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.

Comments

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.

Kodame (not verified) says...

Snap! INFJ and type 4 here too. The only times I ever feel understood in life is reading descriptions of these personality types. It really does help...! 

Greer (not verified) says...

Type 4w3 and INFJ here too! 

slamablam (not verified) says...

I've got three strikes: 4w5, INFJ, and Aquarius. Triple whammy. 

Alexander Martin Franklin (not verified) says...

Same here! All 3!! God bless u.

KayBray (not verified) says...

Yep - 4w5, INFJ and an Earth sign, and been struggling with my mental health for years. This all rings so true, and it's reassuring to see realistic and tailored recommendations of things I can do to keep myself mentally healthy (especially before busy season as well)! Thank you! 

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?

Mena (not verified) says...

I think fours can access this healthy detachment you seek in thier five wing. Maybe reading about a healthy five vs what happens with fives if they are unhealthy can help you sort it out? Also maybe learning about counter-type? Which is when an ennea-number has the instinctual variant that has a sort of opposite energy from the number itself. Creating a more dynamic and complex personality. Leading those with counter-type the need to search specifically their ennea-number plus instinctual variant to find in-depth material, or personal accounts, on their type.

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. 

ET (IV) (not verified) says...

To be honest- when i am misled or 'flaked on', or my trust is in any way betrayed i am taylor Swift to anger and i will easily burn every bridge if i suspect insincerity. I'm not proud of being so 'proud'. But it plays out like this sonsistently. That said when people take accountability (even a simple appology) i am very receptive. I am quick to appologize when i am in error. but once i am hurt or don't receive the reciprocity i so seek... it's like game over, only occasionally playing the rubberband game 4s are (in)famous fo(u)r after. Usually there's no point. i just explode and become myself negative and hyper criticl of the 'betrayer'.  I can aim to be the mountain. but i am all to quickly drawn into a victim i've been wronged role when people do no meet my needa (omg i know)  that leads me to a state of seeking vengence and to reciprocate how i am feeling in reaction to their actions or lack therof.

I understand why the sexual/one-to-one 4s gets a bad rap as the most hostile of the 27 subtypes (under stress).     Upon reflection i know that when i OVERSHARE with someone i (want to) trust and they can't handle it let alone reciprocate i feel compromised and vulnerable to such extent it's as if my only choice is to compensate/protect with fire.  a bright orange ball of fire. So that's on me. I overshare in hopes of developing a deep equanimitous intimacy... often knowing or at the very least suspecting on a level that person cannot possibly meet me or understand or is otherwise unavailable. but expectation lurks just under the surface.  

Q: Why do we (4's) so easily overshare? Can we ever be met.   How have you learned (either as a 4 or someone in close relationshipw With a 4) to stabalize when we feel invalidated, unreciprocated, or heaven forbid...dismissed.?

Why did our persona evolve to feel so intensely and take things way too personally.   I supppose this is why, as you and many teachers on the Enneagram have said, we MUST create to transform the experience. Art is not extracurricular. It's Survival. Or as you say... essential.        

 

*meanwhile i listen to Dolly Parton to console myself. lmao  after all what's not to love and adore about (healthy) 2s.

 

Jeam (not verified) says...

Omg.You sound just like me 5/3/1976. I over share and am a bit eccentric.I find that fellow Taurus people get me the best.In the presence of really intelligent people I get insecure even though I'm pretty smart(I hate this) .Volunteering feels so natural.High anxiety in large groups(people usually want to be around me).Family has deemed me anti-social.I'm not I just don't trust that easily. 

A Four (not verified) says...

I'm not super knowledgeable of enneagram...still learning. But I am definitely a 4 and can relate so much to your comment. However I think part of the oversharing issue for me is that * any * amount of sharing carries so much emotional weight that I * always * feel like I'm oversharing, when objectively speaking I'm just...sharing...so then I clamp up or go into the hell-loop of victimization and self-doubt you describe. It's often a self-perception issue for me, more than a behavioural problem.

Naeja (not verified) says...

This article is amazing! It's something that I have to revisit every once in a while to help get myself back on track. Very helpful and detailed.. Thank you! 💛💛

Wow (not verified) says...

Wow, thanks.  I'm cured.

Ruthie (not verified) says...

Hello!

It is so surreal to read this article and the responses because it's like reading something that I've written, or reading my thoughts. Even though it can suck to have the mindset of an unhealthy four, I'm seeing that I'm not alone in what I'm feeling, which feels great. :) I'm grateful that I can read these things, and they'll help me understand my feelings better.

Louise (not verified) says...

Hej! I Want to share my experience Reading this as a 24 year old female 4.

I feel deep relief reading this. I finally see a chance to understand and make peace with who i am. + a sweet opportunity to work towards a healthier version. That i have not really known how. I do feel shameful around feeling so unique. It cant be healthy, ive thought. But maybe i can find a way to admire myself as well as others, for what we are each of us without comparison. I want to embrace myself fully and work to see myself as i know others cant really do that for me. i have amazing and complex art to create in this World. I will work to perceive myself as lucky and realize that self dicipline and owning who i am will set me free. rather than doing the easy thing, feeling like a victim or continouly blaming my parents or the emotional immaturity of this World for it.

even though i do feel that a lot of this comes from being deprived of a personal self as a kid. (Mom is overly co depending and subtly manipulative and could never see me) and of course denying that fact. 

Thank you deborah for this wonderful work

David E (not verified) says...

Well-written - a great foundation for meaningful reflection. Thanks for taking the time to create and post!

alyssa5 (not verified) says...

I believe I am a 4w3 sx/so but reading all these comments and descriptions just honestly makes me confused lol. I know this is characteristic 4 to not feel like I belong, even here in this space of those of us who "don't belong," but truly I have the absolute worst grip on myself 😂. I don't feel like I fit in any of the numbers, though my family says I am an 8 and my friends usually say I am a 7. I'm extroverted and I usually love people, parties, and exciting stimulating environments; but I have this fear that I am really just saying that I love parties because I have grown up claiming to be an extrovert and a social butterfly so now maybe I've just convinced myself that I like them? I don't know guys. 😂 does anyone else who is a 4 feel this way?

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