I still get comments on the blog post in which I discovered that I was not an Enneagram Nine, but a Four, and went through an emotional meltdown of sorts (I’ve since come to terms with being a Four, and now I love it…mostly). There are apparently many people out there who misidentified themselves as Nines and were super disappointed when they found out they were, in fact, Fours.
It got me thinking: why do Fours want to be Nines so badly? I can’t answer for everyone, but when I think about my upbringing, the answer seems pretty obvious for myself.
My family was very uncomfortable with emotions when I was a kid. We were Polite Nice People who didn’t get angry or sad. When a huge family tragedy/mystery happened my sophomore year of high school, we talked about it for the week in which it happened and then literally never again. We avoid conversations in which disagreements might arise, and there is very much an unspoken attitude of wanting to maintain the status quo.
Added to this is the fact that my childhood was very much influenced by growing up going to a (white) Southern Baptist Church. In my faith upbringing, there was a huge emphasis on a salvation that separated the sinful past (which implicitly included “bad” emotions like anger and depression) from the saved present. There was an implicit, and often explicit, rule that being at church meant being happy. But also not, like, too happy. White Baptists don’t raise their hands while worshipping. Everything in my childhood encouraged me to be even-handed and only mildly emotional.
It’s no real surprise, then, that I would learn to play the role of a Nine who is a peacemaker, who is detached from emotions, who sees all sides of a conflict and can navigate a resolution quickly. More than learning to play the role, of course I would WANT to be a Nine, because that is the sort of personality that everyone I knew valued.
Not a FOUR, ugh. It’s funny to think that I thought I was a Nine when looking back, everything I felt internally as a child was very Four. I constantly felt like an outsider looking in, never special in friendships or achievements. The things that did make me stand out (my passionate nerd interests) were things to be squashed into appropriate outlets if I wanted to avoid ridicule. Ah, the number of hours I spent looking up Harry Potter fan theories or creating Lord of the Rings scrapbooks. Alone.
On top of that, I was full of doubt and sadness. I’ve talked many times before about the depression I went through in middle school and how I would pray that God would kill me. It strikes me now that it needn’t have been so bad – the feelings I had weren’t all that strange. If I’d had safe people who allowed me to be angry and irreverent, maybe I wouldn’t have turned those feelings inward as a toxic self-hatred.
But all the while, I had perfected the Peaceable Nine Mask. I performed a Normal Happy Person very well, so well that eventually I believed that’s what I was.
I think for Fours, who are so often ruled by their emotions and can feel like we’re drowning in the worst ones, there’s something so appealing about being a Nine who seems to be above all of that chaos. For those of us trained in the art of suppressing our emotions (I genuinely didn’t think I ever experienced anger until I went to counseling as a 23-year-old), it eventually seems possible to be our “Best Selves.”
What I love about the Enneagram is that it has taught me that my Best Self is not pretending to be a Nine. It is leaning into my Fourness, admitting and celebrating the fact that I feel emotions far more deeply and quickly than many others. My love is obsessive, my sadness is total, my anger is furious. I’m still learning when it is appropriate to share those feelings and when to keep them inside. But exploring the heights and depths and sidewaynesses of emotions has given me a level of self-awareness that many others don’t have. And with that self-awareness, I’ve learned about showing grace to myself. And when I learned to have grace for myself, it became so much more natural to give grace to others. We’re all crazy beings with desires and fears that contradict, hinder, and inspire us, and I love being with people at their most confused. My Fourness helps me appreciate people for the things they’re often ashamed of, and that is a gift I could never give if I continued to pretend I was Nine.