Notes from the Ultimate Misfit, an Enneagram Four
My name is Amanda, and I’m an Enneagram Four. If you know anything about the Enneagram, even if your knowledge is just cursory, you probably just rolled your eyes. Fours are one of the most notorious numbers in the personality system. They tend to expressive, dramatic, introspective—or, depending on your perspective, overly complicated, histrionic, and self-obsessed. Tomato, tomahto.
It’s very Four-ish of me to open my piece with a claim to my own tragic personality type, but my confession is styled on purpose—confession because I harbor some mild shame at my own self-indulgence; styled because I’m eternally smug, even as I attempt to control my own self-congratulation. I may have just confirmed your suspicions, but since this is confession time, I may as well confess—yes, some misfits like being misfits.
I guess it’s akin to picking at a scab, or wearing a pair of slightly too-tight, favorite sneakers, or some other old habit that offers a sweet, familiar ache—the twinge of not quite fitting in is a welcome feeling, perhaps even a relief, for Fours. I like resisting conformity. Part of it is sheer curiosity—we discover boundaries when we bump up against them, and it’s interesting to see what kinds of limits exist in the world. But I also am partial to the melancholy of displacement. It’s eerily soothing to me, assuring me that I am, in fact, exceptional. The undertones of sadness insist that something about my situation isn’t quite up to snuff. It gives me a reason for my restlessness and justification for emotional complexity. As the song says, it feels so good to feel so sad.We must not sacrifice the sacredness of the mundane on the altar of self-actualization.
I readily admit that this is all quite self-indulgent, but allow me this narrow shift of blame—the Enneagram invites, if not requires, introspection. And, as the ancient system of understanding the varied hues of human nature has recently taken the world by storm, the trend has nearly demanded that we spend some time reflecting on ourselves so that we can self-identify with these numbers. It makes sense that a culture obsessed with productivity and time-management would reduce the complexities of personality to single-digit enumeration. This allows us to introduce ourselves in the span of seconds and a handful of syllables, and that is, perhaps, why it’s taken off.
Despite the questionable efficiency of the system, there is significant value to knowing your number, as the experts claim. The Enneagram illuminates personality traits so that they become, for better or worse, like a mirror. We can look away, but even ignoring what we could be seeing is, in fact, a way of seeing. And sight helps us solve.
One of the many difficulties I faced with knowing my number was knowing my weakness. Prone to envy, Fours struggle with a desire to be individualistic, and nothing is harder for an individualist than being clumped together with other individualists. Much to my chagrin, I am not the only Enneagram Four alive on this earth.
Even more disappointing is the realization that even more Fours have existed before me. Although the Enneagram is actually an ancient way of thinking about personality types, it’s true that the various types actually predate their systemization. That is, of course, because personality itself is as old as humanity. The Enneagram Four archetype—brooding, introspective, moody, romantic, artistic, expressive, obsessed beauty, both when it blossoms and when it is lacking—these people have always existed. Although rarely celebrated until the late nineteenth century, it’s not hard to sniff out the presence of Fours in literature. Dido, Heathcliff, Lucy Gray, Anne Shirley—all of these characters are characterized primarily by their Fourness. It’s likely that their creators shared their Enneagram types, as many Fours gravitate toward artistry, offering their imaginations as compensation to the world that rejects them. Over time, we’ve come to embrace the myth of the misfit, and that sense of not quite fitting seems to be especially prized in our culture. Nearly every Disney princess and hero experiences, with astonishing clarity, an epiphany in which they realize that they don’t quite measure up to social conventions. The mermaid belongs on land, the provincial French girl belongs in a story, and the maid belongs in the castle. Their longing, their faith that they are made for more than what they’ve been offered, is the anthem of the Four.
But life is not a novel, and it’s certainly not a movie. The frustration arises when the Fours wake up to find that, in fact, they are not surrounded by singing animals, nor is the air heavy with anticipation of what might unfold as the world discovers who they really are. Fours, in fact, live in suburbs, or apartments, or basements, or duplexes. They work menial jobs, set alarm clocks, buy light bulbs. They have (mostly nonverbal) pets, load dishwashers, go to birthday parties. They interact with annoying people, catch colds, pay electric bills. They are, for much of their lives, forced to confront the reality of ordinariness. And even though their innate personality type resists normalization, functioning as a human in this world requires a lot of boring maintenance and common activity.
The Four’s eternal struggle with envy can compel them to live in a fantasy world, one in which the limits of self are ever-expanding. The temptation to covet a life of pure beauty—one of our own making—is instinctively difficult to resist. But this is folly. We must not sacrifice the sacredness of the mundane on the altar of self-actualization.
These ordinary moments—fastening of shoes, rotating the steering wheel to the right, swallowing vitamins, reading instructions, braiding hair, filling water glasses, flossing teeth, constructing a sandwich—these are the moments that betray our humanness. And while the innate longing for something more isn’t implicitly evil, it is dangerously misguided. It shines a light on our blind spots, demonstrating our refusal to behold the miracle of ordinariness, the mystery of being a creature. The challenge for the Four, and for anyone who feels that they don’t quite fit into the mundane nature of the world, is to fulfill the goal of the Enneagram, which is to see. This world, this being, this life, is a miracle. These tasks are blessed, this body is magnificent, this ground is holy, these people are sacred, this God is infinite. The reality of living must plant our feet firmly on this earth.
A Four who is plagued by the ordinariness of the world may resist this kind of presence, concerned that seeking significance in normalcy is a kind of surrender, a sin of inertia, a way of giving up on the enteral quest to prove that we stand out because we don’t fit in. But the reality is that presence in our ordinary world is its own kind of awakening. Every bit of our lives—the thrilling and the bland, the memorable and the redundant, the glory and the forgettable—every second is an extraordinary moment. May we have eyes to see ourselves as we really are, and then, to see beyond our own narrow visions.
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