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Why Do So Many Enneagram Fours Want to Be Nines?

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.

 

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6 thoughts on “Why Do So Many Enneagram Fours Want to Be Nines?”

  1. (Someday, I’ll have to follow through and find out what Enneagram I am.) I had a somewhat similar, somewhat different experience. I also felt I had to squash my emotions in childhood and got pretty good at it. It was when I started going to church, when I was 16, that I could suddenly throw a garbage can at my brother, hug complete strangers, laugh and yell so loudly that some avoided sitting near me at basketball games. Emotions were busting out all over and it was because I had either become a Christian or had started accepting that in the Christian life, I was accepted and loved. It seemed I had to learn how to feel everything before I could learn how to feel joy. And it was well worth it all! My sister told me recently that our mom really started laughing and hugging more when I started hugging her. Sometimes others need to feel it is okay, too. Or okay to not hug if it isn’t you! Thanks for the post.

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    1. I’m so glad you had such a positive experience of faith and grace when you became a Christian. That’s really beautiful!

      (When you find out what your Enneagram number is, let me know!)

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  2. Life is strange. I was raised as a Catholic and went to Catholic schools until the 9th grade. As Catholics, we were taught that we had possession of the only true religion and felt pretty smug about it. Also as Catholics we were taught works-righteousness with a vengeance…we had to earn our way into heaven. Part of this working our way meant being kind and pleasant and nice and never ever saying or doing anything that would offend someone. This sense of smugness and need to earn paradise kind of warped our personalities. We were not allowed to be fours.
    Now, 70 years later and much wiser, I have been a Lutheran, a Christian, and now am a Southern Baptist but only kind of, because Southern Baptists are almost as bad as the Catholics when it comes to believing they have the truth locked up. Southern Baptists also do not think people should be fours, if they are they need to pray harder. Unfortunately, the other denominations I have belonged to were the same.
    Some times I want to scream at the comments and opinions that I hear in the church community. I know that God is slapping His forehead and crying in a Yiddish accent “Oy Vey, vill they neffer get it!?” (God is Jewish, you know, so Oy Vey seems like something He would say.) God made us different from each other and gave us brains so we could think for ourselves.
    “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.” Tricia, be a four proudly and hold your head high. You are special. You are gifted.

    (Not sure what happened with the previous post…my copy and paste skills must be rusty and I did not know how to delete it so here it is again in the original form.)

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    1. Yup, I think Southern Baptists are pretty good at the “we’ve got the true faith” lie, and “smile while you sell it” righteousness. The more we insist we’re different, the more obvious it is we’re very often the same!

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