In America we have something called the “Adopt-A-Highway Program” in which an individual or an organization can volunteer to sponsor litter collection on a mile-long section of a highway. In return for paying a monthly fee, the sponsor’s name is posted on a sign visible from the road. The money pays for an Adopt-A-Highway maintenance crew which picks up litter, erases graffiti and landscapes the one-mile stretch.
Once I was driving through a remote part of Northern California. The road was long and straight, cutting across a high, lonely volcanic plain. At a particularly barren, windswept point I saw an Adopt-A-Highway sign coming up. Curious about who would take responsibility for a patch of road so far from anywhere, I slowed down to read the sign. “Loners of America,” it said.
As we shift from Enneagram style Four to style Five, we move out of the realm of image-matching and role-playing and enter the trio of Enneagram styles that is unconsciously grounded in fear. Unlike Twos, Threes and Fours, Fives, Sixes and Sevens are not confused about who they are or how they feel, but rather tend to unconsciously anticipate life’s dangers. They struggle with taking action, asserting their wills and with comfortably wielding power.
A Five’s fears are specifically social in that Fives habitually guard against being invaded or engulfed by others. They often do this by living in a world of their own and taking refuge in a cauterized objectivity that protects them from their emotional shadows, what one Five called “a fortress of the clear and evident.” Unlike Fours, who inhabit their sensory-rich emotional imaginations, Fives are generally thinkers who live in their minds more than their feelings.
Healthy Fives often have well-developed abilities to acquire and synthesize knowledge. Life long learners, they stay interested and mentally alive into old age. Fives can be perceptive, wise and objective; able to stay calm and rational when others around them are panicked or confused. At their best, they strike a balance between interacting with the world and withdrawing from it. Style Five is associated with knowledgeable competence and, sometimes, intellectual genius.
Many Fives live by the Latin motto, “Scientia Est Potentia” – “Knowledge is Power.” Healthy Fives express this actively, offering the fruits of their interests and research to the world. Teaching and writing are frequent occupations but whatever they do, healthy Fives seem to insist that their talent for learning count for something beyond itself. There is an idealistic quality to this drive that makes them willing contributors to a larger good. Fives can also be dependable, behind-the-scenes partners who avoid the limelight but can anchor and vitalize a group effort.
While Fives generally lead with their heads, not all are explicitly intellectual. On the streets of Tokyo you can sometimes see a Japanese artisan making “rice art,” carving tiny detailed faces into grains of rice that he sells to tourists. The artist is usually silent, wearing a magnifying glass and completely absorbed in what he is doing. A non-intellectual Five could excel at a solitary, precise skill that supports a socially distant stance, feeling comfortably at home within the world of his expertise.
Healthy Fives specialize in what the Buddhists call “non-attachment,” an attitude towards living characterized by a paradoxical mixture of compassion and detachment. Fives can play life’s games without being attached to the results. They participate fully in events and yet don’t take them personally, striving without malice and surrendering with grace. One Five described the experience of non-attachment as “just like everyday life but lived two feet off the ground.” Author Thomas Mann, himself a Five, called the experience “erotic irony” implying both earthiness and detachment.
Healthy Fives are sympathetic to the suffering of others and often have kind hearts. As friends, they can be unusually tolerant, able to appreciate deviant realities or accept someone’s moral failing without judging. Fives can also entertain many disparate points of view and enter into them all. “I don’t, for instance, see madness as a weakness or a moral fault,” one Five explains, “it is another way of seeing the world, another form of inspiration.”
Castles and prisons are structurally identical. Both have high walls, are surrounded by moats and tend to be located in hard-to-reach places. The main difference between them is that castles are designed to keep people out while prisons keep people in. When Fives are less healthy they live in mental fortresses that sometimes imprison them in a defensive isolation.
In the trance of their Enneagram style Fives can be explicitly antisocial and manage their fears by backing away from others. They generally fear close relationship as intimacy can lead to feeling overwhelmed, smothered or swarmed. A Five who remembers being raised in a hectic household of four sisters says that she occasionally became so immersed in the intense, chaotic atmosphere that she would feel her boundaries dissolving. She knew that she had reached her threshold – and needed to be alone – when she would look at her hands and be unable to decide if they were her hands or those of her sisters.
When Fives are less healthy their non-attachment devolves into its mundane cousin – dissociation, the state of being cut off from feelings. Dissociation usually means thinking in words and pictures but without emotion or body sensations. While we all dissociate from some aspects of our experience, Fives practice it as a general defense, often to protect themselves from overwhelm. “I’ve always had a hard time forming relationships with others,” a Five says. “To me, a relationship consists primarily of emotions, and emotions are frightening to me. I like things to be very cut-and-dry. It makes them easy to analyze and predict. But emotions are a foreign realm. I can never predict them. I have a lot of anxiety around others about what they’re feeling, so I try to stay removed and objective.”
Less healthy Fives worship gods of reason and look distantly down on their own emotions. This can translate into a superior-arrogant attitude towards others. As one Five says, “Personality traits such as withdrawing, and acting cold and aloof have caused me problems. People seem to get the impression that I’m a snob, or even worse, weird. Of course, my close friends and family know the ‘real’ me but I seem to find it hard to make new friends. Being put in a situation where there are many new faces is quite frightening and overwhelming.”
Some ultra-scholarly Fives live in rarified realms of expertise where they are seldom joined by others. One might be working on a PhD thesis about covered bridges in Pennsylvania built between 1860 and 1872 and be one of three recognized experts on the subject. Another could know all there is to know about the use of wine in Italian Neorealist films and actively communicate online with the handful of people who are also interested in the subject. Instead of sharing their knowledge with the world, unhealthy Fives hide within it becoming socially unreliable and noncommittal, sometimes stranding loved ones.
Deeply unhealthy Fives can be schizoid and unpredictable, as though dissociated parts of them are taking turns talking. They can project an absent, vaguely shocked aura or be pointedly antisocial. A Five could sit through a party and say nothing – and later claim that he had a good time – or maybe alienate others with nasty, sneering commentary. Some Fives can be tactless and rude, demonstrating a cold lack of sympathy and an anger that comes out through aggressive acquisitiveness, passive-aggression or snide sarcasm.
Very unhealthy Fives can retreat into a delusional self-made world, losing touch with reality, prone to hallucinations, developing weird phobias of invisible objects like germs. They might take action in a fitful, sporadic way and for strange, hard-to-understand reasons. Aggressive episodes are also possible, prompted or followed by bursts of acute paranoia.
Fear and Hoarding
Along with Sixes and Sevens, Fives are part of the emotional trio who project their power and oppose themselves. They struggle with taking action, asserting their wills and comfortably wielding power.
Fives, Sixes and Sevens all scare themselves by projecting their own power, subjectively removing it from their bodies and plastering it onto the face of outside forces. Fives do this through quick, anxious acts of imagination where they anticipate being deprived, overpowered or overwhelmed.
In person, Fives can seem like withdrawn observers, as if they are standing behind themselves, avoiding direct contact. A Five might have a quality of being three inches back behind his own eyes, watching you from a distance, looking at you through a pane of thick glass.
You might sense this distance and see it as a sign of self-possession or independence. What you may not know is that the Five’s removed stance is compensatory; in truth, he is hypersensitive. Like Roderick Usher, the Edgar Allen Poe character, who was so sensitive that the sound of a falling feather could drive him insane, the Five could feel vulnerable to your influence, be keenly aware of your possible expectations or needs and anticipate being powerless to resist them.
By keeping his distance and acting self-sufficient, the Five is saying a blanket “no,” maintaining an excessive boundary to compensate for a weak one. A Five novelist explains: “I protect my own tendency to be affected too much by other people’s opinions. For instance, I never discuss a work-in-progress with the people in my life, even my best friend, because I know how easily influenced I am. I’m afraid I’ll be led astray from my own instincts. So I go overboard to protect them.”
Unhealthy Fives unconsciously believe that the world is socially non-negotiable, so they passively wait for others to act instead of taking the initiative. One Five says, “It’s like I have all this specialized knowledge and I’m ready, willing and able to give it to anybody who wants it. But they have to tell me they want it. If they don’t ask me a question, then I think they’re not interested. So I keep my mouth shut.”
Fives control through avarice, a strong desire to acquire or possess more than you need. After scaring themselves about potential loss, invasion, or scarcity, Fives try to assuage their fears by accumulating and hoarding. Fives can hoard time, money, space, land, knowledge, food or emotional availability. The content doesn’t matter, the pattern is the same. The Five’s defensive goal is to minimize the outer world’s influence, to protect against external flooding by stockpiling supplies on some dry inner island. This leads to a defensive stinginess, an insecure greed. “He gets attached to things,” someone said of a Five. “He can’t let go. It makes you greedy. When you’re greedy you fear you’re going to lose the things you’re attached to, that you’re not going to have the power you need.” Another Five adds, “I tend to keep myself to myself and guard my time, space and possessions carefully. I also like to acquire knowledge. In fact, my idea of enjoyment is to spend time completely alone reading books and/or thinking.”
Hoarding Fives are price conscious, driven by metaphors of economy, as if they have an inner calculator keeping constant tally of what everything costs. Asked why he disliked jogging, one Five replied, “I figure I only have a limited number of heartbeats. I’m not going to waste them running around a track.” Another Five explains his friendships in materialistic terms: “I consider my time incredibly valuable, and don’t see why I should waste more than is absolutely necessary. I have my group of friends, and we’re far from serious most of the time, but I still avoid relationships that seem like they will be more of an emotional drain than an asset. I have many other things I could be spending that time on, things that I know are worthwhile.” A Five’s defensive parsimony could even extend to how he or she speaks. The friend of one Five says, “He’s not given to glib kinds of conversations. He really thinks about the questions you ask him. Most of us talk gibberish but he doesn’t waste words and he doesn’t waste emotions.”
The American comedian Jack Benny used to do a parody of stingy Fiveness. His signature joke was about a hold-up: ‘Your money or your life!” an armed thief would demand. Benny would always take a long pause and say, “I’m thinking about it…”
Five billionaire J. Paul Getty was known for his miserly ways including a famous pay phone that he installed for guests who visited his enormous mansion. Billionaires were rare in his day so Getty was often asked how it felt to be so rich. His stock answer, reported on many occasions, was, “Pretty good, but remember: a billion dollars doesn’t go as far as it used to.”
It is probable that Getty felt that a billion dollars wasn’t that much money. Part of the mentality of avarice is that whatever you have is not enough. Scrooges never earn enough money to make them happy because that’s not what they really want. The money is a metaphor for being safe and absolute safety can never be guaranteed. Having the money is the first step towards losing it.
Fives protect themselves with the defense mechanism of compartmentalizing – keeping the different parts of their experience discreetly grouped into separate categories. It’s a little like having an inner library where you classify your feelings and reactions and store them on different shelves. The goal is to feel both safe and in control.
A Five who joked that she has “successfully avoided therapy,” says that she visualizes her overbearing mother trapped in a black metal box. She explains that her mother “in quantum theory terms, is both dead and alive at the same time – as long as the box is closed. And I have no desire to open the box; surely it is neurotic to seek pain when ordinary unhappiness is available.”
Asked how he handled the stress inherent in devising new ways for people to kill each other, a Five designer of high-tech weapons replied that he never considered his job in those terms. He simply focused on and enjoyed the technical challenge that each new device presented, never thinking beyond that. Another Five, a robotics engineer, adds: “I know I’m creating something that will one day take over and kill my grandchildren. But it’s just so cool.”
An American Five who speaks fluent Japanese and writes poetry in both English and Japanese says that the key to his poetic ability comes from being outside of both languages: “There are two huge rooms in my head, the Japanese room and the English room. In the hallway connecting them I discovered another space filled with just ‘stuff’ and ‘things.’ It’s a room without language.”
Some Fives compartmentalize by role-playing: “I put on a costume and play a role for my domineering mother. As long as I don’t have to see her very often it’s ok.” Another Five, a singer-songwriter, sends “the part of me that has stage fright over to the side of the stage. Then I sing from the part of me who’s a real ham.”
Another way that Fives compartmentalize is by contextualizing – by thinking so relatively about situations and events that holding a firm position becomes impossible. While Fives can be non-judgmental and tolerant of ambiguity, they may also use this as a defense, for example, by rationalizing away their feelings to avoid taking action. A Five who decided to go into business with a violent, unhealthy Eight was repeatedly warned about the Eight’s aggressive character. The Five’s consistent reply was, “He may be violent sometimes but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s a bad person.” The Five later regretted the decision and spent large sums of money extricating himself from the business partnership.
As is true for other Enneagram styles, a Five’s personality defenses can also function as a resource. Compartmentalizing helps Fives integrate what they learn. As one Five says, “Sometimes new information comes in fast, but eventually I sort it out. It’s confusing for a while but I like to organize it. When I finally get the information into categories then it doesn’t overwhelm me.”
Excerpted from The Dynamic Enneagram by Tom Condon
Copyright 2009, 2013 by Thomas Condon
Available as an ebook serial at Tom’s website http://www.thechangeworks.com
Tom Condon has worked with the Enneagram since 1980 and with Ericksonian hypnosis and NLP since 1977. These three models are combined in his trainings to offer a useful collection of tools for changing and growing, to apply the Enneagram dynamically, as a springboard to positive change. Tom has taught over 800 workshops in the US, Europe and Asia and is the author of 50 CDs, DVDs and books on the Enneagram, NLP and Ericksonian methods. He is founder and director of The Changeworks in Bend, Oregon.
Tom can be contacted at: http://www.thechangeworks.com