Enneagram 4s are introspective, supremely self-aware, and highly emotional. Their determination to be authentic and true to their deepest nature is what earns them the label of the Individualist

In their relationships, Individualist 4s are warm, open, and supportive. They want to see others blossom and reach their potential and will do what they can to help the people they care about chase their dreams and pursue their most cherished goals.

If you love or befriend an Enneagram 4, for the most part it should be a fabulous experience. However, there is one potential fly in the ointment. From time to time you will have to deal with their sensitivities, which can cause tension and hurt feelings if you say or do the wrong thing.

What makes the situation tricky is that Type 4s are unique individuals whose triggers won’t be the same as yours, or the same as most people you know. Remarks that seem well-intentioned or harmless from your vantage point can seem insensitive or thoughtless to Enneagram 4s, who reflect on everything and are always on the lookout for veiled implications or hidden meanings.

When dealing with Fours you should keep in mind that they want to be taken seriously, they want to have their individuality acknowledged, and they want to be seen and understood for who they really are. If they interpret your words as somehow out of touch with those needs and expectations, they may react with hurt or disappointment, and it could take them a while to get over it (if they ever do).

To maintain the best of relations with your Type 4 partner, friend, or family member, here are five things you should never say to them, regardless of how strong the temptation might be:  

#1 “I know exactly how you feel”

If you say this to an Enneagram 4, their first instinct will be to respond "no, you don’t." They may not say it out loud, but there's a pretty good chance they´ll be thinking it.

One thing to keep in mind about Fours is that they see themselves as totally unique and distinct people, different from everyone else in a fundamental way. There is no elitism or snobbery behind this, since Enneagram 4 Individualists often struggle with self-esteem issues and don’t see themselves as better than others. But they do see themselves as occupying a distinct and somewhat idiosyncratic mental and emotional space (it’s what they strive for). That is why they instinctually resist statements from anyone that suggest they’re transparent and easy to read.

When you tell someone you know exactly how they feel, you’ll do so because you want to commiserate and make them feel better. You aren’t trying to be presumptive, just thoughtful and considerate. Your Enneagram 4 friend may actually realize this, but they’re still likely to believe you don’t understand them as well as you think you do.

If you want to express your compassion and sympathy for an Enneagram 4 friend who is having a bad day, you’ll make a better impression if you simply ask them to elaborate and then stay silent as they do so. An Individualist Type 4 will be happy to talk about their feelings in more detail if they know you’re interested in hearing what they have to say.

#2 “Do you really plan to wear that?”

If you critique your Enneagram 4 friend’s taste in fashion, that might seem like a minor thing from your perspective. You may view getting dressed as a rather casual affair, and if others suggest that you reconsider your initial choices you may appreciate the input.

With Enneagram 4s, however, you may be stepping into a minefield if you start making disapproving comments about any aspect of their appearance. How they dress isn’t the central way Fours choose to express their uniqueness and originality, but they don’t pick their clothes lightly. They take pride in their individuality in all senses, and their attire is carefully chosen to reflect their current self-image.

Your unsolicited minor critiques of their sartorial choices may seem like friendly advice to you. But to them such statements may seem like a form of rejection, not just of their clothes but of their lifestyle and personality.

This same advice will apply if you aren’t exuberant about their decorative choices at home or in the office. Enneagram 4s surround themselves with objects that express their aesthetic tastes, reveal their values, reflect their personal histories, or relate information about how they see themselves and the world. If something clashes with your preferences, its best to keep it to yourself.

#3 “C’mon, snap out of it!”

Enneagram 4s are the brooding type. Negative experiences and problematic encounters provoke deep emotional responses in Fours. They may need to examine their feelings and reactions for quite some time before they’re ready to move on. Fours are endlessly introspective and always seeking to deepen their self-understanding, so they will invest as much time as it takes to come to terms with why they felt or reacted the way they did.

It can be frustrating to see your Enneagram 4 companion sad and withdrawn and making no obvious effort to get past their depression. If you become impatient enough you might be tempted to tell them to snap out of it, or to say something else that will shake them up and get them back into the real world and out of their own heads.

This is understandable, but it would be a big mistake. An Enneagram 4 will see words and sentiments like this as rude, disrespectful, and most importantly dismissive of their emotional needs. When they feel sadness, melancholy, grief, guilt or depression they feel those things deeply, and they expect you to understand that they need time to resolve their inner disquiet.

#4 “I need some time to myself” / “I need to be alone for a while”

Like everyone else, you will occasionally need some time to yourself. You may need to soothe your frazzled nerves, to think and reflect on some important issue affecting your life, or just unwind from the social pressures if you’re an Introvert.

The Enneagram 4 is capable of understanding this and respecting your needs. However, words matter to the highly sensitive and attuned Type Four, and consequently you have to be careful about how you express yourself around them. If you tell them you want to be by yourself, they may personalize it and interpret it as meaning that you want to be away from them specifically. Fours have a fear of abandonment and rejection and it may not take much to trigger their insecurities.

What will encourage a warm and accepting response is if you frame your need for private time in a positive light. Instead of telling your Enneagram 4 acquaintance you’d prefer to be alone for a while, explain that you’re going off to meditate or practice yoga, or take a long walk in the forest, or work on your novel (or read one), or to do something constructive that doesn’t require any company. As Individualists, Type Fours respect the rights of others to pursue peace and contentment, and if they know you’re taking positive time for yourself (and not trying to escape from them) they will encourage you to take all the time you need. 

#5 “You should have known better” / “You shouldn’t have done that”

The Type Four is always ready to own their mistakes. If they’re convinced they’ve hurt someone’s feelings by misjudging, misinterpreting, neglecting, overlooking, offending, or inadvertently rejecting them, the Four will be disappointed in themselves for not upholding their highest ideals.

So when an Enneagram 4 apologizes to you, they really mean it. They’ll do it because they believe they acted poorly and that you deserve much better. But you should know that if you choose not to accept their apology, either by issuing a reprimand like the one referenced above or by adopting an attitude that makes it clear you aren’t ready to hear it, your Enneagram 4 companion may be deeply offended by your reaction.

You may still be angry or hurt and not ready to forgive them just yet. But from their perspective, your refusal to accept their heartfelt apology with grace and understanding will seem like rejection, and of the most personal kind. When Enneagram 4s do something to hurt someone else it happens because they were too inattentive or self-absorbed for a while. It doesn’t happen because of any malicious intent, and if you reject their efforts to make amends they may be profoundly insulted.

If you value your relationship with your Enneagram 4 companion and want to preserve it, it’s probably best to accept their apology, and then follow that up with a straightforward and honest post-apology conversation where you can tell them why you felt so bad about their behavior. If you take this approach they will listen to you attentively and do their very best to always treat you with respect and consideration in the future.  

Nathan Falde
Nathan Falde has been working as a freelance writer for the past six years. His ghostwritten work and bylined articles have appeared in numerous online outlets, and in 2014-2015 he acted as co-creator for a series of eBooks on the personality types. An INFJ and a native of Wisconsin, Nathan currently lives in Bogota, Colombia with his wife Martha and their son Nicholas.