It is definitely not a secret that I love the enneagram. While I think we should definitely take everything with a pinch of salt, especially personality typing systems, I have found it to contain a lot of truth when it comes to putting language to archetypes of behaviour and character that already exist. I don’t use it like a categorising system to tell me who I am and how I think (anyone who knows me knows I’m way too strong minded for that) but I do use it to identify and name things in my life. This gives me the ability to understand myself better and make better choices rather than just following my feelings on a whim, which often is not a smart move.
I’m an enneagram four, with a pretty strong three wing. Here’s some key points on the four from The Enneagram Institute:
‘We have named this type The Individualist because Fours maintain their identity by seeing themselves as fundamentally different from others. Fours feel that they are unlike other human beings, and consequently, that no one can understand them or love them adequately. They often see themselves as uniquely talented, possessing special, one-of-a-kind gifts, but also as uniquely disadvantaged or flawed. More than any other type, Fours are acutely aware of and focused on their personal differences and deficiencies.
Healthy Fours are honest with themselves: they own all of their feelings and can look at their motives, contradictions, and emotional conflicts without denying or whitewashing them. They may not necessarily like what they discover, but they do not try to rationalize their states, nor do they try to hide them from themselves or others. They are not afraid to see themselves “warts and all.” Healthy Fours are willing to reveal highly personal and potentially shameful things about themselves because they are determined to understand the truth of their experience—so that they can discover who they are and come to terms with their emotional history. This ability also enables Fours to endure suffering with a quiet strength. Their familiarity with their own darker nature makes it easier for them to process painful experiences that might overwhelm other types.
While it is true that Fours often feel different from others, they do not really want to be alone. They may feel socially awkward or self-conscious, but they deeply wish to connect with people who understand them and their feelings. The “romantics” of the Enneagram, they long for someone to come into their lives and appreciate the secret self that they have privately nurtured and hidden from the world. If, over time, such validation remains out of reach, Fours begin to build their identity around how unlike everyone else they are. The outsider therefore comforts herself by becoming an insistent individualist: everything must be done on her own, in her own way, on her own terms. Fours’ mantra becomes “I am myself. Nobody understands me. I am different and special,” while they secretly wish they could enjoy the easiness and confidence that others seem to enjoy.’
Basically, with a three wing I am definitely strongly driven by success (which is dependent on how I define it), and am able to work very hard to achieve it when I need to. But, as a four, the core of what motivates me to do everything that I do, is authenticity and integrity. My motivation is to make a unique contribution to the world in some way; being true to who I am, having deep connections with others, and experiencing the depth and breadth of my emotions, positive and negative, as part of the full spectrum of human experience. Basically, it’s about not being basic. Now that I’m older, and hopefully a little wiser, I can see how this has also affected decisions I have made as a consumer.
There used to be this phenomenon I would see growing up around Newcastle and Durham. When a particularly popular item would come out at Topshop you would walk through town, and everyone would be wearing it. I called them the Topshop army, and I hated it. I never wanted to be one of them, because I never wanted to blend in and look like everyone else. Now I know my enneagram number this makes a lot more sense, and it also helps me to catch myself in one of the biggest problems with a four too, being judgey or elitist.
Looking back, I was definitely on some sort of moral high horse about my fashion sense (even though I made questionable choices myself because it was the noughties), thinking that I was so much ‘deeper’ than everybody else and their inane choices from mainstream retailers. I like to think I have a little more grace for people these days, because now I can understand that not everyone sees the world through the same lens that I do. Not everyone’s core motivation is the same as mine, and so a lot of people like to follow a trend, keep things simple, or blend in. There are a thousand different styling, presentation and aesthetic choices that we can make every day, and we make them depending on a variety of factors. By understanding that not everyone is motivated by the same things as I am, I am able to not judge them because of their styling choices. Because judgement doesn’t do anything except make me a smaller person.
Beyond this, by understanding more about myself and my motivations, I can also make sure that I’m not just shopping sustainably, but also healthily.
I first got into charity shopping not because it was cheaper or more sustainable, which it is, but because it meant that nobody else could look like me. I could be completely unique and know that nobody else would have the same clothes that I had. It definitely achieved that goal, and part of the fun for me is still finding those unique pieces that stand out, or make an outfit more interesting. I’m allowed to enjoy that, and I feel like I enjoy it more now I actually understand where that feeling comes from. But at the same time, now that I understand that feeling, it also means I can catch myself when it drifts into an unhealthy place.
Often times when I’m walking down the street, if I pass a charity shop I can feel the pull to go in. Most of the time I don’t, because I’m on the way somewhere or because I’m pretty good at recognising that I don’t need to buy anything at the moment. But sometimes I do, and it’s a fun experience. What I am now learning to recognise in myself, however, is why I am feeling that pull. Charity shopping is not an inherently bad activity, but do I want to do it for a little bit of fun and perhaps something new that might be missing in my wardrobe, or is there a deeper underlying issue that perhaps I’m ignoring?
The thing is, being a four, when things are bad we can push further into that ‘uniqueness’. We often struggle with feeling inherently misunderstood by everyone around us, like we can’t forge any deep and authentic connections. When we feel alone, or rejected, it can be easy for a four to say ‘well no one else is like me, so I’m going to make myself even more different from everyone else, and take some solace in how special I am’. I have felt this feeling before, the urge when I’m sad to isolate myself and set myself apart even more. It’s a little bit like when you go through a break up and have a sudden urge to cut your hair, to separate yourself from that person and stake out your claim as an independent individual again. It’s just seriously amplified.
Now when I walk past a charity shop and feel like I want to go in, I ask myself a question. Are you wanting this for fun, or do you feel lonely right now? Do you feel disconnected from the people you love, and so think that you can find some happiness by finding that one unique item that could potentially make you that tiny bit more special than you were before? Sometimes, the answer has been the latter. And if that’s the case, nothing in the world that I could buy will ever make me happy. By understanding myself more, I can see my weak spots and the symptoms when they’re being hit particularly hard, and therefore stop myself indulging in mindless consumption, or looking for answers in the wrong places.
I think these questions are good to ask ourselves, even if we aren’t an enneagram four. Perhaps it’s the opposite, and you find yourself drawn to larger stores because you can blend in and look like everyone else. Perhaps you’re drawn to ethical fashion because it means you can put limits on your lifestyle that make you feel like you have some control in your life. Perhaps you only buy expensive fashion because it will make you seem successful in the eyes of others. There are countless more examples of the different ways our inner motivations can get twisted into habits that don’t help us.
My question then is, are you really doing it for you, or are you doing it to avoid a larger problem?
Because while it’s fine to do things for you, it’s no fun to feel like life is happening to you, or decisions aren’t your own. I would encourage everyone to get to know themselves (it doesn’t have to be through the lens of the enneagram if that doesn’t work for you!) because then you can begin the journey to understanding if you’re making choices from a healthy place.
It’s hard work, because making the decision to look inward means you have to recognise all the flawed parts of yourself and the ways in which you may be failing. But it’s also rewarding, leading to a healthier inner life and more control over the way you choose to move through the world. And hey, who knows what else you might discover about yourself along the way.
Photos by Gianna Scavo