What it is like being a 4 on the Enneagram

I posted a series of Facebook posts the other day about what it is like being a 4 on the Enneagram. It was kind of enlightening to me too. Sometimes I do not realize what I am trying to say until I write. This really did take me on a journey, so I decided I would post them to my blog too. Maybe someone else in the universe can either relate or add to what it is like to be a person who is always in the deep.

Post #1

I woke up early this morning with a message that feels important to share. I will break it up into parts to make it easier to read, hopefully.

I am a person who experiences the world through my body as opposed to my head. (I realize the head is a part of our body, and I will get to that later). I do have access to my head, though. I am an enneagram 4 with a wing 5. The 4 is heart-centered and the 5 is head-centered. Between those two numbers on the enneagram lies the largest gap of all the rest of the numbers (the head and heart crossover). This is why people like me can easily go into the abyss. It is the 5 wing that sends me into a tailspin. That part of me loves to gather and process knowledge, and the 4 part of me feels all of what I am processing so intensely it becomes overwhelming. Since I have grown in wisdom and knowledge about this gap, I manage it much better now.

I know now that I am a highly sensitive person too.

A few years ago I had no idea the way I experienced the world was drastically different than most people. I felt like something was wrong with me because I was having these big feelings about everything and few others were feeling it quite so intensely. Self-awareness has done wonders for me to better understand this difference.

Here is a simple example:

Jake Bruehl had me listen to a new song he downloaded and loves. The words were haunting to me, and I was worried Jake might actually feel that way.

Jake: Lindsay, I just like the sound of this song, and I was sharing it with you. This is not a message.

I cannot remember who said this: If you think a 4 is exhausting to be around, try being a 4. We exhaust ourselves.

I feel so much better listening to Glennon–also a 4–talk with Abby and her sister Amanda on their podcast “We Can Do Hard Things.” Glennon and I are so similar it is kind of frightening. We can do hard things, but we really struggle with easy things. We also are worried all the time about how other people are feeling. We do not think people are checking in with how they feel enough. We are learning that processing emotions all the damn time is not as life-giving to others as it is to us. LOL!

What is also important to note about this is our processing emotions (all the time) can make it look like we are not doing anything at all–but we are actually doing a lot. We are discovering what it means to be human. What Glennon and I do is work that cannot be measured, and because of that, what we do is not valued as highly. We live in a world that likes to measure the results or know what is entailed in the job description.

4s do not just feel unseen; we really are largely unseen. It is not all in our heads (see what I did there).

This background is important to understand for the more serious part of the message laid upon my heart and woke me up in the early hours of the morning. I will post after I drop the kids off at school.

Post #2 4s can be a lot.

I believe that 4s can be a lot. And I also believe this: so are people who are not 4s. It is okay to take up space and be a lot, but I know there must be boundaries. Boundaries–not a wall.

When everything fell apart for me, and I started feeling all the feelings that come with feeling betrayed by my faith and society, I went straight to building a wall. This now unrecognizable society to me was talking about building a literal wall, so I started building a spiritual one. If I was triggered, the wall went up. The wall probably was good for a while so I could process my rage safely (our rage has to go somewhere) and come back to society later with boundaries, not a wall. Boundaries are to make sure we are staying connected to ourselves; they are not about controlling the other person.

Here is a good example of what it is like being a 4 when something feels really important to you and it seems like no one is taking it seriously enough. And the eventual realization that comes when you notice people just want you to shut up–enough already.

Glennon is a 4, as I stated earlier. She also has a daughter that is a 4. This daughter got fixated on the plight of Polar Bears a few years ago, and it consumed her. So much so that Glennon and Abby were overwhelmed by her hyperfocus. She wanted to write letters to the government and her teachers–it was a lot. It was a daily conversation and her daughter was stressed out by it all the time. Glennon got frustrated and annoyed at one point and pretended to do one of the things her daughter wanted. But the thing about being a 4 is we see right through that. This is the work we do and why we can see through BS pretty quickly. Just be honest. Please do not pretend to do something to get us to go away. Glennon finally realized that her daughter just needed someone to hear her. Her daughter understood that our survival depends on the polar bears’ survival. She needed to know someone would take this seriously enough to do something about it. It is like the person on the Titanic yelling there is an iceberg and everyone wants to keep dancing.

4s are trying to be heard in a society that does not want to hear. this can send us into a tailspin. It can feel like we are talking into a void because few are receiving it–whether by choice or cannot understand.

I understand boundaries. Glennon needed her daughter to calm down; they alone were not saving the world alone. That is healthy. But when does it become we are ignoring the person yelling there is an iceberg and we could have done something?

Post #3: 4s are emotionally intelligent

Listen, I see many posts talking about grammar and bad habits people have when writing, and I respect that and get it. But do you happen to know what else I do? I listen and try to apply what people are teaching me about it.

When I started seminary, I was a messy writer. I had not been trained to write, and it had been years since I was last in school. So I wasn’t just learning theology and how to think; I was also learning how to write. I did a lot of work to learn how to excel academically and express my own interpretation of scripture. They wanted my voice, not just a summary of what I was reading? That took me a while to understand, especially since the summary I wrote was new information to me. I also did a lot of emotional work because I had a lot of unknown trauma triggered by the theology I had to study. I want to speak about that.

A lot has been asked of me to be a better writer, thinker, colleague, and theologian. I respect all of it. Even though I was kicking and screaming about it sometimes, I am grateful for the struggle now. I want to ask people to do the same with emotions. Becoming emotionally intelligent is just as important. Things we do and say can and do trigger people–and some theology that we study does it too, and it is time we take that more seriously. We are not taking what is unseen seriously enough, even though we study an unseen God and ask people to trust what they cannot see.

Why are we not doing that for people when they say something hurts and we cannot see it?

I have a story to illustrate this next.

Post #4: Storytime, and then I take a break

Recently, Jake and I had something so stupid happen to us, and it is all because we are operating in dehumanizing systems. This is a real-life example of the danger of living in an emotionally deprived society.

Jake and I went to someone with the power to help us because that is how unsafe we felt by this incident, and we received none. What we got was mansplaining, and it was infuriating. I already knew the situation and the really unjust rules, but no one seems to care about it right now. I will have to go all 4 on people about this until I am heard. And I can do that.

So I want to start right there. The problem with feeling like the one with the information, you will insult the people’s intelligence who have come to you for help–not for a lesson they may or may not already know. They need to be heard. That did not happen, and because of that, our safety was not and will not be prioritized. Sometimes we hide behind information to not deal with emotions. If there is such thing as emotional baggage, there is such thing as intellectual baggage too.

This person immediately shut me down when I started talking about the pain this situation was causing my family. That did not matter because the wounds could not be seen. We had evidence to show how we were harmed, but the situation requires nuance. Our systems do not want to handle nuance. That means we will have to think harder and probably make changes. We will have to make room for people to be human and allow for mistakes. Give people a chance to learn. Systems also need to learn when people have figured out the system and know when they have the ultimate power. All of this will require communal responsibility–everyone is responsible. Individual people are bearing the weight of failed systems. That needs to stop.

The wounds we cannot see are real. I know from experience.

The gift of a 4 is we learn about the world through experience. We go inside our bodies a lot to process and discover. I like how Glennon puts it: I can take you scuba diving without any water.

My experience is what made me seek further knowledge for clarity and grounding. Academic knowledge helped me ground in a way I needed when I realized I could participate in life too. I needed the training to go along with my experience.

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