I was recently pondering out loud with a friend how the compulsions of our type are sometimes a perfect match with the circumstance or situation we find ourselves in. In that moment we fit the job/situation like a fine, hand-tailored, leather glove. No one else could do what we do—or do it as well as we could.
Then there are other times when the compulsions of our type are diametrically, or at least significantly, opposed to what is wanted and needed in the moment. We are the square peg trying to fit into the round hole. Not even a close match. The old adage if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail applies.
A short time later, I began rereading Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl’s account of his experiences in Auschwitz and his development of what he called logotherapy, an attempt to shed light on the meaning of human existence and man’s search for meaning. Fifty-some pages into the book, I had to get up from my comfy chair to get a highlighter pen. What I was reading struck such a chord with me because of my recent post on the shadow of type 4 and the subsequent comments of a reader.
We both agreed that for various reasons 4s can have a difficult time in our Western culture, which doesn’t often value what they bring to the table. What got me out of my chair was Frankl’s description of some of the personal characteristics and tendencies of those prisoners who managed to best cope with life in a concentration camp. And, surprise of surprises, the people he described were clearly 4s:
Sensitive people who were used to a rich intellectual life may have suffered much pain (they were often of a delicate constitution), but the damage to their inner selves was less. They were able to retreat from their terrible surroundings to a life of inner riches and spiritual freedom. Only in this way can one explain the apparent paradox that some prisoners of a less hardy make-up often seemed to survive camp life better than did those of a robust nature. …
The intensification of inner life helped the prisoner find a refuge from the emptiness, desolation and spiritual poverty of his existence, by letting him escape into the past. When given free rein, his imagination played with past events, often not important ones, but minor happenings and trifling things. His nostalgic memory glorified them and they assumed a strange character….
As the inner life of the prisoner tended to become more intense, he also experienced the beauty of art and nature as never before. Under their influence he sometimes even forgot his own frightful circumstances.
This seemed amazing to me—and at the same time understandable after I thought about it. I know people who don’t have the type of inner life Frankl was talking about, and some of them experience that lack as a kind of suffering in itself. My own experience is that when I am in the best psychological shape, I spend more time daydreaming without it detracting from what I want to or need to do. In fact, daydreaming can have a very positive effect on my productivity (productivity being extremely important to an 8).
I asked Connie Howard (a 4) to read a draft of this post, which she was kind enough to agree to, and one of the things she said was:
I do sometimes see (in 4s I know) this contradiction: sensitive and melancholy and pessimistic on the one hand, and very adaptable and surprisingly strong and hopeful on the other. On the occasions (during the course of my cancer) where I wasn’t able to hold things together, the feedback I got was surprise that I hadn’t come apart more often. Perhaps it’s kind of a 4 thing to conclude that intense experiences are both the most horrid and the best things to have had happen… a contradiction, I know!
I can see how the ability to retreat into one’s inner world and the past can in some circumstances be absolutely the best possible response—a response other types can and do make to one extent or another, but which 4s seem to be the very best at making. 4s’ inner strength may not always be recognized by other types, but that’s our loss.
- In the Shadow of Type 4: Ordinariness (ninepaths.com)