Type Five – The Observer

The Enneagram Type FIVE personality believes that knowledge is power. These individuals enjoy being subject matter experts and do not want to be passed in competency. They like to observe what’s going on in the world and then assess the information to understand how things work. They hide in plain sight. FIVES are skilled in rational, objective analyses and calm in a crisis. They find the way forward rather than wallow in chaos or indecision. They’re emotionally reserved, preferring to analyze and synthesize their experiences rather than simply live them.

FIVES see other people as potential drains on their time and energy, which they perceive as being in scarce supply. They don’t give a lot of social data and may prefer to experience relationships in their heads without having face-to-face contact. They assess situations before entering into them to determine how much energy or attention they will take. They want each experience to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. When the parameters are not known, FIVES withdraw or shut down. They’re sensitive to emotional demands placed upon them and are hesitant to make commitments. (“If the world presents itself as uncomfortably nonnegotiable, the only thing I know how to do is say no.”)

FIVES want boundaries; they don’t like spontaneity. They process life by anticipating an event or interaction, engaging with it, and then thinking about it thereafter. They need time alone to unpack their feelings and experiences. Solitude is a necessity of life. When interrupted in their reflective process, they feel lost. To that end, FIVES might be content to live in a castle protected by a moat and drawbridge. It would enable them to set office hours and regulate who gains entrance. It would also afford them a shield from the noisy, overcrowded world.

FIVES work hard at being self-sufficient so as not to require support from others. They minimize personal requirements and limit outside connections. This tendency has the unfortunate consequence of cutting them off from nourishing and mutually supportive relationships. They fail to recognize the potential for renewal and rejuvenation through social contact. That being said, when FIVES find compatible friends and mates, they are uncommonly loyal and trustworthy.

enneagram type five observer

FIVES live between the FOUR-ish depth of feeling and the SIX-ish fear of getting trapped. They hold to a clear and distinct vision of their place in the world and resist structures that get in the way (FOUR). They question authority and exercise powers of discernment to know who or what merits their attention (SIX). They know when to care and when not to; everything else gets no (or minimal) energy. Healthy FIVES render these judgments without fear (SIX) of emotional pain or grief (FOUR).

FIVES are influenced by their dominant instinct:

  • Self-Preservation FIVES have particularly strong needs for boundaries to guard their space and protect against unwanted intrusions. They want to be at home with their projects, information, and ideas. They’re the least expressive of their type and limit their needs to avoid being dependent on others. They’re easily overwhelmed by people and blend into the landscape in social situations.
  • One-to-One FIVES look for the ideal partner with whom they can safely share their inner life. They’re driven to engage intensely but may have their eye on an escape hatch should they feel overwhelmed by the experience or insecure with their partners. They can be open and forthright yet shut down when feeling judged or misunderstood.
  • Social FIVES participate in communities where they can be valued for their knowledge and skills. They’re intellectuals who use information as bargaining chips and enjoy spirited discussions with highly engaged, competent individuals. They seek recognition and prestige and generally consider themselves to be superior to others.

Under stress, FIVES may adopt characteristics of an Unhealthy SEVEN. They become increasingly narrow in their focus and pull back into the safety of their own thoughts. If they sense attachment, they find a way to do without it or convince themselves that they never experienced it in the first place. They may distract themselves with random activity to avoid dealing with the underlying source of discomfort.

The antidote to stress lies in giving space for disquieting thoughts and feelings to emerge. They consider why these sentiments arise and what can be done to address them. They may set aside the fear of being caught unaware and let experience be their teacher. They may also take into account the relationships that have been cut off to avoid feeling their feelings. They need to reach out to others and let the world in.

FIVES find strength in movement toward a Healthy EIGHT. From this position, they “get out of their heads” and feel their presence and power in the world. They embrace their gut instincts and use them to take action in confidence. They stop trying to figure out how life works and just start living it.