Enneagram Type Five
Riso & Hudson call Fives The Observer. 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 area of interest (which is often obscure) and can sometimes come up with radical new ideas, solutions and works of art. Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates, Isaac Asimov and Vincent Van Gogh all exhibit the characteristics of Type Five.
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. Riso & Hudson note that 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 well:
“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.”
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. They gather their books and a few basic life essentials and retreat from the scary world until they can understand it better. They can get 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, data 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, attention or presence. The space station was built for one.
Because of their need to investigate from a distance and to withdraw for study, Fives tend to have quieter, more solitary childhoods than other children. They were quite possibly shy and socially awkward, and this can persist throughout life. It’s as if the Five child can’t quite relate to these strange, emotive creatures all around them.
Fives would rather study than take part in the standard play of their peers. They often end up with a reputation for being bookworms or computer nerds, focused on the world of ideas and knowledge rather than the real world of childhood interactions. They often excel in one area of expertise, even as kids. Usually without knowing it, they are anxious about the world and their ability to survive in it, so isolation and retreat seem the safest bets.
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.
Let’s look at the various components that make up a Type Five personality.
Center: Head/Thinking (underlying emotion is fear)
Hornevian Group: Withdrawn
Harmonic Group: Competency
Object Relation Group: Rejection
I have an Enneagram Five friend who likes to talk about ideas. All you have to do to start a conversation is to ask him what books (yes, more than one) he’s read lately. This will launch him into a discussion that is sure to be interesting but ultimately leave me a bit cold. He does not trade in emotions. He doesn’t share about what’s going on with his family. When pressed, he will relay the facts about his parents’ current state of being, but certainly not how he feels about it.
He takes the world in through his head and tries to process all that input logically. Emotions would just get in the way. Like other Competency types, their view is “Emotions are speed bumps on the road to success.” For Fives, emotions are untrustworthy, capricious entities that have no place in a rational discussion. This is part of their Competency view of the world.
The other aspect related to Competency is the Five’s object relation: rejection. Fives go through life certain that they will be rejected, and that feels intolerable. As Head Types, their central question is, “How do I move forward in the world? Where is my guidance?” So, it make sense to them that the way to avoid rejection and be valued in the world is to gather lots of information. To help others know how to move forward in the world – because isn’t that what everyone wants? That’s what Fives are thinking.
Well, in order to gather lots of information, to become a valued expert on a topic, one has to recede from the world. Fives need to withdraw. That’s where the space station comes in handy.
Finally, while Six is the anchor Head/Fear type and is a more unadulterated presentation of fear, Five is next door to the Heart Center and is therefore influenced by shame. I think that’s another reason why Fives withdraw. Isn’t that what most people do when they feel ashamed? They want to hide out, at least for a while.
Wings are the number on either side of an Enneagram Type, and they influence how each person shows up in the world. Five’s wings provide for two distinct “flavors” of Fiveness:
Five wing Four (5w4): Riso & Hudson call this version The Iconoclast. Due to the Four’s Feeling Center influence, this type of Five struggles with intense emotions, creating a kind of mythic battle between head and heart. This battle sends them into the realm of wild, fantastic imagination and may be the reason they are more independent and less grounded than the other type of Five.
Five wing Six (5w6): Riso & Hudson call this flavor The Problem-Solver. With an extra dose of Head Center energy, this Five is more focused on theories, data and technology. They are very private about their feelings and more interested in the world around them than their internal world. They tend to be more argumentative, defensive and even antagonistic.
The Gifts of Type Five
Fives have a tremendous capacity for focus, a trait sorely lacking in much of the modern world. They are able to zero in on a problem, study it thoroughly and often come up with a novel solution. This includes creative pursuits, where Fives bring a unique perspective, as Van Gogh did. They are able to look at a problem more objectively than others, without sentimentality, which can help when important decisions need to be made and facts matter.
At their best, Fives are visionaries who are able to fully participate in life rather than just observing it. They are curious innovators who are also compassionate.
Rohr and Ebertoffer 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.
Because of how their brains work, many Type Fives gravitate toward careers that are knowledge- or research-based and involve little human contact. For instance, Oliver Sacks, thought to be a Five, studied the habits of a specific type of worm for years. The worlds of science and technology tend to suit them well. Sir Isaac Netwon, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are all thought to be Fives.
However, there are also Five artists of all types. Filmmakers Alfred Hitchcock and Tim Burton are thought to be Fives, as is singer Sinead O’Connor. Writers Jane Austen and Emily Dickinson were likely Fives, as well. All of these people demonstrate individuality, creativity and a certain withdrawn reserve.
All this goes to show that while a person’s Enneagram Type may predispose them to certain fields, nothing is set in stone. Each individual is a unique expression of God’s creativity. So, not all Fives will be computer geeks! But they most likely won’t be, or at least won’t enjoy being, customer service reps, retail salespeople or other roles that require a lot of personal interaction.
Quick Start Guide to Centering Prayer
This short guide gives you the essentials for learning to be still and quiet before God so you can hear his voice and feel his love in a deeper way.