It’s been a long time since I’ve discussed the Enneagram. In the meantime, I’ve just been four-ing around. You know, feeling feelings, being absent. One minute depressed and self-pitying, the next inspired and magnanimous. Giving myself whiplash. Just fouring.
The other day, I revisited a handout from an Enneagram workshop I attended back in June. It's a table of each type listing each one's vice, virtue, basic desire, and basic fear. This worksheet has, of course, been hanging on my fridge, next to wedding invitations, cat magnets from my mom, and thinly veiled threats from my property manager to give my apartment away if I don’t resign my lease.
When I first saw the “basic fear” column for a four, I couldn't relate. “Having no identity or significance.” When I read that, my brain bustled in with counter-evidence. Of course you’re significant, Anna. We’ve been over this. In God’s eyes, either everyone matters, or no one does. And we decided on everyone. Remember?”
I still mostly buy the everyone or no one argument. I think that the tiny things humans do to make themselves 10 or 20 or even 50% more important than the person next to them just sort of come out in the wash. These bids for relevance end up looking comically small in the scheme of things. Everyone or no one. Got it. Sort of.
I was so busy reminding myself that I matter that I forgot the original prompt. The worksheet didn’t say Fours don’t matter. It said Fours are afraid of not mattering. Why was I getting so defensive? Maybe the worksheet was onto something.
After all: other types' fears didn't phase me. Twos fear being unloved, sixes unsupported, and sevens deprived. None of these words trigger reflexive counterarguments. But Insignificance was a hard tap on the knee.
Or more precisely: Having no identity or significance. This fear kept me from writing publicly for long after I knew it would be good for me. An Enneagram 3 might understand my hesitance as simply a fear of failure. That same type would suggest I do everything in my power to avoid said failure, no excuses. Certainly, absolutely, no excuses. Threes are to excuses what those with “thyroid conditions” are to gluten. Terrified. Suspicious. Convinced that hyper-vigilance is the only way to prevent it. Bloated and crabby the day after a big giant excuse.
(My brother the musician is a 3. I can't talk to him when he hasn't practiced enough because all he can think about is how he hasn't practiced enough.)
As a four, writing and failing at writing is not the scary part. Rather, it’s the implications of failure, the very ordinariness of it. A failed blog would make me just like everybody else. Wanting a book deal and not getting one makes me every English major you’ve ever met. (And I wasn’t even an English major.)
As a four, I’m not worried that I’ll end up in a ditch somewhere. Ditches, after all, can be interesting. I'm not even worried I'll be a bad writer, or that other writers are better. Of course they are. Rather, I’m worried I’ll get married at 29, pop out a baby at 31, work at the post office and bitch about my in-laws and find a church I mostly like and, anyway, it's good for the kids. All while being pretty good at writing, all while thinking about the book deal I never got.
If I can’t be special, different, impactful, then what on earth is the point? What is my point on Earth?
Regardless of whether you use the Enneagram as a framework, take a moment to think about your basic fears. How do they show up in your life? When do they leave you feeling crabby? When is feeling crabby code for feeling scared?
For example, after a weekend where I don’t do enough writing or reading or reflecting cataloguing of my own or others’ ideas, I literally feel insignificant. I am the common worker bee who overslept and missed her flight to Nirvana. Boarding closed before I even ordered the Uber. I am irrelevant.
My basic fear isn’t pretty, and arguably makes me sound like a total egomaniac. Fair enough. But that same fear motivates me to be my best self. When we run from our basic fear, we often run towards something pretty marvelous.
Threes are afraid of worthlessness, and as such are usually pretty damn good at what they do. Fives are afraid of feeling helpless, and as such armor themselves with knowledge and appreciation for what is. Nines are afraid of separation, brokenness, so they go out of their way to create healing. Fours create some beautiful stuff in their quest to claim significance.
As a four, my own drive to feel expressed, actualized, authentic - to matter, and to identify what matters - has in turn given my own life more meaning. Gives my interactions more weight. I don’t mean “more” as in more than you. I mean more as in more than me, if I always overslept on weekends. Because I am aware of my basic fears and desires, I in turn know how to show up for myself.
For me, it starts with writing on weekends.