5: The Need to Perceive

“I’m not too good when exposed to people.”

Bernadette, Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

The title character in the novel and film Where’d You Go, Bernadette? is an eccentric shut-in architect, who bought an old religious school to live in and renovate, though she hasn’t quite gotten around to it. Known for her avoidance of the other moms in the neighborhood, her disdain for being recognized in public (thus she wears sunglasses and large scarves, and is visibly uncomfortable when recognized for her architectural achievements), Bernadette would rather dictate her needs and wishes to an invisible assistant on the phone than go to the actual store or call anyone. To her misfortune, her virtual assistant turns out to be an identity thief.

Rather than face the consequences of her family’s disapproval, Bernadette decides to go on the trip to the arctic they planned as a reward for her daughter’s high school grades. She had been so wracked with fear at the thought she intended to bow out of it altogether—but this time she embarks on a trip that not only introduces her to the world, but asks her to take part in it. She soon discovers it’s much more rewarding to act, than just stand on the sidelines of life. In her detachment, her avoidance of people, her tendency to procrastinate, and her disengagement from the outer world, Bernadette is a beautiful example of Enneagram 5.

Read on to learn more about the Enneagram 5.

The Need to Perceive

5s are receptive to new facts and impressions. They are discoverers of new ideas, researchers, and inventors, objective, questioning, and interested in exploring things in detail. They have original minds full of surprising, unorthodox ideas, and make good listeners because they pay close attention. They often help others perceive the truth more objectively. 5s possess a strong gift for contemplation. Healthy 5s link their knowledge to a search for wisdom and strive to form a sympathetic heart. They are quiet, emotional, gentle, loving, hospitable and polite.

The 5’s primary sense is one of inner emptiness and a longing for fulfillment. This lack of inner security and loneliness can cause them to creep into themselves and disappear. They gather what they can from life to fill the inner void. 5s are obsessed with taking. They collect things—thoughts, ideas, knowledge, space, silence. They can also horde strange items (stamps, books, old newspapers, fabric scraps, milk cartons, bottle caps, etc). They long for a fortress where the world cannot touch them, a closed off life. By nature, they are hermits. Their entire focus is on taking everything in—seeing everything, hearing everything, and holding onto it. They may adore looking through glass at something (microscopes or telescopes), anything to magnify an object’s details while remaining separated from it. They may take photos rather than participate in the role of an eternal observer.

They resist being pulled into an emotional state and strive for total objectivity. They want above all to control their emotions and remain calm. No one must ever know their feelings by their face. They detest any kind of “demonstrative” behavior and struggle to show their feelings even when they want to. From the outside, they may appear cold and unfeeling. Most have an intense emotional life inside themselves, but can shut off their feelings if anything happens in the outer world. The 5 registers the event though the senses, then their head, compartmentalizes their feelings, and only later comes to analyze and fully understand how they are responding on an emotional level. In this way, they do not “feel” so much as “think” about their emotions and strive to bring them into submission.

5s may harbor longing for absent friends, or feel more connected to them than the people they are sitting at the table with. Since they seldom express affection, others can wrongly assume the 5has no great attachment or affinity for them. Their partner may feel that the 5 always takes but never gives them anything in return, especially an emotional response or affirmation. Their friends must know the 5 will not initiate a get-together, want any kind of continual physical proximity (no, it wouldn’t be great to share a cubical), or ever surrender totally to the relationship. 5s are afraid if they give you an inch, you will take a mile. But those friends who give them space and ask little will find the 5 a loyal companion, silent and patient in their ability to listen, and objective and fair counselors in offering solicited advice.

The intellectual nature of the 5 may draw them to philosophy or religious mysticism. The latter holds a particular appeal because of the emphasis on detachment from the physical body in favor of intellectual pursuits and spiritual knowing. They find it much easier to access the “inner eye” than other types, and easier to meditate for hours on end. They are avoiding reality, which is their utmost goal in life. 5s are lifelong students who never feel ready to “do” anything. They need to feel sure they have the complete picture before they can start, but that never happens, and they never feel ready. They avoid any kind of behavior that might draw attention to themselves, and may adopt rehearsed behaviors so no one will notice them, approach them, or single them out. They are good at deflecting conversation about themselves and will clam up if anyone asks too many “intrusive” questions (and the 5 considers most questions “intrusive”). They hate to share their views when it is being forced through group participation, and if forced into that role, will share as little as possible. But despite their silence, nothing escapes their attention.

They struggle in parental roles because of the constant noise, mess, and demands of their children. They may even avoid marriage or children altogether to escape being needed. They hate intrusions of any kind and fiercely guard their privacy. They often retreat to be alone and find too many people, demands, or closeness exhausting. Many 5s can imagine nothing more wonderful than doing nothing but thinking for hours on end. It means they need to give nothing to anyone. Unhealthy 5s can seem autistic or nihilistic in their desire to be nothing but a brain, an intellect.

For 5s, knowledge is power. They think they can secure their life by being informed about everything useful in as much detail as possible. They feel their information is never sufficient—to start writing, to open a business, to teach rather than study. They always need “just one more” class, book, retreat, or seminar. Because they devote so much time to information gathering, they may assume they understand the world far better than they do, better than everyone else—without even ever having “lived” any of it!

Their systematic love of putting things into mental slots may mean they take an interest in psychoanalysis models, MBTI, the Enneagram, evolution, the big bang theory, the laws of heredity, etc. They love to study foreign cultures and may even travel there, but never without over-engagement or attracting much attention. If they choose to be spontaneous on a trip and engage in something risky or exciting, their delayed emotions may mean they do not truly “experience” it at the moment, but will do so months later when handling their memento of the occasion or looking at the pictures. They may collect souvenirs or totems to represent all the most important periods in their life.

5s often withdraw to avoid life, problems, conflict, or risk. Immature 5s avoid feelings, relationships, sex, or anything that creates a dependency or bond between themselves and another person. They may choose celibacy, to avoid commitment. They focus so much on abstract forms of knowledge they neglect to improve themselves in other ways. They can become so detached from humanity, they refuse to consider the ethical implications of their discoveries. They can be arrogant snobs, unable to understand or reach into their emotions, prone to premature mental conclusions or solutions, and overly detached from others’ needs.

5s may subdivide their life and never let two areas of interest mix, causing them to keep everyone in that chosen hobby or interest separate from knowing anything about them, outside of that hobby, interest, class, etc. Their fear of exhaustion makes them demand to know how long anything will last or how long it will take (“when is grandma arriving and when is she leaving?). They parcel out their energy because they lack much of it. They hate for time to “run over,” and also detest any kind of surprise visit, because they had no time to mentally prepare to see anyone. Their energy tank runs at half-full, compared to the other types.

They find any emotional expectations from others tiresome. They will give you things when you do not ask for them or expect it. If thrown into a conflict, the 5 will either retreat into silence or answer with intellectual arguments. They horde their time, energy, resources, and possessions. They are not givers, but takers. They can fall into emotional stinginess out of their fear that in sharing anything, they will lose themselves. Rather than enjoy life, they “horde” for later. Their fear is that they will run out of something, and since they value their autonomy, they want to make sure they have enough money and resources to live just the way they want to in the future, with no extra demands on their time. They have modest and undemanding lives and waste nothing.

5s fear their inner scarcity means they hold no value and have nothing to offer. They fill the emptiness with mental clutter. But their objectivity is a gift to others. Their ability to listen and remain detached makes them excellent counselors. They won’t allow personal feelings or bias to enter their evaluation or taint their advice. Detachment is both their gift and their curse. 5s can mature by realizing wisdom requires authentic life experience, not just book learning. Since they think before they act (or do not act at all), forcing themselves to become involved in things on a physical level is good practice for them. They can learn to allow mysteries to just exist, without feeling the need to dissect them. Falling in love can be a life-transforming experience for them that break down the barriers they keep up between their heart and other people. They must learn to experience the outer world and act against their natural compulsion to do nothing. They should remind themselves that mistakes are not life-shattering, but part of the learning process of being “a real boy/girl.” They must remain on their guard against their own arrogance and conceit, and remember that the school of “hard knocks” known as life has value too. They should open up to others a little, then a little more, as they become comfortable with the idea. It’s also important for them to express their emotions instead of keeping them locked in the “silent chamber of the soul.” The 5 needs to feel safe, wanted, and of value… and they will find these things once they stop hiding.

Avaraice and Pathological Detachment

The ‘avarice’ of the 5 is about ‘holding back’ and ‘holding in.’ It is a fearful grasping, in the belief that letting go would cause catastrophe. The 5 ‘hoards’ emotions, energy, resources, and self, out of a fear and experience of impending impoverishment. The 5 ‘gives up too easily,’ living a life of resignation and avoidance. Because of this, a 5 clutches at oneself—jealously and possessively guarding their inner life, effort, and resources. They hold back and fall into self-control by clinging at the present without embracing the future.

The 5 is the thinking type that avoids action. It seeks to minimize its own needs and claims. They identify with an overwhelmed, guilt-ridden super ego. Their inner polarity is between pathological detachment and holding on. The 5 hides their neediness behind a stoic veil of indifference, resignation, and renunciation. They are detached, withdrawn, and obsessive. They have an increased capacity for experiencing all kinds of things without being able to speak of them. They retain them inwardly and are prone to self-blame. The 5 is aloof, and can be unsociable, quiet, reserved, humorless, timid, shy with fine feelings, sensitive, nervous, excitable, fond of nature and books, pliable, kindly, honest, indifferent, or silent.

The 5 possesses a strange polarity between hypersensitivity and insensitivity. It may be one or the other in the individual 5, or shift from the former into the latter, from extreme sensitivity into apathy. To protect their fine and vulnerable feelings, the 5 adopts a protective self-distancing to conceal their vulnerable, nervous sensitivity. The 5 may close the shutters of their life to exist in a dream-life, fantastic, poor in deeds, but rich in thought. They seek loneliness to ‘spin themselves into the silk of their own souls.’ They have an immediate response to outside (over) stimulation.

Some traits of the 5 include: overly fast reactions, love of privacy, mental over-intensity, hyper-focus, apprehensiveness, secrecy of feelings, emotional restraint, inhibited social manners, resistance to habit and routines, hatred of noise / restrained speech, resistance to alcohol and other depressant drugs, need of solitude when troubled.

The 5 is ‘introverted’ in that it directly goes inside itself to avoid the outer world. They feel different from others, more detached and ‘at a distance.’ The 5 gets stuck and block their life process by moving away from people and conflicts into “detachment.” They withdraw from the inner battlefield of emotion and declare themselves uninterested. The 5 musters an attitude of ‘don’t care’ that allows him to feel less bothered by his inner conflicts and achieve inner peace. The 5 does this through resignation, or settling for an absence of conflict.

The 5 relegates themselves to being an ‘onlooker’ to their own life and that of others; to an eternal ‘watcher’ standing on the sidelines but never ready or interested in engagement. The 5 is astute because of this, but touched by none of their own experiences. They do not actively take part in life and unconsciously refuse to do so.

In analysis, the 5 maintains the same attitude—he may be immensely interested and invested in something for a long time, but change nothing because of it. Resignation and nonparticipation means the absence of any serious striving for achievement and aversion of effort; all the 5’s beautiful music, paintings, and books may dwell only in their imagination. Thus, the 5 does away with both effort and aspiration. They may have good ideas or original thoughts, but find the thought of the arduous work involved in thinking them through and composing them not worth the effort. The 5 is a terrific procrastinator, and good at finding reasons not to do things. They may involve themselves in inner arguments against putting effort into their ideas (there is no use, the world has too much of this, anyway; would not to concentrate on one thing curtail my other interests?).

If this aversion to effort extends to all activities, the 5 lives a life of complete inertia who procrastinates even over simple things. When forced to do them, the 5 will do them against inner resistance—slowly, listlessly, ineffectively. The 5 may feel tired just thinking about doing things. A 5 believes analysis and learning should rid them of all their problems—such as disturbing symptoms, awkwardness with strangers, or fainting in the street. The 5 just wants a life absent of all troubles, irritations, and upsets; what they want should come easily, without pain or strain.

When something requires too much effort, the 5 may ‘give it up’ altogether, including relationships. The 5 is anxious not to get attached to anything or anyone to the extent of really needing it. Nothing should be so important the 5 cannot live without it. One must never become dependent. Once aware that a person, place, or thing means so much to the 5 that its loss would feel painful, the 5 retracts their feelings. No one else should feel ‘necessary’ to them; if the 5 suspects them as becoming ‘dependent’ on the 5, the 5 withdraws.

The 5 seeks recognition through intellectual or creative excellence. They are most attuned to their internal experiences; their avarice is interdependent with a sense of spiritual impoverishment. They detach as a defense against the invasions of the external world, and a fear of being ‘lost’ to oneself by being engulfed by others’ dependencies.

The 5 is often unwilling to invest in relationships and avoids giving.

Traits shared with schizoid personality disorder: emotional coldness and aloofness, the absence of warm and tender feelings for others; indifference to praise or criticisms and the feelings of others; close friendships with only one or two persons, including family members.

The 5 is passive aggressive. They can be frequently irritable, moody, easily frustrated, angry, discontented in their self-image, disgruntled, and disillusioned with life. They may waffle between giving in and asserting themselves. Above all, the 5 has an intense, deeply rooted ambivalence about themselves and others, which makes them waffle in indecisiveness, fluctuating attitudes, and oppositional behaviors and emotions. They cannot decide whether to give into others’ desires to gain comfort and security or turn to themselves for those gains; whether to be obedient or rebellious; to take the initiative in mastering the world or sit idly by.

The 5 can be a poor teacher, preoccupied with information itself and not the audience or his presentation. Because they restrain any expression of feeling, the other individual involved may feel undervalued. The 5 values calmness, passivity, and rational self-control. To a 5, the world exists primarily to be understood. They want to work alone and quietly, and detest interruptions. They prefer to know how long they will be somewhere ahead of time, and what to expect, so they can map out the internal energy required for it. And it had better last no longer!

They have the lowest energy level of all the types. All manifestations of love are a drain on their energy reserves and a threat to their need for privacy and independence. They do love, but find that love difficult to express. They rarely want to go out, because of the physical and emotional effort sociability demands. Their dominant feeling is indifference, the desire to retreat and go unbothered. The 5 seeks to escape close emotional ties and obligations.

Though the 5 can be spirited, creative, and attractive, they may lack ‘warm sympathy’ and be unabashedly negative. The 5 may be pleasant, avoid arguments, and seem mild-mannered, but do whatever it deems best, regardless of the opposing arguments. Can be rigid and selective in choosing friends. The 5 may avoid marriage or intimate relationships out of being too exacting or protective of personal time and space. The 5 may spend so much energy coping with the physical environment they find little left over for enjoyable living. The 5 can be faint-hearted, lack courage, and refuse to shoulder responsibility. They may fiercely guard their territory, while concealing their timidity.

Identifiable Traits:

Retentiveness: a lack of generosity in money, energy, and time, and insensitive to the needs of others. Holds onto what is in their mind at the expense of the outer world and external stimulation. They “get stuck” in thought. Pessimism toward the idea of receiving care and protection from others or having the power to demand or take what they need.

Not Giving: avoidance of commitment, the need to be completely free, unbound, unobstructed, in possession of the fullness of themselves. They horde now, to protect the future and “going without.’

Pathological Detachment: a characteristic aloofness. They are loners accustomed to solitude who does not feel lonely, and has trouble making friends, because of their lack of motivation to ‘relate’ to people. Prone to ‘giving up on’ relationships, both formed and unformed. The 5 minimizes and inhibits their anger by stepping outside it.

Fear of Engulfment: the 5 fears dependency, so avoids facing the needs and demands of others. May become docile to avoid conflict, which might arise unpleasant emotions that drain the 5’s inner resources. The 5 feels a relationship entails alienation from one’s own preferences and authentic expression, so feels stressed by it and needs to recover from it and find oneself again through aloneness.

Autonomy: the 5 develops ‘distance machinery’ to give up on people and on relationships. If one cannot get others to satisfy their desires, the 5 needs to build up their resources, stocking them up in an ivory tower. The 5 is miserly as a result and sometimes non-self-indulgent, not even allowing oneself to use what one has, in case it runs out.

Lack of Feeling: the 5 represses needs and suppresses anger. They lose awareness of their own and others’ feelings; be indifferent, cold, non-empathetic, and apathetic. The 5 struggles to enjoy pleasure, since they have a diminished capacity to experience it. Nor does it rank high on their list; they would rather keep a safe distance from others.

Postponement of Action: acting is to invest oneself, and put one’s energies into use, which the 5 resists. Action requires interaction, so when the drive to relate is so low, it lessens their interest in action. Action requires enthusiasm for something, and a presence of powerful feelings—which is absent in an apathetic individual. Action is revealing oneself to the world, which goes against the 5’s need for privacy. The 5 wants to keep their intentions hidden, so develops excessive restraint. They hover between negativity and the avoidance of action.

Cognitive Orientation: the 5 is introspective and intellectual. They may substitute living for reading and indulge in ‘endless preparation’ for life. But the 5 never feels ‘ready enough’ to move into action. They would rather organize and classify their knowledge than use it in the public sphere. They prefer to dwell in abstraction rather than concreteness, intellectualization rather than direct experience. The 5 only offers the results of their thoughts to the world, not its raw material. If not careful, the 5 becomes a mere witness to life, a non-attached yet keen observer of it who seeks to replace life with understanding.

Sense of Emptiness: the suppression of feelings and avoidance of life impoverishes their experiences. They experience an inner vacuum and may ‘feel faintly.’ They choose to be a critical outsider rather than an active participant.

Guilt: the 5 is guilt prone, despite its ‘buffering’ from a general distancing from emotion. This guilt manifests as a vague sense of inferiority, a vulnerability to intimidation, awkwardness, self-consciousness, and their own hidden nature. The 5 withdraws love as a response to the loveless outer world. In embracing an attitude of loveless disregard, he feels guilt at his own detachment.

High Super-Ego: the response to guilt is to feel driven and demand much out of himself and others. The 5 is an inward perfectionist and identifies with its inner “underdog.”

Negativism: the 5 wishes to subvert the perceived demands of others and of oneself, to avoid feeling bound to them. They “wish” not to do what they feel they should, not to give what is expected, even when the source of the request is internal rather than social. The 5 risks turning something they truly want to do into a “should” that provokes their own internal resentment or rebellion.

Hypersensitivity: in a low pain tolerance and fear of rejection. The 5 adopts emotional dullness to guard against hypersensitivity. The 5 feels a sense of weakness, vulnerability, and sensitivity in dealing with the world and its inhabitants. The 5 can appear gentle, soft, and harmless. They do not want to disturb how things are and would prefer to do no harm. This comes from the 5’s unacknowledged guilt, loneliness, and emptiness. One who feels ‘full’ can stand more pain than one who feels ‘empty.’ Lack of pleasure and feeling insignificant can factor into the 5’s decision to avoid the pain of frustrating relationships through the choice of isolation or autonomy.

Defense Mechanisms:

Isolation by interrupting one’s relationship with oneself or others in one’s inner world. The 5 perceives what has occurred and isolates itself from the intense emotion experienced at the time; to others, they ‘coolly recollect painful events as if they happened to somebody else and does not matter to them.’ The 5 loses the true and deep meaning of the disappointment, frustration, or trauma by a form of mental amnesia / distancing. The 5 places a mental vacuum over the emotional wound by redirecting their thoughts.

The 5 has more inner contradictions than any other type; they have contradictory thoughts, roles, and attitudes, which is clearest in their waffling between inferiority and grandiosity, and the simultaneous negative and positive perception of others. The 5 will avoid any situation that might arise normal feelings, thus interrupting them from ever happening, in pursuit of their ‘feeling avoidance.’

The 5 adopts aloofness to dull their emotional life, but it exists at times beside intense feelings, which the 5 associates with aesthetics and the abstract rather than with the interpersonal world. The 5 over-controls, has diminished vitality, and does not invest itself in any set course of action, out of fear of intensity and its potential destructiveness. The 5 wants to protect itself against primitive and impulsive responses to the environment. The 5’s ability to separate oneself conceptually and to consider the aspects of a situation allows him to devalue their own personal needs. They have chosen “to move away” as a solution to the problems of life.

What forged them: children 5s feels an inner emptiness and does not know what is missing. Somewhere along the way, they decided it is better to go alone in life, that people are not loving or it is undesirable to rely on others, for what love they offer is manipulative and demands too much in return. The 5 escaped inwardly to avoid the problems and overbearing ‘needs’ placed on them by of the outer world. They gave up on finding love, but still yearns for one that involves a willingness to leave them alone, without demands, deceptions, or manipulation. The 5 invalidates others’ positive feelings toward them as manipulative.

The 5 needs to experience a sense of being truly ‘alive,’ of existing, that comes only from a willingness to engage in life and form strong relationships. It is not receiving love which the 5 needs and places his hope in (since the 5 cannot trust other people’s feelings) but to become able to love and relate. In an obsessive desire to ‘search for being’ the 5 cannot look outward to the relationships they might create. The 5 must become willing to experience pain, love, happiness, and other emotions that feel threatening to become most alive and break their inner stinginess and avoidance.

Enneagram 5 Wings

5s present in two different ways based on the influence of their preferred wing. While it’s possible to have balanced wings, or no wing at all, most people can relate to the traits, fears and defense mechanisms of one wing in particular.

5w4: The Iconoclast

5w4s are more sensitive, creative, empathetic, and self-absorbed than the 5w6s. Independent and often eccentric, they aren’t sure what to do with their feelings but would rather process them alone than in the group. They are likely to experience severe bouts of melancholy. The 4 wing’s connection to sensitivity and depth of emotion helps them learn to be tender with themselves and be less guarded around others. Healthy 5w4s can communicate their own feelings to the people they love.

Character Example: The Twelfth incarnation of the Doctor in Doctor Who shows us the journey of a 5 learning to find his humanity. He is at first too cold, objective, and severe, remarking that it isn’t worth trying to save someone since he’s been digested already. A gatherer of information and facts, a seeker of knowledge, eccentric and refined in his tastes, and arrogant in his moral superiority, the Doctor alienates people everywhere he goes and even appoints his companion Clara to “care about people… so I don’t have to.” But after some soul searching, the Doctor opens up his heart, warms up to Clara and other people (up to a point, he will never be gushy), and is willing to live and die a thousand times over to save her from death. It’s a beautiful transformation from total detachment into passionate caring and forgiveness. His objectivity even allows him to forgive her for a planned, ultimate betrayal—“as if mere betrayal would ever stop me from caring about you,” he says.

5w6: The Problem-Solver

Fear plays a more prominent role in the life of a 5w6 than in the 5w4. They are more cautious, anxious, and skeptical, but also more social and loyal than the 5w4. They live more in their minds and will question the status quo and authority. They are also relational, and aware of their own fear, which increases their interest in forming alliances with others in the various communities they are a part of. They are often socially awkward, and they remain skeptical of others, but getting to know people is more comforting than disconcerting.

Character Example:  Considered a literary heartthrob by many, Mr. Darcy of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice is also a socially awkward man whose objectivity and suspicious nature toward Jane’s lack of outer affection causes him to convince his friend Mr. Bingley to give up the woman he loves. The reader or viewer first meets the stoic, withdrawn, and even rude Darcy at the ball where he refuses to dance with people and insults the heroine, Lizzie, by saying she is not nearly handsome enough to tempt him. After all, he doesn’t want to be there in the first place, and has no interest in making casual acquaintances. His stilted behaviors and even his awkward, insensitive proposal cause Lizzie to form an intense dislike for him… but that all changes when she sees him at home on his own estate. Surrounded by his own possessions and on his own turf, Darcy is a completely different man—warm, engaging, and eager to talk to her. What could have caused the transformation? Well, he was alone in a place he loved, surrounded by his possessions… not in a room of strangers. The story follows Darcy as he makes up for his insensitivity and objectivity, amends his mistake and reunites Jane and Bingley, showing the journey of a 5 whose 6 wing wants to protect those whom he cares about, and who opens up and learns to be friendlier.

Social Variants:

Social variants determine how we respond to the world around us and where our major priorities in life lie. Attentiveness to bonding, social responsibilities, and how we ‘appear’ to others is in the realm of social (soc). Survival, fulfilling all of one’s needs, and a focus on ensuring one always has enough resources for a comfortable life is self-preservation (sp). Sexual displays, competing for attention, being like a moth to a flame in your pursuit of another person, or competing for a mate falls under the realm of sexual (sx). Read through each to determine which resonates the most with you.

The Self-Preservation 5: Isolation and Hoarding

Average self-preservation 5s attempt to gain independence and separation by reducing their needs. They are highly conscious of energy expenditures, considering what activities and pursuits they will take on, and questioning whether they have sufficient internal resources to meet them. If not, they will drop the activity. They conserve their energy and resources to avoid needing others too much, and take as little from the environment as possible. They can be very private and protective of their home and work space.

These are the true loners of the Enneagram. They love solitude and avoid social contact. They feel easily overwhelmed by people, especially in group settings. Although they can be friendly and talkative, they are slow to engage with others and often feel drained by social interactions. They then need time in their home space to recharge their batteries. They can be extremely resentful of having expectations placed on them. Often they will minimize their needs so they can live on less money, thus avoiding interference with their independence and privacy. They are also the most emotionally detached of the 5s. While they can be warm with friends and intimates, they are emotionally dry and have great difficulty expressing their feelings to others.

In the unhealthy range, these 5s can become eccentric shut-ins, going to great lengths to avoid social contact. Isolation leads to disordered thinking and delusional ideas. They may exhibit paranoid tendencies, especially with the 6 wing.

Character Example: While Bernadette fits this version of the 5 in her withdrawn nature, and hording of her resources, even her hatred of engaging with other people (she will hide in her house, not answer the doorbell, spy on them through her windows, and gleefully announces that on their boat to the arctic, the tables only sit for, so “we can place all our coats on the extra chair and nobody can sit with us!”), there is another, highly memorable character who is also the perfect embodiment of a self-preservation 5: Ebeneezer Scrooge, in Charles Dickens’ classic story, A Christmas Carol. The story follows the antics of a “grasping, clenching, covetous old sinner” named Scrooge, whose miserly deeds cause him to scrimp on coal, foreclose on people even at Christmas, and deny his employee Bob Cratchit even the minor pleasures of the holidays. Through the brutal mechanisms of three Christmas ghosts, Scrooge learns the true meaning of Christmas, and becomes a ‘redeemed’ 5. He faces his past unwillingness to love, and opens his heart and his home to his fellow humanity. It’s the unthawing of a frozen heart and the joy of a 5 discovering their path to integration toward 7—greeting each day with joy, anticipation of its goodness, and the sharing of himself, his resources, and all he has learned.

The Social 5: The Specialist

Average social 5s engage with others and find a social niche for themselves through their knowledge and skill. They like to see themselves as the Masters of Wisdom and want to become indispensable through their particular field of expertise (the only person who knows about _____). The most intellectual of the 5s, academics, science, and other forms of guru-hood often draw their time and attention. They play the social role of the shaman, the wise person who lives at the edge of the tribe and brings back secret knowledge. They like to talk about weighty topics and complex theories, but are uninterested in social banter. They interact with others by debating ideas, critiquing society, and analyzing trends.

Less healthy social 5s become unable to relate to others except through the role of their expertise. They use the information they have gathered as bargaining chips, as their way of wielding power. They can become socially ambitious in the sense of wanting to be part of the intellectual or artistic elite. They would prefer not to “waste their time” on those who cannot understand their work.

In the unhealthy range, these 5s express extreme and provocative views. They are often anarchistic and antisocial, heaping derision on humanity, seeing it as nothing more than a ship of fools. They can develop bizarre theories about society or reality, but (unlike self-preservation 5s) feel determined to propound them to others. These 5s can look like 7s in that they are fairly outgoing and display a great deal of excitement about interesting ideas and people. This 5 is typically more “out there” than other 5s, in the sense of being more social and able to engage. But 5s are more reserved, less self-interested, and less emotional than 7s.

Character Example: The television icon of little girls who love science everywhere, Samantha Carter of Stargate SG-1 is an expert in all things related to science and mathematics, able to apply her knowledge to endless discoveries and problem-solve on the fly. But while a warm and welcoming woman, Sam would much rather spend her holidays shut up in a lab researching some new organism they found on an alien planet than socializing or leaving the compound. Her sense of camaraderie for her teammates and her willingness to risk her own life to rescue them turns her into a hero time after time, where something she has studied or discovered gets them out of a mess. A mature 5, Sam isn’t afraid to open her heart to others and even forms a special bond with a little girl. But she is, above all, a brainy lass far more interested in theoretical possibilities than the outside world.

The Sexual 5: “This is my world”

Average sexual 5s suffer a conflict between the detachment and avoidance characteristic of the 5 and the sexual variant’s desire for intense connection. These 5s like sharing secret information with their intimates (“I’ve told no one this”) but are always experiencing some tension between pursuing those they feel attracted to and lacking confidence in their social skills. They feel driven to engage intensely with people, though often with anxiety and a tendency to withdraw at a moment’s notice. Though more affable and talkative than the other 5s, they can cause others’ surprise and consternation when they unexpectedly drop out and disappear for periods of time.

On one hand, when romantically interested in someone, they become extremely open and merged, more like 9s. On the other, if they feel unappreciated or misunderstood, they quickly become emotionally distant. Powerful connections with others alternate with long periods of isolation. The sexual instinct mingles with intellect to produce intense imagination. These 5s create alternative realities—private worlds of various kinds—that they present to potential intimates. They are looking for the ideal mate, the mate for life, who will not feel turned off by their strangeness (“does this intensity frighten you?”). Strong sexuality gives them the impetus to risk emotional contact and also provides relief from their constant mental activity. It becomes a way to ground themselves. But in less healthy 5s, the mix of imagination and sexuality can become dark and fetishistic: they can get lost in disturbing fantasies and daydreams.

In the unhealthy range, the longing for lost love and feelings of rejection can lead these 5s into isolation and self-destructive behavior. They may feel drawn, through voyeurism, into dangerous lifestyles and be attracted to society’s underbelly.

Character Example: Alfred Hitchcock faced disappointment when audiences failed to understand and rejected his film Vertigo, but the critics now consider it one of his underrated masterpieces. While all of his films carry the director’s own 5ish perspective (that of an outsider ‘watching’ events happen that are outside his control, or through a distance, as it gives the viewer a sense of being an observer rather than a direct participant), Vertigo has a sexualized 5 twist. Its hero, Scotty, becomes enamored of a woman who commits suicide… or so he thinks. When he finds another woman who resembles her, Scotty becomes absorbed by the idea that they are the same person and that he can transform her into his ‘ideal.’ An eerie and unsettling film, it follows a man who has relied on his detachment to navigate life, avoiding any emotional entanglements, until his sexual desires get involved, then he borders on the brink of madness. It’s a fascinating depiction of obsession and the altering of someone else… from a place of semi-detached distance.

Spiritual Growth Suggestions

As 5s work on themselves and become more self-aware, they learn to escape the trap of walling themselves off from the sustenance of emotional connections with others, thereby intensifying their inner sense of scarcity, by creating a stronger connection to their own emotions, learning to believe in their own abundance, and opening up to receiving more love and support from others.

Notice when you are…

Hoarding and withholding inner resources out of a perception of scarcity and fear of depletion. Observe your tendency to operate from the assumption that your time, energy, and other resources are scarce. What ideas are causing this? Notice any worry you feel or thoughts that arise about not having enough energy to do things or interact with people. Note what kinds of experiences make you fixate on your energy level. Observe how you hoard time, materials, or private space. Notice if you withhold yourself or your input from others, how you do this, and what you are thinking about and feeling when you do this.

Detaching from emotions and emotional life. Observe the ways you detach from your emotions (if you can see how this happens). Notice situations where you might feel something but don’t. Catch yourself in the act of detaching or distancing yourself from someone or something that might arouse your emotions. Observe your inner self. Are there some emotions you feel more than others? Avoid more than others? Notice when you delay feeling things until you are alone. Are there specific emotions you feel more or less comfortable having in front of others? Notice the ways you rationalize not feeling anything and avoiding an acceptance and experience of others’ feelings.

Distancing yourself from others through excessive boundaries, the need for control, and a fear of external demands. Observe the different ways you make boundaries with people. Notice this happening and mark any feelings that motivated this decision. Notice how you try to control situations and what your thinking behind this is. Mark when you distance yourself from others and how you do it. Are there some people you want more distance from than others? Why? What fears arise when you think about interacting with this person?

Questions to ask yourself:

  • How and why did these patterns develop?
  • What emotions are these patterns designed to protect me from?
  • Why am I doing this?
  • How are these patterns operating in me?
  • What are my blind spots, because of these patterns?
  • What do they keep me from seeing?
  • What are the consequences of continuing to be this way?
  • How do my coping mechanisms trap me?

Self-Development:

To counter-act hoarding and withholding inner resources out of a perception of scarcity and fear of depletion.

  • Challenge false beliefs about scarcity. Recognize it only seems like you don’t have enough time, energy, and space. You have as many abundant resources as anyone else. Connecting more with others increases your resources because it expands your sources of support. Reminding yourself to find faith in “abundance” initiates your access to more of what you falsely think you don’t have enough of.
  • Remind yourself that scarcity breeds scarcity. What you believe shapes your reality. When you see the world through a lens of your own limited resources, you magnify your experience of scarcity. This keeps you trapped in a model that forces you to get by on very little.
  • Find direct ways to fill yourself up on the outside. Turn up the volume on any desire you have to experience more of life and take the risk to go out and experience it. Allow yourself to increase the pleasurable ways in which you participate in the outside world.

To counter-act detaching from emotions and emotional life.

  • Become more aware of your decision to detach from your feelings. Notice when you do this. Recognize when you are thinking about your feelings rather than feeling them. Notice if you detect an absence of feeling when a situation should provoke a reaction. Shift your attention to your body to pick up on its subtle signs of emotion. Engage in physical exercise, to get “out of your head.”
  • Make efforts to feel feelings more often. Since you long to connect more fully with others, practice engaging with and expressing your feelings more regularly. This will make you more accessible to others. Let real needs and emotions arise and open yourself up to them. Try to feel your emotions when you are alone, then expand to feeling them when you are around others. Try to talk more about your feelings with trusted friends.
  • Make it a point to see the upside of emotions and emotional connections. Remind yourself of all the good aspects of connecting to them, even if you don’t believe there are any at first. If you have had a positive moment of emotional connection to someone, keep this in mind and use it to self-motivate yourself to open up. Look for and celebrate small moments of emotional connection.

To counter-act distancing yourself from others through excessive boundaries, the need for control, and a fear of external demands.

  • Recognize your sense that there’s nothing wrong as part of your fixation. That there is ‘nothing to fix’ is a lie. Seeing the comfort and control that comes from their protective barrier is the first step to seeing what’s wrong with this situation.
  • Get in touch with the fear that motivates distancing and wall-building. You avoid situations in which you might feel fear. If you allow yourself to hide less, and get more in touch with the fear motivating your avoidance, you can reduce the rigidity of the defenses you use to avoid acknowledging your fear. It exists. Learn to recognize it.
  • Move forward in life instead of withdrawing inside yourself. Move into life more, find a deeper energy source inside, and reconnect with your feelings, instead of hiding. Start to notice how and when you withdraw and practice staying put instead. Consider moving toward people and more into the flow around you, rather than away. Remind yourself that learning to risk and trust the outside world is a huge, wonderful step for you.

Using your integration and disintegration numbers for self-growth:

Move to 7 by using levity, innovative thinking, and creative options to interact more directly with the outside world. Intentionally use humor, playfulness, and intellectual curiosity to manage your anxiety about moving into a social sphere. Develop creative thinking and an interest in people in support of your desire to connect more deeply with them. Finding connections and enthusiastically participating in the exchange of the idea will help you expand your comfort zone, and let you share more of your unique ideas with the outside world.

Move to 8 to engage more actively, more fearlessly, and more powerfully in the world. Reestablish a healthy balance between withdrawing and moving out into the world. Reengage with your power and authority, find more strength in dealing with fear, engage with yourself, and interact with others. Learn to express anger in productive ways, make big things happen, and assert yourself to positively impact people. Instead of surveying what’s happening from a safe distance, act more decisively. It’s okay to own your authority, express yourself, use strength to make boundaries and open up yourself to sharing yourself with others.


Sources: Richard Rohr, The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective, Claudio Naranjo: Character and Neurosis, Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson, The Wisdom of the Enneagram, Beatrice Chestnut, The Complete Enneagram: 27 Paths to Greater Self-Knowledge. Sections quoted or paraphrased. Please purchase the original books for more information.