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Prescinding and Enneagram Fives

In which I finally reveal my Enneagram type to the entire world.

I haven’t written much about the Enneagram even though it’s exploded in popularity in my various circles. Some of that’s simply because I have a fair amount of skepticism concerning it, as I do for all personality tests and assessments, from the Myers-Briggs to the StrengthsFinder. Still, I won’t deny that I’ve found some helpful insights through discussing the Enneagram with others.

For the record, I’m an Enneagram Type Five, which is usually called the “Investigator.” I won’t go into all of the descriptions of this type, some of which can get pretty flowery and overwrought, but I do find it pretty accurate in describing how I approach the world and what I value and fear. (For a good, and entertaining, introduction to Fives, I recommend the “Balancing Intellect with Emotion” episode of the Typology podcast, featuring Jars of Clay’s Dan Haseltine.)

I think being a Five explains, in large part, why Opus exists: it’s a vehicle for constantly searching out new information about whatever interests me (e.g., pop culture, technology) and processing it through writing about it. You certainly don’t have to be a Five to be a blogger, but I think being one explains why I’ve been blogging for over two decades now. Naturally, this can express itself negatively: Fives fear feeling useless and incompetent, and respond to those fears by hoarding information in order to be prepared for whatever might come. (I’m not sure how knowledge of obscure samurai movies, ancient web browsers, and Christian psych-folk bands will help me in a crisis, but you never know.)

As a Five (and an introvert), my natural tendency is to withdraw from people and situations in order to give myself time and space to process what I’m experiencing and how I feel about it. And earlier this year, I learned the perfect term for this: prescind. To prescind is to withdraw your attention from something — not passively, but actively. This has become something of a joke around our house, where I’ll announce that I’m “prescinding” from a situation that I have no opinion about or that I don’t really care about.

But what I find interesting about prescinding is that the connotation — insofar as I can tell — is that you aren’t withdrawing out of apathy, ambivalence, or spite, but rather, in order so that you can better give some thought to whatever it is you’re withdrawing from. In other words, it’s actually a reverse form of engagement.

This often plays out in our own family dynamic quite a bit: a stressful situation arises, tempers and frustrations flare, and I find myself needing to withdraw, or prescind, from the situation in order to figure out how I actually feel about it. Is it something that I actually need to respond to or get emotional about, or can I let go of it and move on?

By the time I do choose to respond, a day or three might’ve passed simply because that’s how long it could take me to fully process, meaning that others have long since moved on. My response might seem like the unnecessary reopening of old wounds by others, which is something I need to consider in my response just as they ought to consider my need to prescind in their response to my response. (Human interactions are hard, y’all.)

This could just the Enneagram Five talking, but it feels nice to have a word that describes so much of how I navigate through this messy, complicated world of ours. Should you ever have a discussion with me — either online or offline — and I seem to be checking out, chances are I’m just choosing to prescind in order to think more deeply about what you’re talking about. (Unless you’re discussing, say, reality television. Then I really am just checking out.)

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