” This is probably the most distinct differentiator between 4 and 9. Think about how you or the person you’re trying to understand reacts to conflict or difficulty, and it should be clear whether you/they belong in the Positive Outlook or Emotional Realness Groups. The Art of Typing also has three great questions to ask that help clarify whether a person is a Four or a Nine.

Type Four and Type Nine: Similar but different

I’ve done my best to highlight the key similarities and differences between Type 4 and Type 9 as a way to help you tell them apart. But it can still be tricky, since each person is an individual and doesn’t necessarily fit every known aspect of their type. I recommend diving deeper into each type by reading the books mentioned above and by reading my blog posts on each type, here and here. Finally, if you’d like a handy visual guide to this personality model, my husband and I have created the Enneagram Quick Reference Chart. It’s available for free here.
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