Level 4: The Imaginative Aesthete
Average Fours fear that they will not be able to sustain the flow of feelings, impressions, and inspirations that are the basis of their identity. They believe that their creativity and, on a deeper level, their very sense of self, will not be sustained unless they feel them more intensely and more consistently. To this end, Fours begin to use their imaginations to stir up their feelings and to hold onto certain moods that they feel express who they really are. Whereas this can lead to a fertile fantasy life and is still relatively harmless, it marks a major shift away from interaction with life, and deeper into a potential morass of self-involvement.
Average Fours still want to be creative, but their creativity becomes somewhat self-conscious and therefore less universal. We can see that healthy Fours are artistic whereas average Fours think of themselves as artistic. At Level 4, they pursue various outlets for their self-expression, but less spontaneously and less consistently. Since more of their energy is being used to create moods from which they believe they will be inspired, their work becomes sporadic. More of their creativity begins to occur only in the realm of their imaginations.
Of course, not all average Fours are artists, and certainly not all artists are Fours. Nevertheless, since revealing their feelings remains essential to their emotional health, any artistic activity average Fours engage in is especially valued because art and beauty become a substitute for themselves, a means of expressing the self through a kind of proxy to the world.
If they are professional artists, they must have discovered which medium is best suited for their talents; they also must have learned their craft so that they can express themselves adequately. If Fours are not professional artists, or are in professions that do not allow an artistic outlet for self-expression, they will typically regard their work merely as a way of supporting themselves while their real interest lies elsewhere—in beauty and some sort of
aesthetic self-expression. If they were given a "magic wish," the vast majority of average Fours who are not artists would choose to become painters, singers, ballet dancers, poets, novelists, sculptors, filmmakers, designers, or some other kind of artist.
If they do not have the ability to make works of art, average Fours try to make their environments more beautiful, for example, by decorating their apartments tastefully, by collecting art, or by dressing well. Fours are powerfully attracted to beauty, whether in people or in things, because aesthetic objects stimulate their feelings and reinforce their sense of self. Moreover, aesthetic objects symbolize the perfection and wholeness that Fours would like to find in themselves. Having sensed that something is missing in the self, they attempt to replace this inner loss by heightening the impact of beauty upon their emotions. They are romantics, idealizing beauty.
Creating an aesthetic environment serves another important function: it helps average Fours hold on to certain feelings and moods that reinforce their sense of self. Atmosphere becomes important,and they are most at home when there is an air of mystery and romance. Certain music, lighting, color schemes, particular objects which have strong emotional associations, all become supports for the moods that average Fours want to sustain. Clothing, especially when it is in some way "tastefully different," becomes another means of indirectly expressing their identity. Little in the homes or the gardrobes of average Fours is casually selected. Everything is designed to support the Four's feelings and to announce quietly to the world, "This is who I am."
However, because average Fours are using their imaginations to intensify their emotions, they are also increasingly shifting their attention away from reality as they rework the world in their fantasies. They want to be swept away by grand passions, lyrical longings, and stormy emotions which, by elating, keep the sense of self alive. The romantic imagination may dwell on nature, or God, or the self, or the idealized other, or some combination of these, looking for portents and meanings, fascinated with death and the passing of all things. But because average Fours use them so often, their imaginations become powerful and seductive, an endless source of solace and gratification.
Fours are also strongly attracted to those who stimulate their feelings and sense of beauty. However, they begin to relate to people in their imaginations as if others were aesthetic objects, to be contemplated like works of art rather than as persons in their own right. Fours also become easily infatuated with others, holding long conversations with their lovers and friends in their imaginations. Scenes of love and longing, courtship and romance, possessing the other in sexual ecstasy, and the bitter sorrows of letting go of the beloved play themselves out.
From this stage on, Fours long for a deep and intimate relationship with someone who will "recognize" them for who they are. They want someone to see them and validate their identity in the way they feel their parents did not. They are therefore always on the lookout for love. Fours spend a great deal of time recalling brief meetings with acquaintances or casual glances across a crowded street, searching for the potential meanings of these encounters and wondering if the other is the special person who will see them and accept them. Most Fours at this Level like to see themselves as loners, but actually, they are constantly looking to get into a relationship with whoever has engaged their feelings and sense of beauty.
Unfortunately, the great part of their relationships takes place almost solely in their imaginations, without others ever being aware of their attention or the degree of their ardor. By using their imaginations, average Fours heighten the emotional impact of relationships, making them into something extremely exciting, while sparing themselves the problems of self-exposure and rejection. Naturally, this approach to people is fraught with difficulties, not the least of which is that others inevitably turn out to be quite different from what Fours imagined them to be.
While there is nothing wrong with being imaginative, once the desire to heighten emotions in fantasy takes root, things start to become imbalanced because average Fours relate to their fantasies instead of to reality. The intuition we saw in healthy Fours has deteriorated into the unlimited use of the imagination as a way of making up to themselves for experiences they do not actually have.
Level 5: The Self-Absorbed Romantic
As average Fours become more involved in cultivating their moods and romantic fantasies about themselves and others, they begin to believe that too much interaction with the world, and especially with other people, will cause the fragile self-image they are creating to fall apart. They control access to themselves because they fear that other people will shame them or point out all of the ways that they are not like the image of themselves they are forming in their imaginations. For example, they may imagine themselves to be great artists, but do not spend much time actually creating art or may have doubts about the quality of what they are producing. In their imaginations, however, anything is possible, and average Fours want to surround themselves only with those people and situations that will support their self-image.
At this stage average Fours are reserved, shy, and extremely private—melancholy outsiders, painfully self-conscious. They want to let others know about who they believe they really are, but fear that they will be humiliated or laughed at. This is not an entirely unreasonable fear, because Fours probably have developed a persona which has little connection with their own background or experience (like the person from a small, Midwestern town who affects a British accent to feel more refined and sophisticated). Fours have now begun to reject themselves, but rather than trying to impress others with an idealized self-image, like Threes, Fours' self-doubt causes them to withhold their idealized self—including most of their authentic thoughts and feelings—from all but a few close confidants. Fours rationalize their withholding from others by viewing others as incapable of appreciating the subtlety of their feelings. ("There's no point throwing pearls before swine.")
They begin to avoid many people rather than risk the emotional problems involved with communicating anything about themselves. Instead, they seek the company of individuals who they see as kindred souls and exclude those who do not share their sensibilities. When Fours do find someone who they feel understands them, they pour out their hearts in long conversations that can stretch late into the night. At last, they are not alone—someone has come to share their world.
The ardor and excitement average Fours feel in encounters of these kinds is an indication of how deeply they long to be understood, and even rescued. They want to have someone in their lives who will alleviate their loneliness and, above all, be the good parent they are secretly seeking. However, if they are to continue eliciting the attention of a rescuer, average Fours must also continue to have problems and not allow themselves to become too functional. Although they typically see themselves as loners, they actually require "high maintenance" from other people. In fact, average Fours begin to evaluate how much they mean to others by how much others are willing to tolerate their emotional ups and downs and their neediness. They can be difficult and sometimes play "hard to get," but not to the extent of driving the other away, or so they hope.
In any case, average Fours will only allow people who support their ephemeral self-image to be around them. They insist that others respect the delicacy of their feelings, and by being temperamental and emotionally volatile, may cause others to "walk on eggshells" so as not to upset their fragile equilibrium. While it is certainly true that average Fours are experiencing emotional confusion and doubts about their identity, they also use their vulnerability to get attention and to control others. They demand that others tolerate their peccadilloes and mannerisms while generally being highly impatient with the habits of others.
Few people are willing to spend much time with average Fours because their relationships are often little more than long discussions about the Four's feelings and problems. While healthy Fours are stimulating company because they are attentive to others and are curious about the world, average Fours are uninterested in anything that does not immediately impact on their feelings and their quest for identity. They do not really want to know about other persons' experiences unless they relate directly to something they have been brooding about. Of course, the reasons for this are not difficult to understand. Fours are becoming worn out by their self-doubt and their frustrating search for a self-image that feels true to them. They feel that they simply do not have sufficient emotional resources to deal with other people's problems. Nonetheless, Fours are still self-aware enough to recognize the discrepancies between their fantasized ideal self and the realities of their life. This only adds further confusion and causes them to be more unsure of themselves. It is difficult for them to meet people, to make small talk, or to work with anyone else. Average Fours feel socially inept and uncomfortable around most people, not so much because they do not like people—quite the contrary, they long to have intimate, intense relationships, as we have seen—but because they are so self-conscious that they cannot function well. Naturally, social requirements and the needs of others become a burden to them. Thus, Fours do not go out of their way to meet others; rather, they secretly want people to seek them out. They project an aura of silence and aloofness, hoping that someone will notice them and take the trouble to approach them. While others may think that they are mysterious, or perhaps profound, Fours at this Level are simply attempting to disguise their growing emotional vulnerabilities behind the protective haze of exotic mystery. If someone has hurt their feelings and Fours have withdrawn to lick their wounds, their withdrawal is as aggressive an act as average Fours allow themselves, a denial of their presence to the other, although it annoys Fours greatly if the offender does not realize that they have done so.
Many of their problems stem from the fact that average Fours take everything personally. Theymust interiorize their experiences—feel their feelings—for their experiences to have meaning to them.But by interiorizing everything, average Fours become vulnerable and uncomfortably self-conscious —"hypersensitive." For example, a curt reply by a cab driver can ruin their day, and a perceptively critical comment from a friend can become a thorn in their side for months. If anyone should tease them or prick at their defenses, average Fours feel "cut to the quick" and do not know how to respond.("What does so-and-so mean by that?") In many cases, Fours begin to hear negative reviews even in compliments. If a friend congratulates them on losing weight, they may spend hours feeling insulted that the person was actually commenting on how fat they had been. They simply cannot be easygoing or spontaneous, since their increasing self-absorption does not allow it.
Because they internalize all their experiences, everything seems to be connected with everything else. Every new experience affects them, gathering associated meanings until everything becomes overloaded, full of private associations. If they are healthy, this richness of emotional connections feeds their creativity, because their internalized and augmented experiences become available as inspirations. But the ironic result of self-absorption is that average Fours begin to lose touch with their emotions. They feel confused, amorphous, unanchored to anything permanent in themselves.
Rather than help to sort out their feelings, constant self-absorption makes average Fours feel more inadequate. They begin to doubt their ability to sustain contact with the environment, or to defend themselves adequately, since they feel so vulnerable and storm tossed. They become extremely conscious of not fitting into the environment as easily as others seem to and they begin to envy others and secretly resent them. It is a short step from "Why do I feel this way?" to "What is wrong with me?" Self-doubts assail them, as do problems with self-esteem and hostile feelings about others.
While healthy Fours can be quite comfortable when they are alone, average Fours often feel lonely. They feel that, at best, they are only tolerated by others (seldom really liked), and any problems in their relationships will invariably result in rejection, something which will only confirm their worst fears about themselves. Their assessment of their social situation may or may not be accurate, but average Fours give themselves few opportunities to find out.
This is not a satisfying way to live, even for Fours. To solve their problems, they begin to withdraw, feeling that they are being called away from the environment by something inside themselves, although they are not sure by what. It is as if they have been physically wounded and were bleeding to death. Before they can resume their lives, Fours feel they must obtain the first aid they need. Some inner disorder must be attended to before they can give their attention to anything else.
They brood about themselves. And because they are emotionally vulnerable to real or imagined slights, they become extremely moody. This becomes the precondition for every action as average Fours constantly introspect on their feelings to see how they feel before they do anything. They put off writing letters, going to the grocery, or looking for a job until they are in the right mood. But since Fours never know when they are going to be in the right mood, things either do not get done, or they are done against internal resistance, producing no pleasure.
This would not be as much of a problem for Fours if not for the fact that most of their moods are unpleasant. They dwell on their own shortcomings or simmer with resentment at the slights to their self-image from the "crude and insensitive" people in their lives. They may spend hours or even days rehashing old conversations and reliving their wounded feelings or endlessly imagining all the forms of revenge they will visit upon those who have frustrated them. More and more, Fours are frittering away their days in fantasy instead of taking constructive actions for themselves.
Level 6: The Self-Indulgent "Exception"
The longer they remain self-absorbed, the more practical and emotional difficulties Fours unwittingly create for themselves. They have not developed their social and professional skills, and their self-esteem has suffered from constant self-questioning. They feel vulnerable and unsure of themselves. In a word, average Fours feel different from others because by withdrawing to pursue their own private fantasies, they have become different. And because they are different, they feel they have needs that must be satisfied in unusual ways. They therefore want to compensate themselves for what they feel they lack by indulging their desires. They feel they are exceptions to the rule, exempt from expectations, totally free to "be themselves." The result is that they become completely undisciplined, luxuriating in whatever emotional and material pleasures they can afford.
Fours have been trying to create a specific and consistent self-image, but at Level 6, it is so narrow that Fours have "painted themselves into a corner." Because they have defined themselves largely by all of the things they are not, by all of the things they dislike, they reject many of the normal day-to-day experiences that comprise a normal human life. They may be unwilling to hold down a regular job or even look for one, to cook or clean for themselves, or to involve themselves in any social or community affairs. They defend against their uncertainties about their identity by feeling contempt for "the rabble," the faceless herd of which they will never allow themselves to be a part. Their sense of aesthetics becomes a weapon, a way to insult and dismiss others who fail to appreciate what the Four appreciates.
At the same time, while Fours have disdain for the lives of the common masses, they are filled with envy and resentment. Although they tell themselves that they want nothing to do with the pathetic lives of others, deep down the Four's self-awareness reveals the truth of whose life has become pathetic. They see the simple happiness of others in their "ordinary" jobs, marriages, and friendships, and realize the depth of their own unhappiness. Fours at Level 6 perceive others as shallow, lacking the real depth that they believe they possess, yet every instance of others' joy, unselfconsciousness, and spontaneity is like a slap in the face. If Fours could see that their "depth" has become a pretension and an illusion, that their self-absorption is costing them a real, meaningful life, they might discover a way out of their emotional quagmire. Unfortunately, many turn their back on the world and try to succor themselves for all that they believe they have been missing.
Average Fours may once have attracted interest, and even some sympathy, from those who found their reserve and self-consciousness endearing, or at least intriguing. Others may have been touched by their shyness and vulnerability. But now the picture has changed. Self-indulgent Fours antagonize others because they are so perversely willful. They have no sense of social responsibility; they cannot be counted on for anything; and they resist all obligations, becoming petulant if anything is forced upon them either by events or by people. They take a special pride in maintaining the freedom to do things in their own way, in their own time, or not at all. ("I do what I want to do when I want to doit.")
Because they feel different from others, they feel special and exempt from living as everyone else does, free from any obligation to follow the ordinary conventions of social life. They feel that everything is allowed because of their emotional needs: their time is their own, and they resent any intrusion whatsoever. They resist everything, from having a job to employing healthy self-discipline to cooperating with others, if they think that doing something else will make them feel better about themselves. But rather than being strengthened by their self-indulgences, average Fours are further weakened by them. By definition, self-indulgence does not satisfy real needs, only transient desires. However, because self-indulgent Fours often depend upon the support of others to maintain the freedom of their lifestyles, they do not want anyone to know the full extent of their indulgences or to call them to task for them.
By insisting on the freedom to do as they please, they become increasingly precious and totally impractical, manifesting an effete disdain for reality. Affectations and mannerisms substitute for genuine self-expression, giving some Fours a certain dramatic "prima donna" quality. If they are still artists, their art becomes as self-indulgent and self-referential as they are. And because they are self-indulgent, they usually do not work seriously at much of anything, lapsing instead into eroticism and languorous, overwrought fantasies. Brilliant poetry, heart-rending music, and portentous winter novels pour from their imaginations—as long as they never try to write them down.
At this stage, average Fours are still self-aware enough to know that they are missing out on many important aspects of life, particularly relationships. Consequently, they feel sorry for themselves. They may become minor hypochondriacs, worrying about themselves—since no one else does. Self-pity is among the least attractive of traits, yet average Fours indulge in it excessively because it allows them to rationalize whatever they want. It allows them to feel that life owes them something. They can revel in their tragic existence without trying to change or say no to themselves.
Wallowing in their feelings gives self-indulgent Fours something to do, a way of occupying their time. The problem is, however, that their imaginary pleasures can never be satisfying because they are always unreal. The imagination is enticing nonetheless because it keeps their feelings at a fever pitch. By indulging their imaginations, their sense of self is kept alive, even as the life is being drained out of it.
To make up for their lack of achievement, Fours at this stage typically give themselves over to sensuality as a way of deadening the too-sensitive self to its growing unhappiness. They may become sexually licentious, engaging in anonymous sexual activities for release, for fleeting human contact, and for excitement. Or they may lose themselves in sexual fantasies, sinking into erotic daydreams rather than making any real efforts at anything. They may masturbate frequently, virtually a symbol for their self-referential, ingrown way of life. They may become obsessed with those with whom they have fallen in love in their imaginations, providing themselves with an endless source of pain and pleasure, desire and frustration, violent and wasteful feelings. Or they may sleep excessively or abuse food, drugs, and alcohol.
Their dependency on their imaginations has brought Fours to an overripe, unsavory state. Their emotions are too lush, as if they were rare orchids that have been kept in a hothouse all their lives—the hothouse of self-absorption. At this state, average Fours are decadent, at least in the estimation of others. Naturally, Fours do not see themselves this way—they are simply making up for their many deprivations.
Of course, they cannot admit that they are deprived because they have deprived themselves of contact with reality. The sad fact is that by now they have abandoned the search for self, and have substituted self-gratification for the discovery of an identity which is growing ever more nebulous.