In North American Aboriginal culture, artistic ability was highly prized and considered a quality that showed potential for leadership. The Western tradition, on the other hand, has arguably rewarded rationality and fluidity of logic over artistic abilty -- at least before the Dark Ages and after Enlightenment-- and there is a glaring
Someone in my Facebook Enneagram Type 4 group asked how other Fours dealt with people who are constantly reminding them of how much they were similar. She said she had a friend who was always pointing out their similarities. My first guess is because this poster is a Four, that the other person is too. Generally people who are the same personality type aren't super attracted to each other- they'll be polite, but there's nothing to project onto, so on an egoic level, they're just taking up each others' space. Especially because they're both image types, they're fighting for the same response from others- and from each other, which makes conversation a bit stilted.
The question reminded me of when I went to my first Enneagram workshop at the Enneagram Institute, and I met a Type 8 who said that by the middle of the week, all the 8's were evenly spaced out along the room- they were all defending their territory; none of them wanted to get close to each other. I mean, this is a generality- the same type can be attracted to each other sometimes, and even marry. At my second Enneagram workshop, I met two married couples who were composed to two Fours each, and that is a rare combination among married couples of the same type. There aren't many 4-4 couples.
The other night I went out for drinks with another Four and I tried to be aware of my tendency to point out our similarities. He didn't know the Enneagram and I was trying to just let him be, trying to be non-reactive to my craving to jump in and do a Type Four intervention on his life. Fours especially need to feel unique, and nobody likes being put in a box- they want to feel like the other person is being present to their whole self, not just the characteristics that are consistent with the archetype. I took it as an opportunity to see what triggered me. We don't like being reminded of our shortcomings, and when we see them in another one of our kind, we want to push them away or "help them change". I think the only way to learn to get along with someone with the exact same personality as you is to learn to love yourself.
I have made the case on this blog before that the Enneagram and the Tarot had similar origins back in Ancient Egyptian and Greek days. The Tarot has become, in my mind, a powerful tool for explaining the different mental, emotional, and instinctual reactions for each Enneagram type. Maybe someone figured somewhere back in the day that if we could see our neuroses depicted as harmless cartoons, we could feel more comfortable accepting how we went off course and became "blocked from the divine".
I feel ill-qualified to write a blogpost about depression this morning; there are hundreds of millions of articles on the internet about it, many of which are written by medical doctors who've been studying psychology for several years. Having depression doesn't necessarily qualify a person to write about it for two reasons.
Pardon my excessive writing about Fours lately- it feels a bit self-indulgent, but this last month, they've been on my mind.
Don Riso once said that all the personality types have a distraction from suffering except the Fours. Fours are drawn inward to it like flies to honey. They think if they focus in on it and anaylze it to pieces, what they will find will be the key to their freedom, and so they spend and inordinate amount of time sinking further and further into immobility, blaming, and sadness... never finding the key.
You hear all kinds of horrible things about unhealthy Fours, like how they get depressed and alienate their friends, cut themselves off from interaction with the world, stay in bed all day, forcing their children to wake themselves up and make it to school on their own, and generally neglect self-care and security.
As a Four, I can say I did touch down into a certain level of unhealthy immobility in my twenties, but thankfully since then, have found a life purpose and a goal. However, as a self-preservation Four, the countertype, it's almost like I've swung too far in the opposite direction. Now I'm the type of Four described by Beatrice Chestnut, who "is more masochistic than melodramatic."
Self-Preservation Fours demand a lot of themselves. They have a strong need to endure, so they develop an ability to do without. They put themselves in situations that are tough. They test and challenge themselves. One of my clients with this subtype says that she "throws herself into the fire." These Fours have a passion for effort- they engage in intense activity and may often appear strained and tense.
A passion for effort. Even at the end of a long day when I'm tired and I can't think anymore, I will refuse to leave my desk and get ready for bed. I think SP Fours are kind of like Threes in that regard, who over-value hard work (although, unlike Threes, will get panicky when it they see the finish line).
Meanwhile, I've developped a complete disdain for entertainment or taking anything that resembles a shortcut, or any kind of distraction from hard work. I remember in college, my RA went shopping and came back with a bunch of new clothes. I commented on them, and she cheerfully said "yeah it was time for a pick-me-up". Right, I thought. Like clothes can heal the underlying issues that need to be handled with introspection.
Don't get me wrong- it's not like I haven't ever indulged, it's just been in the fashion of the Type One with the backdoor indulgences, as Helen Palmer calls them. The type One's overactive Superego is so invested in ensuring perfection that out of a need for relief from the constant judgmental flogging, the id inevitably slips up and indulges in a manner clearly out of character for the One. For example, I've gone overboard and spent too much on clothes, but that was out of overattention to my image, envy, and lack of financial planning.
So there are clearly two approaches to letting loose, either in how we spend our time or how we spend our money- reactively and thoughtfully. Lately when I'm drawn inward to think about my suffering, I know the correct answer is to go do some exercise or get my gut energy activated somehow by DOING, DOING, DOING. But as a SP Four, that's what I'm already trying to do. So the last couple times I've been in the swampy swampity swamp of my emotions and tried uselessly to gun my motor through it, I've taken a break and watched Netflix.
Now I haven't watched TV in about ten years- I think 2007 was the last time I allowed myself the pleasure because to me, TV- and sitting in general- represent laziness and lack of direction in life, as well as the possibility of falling back into the habits of my twenties. But lately, a dear friend invited me to share his Netflix account and here I am nibbling away at shows here and there.
Today I was having trouble getting out of a funk, and I was like, "just keep pushing! EFFOOOORRRRTT!!!, but the guilt of not being able to get into my gut only sunk me further into inaction. Noticing I was just sinking more and more, I was like, "wait a second, maybe if I took a minute to press the reset button with some of that Downton Abbey show... I can come back in a more relaxed state of mind!" And I did.
So carefully, little by little, I'm learning how to do the exquisite balancing act between effort and a little bit of distraction. Of course, I think exercise would have been the best choice, the gut being the great balancer of the heart, the wind that dries out the swamp, but sometimes there's too big a leap between immobility and doing jumping jacks, that it's okay to take a half-step instead of a full one... as long as the momentum gained is used to make it into the gut eventually. So there's my cautious thesis for today: can a thoughtful amount of time set aside for entertainment have a redeeming effect for workaholic SP Fours (and Threes)?
In Regina, there's a senior lady with white hair who stands at the same spot on the same street every day and waves to people. She's holding a big sign about something about women's equality. According to this Reddit post, she's been doing this for at least two decades. Once in my early twenties, I was riding the bus with her, and her sign was leaning up against her knees. The ink on the sign was faded from the sun, and the tape on it was trailing off onto the floor of the bus, but she was smiling with her signature bright lipstick at nothing and nobody in particular anyway. Even then, I don't think she was fully "there" anymore. One Reddit commenter seems to confirm she has Schizophrenia. I think she's a Four. Why? Fours cling to frustration instead of doing the more difficult work of healing and working through the rage, and doing something productive about it. According to this same Redditor who seemed to know her,
When her husband past away, she wasn't properly compensated for [his] death because she was a women. Her memory is really the greatest anymore and her stories tend to change but she's protesting for women's rights.
By overidentifying with the shadow, Fours kind of wrap their way around a frustrating issue psychologically and cling tenaciously to it as part of their identity of someone who's lost something. Beatrice Chestnut explains the defence mechanism of the Four- introjection- and I THINK it's relevant here. The example she gives is of a person, but hear me out.
Introjection... is a psychological defense through which Fours internalize painful feelings as a way to protect themselves. As psychologist Nancy McWilliams explains, "Introjection is the process whereby what is outside is misunderstood as coming from inside."
... [It] operates as a defense mechanism by allowing an individual to identify with and "swallow" another person whole. When you "introject" someone, you take the person inside you, and whatever that person represents to you becomes part of your identity. Through introjection, you give yourself a feeling of being able to control that person and whatever they do or stand for. For instance, if someone important criticizes you and you introject that person, you now experience that person's criticism as coming from inside yourself. And while you are still being criticized, at least you have a sense of control- the illusion that you can do something about it- since the critic is now a part of you (Chestnut, 2013)
So what if, instead of introjecting a person's criticisms, she's introjected an inequality problem in society? She's swallowed an insitution's statement of her lack of worth and demonstrates against it on the street by going back to the same pain day after day? I don't know, I'm just going with a feeling that she's a Four, and trying to build a case around it. I could be wrong.
I also think the Car Lady of Chiswick is a Four- something terrible also happened to her- she was this bright, promising British pianist back in her day, but over time, started to lose her lustre, then she got evicted from her home, and for the rest of her life, she protested the unfairness of the eviction by living in her car in the same neighborhood. She died just recently in 2015. People say she held on to her sense of refinement despite being homeless till the very end. That's a Four, am I right?
I preface this with "everyone needs different advice", so take this with how it sits with you. Depending on your personality, you're either going to need this or not. So when I was at my first Enneagram workshop, before I even knew what type I was, the guy was going through all the types and when he got to the Four, he was saying how they often fall into sluggishness and then immobilization because the weight of the world is on their shoulders, and they have all these unrealized dreams from having spent so much time spinning around in their feelings, and as a result of their permanently fixated gaze down into brokenness in the dark depths, coupled with realizing how much of life they've missed out on, they can fall into depression, and they can get stuck there. "So", he said, "move something. Go rearrange your closet. Go for a walk. Do something to move energy around."
It's the single best piece of advice I've gotten. I mean, it's been a while since I've been down in those dark depths I just described, thank god, but even on a regular night, when I'm putting something off and I catch myself locking up in the heart space, I'll get up and put something in the garbage or put my feet on the floor, or something to prevent me from wasting my evening twirling around in my feelings. I hear that guy saying "move something" in my head all the time. I can't say how much it's helped.
Even if it's sloppily done, even if I'm trying to leave the house and I don't have my grocery list all planned and my gym bag packed, but I've wasted half my morning and need to get into the gut space, I'll leave some things undone just to get my gut engine going, then I can come back and do another set of errands after. Sometimes sloppiness totally redeems the day.
Some teachers I know are working with a couple of dramatic and melancholic Type Four kids whose need to be different and special have both blown up in the last few months. From what I can tell about their Riso-Hudson levels of health, they're both at Level 6, flirting with Level 7. The Red Flag fear at Level 6 is "I am ruining my life, I am wasting
I once heard someone say that Type Eights wake up angry. I thought since that's a pretty core emotion for the Eight, the other types must wake up to their go-to emotion too, so I decided to see if I, as a Four, woke up melancholic.
Of course, nobody wakes up immediately feeling a certain emotion. There's that timeless ethereal white space first thing between sleeping and waking where you're processing your dreams and you just want to stay like that forever, unaware of who and where you are. And then you remember you have a meeting that day, or something jolts you awake and suddenly, your regular thought patterns shoot back into place. As your psyche fishes for its ground, it must grab what feels the most familiar.
My first thoughts aren't always necessarily about melancholic things (?), like let's say my first emotion is anxiety, but I'll settle into a melancholic feeling about the anxiety. Sometimes I'll just have to take a look at the heavy feeling that's settled over me and say, "Hey! What happened there? I was feeling so good before!" and the awareness shooes the clouds away....
I've always had a hunger for a mentor relationship- I always felt I could do more than what I was doing- and every once in a while you want someone to come along and give you a push.
On the other hand, I've been fortunate to get what is the next best thing, if not better: great teachers.
Growing up, my dad was always harping on us kids to stretch ourselves intellectually, and it didn't take much- a few years of university- before we crossed the line of what, to him, was acceptable bounds for intellectual roaming. He's still religious, and I am no longer. He doesn't understand why I couldn't stay intellectually rigorous yet stay within the confines of our faith, and I don't understand how I could have.
In high school, our church had a great youth leader named Cory who was really passionate about theology and made it cool for us. We would look at Greek and Hebrew passages and dissect what they meant in different translations. It was one of his passions to teach us how to debate (and win) with Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons, and it was where my head was at at the time, so I soaked it up. I ended up attending a liberal-leaning Christian college to get my degree, and when I reconnected with him years later on Facebook, we sadly had very little in common anymore. Doesn't mean I don't look back on those three years fondly, though.
In university, my sister introduced me to an equally intellectually vigorous, but left-leaning Bible Study group, and our leader was very passionate about pushing us to think critically about what our faith meant in today's day. We read some great books that had a big effect on all our lives. I'm eternally grateful to him. I've since left that way of thinking altogether, but again, those were some great, fertile years.
One of the university classes I took was with Dr. Ward who taught American Political Thought. His classes were super exciting because he made questions about Benjamin Franklin, race and gender really relevant, and there were always good discussions. We always left the classes buzzing. In case it isn't obvious, the big narrative in my life is the trajectory from a conservative religious household with a limited understanding of my faith to an agnostic liberal point of view. Over time, a new problem emerged, though. I ended up having to drop out of university (I already had a degree anyway) because I couldn't get out of the head space and couldn't finish my assignments on time because I kept on thinking about more and more things to include in my essays. Not good. I had to get out of there.
The big shift started in 2010 when I learned about the Enneagram and how my personality type needed to DO instead of FEEL and THINK all the time, which was actually new territory for me. It still is- I'm at the beginning of a new trajectory and I feel like I'm still very much taking baby steps. I have a mentor now named Sam with whom I speak once a month, and she is so positive even when I don't know what I'm doing. I also have a coach too, and he introduced me to a mindfulness practice where I've gotten more acquainted with the gut space. For my type, action means a loss of identity which is like floating untethered in space kind of territory- if you ever want to understand why some people are absolutely terrified of success, learn the Enneagram- you can ask me what my type is.
While I was working on my business, I worked as a secretary at an elementary school this past year, and there was a grade 8 student who would come into the office when she was done with her homework and chat. I loved talking to her- I found out she was really bright, taking online classes at a university, and studying Greek history, medicine, and psychology in her spare time. She wants to go to Harvard, so I said, "you know what? Come work for me for this summer and I'll get you doing research assistant stuff." We're going for tea tomorrow so I'm excited to see what comes out of that.
We all know this- people slip through the cracks really easily. We all have these big dreams, and then as we grow up, we get weighed down with having to pay bills, and we go work somewhere and get comfortable. Even if you just challenge someone for a small window of time and get them thinking in a way they haven't thought before, or doing things they didn't think they could do before, it makes a huge difference- you don't have to be a mentor for life. I'm grateful for everyone who cared enough to challenge me, and I hope I can give back to the same measure and more.