A friend of mine recently asked me about two of her teachers both using “comparing” as a typical trait when describing type — but with one of them, it was used to describe the Four, and with the other, the Three. And as my friend said, obviously, we all compare ourselves with others. But what, then, does it mean to connect it to these types?
Well. Yes, of course anyone can have problems with comparing — or, possibly a bigger challenge, with the value judgements we tend to pass as a result of that comparing. So why use this word specifically in connection with Threes, or Fours? And what’s the deal with it being used in both cases — as the “characteristic comparisons” of those two types would look quite different?
Zooming out to see the bigger picture
Something I often circle back to is the importance of zooming out when we aim to understand Enneagram types. Especially with social media and its many memes and lists, the concept of type tends to get myopic. And usually, the first thing to remember is, don’t get get hung up at the words in themselves, but rather try and get a feel for what they point to, and most of all, the context within which they are being used.
- Is the word an absolute descriptor — “X equals type A”?
This is very rarely the case.
- Is the word a relative descriptor — “X happens much more for type A than for types B or C”?
This is sometimes the case but then still not always correct.
- Is the word meant to be heard in context — perhaps together with an example that was just provided, painting a bigger picture?
This is almost always the case, but the person using the word is not always aware of that — and even if s/he is, it’s not necessarily pointed out clearly.
Usually, brief list-format summaries or witty memes might look like they are in the first category, while in actual fact they are in the third, only missing the vital example and further context. So, if you want to really understand the Enneagram types, you need to learn to zoom out. Let’s take a look at what that means in the example of Threes, Fours and the habit of comparing themselves with others.
What, then, is the bigger picture here? What is the contextual information that we only pick up if we zoom out? Well, we might start by noticing that both Threes and Fours are image types, i e, they belong in the heart triad. And, since these are types where the personal image is central to what I perceive as “me” (as well as the breeding ground for the majority of my personality issues), it stands to reason that comparing myself to others would be almost second nature.
Image-types and flavours of comparison
But obviously, there are three types in the image triad. So where does that leave type Two? Why isn’t the Two mentioned in connection with making comparisons? After first identifying the issue as belonging to the image triad and thus having established it as a feature these types commonly share, we now need to shed some light on their respective differences. This takes some “bigger picture” exploration, too — and the contextual information we need this time is found in the basic framework of each individual type, such as their passion, fixation and social style. Sounds complicated? It isn’t really. It gets a bit technical when spelled out like this, but in practice, what we see is this:
As a Two, the self-image that my ego tries to maintain is something along the lines that “I am unselfish and loving”. I operate with the passion of pride and the fixation of flattery, with a social style-emphasis on duty. My view of the situation goes something like this (exaggerated for clarity): “I am (or should/want to be) the most unselfish and generous and loving person here. I have no needs of my own that you need to worry about. Let’s focus on YOU.” This already solves the problem of comparison — or rather, it prevents it from even arising.*
As a Three, the self-image that my ego tries to maintain is something along the lines that I am the best and worthiest. I operate with the passion of vanity and the fixation of deceit** (or vice versa, but that doesn’t really matter here). I make comparisons to find out what more I could possibly attain to keep increasing my value and worth. I take this on in my general style of doing and expanding; actively asserting my value/credentials/gifts. The attitude of the Three is one of expedition; I’ll accomplish what I have to in order to come out on top in the comparison. The focus is forward — as otherwise, how can I expedite?
As a Four the self-image that my ego tries to maintain is something along the lines that am unique and difficult to understand. My energy is more withdrawing, and I operate with my passion and fixation, which are envy and fantasising/melancholy. These concepts, together with the withdrawal, all point to a kind of shrinking feeling: directing the energy inward for processing (rather than, as the Three, outward for expediting). Put on top of “comparison”, this gives a completely different energy than in the Three: In the Four, the comparison feeds further inward-focus, retreating into into what-could/might/would-have been.
Coming back to the Three and the Four
So when hearing words describing a type, those words need to be put in context — and the context of a type is the overall energy and focus, which we can understand both practically, by studying people of said types, and theoretically, by looking at their Ennea-characteristics, like the aspects (passions, fixations, styles etc) that we explored above. And in answer to the original question about comparison as a characteristic feature in both the Three and the Four, we might come to an overall conclusion looking something like this:
- When a Three compares and comes up short, it is interpreted as a to-do list and drives practical activity (as in taking steps to eradicate the negative difference; directly addressing the problem of coming up short).
- When a Four compares and comes up short, it is interpreted as fact and drives non-practical activity (as in longing, fantasising, dreaming, despairing, etc; processing “around” the problem of coming up short).
- For the record, of course they might both (just like all the rest of us) also compare and come out on top, which will look slightly differently from one to the other, too — but which does not illustrate their differences as clearly so is not as meaningful for descriptions.
This is just one example of how zooming out can help us make sense of teachings and descriptions. And it illustrates one of my pet peeves: we really won’t get any of this by just collecting facts. We need to put those facts together and see them fit into an energetic reality ❤️
Looking for More zooming out material
Logged-in site members (register here free of charge) can find further material on the topic of zooming out in the Surface or core-series. The original article Surface or Core — real understanding or just trait-spotting? is open to everyone.
*) That is, this is how it seems to be. But Two’s actually have one area of comparison which is pretty much always there and where the Two always wants to come out on top: the race of being the closest friend, the best-connected contact or the most unselfish care-taker (the exact flavour depending on things like instinctual preferences). But this comparison is so specific that the concept of comparing as such generally won’t make it into the generic descriptions.
**)The deceit not being geared outwards as much as it is directed inwards, to convince myself that the feathers I collect for my hat will indeed make a difference, the picture they paint actually reflecting me.