Enneagram Basics Series – Type 3

Blog Post Graphic--Episode 22, Overview of Type Threes

Welcome to our Type 3 Introduction! I’m so excited that you’re here. This is part of a 10-part series that is all dropping at once where we’re talking about the basics of the Enneagram. If you have missed it, and you want to better understand some of the terms and definitions that I’m using here in this episode, then you can go back to the first post, which is just the Enneagram Basics introduction. It talks about the Enneagram itself, what it’s made of, what its parts are, and what each part means. In this post, I’m just going to be talking about Type 3! A lot of what I’m going to be sharing today can be found in the first part of Type Three’s chapter in my book, The Enneagram for Beginners.

A Type 3’s Focus

Type Threes often focus on success, however that particular Type 3 defines it. Each Type 3’s definition of that success can come from a few different sources…

  • Expectations of the people around them
  • How they were raised
  • What they were raised to believe is good and successful 
  • What gains appreciation and affirmation 

These are some of the biggest motivators for a Type 3; success, accomplishing goals, and really being acknowledged for what they bring to the world are the main things that they prioritize. Each of these things will play out differently, depending on how each Three defines success or what the expectations on them are. Type Threes tend to really sense what people expect of them, as well as how they are viewed or perceived, and they really strive to be the best at whatever they set out to do. They might feel like they have to hide some parts of themselves that may not seem attractive to others, and Threes feel a lot of pressure to have a “successful” or “put-together” exterior to those around them, in all different arenas, whether that is at their job, in their family role/friend group, or in their community/church.

Type 3’s tend to all share these qualities:

  • Optimistic
  • Confident
  • Competent
  • Determined
  • Charismatic
  • Able to find efficient ways of doing things

For Threes, it isn’t really about the task or project itself, but the end goal: getting it done, checking it off, and reaching that point of encouragement and affirmation that comes with finishing something.

Why Threes Focus on Success

Underneath that confident and competent exterior, though, Threes struggle with some feelings of value because their lovability and worth are tied to and determined by the way people see them. This can really drive them to be as charismatic, energetic, and productive as possible.

I want to share a quote from Enneagraminstitute.com because I think that it is so valuable:

“Everyone needs attention, encouragement, and the affirmation of their value in order to thrive, and Threes are the type which most exemplifies this universal human need. Threes want success not so much for the things that success will buy, or for the power and feeling of independence that it will bring. They want success because they are afraid of disappearing into a chasm of emptiness and worthlessness: without the increased attention and feeling of accomplishment which success usually brings, Threes fear that they are nobody and have no value.”

This quote really exemplifies some of that inner experience of why Type Threes strive for success, and why it is so important to them. So often it isn’t about “the thing”–it’s not about gaining autonomy, or getting the money that comes from the achievement; it’s a lot more about the attention, encouragement, and affirmation. The Enneagram Institute is right; this is a universal human need. Type Threes have a particular focus on this, though, because without it they don’t believe that they are worthy of love, and might not accept that they have inherent worth. From a young age, this is a way that Type Threes have learned to cope, to feel okay. 

Motivations

This brings us to motivations, because that’s really where it comes from; you are a Type Three because of what you’re running towards (your desire) and what you’re running from (your fear.) Both of those things come from the belief of, “I will be loved and respected only if I live up to the expectations of others. That’s where my worth comes from.”

Threes may know this isn’t true intellectually, but often we all still strive towards the coping behaviors that prop up whatever limiting belief is at the heart of us, and these are different for all nine types.

Because a Type 3 believes they will only be loved/respected if they live up to others’ expectations, it plays out in running towards their desires:

  • Having a higher status
  • Being admired and respected
  • Having affirmation 
  • Being considered valuable

While they are running towards those things, they are running away from the equal opposite:

  • Being perceived as a failure
  • Being called out
  • Being seen as incompetent
  • Being worthless. 

These two things, desire and fear, really have a friction point in the middle, something we call in the Enneagram world the ongoing struggle, passion, or sin.

For Type Threes, this struggle is deceit, but not quite the same as simple “lying.” It’s more a belief that they are the image that they project to the world, which creates an inherent compulsion to create and maintain a polished version of themselves, almost a facade, which could become a lie or a mask if taken too far. 

I always like to remind everyone that this deceit is not on the conscious level; so often it is this unconscious struggle, because all of us are going about life just trying to feel okay; this is the human experience. If a Type 3 has this underlying belief that they are only worth what people believe they are worth, or what they project to the world as success, or their achievements…then they are going to try to feel okay, which often entails only showing the best of themselves, or the parts that seem to be well-responded to. They show others that side more, and hide the things that aren’t responded to or don’t seem to be liked, and this is all on an unconscious level so much of the time. Often this deceit is a Type 3 even deceiving themselves into believing that they are only the image that people see of them. A lot of the growth opportunities for a Type Three come from releasing themselves from that chain of having to project a correct or best version of themselves. 

Side Note: I hope you understand, Type 3, that we don’t believe you’re lying to us, especially if we understand more fully what’s going on inside of you and the struggle that you experience as a Type 3.

Wings

A Type 3’s possible wings are either a 2 (3w2) or a 4 (3w4). 

A 3w2 might lean into charm more, be a little more adaptable to different situations and people’s expectations or requests, and a little more able to see how to make others feel special; how to accommodate and make other people’s life experience really beautiful. They also might enjoy the spotlight a little bit more. When this type is struggling, they might also battle a little more with person-to-person competitiveness and comparison; they ask how they are doing when stacked up against another person and their accomplishments or achievements. 

A 3w4 might be a little more quiet than a two wing, a little more private or sensitive, and they kind of come off as more emotionally vulnerable than a 3w2. When they are struggling, fear of failure might be something they experience a little more often. They can come across as a little more pretentious when they are not doing as well, too, when not living as intentionally.

Levels of Health

You can go to the Enneagram Basics post if you want a little more info on levels of health in general, but the main thing to remember is that we all bounce around all the time; you could be living intentionally this minute and not the next.

Healthy

When living intentionally, Type Threes are very authentic. They still love to do big things and achieve, but it comes from a place of confidence in who they are and not just in what they can do or accomplish. They do things from a place of knowing that their self-worth and value has nothing to do with whether they actually achieve the thing they are aiming for; they separate what they do from who they are. That’s a beautiful place to be as a Type 3! They still see the way they portray themselves to others, and might still be conscientious of how people see them, but they make the intentional choice to be their authentic self, no matter who they are with, knowing that they have worth regardless of what other people think or how they are perceived. 

Autopilot

When moving down to the average or autopilot level of health, Type 3’s start to believe a little bit more that their worth comes from success, and might be more tempted to portray or exaggerate success. They really put on a mask instead of leaning into who they authentically are (remember, this can be on an unconscious level) and they might focus more on being “the most” or “the best” in whatever area is important to them. They might express a surplus of confidence almost as a way to mask any lack of confidence that they actually have, and this is where a 3 is likely to set aside emotions to just “get the job done.” They choose not to focus on how they or even others are feeling, but to just go after something, because that’s easier to do than to process emotions. 

Unhealthy

 As they move into being more unhealthy, which is less common but can happen, Type Threes develop a fixation on embellishment. They think that they need to be who other people want them to be, so they actually unconsciously try to be that, even if it involves actually lying. This “polishing” of their persona comes from trying to gain that admiration; but it leads to being upset when it doesn’t happen, becoming even more competitive and maybe even going so far as to put other people down, or point out their flaws to kind of raise themselves a little bit. Other people can be harmed by these deceptions or lies if it gets taken to that level. Remember, this is something to be aware of, not necessarily something a Three is doomed to, if that underlying belief that we talked about (“I am worth what people believe I’m worth.”) is taken to an extreme.

Growth/Stress Points

When it comes to the growth and stress points for a Type 3, they are connected to Type 6 in their growth direction and Type 9 in their stress direction. 

Growth for a Type 3 really is just like all the other types: when they feel comfortable, have more natural confidence, and are living out of their healthy level and are ready to maybe do something that would be outside their comfort zone.

For a Type Three, that’s moving towards Type Six and taking on some of the healthy aspects that we see in a Type 6:

  • Cooperativeness
  • Loyalty
  • Being invested in the wellbeing of others
  • Being a team player
  • Being authentically themselves

That’s how it might feel when a Type Three is in this growth phase as a Type Six.

Stress is the equal opposite of that growth line: feeling like their comfort zone is their safety and not feeling comfortable in trying new things; in fact, it can mean being in a situation where normal coping mechanisms and coping strategies are not helping, so a Type 3 feels the need to go and grab another strategy right now to feel okay.

When this happens, a Type 3 might reach for some of the less than healthy or average aspects or tendencies of a Type 9:

  • Becoming a little more withdrawn
  • Trying to “numb out” or escape the world. 
  • Feeling emotionally down and low
  • Putting on more stubbornness
  • Either becoming kind of disengaged in life right now, or throwing themselves into busy work that doesn’t really accomplish anything, but keeps their feet moving on the “treadmill of life” as a way to avoid emotion.

Subtypes

 The last thing I want to talk about is subtypes.

Self-Preservation (SP)

A self preservation Type 3 is a little more focused on being a good role model for others; letting their actions speak for themselves (not wanting to brag, but still wanting to get that affirmation and encouragement from other people); struggling a little bit more with workaholism; and easily becoming disconnected from their feelings.

Social (SO)

A social Type 3 has more of a focus on achieving, looking good to other people, and trying to gain influence in the group or community. This subtype can be a little more competitive and aggressive, trying to really find where they fit in the group, and they can easily feel out a room as well as know what is expected of them as soon as they are in a group.

One-to-One/Sexual (SX)

A one-to-one or sexual type three can become a little more focused on their physical charisma: being attractive, proving to be “the best” (family member, partner, mom, dad or whatever role really has them connected to certain people.)


Enjoy this post? Have a question? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below or over on Instagram where I hang out the most. If you haven’t yet, grab a copy of The Enneagram for Beginner’s book (affiliate link, thank you for your support!) or you can shop through my favorite books and resources for using the Enneagram in the Amazon Storefront. Want to purchase Enneagram stickers, hats and more? Click through to the Christian Enneagram Shop and check it out.

Check out the other posts in this series:

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