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  • Writer's pictureClaire Bentley

ENNEAGRAM TYPE 4

Updated: Oct 25, 2023

FOR CREATIVITY AND CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT


INTRODUCTION

The Enneagram is a personality classification system which divides the human population into nine broad personality types based on their desires, fears, beliefs and behaviours. In this series of blog posts I will take you through each of the nine Enneagram personality types in detail, looking at how you can use them to improve your creative work patterns and to inform character development in your artwork.



The nine numbered Enneagram personality types arranged in a circle
The Enneagram circle


There is dispute about the validity of the system as applied to ‘real-world’ humans. I’m not going to enter that debate in this series. However, I believe the system is potentially useful for creatives as a way of framing and understanding both our characters and ourselves. It is important to remember that personality systems are broad tools to aid understanding: there is lots of nuance and individual variation, and people rarely fit perfectly into one category or another.


WHY ENNEAGRAM AND NOT MYERS-BRIGG?


The Myers-Brigg personality classification system is also useful for understanding our characters and ourselves. However, I find it more complex and less intuitive than the Enneagram system. For example, when studying well-written fictional characters I can usually identify their Enneagram type quickly and easily, but I would struggle to identify which of the sixteen Myers-Brigg categories they fall under without reference material and a little free time to work it out. In addition, unlike the Enneagram, the Myers-Brigg types are not evenly distributed through the population: I am an ‘Advocate’ (INFJ), the rarest category at 1% of the population. In the Enneagram system I am a Type Nine, so many more ‘like-minded’ people to learn from.


However, the main reason I prefer using the Enneagram to the Myers-Brigg for character development is because story structure and story theory revolve around identifying the desires, fears, motivations, and misbeliefs of your characters. The Enneagram has these baked in and, even more crucially, the descriptions of healthy and unhealthy versions of each type make it far easier to see how a character might grow or disintegrate during a story (depending on what type of character arc you are writing).


WHY THIS BLOG SERIES?


The Enneagram is useful for understanding your pattern of work and behaviour when it comes to your creative life, so you can work out your strengths and weaknesses, find out what works for you, and identify areas where you could improve.


I have been using the Enneagram to inform character development in my current work in progress and it has been invaluable for helping me shape and develop their personalities, beliefs, and change arcs. There is a lot of information about the Enneagram but very little in terms of how to practically apply the system to character development in creative work. Therefore, I created this series of blog posts to explore each of the nine types in detail, and to provide guidance and examples when it comes to using the Enneagram for character development and plotting their change arcs.


There is a huge amount of information out there regarding the Enneagram and these posts barely scratch the surface! Therefore, I have linked many references at the end of the posts (including the ones which informed this series) if you would like to explore the topic further.




WORKING OUT YOUR ENNEAGRAM TYPE

There are tests out there (both paid and free) which can help you identify your Enneagram type. However, (again unlike Myers-Brigg) you can probably work out your type from the descriptions.


A word of caution: study each of the types before deciding which one best describes yourself. It may not be the one you initially think! When reading through the descriptions I initially couldn’t find one that quite worked for me, then ‘decided’ I was a Type Three, even though there were parts of it that fit and parts that didn’t.


However, when I reached the Type Nine description I had a moment of ‘oh s***, here I am’. If the description feels uncanny and makes you feel uncomfortable, you have likely found the right one for you!


It is worth saying again that people do not necessarily fit perfectly into categories. I had strong scores for multiple Types when I took a test (it turns out Type Nines are good at adopting the behaviours of other types!) I also later found out that healthy Type Nines behave like healthy Type Threes, which could explain why I felt an affinity for the Type Three description.


My point is, study the types first before deciding which one best describes you!


TYPE 4 OVERVIEW: THE INDIVIDUALIST

Zoomed-in drawing of Type 4 on the Enneagram

PERSONALITY TRAITS

· Sensitive

· Introspective

· Expressive

· Dramatic

· Honest

· Creative

· Self-absorbed

· Temperamental


SUMMARY

(https://www.enneagraminstitute.com/)

“Fours are self-aware, sensitive, and reserved. They are emotionally honest, creative, and personal, but can also be moody and self-conscious. Withholding themselves from others due to feeling vulnerable and defective, they can also feel disdainful and exempt from ordinary ways of living. They typically have problems with melancholy, self-indulgence, and self-pity. At their Best: inspired and highly creative, they are able to renew themselves and transform their experiences”.


DESIRES

To be authentic and to create a unique identity by finding themselves and their significance.


FEARS

Of having no identity or personal significance.


MOTIVATIONS

· Express themselves and their individuality

· Create and surround themselves with beauty

· Maintain certain moods and feelings

· Withdraw to protect their self-image

· Emotional needs take priority over anything else


WINGS

Four with a Three-Wing: the Aristocrat

You are competitive and wish to be unique and the best. You wish to be different but socially accepted, so you may dial back your intensity.


Four with a Five-Wing: the Bohemian

More introverted with unique creative interests. You value your differences from others.


DIRECTION OF GROWTH

Adopt behaviours of a healthy Type One: objective and principled


DIRECTION OF STRESS

Adopt negative behaviours of an unhealthy Type Two: over-involved and clingy


ARE YOU A TYPE 4 CREATIVE?

Do you recognise yourself in the description above?


If you are a Type Four creative then you may see yourself as being fundamentally different from others. You like to try new things and new ways of thinking in your quest for authenticity and distinction. You may feel that others do not fully understand you and you may feel isolated from others. As a Four you may be strongly aware of your personal differences and deficiencies: you are aware of your unique talents and gifts, but you may also feel yourself disadvantaged or flawed. You may feel you are missing a piece of yourself because you are unsure about aspects of your self-identity.


You may be unflinchingly honest with your perception of yourself, and own all your feelings, motives and conflicts without denying or suppressing them (even if you do not like what you discover). You are self-aware and honest, and this gives you a quiet strength and ability to process painful experiences which might overwhelm other types.


Even though you feel different to others, you do not wish to be alone, even if you feel socially awkward or self-conscious. You may crave connection with others who understand your true nature, and if this is not available then you may build your identity around your individualism and independence, whilst secretly yearning for the social comfort and confidence that others seem to enjoy. You may have issues with negative self-imagery and low self-esteem, and may struggle to work out who you really are under the surface (especially as you are prone to holding onto negative feelings).


Pink flower with seeds blowing away in the breeze
Type 4 creatives are motivated by individualism and personal significance


YOUR WORK PATTERN

Creativity is important to you in your work, and Type Fours are arguably the most naturally drawn to creative careers. You enjoy self-expression and variety, and would likely be stifled by monotony and hierarchy. You may also have an aversion to high-pressure situations, and for this reason a good work-life balance is essential for your health.


You enjoy connecting with others who are creative and like-minded, and who appreciate your individualism and non-conformity.


YOUR STRENGTHS

· Self-awareness: you are aware of, and seek to understand, the emotions of yourself and those around you.

· Purposeful: you are driven to express your purpose and contribution to the world.

· Inspired.

· Sensitive: highly attuned to their environment.

· Courageous: don’t shy away from pain and suffering, and ask difficult questions.


YOUR WEAKNESSES

· Sensitive: identity and self-image are important to you, which can make you especially sensitive to others’ opinions.

· Social awkwardness: you thrive on meaningful connection, and an inability to connect with others in a meaningful way may leave you feeling misunderstood and rejected.


RECOMMENDATIONS FOR GROWTH

· Try not to equate yourself with your feelings. They do not reflect who you are a person, only what you are feeling in a given moment.

· Connect with others: you will not ‘find your identity’ if you do not exist in, and contribute to, the real world.

· Don’t put off opportunities for positive experiences in your life: self-esteem and self-confidence come from taking positive opportunities, even if you do not feel ready.

· Adopting healthy self-discipline will not remove or freedom or individuality, and can help you be more productive and find your purpose and meaning faster.

· Live your life rather than existing in your imagination.

· Try and adopt a positive outlook towards yourself, the world, and others.


TYPE 4 CHARACTERS IN YOUR ART

I will speak to writing because I am most familiar with this, but the lessons can be applied to other creative art forms.


WHERE MIGHT YOUR CHARACTER START?

The ‘average’ Type Four individual might start from an artistic position in their life, creating beauty in their environment to heighten and prolong their personal feelings, their passion, and their imagination.


They internalise everything and are highly sensitive to their feelings. They may be prone to taking things personally, being self-absorbed and moody, and / or self-conscious. They may lack spontaneity, and may withdraw to protect their self-image and work through their feelings.


They may feel they are different from others and are thus exempt from living as others do. They may live in a fantasy world and become increasingly impractical, unproductive, and disdainful.


HOW MIGHT YOUR CHARACTER GROW?

A healthy Type Four may be profoundly creative, self-renewing and regenerating, transforming their experiences into value, e.g. works of art. They are introspective and self-aware. They are sensitive and intuitive to both themselves and others, showing care, tact and compassion. They are individualistic and true to themselves: they may adopt ironic humour, may be serious or funny, vulnerable or emotionally strong. They are emotionally honest and humane.


A healthy Type Four character may inspire others around them with their creativity: encouraging others to pursue dreams and opportunities, and challenging others to change and find their own path to meaningfulness.


HOW MIGHT YOUR CHARACTER DISINTEGRATE?

A Type Four is in danger of becoming self-inhibiting, depressed and alienated from themselves and others. They may feel self-anger, despair, self-contempt, shame, hopelessness, and / or experience morbid thoughts.


An unhealthy Type Four character may become fatigued and unable to function. They are unfocused and unproductive, losing interest and hope in their usual pursuits and creative outlets. Everything becomes a source of self-torment. They blame others for their failure, and drive away anyone who attempts to help them. They may become self-destructive, and become prone to over-indulgence, addictive behaviours, depression, emotional breakdown, and / or suicide.


DEVELOPING YOUR TYPE 4 CHARACTER: WORKED EXAMPLE


Let’s say the one-line theme of your story is ‘conformity is bad’. You could make your main character a Type Four because this could create exciting inner conflict: a character who believes society’s lie that ‘conformity is good’ and yet fears conformity and yearns for individual expression.


Two hooks pulling in opposite directions
The Type 4 character's need for individualism conflicts with wider society

In the beginning they may feel lost and isolated, experiencing low self-confidence and self-esteem because they do not conform to society’s ‘norms’. Maybe they meet someone who understands them and with whom they finally gain meaningful and deep connection with another person. This allows the protagonist to fully express their creativity and individualism (possibly through art), and reject the lie which society has ingrained in them since childhood. They become sensitive, self-assured and self-aware, and finally discover who they are meant to be and how they can contribute to their world.



If the protagonist is in a negative change arc then they may grow more and more isolated. Their negativity and self-loathing grows stronger over time, to the point where they become self-destructive and shun others who might otherwise have helped them accept and embrace their individuality.


This is just one example. Your theme may not suggest an obvious Enneagram type that ‘fits’, but it could be interesting to ‘try out’ your theme with protagonists and antagonists of different Enneagram types to see how these dynamics could impact your story and plot. Remember: a protagonist or antagonist (or any side character) could be any of the Enneagram types, and could grow or disintegrate within their type (or stay the same) during the course of the story. I added an extra dimension to this example: matching an Enneagram type with a societal context which discourages a key part of their personality, thus creating fascinating internal conflict (the life force of powerful stories).


TYPE 4 CHARACTERS IN WELL-KNOWN STORIES

EXAMPLES FROM FROM HARRY POTTER

I do not agree with or condone any form of transphobia, and have not given a single penny to She-who-must-not-be-named since she outed herself. However, the story of Harry Potter helped me a lot as a child, and its characters remain some of the best known in the literary world. That is why I have chosen Harry Potter characters as examples in my discussion of the Enneagram, so that hopefully you can appreciate how the Enneagram might be used to help create strong, unique and conflicted characters. These categorisations are based on my own judgment and knowledge of the characters: please feel free to disagree (and let me know in the comments if you do!)


LUNA LOVEGOOD

Luna is a great example of a healthy Type Four character. There are good reasons why she is a favourite for many who have read the series (including myself).


Luna is definitely unique in her mannerisms, beliefs, and general outlook on life. She is a social outcast at Hogwarts: she doesn’t generally appear to mind this, and ignores the comments and ridicule of her fellow students, continuing to be unashamedly herself even though she has no friends.


However, it becomes clear later in the series, when she joins Harry’s friendship group and gains their love and acceptance despite her quirks (and partly because of them), that all along she craved connection with others. The scene with the ‘friends’ paintings in her bedroom had me sobbing.


Luna is creative, sensitive, and acutely aware of both her own and others’ emotions. She has a knack for unflinching honesty about the emotions and motivations of others, to the point where others often feel uncomfortable around her. However, especially after losing Sirius Black, Harry finds great comfort in her presence and honesty even when he struggles to be around anyone else.


For all her sensitivity and well-hidden loneliness, Luna is anything but weak. She tolerates years of bullying at Hogwarts without letting it change her fundamental identity and self-belief. She endures horrific events later in the series (including imprisonment at the hands of the Death Eaters), yet remains resilient and fundamentally good and kind despite everything she goes through.


I can’t hide the fact that Luna is one of my favourite characters of all time, even though she is one of the characters in the series who remains fundamentally unchanged by the end.


EXAMPLES FROM ENCANTO

Encanto is one of my favourite films from recent times. The characters are unique and fascinating, and the arcs they undergo are powerful and relatable. Therefore, I have also used Encanto to provide examples of the different Enneagram types in character-based art.


BRUNO MADRIGAL

Like the other members of the Madrigal family with magical abilities, Bruno’s gift reflects his personality type. He is precognitive, and his predictions are usually met with hostility from his family and the community, to the extent that they blame him for the events in his visions and shun him from society.


Bruno himself is eccentric and socially awkward, and by his own admission did not always find the most ‘sensitive’ way to pass on his information to those who would be affected by it. By the beginning of the story he has isolated himself away from the rest of the family because he at least partly blames himself for their misfortunes (especially after a vision about Mirabel which could spell disaster for the family).


Bruno again shows the quiet strength of Type Fours by separating himself from the others to save his niece. It is telling that, instead of leaving the family home, he hides in the walls and ‘repairs the cracks’ in the structure. He wishes to remain close to his family: the scene with his place set at the other side of the dinner table (out of sight of his family) is especially heartbreaking. He craves connection with others but doesn’t know how to reconnect with his family. It is also telling that, after leaving the family, Bruno is unwilling to use his abilities, believing his uniqueness to be a bad thing rather than something which could help his family.


By the end of the story Bruno’s family welcome him back into their arms, embracing and accepting his eccentricities instead of expecting him to confirm to their ‘ideals’.


RESOURCES

I couldn’t find much that was geared specifically to fictional characters in writing (or other art forms). However, there is much more to explore within the Enneagram system, and I have listed some helpful resources below:

The Enneagram Institute: https://www.enneagraminstitute.com/

Don Riso and Russ Hudson have published multiple books on the Enneagram system

These resources provided a foundation for the blog posts in this series, which I then applied to understanding your creative work pattern and crafting fictional characters.


BEFORE YOU GO…

Are you an Enneagram Type 4? Are any of your characters Type 4? Please join in the discussion (contact details below).


Please feel free to comment on the article and/or contact me if you have any questions!


Socials: @cbentleywriter on most of them!




Buy me a coffee: https://ko-fi.com/clairebentley

I welcome respectful and friendly discussion on the topics I write about, including if your opinion differs from my own.


Disclaimer: generative AI

I do not use generative AI to produce or inform my blog, my images, or my fiction. All of my content is generated by the chaotic firing of my own (human) brain! (I have access to some images through my Wix subscription). I do not consent to the use of my content, images, or fiction to train generative AI models. Please contact me to discuss permission and compensation if you wish to use my content in this way.

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