Enneagram type Five: The Observer

Drivng force: Fear being suppressed

Spotting Enneagram Type 5s

5s are perceptibly “in their heads,” oriented inward and toward the intellect, whether they’re dry and professorial or brooding and inventive. They are happy to spend a long time learning about a subject or considering a problem that interests them and less happy having experiences that push them to fully inhabit their bodies. They may intellectualize, ignore, suppress, or otherwise have difficulty with their emotions and tend not to use feeling words for their feelings, but they can be quite sensitive and even soulful under the surface. 5s can be extremely introverted and even the ones who seem social when they’re with others need time alone. Although some are unassuming and even sweet, on some level, it frustrates them when people don’t think. Others are confrontational and want to destabilize others’ comfortable certainty or make sure people know that they are right. All want to get the facts before they act, and sometimes they never get around to acting. 5s with a 6 wing are the classical 5 most people think of, dry but sometimes friendly, with a natural scientific mindset. 5s with a 4 wing have a “kooky” quality. Their thinking is more exploratory and guided by a personal vision.

Type 5s may make things worse for themselves by:
Procrastinating the start or finish of something
Fears that wall them off from the world
Disconnection from the body, feelings, and others leads to a sense of emptiness

Type 5s may make things worse for others by:
Withdrawing and distancing in their relationships
Engaging with others just to correct inaccuracies or perceived inaccuracies
Disdain for humanity or their idea of “stupid people” which can include most people

Why Do They Do That?

Although 5s sometimes frame reasoning vs. feeling as a choice — and a dichotomy — their focus of attention starts as an effect of their internal experience, not a cause. Feelings and even the world can feel vague and somewhere else, at a remove. Their bodies simply don’t enter their awareness unless something brings them into it. Both of these originated as a defense against sensations that at one time were too overwhelming. Like a star that seems small only because it’s far away, 5s’ feelings can on some level be quite strong. They may be more affected by things than they show and can enjoy emotional catharsis quite a bit at a distance, such as through fiction. That doesn’t mean they’re holding back on purpose with others. The processes that may be going on don’t naturally show outwardly and are easier to process on the inside. They prefer not to entangle themselves with others in such a way that they might incur obligations or feel a need they must rely on someone else to satisfy, which can include forming emotional bonds. Understanding the world by observing, collecting information, and valuing correctness helps ward off their anxiety about incompetence and the unknown and avoid the vulnerability of being wrong.

What It’s Like To Be A Type 5

Their worldview is that the mind is the self and the body is at best something that must be managed and at worst a site of superficial concerns, or a burden weighting them down. 5s’ experience is that energy is limited and can run out suddenly. Things they must deal with drain it, including interactions, which they often see as requiring a lot of fuss and little things you need to get right. They fear not having enough in them to finish the job, in an immediate sense or an abstract one about life. Life is full of surprises, so 5s prefer to give it space. A surprise is something for which they may be unprepared and that may take an unknown amount of energy. A 5’s detachment may feel stable and safe, or they may be bothered by a sense of emptiness, apathy, or being “dead inside.” This vivid description is one of many from Jan Morris’ heavily introspective transgender memoir Conundrum: “…a person who stands all on his own, utterly detached from his fellows, may come to feel that reality itself is an illusion[…] Love rescued me from that remote and eerie capsule.”

You can make type 5s feel heard by:

Accept that it’s important to them to continue to be informed and not overextend themselves to a point where they might not be competent.
Accept that it makes sense for them to feel like pushing on their space and privacy is a threat.
Accept that conserving limited time, energy, and resources makes sense for them to prioritize.
(You can still gently push on these things, but get into their position first and push from there.)

Give them space and don’t pressure them to respond quickly, spend money, or socialize. Show respect for privacy. Don’t go on and on without information content. 5s find small talk a chore, but they can be very attentive under the right circumstances, and they appreciate it when their extended thoughts about a subject on their minds are welcome. Understand that when they have said or produced something, they have likely given it a lot of thought and it may not have been easy for them to get it out. Don’t brush off what they have to say as passing comments. Try to take their words literally — don’t fill in social meaning or things you’re used to hearing. Keep in mind that they may be more sensitive than they behave.