Feelings over Thinkings: Musings on the 4

“Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every
day.”~Henri Nouwen

My daughter’s tickle box overturns and we chuckle over her crazy drawing: eyes bugged out and a nose that somehow looks like a little butt. Her laughter gives mine permission to overflow too. My 4-year-old tells his own knock-knock joke and we all laugh; he thinks he’s hilarious and we just crack up over his creative ideas. The joke makes no sense, but it still makes us laugh. But laughter in our house isn’t as commonplace as I wish it was; I realize the momma often sets the tone of her home, and sometimes my mood is way too somber.

Anxiety over conflicts, concern over my kids’ needs, and analytical thoughts bog down my spirit. That carefree little girl is decades in the past and I’ve realized something this year that saddens me: I rarely “feel” happy. Joyful, sure? I’m secure in the Lord and His eternal gift over my soul. I’m thankful for the life He’s blessed me with and the way He continues to provide. But, happy? Not sure I’ve experienced many of these synonyms regularly: cheerful, jubilant, lively, blissful, perky, upbeat, merry…  Hmm…

My personality profile in the Enneagram chart is an 8 (the Powerful challenger who seeks truth and justice), but my second highest-ranking number is a 4 (the Romantic individualist who seeks to fully feel whatever they are experiencing). So, basically, I’m often at war with myself.  (j/k…sort of). Although 4’s are often original, personal and authentic, they can be emotionally intense or self-focused. Moody. Dramatic. You get it?

“Fours, like Eights, need something to commit to, something that is truly worthy of our time and energy. When we get committed, we get totally committed, and it can’t be to projects, people, or organizations that we don’t respect. This stuff about Fours coming to terms with “ordinary life”; yes, it’s true, that we need to be able to come to terms with certain things, but sometimes at enneagram events, I’ve felt like people were sort of trying to rub my nose in it—trying to say that I just need to suck it up and settle down to what passes for normality these days. But that kind of prescription doesn’t work for a Four; it only makes us pull away, because we know that other people just don’t understand. As for equanimity: yes, another fine quality, especially if it means the eye within the center of the storm, because that is something I can relate to. But often, it seems to be interpreted as “getting over it”—you know, just letting go of all that intense emotion so you feel nice and calm—so we’re back to transforming Fours into Nines again. (Good luck with that project; it never worked for me.)”–On Being a Four

I find this weakness of emotional instability plague me most when I’m highly stressed or feeling spiritually dry. Although the truth of who God is and who I am in Him hasn’t altered, my emotions have and I long for that “experience” that will solidify my connection to the Lord. He often doesn’t oblige that desire. I wish He would, but I know it’s for my best that He doesn’t. At times, I’ve idolized the experience over the truth, hoping to “feel” something as a superseding stamp of approval. I’ve put my heart toward the front of the stage and asked for applause and affirmation. In those moments when the quiet overwhelms me, I cling to God in trust, knowing that He hasn’t abandoned me, though the expanse of the desert feels real. He promises to never leave me or remove His love from me. These truths feed me when I crave something other.

If you have a friend who leans more toward the emotional scale of the personality chart, I’d encourage you with these simple tactics:

  • Appreciate their emotional sensitivity, creativity and idealism.
  • Reveal your own feelings and reactions; avoid being overly rational.
  • When they are upset, don’t take everything they say too literally since they may be expressing a momentary feeling.
  • Return to the present and be positive while acknowledging their experience of what is missing.
  • Seek to understand and empathize without necessarily agreeing.


At their best, fours are empathetic, sensitive, perceptive, innovative, and aware, but at their weaker moments, they can be dissatisfied, selfish, volatile and melancholy.
If you are a 4 and find yourself on the lower end (less resourceful aspects of your personality), try these effective tools:

  • Live in the moment. Take time to appreciate what’s in your life right here, right now.
  • Don’t expect too much of people. Accept them too for their inadequacies. We are all just trying to do our best.
  • Show your appreciation for the things people do for you. If they sense your endless dissatisfaction, they may soon feel that nothing they do will ever make you happy and stop trying.
  • When you start feeling depressed, seek the company of positive people who can support you and make you see the beauty in things.
  • Get out of your own bubble every once in a while. See and experience the world. Learn about other cultures, and visit new places. Expand your view of the world and of life.
  • To grow, you must seek the balance between sadness and your capacity for happiness and satisfaction.
  • Realize that nothing is perfect, but you can still find happiness and satisfaction in the imperfections. (taken from here).


Don’t know what personality type you are? Try the enneagram test.


Kristin L. Hanley is the author of Navigating a Sea of Emotions. 

This book explores scriptural anchoring points, personality influence, and past experiences to give us a new vision of the weighted tension between letting loose with our feelings or cinching up and ignoring them altogether. As human beings, we are created with emotional dimension, and within Christ, we are called to surrender these feelings, using them in a healthy and biblical way.
Navigating a Sea of Emotions by [Hanley, Kristin L]

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