By Drew Larson

Reflections from an Enneagram Four: Learning Not to Let Emotions Rule

Confession time.

When I was seven or eight years old, my mom opened the door to our basement stairs and found me sitting on the top step. It’s unclear how long I’d been there, but it had been awhile. I was hunched over an old tape recorder, listening to Jim Croce’s “I’ll Have to Say ‘I Love You’ in a Song.”

Alone. On repeat. In the dark.

I’m pretty sure when I was seven I didn’t know any actual girls. Even if I did it was maybe a bit early in life to musically drop the L word. But I remember liking how that song made me feel—heavy, deep, full on the inside. I was in another world, one inside me that felt bigger and more colorful than real life, where someone had hooked an electric wire to my soul and hit the juice. 

My parents didn’t know about the Enneagram back in 1989. If they had, it would have been pretty clear to them what was up: I was a Four.

The Sad-Happy Deep Life of an Enneagram Four

Enneagram Fours are often called “the Individualist” type, or “the Romantic.” They see themselves as special, owners of vivid and expressive emotional lives, and are often unusually attracted to (and skilled in) the arts. Fours feel like they were born missing something inside them that makes them fundamentally different from other people. As a result, Fours cultivate a self-image rooted in being different, hoping that people will notice their individuality and affirm them. The quintessential movie Four is John Cusack’s character in Say Anything.    

When healthy, Fours are creative, honest, empathetic, passionate, and authentic. When unhealthy, they can be overly sensitive, self-pitying, emotionally self-destructive, and prone to envy. Regardless of health, almost all Fours nurse moody streaks and are unusually attracted to the bittersweetness of life. Their flagship quote could be this bit of dialogue from Doctor Who: “What’s good about sad?” “It’s happy, for deep people.”

Feeling Like an Outsider

Two experiences seem to be common to all Fours: (1) the sense of being a misunderstood outsider, of not really belonging anywhere, and (2) deep shame at their perceived insignificance.

The first experience, in particular, is in many ways the root of the Fours’ primary sin, which is envy. I’ve often battled the sense of being “out of place” wherever I’ve been. For most of my childhood and early adult years, I felt like my nose was pressed against the glass of life, watching confident, secure, at-ease peers who really had this life thing nailed in a way I didn’t. Surely they didn’t feel the way I did, I thought, and I wondered what they had inside that I was missing.

Example: I remember coming home from fifth grade and telling my parents that “everyone in my class hates me.” This, despite these objective facts: one of my best neighborhood buddies was also in my class, I was doing alarmingly steady business in birthday party attendance, and when I won the school geography bee a classmate hand-drew me a little first-place medallion. Like a lot of Fours, my perceptions about if I belong or fit in somewhere are often wildly, almost comically, distorted. 

This comparison game always, inevitably, leads to envy. C. S. Lewis has a famous essay where he talks about the dangers of “the inner ring”—exclusive social circles to which one hungers to belong. Fours are adept at seeing inner rings—both real and imaginary—everywhere in life, and you can guess which side of the line they think they’re on.

Finding Joy and Freedom as a Four

Reading this, you might get a picture of us Fours as constantly tortured artists, forever paddling our rowboats out in the rain to journal and listen to Dashboard Confessional. Luckily, that’s not the whole story. Far from being a constant sad-sack, I’m usually a pretty happy guy. But like most Fours, I’ve also had to learn that my emotions aren’t the seat of reality. Creativity doesn’t have to come from a storm of emotion to be genuine. In fact, my feelings are sometimes the least authentic, most temporary part of who I am.

I also don’t have to luxuriate in angst just because the emotional weight makes me feel significant, like that old Jim Croce song did once upon a time. God has, in fact, already told me I’m significant and important to him all throughout Scripture. That’s an objective fact, not a subjective reality. As my identity in Christ has strengthened over the years, God has graciously short-circuited those emotional doom loops that shout otherwise. When we are set free by the gospel and growing in the Spirit, life as a Four is rich with real joy. God has turned envy of what’s missing into celebration of what God has given- the artistry of his creation, for example, or God’s craftsmanship in shaping each individual life (even my own!). This ability to celebrate instead of resent frees me to do what I was created to do: “glorify God, and enjoy him forever” (Westminster Catechism). 

Because of this, I’m at home in my interior in a way that other Enneagram types might find enviable, and maybe even a little exciting—like a harbor where the wind always blows just perfectly for sailing. When I joke that, like the TARDIS (a second Doctor Who reference!), I’m bigger on the inside, there’s something deeply satisfying about knowing how true that really is.

The Beauty Fours Bring   

So what place do we Fours have in the body of Christ, where he has made Christians to fit together perfectly? In its fullness, the Christian life is a perfect balance between external and internal, between the outer life of obedience to Christ and the inner life of being transformed by Christ. Fours like me, inveterate chroniclers of our soul’s every twitch and spasm, have a high comfort level with the latter idea. By example we call our fellow believers into an experience of God’s kingdom that includes both their interior and exterior selves. A church or community with healthy Fours will never lack for reminders that personal transformation is a core part of God’s work among us. 

Likewise, groups with healthy Fours will never lack encouragers and listeners. Having ruthlessly catalogued our own soul’s sludginess, very little about another person’s inner experience can shock a healthy Four. They know that God’s grace washes every part of them, even (especially!) the shadowy and shameful parts. This emotional honesty opens up spaces of compassion where fellow Christians can unmask themselves and share burdens in safety. 

Perhaps the best part about being a Four is knowing that beauty is an essential part of the Christian story. Christianity—God, Jesus, the cross, the whole shebang—isn’t just historically true or propositionally true, although it is those things. It’s also beautiful. It’s aesthetically true. 

Our God is one whose steadfast love never quits, whose mercy for sinners never fails, whose justice over evil always triumphs, and whose future redemption will make all things new forever. The entire redemption narrative uplifts the downtrodden and marginalized. It gives us a savior God who was born in a stable and crucified like a criminal for people who hate him. The story, this God, is so much bigger, so much fuller, so much lovelier, than its alternatives. You don’t have to be an Enneagram Four to see that—but I must admit, it might help.


 

Image designed by twentyonehundred productions team member Jono Gay.

Drew Larson works as a writer on InterVarsity’s Communications Team in Madison, WI.

Comments

Love this article, Drew... I must be a 4!! I could really relate. Thanks for all your pondering and growing to be able to share this. Barb

Drew, this was extremely, extremely well-written! Thank you for opening up about your own personal experiences and helping me understand Enneagram better. Keep it up!!!

Wow. I hadn't heard of the Enneagram types, but a quick online test told me I am predominantly a Four (Type Nine: Peacemaker a close second). But when you mentioned that envy was our primary sin, that blew my mind because that has been a struggle since I can remember. And feeling like an outsider even if its irrational and I KNOW its irrational described me to the letter. Thank you for a thoughtful and helpful encouragement!

Love this! Our church is always focused on people leading through their strengths and weaknesses! Really enjoyed reading this.

Thank you so much for writing this. I don't know if I've ever related to a piece of writing more in my life, and I am so thankful for the words of encouragement that you included, the truth of our identities in Christ, no matter our feelings. I randomly stumbled across this article, but it has been such an encouragement to my soul! God bless!

Thank you so much Drew for sharing these thoughts , filled with so much honesty and encouragement! I have always felt like a very flawed outsider and have struggled to really believe I am lovable. I am learning too that God does love me and that I have a place in God's family. It was so encouraging to be reminded of the wonderful gifts we 4s have and the great things we have to offer . Thank you again and God bless you.

This is a great article! I'm pretty sure I'm an enneagram 4. My whole life, I've had issues with relationships and feeling like I don't belong. At the age of 22, I still don't know how to deal with it. I get so easily hurt by others, and I feel shame. I know Jesus has died for me, but I just can't let these things go. It's easier to go it alone. What should I do?

Hey, thanks. I'm not Christian, just a 4 always interested in self-revelation. You write the way I think, you know what I mean?

Majority of my life I never quite fit in, anywhere. In fact I'd compare my life to that of a gypsy. By the time I graduated I'd been to many schools and lost all of the friends I'd made. At 20 I got involved with a ministry on a college campus even though I wasn't a student there. The God they had talked about was loving. As a young girl I found God, but the God I knew was demanding, vengeful and kept me under his thumb. Now as a stay at home mom and a mother of two, I find myself wanting back my identity and the Enneagram has helped me to find that. I learned about this through a church. I don't think I've ever had a chance to get to know God like I'm getting to know him now. I learned who I was, that I am ashamed of my story. It's encouraging to see the possibility of the future. Thank you for sharing.

This is a very well written article! Thank you so much! It came along at a perfect time, by God's hand, in my life. I needed to read these words very badly.

Thankyou for taking the time to craft this article. I have taken many notes (in true four fashion of course!) and can deeply identify with all that you have said. It has unlocked for me something incredible- a life changer for sure.

Thank you so much for your words, Drew. It is so encouraging to read about how God can use Fours in his kingdom. I appreciate you pointing out that the shame we often feel is not tied to the truth of who we are in Him. Such a great insight!

You hit the nail on the head! Everything about this post spoke to me. Thank you for your beautifully written words, fellow 4. You've also reminded me that we are not our feelings and emotions. We are children of God and we DO have a place. I needed so much to hear this reminder. God bless you, Drew.

I’ve been doing a lot of diving into the Enneagram recently to do some healing and I’ve heard a LOT of good things about operating as a Four in many different places but, let me tell you I was furiously scribbling down so many quotes from this. Thank you for capturing the experience of a Four so clearly. As a struggling art student—and a Four—“Creativity doesn’t have to come from a storm of emotions to be genuine” will now be my mantra, like, I wish I had heard that years ago. I’m indebted to you for this post, this was super encouraging and very well written, as a four I feel seen and blessed by the wisdom you shared. God bless you, your Doctor Who references and all.

I read that infj’s are likely 4’s. Having never looked into it, a google search rendered your article. I have to lol as I’ve been trying to recover my emotions by auto-playing The Killers Live at Albert Hall... Reading your first paragraph hooked me in and the breadth of your article has convinced me, I’m a 4. Thank you for sharing your heart and faith! Bravo

Very well written. From one four to another....live, laugh, and LOVE Christ our God Almighty. But don't forget about that little 8-year old self who found solace in a lyric that inspired an exorbitant amount of emotional deepness in your growth.

Add new comment