Fighting the Instinct to Hide: An Enneagram Five Confession

Author, Blog

I tend to hide. It seems right—wise, even—to keep things close to the chest until I know, without a doubt, that it will be a roaring success. My husband, a textbook Type 3, is the opposite. He will spout off his latest and greatest ideas to anyone who will listen.

Our extreme differences in this area has been a frequent hot spot when it comes to joint efforts in our marriage. My husband wants to tell everyone that we’re considering a new business venture, a move, or a trip somewhere. I would rather wait until after it’s all said and done (and successful) to say, “Oh yeah, we did that last month.”

Priscilla Du Preez, Unsplash

Finding a balance has been a continual effort. For my own work, I’ve had to admit that becoming a roaring success is difficult when nobody knows what you do. In the effort to come out of my shell, I’ve stretched myself to do “risky” things, like create a webpage for Outside of Grace. Publicly acknowledging I’ve written a book (before it’s even published?!) was terrifying. I’d rank it right up there with swimming with sharks.

But recently, I went even further. At the prompting and encouraging of Mr. Three, I offered one of my Rundle Press activity books as a door prize for my local moms group. I had rejected the idea plenty of times under the claim that I wasn’t a legitimate small business. Finally, after watching plenty of MLM products and home crafts appear in the door prize rotation, I decided I was about as legit as anyone else. Mr. Three readily agreed.

So there I stood, on a stage, talking about my preschool curriculum and busy books in front of 60 moms, and trying my best not to use phrases like “just a little thing I do.”

A friend in the group was shocked and asked me how she never knew about this. She teased me for being secretive. When I admitted that I tend to hide things away until I feel like they’re perfected, I realized it might not be such a reasonable trait after all. And in fact, it sounded very much like something a Type Five would say.

When I got home, a quick Google search provide me right ( < things Type Fives say). In fact, it came up in an article comparing Types Three and Five.

“Average Threes tend to promote themselves and to talk about their brilliant achievements, whereas average Fives tend to be secretive and reticent about their work and discoveries.”

The Enneagram Institute

Yes! Exactly! (Feeling understood is always such a lovely thing, especially when I tend to keep my thoughts trapped in my head. #writerlife) While I’m quite familiar with the Enneagram types, I read through some of the information on fives again, this time with a focus on this particular issue. I didn’t find much specific to hiding, but I could see the idea hidden in other phrases. Take this for example:

“When they get verification of their observations and hypotheses, or see that others understand their work, it is a confirmation of their competency, and this fulfills their Basic Desire. (‘You know what you are talking about.’)”

The Enneagram Institute

I identify strongly with this statement in the reverse sense. When others reject my work, it feels like a death sentence: “You are not good enough.” Rejection is hard for anyone, but I wonder if the Type Five is particularly slow to overcome it.

The basic desire of the five is to be competent and capable, and to that end, they tend to gather information endlessly, hiding and protecting their own resources to ensure they know enough and are enough. Because of this, and the fact that they must push themselves so hard to reveal their knowledge and share their resources with the world, rejection can be very painful. Once experienced, they may hold onto their knowledge and resources tighter than ever.

As a type five, one of the most important things I’m learning about rejection is to not let it become a label or identity. Just because a literary agent rejected my book doesn’t mean the book is bad, or that I’m a bad writer. I have to face the rejection head on: what is the truth, plain and simple? For all I know, it could have been that the agent was already overbooked, they weren’t the right fit, or anything else. Or maybe they do think my book is bad. I thought Frankenstein by Mary Shelley was awful. One person’s opinion does not equal an absolute truth.

It takes an arsenal of resources to overcome rejection. Reframing, small successes, and the encouragement of friends are helping me make slow, steady progress. Adding an awareness of how my personality functions helps me realize what might not be an entirely rational or “right” response, so that I can work towards a healthier balance.

While I don’t think I need to become as outgoing and sharing as a Type Three, I know that Type Fives are gifts to the world in their own way. They just have to learn to share those gifts. So to myself and other Fives: Yes, be observant, be quiet, keep it close, but when you’re ready, with the right people, share those gifts. The world needs them.

Using the Enneagram as an Author


The Enneagram has taken over the personality types world. Goodbye four-letter combinations, hello number types. But it’s helpful for more than just understanding yourself and those around you. As a writer, understanding the Enneagram types helps me understand characters: what drives them, what they’re afraid of, and how they might react in stressful situations.

My current read has been The Enneagram, A Christian Perspective, by Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert. I love the way he digs into the root temptations and growth opportunities. And as a type 5 married to a type 3, I think he nailed those types (the ones I know best). The charts at the back make for a quick and easy reference to remind me about each type. Admittedly, some of his symbols and images of each type are a bit caricatured (the book was written in 1989 and I think his explanations of the representative countries for each type come across a bit tone deaf today). But overall, having a strong grasp of the Enneagram makes character building much easier.

The Enneagram, A Christian Perspective by Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert

I’m currently writing about a type 3 and type 4 (I try to mix up the types in each book, it challenges me to see the world through new lenses). Here’s some ways the Enneagram influences my writing:

  • What Motivates My Character?
    • There’s a lot of information in “writing world” about identifying your character’s main goals and motivations, but adding the Enneagram helps add a “why” to any goal. One of my current characters grew up in poverty and has been told her entire life that she won’t be successful. As a type 4, she is deeply motivated by uniqueness—she’s determined to prove them wrong.
  • What Does My Character Avoid?
    • Rohr’s chart includes an avoidance. My second lead character is a type 3, and while he can’t avoid failure completely, I take into consideration the type’s other flaws and sins (such as deceit) to portray how he handles failure. He will always turn it into a joke, manipulating the situation so that he always comes out on top (a habit Rohr discusses in depth in the chapter about type 3).
  • How Does My Character Interact with Other Types?
    • Combining the 3 and 4 has been particularly fun in this area. The four is driven by authenticity, while the three tends to become a chameleon—adapting to any situation to look his best. Knowing this affects how they interact with each other and those around them. Fully grasping this is important to the flow of the story—once I lock down a character’s world view, I can’t have them turn around and toss it to the wind in the next conversation.
  • How Does My Character Grow?
    • Most books in my genre follow a change/growth arc. You’ll see the characters grow and change throughout the story and following an Enneagram growth arc helps outline this more clearly. I know from Rohr’s book that the type 3 conversion is about finding hope and worth in God, following God’s will rather than the path of popularity or material success, and learning to be vulnerable. These will be crucial elements for my character’s growth arc.
  • Edited to Add: How is My Character DIFFERENT from Their Type?
    • I don’t identify fully with everything about my type. In fact, I do some things completely differently. So don’t feel trapped by the Enneagram either. Use it to get to know your character, but also take into consideration how other factors come into play (birth order, upbringing, religion, past wounds, etc.). They don’t have to follow everything about their type to a tee.

I’m sure there are countless more ways to use the Enneagram in a novel and I’d love to hear about them in the comments!