Let’s talk about Enneagram fixations for a moment. If you are familiar with Riso and Hudson, you might be aware of the Levels of Development idea wherein we access different levels of health in expressing our Enneagram fixations. People at level one have attained a healthiness of personal expression such that their Enneagram type is a mere flavor of their radiance (of which they can access the high points of the other types and are not bound by their own fixations and blindspots). On the other side of the coin, you’ve got the lowest level of development, wherein those at this level have devolved into such mental and emotional turmoil as to be nonfunctional. Most of us operate at the mid, or average, levels. When we say “average level of development,” we are usually seeing the clearest, most obvious manifestations of any given type fixation or set of behaviors. In fact, some would argue that seeing a “type” at all only applies to those who haven’t shed their ego at last and reached enlightenment. (I disagree, but that’s for another post).
So let’s look at an aspect of the average Type 5 and explore how and why 5s seek mastery.
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How Type 5 hides behind the need for mastery
As you know, I am Enneagram type 5, and I frequently like to consider how my various personality factors or behaviors are filtered through this lens. One thing I’ve noticed about myself is that the characters I am drawn to in books, TV, and movies all have one thing in common: they are experts or have achieved mastery in some way. When I write stories, it is often about those who are, you guessed it, experts in something. It got me thinking about the role of mastery and expertise in my own life, how I idealize this state of being and see it as the ultimate goal. Have I reached it? Hell no!
As such, I’ve been thinking about perfectionism and the role it plays in the life of an average Enneagram type 5. I don’t mean perfectionism in the orderly, spotless kind of way. I mean complete and total mastery of a subject such that no one could ever question your competence, nor could they ever surpass you in it.
That’s not possible; everything that exists can be improved and should be. But what is it that makes average 5s hide from the world until they are certain they won’t be caught with their pants down?
Is it the fear of humiliation? 5s are types who are used to being humiliated, called out, bullied, estranged. The reasons are obvious: they are withdrawn types who see the world in a different way. They are used to being made fun of or perceived as strange by those around them and this may make them unwilling to share their insights and ideas unless they are absolutely confident there are no holes. No ammo for others to use against them, as it were.
Is it the fear of being powerless? Says Riso and Hudson in Personality Types: Using the Enneagram for Self-Discovery:
As average Fives retreat into the apparent safety of their minds, they ironically begin to heighten their insecurities about their abilities…They feel that knowledge is power and that by possessing knowledge, they will be secure because they perceive more than others do— and hence, can protect themselves.
As a 5, I definitely feel the urge to protect myself through knowledge. I do this not just through gaining knowledge itself but from obscuring what people can know about me. In other words, I control access to myself. Primarily, I control access to your knowledge about what I don’t know. I won’t speak if I’m not entirely confident (in case I’m wrong and get called out for being an idiot). I won’t share an idea or project until I’m certain it’s PERFECT (hint: it’ll never be shown). I hide myself so others can’t see how deficient I believe myself to be.
And that’s the lie the Enneagram ego fixations tell us: we cannot be whole until we accomplish the goal our personality compels us to accomplish. For 1s, it’s perfection. For 5s, it’s mastery and competence. For 6s it’s security. And so on. Until I feel fully confident in my abilities (and I do this by hoarding my time and cutting myself off from the world until I’m “ready”) I cannot come out and share my projects, my ideas, or myself with anyone.
And you know what? That’s always held me back. We’re creative and intelligent people but we can waste all that on hiding. I’ve done countless online projects that you’ve never heard of and never will because I never told anyone about them while they were running and now they are gone. For whatever reason, I refused to promote myself for fear of attracting attention to what an imposter I was. “Imposter syndrome,” I guess.
Recently I took a comics class and the experience was enlightening. It was my first real opportunity to get the kind of hands-on peer evaluation type of thing for something like this. Something personal. I’ve done art critiques in college for my art minor, of course, but comics weren’t a part of the curriculum and art assignments are always…you know, someone else’s project for you to do. It made me feel vulnerable and nervous to share something I felt less than confident at (spoilers: art’s kinda my weaker side). The experience of sharing my work directly like that really highlighted the way my Enneagram fixations had been manifesting unchecked in my personality.
And yeah, though I have an incredibly strong 6 wing, the 4 wing plays a role in that too. There’s that side of refusing to share my inner world with others for fear that they won’t understand. The fear of having my inner sanctuary sullied by the rough minds of those outside. There’s something a bit precious in protecting one’s inner ideas for fear of being vulnerable to the wrong people. I can be guilty of keeping an idea private for fear of letting it get tarnished by the influence and judgment of others.
But here’s the bottom line: 5s are brilliant and insightful, or can be if they are willing to share themselves. Part of that means being willing to be wrong. It means being willing to be wrong publicly. It means admitting that you make mistakes. It means admitting you don’t know everything. Sometimes other people know more than you or can do something better.
And that’s okay. As 5s, we have to give up the fear that others will have power over us if we allow them to know too much. 5s fear that others will know exactly where our knowledge ends. What we don’t know might kill us. What others know might kill us.
But we have to trust and put ourselves out there anyway.