I describe the Type 4 Individualist as the Enneagram type who ‘owns’ the emotional spectrum. While the rest of us might feel emotions that color the world like the 48 colors in a Crayola crayon box, Type 4s experience all 366 Crayola shades. If your partner is a Type 4, you are with someone who has a vivid and rich emotional experience; someone who feels dramatic emotional highs and lows.
With all this emotional fluency, it might be tempting to imagine your relationship will be smooth. After all, a Type 4 is someone who understands the unspoken subcurrents of a situation, loves to talk about their feelings, and can help tease out the more nuanced emotions.
But Type 4s are deeply complex individuals. They’re sensitive about feeling misunderstood, gravitate towards what’s missing in a relationship, and have a pattern of chronically undervaluing themselves. With this as the backdrop, even the most highly evolved and self-aware Type 4s can be deeply wounded by an ill-spoken remark.
In Type 4 in particular, the subtype matters a lot and colors the personality profile substantially. The self-preservation “Sunny” Type 4 is more stoic, the social “Sad” Type 4 more openly expresses self-doubt and shame, and the intimate “Mad” Type 4 can be very mercurial, showing great sensitivity but also bursting into huge fits of rage. While the subtypes can have very different temperaments and external behavior, they share a common habit of attention. The reactions might look different, but the fundamental things that trigger them remain the same.
With that in mind, here are three things you should never, ever to say to your Type 4 partner:
“Stop being so dramatic” or “Stop overreacting!”
You may as well pull out a box of salt and pour it on their open wounds. Type 4s have a more intense emotional experience than many of the other types and a heightened sense of feeling misunderstood.
Telling them they are being too dramatic or overreacting invalidates their very real experience and likely triggers wounding from their past. Most Type 4s have had family members, friends, or colleagues who misunderstood or wanted to minimize their emotional world. This plays on a Type 4’s pain point of feeling unacknowledged and flawed. It can be both hurtful and frustrating for them to hear this phrase.
Instead, allow them space to fully express their emotions by offering this alternative, “Tell me more about that.” This helps them process their own emotional reaction and takes some of the intensity off their experience. Often, more than anything, Type 4s want to be heard. They don’t want to be fixed, and they don’t want to be invalidated. Giving them space to fully explore and share their emotional reactions can be healing for them.
“I find it very easy to slip into a depression. My partner, a Type 5, does an amazing job of witnessing those dark feelings without trying to fix me. His ability to allow me just to feel how I’m feeling helps me not to get attached to the way that I’m feeling. He knows that my sadness or my anxiety will pass with time, and he doesn’t amplify my feelings by worrying about me or freaking out when I’m depressed. He takes my emotions seriously by asking how I feel and letting me share openly.” ~Ericha, Type 4
I appreciate that my husband, a Type 9, doesn’t get blown off course by my emotional ups and downs. The fact he doesn’t take my moods personally means I can be free to have my feelings which is important to me. I find the emotional storms pass much more quickly when they have the space they need to come and go. ~Marianna, Type 4
“Why can’t you see how amazing you are?”
Like asking someone who is color-blind why they can’t see that a tree is green, it doesn’t matter why they can’t see the color. The fact is they can’t.
Type 4s already have a sense that they are fundamentally flawed, and when you ask why they can’t see the good in themselves, you may inadvertently trigger their feelings of inadequacy. Many Type 4s know they have a reality distortion around their own achievements, but this knowledge doesn’t change their experience. They still don’t see themselves as successful.
“It isn’t exactly a “grass is always greener” feeling. It feels more like, well, if I could do it, it must not be very hard...” ~Martin, Type 4
Instead try “I am inspired by you.” Give specific examples of what you see in your Type 4 and how you experience them and the way they operate in the world. They can’t see their accomplishments through their own eyes, but they might be able to see the impact they have through your eyes. A warning: This needs to be 100% genuine because Type 4s have a nose for false flattery. But if you really speak from the heart about what you love about your Type 4 and what about them inspires you, they will likely hear it.
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
Type 4s feel a strong need to express their emotions and explore the emotional nuance of a situation. The more thorny the issue, the more they need to explore it. Trying to stonewall a Type 4 often has the opposite effect and might actually intensify the need for discussion. The reaction to this phrase can vary a lot depending on your Type 4, but in almost all cases, it will not have a desirable outcome
“I had a hard time dealing with her shut-down nature. Marisa, a Type 3, would go into efficient overdrive to get things done and avoid being overwhelmed by my feelings and my sometimes diva-like behavior. And when she would shut down her feelings, I would go ballistic. Our behaviors polarized, hers becoming more shut down and mine becoming even more fiery and emotional. Having my feelings go unacknowledged was a huge trigger point for me.” Aiden, Type 4
Instead try “I understand this is important. I’m very drained right now, and I’d like to discuss this when I can be more present. Can we set aside some time to talk about this tomorrow?”
This approach honors your Type 4’s feeling that the issue is important and not to be swept under the rug. It also shares your emotional state with your Type 4, something they likely can relate to and respect. And it provides an assurance that the issue is not being ignored and will be discussed at a later date.
It’s important to remember that people are individuals, and there is no “one size fits all” solution in communication. In fact, some Type 4s may read the list above and feel those phrases aren’t trigger points for them and that their internal experience has been misrepresented. But the trigger points above are offered as a starting point for understanding and supporting the Type 4s in your life. They are based on my Enneagram work over several decades and the hundreds of typing interviews I’ve completed with Type 4s. While generalized, it is my hope that this list can help non-Type 4s gain a little insight into the Type 4 experience.
When applied at its highest and best use, the Enneagram offers a roadmap for understanding, helping us to better understand the experience and the perspective of other people. And with Type 4s, it can offer a powerful Rosetta Stone for the rest of us to have a clearer idea of their complex and richly colorful internal world. Simon, Type 4, summarized this best when describing his 36-year relationship with Kate, Type 7.
“I often think that knowledge of the Enneagram is what has saved our relationship and helped it to flourish. It has given us a powerful tool for understanding very profoundly just why we keep misfiring or not understanding each other. It gives us a framework for understanding the need to deepen compassion and acceptance of the misunderstanding.”