By A.J. Drenth
According to the organization, Enneagram in the Narrative Tradition,1 the Enneagram type 5, also known as the Observer or Investigator, tends to self-describe as follows:
- I detach from my feelings and observe rather than participate.
- I hoard time, space, energy, and knowledge to myself.
- I have a strong need for privacy and limit intrusions from a world that wants too much from me.
- I am a minimalist.
In their book, Personality Type, Don Riso and Russ Hudson describe Fives as:
- Mentally alert and curious
- Able to concentrate; become deeply engrossed in whatever has captured their attention
- Studious and excited by knowledge; conceptualize everything before acting
- Highly independent, idiosyncratic, and open-minded
Overview of the Enneagram Type 5
One of the ways in which the Enneagram taxonomy differs from the Myers-Briggs is its assertion that every personality type has a definable core essence. As might be discerned from the above list of Five characteristics, the Five’s essential life strategy is one of survival through knowledge and self-sufficiency.
Of all the Enneagram types, the Five is most concerned with seeing the world as it actually is, regardless of how ugly or unsettling. Nothing is taboo or off limits for Fives; any form of censorship is anathema to them. Seeing objective truth as the path to salvation, anyone or anything attempting to obfuscate the truth may be treated as an object of derision by the Five. While extraverted types such as the Three or the Eight may wield more overt power or influence, the Five feels his insight into “hidden realities” or his acquisition of esoteric knowledge will ultimately comprise his saving grace.
As highlighted by Riso and Hudson, the Five is prone to “conceptualize everything before acting.” Like Fours, many Fives feel incapable of action until they have gathered enough information and clarified their understanding of things; in Jungian parlance, they strive to rectify their N concerns before translating them into S action or substance. For instance, an INTJ 5 friend of mine once spent over a year formulating and honing his business plan before he was willing to start implementing it. The intuitive introvert’s propensity to ideate rather than act is underscored in my post, Why INFPs, INTPs, INFJs, & INTJs Struggle to Act.
In working to ascertain their desired level of knowledge and insight, Fives come to see time as their most precious commodity. Without adequate time to research and reflect, they worry they will never find or achieve whatever it is they are meant to do. It is therefore unsurprising that Fives are constantly seeking and scheming to carve out more time for themselves. One of their primary time-procuring strategies is to function as minimalists. To acquire more alone time, Fives may strip away everything and anything that extends beyond their basic survival needs. Some may even consider living out of a van in order to avoid being encumbered by rent or other expenses. In their book, Personality Type, Riso and Hudson observe:
Fives become more determined to continue their projects and want to avoid any involvements or dependencies that might hinder them. They begin to “cut back” on creature comforts, activities, and relationships. Anything that might compromise their independence and their freedom to continue with their interests becomes expendable.
In light of their insatiable appetite for time, knowledge, and self-sufficiency, the Five’s essential vice, according to the Enneagram, is avarice or greed. Because of this propensity, Fives’ intimates may at times consider them selfish or neglectful, incapable of turning their attention away from their own pursuits. Relationships can thus be a source of great tension for the Five. Indeed, some may even decide that romantic involvement is not worth their trouble. As I observed in my book, The INTP:
INTPs can easily get swept up in their T pursuits and completely lose contact with their feelings toward their partner. They may then begin to wonder if they really love (or loved) their partner, even questioning whether they want the relationship at all.
With that said, living without a relationship can also be difficult for some Fives. This is especially true for INTPs who due to the inferior nature of their feeling function (Fe) may worry that they will become too imbalanced, isolated, or depressed without a reliable F presence in their life. The INTP will therefore do what is necessary to keep his partnership (and inferior Fe) afloat, while simultaneously working to secure as much time to himself as possible.
INTP & INTJ Fives (5w4 & 5w6)
As discussed in my post, Myers-Briggs / MBTI-Enneagram Correlations, INTP and INTJ are the most common MBTI types among Enneagram Fives. Since so many Five traits are attributable to introversion (I), thinking (T), and to some extent, intuition (N), it is hard to imagine an INTP or INTJ not identifying with many of the Five’s propensities. In many respects, the Enneagram 5 is well viewed as a sort of INTJ-INTP hybrid. That being said, the Five’s “wings” (i.e., 4 or 6) do a fair job of differentiating the INTP 5 and the INTJ 5. Generally speaking, INTJs are more apt to have a 6 wing (i.e., 5w6) and INTPs a 4 wing (i.e., 5w4).
The 5w4 is the more subjective Five subtype. Like the Enneagram type 4, 5w4s are driven to understand their own personality, routinely exploring their identity and life’s purpose. They are also more idiosyncratic and individualistic in their investigative methods, in many ways operating more like artists than scientists. Their explorations are informed, and to some extent driven, by their need for personal meaning and authenticity.
5w6s, by contrast, are more objective and systematic in their work, content to leave the self and its preferences out of their equations. Since INTJs use Extraverted Thinking (Te)—the most impersonal and objective of all the functions—they are more apt to identify with the approach and methods of the 5w6 than INTPs are. Sixes are known in part for their loyalty to certain conventions or authorities. For INTJs, this is evidenced in their devotion to the methods and findings of science. By contrast, the freewheeling INTP 5w4 is more likely to function as a critic of science or to play the role of devil’s advocate. As discussed in my book, The INTP Quest, INTPs will commonly use epistemological arguments to cast doubt on the scientist’s foundational assumptions.
Of course, there are always exceptions to these trends. Jean-Paul Sartre and Stephen King are famous examples of 5w4 INTJs, and it doesn’t seem unreasonable to classify Bill Gates (INTP) as a 5w6. With King, as well as Sartre’s fictional works, we see a veritable absence of Te in favor of heavy reliance on Ni imagination. In The 16 Personality Types I refer to this subtype of INTJ as the “Creative / Aesthete.” INTJs with a more pronounced Te will typically gravitate toward more objective investigations, that is, toward the 5w6 pole, rather than purely creative or aesthetic work.
INFJ & INFP 5 Characteristics
As introverted intuitive types, the INFJ and INFP are also apt to identify with certain elements of the Enneagram 5. In concert with the Five, many INFJs and INFPs have original and unconventional minds. They use their introversion and intuition to look beyond or beneath appearances in order to uncover deeper truths or insights. The INF singer-songwriter Tori Amos aptly exemplifies the penetrating, taboo-challenging spirit of the Five. INFJ philosophers such as Schopenhauer and Nietzsche were also likely Fives. John Lennon (INFP), according to Riso, was a 5w4, although he may have been a 4w5. Regardless of whether these famous INFs were Fours or Fives, it is clear that INFJs and INFPs alike may display marked Five tendencies.
INFP bohemians, for instance, are apt to identify with the Five’s penchant for minimalism, willing to live as wanderers or starving artists until they “find themselves.” Such INFPs can also be self-consumed and highly protective of their alone time in a Five-like fashion.
Like their INTJ counterparts, the Ni-dominant INFJ is well deserving of the Observer moniker. Instead of leading with an agenda, as types with a dominant judging function (i.e., EJs and IPs) are inclined to do, the perception-oriented INFJ is often content to sit back and take in the world. The Star Wars character Yoda is a helpful, even if hyperbolized, example of an INJ. Exhibiting no superfluousness in movement or action, he spends most of his time in relaxed perception, intermittently dispensing insight when called upon by others.
With that said, INFJs are the least likely of the four IN types to function as minimalists, be it emotionally or materially. As I’ve discussed elsewhere, INFJs prefer to outwardly express and talk through their emotional concerns with others (Fe) rather than handling them independently (Fi). Moreover, many INFJs (as well as some INTJs) have high Se taste, making a minimalist lifestyle a tough pill for them to swallow.
In the end, it is largely T-F differences that distinguish Fours and Fives. Because thinking types are more emotionally detached, they are more likely to self-identify as Fives, with the inverse being true of Fours. But as we’ve seen, there are a number of similarities and points of overlap between the INT and INF types. Among other things, all INs (at least those who are Fours or Fives) are inclined to disidentify with their surrounding culture, especially when it is marked by an Extraverted Sensing mindset (as seen, e.g., in the U.S.). Moreover, because of their unconventional or idiosyncratic perspectives, many INs report feeling like misfits or outsiders. This sense of being characteristically “different” from the masses fuels their quest for identity and self-understanding.
INs who type as other Enneagram types (e.g., Nines) may seem or feel a bit more “normal,” as well as less inclined to scrutinize or rail against the status quo. Nines, for instance, are depicted by Riso as shying away from uncomfortable ideas so as to preserve their sense of inner peace. Fours and Fives, by contrast, are concerned with maintaining a certain level of inner intensity; Fours seek intensity of feeling (especially INFP Fours) and Fives intensity of thought (especially INTP Fives). While Nines are in many respects content to float through life, Fours and Fives are more demanding. Not only do they need to be mentally or emotionally engaged, but to feel as though they are moving toward something, advancing in their understanding of the world or their life’s purpose.
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2. Photo credit: Wesley Nitsckie