Life as an Enneagram Type 4: What Healthy Tom Looks Like

I’ve been recently blogging about Enneagram — the personality model that splits humanity into nine definitive “types.” What follows is the third post in a brief introspective series about my life as a Type 4: “The Individualist.” Check out my Enneagram intro if you missed it. Last time, I blogged about Unhealthy Tom. Today, I examine the lighter side of being a Type 4 — the life of Healthy Tom.

“All healthy people are awesome. Even 4’s,” jokes my Enneagram aficionado of a friend. He’s a 7, the extroverted extreme on the complete opposite side of the Enneagram wheel from me. I’ll admit, though: even 7’s are awesome people when healthy.

But what does it mean to be a “healthy” type 4? Is it about finding balance? Of feeling properly put together and otherwise passionate about life? How do you eclipse those upper echelons of healthiness?

And once healthy, how do you stay healthy?

Healthy Type 4 Enneagram

Photo courtesy Mish Sukharev, Creative Commons

Life as a Healthy Type 4: The Top 3 Levels of Healthiness

As explained previously, each of the nine Enneagram types follows a nine-level hierarchy of healthiness. According to the Enneagram site, here are my top three thriving levels for a healthy Type 4:

Level 1 (At Their Best): Profoundly creative, expressing the personal and the universal, possibly in a work of art. Inspired, self-renewing and regenerating: able to transform all their experiences into something valuable: self-creative.

Level 2: Self-aware, introspective, on the “search for self,” aware of feelings and inner impulses. Sensitive and intuitive both to self and others: gentle, tactful, compassionate.

Level 3: Highly personal, individualistic, “true to self.” Self-revealing, emotionally honest, humane. Ironic view of self and life: can be serious and funny, vulnerable and emotionally strong.

It’s kinda sad, but I hardly exhibited any aspects of a healthy Type 4 throughout my adolescence. Not consistently, anyway.

Sure, at times I could be “ironic” and “compassionate” and “on the search for self.” But looking back on my teens and early twenties, my healthy moments felt fleeting and not at all lasting.

Everything’s changed these last few years in California. People have affirmed the healthy Type 4 qualities in me.

I’ve seen them too.

Life as a Healthy Type 4: The Healthiest I’ve Ever Been

Last summer, I was not just a healthy Type 4. I was the healthiest Type 4. The healthiest man I’ve ever been. No other time comes close to this stretch of healthy bliss.

+ I was working 40-hour weeks at summer school with some of the most obnoxious incredible kids. I was exhausted, and I was so very satisfied.

+ I volunteered and worked at two brief camps, fulfilling my much needed “camp fix” for the summer.

+ I moved into a significantly improved living situation. For the first time in well over a year, I actually looked forward to coming home.

+ I was growing deeper in relationships at my church and others around the globe. I wasn’t just gaining from these friendships, I was giving too.

+ And on top of all of that, I’d finally published my first book. Struggle Central was a long hard road four years in the making. The response was overwhelmingly affirming.

I’d scaled the Type 4 mountain of healthiness and conquered the peak of Level 1. Regarding Struggle Central, I was “able to transform all [my] experiences into something valuable.” A creative work of art. Even this blog feels like a healthier manifestation of my soul.

And yet. Last summer was last summer. Last summer isn’t this summer. Last summer isn’t now.

A year ago, I stood at Level 1.

A year later, I’m not at Level 1 anymore.

Life as a Healthy Type 4: Staying Healthy

It’s hard to stay healthy. The good times don’t stick around forever. They just don’t. How do you stay healthy when circumstances feel anything but?

These recent months have been especially challenging. So many of the incredible bullets listed above have felt stolen or squashed.

I’ve dropped down the healthiness mountain in the last year. Am I still a healthy Type 4? At times, yes; at others, no. Next time, I’ll reveal where I stand today.

Nonetheless. As a Type 4, I know I like to be hard on myself. To convince my brain and heart that all is lost. That I’m a worthless loveless hopeless human. Lost in a solitary cave without the light of a new day or a new story.

As elaborated last time, I hold onto my shame like a dog to its barren bone because shame feels intrinsic to my very identity. I cannot simply cut off my arm and expect to continue living, right?

– Of course I’m struggling again.

– Of course friends have abandoned me.

– Of course everything fell apart. Why would it — why would others — remain standing? Stand for me?

I cannot help considering the apostle Paul. How he went to prison, was beaten repeatedly, and rotted under house arrest for years despite feeling called to Rome. This is what he said in Philippians 4:

11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

I think Paul pretty much revealed the secret to healthy living, regardless of your Enneagram type. It doesn’t start with our feelings or our circumstances.

Healthy living starts with a Strengthener. A Sustainer. A Savior. The more I realize that, the more I believe that — the healthier I inevitably become.

I suppose that’s the trick, though. Believing. Hoping. Letting go and “letting God,” as the cliche goes.

I’ve seen and tasted life at Level 1, and I want more. I hope you taste and live that kind of life, too.

What’s your Enneagram Type? What does being “healthy” look like for you? What’s the healthiest you’ve ever been?

  • Rebecka

    Yup, this is what I’m working on right now. How to be healthy when my circumstances (as in my body) is anything but. When every day I feel like my body is betraying me by breaking down and being sick. And I can’t stop feeling ashamed and like it’s my fault and I probably deserve it (though intellectually, I know that’s not true.) If you figure out how to “let go and let God”, please let me know! 😉

    • Alyson L Oltmann

      I think letting go and letting God is different for each person. I just recently found out that I am a type 4 and that in itself was overwhelming. I knew I had felt different than others my whole life but I couldn’t figure out why or how because to me I was like everyone else, but it seemed to me i get hurt more. I’ve learned to embrace my sensitivity and use it to help me relate more with the world, and understand their struggle. Letting go and letting God to me means that I don’t need anyone’s approval. I am worthy and my worth to God doesn’t change depending on anyone’s views of me. I state my terms and do my best, if that’s too much for them to handle, then that is on them to deal with. I can’t control them, nor can they control me and sometimes people need to be reminded. Nothing is in my control, I only have control over myself. My life is not how I ideally imagined it to be, but I have to remember that it’s just an idea. A fantasy. Life is not black and white. Its full of colors and we don’t have to be happy all the time just because that’s what we think we are supposed to be. If we need rest, we need rest. Our bodies communicate with us all the time. Being uppity all the time is unrealistic, and will make me more low if I try to force it. I trust that i’ll be up an running again after a good chillout session. Its easy for me to get burnout, so forgiving myself for letting it run its course is key. It helps me stay stable to say the Lords prayer multiple times when I start feeling tormented and to bless my enemies and remember, We are all human. We all have gifts that we share with the world and an unlimited amount of love and renewal that is always available to us if we are willing to receive it. Its not easy, but prioritizing your balance is key. If anyone tries to knock you off balance or shame you for doing what you need to do, Walk away or tell them to leave. Even if they are inside your head. Its not worth it. Life is too short to be dealing with energy vampires, and your gifts are needed.