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E-SymFivelabeledThe Intense, Cerebral Type:
Perceptive, Innovative, Secretive, and Isolated

For more about the meaning of the arrows, see below.

Type Five in Brief

Fives are alert, insightful, and curious. They can concentrate and focus on developing complex ideas and skills. They can also become Independent, innovative, and inventive, preoccupied with their thoughts and imaginary constructs. They become detached yet high-strung and intense. They typically have problems with eccentricity, nihilism, and isolation. At their Best: visionary pioneers are often ahead of their time and can see the world in an entirely new way.

  • Basic Fear: Being useless, helpless, or incapable
  • Basic Desire: To be capable
  • Enneagram Five with a Four-Wing: “The Iconoclast”
  • Enneagram Five with a Six-Wing: “The Problem Solver”

Key Motivations: To possess knowledge, understand the environment, and have everything figured out to defend the self from threats from the environment.

The Meaning of the Arrows (in brief)

When moving in their Direction of Disintegration (stress), detached Fives suddenly become hyperactive and scattered at Seven. However, when moving in their Direction of Integration (growth), avaricious, detached Fives become more self-confident and decisive, like healthy Eights.

Examples: Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates, Georgia O’Keefe, Stanley Kubrick, John Lennon, Lily Tomlin, Gary Larson, Laurie Anderson, Merce Cunningham, Meredith Monk, James Joyce, Björk, Susan Sontag, Emily Dickinson, Agatha Christie, Ursula K. LeGuin, Jane Goodall, Glenn Gould, John Cage, Bobby Fischer, Tim Burton, David Lynch, Stephen King, Clive Barker, Trent Reznor, Friedrich Nietzsche, Vincent Van Gogh, Kurt Cobain, Jodie Foster, and “Fox Mulder” (X Files).

Type Five Overview

We have named personality type Five The Investigator because, more than any other type, Fives want to find out why things are the way they are. They want to understand how the world works, whether the cosmos, the microscopic world, the animal, vegetable, or mineral kingdoms—or the inner world of their imaginations. They are always searching, asking questions, and deeply delving into things. They do not accept received opinions and doctrines, feeling a strong need to test the truth of most assumptions for themselves.

John, a graphic artist, describes this approach to life.

“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.’ As a Five, I want to have an understanding of life. I like having a theoretical explanation about why things happen as they do. This understanding makes me feel in charge and in control. I most often learn from a distance as an observer and not a participant. Sometimes, it seems that understanding life is as good as living it. It is a difficult journey to learn that life must be lived and not just studied.”

Behind Fives’ relentless pursuit of knowledge are deep insecurities about their ability to function successfully. Fives feel that they cannot do things as well as others. But rather than engage directly with activities that might bolster their confidence, Fives “take a step back” into their minds where they feel more capable. They believe that from their minds, they think that from their minds’ safety,—and one day rejoin the world.

Fives spend much time observing and contemplating—listening to the sounds of wind or a synthesizer or taking notes on the activities in an anthill in their backyard. As they immerse themselves in their observations, they internalize their knowledge and gain self-confidence. They can then go out and play a piece on the synthesizer or tell people what they know about ants. They may also stumble across exciting new information or create creative combinations (playing recordings of music based on wind and water recordings). When they verify their observations and hypotheses or see that others understand their work, it confirms their competency, fulfilling their Basic Desire. (“You know what you are talking about.”)

Knowledge, understanding, and insight are thus highly valued by Fives because their identity is built around “having ideas” and being someone who has something unusual and insightful to say. For this reason, Fives are not interested in exploring what is already familiar and well-established; their attention is drawn to the unique, the overlooked, the secret, the occult, the bizarre, the fantastic, and the “unthinkable.” Investigating “unknown territory”—knowing something that others do not know or creating something that no one has ever experienced—allows Fives to have a niche for themselves that no one else occupies. They believe that developing this niche is the best way that they can attain independence and confidence.

Thus, for their security and self-esteem, Fives need at least one area in which they have a degree of expertise that will allow them to feel capable and connected with the world. Fives think, “I am going to find something that I can do well, and then I will be able to meet life’s challenges. But I can’t have other things distracting or getting in the way.” They, therefore, intensely focus on whatever they can master and feel secure about. It may be the world of mathematics, rock, and roll, classical music, car mechanics, horror, and science fiction, or a world entirely created in their imagination. Not all Fives are scholars or Ph.Ds. But, depending on their intelligence and the resources available, they focus intensely on mastering something that has captured their interest.

For better or worse, the areas that Fives explore do not depend on social validation; indeed, if others agree with their ideas too readily, Fives tend to fear that their ideas might be too conventional. History is full of famous Fives who overturned accepted ways of understanding or doing things (Darwin, Einstein, Nietzsche). Many more Fives, however, have become lost in the Byzantine complexities of their thought processes, becoming merely eccentric and socially isolated.

The intense focus of Fives can thus lead to remarkable discoveries and innovations, but when the personality is more fixated, it can also create self-defeating problems. This is because their focus of attention unwittingly serves to distract them from their most pressing practical issues. Whatever the sources of their anxieties—relationships, lack of physical strength, inability to gain employment, and so forth—average Fives tend not to deal with these issues. Instead, they find something else to do to make them feel more competent. The irony is that no matter what degree of mastery they develop in their expertise, this cannot solve their more basic insecurities about functioning in the world. For example, as a marine biologist, a Five could learn everything there is to know about a type of shellfish. Still, if she fears that she will never be able to run her household adequately, she will not have solved her underlying anxiety.

Dealing directly with physical matters can feel extremely daunting for Fives. Henry is a life scientist working in a central medical research lab:

“Since I was a child, I have shied away from sports and strenuous physical activity whenever possible. I was never able to climb the ropes in gym class, stopped participating in sports as soon as it was feasible, and the smell of a gymnasium still makes me uncomfortable. At the same time, I have always had a very active mental life. I learned to read at the age of three, and in school I was always one of the smartest kids in academic subjects.”

Thus, much of their time gets spent “collecting” and developing ideas and skills they believe will make them feel confident and prepared. They want to retain everything they have learned and “carry it around in their heads.” The problem is that while engrossed in this process, they are not interacting with others or increasing many other practical and social skills. They devote more and more time to collecting and attending to their collections, less to anything related to their actual needs.

Thus, the challenge to Fives is to understand that they can pursue whatever questions or problems spark their imaginations and maintain relationships, take proper care of themselves, and do all the things that are the hallmarks of a healthy life.

(from The Wisdom of the Enneagram, p. 208-210)

Next Actions

  • Do you have a thirst for knowledge and information?
  • Do you find other people’s lack of logical thinking highly irritating?
  • Do you find yourself becoming excited by anything new or unexpected and are quickly bored by repetition?

Here are some simple tips to help reinforce the positive side of this personality type:

  • Learn to value spontaneity – not everything has to be planned down to the last detail.
  • Believe in your freedom to express your emotions.
  • It is ok to ask for help – you cannot possibly know everything.

Instead of being selfish and uncompromising, acknowledge the world around you and use your knowledge freely to help others.