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The Five and the Outward Use of the Mental Center
Fabien & Patricia Chabreuil

In our article, “Steps to a Unified Model of the Enneagram” (published in theNovember issue of the EM), we described how each type uses its preferred center. For example, we described how the Five is not well aware of his internal life or his body, and uses his preferred (mental) center outwardly. We have since been in correspondence with Fives who have questioned this description—specifically, the apparent contradiction between the outward use of the mental center and the vice of the type, avarice, which brings up the image of the Five holding everything inside.

We thought this concept was widely used by the Enneagram community and so stated it only briefly in our original article. However, we now think it is worth further examination.

An old concept

While the voice of authority is never proof of anything, it is nevertheless interesting to note that almost every major Enneagram teacher has described Fives as focusing their energy outside themselves. Here are some quotes on the subject (alphabetically by author):

Kathleen Hurley and Theodorre Donson
“Their outward idealization piques their interest in any knowledge that the world can give them. Even though they are interior people, they ignore the realm of personal feeling and dwell in the world of thought, focusing on outside information that will help them understand how the world operates and where they fit into it.”
(My Best Self, page 97)
Helen Palmer
“The psychic isolation of the type can be seen as the habit of disengaging from feelings in order to observe. This habit of attention can become particularly obvious in stress, intimacy, or unpredictable situations that demand a spontaneous response. In extreme cases of detachment, a Five can attempt to disappear by freezing attention at a spot located just outside of the physical body.”
(The Enneagram, page 225)
Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson
The Fives “focus their attention on the world outside themselves. This may seem to contradict the statement that Fives are engrossed in their thoughts, but it actually does not. Fives focus their attention on the external world for a variety of reasons, one of the most important of which is that the material they think about comes through their sense perceptions—the accuracy of which they can never be completely sure of because they are not certain about what lies outside themselves. The only thing they know with certainty is their own thoughts. Hence, the focus of their attention is outward, on the environment, while identifying with their thoughts about the environment.”
(Personality Types, First Edition, page 136 and Revised Edition, page 175)
Richard Rohr et Andreas Ebert
“Unredeemed Fives think they can secure their lives by being informed about everything in as much detail as possible. But the information they pick up from the outside world and store up is never sufficient.”
(Discovering the Enneagram, page 105)

The Mechanism

Here is our understanding of the mechanism that leads to the Five’s outward use of the mental center:

  1. Fives believe the world “demands too much” (Virginia Price et David Daniels, SEDIG 1997, page 14), and that “their environment is unpredictable and potentially threatening” (Don Richard Riso et Russ Hudson, Personality Types, First Edition, page 136 and Revised Edition, page 175).

  2. To protect themselves, they try to cut themselves off from their feelings—or to at least reduce them drastically. Claudio Naranjo speaks of “feelingless-ness,” and explains this concept as follows: “It has to do with the loss of awareness of feelings and even an interference with the generation of feeling” (Ennea-Type Structures, page 87). Helen Palmer says that the Fives “unhook from emotion” (The Enneagram in Love and Work, page 129). Don Riso describes them (at the average levels) as “disembodied minds,” defending themselves “against being emotionally involved” (Understanding the Enneagram, page 59). Hurley and Donson state that they “ignore the real of personal feeling” (My Best Self, page 97).
    It is impossible, of course, to suppress only the feelings. The three centers are real and relatively autonomous, but they constantly interact:

    Interaction des centres

    As a feeling arises, there are automatically and immediately counterparts in both the instinctive and mental centers. For example, if you are sad, your thoughts turn dark and brooding, and your body experiences a heavy energy. If you attempt to suppress the sadness, you can be only temporarily successful, for the unchanged body and ideas will generate the feeling again. In order to cut off their feelings, Fives have no choice but to repress all their internal functioning.
    This, in turn, creates the sensation of emptiness—the fear of the Five, which he or she then compulsively tries to avoid.
  3. In order to avoid experiencing emptiness, Fives want to “put something inside.” Since Fives prefer the mental center and have to repress their internal functioning, they let in only emotionally-neutral information. They have “their whole energy concentrated on seeing everything, on taking it all in” (Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert, Discovering the Enneagram, page 100).
    Unfortunately, gathering information does not solve the problem of emptiness: when the cellar is empty, filling the attic doesn’t fix it. Fives continue collecting new information, while keeping the information they already have, creating the passion and the fixation of the type: avarice and stinginess.

The Internal Life of the Ego

When they are alone, Fives can sometimes connect to the feelings generated by their experiences in the outer world. Some may think about the feelings, others experience them. Even in the latter case, however, it is not true emotions they are experiencing: a true emotion is something that you feel in the here and now, without denying, diminishing, amplifying or prolonging it.

In their moments of isolation, Fives also think about and analyze the information they have collected from outside. But in order to be fully integrated, information has to connect to our bodies, our feelings and our sense of identity. This lack of internal connection is why others often perceive something cold and artificial in the feelings and thoughts of Fives.

* * *

This is a summary of the compulsion and the fixation of the Five, but of course real Fives do not always exactly fit the model. Many phenomena intervene in the process: wings, Level of Development, integration or disintegration, imprinting, etc.

It is the challenge of the Five to switch attention internally, and to recognize and accept feelings when they occur. It is thus that Fives can become open to themselves and others, and that the information they have can become true knowledge and wisdom.

We know Fives at various stages of this process. We would like to thank them with love for all they have revealed about their functioning.