Marveling at Enneagram Four to Write Better Characters

Why use the Enneagram for character creation? Because it’s a whole system full of ideas for realistic characters, including what they’re afraid of, what motivates them, and what emotions are behind their actions. Understanding the way your characters view the world is useful when determining how they will respond to the events in your story.

In this blog series, we’re looking at each Enneagram number in turn and attaching it to a Marvel character. This post is all about Type Four, also known as the Individualist or the Romantic. Of course, there’s no one more concerned with his individual image than the god of trickery, Loki.

“There are no men like me.” —Loki, The Avengers

Motivations and Fears

Fours are driven by envy, feeling like they lack something that others have. They may feel abandoned, lost, or separated from others because of the belief that they are fundamentally different.

“They envy the normalcy, happiness, and sense of comfort with which others seem to move through life,” write Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile in The Road Back to You. “This envy, coupled with their pervasive sense of ‘irredeemable deficiency,’ launches Fours on a never-ending quest to find the missing piece without which they never feel at home in the world.”

From his first appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Thor, Loki sees himself as vastly different from the others. He is envious of Thor, who Odin favours. His actions throughout the movie are spurred on by this envy; he betrays his family and the people he loves because he wants to be seen as an equal.

Thor: “Why have you done this?”
Loki: “To prove to Father that I am a worthy son! When he wakes, I will have saved his life, I will have destroyed that race of monsters, and I will be true heir to the throne!”

A Four’s basic fear is having no identity or personal significance. Loki’s fear is realized when he discovers he’s not Odin’s son after all, but the son of a Frost Giant. He accuses Odin of keeping him as “no more than another stolen relic, locked up” until Odin has a use for him. He’s so afraid that he has no purpose, he goes to extreme lengths to prove himself as “worthy” in the first Thor movie, by letting the Frost Giants into Asgard, attacking Thor, and lying to gain the throne.

Loki is very much aware of his weaknesses: envy, ambiguous morals, and selfishness. He focuses too much on his weaknesses instead of his strengths, hating himself as much as he “hates” his brother. He’s too afraid to be honest and  attempt real relationships with his family members because he doesn’t want to risk it. What if they don’t accept him for who he really is?

If your main character is a Four, give them someone to envy and their emotions will be in turmoil.

Obstacles and Desires

These are descriptors commonly used to describe Fours:

  • Sensitive
  • Dramatic
  • Melancholic
  • Temperamental
  • Self-centred
  • Creative

These traits can be used to create or demonstrate conflict that stems from the character not getting what they want.

Fours want to have a distinctive identity and their emotional needs taken care of, but may feel self-conscious and have low self-esteem. They may isolate themselves because of this, but they don’t really want to be alone. Loki epitomizes all the traits listed above and is temperamental because he wants to be loved and have someone understand who he is.

Fours may create a false identity for themselves, thinking they are more talented than they are at something or basing their sense of self on their feelings rather than on reality. Loki sees himself as vastly different from everyone else, which is demonstrated during his speech in The Avengers when he commands bystanders to kneel before him. When an elderly German man refuses to bow to a man like him, Loki says, “There are no men like me,” and the German replies, “There are always men like you.”

This is the last thing Loki wants to hear. He wants others to see him as a unique snowflake, as something special. What he wants is to be different, but what he needs is to be accepted.

The best obstacles to put in the way of Fours are ones that spark their emotions and their fears. “Fours’ moods are like fast-moving weather patterns,” write Cron and Stabile. “In the blink of an eye they can go from up to down, back to average, then plummet, then soar and finally return to baseline.” To create conflict, make a Four question their identity. This could take the form of a secret from their past, such as unknown parentage, or even a history of abuse. Nothing gets a Four going like blaming others for their current behaviour. “It’s never my fault” is a useful motto for an unhealthy Four. They may blame their parents for teaching them wrong, abusers for their own abusive behaviours, or friends for “making” them respond in unfavourable ways.

If your Four is a heroic character, the villain should exploit this weakness, encouraging her to question who she is and feel rejected by everyone she cares about.

Stress and Security

The Enneagram has a useful diagram for how someone behaves when they feel stressed and when they feel secure. When Fours are stressed, they behave like unhealthy Twos. Stressed Fours may become clingy or focus on their desire to be needed. They meddle with and control others, perhaps giving in some instances (but always expecting something in return). Their arrogance comes out and everything is about them. They’re difficult for other characters to trust because their behaviour is erratic.

In The Avengers, Loki uses his staff to magically control other characters, including Selvig and Hawkeye. He prefers to work through manipulation over direct confrontation. He acts out of stress a lot.

When Fours feel secure, perhaps growing to become a better person, they behave like healthy Ones. They still feel their emotions, but become more principled in their actions, gaining the ability to be objective. They start thinking about others instead of just themselves and recognizing right from wrong. Loki moves towards this type of security by the end of his character arc in Thor: Ragnarok.

Character Development

The Enneagram includes descriptions on what a type looks like at healthy, average, and unhealthy levels. There are nine levels of development (not to be confused with the nine different types of personalities)—one to three being the most healthy, four to six being average, and seven to nine being unhealthy. This progression is useful for writing fiction because it can help you plan character arcs.

Loki starts at a very unhealthy level. He is self-righteous, melodramatic, angry at the world, and not afraid to do something about it, and obsesses over others’ behaviour. He is the villain in The Avengers movie, opening up a wormhole so the Chitauri army can attack Earth.

It is mostly his relationship with Thor that spurs him to growth. There is some improvement in his character in Thor: The Dark World; I mean, at least he’s not the villain. But Loki’s motives are still mostly selfish; he helps Thor so he can get out of imprisonment and so he can get revenge for their mother’s death. At the end of the movie, it seems he hasn’t learned much, because he’s impersonating Odin.

In Thor: Ragnarok. Loki still lies and connives throughout the movie, but he is brought to a decision point when Thor finally seems to give up on him.

“Loki, I thought the world of you. I thought we were gonna fight side by side forever. But, at the end of the day, you’re you, I’m me… I don’t know, maybe there’s still good in you, but let’s be honest, our paths diverged a long time ago.”

—Thor, Thor: Ragnarok

This is such a fascinating conversation because Loki finally realizes it’s up to him now if he wants to continue the relationship. Thor isn’t going to try any more without Loki making an effort. Of course, he doesn’t acknowledge his own desire for relationship and attempts to betray Thor instead.

“See, Loki, life is about, it’s about growth. It’s about change. But you seem to just wanna stay the same. I guess what I’m trying to say is that you’ll always be the God of Mischief, but you could be more.”

—Thor, Thor: Ragnarok

At the end of the movie, Loki returns to Asgard to help fight Hela and helps the remaining Asgardians escape to safety. The moment that demonstrates he really has changed is when Thor throws a soap dish at him because he assumes Loki has sent a clone in his place, and Loki catches it. For the first time, Loki is not hiding, manipulating, or betraying.

If you start with an Unhealthy Four and move towards positive development, you can achieve a similar heartwarming moment when the character accepts himself for who he is and stops blaming or envying others.

You could also start your character at a more healthy level (though I recommend keeping some of the flaws that make inner conflict possible).

If you decide your character is an Individualist, I hope my thoughts on Enneagram Fours and Loki help you in your character development. Use this tool to consider not just what they do, but why they do it. For further research, I recommend the Typology Podcast, hosted by Ian Morgan Cron.

< Read “Marveling at Enneagram Three to Write Better Characters”

Read “Marveling at Enneagram Five to Write Better Characters” >

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