Tag Archives: Wisdom of the Enneagram

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.

In the Shadow of Type 3: Failure


Failure Freeway (Photo credit: StormKatt)

3s see themselves—and definitely want you to see them—as self-assured, industrious, ambitious, purposeful, high-achieving, decisive, focused, dynamic, hard-working, energetic, and of course, successful. 3s are goal-oriented, to put it mildly, as well as possibly the people who invented multi-tasking. After all, if you can get two or three things done at the same time, why settle for doing just one thing.

Since 3s also tend to be well-organized and great at motivating people to rise to the occasion, they are good leaders and managers who can complete complex projects. They are highly competitive and always go for the win. Most people find winning desirable and prefer it to losing, but for 3s winning is essential. Their sense of self-worth is based on their ability to succeed, achieve, and be the best at what they do. Depending on the circumstances and your relationship to the 3 in question, you may admire this aspect of 3s or despise it.


“Winner” is a role 3s play. They may get to be so good at playing the role they lose themselves in it. When that happens, it won’t matter how successful they are or how much they have achieved because they will have lost touch with who they are—and possibly with the people they most want and need to be connected with.

Winning is great, sure, but if you are really going to do something in life, the secret is learning how to lose. Nobody goes undefeated all the time. If you can pick up after a crushing defeat, and go on to win again, you are going to be a champion someday.

–Wilma Rudolph


Jerome Wagner says, in The Enneagram Spectrum of Personality Styles, that the defense mechanism for 3s is identification:

To keep failure out of your awareness, you identify with whatever successful mask or role you are playing at the time. You identify with your role instead of with yourself.

The drive to succeed at whatever they do often leads 3s to reframe situations in which they failed at something so that they somehow still come out as winning. People tend to misunderstand the ambition of 3s and view it through a glass darkly. 3s have been described as arrogant and superficial, but they can also be extremely charming. They seek attention and the positive regard of other people at least as much as 2s do. They believe that as long as they are successful others will think highly of them. Therefore, if they feel that positive regard slipping, they may shift into overdrive to increase their level of achievement. This is a vicious cycle that does not end well for 3s.


In The Wisdom of the Enneagram, Riso and Hudson suggest 3s involve themselves in a creative pursuit:

Threes really benefit from creativity, especially when the creativity is for themselves and not an audience of some kind. Painting, making pottery, playing music, writing or drawing, and journaling can help you get in touch with your feelings and bring you into greater alignment with yourself. You may even want to create a sacred space in your home that is devoted solely to your creativity and self-discovery. No work-related tasks are allowed here! It is your refuge from the demands in your life, especially the demands you make on yourself.

I like this idea because it doesn’t ask 3s to stop doing, but to focus their doing in a different direction. Spending time alone doing something without a win-lose outcome is a good practice. It could give 3s an opportunity to get in touch with who they are when they’re not performing in some way. It can also provide them with a chance to “fail” by pursuing an activity they may not be skilled at purely for enjoyment. There’s freedom in having nothing on the line and no audience to evaluate the results of their creative endeavors.

By doing something by and for themselves, they may find it easier to be themselves.