How to Cope as an Enneagram Type 4 Under Stress

Enneagram Type 4s are the Individualists of the Enneagram. They are sensitive, creative and expressive people who are interested in finding and understanding their own identity. While they crave close, intimate relationships, others may find them quiet, reserved and hard to get to know.

But this search for identity can be a major source of stress because Enneagram 4s want to know they have a special purpose in life, and they want other people to recognize that as well. Many Enneagram 4s fear they aren’t making an impact on the world and that they just don’t matter. This is extremely taxing for them, since Fours can often feel like they are living in a world in which they don’t belong. Many Fours are actually highly sensitive people, which means they absorb more information from the world around them and process it deeply, channeling their ideas into works of art.

Although Enneagram type 4s may appear to be somewhat distant and reserved to others, they long for deep and meaningful conversations, personal connection and a harmonious environment. Fortunately, Fours also have the ability to weather these storms and find the peace they are looking for.

What are the sources of stress for Enneagram type 4?

  • Casual or meaningless conversation. One reason why people might see the Enneagram 4 as unsociable is because they loathe small talk. You won’t find a Type 4 engaging in idle chit chat. It’s not that they don’t want to talk to people, but rather, as introspective and reflective types, they need the conversation to be meaningful.
  • Parties and large groups of unfamiliar people. Again, Enneagram type 4s don’t dislike people, but they tend to find crowds and large groups overwhelming to their sensitive nervous system. They also prefer to open up with people they know well, like family members or close friends, so meeting new people can be stressful.
  • Conflict. Whether it’s a disaster on the evening news, an argument with their spouse, or tension between colleagues at work, Fours feel stressed by conflict of any kind. They tend to absorb the emotions of those around them, so any kind of negative expression of emotion will feel upsetting to Fours.
  • Noise. Just as crowds can be overwhelming to Enneagram type 4, too much noise can also make them feel frazzled. It’s like the volume control is constantly set on high, and so even seemingly ‘fun’ events like a disco, a fair or a shopping trip can be too much for the Four who feels more comfortable with some peace and quiet.
  • Lack of personal creativity. Fours are naturally creative people because they are absorbing so much information from the world around them. But all that information needs an outlet. Without a way of expressing their thoughts, ideas and feelings that emerge from the constant input of sensory stimulation they receive, Enneagram type 4 can feel frustrated, depressed and stressed. Similarly, they dislike being interrupted because the expression of their ideas is so important to them and they tend to speak only when they feel they have something important to say.
  • Feeling misunderstood. As they struggle to express their creativity, search for meaningful conversations, find their own identity and avoid feeling overwhelmed, Fours can often feel misunderstood. While they can appear to be standoffish, unsociable, or even just plain weird to others, Fours long for others to understand who they really are.

What happens to Enneagram 4 under stress?

According to the Enneagram, each type moves in the direction of integration or growth when they are healthy and happy, or in the direction of disintegration when they’re under stress. The normally reserved Four under stress tends to move in the direction of an unhealthy Two.

Type Two is the Giver. At their best. they are caring, generous and empathic people who love to help others. At an unhealthy level, however, Twos and stressed out Fours can degenerate into clinging, people-pleasing individuals who blame others while playing the victim.

How to move away from stress as a type four

For every type, it’s important to be yourself, even when you’re facing stressful situations. Trying to act like someone else or pretending that you’re not overwhelmed as an Enneagram type 4 is not going to help. Understanding who you are and what causes you stress, however, can help you to find the peace and fulfillment you’re looking for and avoid those situations that get your head spinning.

As Type Fours move toward personal growth, they start acting like a healthy Type One, the Perfectionist, a serious, responsible, organized person who seeks to make the world a better place for others. By focusing on the greater good, stressed out Fours can stop meddling in other people’s business and use their ideas to find a purpose in life with meaning.

So how does a sensitive, stressed-out Enneagram type 4 change direction and start moving from despair to creativity? Here’s a few simple ways to take those first steps.

  • Be the mountain. Although Enneagrams 4 feels emotions intensely and can be overwhelmed by their own feelings, it’s important to remember that they don’t define you. Your identity is not based on how you feel. Emotions, after all, are temporary. Jon Kabat-Zinn’s mindfulness mountain meditation teaches us to think of ourselves as a mountain, a strong and solid entity, and feelings are like clouds. We can acknowledge them, and then watch them drift away. 
  • Be creative. Producing creative work is essential to the health and happiness of Fours. When you create a work of art, you discover yourself and your talents, and you find an outlet for the energy you absorb from the world around you. Expressing yourself artistically helps to release those powerful emotions and channel them into something meaningful and beautiful that can also benefit others.
  • Be a volunteer. Turn your drive to help others into a cause for good by volunteering for a charity or organisation you feel passionate about. Giving back to others will boost your confidence and self-esteem while you find meaning knowing you are making the world a better place. Volunteering is also a great way to build connections with like-minded people who share your principles.
  • Be self-disciplined. It’s all too easy for the stressed-out Enneagram 4 to fall into unhealthy habits, from eating too much to staying up too late. Taking care of yourself will not restrict your freedom or sense of individuality. When you eat properly, get enough sleep, exercise and avoid overindulging in food, alcohol, drugs or other self-destructive behaviour, you’ll find the energy you need to pursue your dreams.
  • Be positive. Thinking negative thoughts or engaging in unhealthy self-talk increases stress. If you catch yourself thinking badly about yourself, change the statement to a positive one. For example, if you hear yourself thinking, ‘If only I had made a better choice, I would be happy’, say to yourself, ‘I’ve made some really great choices in my life, such as...’.

All Enneagram types feel the effects of stress and we are often affected by different things and react in different ways. Enneagram type 4 needs to feel valued and accepted for who they are and to recognise their own unique identity. By taking time out to reconnect with themselves and using their own talents and drives, they can leave stress behind while they become the compassionate, creative artists they were meant to be.

Deborah Ward

Deborah Ward is a writer and an INFJ. She has a passion for writing articles, blog posts and books that inspire, motivate and encourage people to build self-confidence and live up to their potential. She has written two books on mindfulness, Overcoming Low Self-Esteem with Mindfulness and Overcoming Fear with Mindfulness. Her latest book, Sense and Sensitivity, is based on her Psychology Today blog of the same name. It's about highly sensitive people and is out now. Deborah lives in Hampshire, England, where she enjoys watching documentaries, running and taking long walks in the country, especially ones that finish at a cosy pub.


Slate (not verified) says...

Thanks, Deborah Ward. Your insights always floor me. And lift me up. You hold up a mirror to my identity. You help me see myself more clearly. As INFJs, we might not click as well as with ENFPs or INTPs, but it sure would be fun to meet at that cosy pub and talk about all things Enneagram 4 and INFJ until they kick us out. Problem is, I live an ocean away. So please keep unpacking human architecture. And I’ll keep meeting you at the pub through your writing, virtually.

Miles (not verified) says...

This is great. As a Type 4 I have been on quite a journey in recent years, recognising my own destructive behaviour, and slowly moving to a more healthy place. I have learnt, slowly, to embrace the 'one' part of me and to look for order and discipline to create a balanced life alongside my creativity, as well as be more detached from feelings which are so powerful in 4s. I'm still working on this. Thank you so much for this, Deborah. It's really illuminating and confirms some of the things I know. Thanks. 

laurlie (not verified) says...

I love this. I have been struggling to see what really has been stressing me out and what activities have been really self destructive lately. This helps to remind myself that meeting my friend's individual surface needs are not what define my identity, because no human can really define your worth. I am in the world to change it, even in a small bit. So I need to walk towards the greater good and not let my blind loyalty to painful friendships hold me in derision. I am still working on wanting to be detached from my feelings, much less really letting go, for I don't know how to do that in a healthy way yet. Any tips on how to change my perspective?

Bob Kalili (not verified) says...

Hello Deboah, I fully appreciate the article above. It has given me a comprehensive description of something I am trying to deal with (Personality Type 4). The article was an eye - opener, I appreciate the fact that you highlighted the actual problem, casues and remedy mechanisms. I am a fun, looking forward to accessing more of your work. Stay blessed. 

Aijazz (not verified) says...

Thanks Deb!! I needed this.. :-)

Dehlia (not verified) says...

Thanks so much for this. It's such an interesting experience to have someone describe you so perfectly without ever having met you. I've been feeling a bit aimless lately and I think I need to be a bit more intentional about setting aside time for creativity. My spouse is a 1 and it's interesting how much I fight his deep sense of structure, while still knowing it's so helpful to me. I think it will take a lifetime of work to be able to lift myself out the feelings I'm so deeply immersed in-- I guess that's just the four in me. 

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