How to Cope as an Enneagram Type 4 Under Stress17 December 2019 / By Deborah Ward Clinically Reviewed by Steven Melendy, PsyD. on December 17, 2019
Enneagram Type 4s are the Individualists of the Enneagram. Fours 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 are 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 organization you feel passionate about. Giving back to others will boost your confidence and self-esteem while you find meaning in 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 behavior, 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 recognize their own unique identity. By taking time out to reconnect with themselves and using their talents and drives, they can leave stress behind while they become the compassionate, creative artists they were meant to be.
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!
Acceber (not verified) says...
I've got the same three strikes.
I am both of those as well! 🙃
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.
KateB (not verified) says...
I've been on a similar journey - recognizing my destructive behaviour and taking steps to do things differently, more healthfully.
Wish I'd had some of this insight before my divorce - might have changed things.
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.
NanaDee does hair (not verified) says...
Oh Girl…. reading my mind! I too am an over sharer…I consider it an interview and when someone is receptive to listen, it’s the biggest compliment to me if you come back and I don’t scare you away. I am a hair dresser and can not even tell you the amount of poor souls i’ve scared so badly to never sit in my chair again. I feel as if my craft is a means to lifelong therapy. I actually get paid to have people listen to me. Unfair i’m sure to lure people into my lair and unexpectantly vomit reality at its finest and most sincere and authentic self. When I scare someone away I feel so betrayed. How is it I can undress my self so unabashedly and be so rejected. The damn nerve … when really it’s on me that this poor unsuspecting client just wanted a haircut not a condensed version of raw and uncut. I was even told by my adult Child that my love is so intense that it’s uncomfortable??? WTF….. really??? Who doesn’t want that kind of unconditional love and loyalty. Ummmm I do (waving my hands)
Hahahaha i’m on my third marriage and have come to the conclusion that NO ONE will ever know me enough to love me like that. It’s been my life goal. There are maybe a handful of people who may have an inclination on “Me” through my years but I find to great disappointment… it’s a mere impossible task to know me enough to love me. if they happen to love me… they surely don’t know me. Just tonight explaining the eeneagram with a co worker m, she was so offended when i told her that i don’t believe she thinks i’m special when she says she loves me. So horrified that I wouldn’t believe her when she says “I love you”…. she went on to stomp and reiterate after 20 years “I love my girls!!”
🤣 She Said girls! I was no more special then the rest of the girls she claimed to love. Ohhhhhhhhh silly girl.. it’s okay, being misunderstood is common in human society but to misunderstand me when my authenticity is all I have … when i give you ALL of me ALL of the time…. Misunderstanding me or my intentions at anytime for any reason just burns a bridge I will never let you cross again. I believe you may be affectionate or fond of me…. but you do not know me. I’m sorry goes a really long way with me and it’s so easy to say… I can forgive so easy… it’s super hard to make me angry or offend me. But you better not misunderstand me because i’m the most clear honest and precise person you’ll ever have the pleasure of knowing. Never accuse me of something I’m not… or pretend my feelings aren’t sincere …. any 4 knows the only thing i’m sure of in my entire life is my feelings. I can articulate the polarity of them and you best be able to follow my complexities…. My poor husbands….Husband 1 or a husband 2 or even husband 3 who lets me be my most authentic self …. Not one of them knows me and has the near impossible task of having to speak a eulogy at my funeral. As a Christian and Believer I am confident the Father knows me and actually thinks i’m pretty terrific.🥰
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...
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
Christi (not verified) says...
Thank you Louise for what you wrote. It's great you're seeing this in your 20s. I only came across this recently in my mid 40s and just wanted to thank you about the part you wrote about "owning yourself." You hear that a lot but it never rang true for me until now. Being raised in a similar family you can't help wonder that the reason you are different and can't fit in as easily to norms of society/relationships is bc of your upbringing and if only had it been different. I set out into the world at a young age looking for what place felt right. Even after finding it I still don't fit in with societal norms and can't help thinking it's a deficit while all along unwilling/unable to change/tame my eccentricities...and judging the rest of the world for this discrepancy. Right now it hit me, reading your post that maybe my fear truly lies in, in stepping into who I really am vs needing to change to finally fit in. Bc that new world has only me in it. It's a new door into a new room where I alone am standing and I think not having one foot in the other room w everyone else and stepping into it with both feet terrifies me. As if the floor will drop and and I don't know what will happen. Im a capable person but I feel stepping into the new room means cutting off from what I know...even though I feel that's where I should be. In the other room I already know my place even though it's not a good fit, it's shallow waters and no threat or real bravery needed to face yourself wholly bc you're too focused on your difference w the crowds. Once in the new room with no crowds you're now there with only yourself. Like climbing a mountain solo. But I find myself stuck and not sure how to take the first step 'into myself'. But your post made me realize that my fear isn't not fitting in like I've always thought, but fear of stepping into myself. It sounds odd to say but it feels like a leap of faith to step inside. But I can also argue that and say, if not now then when? ;)
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?
toast3po (not verified) says...
I'm a 4w3, self preservation type and with my 3 wing, I have always loved performing on stage and leading others in certain situations. When the mood hits me right, I am definitely drawn to crowds and fast paced environments and can seem extroverted. But I do need a lot of downtime to recover from social interaction at times - especially if it's superficial.
abby rachlin (not verified) says...
i'm a 4w3, and whenever i read these articles about "not letting your feeling be your identity", or "not putting so much weight in your emotions", i'm quite confused. what i feel is missing is the acknowledgment that fours can have such MASSIVE feelings that take up their whole body, AND THEN SOME, that it's extrEmely difficult to not turn these emotions into what you are, since they literally take up every ounce of what you are. i feel like i'm losing myself to myself, and i'm not sure how to get my head out of this inert, stagnant place of resistance to change, but i'm trying, so if anyone can explain where to begin to separate my feelings from myself without suppressing and without losing my sense of self, it'd be very much appreciated.
AndreasM (not verified) says...
Hi Abby I can completely relate to what you wrote here. I have found some relief through surrendering my resistance to the experience of emotional overwhelm. Slowly, when we can be okay with the feeling and let it stay, whe find the capacity to simply look at it. By looking at our intense inner experience, it will become less threatening to us. We can start to look at all the sensations on our body and name the experiences: tingling, pressure, aching, pulsing and so on. And likewise, with our minds; words, pictures, sound or little movies that can trigger more sensations.
It is safe to feel our feelings when we have stepped back from listening to our stories about our emotions.
"Not putting as much weight on our emotions" can mean many things. The more I identify with my emotions, the more I try to protect and nurture my suffering, which is a really really bad idea if I want to feel better. So to me it can be helpful to remind myself of my vivid imagination and how it often can trigger my emotions just as strongly as real world events.
Christi (not verified) says...
I think the goal isn't to not feel feelings but to prioritize, be grounded and not let yourself spiral to your own detriment. I'm no expert and I feel things intensely as well and surprised when others don't. But what may work when you feel overwhelmed is to journal. First part just vent out your frustrations. Then when that's done, analyze yourself and simply think it through and write. What would I like to see in my life that would make me happy/at ease? List 3-5 things you'd like to see or do more. They don't have to be lofty but basic things to bring you joy/mental peace/ease of mind. What is your emotion you're feeling when ur frustrated/overwhelmed? Why are you feeling that way, what is the source? Is it helping or hindering your day/mood/progress/goals listed.
Once you get it out on paper, you don't have to regurgitate it in your head over and over.
Start journaling your feelings and once a month go back and read your entries. If you're still complains about the same things then find a better solution. Also for the things u have done more of to progress forward, it's a nice moment to sit and smile and be thankful you don't feel the same as u did or u met or made progress on a goal. I find it's a good marker for me in general. Sometimes if it's been a long time I just open to a page at random and read. Sometimes I laugh sometimes I think 'dear Lord am I still complaining about that!' ?. Then I realize life is ever changing. We are just people, a speck of sand spinning on a ball. And life is exactly what u are holding...a book of many moments, happy sad, etc etc. feelings of all sorts will come and go. The goal is to keep it at a healthy balance. Don't go down a rabbit hole. Have perspective. Be kind to yourself. Get to know yourself and your strengths and don't beat yourself up. Instead be aware of shortcomings. Giggle at them, then aim for a little better each time. Not sure if this helped or hindered? But it seems to help me when I'm too much for my own head.
Mr Matthew Leigh (not verified) says...
I certainly get the overwhelming feelings over a number of things in life. What I've learnt is that it's important to name and accept the emotion (Emotionally literacy) and to realise your feelings mean nothing other than the meaning you put to them.
Feelings arise from a thought so check your thinking and they way you interpret things. What happened to you might be a correct response but often past experiences especially from childhood when we are unable to challenge our thinking leads to 'wrong interpretation of the environment'. This can only be corrected with new information and new thinking. Start today be just labelling and then accepting how you feel.
Once you can start to understand what's going on, feelings become more manageable.
Siege (not verified) says...
Hey, been stressed but working on it and your stuff really helps center me. Black Male. I am a type 4. I'm a INFP-T. N a Pisces if anyone is curious.