Enneagram Type Five: Life on the Observation Deck

space station

Copyright notes: “Tracy Caldwell Dyson in Cupola ISS” by NASA/Tracy Caldwell Dyson photo in the Public Domain, from Wikimedia Commons

I think the title of this blog would make many Fives chuckle. The two Fives I know best love science fiction (as I do) and would get the reference. And, in fact, Russ Hudson, co-founder of the Enneagram Institute, speaks of himself and his fellow Fives as creating their own self-contained space stations where they hide themselves away. But more on that later.

Fives are called The Observer, The Professor, The Scientist or The Investigator, among other titles. Dwelling in the Head Center, they have a driving need to KNOW. So they poke and prod and investigate life. They are also known as innovators and specialists, as they are able to focus deeply on one are of interest (which is often obscure) and can sometimes come up with radical new ideas, solutions and works of art. Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates, Sinead O’Connor, Isaac Asimov and Vincent Van Gogh are all Type Fives.

As Head Types, Fives’ primary emotional underpinning is fear. What do Fives fear, specifically? That they do not know enough about the world to be safe in it. All Head Types fear a world they perceive as hostile and unpredictable, and each has a different survival strategy. For Fives, that strategy is to gather information. The subconscious message that propels them forward is, “You are good or okay if you have mastered something.” This excerpt from a Five in “The Wisdom of the Enneagram” says it all:

“Being a Five means always needing to learn, to take in information about the world. A day without learning is like a day without sunshine…I want to have an understanding of life. I like having a theoretical explanation about why things happen as they do…I most often learn from a distance as an observer and not as a participant. Sometimes it seems understanding life is as good as living it.”

And so we arrive at the internal space station metaphor, where Fives gather their books and a few basic life essentials and retreat from the scary world until they can understand it better. They are stuck on the Observation Deck of life, observing but not actually experiencing life.

The feeling I get from the Fives I know who aren’t aware of the Enneagram is an aloofness that is almost cold. There’s not a lot of emotion demonstrated; they tend to want “just the facts, ma’am” and are not comfortable with small talk or with discussing their feelings. They want to talk about ideas and theories. Many Fives dislike being touched by any but those closest to them.

Fives got the idea somewhere along the line that their needs were a burden because resources are limited, so they convince themselves that they have few requirements to get by. In fact, two of the Fives I know have said this exact phrase to me: “I don’t need much.” These two men have never met, yet they are both following the same script, as it were. As a consequence, Fives suffer from the cardinal sin of avarice. Many people confuse this word with greed, but that’s not right. Avarice is a stinginess, a withholding. Because Fives fear that there isn’t enough, they hold tightly to what little they have. It is an example of what we call in Christianity a spirit of poverty. This usually manifests itself in withholding of affection or attention or presence. The space station was built for one.

As you can imagine, this can make personal relationships a challenge. Relationships are not at the top of a Five’s list, but they do want connection, like any other human. They just don’t typically want as much as others do. I know many instances of Fives married to Twos; Fives gladly take what the Twos give, and when they’ve had all they can take, they retreat. This strikes right at the heart of the Two need to be recognized for their giving, so they give harder, which can push the Five further into the space station. Yet another example of how personality mucks up human interactions!

Rohr and Ebert offer Dietrich Bonhoeffer as an example of a healthy Five. He was a bookworm who became a noted theologian and a champion of the oppressed church and of the Jews in Germany during the time of Hitler. He came out of the space station and went into action, eventually joining a plot to assassinate Hitler. This action cost him his life, but he had of course already weighed the consequences and was willing to die for what was right and true. That is a beautiful gift to the world borne of the focused study the Five is known for.

Like the other introductory posts so far, this one just scratches the surface of this Type. We will revisit the Five at a later time. For now, I hope this post helps you appreciate the struggle and gifts of the Five.

6 Comments

  1. Greg on September 10, 2014 at 4:43 am

    Hmmm. For the first half thought I was a five for sure. Always on a quest for understanding. And I tend to observe from the outside. Then you lost me at emotional disconnect and not wanting share/give.

    Maybe because I grew up as a twin I find sharing things, sharing emotions, talking about ideas and feelings comes pretty natural. Guess I’ll stay tuned!



  2. Heath on September 11, 2014 at 2:31 am

    Please do, Greg! I was very Five-ish as a child, but that was at least partly related to my stress level, and my Seven-ness was always there in some form. Since you identify with being on a quest for understanding, it’s quite possible that you are in the Head Center (5-6-7). You can always check out http://www.enneagraminstitute.com for Type descriptions, and they have a free and a $10 test to find your Type as well.



  3. pattyoboe on September 18, 2014 at 5:30 am

    Yep, I have a kiddo who is this type, to be sure.



  4. Heath on September 19, 2014 at 9:41 pm

    Hmmm…now you’ve got me curious about which one it is! But that’s none of my beeswax, actually. 🙂 Five is the personality type I move toward when I am healthy and calm (my direction of integration), so I appreciate their ability to focus and complete tasks.



  5. connectdd on October 1, 2014 at 4:22 pm

    Having a big 5 wing this post is a comfort and a calling out. The ever learning, gathering wisdom and seeing patterns is definitely true for me. (I often say you can tell a 5 Type by the bookshelves as furniture. 🙂
    But sometimes thinking about it feels like I’ve done it. Getting out into the real world is the constant challenge.



  6. Heath on October 6, 2014 at 12:02 am

    Thanks for sharing your 5 wing experience, Doreen. As a fellow Head Type, I identify with your ever-learning, book-loving tendencies. Yes, ultimately it’s action that connects us with the world and gives us greater joy.



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