Tag Archives: Ordinariness

In the Shadow of Type 4: Ordinariness

ordinary people

ordinary people (Photo credit: wader)

Tap into the psyche of a 4 and you will find a person who sees him or herself as original, aesthetic, self-reflective, deep, sensitive, intuitive, creative, romantic, passionate, expressive, and of course, special. On the face of it, these are some wonderful characteristics to possess, but in fact, they are a lot to handle. 4s want to be understood by others, but at the same time they want to be seen as unique (different from others). This is a set-up for interpersonal conflict.

Riso and Hudson call 4s “deep-sea divers of the psyche.” Of all the types, 4s may be the least suited for or appreciated by current Western culture, which tends to value the quick, the productive, and the superficial. 4s can get so caught up in their inner worlds that other types sometimes wish they would get over themselves and get with the program. Getting with the program, however, is antithetical to 4s, who would rather create their own program, cast aspersions on the current program, or bypass programs altogether.


In The Spectrum of Personality Styles, published in 1996, Jerome Wagner describes the defense mechanism of 4s as introjection, but in the workshop he led at one of the IEA conferences I attended in 2000 or 2001, he identified it as artistic sublimation. Trust 4s to be the only ones with two defense mechanisms.


Instead of simply grieving, letting go of the past, and getting on with your life, you carry your suffering and loss around inside of you. This melancholy is a familiar companion, and it makes you feel special. Yearning and longing are constantly in the background of your experience.

Artistic sublimation:

In order to avoid experiencing the common and ordinary, whenever anything seems bland you turn it into something extraordinary or dramatic.

Both ring true to some extent for the 4s I have known well. But although hanging onto the past and the melancholy it arouses is part of the compulsion for 4s, they are generally aware of and will admit to it. They are much less willing to accept being ordinary. Ordinary is boring, shallow, bland, common, and dull. Ordinary is following the rules. Ordinary is going along with what everyone else is doing. Ordinary is doing things the usual way, meeting other people’s expectations, being just another blip on the radar screen. Same old same old, as my partner, RC–a 4–used to say.

The reality is that no one is completely unique. 4s focus on their uniqueness because everything about them that is ordinary has been consigned to the shadowland.


Small minds are concerned with the extraordinary, great minds with the ordinary.

–Blaise Pascal

4s’ intense fascination with aesthetics, passion, romanticism, and the contemplation of their inner worlds can sometimes be nothing more than escapism. If they spend enough time in such rarified air, they might be able to convince themselves that those are the things that really matter rather than the mundane things everyone else is concerned with. But this not only distances them from other people, it actually distances them from themselves—at least from the parts of themselves they don’t want to acknowledge.


In The Wisdom of the Enneagram, Riso and Hudson suggest 4s develop routines:

Set up positive, constructive routines for yourself. Fours tend to wait for inspiration to strike, but inspiration has a better chance of getting through to you if your daily schedule and living space are arranged in ways that support your creativity, your physical and emotional health, and above all your active engagement with the world. In your case, a little structure can go a long way in freeing up your creativity.

This seems like excellent advice. In fact, all of the healthy 4s I’ve known have followed it, and as a result, have been more productive and have seemed happier than the ones who haven’t. Routines can be grounding for 4s, creating a kind of interface with the external (commonplace) world and the people who live in it.

Routines are also a way for 4s to recognize their own ordinariness and to intentionally be ordinary, thereby lightening the load of their very heavy shadow.