Type Four in Recovery

The Individualist—The Sensitive, Introspective Type

Copyright 2018 by Michael Naylor

The Healthy Four

Thomas came into recovery eight years ago. He was a 30-year-old-heroin addict and alcoholic and homeless, not a penny to his name. Raised in foster homes, and living on the street since age sixteen, this intelligent, creative, big-hearted Type Four represents the stuff of real miracles: the capacity to endure incredible, soul-killing difficulty and trauma beyond comprehension, and to arise as a deeply loving, sensitive and kind human being. He represents the Type Four’s emotional courage in spades. He has experienced first-hand, the darkest of the dark, he the rejected outsider walking the streets of San Francisco, hoping to cop dope, or find a communal gang of drunks to get loaded with, a fringe-dweller lost in despair, sorrow, shame, and outrage. And yet today he has worked hard to transform himself, and when healthy, is deeply attuned to those around him, and able to sense the emotional undercurrents of unacknowledged feelings. He shoots for the core of emotional honesty and is able to articulate the depths of his feelings, can share them openly, can go where most are unable to in recovery. Because of his inner work he is able to hold and empower others with compassion and confidence when they are lost in the throes of their personal suffering. Deeply committed to his eleven-year-old daughter, he is ever aware of supporting her personal growth and creating safety for her to talk openly with him. No longer as overwhelmed by the tide of his emotions he is often able to focus and follow through on his commitments, i.e., parenting, working, finishing his degree.

At his best he is hilarious when talking about the inner pretzels he finds himself in (which he articulates in graphic, Four style), be he caught in the throes of an envy attack or assuming that others are judging him as harshly as he judges himself. His heart-felt, brutally honest storytelling captures both his suffering and gracious joyfulness at what he has seen and digested. He has done what healthy Fours do so well, transforming his suffering into light-hearted, joy-inducing hope, his ability to laugh at himself while articulating the depths of both his innate beauty and his soul-wrenching personality habits, a tremendous force of healing for others. Because of his enormous gratitude for actually being sober and clean today, and because of his intense labors to resurrect his life, he is deeply committed to helping others in their liberation. At his best he inhabits an overflowing heart that is able to savor the beauty and uniqueness of each moment, and of those around him. Emotionally honest, he embodies tremendous emotional strength, i.e., he could survive and thrive in just about any difficulty thrown at him. Intelligent and extremely self-aware, he invites others to show themselves, flaws and all. He is a warrior and fighter for the emotional truths and depths of others to arise.

The Four in Addiction—Life at Level 6 and 7

In addiction the Four is cut off from these wonderful capacities. Often shrouded in turbulent emotions, their capacity to embrace and express their gifts is terribly narrowed. Instead of feeling a part of the spacious beauty that life expresses, they experience themselves as misunderstood outsiders, their precious capacities and qualities devoured by emotional torment. Disconnected from a felt sense of their own being, their heart-rending question of “Who am I” turns into emotional rants, despair and acts of self-destruction. Furious that they weren’t given the right ingredients and right chances to live happily, they are hypnotized by rage, envy
and bone-crushing self-pity.

Identified with being different than their family and culture, they struggle to create a unique identity. Furious they weren’t given the right parenting to experience happiness, their capacity for compassion turns to narcissistic rage and soul-sucking grief; their ability to sense and feel the depths of their being turns to preoccupation with each passing emotional state; their gift of understanding and articulating the suffering in others turns to compelling and sometimes blinding self-absorption. Their innate capacities—gentleness, compassion, emotional honesty and clarity—turns to bitter despair, emotional reactivity, hyper-sensitivity, elitism and hostility.

Fours in addiction recovery long for something unseen that they can’t put words on, that if discovered would allow them to know themselves and to feel comfortable in their own skin. At Levels 6 and 7 this frustrated “longing” has morphed into self-indulgent sensuality, hopelessness, and to extreme emotional outbursts that insult and alienate others. Torn between total despair and fantasizing a tremendous resurrection, they are storm-tossed, emotions swinging back and forth in tidal waves. Their innate creative capacity is side-tracked by their dramatic displays of hypersensitivity and elitism, and lives like a ghost in their fantasy world where real action to land their creativity often cannot occur.

Wanting desperately to intimately connect with life, they are entranced by their hypersensitive reactions to the words and actions of others, by their blinding self-absorption with their emotional reactions, and by their need for reality to attune to them and their uniqueness. People cannot reach them, nurture them or support them, making addiction a powerful and insidious force in their lives.

The First Twelve Weeks in Residential Treatment: Life at Level 6 & 7

When the Four arrives at Thomas House rehab it’s as if he is cloaked in a thick, black veil. Mysterious, he exudes a far away aura. And yet there is the sense that at any moment he could explode. And often he does. Hungry for emotional realness and contact while spurning it simultaneously, he wants the truth of his reality out-front and seen. From his cave of mystery he can arise like a dragon demanding everyone embrace what he has experienced: misery, disappointment, self-hatred, self-rejection, and shame. He anguishes over his losses in relationship, over his inability to anchor his unique gifts, and his many unsuccessful efforts to find happiness and real purpose.

At his best he puts into words with exquisite precision and raw clarity, the depth and truth of his suffering. He uncloaks himself and lets you all the way inside his suffering heart giving you a front row view into the inner machinations, fantasies, and the jungle of his confused emotions. Fiercely he rips the covers off himself and his inner world of emotion. He lays the bloody guts of his suffering in the middle of the floor. Everyone in the room grimaces, guts tighten, eyes widen, but all lean forward, his deep confession unlocking the ‘don’t talk rule.’ Other men follow suit dropping to a new depth of courageous self-expression, telling secrets they’ve never told, opening up the dark corners of their inner lives. Courageously he has sacrificed himself and his facade, inviting everyone to unmask. Gratitude touches him. He has inspired others to express deeper self honesty—he has given his gift. But in a few short moments his habit of personality returns, he caught in soul-torturing angst and emotional turmoil, his emotional clarity swept up by the blinding waters of his shame and insignificance. This will be the dance of his early recovery—navigating his emotional depths with lucidness followed by disappearance into the black hole of his hurt and shame.

Protective Mechanism of the Four: Hiding Out in My Imagination & Intensity

The Type Four protects himself and his shame-filled heart (“I’m a nobody…I have no significance”) by withdrawing into his imagination, avoiding real contact with life which he anticipates will cause him more shame. He creates an ‘imaginary’ character to live through —a Fantasy Self—and fantasizes himself doing incredible creative works or failing miserably, unable to show up for his creative dreams. If the Four allows you get close to him, he risks the possibility that you might say or do something that touches his feelings of deficiency and shame. Floating in the depths of his psychic waters is a ghostly tormentor who continually hisses to him, “You are insignificant and unimportant…you are insignificant and unimportant…lie low or you will be seen.”

His intuitive radar is hotwired to protecting this sensitive and vulnerable soul-wound. It takes little to brush the hyper-sensitive shame button of his soul. When he does attempt contact with others it is often through his emotional confessions regarding his painful past. Although his emotional honesty is a tremendous gift, used too often he makes it very difficult for others to hold the compassionate space needed to communicate with him with any consistency.

He is mired in a psychological struggle: safely distancing himself from you in his imagination while yearning to be with you, worried you will embarrass and shame him yet hungry in his heart for real emotional connection. He often chooses retreat. Better that than revealing his turbulent heart or his wish for connection. He abandons himself and his gifts, imprisoning himself in the role of the unwanted outsider. Ultimately enraged with this position, he will respond with emotional reactivity and intensity to stimulate connection or intimacy with others.

In a treatment setting this will often be expressed as anger, outrage and soul-bending discontent with staff and other clients who are not being as emotionally deep, honest and ‘emotionally intense’ as his is. If people aren’t talking about their deepest, darkest feelings (which the Four assumes he knows and can sense in others—on good days he can!) then they aren’t being real.

Then comes the complaint and protective strategy of the unhealthy Four: These people can’t truly help him because they don’t know his emotional needs. They aren’t able, as he is, to go to the depths of emotional truth. Hiding behind the gift of his emotional honesty, he judges and dismisses them as emotional incompetents. In a state of rageful disdain he withdraws from them, feeling once again that he is the outsider, the only one who is emotionally aware.

The Four’s blind-spot (and self-protection habit): I know what emotional truth is and everyone else here in this treatment center (or AA, NA, or the world) is shallow and fake.” He mistakenly thinks that he is the “deep” one. It’s a compelling delusion and self-protection mechanism and can trick him into thinking people have disappointed and let him down. He thinks, “See, it happened again. No one can understand me.” In demanding that others attune to him in just the right way, he pushes them away with his judgmental insensitivity while asserting that he is simply being honest and true to his feelings. He reasons, “How can people who don’t have the courage to walk into the swamps of their personal suffering, like myself, help me? I’m justified in feeling like a victim of emotionally inept people and refusing their help. It’s not help that is suited to my special depth.” Mistaking his brand of emotional experience as the right one, everyone else is rejected or avoided, i.e., treated as if they were nobody, as though insignificant, the very feelings he wishes to avoid.

Unwittingly, the Four becomes entranced by this perspective: “What I’m looking for is deep and profound, intimate and beautiful. And…I’m too deep and too emotionally intense, and ‘real’ for you.” He mistakenly confuses honesty, depth and intimacy with spilling and retelling the contents of his shame, his childhood suffering, his disappointment with his parents, his rage at being ripped off and misunderstood by life, or through his emotional outbursts. Little does he realize that this is a distortion of intimacy and emotional honesty, a heavy veil that obscures the real depth and significance he seeks, the passionate creative impulse he wishes to express, and the real intimacy his soul longs for.

Core Wound and Relapse Pattern of the Four Throughout Recovery

When the addicted Four enters recovery and begins the journey of healing, the driving engine of his addiction are his core fears of feeling significant—a nobody—and of being emotionally shallow, dull, ordinary, and indistinguishable (these fears will be the cornerstone of his inner work throughout his recovery). In early recovery these feelings will feel justified because his life is in ruins. But at predictable intervals, whether he has been clean and sober six weeks or sixteen years, from his depths will arise the feeling that he is utterly insignificant, a nobody. In the midst of his greatest successes these feelings will have the uncanny capability of erasing all self-confidence. Thomas describes the feeling of insignificance this way:

“When I entered recovery the feeling of shame and insignificance clung to me like a vampire. Walking down the street I felt that everyone could see my shameful life and could see thru me into the depths of all my mistakes and misery. I felt utterly naked. I’d walk into an AA meeting and feel overwhelmed with self-doubt and shame, sure that everyone in the room could see my flaws. I reacted by deciding they were shallow, uncreative fools, and not worthy of my time. But this was a protection for my broken heart, and the sorrow and shame I felt at failing so badly in my life, at being such an outcast. This turned to envy where I experienced bone-chilling jealousy of everyone. I’d look at another recovering man and it would appear that he had a life going on, that he was comfortable with himself. God I wanted that. Then I’d hate myself and him for having the feelings. It was horrid. It sent me out onto the streets many times. Today, eight years clean and sober, these same feelings recycle at deeper levels when I embark on new path of growth or expansion. If I don’t stay alert I can slip back into withdrawal from life in order to protect myself from shame (and from growth), or take on new addictions, watching too much TV, over-eating, engaging in too much sensuality, etc., and this will and has led me back to my addiction. The feeling of being insignificant is a huge trigger for me. It’s extremely painful, and one I’m ashamed of it and often keep it to myself. I have to work to let people in and not retreat.”

The emotional habit of envy is insidious. The Four, feeling deeply flawed, looks over at his neighbor and caught in his mental habit of fantasizing, imagines that his neighbor has a comfortable and happy life, doing ordinary and socially accepted things that others do, apparently having no cares in the world. Envy rips through him. Truth is, the Four doesn’t really know what his neighbor is experiencing on the inside, but he imagines he does. He thinks, “He’s happy and I’m not. I hate him for this, and I hate me for not having it. And I hate myself for being envious.” Suffering with envy, the Four then takes a sharp turn and thinks, “Wait a second; the happiness he has is shallow and dull. I never want to be content with such ordinary, mundane pleasures. Forget that. I’ll go back to my lonely apartment and write sad poetry, ponder the real horrors of suffering in the world, and be miserable. At least I’m real!” Back and forth he swings between these two poles. Thomas explains it this way:

“I struggle with envy and the feeling of being no one of significance. I think this is what people see when they look at me. It’s still hard for me today even though I’m eight years sober. I just don’t drink or drug over it. When I was first in recovery I thought that everyone else had it together and that I was the only who really suffered. I imagined I was the weirdest outsider in the room with a history no one could ever understand. I didn’t fit anywhere and yet a part of me liked not fitting in, liked being the one who was different and original, even though it often made me feel lonely and left out. I was angry that I’d been robbed of my childhood, that I’d gone through so much abuse and trauma. In my rage I felt like I deserved to have what I wanted simply because I’d been gypped and others hadn’t. Due to feeling so insignificant I imagined myself one day being seen as someone great and famous, a rock star, and found it very difficult to enter real life where everyone struggled with jobs, relationships, money, kids. It was as though doing everyday life things was beneath me, and demeaning to me. Imagining myself as someone great took the edge off my low self-esteem. I’d get really demanding when I was down, expecting everyone to treat like a diamond in the rough, and still have to notice these unhealthy patterns today in sobriety. They run very deep. They are still a big source of my suffering, and over time I am gradually changing. When I’m triggered all my defenses turn on, and I can feel like that guy who walked through the doors of recovery eight years ago, filled with self-doubt and insignificance. The difference is I see it, and don’t believe it. I just know I’ve been triggered and I share it out loud with another trusted person to neutralize its hypnotic affect.”

The mental habit of the Four shows up in several other ways. When the Four’s shame gets triggered, be it by someone’s words or actions, he falls prey to replaying the “shame” scene continuously in his imagination. He gets stuck to the scene and the feelings, re-imagining the scene over and over again, like a replaying film clip rather than openly discussing the matter with a confidant.

In a different manner, the Four imagines a Fantasy Self that he wishes to be—an idealized version of himself—and then mercilessly beats himself up for not attaining it as he compares himself to what he imagines he should be—and falls short (this is another form of envy). He might imagine himself to be a great painter, but becomes so lost in his imagination and disconnected from reality (at Level 5, 6, & 7) that he fails to make the necessary efforts (the ordinary, disciplined efforts) needed to actually get good at painting, and then hates himself for not living up to his Fantasy Self. Or, under sway of his imagination he imagines himself quickly mastering his longed for creative capacity, and is enraged at himself for how slow the creative process takes, and gives up.

Fantasizing can reveal itself through the Four’s dream that if he finds the right partner, the Soul Mate, that his life of suffering will be over. She will love him, support him, see his genius, be the mom and dad he always needed, and a great lover too. His fantasizing makes it extremely difficult to deal with a flesh and blood, imperfect partner who continually fails at fulfilling his infatuated dream. His dream of the idealized partner becomes an extraordinary demand that his partner cannot succeed at. Again, like his habit of envy, he compares what he has, the real partner, with the one he has fantasized about—the soul mate—and is enraged that his partner has fallen short. The habit of idealizing his partner through his imagination and then devaluing his partner, creates terrible suffering and chaos for the Four who truly wants a significant relationship.

The mechanism of the Inner Critic adds fuel to the flames of this mechanism. The Inner Critic’s message is “You are good or okay if you emotionally honest and follow the dictates of your feelings.” For the recovering Four this translates into being true to whatever feeling arises on their emotional radar. If suddenly his ‘feeling’ towards his work, his partner, or his friends has changed, and reality isn’t matching his fantasy expectation, then being be true to himself can mean finding something or someone that does. Lost in following and tracking his current feelings, he becomes unable to follow any given path to fruition. This sets the Four up for being rudderless, groundless, and unable to stabilize a sense of self, something he yearns for desperately. In the realm of relationship, the Four, so taken by this Inner Critic message, can feel it necessary to report every passing emotion to his partner, in the name of ‘emotional honesty.’ If on a given day, he feels attracted to someone else, and suspects she might be his soul mate, or is angry that he’s not feeling attracted to his partner, or that the relationship isn’t feeding his need for emotional intensity, he might say, “Mary, I’m having these attractions for Louise. And…I’m not feeling very attracted to you.” He’s dropped a small nuclear bomb into the room, in the name of honesty, that now has undone his partner’s confidence and sense of safety. Learning to know when to share his emotions and when to find another man in recovery to share them with, is essential for developing a long term relationship, and not bringing unnecessary suffering to his partner. But for some Fours this is a lesson that is hard earned.

The Ongoing Shocks of Recovery—Embracing the Shadow

Recovery for the Four truly begins when he sees he has erroneously imagined himself being sensitive, compassionate, and emotionally honest while under the influence of his addiction—when his real behavior has been self-absorbed, hateful, and self-centered (Level 6 and 7 behavior). As he stays clean and sober, he witnesses the countless unconscious lies he’s told himself. Where he imagined he was sensitive, he sees self-absorbed, self-pitying behavior. Where he dreamed himself creative, he sees work that was never started or completed. Where he thought he was emotionally honest, he sees that he used friends to dump his feelings. Dreaming himself empathic and kind, he sees the many times he was cruel, mean-spirited, and judgmental, often in the name of emotional honesty.

This is the process of being stripped of one’s delusions (and it will recur throughout one’s recovery). As he sees his real behaviors revealed, remorse and humiliation will drop him to his knees. It is then that he must not flee but sit with the feelings, resist attacking himself with self-hatred, allow others to support, guide and empower him to walk through the fire of self-revelation. He has walked through the first door of freedom and angels greet him amidst the storm of insights that are hitting him hard and fast.

The process of deepening one’s contact with one’s heart, with one’s body, with quiet mind, will entail learning at deeper and deeper levels, how one’s actions do not match one’s imagined idealized self, confessing and groaning out loud that one has discovered another level of illusion. “It is possible…not another illusion!” And at each discovery, if compassion ensues rather than self-hatred, what arises for the Four is a deeper sensitivity to his heart, and the heart’s of others, a deepened capacity to sense and experience beauty wherever he sets his eyes, and a felt sense of his significance.

Beyond Early Recovery: Journey Down the Strata

Thomas, a Type Four, explains the paradox and sometimes confusing territory of the recovery journey down the Strata:

“When I came into recovery, I was so grateful to be sober and clean. Slowly but surely my life began to get on track, my work evolved, I got married, and started to create a life. What was perplexing to me is that every several years the feeling of being insignificant and having no identity would arise in me. At first I didn’t really notice it distinctly because I was accustomed to dodging it by getting into creative action, trying hard to build a new sense of unique identity through my work or in how I presented myself to the world. Or I’d just feel a stark emptiness that freaked me out—like I was absolutely nobody, I virtually couldn’t remember any of my gifts—and suddenly I’d be having all sorts of mood swings, angst, feelings of intense envy of others, emotional touchiness and reactivity, and overwhelming despair. Each time this cycle occurred I discovered that I had to find answers, deeper insights because I was feeling intense pain. I needed more specific support for engaging myself at deeper emotional and psychological levels of awareness. Sometimes it meant doing body work, sometimes trying a new spiritual practice, sometimes opening up to deeper sorrow, so that the arising of my core fears of insignificance always sent me on a journey that was very positive in the long run. At year thirty of my sobriety I was overwhelmed with the feeling of utter insignificance in the face of everything in my life going well. Logically it didn’t make sense. How could things be going so well but myself in terrible, heartbreaking suffering. Fortunately I had wise counsel who encouraged me to sit with the feelings, to allow myself to embrace them at depth, to feel through them, to not try to divert them into some new identity project. This was incredibly hard because I felt such emptiness, such heart-breaking sadness, touching into the terrible loss of real contact with my father at a little boy. I was filled with utter rejection, with the horrific sense that dad could not see me or really be with me. I would die here it was so painful. I’d felt aspects of this throughout my inner journey but here, I felt in completely and utterly, and wailed from the depths of my being for my father. And then, over three years, very slowly the feelings shifted from utter insignificance to joyful openness, to feeling my heart filled with light and love, to an unshakeable and delightful sense of knowing myself at depth, but with no self-image attached to it. Utterly miraculous! The emptiness I felt was replaced with a sense of inner solidity. I existed, I felt my fullness of my being, the innate aliveness of my soul. Never would I have imagined things getting more poignantly painful thirty years into recovery, and never could I have imagined the depth of joy, love and satisfaction that followed.”

Journeying down the strata for Thomas meant slowly but surely passing through his core fears, his emotional suffering of envy, his sense of being utterly nothing, a nobody, triggered by his father’s inability to be present for him. To experience this directly and not act out or stuff it where it would fester as depression or unnamed sorrow, required a great deal of presence, the capacity to bear this suffering without falling into the reactivity of his type, and strong and wise support from those who have traveled down this path.

Suggestions to the Type Four

1. Begin to notice how you unconsciously confirm your feelings of being a rejected outsider. Because you feel flawed and insignificant you look for your environment to confirm these feelings. For instance, you’re at an Alcoholic Anonymous meeting and you’re certain that everyone there thinks you are weird and different, and unlike them. You interpret their actions or inactions, their tone of voice, their lack of attention to you, their glances, to mean something that suggests you’re an outsider. The more self-absorbed and fearful you become, the more you take everything personally, as a referendum of rejection on you. This is done completely in your imagination. You believe your feelings of insignificance, longing, and emptiness come from outside yourself. It’s not true. You imagine people judging you the way you judge yourself, unmercifully and hatefully. Stop assuming others are doing the same.

2. Begin to notice when you avoid activities that feel ordinary and mundane but will save your life. When faced with the methodical actions that you need to take to create more inner stability and capacity to stay sober and clean (be it going to AA/NA meetings, doing necessary reading, writing out your 12 Steps, praying and meditating in the morning, completing creative tasks), you will be frequented by feelings that these life-saving actions are ordinary, boring and not tailored to your unique needs. If everyone else is doing them, how can they possibly work for you? This is a trick of your personality to keep you struggling in misery. You will need support from a kind sponsor, counselor or coach to help you stick with these ordinary, repetitious actions that can save your life. You must be willing to endure these mundane tasks to earn your freedom.

3. Remember you need the help and support of others. You must begin to notice when these thoughts flow through you: “They don’t understand how unique and different I am from them. Only people who understand my idiosyncrasies can be of any use to me.” You think you are a diamond in the rough and need someone to deliver “just right” understanding customized to your needs. Notice this: Just as you decide the right support has arrived, another part of you begins wishing that rather than help you, that they’d wave a magic wand that instantly heals you. Beware! Your addiction wants you to refuse or avoid the help that can save you.

4. With compassion notice how you set yourself up for being an elitist, a special, mysterious, gifted outsider that no one can reach as a way of compensating for feeling like you don’t belong and are ‘nobody.’ Your shame quickly turns to elitism as a defense (I’m more creative and sensitive than you dolts!). When caught in the suffering of the ‘outsider,’ people must pass through the narrowest of doors to reach you while you inadvertently push away one of your special gifts and greatest joy: your ability to connect deeply with the hearts of others. Learn to walk consciously with your shame, as if it were a welcome friend that you invite in, saying, “Yes, I feel ashamed at this moment, but I will not let this stop me from showing up and being with the people who can save my life. I will not let it talk me into believing that I’m so different from everyone that I stop trying to connect with people.”

5. Learn to observe your envy. Your inner critic is constantly infusing you with this line of thinking: “Hey, look over there at that person. He looks really happy and content. He has all the ‘good stuff’ that seems to make him really happy. Money, a car, a spouse, a niche, good looks, attractive body, handsome, funny, smart, intelligent, comfortable in his own skin, not suffering…and look at yourself! You have none of what he has. You are nobody!” Here comes the envy!

Caught in the grip of envy you might say to yourself, “Oh, I’m feeling envious, jealous and enraged based on my imagining what Tom, Mary or Jack is experiencing. This is a waste of time since it has no basis in reality (I think it’s real because ‘I feel it!’ Remember, your feelings don’t necessarily reflect reality.). In fact, I have no genuine idea what he is experiencing! My imagination has created the whole thing.” So you let it go, and return to the present moment—as opposed to being a deer staring into headlights of envy. You might then ask yourself: What might I do today, this moment, to begin moving in the direction of what I love and care for, what I am gifted at, instead of engorging myself on the poison of envy. It’s okay to start right now with resurrecting what you love. You don’t have to do penance for fifteen years before you start.

6. Observe yourself fantasizing. Begin to notice how you live in your imagination, imagining yourself being in an idealized relationship, doing unique creative work, finding a job you like, exercising and getting in shape, learning yoga or meditation, etc. Here is the question: do you actually bring these dreams into reality or do they simply live in your imagination, untouched by real action. Do you get a weird sort of satisfaction from the ‘dream,’ and make no effort to bring it into your real world? Taking disciplined action is the doorway to “significance” and emotional balance for the Four. You may need a “coach” to help you with this, as this addiction to ‘fantasizing a life’ can be utterly blinding—like a powerful drug. In fact, your substance abuse has feed this addiction, fueling your habit of dreaming your gifts rather than developing them.

7. Notice your addiction to replaying your suffering and inflating negative feelings, hoping that by doing so, you will resolve your suffering. Fantasizing arrives in another form—replay mode! Example: the Four has an altercation with someone who offends him, and gets stuck re-playing the scene, the words, the hurt, the shame, the anger over and over again in his imagination. The story and the associated feelings of hurt, shame and rage will re-circulate through him, recycling from start to finish, reinforcing, intensifying and magnifying the negative feelings and making the hurt bigger than the situation (magnified out of proportion). Do what you can to break the trance of this repeating-emotional-fantasy-drama. You are glued, like Velcro, to the inner video of your hurt, shamed or angry self and you must make contact with your body. Exercise—walk, dance, run, bike, swim, do yoga. And ask yourself this powerful question: Do I actually like my repeating, Velcro-like, imagination-fueled dramas because they give me a sense of self, a sense of identity, a sense of ‘I am here’ that relieves the feeling of emptiness and insignificance. Do you actually feel as though you are moving in the direction of your liberation, away from the feeling of being a nobody? Is this another form of addiction that runs your life and which you take ‘negative’ enjoyment from?

8. Notice your attraction to chaos and emotional upheaval. This will not be easy because when in a state of upheaval, the emotional intensity gives you a feeling of being alive, of having an identity and a sense of power as in, “I don’t feel so invisible and empty. My wrenching, anguished feelings of being ‘a nobody,’ a rejected outsider, tell me I am somebody. They give me a sense of solidness and substance, fleeting as it may be.” Learning to appreciate quiet, still moments may put you more directly in contact with your feelings of insignificance. But over time, sitting with the stillness and whatever emotion arises, will invite your deeper heart to arise where your sense of real identity is realized.

8. Use your Artistic Expression as a meditation to observe your inner demons and disidentify with them. Set an artistic goal and decide to work on your chosen art for an hour a day (or 15, 30, or 45 minutes) and watch the flood of feelings and thoughts that coax you to stop engaging in your artistic efforts. You’ll experience waves of feelings from “I’m nobody,” to “This is boring,” to “This isn’t what I really want to do,” to “I’m not feeling passionate enough to continue this,” to “I’ve got a better creative project than this one,” to “This project doesn’t really express my true self.” The trick is to not stop writing, painting, etc. no matter your feelings suggest. Observe the discouraging thoughts generated by your Inner Critic, i.e., “Your disciplined actions are unimportant, ordinary and boring,” or “This writing doesn’t satisfy or move you” or “This isn’t original or unique” or “You’re not feeling this, so you’re not being true to yourself” or “This is mundane, this writing sentence after sentence, so ordinary and uninspiring!” Meaning—stop what you are doing. Please—don’t take the bait of your Inner Critic.

As you discipline yourself and refuse to not be taken by the distraction of your changing feelings or the voice of your Inner Critic, you will see that these cycles of emotional/mental distraction arise and fall over and over again, and will begin to quiet as you stick with your work. As you stay one-pointed in your discipline you slowly develop an ‘observing witness’ that can see the emotional storms and not buy into them. You ride out the cycles and you don’t leave the playing field of your desired self-expression, and something substantial will begin to form inside you. You continue with your work, no matter what self-doubt or mood-change tries to pull you away, and emotional equanimity will arise. You quietly say “no” to these temptations. (In fact, this is exactly how your recovery should look and feel—you keep doing the work of AA, NA, CA, and your spiritual practices, while the inner demons try to unsettle and distract you.)

You become a warrior. You don’t care what mood comes, or what story comes—you sit through it. You become the unshakable mountain. With tremendous commitment you watch your emotional rhythms: you feel significant, you don’t feel significant. You feel like a failure, you feel like a great success. You feel like you are a fraud, you feel like you’re a star. You’re less than. You’re greater than. You don’t bite on any of it. You don’t try to figure it out. You continue your creative practice. You will begin to notice the ethereal nature of your moods—sometimes you are inspired, bored, excited, depressed, hopeful, satisfied—whatever! As you stay focused you learn the powerful lesson that who you truly are is deeper and much richer than these transitory states. And that some of your most amazing creativity arises in the midst of the voice that says, “This is pure junk. This is not right for you. Quit this project now!”

9. Notice your tendency to idealize and then devalue what you think will redeem your significance. As a Four you are looking for idealized people—The One!—and idealized situations generated by your Fantasy Self—to destroy your feeling of being insignificant and unimportant. You want the idealized partner and redeemer who will see your capacities, give you the confidence to start your creative endeavors, who’s always attractive and exciting, and even pays the bills. When you discover him (or her), you go into an altered state of infatuation. Oh, the yummy, opiate-like bliss of infatuation (Your substance abuse addiction loves to feed on this!—it licks its lips and say, “Oh yes, a great disappointment is just around the corner. That’s when I step in and make my bid.”). Your inner dream-machine is going full tilt. Here, the principle of gravity rules: whatever you inflate via your imagination or infatuation, glorifying the person (place, job, opportunity or thing), will deflate to the opposite. First you love her (or him) like she is the most precious jewel, finally, you’ve found her. Then, you reject her and disdain her (due to her humanness) as ordinary and insignificant (just like you do to yourself—notice this internal robotic machine!). She, the beautiful flower, has wilted in only one day! What a rip-off, you think to yourself.

The drug-like power of infatuation has hit the hard court of reality, and your soul-mate morphed into an ordinary human (also just like you, hey, you are perfection mixed with imperfection—don’t forget that!). You’re enraged she’s let you down (You find you do this with AA, with your creative endeavors, with your counselors and friends, turning them all into ordinary, insignificant drones after you’ve idealized them—not on purpose, but because your mechanical personality habits wire you this way such that you become disappointed in people and life. “Oh, how they’ve let me down.”). Begin to mistrust these infatuation states and see them for what they are: juicy illusions, there to set you up for being dissatisfied with reality. And, if not attended to, will destroy all of your efforts for intimacy, creativity, and fulfillment.

Try this: you might notice on a given day the ‘polarities’ you travel in with your relationship to your idealized partner (or job, friend, or creative endeavor). You think to yourself (hopefully not speaking this out loud, please—share this with your sponsor or other men): “I love her, I’m inspired by her, I hate her, I’m bored with her, I love her, I’m attracted to her, I’m repulsed by her. She turns me on—yummy! She turns me off—egads!” She (or he) can’t tell if you are coming or going, nor can you. You might say to yourself: “When I notice that I am idealizing and then de-valuing my beloved partner (or AA sponsor, my creative work, etc.) I will recognize that this as the mechanical nature of my fixated personality, and not get caught in the web of these changing feelings. I will wait patiently for these states to pass, not react dramatically to them, and not get identified or worried about what they mean. In time they will be like mosquitoes buzzing in my ear, no big deal.” Try it. The angels will cheer for you!

10. Find some form of regular exercise that you make a part of your daily life. Sweat, work your body, an hour every other day—at least! This will knock you out of your tortured emotional-trances (envy) and imagination escapes (fantasizing) that keep you from engaging your heart, your life, and your path to optimal recovery. Exercise even though it may feel alien at first. Fact: You must learn to like exercise. Take on this necessary discipline (like you would meditation) and your habits of envy and fantasizing will weaken.

The Very Good News

As one Four in recovery said:

“Beloved Four, you are naturally creative, resourceful and whole, capable of profound and intimate relationship with life, with those you love, with humanity. As you grow you will continually deepen your relationship with your abundant and deeply satisfied heart. You will experience the heights of joy, the depth of joy, alongside the depth of sorrow. But you will hold sorrow in such a way that joy dances with it, and you will no longer feel thrown on the rocks of despair and hopelessness, no longer feel that all of who you are is sorrow and darkness and futility. You will arise, you will feel your lightness, your strength and your solidity, and then you will have permission to rest in joy, in expansiveness, in delightfulness, and because you have traveled deep, you will touch both the heights and depths of life. And best of all, you will be home, at peace within yourself and in the world. This is your destiny and where you are headed. The darkness you experience is only a reflection of the treasures that await. This is reality.”

Introduction to Utilizing the Enneagram in Addiction and Transformation by Michael Naylor, M.ED Copyright 2018

Scroll to Top