The Motivations and Inner Conflicts of Type Five
Fives combine the Mind Triad with the Withdrawn Stance. This means that the need to understand and feel secure calls out most urgently for their attention, and they prefer to address that need with reflection and contemplation.
Fives find it inherently satisfying to observe and understand their world. They like to be skilled and enlightened. They try to avoid being a position of failure and confusion, usually by marking out private spaces to practice a particular area of expertise. In short, Fives like to have the answers.
The tension here is between wisdom and hiding from the world. Fives are often tempted to minimize their needs, wants and connections, because the fewer demands they have on their time and mental energy, the more time they end up with expertise in the areas that are left. The problem is that true growth always starts with incompetence. Their particular method of self-sabotage is to miss out on the very opportunities to learn because they fear seeming ignorant, even for a short period. This is why their virtue is omniscience but their passion (or source of inner suffering) is withholding.
The Mask of a Five: Detached, Skilled and Aware
In early childhood, all types try to figure out who they are and what image to put out into the world. Their environment shapes this identity, but so does their core motivation. They try to create a self that feels protected from things they don’t like, and helps them get things that are meaningful. At a young age, Fives try to project a sense that they know what is going on, and they are capable of handling themselves. Simultaneously, they try to build an identity that needs very little, to stop themselves from being pulled into situations where they feel incompetent, or have their attention dragged from things they are trying to understand.
This basic principle creates some common patterns. Fives often have a strong need for privacy, even from family or close friends. They like to have solved a problem before they share it with anyone else, to protect that image of competence. That is easier to do when people are used to you saying very little and keeping to yourself. Fives also often have a skill set that they have nurtured since early childhood. Their interests might change somewhat over time, but whatever they decide to learn, they will try to master, for the sheer joy of having mastered it. They avoid strong displays of emotion, and instead try to communicate their mastery of ideas.
Here are some common variations, within that basic pattern.
- What is a Five’s skill set? There can be a temptation to associate Fives exclusively with whatever we consider traditionally intellectual: the computer nerd, the Harvard professor, the mad scientist. This is only a sliver of the skills a Five might master. They might be a ballet dancer, a poker player, a duck hunter, a couture lace-maker, a movie trivia buff, etc. They might make their skill into a career, or they might work a simple, low-demand job and keep their area of expertise as a hobby. They might be hyperfocused or multi-talented. These things will have more to do with their resources than anything else.
- How do they minimize demands that take them away from their questions? Some Fives can practically live as hermits, out in the woods or a Spartan apartment. These Fives are easy to recognize by their simple lifestyle. Others have to manage two jobs to support a family, or have a skill set that drew them into an intense career. These Fives might focus on compartmentalizing, or maintaining a strict schedule, or refusing any new demands on their time or attention. The need for focus on practice and study will be there, but the strategy will depend on the individual’s current situation.
- How do they communicate in a way that comes across as intelligent? Some Fives are extremely quiet. Others rant like life is one big debate tournament. Some are patiently quippy and others are viciously snarky. They will all try to seem clever, but what does that mean to them?
- How do they deal with the emotions they do have? All Fives are human, and humans have feelings. Some Fives are emotionally immature, and they might try to repress their feelings, maybe projecting them onto others instead. Others learn how to feel and accept them, in a detached, meditative way. Some might look for private places to process how they feel, and others might have a single trusted companion. A Five might mock therapy, have a therapist, or be a therapist themselves. What they have in common is that their comfort zone lies in a state of observant detachment. How they cope with life and all its feels varies.
The Five’s motivations overlap a bit with a Four’s need for authenticity and a Six’s need for security. If a Five’s early environment encourages them to lean into one of these related emotions, their mask will tend to incorporate things that are often associated with either of those traits. However, their core need will remain the same, if those needs ever come into conflict.
A Five’s stress type goes to Seven, meaning that under pressure, they often go from being organized and focused to being scattered and distracted. If they choose to use this pressure to grow, they will often embrace the chaos and accept that this is the time to dive into something new and embrace the feeling of being an amateur. If they approach this stress with a closed-off mentality, they might instead be hopping away from crisis and into something easier to deal with.
A Five’s security type goes to Eight, meaning that when they feel either highly supported or doubly stressed, they take on an Eight-ish mentality. They try to charge ahead and control their situation.
Note that both of a Five’s resources under stress involve going from a withdrawn stance to an assertive stance. They do not actually become Sevens or Eights. In stress-to-Seven mode, their ideas of fun will still be more introverted and contemplative, and in relax-to-Eight mode, they will still think a bit more before they leap, and their anger will often have a more cold feel than a typical Eight. Their core needs are the same and they will want to retreat to a withdrawn stance. That said, Fives who are chronically under stress or were pushed to grow out of their comfort zone as children might incorporate more Seven or Eight-ish traits than other Fives.
- Many of the first Fives who come to mind are detectives, and with good reason. A good mystery needs a detective who is highly motivated to solve it, and Fives, with their love of understanding, are intrinsically motivated. Even here, you can contrast different detectives to see the variety. There is Sherlock Holmes, of course, in all his variations. Both Mulder and Scully from The X Files are Fives, as is Nancy Drew. You have Nero Wolfe, the cranky Montenegran immigrant with his orchid collection, Lord Peter Wimsey, the upper class Brit with an antique book collection, and Benoit Blanc from Knives Out, who has a Southern accent that definitely does not come from living in the actual American South. Not every detective is a Five, but if you are a fan of mysteries, you have read more than one book and seen more than one film starring a Five.
- On Breaking Bad, Walter White’s need to seem controlled, detached and intelligent comes into conflict with a diagnosis of terminal cancer. To pay for the treatments, he uses his chemistry expertise to cook meth and sell to the local gangs: what starts as a way deal with a crisis turns into a dangerous coping mechanism that he leans on even when there are other options. As the situation goes increasingly downhill, he becomes an excellent example of how Eight can be a negative stress type for a Five.
- Mutt from Schitt’s Creek is a Five from a poor rural town. He lives a private, largely self-sufficient life in a small cabin in the woods. His specialties are in things like woodworking, foraging, and generally living completely off the grid. He often charms women with his quietly rugged handsomeness, but he struggles with the emotional messiness of forging a life with someone else. He does not grow much through the series: he is a good example of someone who stresses to Seven without growing, such as when he breaks up with Twila and immediately jumps into a relationship with Alexis, then breaks up with Alexis as soon as it’s not easy, and ends up dating another girl, which also does not last long…
- Schitt’s Creek has another Five in Stevie Budd, who shows more positive growth. Her area of competence is in managing the motel her aunt owns, and she is good enough to run it solo. However, when her aunt dies and leaves the motel deed to her, the added responsibility becomes overwhelming. Stevie initially wants to abandon the situation, but her bond with the Rose family who lives there motivates her to stay and learn to grow beyond her comfort zone, with their help. She ends up embracing that space of being an incompetent learner: experimenting with becoming a flight attendant and then starring in Moira Rose’s production of Cabaret. The challenges are incredibly uncomfortable but by the end we see someone who has replaced a small, confined comfort zone with genuine comfort in her abilities.
- Kamilah Al-Jamil from The Good Place is a wealthy Five whose emotionally parents raised her to compete with her sister Tahani, especially in artistic projects. Her ability to focus on the skills allowed her to beat Tahani most of the time, at the cost of completely ruining their relationship. Kamilah learned to channel all of her suppressed feelings into her art, which made her world-renowned, but also ultimately repressed and isolated.
- On Community, Abed Nadir is an autistic Five whose obsession with pop culture is not just part of his autism, but also a way for him to interpret the social situations and help himself interact with people. He avoids the discomfort of social awkwardness by identifying what kind of story they are in, and which tropes are likely to occur. Sometimes this works out and sometimes it does not. The important thing is that he is trying, and he grows noticeably over the course of the series.
- Oz from Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a Five who is happy to slide into the role of quiet, sidelined bro. His expertise is in music, but he compartmentalizes that away from the time he spends with the rest of the gang. In the season three episode “Earshot” Buffy develops telepathy and gets to hear some of the thoughts that he normally keeps to himself: “I am my thoughts; if they exist in her, Buffy contains everything that is me, and she becomes me. I cease to exist.” This glimpse at Oz’s secret philosophical side is a great example of how Fives are typically full of questions that they keep to themselves.