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Trigger Series: Type Four

Updated: Apr 14, 2023




We've all done it. Started a casual conversation with someone that suddenly turned into an all out fight. What happened? If you TRULY don't know (and it wasn't one of the usual suspects of sex, politics, and money), then you might have stepped on a Trigger for this Type. Read on for tips on how to translate the conversation in a Type Four's language and better understand how to navigate a path forward.


Scenario 1:

What you said (with your actions): "You are so sensitive and moody. Cheer up!"


What they heard: "I don't understand you and there's something wrong with you."


Why do they hear this?

At their core, Fours believe that there is something inherently defective about them and they are missing something that everyone else has. They believe both that this defect keeps them from truly being understood and in deep connection with others and that this defect gives them a unique, special, and significant identity. Around this idea (of being defective, but unique), Fours build a rich, internal, emotional life that they visit anytime the real world does not give them the connection they need.


Though they make an identity out of being different, Fours are keenly aware of the separateness this causes and are deeply concerned with feeling understood by others and avoiding rejection that could result from not being understood. Hearing that someone perceives their rich emotional life as bad and a thing that separates them further (even leading to rejection of them) and that they are, indeed, defective in the eyes of others will trigger a Four's fight our flight responses of either becoming hugely emotional or withdrawn and quiet.


How can you dig yourself out of this hole:

If calling someone overly emotional blows up in your face (surprise surprise), the best way to move forward is to let the Four speak their mind (and emotions) and show them that you are trying to understand. You demonstrate your willingness to engage in understanding with paraphrasing what you hear with phrases like, "I hear you saying ____, is that right?" or "I want to make sure I understand you fully, are you saying ___". These openings allow the Four to both talk and rest in the reassurance that someone is trying to understand them and connect with them. Be patient in the process. This could take a while, but seeking deep understanding of a Four's experience will soothe their activated ego structure and build stronger connections.


If you are lucky enough to have a Four in your life, you know that emotions will move in large swings in the course of a day (or even a conversation). Many Types do not feel the same comfort with emotions that our lovely Fours do, so take comfort that many of the emotions Fours express will come and go easily and require nothing from you but a listening ear. In other words, don't try to fix them or talk them out of it. Just listen.


Scenario 2:

What you said: "We don't need to bother them about this project" (i.e. not including them on things important to them)

What they heard: "You are less important/smart/connected/valuable than others"


Why do they hear this?

Fours are convinced about their inherent defectiveness which lead to envying others for having something that they are missing. This fear is so intense for Fours that it can be activated by actions or occurrences that others would not consider activating (or even rude) (for example, not including them on a work email out of courtesy could be seen as regarding them as less important thus triggering them). Once the envy-inducing action occurs and the fears of rejection and defectiveness have been activated, the Four's complex inner world will become a hot bed for over-analyzing and working themselves into emotional tizzies that will lead to seemingly inexplicable outbursts.


How can you dig yourself out of this hole:

If you have accidentally triggered a Four's envy, the best way forward is to listen. Once Fours are ready to talk about what is bothering them (which could take a minute), letting them know you are prepared to listen and truly understand them will help build a better relationship moving forward. Of course, Fours will only want this kind of connection with people who are authentic, so be prepared to speak truthfully in the spirit of connection, without blaming, criticism or false flattery. Show that you are a person who stay true to their own values while still remaining open to listening to understand will go a long way.


To avoid issues in the future, preventatively ask how the Four likes to be included, how they like to be communicated with, and what seems to be their hot buttons. This will change (of course, as we all do) over the course of a relationship, but it, again, shows a willingness to understand. Most Fours struggle knowing themselves and their many differing moods, so they will appreciate anyone who is willing to listen without feeling they need to be fixed.


Other Triggers to Avoid:

  • Being asked to act outside their values.

  • Anything that activates their struggle with Envy

  • Not being seen as unique, different, special.

  • Feeling undervalued for their unique contributions.



For more information on instinctual triads, see the post below.







For information on personal coaching sessions, email enneagramreflections@gmail.com.

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