Enneagram Type 4 Relationships

Enneagram Four Relationships

Type Four, considered to be the rarest Enneagram type, understandably lends itself to questions surrounding intimate relationships. What are Enneagram Type 4 relationships like? How do you have a relationship with a rare, unusual person? Or when you ARE that person? What are the potential pitfalls, and what are the benefits? What do Fours want from a friend, partner or family member? Let’s dive in.

Enneagram Type Four – The Individualist

To set the stage, let’s review the basics for Type 4. Riso & Hudson of the Enneagram Institute call Four the Individualist. The Basic Fear of Type Four, as explained in The Wisdom of the Enneagram, is of having no identity or personal significance. This leads to the Basic Desire: to find themselves and their significance. The message their Inner Critic (aka the superego) tells the Four is “You are good or okay if you are true to yourself.”

Fours long to be authentic and express that authenticity, and then be seen and understood by others as their authentic self. This causes Fours to eschew trends and the conventional. Yet Riso & Hudson explain that the lost childhood message for Type Four is “You are seen for who you are.” This is the message Fours long to hear, and it’s what God has been saying to them all along. But the message gets lost as the Four encounters the world and its slights, rejections and snap judgements. It’s typically hard for people to stand still long enough to understand and embrace anomaly, which is what the Four represents.

As residents of the Heart Center of Intelligence, Fours share the dominant emotion of shame with Types Two and Three. At the same time, Fours have a tremendous capacity to both dive deep into difficult emotional territory and to experience and express what is beautiful. Fours always have some relationship with the arts – whether that means it’s their day job to be a dancer, painter, actor etc. or they are patrons who probably dabble in these endeavors outside of their day jobs.

Famous Type Fours

To help give you a taste of some of the behavior patterns of Fours and how they show up in the world, Personality Types offers this list: Tennessee Williams, Jeremy Irons, Rudolph Nureyev, J. D. Salinger, Bob Dylan, Martha Graham, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Ann Rice, Judy Garland, Michael Jackson and Virginia Woolf.

Each person here is or was extremely creative and original, yet each person is an individual and not a “stock character” from Hollywood’s Central Casting. Meaning, Fours are not all the same! That’s the case with all Enneagram Types; people of each type share certain core issues and motivations, but they are not cookie-cutter copies. It’s important for Type Fours to understand this, because they can be quite resistant to the Enneagram if they perceive it only as a way to put them in a box and make them like a bunch of other people.

Type 4 Instinctual Variants

This brings up the need to describe the three “flavors” Fours come in. These distinctions are significant, particularly with respect to relationships. This instinctual variant information comes from The Complete Enneagram, where they are called subtypes.

Self-Preservation Four: This instinctual drive, combined with the Passion of the Four – envy – is described as Tenacity in The Complete Enneagram. This is the countertype for Four, meaning it’s the least like the other two versions of Four you’ll see below. It might be harder to tell that the Tenacity individual is a Four. These Fours are more stoic, don’t communicate their suffering as much and, rather than dwelling on their envy, they strive to get their perceived needs met by working toward them. That’s how self-preservation expresses itself through the Four when it’s the dominant instinct. And that includes working toward relationship, though it will never feel adequate or satisfying.

Sexual Four: This variant is characterized as Competition, combining envy with the sexual instinct. These Fours don’t feel consciously envious so much; the competitive impulse sort of circumvents envy and transmutes it to competing against others. If the Four can “beat” another person at something, the Four can feel better about themselves. They are success-oriented and usually arrogant, and they want others to meet their needs. They like and need emotional intensity. Their refusal to experience their own suffering comes out as anger; they tend to punish others as a way to externalize their pain. When they want someone’s love, they can be quite direct about it and may make themselves especially attractive and superior to “get” them. Sexual Fours can also be more present and available in relationships. They aren’t afraid to go deep.

Social Four: Envy in the Four combined with the Social instinct is described as Shame. The central issue here is inferiority and the need for others to see the Social Four’s suffering. The idea here is that if people can see how much they suffer – and they do so more than most – they will be forgiven for their insufficiencies and unconditionally loved. They cast themselves as the victim to gain sympathy and support. Envy caused them to focus on their emotional dissatisfaction and to negatively compare themselves to others. They end up perpetuating their own negative self-image, underestimating themselves and feeling inferior. Social Fours get their feelings hurt easily and are often labeled as “hyper-sensitive.” They feel guilty about any desire they have, and they are too shy to let the object of their desire know about it. They don’t feel like they have the right to get their needs met.

The Enneagram 4 in Relationship

In The Complete Enneagram, Dr. Beatrice Chestnut notes that the Four’s cognitive mistake is the idea that “I dream of getting the love I won’t ever have.” Fours fixate on this idea, and it preoccupies their though processes. Type Fours believe there’s something fundamentally missing in them that makes them unworthy of love. They expect to be rejected and/or abandoned. They also think that because they are fundamentally flawed, anyone who would be in a relationship with them must also be flawed.

Chestnut quotes Claudio Naranjo, who brought the Enneagram of Personality to the United States in the 1970s, speaking about Type Four: “…love is sought as a compensation for a lack of self-love.” But because they feel unworthy of love, Fours look for happiness in pain and suffering. “And while they long for love and understanding, they habitually prevent themselves from receiving the love they seek.”

Chestnut speaks of the Four’s push-pull pattern in relationships. In The Path Between Us: An Enneagram Journey to Healthy Relationships, Suzanne Stabile calls this pattern “Go away but don’t leave.” Essentially, it means that Fours vacillate between idealized longing and disappointed dismissal. If the loved one is far away, it’s the former; if he or she is present day in and day out, it’s the latter. That’s why Fours often feel a profound ambivalence in relationships.  

Now, this all may sound dour and rather challenging – but it’s not the whole story! Like all other personality types, Fours are capable of relationships that are healthy and enjoyable for both parties. Read on!

Tips for Fours in Relationships

In her book The Path Between Us, Suzanne Stabile offers tips for overcoming Enneagram 4 relationship problems and enjoying stronger, healthier relationships. She begins by noting that Fours will need to progressively let go of the false notion that they are inherently flawed. This is one of the things that working with the Enneagram helps with a great deal. Fours also need to realize that the person they love most may not be able to give back to the same degree what they themselves are willing to invest in that relationship.

Stabile goes on to say that Fours can be present to and bear witness to pain without immediately jumping in to fix it, which really helps people feel heard and seen. Fours need to entertain the idea that they are actually likable, even lovable, and that there may be a couple of people who understand them. They need to remember that there’s no such thing as a perfect relationship.

Tips for Those in Relationship with Fours

Enneagram 4 relationships can be just as difficult and just as wonderful as with any other type. It’s a matter of respecting and knowing the person and his or her challenges – the “Don’t judge a person ‘til you’ve walked a mile in their moccasins” idea. Fours want a relationship involving trust and ongoing attention. Authenticity is critical to them, because they can’t trust you if they think you’re being insincere.

Fours are an Emotional Realness type; they experience and often express intense emotions. Don’t try to shut that down or make them wrong for feeling this way, because it’s not a choice; it’s how they’re wired. However, you do need to let your Four know when you’re feeling emotionally overwhelmed or not able to match their intensity. But again, do this without making it their fault.   

Recognize that Fours at the Average Level (see below) long for what they think they can’t ever have. Don’t try to fix this, because you can’t. If they want to do inner work and overcome longing, that’s theirs to fix. Melancholy is also a steady companion of the Four and not something you can “fix.” If they get caught in a bout of moodiness, try to stay present and model balance. It will help your Four trust you and feel seen. Stabile’s book has a bunch more good recommendations on this topic.

The High Side of the Enneagram Four

What we’ve been looking at throughout the post so far is the Average Level of Development for Type Four. Riso & Hudson charted the Levels to help show how different a personality type behaves based on how present and aware the person is. Most humans are at the Average level, and that’s why I emphasized that level in this post. But I don’t want anyone, Fours or non-Fours, to walk away thinking Fours are not someone they want to spend time with. I have two Four friends whom I cherish, so know that they have a lot to offer.

To drive that point home, let’s look at the “high side” or Healthy Level of Development described in The Wisdom of the Enneagram. At this level, Fours give up the idea that they are fundamentally flawed and are able to find their own significance and true self. They are self-renewing and revelatory. Healthy Fours can share the depths of their souls – and they are very deep. What a gift! They develop a stronger sense of self through their work and their connections to others. They are not plagued by moodiness nor addicted to melancholy but are present to themselves, the world and their love relationships.

Enneagram Type 4 Relationships

Relationships with Type Fours have their unique challenges and pleasures. Whether you’re a Four, have a Four loved one or just want to learn more about what Enneagram Fours are like, I hope this overview has helped. Please let me know your struggles, triumphs, observations and questions in the comments section!

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