Enneagram Type 4 and Borderline Personality Disorder

If you are a type four on the Enneagram, you may identify with the ‘Individualist’ identity. Enneagram Type 4 tends to see themselves as tragically unique; possessing a fundamental difference from others. This can translate into isolation and loneliness. Consequently, a common deficiency developed by type four is the “I’m Alone” story. Because a core desire of the four is to find an identity, they often use this sense of being different from everyone else as a sort of placeholder. The belief of “I’m Alone” is critical to satisfying the core need of the four (a sense of identity) but simultaneously manages to poke at their deepest pain. This is often where Enneagram Type 4 and Borderline Personality Disorder overlap.

Facilitator Jessica discusses her experience with the “I’m Alone” story, and her related Enneagram Type 4 and Borderline Personality Disorder Diagnosis, with her coworker Dan:

Jess: I can identify with this deficiency story and the underlying driver of it from my own experience. When I first began practicing mindfulness and self-inquiry I had just completed DBT therapy. DBT is one of the only available and effective treatments for Borderline Personality Disorder, with which I had been diagnosed. I also happen to teeter between type 3 and type 4 on the Enneagram. Many of the traits of ‘the individualist’ really hit home for me. Those suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder often experience a deep feeling of lack when it comes to their sense of identity. I felt this very strongly. It fed my impulsivity, dangerous behaviors, and addictions. Being alone was truly my biggest fear.

I remember an almost constant feeling of isolation and desperation. These feelings stemmed from a core belief that I was truly alone in the world. They led to an extreme and irrational fear of abandonment. In my own experience, the diagnosis almost made it worse. I truly believed that there was nothing I could do about this suffering. I was just wired that way. “I’m really really sick and I’m never going to get better” was another big one for me. I did not recognize the connection between Enneagram Types and Borderline Personality Disorder.

Dan: Many of the enneagram four types I’ve worked with have a strong, almost sentimental attachment to their suffering story.  In many cases, it is “I’m alone” or some version thereof. Did you find this in your experience?

Jess: I definitely experienced this, and still sometimes do. The suffering became part of my story, and that became part of my identity.

Dan: What might be the utility of this kind of tragic suffering?

Jess: There is some underlying idea that the identity I can establish as ‘the one who suffers’ brings some sort of safety or security. The lack of identity, both for the type four and the borderline, leaves the ego floundering. It was as if the suffering could provide some sort of meaning or purpose. Ego loves to hang on to the story because when the story fades, the identification with ego itself also begins to fade. And this is a threat to the way we have been functioning in the world. When I inquire into the utility of this suffering, it is as if ego is saying, “I have to suffer in order to be safe.”

Dan: Once you addressed the “I’m really really sick and never going to get better” surrounding BPD in inquiry, what did you find remained? And how did you approach diagnoses and medication?

Jess: What remained for me was a lot of healing that needed to take place. Inquiry helped show me that I was the only one who could actually facilitate that healing.  It helped me to honor those parts of myself that had worked so hard, for so long, to try to keep me safe and to reduce harm. It’s an ongoing process. The layers just go deeper and deeper and as I explore each one I find more freedom and presence.

Honestly, the diagnosis and medication questions matter less and less the deeper I go. I have a good psychiatrist I trust for issues of meds. I always say that those things (diagnoses and labels) are most helpful when they can be our tools and not our masters. To be honest, I have found this to be true for pretty much all beliefs. Kiloby Inquiry has helped me to learn to hold them loosely. In this way, they don’t rule me anymore, but can be visited or utilized from awareness and no longer from deficiency and pain.

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