Updated: May 26, 2021
In a nutshell
Type 5s are highly focused introverts who enjoy the pursuit of knowledge but have a tendency to withdraw from the world and develop tunnel vision, favoring their own perspective over reality. They are generally led by true curiosity, but use that curiosity to create a buffer between themselves and the real world. They can become afraid due to the challenges of life, and in response they feel the need to withdraw in order to "prepare". They think and study and acquire resources in order to help them feel comfortable engaging with the world. If they go too far on that path, they paradoxically create a situation in which they are very un-prepared for even basic elements of life. By withdrawing too far, they can develop a world view that is entirely out of sync with others, making it challenging or impossible for them to engage with people and fulfill their own needs. To grow and feel satisfied in life, 5s need to accept the unknowns of life and allow themselves to learn by engaging their environment rather than speculating on it.
Levels of Development
Each of the nine personality types are formed based on a Core Fear we develop at a young age. This fear keeps us from being our fully actualized selves and acting from Essence, the version of ourselves that exists when we let go of our fears and ego identifications and allow ourselves to simply be. In response to this fear, we develop a Core Desire, which can either lead us back to self actualization and Essence, or towards deeper fear and false identity.
The Levels of Development are an aspect of each Enneagram type discovered in 1977 by Don Richard Riso. They provide us with a map of how we degrade as we hold on more strongly to our Core Fear, leading us to progressively deeper and more complicated emotional defense mechanisms. There are 9 separate levels of development for each type (not to be confused with the 9 types themselves), starting with self actualization at Level 1 and going down to pathological thoughts and behaviors at Level 9. Each level represents what happens when a new fear is introduced, and a new desire emerges in order to defend that fear. These levels are grouped into the "Healthy Levels" (Levels 1-3), the "Average Levels" (Levels 3-6), and the "Unhealthy Levels" (Levels 7-9).
For a detailed understanding of what happens to each type at each level, I recommend reading the Enneagram books co-written by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson. That said, it's important to have a general understanding of how each Type behaves at different levels, so I've provided an overview of the Healthy, Average, and Unhealthy levels below.
When emotionally healthy, 5s are confident and receptive. They love to learn and spend much of their time deepening their understanding of topics that interest them. They typically have a single or a few areas of deep interest and focus on attaining a high level of knowledge in a few things, rather than an intermediate level of knowledge in many things. In the healthy levels, 5s respond to stress by driving forward in their preferred fields of study, attempting to prove their competency to themselves by generating practical results.
To remain healthy, 5s operating in the healthy zone should avoid driving too hard or defining themselves by their work. Learn to create your own sense of security so you can relax regardless of what's happening around you, and stay connected to the natural curiosity that drives you.
As they move away from their feelings of security, 5s can shift into the patterns of the "Average" levels of health. Focusing more on fear, they become less connected to their desire to learn and act more frequently out of a desire to prove their competency to themselves. They do this mostly for their own benefit and in their own minds - where a type 3 in the Average levels would look for external validation for their competency, an Average type 5 is more likely to turn away from those who reassure them and withdraw deeper and deeper until they have found the answers they're looking for. They are simply more comfortable operating in their own heads, and any external input can make them feel bitter or even angry for being pulled back into reality, even if the intent is positive. They may become somewhat "prickly" or even outright aggressive in order to create the isolation they think they desire.
To become healthier and happier, Average 5s should accept that their desire to detach from the world is pushing them in the wrong direction and commit to being more receptive and engaged.
As 5s allow themselves to retreat further and further into their own minds, they become more obsessive. The overall mechanism is that they believe they don't know enough about a certain topic to survive in the world, and therefore cannot engage in the world. They develop a negative self image, viewing themselves as incompetent and ineffective (regardless of how competent and effective they actually are). Stewing in self doubt, but determined to press on, they channel their focus to learn in as total an isolation as they can find. This is an important distinction from the other withdrawn types (4 and 9) - at their unhealthy levels, 5s remain quite active and engaged. They simply engage in isolation from others. In order to create and maintain this isolation, they may go to extreme lengths to push people away or avoid them. For example they may attack others personally, or aggressively discredit their beliefs in order to get themselves rejected. Meanwhile, they react to their own loneliness by telling themselves the concepts of community, attachment, love, etc. are simply illogical. While everything they do makes "sense" to them internally, unhealthy 5s are visibly unstable and can degrade further into neurotic, paranoid states.
To become healthier and work towards building a happy life again, 5s operating in the unhealthy zone should seek professional help to gently rebuild a grounded understanding of where they fit in the world. Understand that you've reached an uncomfortable life position by rejecting some very important concepts, and you can make your way back to a place of happiness and security by learning about them.
Wings / Subtypes
Every person has some degree of every type at work in their personality, but in addition to their primary type, Enneagram 5s are more likely to draw strongly from one of the adjacent types, 4 or 6. Because of this, we treat them as distinctive subtypes known as “Wing Types”. Not everyone has a strong wing type, but a majority of people do, so we generally describe a 5's type as either "5 wing 4" (5w4) or "5 wing 6" (5w6).
5 wing 4
When compared to the 5w6, the 5w4 is more open and emotional. All type 5s are cerebral and hold their personal experiences at a distance, but due to influence from 4 they are more self-reflective and independent than the other subtype and are hence more emotional.
Healthy 5w4s fuse the strengths of both types, combining intellectual and emotional curiosity fluidly. They are attracted to depth, and focus their attentions on developing their own understanding of complex areas of life. Where a healthy 5w6 is attracted to complex practical topics, 5w4s seek out complex topics with deep meaning, such as the arts or psychology. They appreciate the intuitive as much as the precise, and are more content operating in areas where concrete answers are not always possible. They are both thinking and imaginative, and enjoy nothing more than channeling both into the process of discovery.
In Average 5w4s, the emotional tendencies of 4 and the intellectual tendencies of 5 begin to diverge and interfere with each other. Both 5 and 4 are withdrawn types, so as the 5w4 slips into the average levels of health, their focus shifts inward strongly. This leads them to be highly subjective, getting lost in their own heads and resisting input from others. As the dreamy and unrealistic side of average 4 sets in, the 5w4 becomes less focused on their intellectual pursuits, preferring to engage their curiosity in fantastical and impractical areas. As they become more engrossed in matters that don't have any baring on their wellbeing, their negative feelings towards themselves (and towards reality in general) grow, and they often start down the road of addiction in an attempt to escape.
At unhealthy levels, envy from type 4 and fear from type 5 combine to create both depression and paranoid aggression. The depression is a result of the fact that at this point they are highly withdrawn, spending much of their time alone with their negative thoughts. At the same time, this withdrawal from reality makes any reminders of the world outside their minds seem like a threat, and they react with hostility when reality comes knocking. They feel hopeless and defective, like 4s, making it very difficult to connect to engage in their curiosities. They become tremendously isolated, living in a mentally active and morbid way.
5 wing 6
Compared to the 5w4, the 5w6 is more practical, precise, and safety-oriented. The curiosity and desire for mastery of 5 combine with the analytical problem-focus of 6 and create an individual who is more concrete and scientific than the other subtype.
Healthy 5w6s are very outward focused and practical, engaging their curiosity towards the outside world and viewing it clearly and objectively. The influence from 6 leads the healthy 5w6 to channel their intellect and energy towards topics that are concrete. They are drawn to the sciences and are expert researchers because the desire for certainty that 6 brings leads the 5 to be more detail-oriented than the 5w4. Where the 5w4 looks for meaning in their intellectual pursuits, the 5w6 looks for their intellectual pursuits to yield tangible, usable results. The healthy 5w6 may even be altruistically motivated, wanting to do right by others by working towards a discoveries that will positively impact the world.
In average 5w6s we see the fears latent in both types begin to surface in force. In healthy 5w6s the tendency to focus outward is a boon to their efforts, but as their fears mount their resistance to self-reflection can make it difficult to cope. Where the average 5w4 withdraws and creates an emotional inner world to engage in, the 5w6 withdraws into a world centered around the fears they hold. While it is technically still an "inner" world due to the withdrawing nature of 5, the world is based on realistic scenarios the 5 fears will come about. However, where a 6 would at this point engage the environment in an attempt to avoid these scenarios, the 5w6 silos in their work, attempting to reject their fears out of existence. They become entrenched in their intellectually defined views for comfort, hoping that they can simply redefine the situation based on thought rather than engaging in their deteriorating emotional landscape.
Unhealthy 5w6s become highly phobic and begin treating others with hostility due to fear of the threats they represent. The fear style of 5 is dominant in the personality, meaning they "address" the fears primarily by withdrawing from them mentally and physically, but influence from 6 leads them to volatile action as they sometimes use aggressive behavior to show dominance while simultaneously hoping for support or even salvation from a higher power.
-Learn to learn from experience rather than by conceptualizing. Thinking in isolation can lead to many magnificent things that aren't attainable otherwise, but the nature of your existence as a human being makes it so that you feel better and more fulfilled when you share with and work with others.
-While you don't want to withdraw too far, it may help to understand that you are likely an introvert and do need to spend a certain amount of time alone each day. Make sure the people you care about know this, and that your occupation allows for this as well.
-Remember that the role of fear is to protect you from immanent danger, not to guide your life decisions. Check yourself - if you find that you're driven by fear in your day-to-day life, you should make an effort to shift away from that pattern.
-Don't disregard your emotions, they are there to guide you to a happy life. Using pure logic is an emotional defense mechanism used to create buffer between you and the world. If you study your nature and patterns objectively, you'll see that your feelings are essential and in fact very helpful and rewarding.