Enneagram 5 The Observer

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Posted with permission from Ocean Moonshine

Enneatype FiveType Description

People of enneatype Five defend themselves against a world they experience as intrusive by retreating into the safety of their minds. Fives tend, therefore, to approach reality at some distance and to adopt a stance at some remove from the main action. Fives feel comfortable and at home in the realm of thought. They have busy minds, are endlessly curious, observant, perceptive and frequently intellectually provocative. Most Fives have at least a few intellectual interests, areas of expertise, which they cultivate with a true passion.

It is not uncommon therefore for Fives to be intellectuals in the standard sense of the term, and many famous thinkers have naturally been Fives. But not all Fives earn a living directly utilizing their minds; some Fives prefer to keep their theorizing to their private lives, while making a living doing something that requires little intellectual energy. Such Fives can be recognized by their need for privacy, their focus on competency, and their attitude of restrained indifference to authorities and to the rules and procedures of the workplace. Fives also generally display an idiosyncratic view of the world. This they tend to reveal in bits and pieces, often by way of quips or strategically placed one-liners, but sometimes by way of diatribes or verbal dissertations.

Others in the Five’s life often recognize, if only on an intuitive level, that some part of the Five is not quite present. It is that part which Fives reserve for themselves and perhaps share with a very few others. For most Fives, a great deal is kept in reserve. So, while it is true that not all Fives are “intellectuals,” all of them share certain basic markers. In particular, all Fives utilize or over-utilize their intellects as their chief means of negotiating life. The general formula for understanding type Five individuals is to recognize that their intellects take the lead, emotion interfuses with thought, and the instincts remain generally underdeveloped.

Fives are frequently uncomfortable in the social realm. Part of this stems from the Five’s eccentricity, which in turn stems from the fact that Fives spend so much time in the realm of thought. Fives trust their own minds and feel little need to adjust their beliefs to accommodate the opinions of the majority, opinions that Fives often feel are shallow or “stupid.” Fives often have little capacity for small talk and find most social interactions draining. When required to socialize with those they find uninteresting (almost everyone, that is) Fives frequently find a way to slip out the side door when no one is looking. The social problem for Fives revolves around the fact that they find it difficult to reach out to others even when they very much want to form a connection. Fives can, therefore, become socially isolated and sometimes suffer from loneliness.

Fives tend to be sensitive; they don’t feel adequately defended against the world. They tend to have permeable ego boundaries and often sense the unspoken thoughts and unexpressed feelings of those in their environments. These tend to feel invasive to Fives, who characteristically withdraw in order to protect their boundaries.

To compensate for their sensitivity, Fives sometimes adopt an attitude of careless indifference or intellectual arrogance, which generally has the unfortunate consequence of creating further distance between themselves and others. Trying to bridge the distance can be difficult for Fives, and others in the Five’s life typically find themselves having to take the initiative in this regard. When the distance is bridged however, Fives can turn out to be surprisingly supportive as friends and passionate as lovers. Those Fives who are interested in forming relationships want to relate to the person behind the mask, and generally find dealing with “mask people” to be quite tedious. Fives typically have few relationships, but the ones they have, tend to have substance, as they are not based on superficial qualities. Fives tend to be non-judgmental of those they love, and can accept others as they are, without glossing over their imperfections. Fives tend to truly appreciate those few people with whom they feel a real connection. The challenge for them is to find someone with whom they can form this connection, someone with whom they can feel at home. Perhaps Rilke, a Five himself, more than anyone else, expressed the ideal form of relationship for a type Five individual: “Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue, a wonderful living side by side can grow, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other whole against the sky.”

Fives are usually somewhat restrained when it comes to emotional expression, but often have stronger feelings than they let on. Few people know what is going on beneath the surface. There are many reasons for the emotional restraint characteristic of Fives. Partly, it is a function of the Five’s tendency to “detach.” Fives often experience a sort of separation between themselves and their emotions; it is their most primitive defense. Fives often find themselves processing their emotions later, in the privacy of their rooms. Partly, too, Fives are afraid of being emotionally vulnerable; they lack a certain resilience in this regard and have a pervasive sense of distrust when it comes to expressing themselves to others, who “just don’t understand.” Fives are also afraid of being intrusive. As Five’s fear being intruded upon themselves, they likewise fear intruding on others. And, finally, as Fives can generally sense what is going on beneath the surface with others, they tend to expect the same in return. Words and overt expressions of emotion almost feel “too much.” Naturally, this dynamic often leads to misunderstandings, and the sphere of intimate relationships is not usually the most smooth running aspect of a Five’s life.

Fives don’t tend to think of themselves as being unemotional and are often surprised when they realize just what a disjunct there is between their own perception of themselves and the perceptions that others have of them. This frequently exacerbates the Five’s feelings of alienation and adds to their sense that human relationships are somehow essentially flawed. (Jean-Paul Sartre, for instance, a classic type Five, considered human relationships to be that from which one could neither escape nor find true satisfaction; there was thus “no exit.”)

Because of their sensitivity and their often exaggerated fears of inadequacy, Fives engage life from a stance of fear, although this fear is not always conscious. Fives essentially fear being overwhelmed, either by the demands of others or by the strength of their own emotions. They sometimes deal with this by developing a minimalistic lifestyle in which they make few demands on others in exchange for others making few demands on them. Many Fives, however, make an uneasy peace with the messiness of life and engage it more fully, but they almost always retain a deeply embedded fear that life is somehow going to demand more of them than they can deliver.

In the classic Enneagram, Fives are believed to embody the vice of “avarice.” Clearly, this is a technical use of the term and rather than referring to a grasping tendency, or a desire for more and more of what the world has to offer (more characteristic of type Seven), it refers to a tendency to withhold. Fives tend to withhold themselves from others, from emotional involvement and sometimes from life itself. There are many Fives who have accumulated a vast wealth of knowledge, which they never share with anyone; in this way, their characteristic “gold” never benefits the world from which Fives typically feel so alienated. And there are many more Fives who only share their knowledge, who never truly share the depth or uniqueness of their being even in the context of their closest personal relationships. Their fear gets in the way.

Unhealthy Fives become overly enamored of their own systems of thought. They cut themselves off from the world and from human involvement. They become increasingly alienated, and even misanthropic. As they become more and more ungrounded, their thought systems take on a darker and darker tinge. Fives tend to be drawn to frankly nihilistic explanations of the world or to reductionist explanations, reductionism being a thinly veiled form of nihilism. (Nihilism without the Angst, so to speak.) When unhealthy, the tendency to filter experience through the lens of a favored theoretical framework is given free rein. In an expression of extreme and unbalanced intellectual arrogance, Fives attempt to reduce reality, in all its infinite and truly irreducible complexity, to a mere system of thought, and the human beings who inhabit it, to little more than feverish figments of their own over wrought imaginations. Fives in the grip of this process become increasingly argumentative, provocative and cynical.

Healthy Fives on the other hand find a way to enter life, to form relationships and to make meaningful intellectual and personal contributions. They cease to fear being overwhelmed by the world and are thus able to engage it more fully. They cease to fear being overwhelmed by the strength of their own emotions and therefore develop the capacity to give and receive love.

Fives with a Four wing tend to be somewhat more emotionally centered than those with a Six wing and also tend to be more drawn to the arts and humanities, although this is hardly a rigid rule. Fives with a Four wing tend to be attuned to meaning and metaphor as much as to fact and function. Fives with a Six wing are often systematic thinkers who are drawn to more analytic disciplines than those with a Four wing. And they generally have an extra layer of detachment to their personality as compared to those with a Four wing. They are also more likely to be able to work within a system or to find a place for themselves in the world of business, academia and law than are the more impractical Four wingers.

Type Exemplars

Many famous philosophers have been Fives: Aristotle, Descartes, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and more recently, Wittgenstein, Sartre and de Beauvoir – to name a few.

Five’s are generally willing to break with established systems of thought if their own investigations lead in that direction. Thus, their thought systems are sometimes revolutionary. In this regard, consider Darwin, Freud and Marx. Scientific revolutions were likewise inaugurated by the the theories of Newton and Einstein, both Fives.

Some famous Fives have been creative writers and artists. Writers include Kafka, Rilke, Joyce, Burroughs, Valery, Dickinson, Beckett, Elliot, Sontag and, recently Joan Didion, whose recent autobiographical memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, serves as a revealing portrait of how a Five deals with her experience of grief.

Artists include Georgia O’Keefe and Vincent van Gogh, the latter commonly being typed as a Four. He can be distinguished from a Four however by his profoundly schizoid tendencies. Among other things, he considered his malady to be primarily a derangement of thought, from which thought itself might rescue him – so, not a Four.

Fives are often drawn to film directing: consider Tim Burton, Wes Anderson and Stanley Kubrick.

The computer age is often conducive to the peculiar talents of Fives, and Bill Gates, a Five, is a case in point. Revenge of the nerds, so to speak.

Singer/songwriters include Trent Reznor, Thom Yorke, John Lennon, Laurie Anderson, Sinead O’Connor and Kurt Cobain. Cobain is sometimes also mistyped as a Four, but he was uncomfortable expressing himself emotionally except through his art, and he sadly succumbed to nihilism in the end.

The Buddha is frequently typed as a Five; certainly his emphasis on withdrawal from the world and redemption through understanding are reminiscent of Fivish concerns.

Fictional examples include Merlin the magician, Dostoevsky’s Ivan Karamazov, Star Trek’s Data, (but not Spock who was a One), the X Files’ Fox Mulder, House’s Dr. House and both Brenda and George from Six Feet Under.

Possible Mistypes

Fives and Ones are easy to mistype as both are focused on competency and tend to detach from emotions under stress. Ones, however, are much more focused on action and are generally more comfortable taking on leadership roles than are most Fives. Ones are also generally more judgmental of what they perceive to be rule violations or moral lapses than are Fives who tend to adopt more of a “live and let live” attitude when it comes to the petty vices.

Fives and Twos are quite different and should not be mistyped, but occasionally an intellectual Two can confuse the need to take care of others with the independence characteristic of Fives. Twos are emotionally expressive however, and are comfortable with intimacy, whereas Fives are prone to withdrawal and emotional withholding.

Intellectual Threes can sometimes mistype or be mistyped as Fives. The sociobiologist Steven Pinker is an example of this. But contrast his open, expansive, self-promoting style with that of E.O.Wilson (his fellow sociobiologist at Harvard University) in order to recognize the difference. Wilson, a Five, is self-effacing and almost shy in person, although he is as certain of his ideas as is the more assertive Pinker. In general, Threes are more self-confident, optimistic, image conscious and socially competent than are Fives. Fives tend to be more intellectually innovative, personally idiosyncratic, reclusive and emotionally sensitive than Threes.

Fours and Fives can easily be mistyped by others, and Fives, especially with the Four wing, sometimes mistype as Fours. Such Fives recognize that they have strong emotions and don’t identify with the often extremely cerebral portrait of type Five. But, Fives, unlike Fours, always retain some degree of discomfort when it comes to the experience and expression of their emotional states. Fives tend to fear emotional overwhelm; Fours to welcome it.

As Sixes are often intellectual, they sometimes mistype or are mistyped by others as Fives. This is especially likely to occur if the wing is strong. Sixes tend to be more grounded than Fives however and usually form bonds with their fellow humans more readily than do Fives. In addition, Sixes have a much more immediate relationship to their emotions than do Fives whose primary defense, after all, is detachment.

Fives can be intense and can experience manic states; Sevens can be cerebral and frequently underestimate the extent of their extroversion and their need for external stimulation. So, while the two types are quite different in many respects, a mistype is possible. In particular, it is the Seven who might mistype as a Five; the reverse almost never occurs. Nevertheless, Sevens are much more open to experience of all sorts than are Fives who become easily depleted by too much stimulation. Sevens really are true extroverts (whether they recognize this or not) whereas Fives, even social Fives, are primarily introverted. And while Fives can become scattered and even manic under stress, the overall pattern of their life reveals that this is more the exception than the rule.

Fives can be self-confident, especially in their areas of expertise and Eights can be intellectual and more self-restrained than type descriptions would indicate, so a mistype is possible. Socrates, an Eight, for instance, is frequently mistyped as a Five, and Nietzsche, a Five, has been mistyped as an Eight. But Socrates impressed others as much by his powerful presence as by his intellect, whereas the very sensitive Nietzsche frequently had a hard enough time getting out of bed. Socrates had no difficulty negotiating physical reality; Nietzsche’s daytime experience was interfused with images emanating from his subconscious. Eights are comfortable in the world and have an expansive, grounded physical presence. In contrast, there is usually some tentativeness to a Five’s physical presence – some part of them is not quite there.

The mistype between Fives and Nines is a common mistype. In particular, it is generally Nines who mistype, or are mistyped by others, as Fives. Both Nines and Fives are withdrawn types and many Nines are intellectual, so there are some real commonalities. But Nines are generally attracted to thought systems which offer some sense of comfort and harmony. Fives, on the other hand, are frequently attracted to what disturbs them. More noticeably, Nines tend to relate to a wide variety of people easily and comfortably; this is hardly ever the case with Fives.

The Instinctual Stackings of Enneatype Five

The self-preservational instinct is accentuated by the type Five fixation. The other two instincts are in opposition to the main type. When dominant, the social and sexual instincts therefore set up some degree of conflict with the dominant type Five fixation.


In the average health range, this instinctual stacking is warm, friendly, and loyal. They need their down time and have no problem spending time alone. They actually value it very much. They feel an energy drain from people’s demands on them. This instinctual stacking is what is described in most Enneagram books. The most notable and potentially frustrating thing about people of this type is the difficulty involved in getting really close to them. While they can usually handle themselves socially, they always hold back when it comes to intensity or intimacy in a relationship which can frustrate a sexual variant type. Others are aware that there is more going on beneath the surface, but it can’t really be accessed. These Fives are masters at minimizing their needs. Even though they shy away from intense personal relationships they often have a lot of intuition about others. Their detached level of personal involvement somehow brings objectivity to their insights. They can be the most practical of the instinctual stackings.

Their issues usually revolve around demands made on their time. This can become problematic in personal relationships. This subtype has an ideal vision of what a close or romantic relationship should be, but given their concerns for protecting their space and time and lacking the instinctual drive of a strong sexual instinct, energy just doesn’t flow in that direction. Because this subtype is good at minimizing their needs they can get along fine with few relationships or without a romantic partner. With the social instinct second in the stacking, they generally do find friends or colleagues and they may even be married, but the need to maintain their own time to pursue their interests is always a point of contention.


This subtype, like the self-pres/social, is more typical of the depictions of type Five. The self-preservational instinct accentuates the self-contained, withdrawing tendencies of the Five. Fives of this subtype love their time alone with a passion, and pursue it more actively even than the other subtype of self-pres Five, although with the sexual instinct second, they often want to find time for intimates as well. On the down side, they have more disdain for people and little use for the social aspects of life. They want to be left alone or they want to share their inner world with their intimates. The intensity of the sexual instinct is reserved for their intimates and even there it is sporadic. The self-pres energy gives this subtype a solid foundation and some degree of practicality.

These Fives are conflicted when it comes to experiencing and expressing emotions. They usually default to emotional repression and to detached intellectual analysis. This is a dynamic common to all Fives, but with the self-pres/sexual instinctual stacking, the balance of these forces is pretty precarious and it seems as though the scales are being constantly adjusted one way or another. As the social instinct is the least developed, the social arena gets the drier more intellectual approach almost by default.


One might think that the energy of this subtype would be warmer and friendlier than that of the self-pres/social, but it doesn’t usually present that way. Because the social instinct is dominant, these Fives are much more aware of their role in the group. They are therefore more careful of their involvements with others. The social arena is more important and is invested with more energy, so these Fives will pull up faster and harder into self-pres mode if they should feel at all threatened. This will sometimes give others the impression of coldness. This subtype will center a lot of their intellectual interest around the workings of society, humanity or spirituality. This serves as their connection with people. By means of these abstract mental constructs, Fives of this subtype feel a sense of belonging socially, without having to be personally involved and invested. The healthier people of this subtype are, the more they are able to integrate their mental constructs with their actual experiences. They can really be content to adopt the role of “people watcher,” but they do it from a closer and closer perspective. Their blind spot revolves around the fact that they tend to convince themselves they can get along just fine in the observer role. It does feel safer to them. If they do have a few people relatively close to them, they can really strike a good balance between their need to withdraw and their need to connect to the larger social world.

This subtype could be seen as the most intellectual of type Five. The combination of the basic desire for knowing with the social instinct’s need to “fit in,” makes people of this subtype want to find a niche as the expert. Their interest in structure, especially social structure, accentuates their natural inclination for acquiring knowledge. With the sexual instinct least developed, this subtype is in the position of having a strong pull towards understanding the workings of the world around them, without the emotional intensity of the sexual instinct setting up any distraction. These Fives fit the role of the scientist or professor quite well in this respect.


When reasonably healthy, people of this subtype can be very engaging (for a Five). They smile a lot and are often friendly. Their energy is quite different from the social/self-pres subtype because both the social and sexual energies push outwards, and so partly balance out some of the withdrawing tendencies of the Five. This doesn’t mean that people of this subtype are necessarily any healthier however. The outgoing energy is not the result of true integration to Eight but is the result of the compulsive pull of the instincts. People of this subtype are usually warm and when feeling secure are likely to let people in and even to initiate contact. When they feel insecure however, they can actually go to the other extreme and be very shy. For this reason, people of this subtype could easily be mistyped; those Fives who withdraw from social contact because of feelings of insecurity, might not seem like social subtypes at all. It might not be obvious that they actually very much desire contact. For people of this subtype, the social instinct actually works as a release value for the sexual component. When relaxed and comfortable with others, the sexual instinct can easily be seen.

People of this subtype are very aware of how they “fit in,” and also experience the sexual drive of wanting to connect with intimates. Like other social/sexual subtypes, they have the tendency to cultivate many relationships. They want to be liked by everyone, but being Fives they also tend to hold a part of themselves back for fear of rejection or of being overwhelmed by the demands of the relationship. This subtype of Five is more likely to fear rejection than the other subtypes of Five. Because both of the dominant instincts are focused on people, any failure in the realm of interpersonal relationships triggers a fear that there is no safety in the world. Personality systems like the Enneagram function as tool to help this subtype of Five to feel safe in the world. People of this subtype tend to think that the more they understand people, the less chance they have of being rejected. This tends to be a blind spot for people of this subtype as they don’t see that what will actually help them to become healthier is gaining more life experience. This will help them to see that their world will not come to an end with a little rejection.


This subtype has a lot in common the self-pres/sexual instinctual stacking. They experience many of the same internal conflicts surrounding relationships, the need for independence and emotional expression. The sexual/self-pres subtype differs however in being more intense, more counterphobic. They entertain more dark nihilistic ideas, ideas that most others don’t want to consider.

With this subtype, a lot of energy revolves around the issue of boundaries. Sexual/self-pres Fives tend to forge strong connections quickly and deeply, but if they feel betrayed, begin to feel overwhelmed, or if they feel that the connection doesn’t serve their true needs, can seem to cut the connection precipitously and “go cold.” They have high standards for significant others. They must feel that they can share their emotions with a significant other without being judged. This is their private world that they share. Relationships can be difficult, because individuals of this subtype will still want their own space and alone time, while at other times will want intense connection. Because the social instinct is least developed, this subtype is not very concerned with how others perceive them (except their intimates). This subtype is deceptive in that they may not seem to be especially intense – until they are engaged in a conversation they find interesting. Then the intensity and emotion become apparent. The internal struggle for this subtype is similar to that of the self-pres/sexual, but more energized and volatile, and getting to know this subtype means getting to know that.

When unhealthy, the energy of the sexual instinct can combine with the dominant type Five fixation to create a very impulsive Eight-like anger. The strength of their convictions can then come out quite forcefully.


This subtype is the most dramatic of the instinctual stackings of type Five. They are less concerned than the social/sexual subtype with social rejection, but take rejection from intimates very much to heart. They have a strong desire to express themselves, and can be the most Four-like of all the instinctual subtypes of type Five.

Not only do they have a strong desire to merge with a significant other, they also want to make their mark in the larger social sphere. The intensity, aggression, counterphobic stance and desire to connect deeply, all combine with the social instinct to produce a highly charged personality. This subtype can become quite accomplished if they are able to form an intimate connection with someone who will help ground them and provide them with a feeling of security. When Fives of this subtype feel a sense of safety due to healthy intimate relationships, they will want to share whatever knowledge, talent or insight they may have.

When unhealthy, this subtype can be very dark, pessimistic and the most confrontational of all the subtypes of Five. They can also become very arrogant.

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