Few Enneagram types are as dramatic and as complicated as type 4s. If you’re a type 4 or have one in your life, this guide is just what you need.
Also known as the “Flying Solo” type, the Enneagram type 4 thrives on feeling unique and takes weird joy in thinking that no one can love or understand them well enough. Type 4s see themselves as immensely gifted and uniquely talented, but also immensely flawed and disadvantaged.
4s often feel like there’s a piece of life missing; while they don’t know what this piece is, they’re constantly in pursuit of it. If they know what it is and see it in someone else, envy is the first reaction.
Despite their social awkwardness and self-consciousness, 4s dislike being alone. They’re hopeless romantics who dream of a knight or lady in shining armor who will sweep them up and be the answer to their loneliness and disconnection while appreciating them for who they are.
To deal with the commonly-faced-by-4s issue of low self-esteem and negative self-image, 4s may create a “fantasy self” that far exceeds their own capabilities and eventually become a source of shame.
For example, 26-year-old Annika dreamt of being a world-famous violinist and though her skills were good, she had a long way to go before achieving this. That didn’t stop her from sharing her fantasy self with her colleagues, who then badgered her to play for them. However, all this did was embarrass Annika as she knew she fell far short of the fantasy self she’d created for herself.
Another challenge that 4s face is letting go of past trauma.
In the case of Annika herself, it took nearly 5 years for her to get over a particularly embarrassing incident of violin-playing and pick up the instrument again, or even talk to the friend who’d badgered her into playing.
During this time, Annika was so obsessed with her disappointment that she wasn’t able to see the good things that existed in her life. She resented violinist friends who she deemed played better than her and put up a facade of smiles with “fake it till you make it” being the driving force, while even more intensely wanting her fantasy self to be real (without the work).
Much like the tale about the hungry dog and the kind old man. After much searching, a starving dog found a bone that it relished, but even after all the nourishment was gone from it, the dog couldn’t let the bone go because it had become so attached to it. So attached was the dog that it ignored the other food set out by a kind old man, eventually leading to its own death.
Just as it is in this story, 4s need to overcome the feeling that there is something wrong with them and fully let it go, for only then can they truly experience the buffet of life.
Here’s a solid roundup about the enneagram type 4 from Fr. Richard Rohr:
Also known as the “long-suffering” 4, this is the kind of subtype that will call 911 to report a robbery and claim that the victim is their heart! Self-preservation (SP) 4s are melodramatic, though much of it is internalized, and therefore, usually kept bottled up.
Despite their stoic facades, this subtype only wants connection and love. They use their pain as motivation to help others overcome their pain.
This subtype’s endurance is somewhat legendary, and so is its tendency to go looking for tough situations and then get embroiled in them. SP 4s see this as a way to challenge themselves.
But it’s not just “doom and gloom and things go boom” with this type—they can be surprisingly fun-loving and playful, even if such behavior is an escape from their melancholy.
This subtype thrives on competition—if there’s no one else to compete with, it’ll compete with itself! However, this constant need for competition is a distraction from the pain of envy that this subtype feels. Beating someone who seemingly has more or better gives this subtype an ego boost.
One-to-one 4s can be quite shamelessly vocal about expressing their needs and a rejection of these needs can set off an unending cycle of “demand, reject, protest, repeat”.
However, this intense subtype makes a great partner, as it is more available and present than its fellow 4s.
Oxymoronic as it may seem, this subtype exists!
Social 4s are motivated by their envy to further dwell on what they lack and what ails them emotionally. A social 4 would throw a party but be the piñata, replete with sad poetry and dramatically sad music (because why half-measures, right?).
This subtype feels emotions and thoughts deeply and thinks that its suffering will redeem it. Contrary to most of us who seek to hide our suffering, this subtype wants to be seen suffering as it believes that this suffering is what sets it apart from the rest of the crowd.
While not competitive, there’s a constant comparison between oneself and others for this subtype.
Another tendency is to take personal responsibility for everything they lack or even think they lack. 29-year-old John, for example, is a type 4 who grew up in a pretty dysfunctional family, where both parents were mostly unavailable, emotionally and physically, through his growing years.
Because of this, John grew up to be emotionally distant, distrustful and reserved. Where most of us would blame the absent parents for this, John would blame himself—much as you want to shake sense into John and tell him to open his eyes to the true problem!
The type 4 wing 3 personality tends to borrow many of its traits from the type 3 personality. This makes this wing more driven and energetic than its fellow 4s. Surprisingly, this type also won’t consider moving to another state if invited to a party—it’s more sociable than other 4s.
This type aims to stay true to itself and retain its identity while making a positive impact on the world. Professions like photography, entertainment, broadcast journalism, motivational speaking, and fitness would suit this wing well.
4w5 borrows many personality traits from the type 5 personality, and is, therefore, more introspective, reserved, and intellectual than other type 4s. This wing aims for a deep understanding of the world and wishes to make an impact on it; they can achieve this through professions such as graphic design, writing, and music.
However, this wing can be quite self-obsessed and often seem withdrawn.
Give a bunch of 4s job applications, have them fill it out in isolation, and even so, each self-introduction column will have some variant of the following line—“I am unique”!
4s are intense people who have a penchant for expressing themselves. When they’re happy, you won’t find a more lively soul than a 4, but the opposite is also true.
A healthy 4 has mastered the arts of self-acceptance and self-awareness and spreads their wings far and wide, creating pathbreaking work in the process.
An average enneagram type 4 can be self-absorbed but still manage to create work by bonding with and seeking inspiration and support from like-minded people (though they may also throw these people under the bus in the process). They live on flattery and praise.
An unhealthy 4 Enneagram, on the other hand, is fragile, extremely moody, depressed, and firmly believes that they’re inherently broken and need fixing. Their natural creative processes and energy are disrupted by their excessive rumination, which may also lead to them losing a grip on reality.
The type keeps searching for that one piece that’s supposed to complete them, but this can turn out to be an endless downward spiral riddled with roundabouts and dead stops, especially if they keep searching without introspecting, accepting their self-destructive patterns, and working on them.
At its lowest point, this type will completely isolate itself, going so far as to delete all social media accounts and online presence.
It’s quite easy to stress a 4 out. Just go up and interrupt a 4 with a “hi!”, especially if you’re a stranger or acquaintance—you’ve achieved 3 of the 5 things that stress a 4 out, and may even achieve a fourth if it devolves into an argument.
Enneagram type 4s tend to get stressed by things like a lack of personal creativity, socializing with large groups of unfamiliar people, small talk, possible arguments, and being interrupted.
In such situations, 4s will draw up all their reserves of unhealthy traits, such as becoming withdrawn, moody, and temperamental. If the situation deteriorates from there, you’ll see a 4 acting like an unhealthy to average type 2.
What does this mean?
Our stressed type 4 is going to listen to their superego and resort to self-sacrifice as a means of seeking validation of their worth. They’re going to pass this off as a completely selfless act that gives them nothing, but the truth is that they’re going to expect acknowledgment of their “selfless” deeds and their emotional needs.
Unlike a type 2 that actually receives gratification from putting others before oneself, stressed type 4s get resentful and angry and even worse, deny or repress this—and we all know what happens to bottled-up feelings (they burst, folks, in case it wasn’t clear).
This just ends up ruining their relationships and their idea of themselves.
4s love creative pursuits but they also thrive in work environments that let them be themselves and retain their autonomy.
You’ll see a 4 positively buzzing when they receive attention from their peers, have their vision understood by superiors, are surrounded by genuine and open-minded colleagues, and have a boss and colleagues who take the time and effort to get to know them.
But what truly gets a 4 positively glowing like the sun is when you ask them how they’re feeling. Enneagram type 4s love creative expression, and even if half of what they feel doesn’t qualify as rays of sunshine, they feel these deeply. This creative expression is how they build relationships with coworkers.
Given this, a 4 will struggle in a work environment where they are constantly criticized by their superiors and peers, aren’t taken seriously, have their creativity tamped down, and are surrounded by distant colleagues.
These emotionally expressive and creative beings need an environment that’s filled with insightful and genuine people like themselves.
Considering this, 4s would excel in the following professions:
- Personal training
- Dance instructing
- Hair styling
You probably won’t meet a more die-hard romantic than a 4. This type is fully capable of falling in love in under a minute and declaring undying adoration and passion in the next—Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee have got nothing on 4s.
4s develop deep feelings for their partner and seek to address their every emotion while also never losing focus of their own.
However, their low self-esteem and feeling of being deficient may mar their relationship, as they spend more time fantasizing about the perfect life instead of realizing that they may already have it pretty good.
The good thing, though, is that 4s are expressive and always up for meaningful interactions, even if it does get conflict-like. Through the relationship, 4s will go through phases of being highly involved and being withdrawn, as they grapple with the various things they learn about themselves and their partner in the relationship.
If you have a 4 for a partner, you may have to be emotional and reassuring when your partner needs it (which may be more often than the average person). Actively listen and give your partner space when they need it. It can be challenging, but hey, love conquers all!
Here’s a lowdown on the type of couple that different Enneagram types would make with a type 4:
- In a type one-type four relationship, both partners are creative and orderly.
- In a type two-type four relationship, both partners are affectionate and highly romantic.
- In a type three-type four relationship, both partners are productive and intense.
- In a type four-type four relationship, both partners are empathic and innovative.
- In a type five-type four relationship, both partners are intense and focused.
- In a type six-type four relationship, both partners are loyal and innovative.
- In a type seven-type four relationship, both partners are passionate and idealistic.
- In a type eight-type four relationship, both partners are motivated and innovative.
- In a type nine-type four relationship, both partners are relaxed and contemplative.
If you’re an Enneagram type 4, you’re in good company; some of the biggest and most talented historical figures and celebrities are also type 4s. Here’s a list of some of them:
- Frederic Chopin
- Edgar Allen Poe
- Virginia Woolf
- Pyotr Tchaikovsky
- Rudolf Nureyev
- J D Salinger
- Tennessee Williams
- Frida Kahlo
- Anne Frank
- Anne Rice
- Martha Graham
- Miles Davis
- Joni Mitchell
- Judy Garland
- Billie Holiday
- Bob Dylan
- Leonard Cohen
- Lars von Trier
- Marlon Brand
- Angelina Jolie
- Kate Winslet
- Winona Ryder
- Johnny Depp
- Nicolas Cage
- Criss Angel
- The iconic Blanche duBois from “A Streetcar Named Desire”
Enneagram 4s are fodder for memes—do you start with their high emotional quotient, their need to be unique, or their ability to instantly fall in love?
Some of the funniest memes poke fun at the 4’s emotional quotient. One of our favorites is the explanation of a 4’s full spectrum of emotions they feel in a day in Dwight Schrute’s famous words—“Fortunately, my feelings regenerate..at twice the speed of a normal man’s.”
Even better is the one where a 4 goes to their therapist and is advised to be more social (*snort*). The result? A free-for-all crying-session party.
At the end of the day, it’s all about love and understanding what a person needs. Giving yourself or your type-4 friend love, understanding, and space will help overcome all the things that set 4s back from being the flamboyant, creative, artistic wonders that they can be.
With this article, you’re hopefully equipped to start moving towards growth and help the 4s in your life do the same.