3: The Need to Succeed

“I don’t think my parents ever loved each other. My mom was young. My dad was older, but he had a cushy job, money, came from a good family. So, they bought a nice house at the end of the cul-de-sac… and started their nuclear family. Screw that.”

Nancy Wheeler, Stranger Things

Until the strange events surrounding the disappearance of her friend Barb eat away at her, Nancy Wheeler is your typical over-achieving teenage girl in Stranger Things. She would rather study to make good grades than make out with her boyfriend. She wants to avoid the life her parents settled into and do something different for herself. Peer pressure forces her to try out things she would ordinarily not do, like chugging beer around the pool. Though drawn to the quiet, mysterious Jonathan with whom she shares many adventures, Nancy goes back to her old boyfriend, the most popular boy at school. Why? Because… it’s expected. She wants to be popular, and Steve offers all that and more. But it’s also because Nancy is clueless about her feelings.

It takes her being drunk to admit she and Steve are “bullshit.” It takes a stranger telling her to get over herself, and do something about her feelings for Jonathan, for her to admit she even has any feelings for Jonathan. Though popular, confident, and aggressive in pursuing her goals, even being willing to take crap from her misogynistic coworkers at the newspaper, Nancy doesn’t have a clue who she is, what she wants out of life, or how she feels. She relies on what looks good and what makes sense rather than what her heart wants. She’s an Enneagram 3.

Read on to learn more about them.

The Need to Succeed

3s often radiate ease, assurance, and confidence. They easily finish jobs efficiently and competently, aim for and achieve their goals, and motivate and inspire others to similar heights. Their sixth sense for sizing up tasks allows them to succeed. They are keen networkers, charismatic, and forceful in their arguments.

They also struggle the most out of all 9 types to perceive their own feelings. They test the emotional environment to find out how they are doing and how others are responding to them without knowing what they truly feel. They think they are only good when they win and draw their life energy from success. They are show people, achievers, status-seekers, careerists, and handle each of their “roles” (parent, employee, lover) better than their true self, which they scarcely know. Their roles protect and motivate them. Because they are competitive, they often succeed. They adore things in which they are gifted because they will always “win,” and abhor those where they have no prospect of being the best. For them, a grade measures their performance and shows them where to improve themselves. Since others are often slower paced than they are, 3s may prefer to work alone. Not only do they finish the task quicker, they get all the credit. They are workaholics who put all their energy into their projects and are highly competent in their field.

They seem optimistic, productive, dynamic, and intelligent. They play a part in relationships and strive to be “the best at” whatever they do. Whatever the job requires, they become it. Whatever they think society admires, they become it. Whatever their lover expects from them, they perform it. They will reflect whatever group they are in and change their personas as each role requires. They instantly know how to appear, behave, and talk to gain acceptance. They may be different with one group than the next, and would rather their batches of friends did not know each other, so they cannot spot the contradictions. Though they give the appearance of effortless achievement, they work hard for their success.

They have an exaggerated positive self-perception and, if successful, may angle and “sell themselves” for praise and recognition. They enjoy talking about their successes, who they have influenced, the distinctions they have won, etc. Immature 3s may become braggarts. More mature ones know to conceal their desire to impress, and use more subtle tactics to elicit admiration, because they know others may see it as boastful and dislike it. The 3 cannot feel praised enough, but because they strike others as so strong and self-assured, their friends and family may assume they need no compliments. They don’t realize the 3 does everything for praise. They are even more dependent on others’ reactions than the 2.

Beneath this massive striving for success lurks a fear they are nothing if they cannot achieve, they deserve no love unless they impress others, and if they don’t win, they are a failure. They think if you are stuck in misfortune or poverty, it is because you haven’t worked hard enough to get out of it. 3s protect themselves from threats by absorbing themselves in their projects. They are resistant to criticism and will downplay or polish up anything negative. They do all they can to avoid failure. A 3 who has faced failure doesn’t know how to cope with it, because they wrapped their entire sense of self worth up in the project. They aren’t able, like other types, to see the failure as separate from their self worth (the idea that “I didn’t win this time, or do it right, but I am still valuable because I am me, not my work”). Most 3s avoid, fear, and despise, defeat. If it happens, they will reinterpret the situation as a “partial victory,” shift the responsibility or blame onto others, or abandon the scene as fast as possible for a new, more promising prospect and pretend it never happened. Immature 3s vastly overestimate themselves, because their achievements until now have convinced them to believe everything they produce is of the highest quality. They may get themselves in over their heads or level of personal competency, because of their boastfulness and arrogance.

3s deal generously with the truth on their way to the top. They craft an image they know they can sell, whitewashed of all personal defects, and emphasize their talents. If you present them with their flaws, the 3 will make those flaws sound like virtues by glamorizing them. Mature 3s know their own lies, but immature 3s deceive themselves. They convince themselves the lie is the truth and sell it earnestly to others. They do not long for depth, since they know that superficiality sells. In their mind, that’s all that matters. The sale. The win. Their pragmatic nature decides whatever works is the truth. Objective truth is meaningless. 3s who believe all their own lies are dangerous because they seem so confident, others easily trust them. They can sell you anything without regard for your best interests, out of the desire to “make another sale”… even if it is just to sell themselves. (Maybe that used car salesmen knew it was a lemon and sold it to you anyway to just make another sale, or maybe he thought it was a splendid car and that he really was doing you a favor!)

3s are prone to vanity, and the belief that presentation is more important than substance. They may even evaluate their performance rather than participating, as if they are always “on camera” and being judged, even in an intimate situation. Many are born actors and know who how to use the masses. They like to stand in front of others in a crowd, but feel uncomfortable anywhere others demand honesty and profundity, especially in intimate relationships. 3s are awkward in romantic relationships because they want to be “the best” rather than just present, but do not know what their heart desires, what their feelings are, or what vulnerability looks like other than through a facade of it. (If the situation needs them to appear to be vulnerable, they will fake it.) They will show up bodily, but underestimate the strength of their emotions. They may feel empty and fill this emptiness with pretending to feel, or showing other people whatever they think they are “supposed” to be feeling (faking intimacy, warmth, affection, sorrow) without knowing if it is true.

The 3 may focus completely on earning money and securing success for their family, and get confused when their loved one feels neglected. After all, the 3 thinks, I am providing for you, giving you nice things, a beautiful big house, and have upped our social status… what more could you want? The idea of emotional intimacy scares them, and they become more and more anxious if a relationship threatens to expose the truth of themselves. They fear being emotionally naked will expose their greatest limitation—their inability to succeed at feelings.

Rather than indulge in messy feelings, the 3 saves them for later and then never returns to them. Their feelings atrophy from neglect. In their mind, feelings interfere with organization and efficiency, so they ignore them and keep working. The 3 fears they have an inner emotional void and allowing themselves to feel will immobilize them and prevent them from achievement.

Growth for a 3 comes from finding the way to the truth of themselves—who they are, what they want, and what they like, free of self-transformation or the influence of “superior taste.” The ability to love a movie, for example, the critics hate and deem “bad,” without shame, artifice, or allowing the critic to change their mind. Once a 3 can live through failure and not run away from or deny it, they find their sense of genuine feeling rather than “producing” whatever emotion the situation requires.

Because on an unconscious level, 3s are aware of their deceit, they can easily spot similar tactics in others. A mature 3 will not condemn this as “fake,” but have sympathy for fellow 3s in their self-deceit. They grow by refusing to gloss over their lies. Since recognizing their own falsehoods exposes a “failure” in their internal makeup, many 3s struggle to do it. Their mind naturally wants to skim over it and focus on their good traits. 3s who can do this make excellent mentors for others. Mature 3s are excellent at organization and know how to share the truth in an attractive, efficient, and modern way.

3s must face their fears to move past them, and recognize they suppress emotions rather than dealing with them, by abandoning their true self to endless tasks or becoming whatever they think others want from them. There’s no downtime for a 3 between getting an idea and turning to action. The 3 needs to learn that constant “doing” blocks the creativity and depth of achievement that comes from “being” and “feeling.” Their art and creativity will feel superficial until they engage their heart. If they pack their schedules full, they have no time to feel… and that’s what they are fleeing. They may want to so avoid their anxiety about there being “nothing” inside them, they take work on vacation or rush back to it as soon as they get home. Not knowing what they need to do next scares them. They over-schedule to avoid free time and assume all criticism comes from “sore losers.” 3s must learn the hope of recognizing that life is not all about success, and it goes on after failure; failure is a normal part of life, says nothing about you, and does not diminish your self worth. True worth comes from their inner self rather than outer achievements. They must learn to be alone in a place without feedback, admiration, and applause, and there consider themselves with honesty rather than self-grandeur.

They must resist the desire, when they do inner work, to be “perfect” at it. The temptation of the 3 is to consider meditation and self growth as another area in which to challenge themselves and master, which shifts their focus off recognition of what they are doing (working to avoid their fears) onto “I will win at this!” Once they learn to recognize what they are doing, they should also learn to laugh at it, since humor will teach them humility. The point of their meditation is to simply exist, to learn and do nothing. Once the 3 battles through their boredom, their feeling they should accomplish something rather than sitting here reflecting, and their superficial desire to avoid their inner world, they will feel more of a connection to their true self, and less of a pressing need to earn others’ approval.

Vanity, Inauthenticity, and the Marketing Orientation

The “vanity” of the 3 is a passionate concern for their image and in living for the eyes of others through a personality that “sells.” The constant focus is not on their own experiences, but in a fantasy-driven expectation of the experience of another in admiring them for it. The 3’s vanity comes from a combination of imaginative self-inflation and the desire to prove their value by actively implementing an ideal (modeled after someone ‘superior’) as their outer persona.

The 3 is cheerful and ambitious, but self-deceptive in their lack of truthfulness in their pretenses and feelings. They acknowledge and express only “correct” feelings, which means they are “joyful and active.” They trade being kind, balanced, and optimistic for depth—the defect of being too self-assured. The truly deep individual is capable of self-reflection, and 3s find that difficult because they feel fully satisfied with themselves. They confuse their self-image (which they craft and “sell” hoping others will “buy”) with the truth of who they actually are; they focus on being, delivering, and being perceived as, what society and/or themselves value as admirable. They have value, in their own minds, only as much as others see themas valuable.

Their concern is in self-presentation and being “in fashion.” To achieve this, the 3 must know what kind of personality is most in demand, and develops the qualities of adaptability, ambition, and sensitivity to the changing expectations of other people. They admire and emulate others, or at least persuade others (and themselves) that they share common traits with their heroes. The 3 believes if they share things with valued people, they too will be valued.

3s fit the original classification of narcissism, in ‘being in love with one’s idealized image.’ Idealized, however, is a reflection, not their true self. Because of this, the 3 has resilience and an abundance of self-confidence. The 3 has no conscious doubt; is the anointed prophet, the person of destiny, the great giver, the benefactor of mankind. The 3 is often gifted beyond average, with early and easy-won distinctions, and sometimes was the favored or admired child.

To understand the 3, you must understand the 3’s unquestioned belief in their own greatness and uniqueness. They speak incessantly and with pride of their exploits, wonderful qualities, and needs others’ endless devotion or admiration. The 3 is unaware of their desperate need to charm and impress everyone. They give the impression to themselves and others that they ‘love’ people and can be generous with flattery, favors, and help—in anticipation of admiration in return. The 3 does not expect perfection from others and can tolerate jokes at its expense (because in the 3’s mind, this shows the quality of an amiable ‘peculiarity’ in their nature)—but must never feel questioned. That attacks their false self and sense of pride.

The 3 has the “Type A” personality—achieving, competitive, and the ever-stressed workaholic, which makes them prone to cardiac diseases. They also have the hardest time with the natural aging process; when they can no longer ‘attract’ others or conceal their physical flaws, when they can no longer ‘compete’ with ‘the beautiful or young people,’ they become depressed and fill the void with addictions.

The 3’s tendency to “split” themselves (on either side of ‘who I present myself as’ and ‘who I am’) makes it difficult for them to have authentic love experiences. The 3 can attract and seduce, but feels an inner sense of emptiness. Romantic relationships are hard for a 3, who struggles to maintain a lasting emotional connection. The 3 will seek therapy or help only when the relationship implodes, or their significant other threatens to leave them and take the kids.

The 3 has an eager responsiveness to others, which makes them truly dependent on others, loves life, and also suffers from an excess of self-love. They consider themselves more sensitive, more refined, more intuitive, more entertaining, more gifted, and more spiritual than others. They are prone to self-fascination and assuming themselves the center around which others revolve. The 3 always attempts to divert attention to itself in subtle ways, seeking approval. Beneath their sociability lurks a need for an audience; the 3 needs others’ appreciation and attention to bring out the best in themselves and to feel alive. The problem is that the others they seek admiration from may not admire their self-promoting, needy, and desperate appeals for attention.

Traits shared with the hysterical personality: relates easily to others and are capable of warm, sustained involvements—with the right (impressive) people. Dramatic and even theatrical, but adaptive to the situation. They lose control selectively (with a few close persons) and appear to others to have superficial emotions (this is not true). Able to ‘snap out’ of a crisis and realistically evaluate it later. Can be sulky if they cannot achieve ‘superiority’ against their own sex. The 3 desperately wants and needs to feel seen, heard, and adored. This is a way to cover up their inner loneliness and lack of satisfaction, because whatever success they achieve is from their ‘false self,’ and thus to manipulation. Beneath it lurks the eternal, persistent question of if others would still love them if not for their money, fame, accomplishments, attractiveness, etc. The fear of self-exposure or rejection motivates the 3 if they take off the mask of their idealized self.

Identifiable Traits:

Achieving Orientation: strives for achievement, status, and wealth. They possess the ability to do things quickly and with precision. A fast tempo. Rational and practical. Undervalues thinking that is not scientific. Values technology.

Ruthless in human interactions in a choice between success and considerateness. The cool, calculating 3 will use others as stepping stones to their goals.

Control / dominance over self and others. Willful, prideful, wants things done their way.

Competitive. Not above underhanded tactics. Will use deception, bluffing, slander, and other behaviors “to win.”

Strong traits of anxiety and tension because of exaggerating ‘striving’ for achievement.

Social Sophistication and Skill: being entertaining, enthusiastic, bubbly, sparkling, conversationally active, pleasing, and witty.

Deceit and Image Manipulation: the 3 covers up their existential vacuum. They confuse ‘being’ with ‘appearance,’ and do not understand the distinction between external validation and intrinsic value. They believe in what they sell, become the mask, are affected, false, and phony, prone to deceptive emotional experiences. They will rationalize their actions, refuse to deal with their emotions, and believe their own falsified presentation, thus losing themselves. They not only care about what they are wearing and their good manners, they can expertly package goods and information and sell them to others. This can be good, in that they can promote others; or bad, in that they will deliberately misconstrue others in a bad light, slander them, or back-stab an opponent or competitor while ‘seeming’ innocent.

Other Directed: the 3 is the most “others-directed” of all the types, and is skilled in doing ongoing “market research” as a point of reference for their thinking, feeling, and actions. They actively solicit, pay attention to, and shape themselves into whatever is most desired.

Pragmatism: 3s are calculating, rational, and self-controlling. They are organized, keen, practical, functional, and expedient.

Active Vigilance: hyper vigilant, incapable of surrender, of self-abandonment, and needs to control everything. Has an attitude of self-reliance and distrust in others (“things might not go well, unless I am in charge”). Stressful about things going well, deep-rooted anxieties. This underlining lack of trust contrasts with a superficial “optimism” which regards everything as not only okay, but wonderful.

Superficiality: has no depth of access to their emotions, does not know who they are beyond roles and tangible characteristics, and does not know their true wants (beyond pleasing others and being effective). Their rush for accomplishment covers up the extent of this emptiness.

Defense Mechanisms:

The 3 adopts the characteristics of another, more desired person (a “computed image”), rather than be themselves, by deliberately choosing socially desirable traits. They are prone to rationalization and negation—declaring things not to be the case (in anticipation of others discovering that they are; the old quote “methinks the lady doth protest too much” applies, along with “he who justifies himself, gives himself away”).

What forged them: attractiveness, talent, popularity, or fame in childhood; ‘great expectations’ from authority figures or parents, who urged them to do their best. They did not feel seen or heard enough and now attract attention through excellence. The wish to become brilliant stems from the fear of being ignored. They became efficient because they felt they could not count on others, or had to learn to take care of themselves. Often, they had a 3 parent to reinforce their development (a parent who ‘has it all together’ and is a ‘high achiever’; and ‘we always have to look good for the neighbors’).

The 3’s search for love leads to a motivation to perform well; they confuse the wish to please and earn admiration with their love wish. The 3 may not accept being loved for themselves, and may assume others’ romantic ‘love’ will go away when they are no longer as ‘valuable’ in the eyes of society (retirement, loss of attractiveness with old age, etc).

The 3’s inner vacuum is most observable to others, who typically see them as shallow, empty, vain, superficial, or “plastic.” Their vain identification with their self-appearance creates pathological self-forgetfulness. When they realize “something missing inside,” the 3 faces a crisis of identity and not knowing who they are, so they turn to the “role” they enact (they are: a teacher, professor, athlete, writer… that is the source of their ‘value’). This happens when the 3 realizes their life has been a series of performances and false identities. Realizing they are out of touch with their hidden self makes them uncomfortable. It troubles them to understand they do not know what they want; they have focused so much on what they think others want of them. When this happens, the 3 recognizes their fabricated feelings and the extent to which their choices are not inner-directed, but based on what others think. The passion to please and attract can also inhibit the 3 sexually, because they focus on the surface things (pleasing a partner) rather than the depth of emotional and erotic experiences.

The 3 does not realize their struggle is self-created; they have traded living for the eyes of others for truly knowing themselves, what they want, and what they need (love). In fear of their own emptiness, the 3 turns to a frantic search for ‘being’ through appearances. The 3 does not like to ‘stand still’ but must do this to learn who they are—stop chasing attention and truly be at home with oneself. To realize their self worth lies in their existence, not in the desperate need to avoid the fear of nothingness through frantic achievement. To not look in a social mirror, but remove the mask—and realize there is a valuable person behind it, if they will face themselves. The 3 may need to sit still and meditate (something they find meaningless, since it ‘achieves nothing tangible’) to do the inner work required to make them realize how desperate they are for ‘other.’

Enneagram 3 Wings

3s present in two different ways based on the influence of their preferred wing. While it’s possible to have balanced wings, or no wing at all, most people can relate to the traits, fears and defense mechanisms of one wing in particular.

3w2: The Charmer

3w2s are charming, friendly, and easily liked by other people, because their focus also lies on reaching out to others and finding ways to improve their lives. They are practical about the hard work it takes to achieve things, but also want very much to win others’ approval. They need to feel appreciated, admired, and become “stars” in whatever they set out to achieve, but are also more temperamental and angrier than 3w4s if they feel underappreciated. They embody some of the efforts they use to get seen as being loving, generous, and kind.

Character Example: In the early seasons of Smallville, the audience sees Lex Luthor as ambitious, driven, and willing to bend the rules for success, but also generous to those whom he wants to earn approval from—he tries to buy Clark’s friendship through the gift of a truck, in gratitude for Clark saving his life. He wants to help the Kents out of a financial hole, without appearing to have ulterior motives (what he is truly seeking is a father figure who loves him rather than mercilessly pushing him to achieve). He often envies what Clark has, which may be a lack of money, but abounds in gratitude, friendship, and being “cared” for by his family. Lex has a deep emotional side and his father often hurts him through his callousness, but throughout, he thinks the only way to get others to love and approve of him is to give them what they want, to be there for them when they need help, and to give them the tools for success they require to achieve greatness—such as when he challenges Lana not to sell him on sentimentality, but figure out a good reason not to destroy the Talon for a parking complex. She comes back with a business proposal for a coffee shop.

3w4: The Professional

They are aloof and focused on achievement, more detached from others with a higher self-standard of achievement. They focus on professionalism and perfection, philosophical about their hard work, and prone to self-comparison to others followed by crippling doubts about their own achievement. The 4 wing brings in a moody elitism that demands they put their personal signature on whatever they achieve. They carry a secret sorrow at being unable to tap into what lies inside them and fully understand it. They experience much inner confusion and dissonance between their desire to achieve and to self-individuate. They may often feel like a fraud and feel shame about their inadequacies. Their “right image” is a process of careful crafting and, to some extent, denial of how much the outer world has contributed to it.

Character Example: The series Mad Men exemplifies all the attributes of an Enneagram 3 in its stylish presentation, its multitude of workaholic professionals, and its slick deceptiveness that “all is well” when really, it is not, but no character more embodies the 3w4 than the protagonist, Don Draper. No one really knows him, not even his wife. He keeps her at a distance and works long hours. Spends almost no time with his kids. He’s focused on achievement and success, but doesn’t care if people don’t like him much, as long as his idea is spectacular. He can be moody, elitist, condescending, and arrogant, but is running away from who he used to be, a nobody from nowhere. As the series goes on, his carefully crafted life shows the cracks of what happens when a 3 refuses to face themselves, in a constant pursuit of more and better.

Social Variants:

Social variants determine how we respond to the world and where our major priorities in life lie. Attentiveness to bonding, social responsibilities, and how we ‘appear’ to others is in the realm of social (soc). Survival, fulfilling all of one’s needs, and a focus on ensuring one always has enough resources for a comfortable life is self-preservation (sp). Sexual displays, competing for attention, being like a moth to a flame in your pursuit of another person, or competing for a mate falls under the realm of sexual (sx). Read through each to determine which resonates the most with you.

The Self-Preservation 3

Beatrice Chestnut Description:

These Threes work hard to achieve a sense of security, both in terms of material and financial resources and knowing how to do things effectively. Self-Preservation Threes express a concern with security in that they have a need to feel autonomous and self-sufficient–to know how to take care of themselves and others.

People with this subtype often had a childhood in which they didn’t have enough protection and resources. In response to those conditions, these Threes learned to be active and efficient doers, oriented to taking care of themselves without help from others. They have developed a special focus on autonomy in the face of a jeopardized sense of security.

This preoccupation with security can also extend out to others. This person emanates a sense of security; they are solid people who you might go-to for advice. They seem outwardly calm and organized, like they have it all together, but they are anxious underneath. These are assertive people who specialize in solving problems and getting things done in a high-quality way–and while they work very hard, they don’t show their stress. They are usually financially secure, highly productive, and “in control,” but they also report feeling an underlying sense of anxiety related to the effort it takes to achieve the sense of security they crave.

Self-Preservation Threes strive to be the ideal model of quality in whatever they do. They want to be the best example of how to be in whatever role they play: the best parent, the best partner, the best worker, the best at whatever they do. They feel a need not only to be seen as good, but also to actually be good. They do this both to achieve a sense of security and to inspire admiration in others without being obvious about their vanity. They want to be admired because they do things well, and they want to do the things they do in the best way possible–not just to have a good image that people will find attractive, but also to live up to that image. Their tendency to adapt to a “model” also motivates them to forget their own feelings.

Following the perfect model of how things should be done means being virtuous, and being virtuous implies a lack of vanity. In this sense, the Self-Preservation Three “has vanity for having no vanity.” This means that while this Three wants to look attractive and successful in the eyes of others, they don’t want other people to know they want this–they don’t want others to see that they have actively created an image to look good to others. They don’t want others to catch them in the act of wanting or working to look good because they have an ethic that says that “good,” or virtuous, people are not vain. Some Self-Preservation Threes are aware (and will admit) that they want people to admire them for their good image–though, generally, they want to keep this a secret–but some Self-Preservation Threes believe so firmly that it is wrong or superficial to want the approval of others that they won’t admit this desire even to themselves. These are people who want to be so perfect that it’s not in their code of honor to allow for vanity.

In denying the presence of vanity, the Self-Preservation Threes represents the countertype of the three Three subtypes–that is, this Three is the “counter-passional” type, the Three that doesn’t necessarily look like a Three. Though these Threes are motivated out of vanity, just like the other Threes, they deny their vanity to some extent, and so their character is shaped more around going against the energetic pull of vanity. And there is a natural opposition between the vain desire to attract attention and a primary instinctual drive toward security and self-preservation. Unlike Social Threes, who will more openly brag about their accomplishments, Self-Preservation Threes avoid talking about their positive characteristics and high-status credentials because they believe it’s bad form to advertise their strong points, even if they also want others to see them as successful. They may be either modest or falsely modest.

In terms of the mental habit of deception, this subtype is also anti-deception in that they try to tell the truth. The deception in this Three comes at a more unconscious level; when it comes to knowing their true motivations, Threes often confuse their image-based reasons for doing things with their real feelings and convictions.

Self-Preservation Threes display a strong workaholic tendency and are motivated to work very hard to achieve security. They have a compulsion to be self-reliant and to feel in control of their lives. They also feel responsible for making everything happen, and can even have a sense of omnipotence. Along with their need for control and their underlying anxiety, they may experience a sense of panic when they need help or lose autonomy.

The passion for security in this subtype leads them to oversimplification in life, reducing their focus and interest to what is “practical and useful.” These individuals have an imperative need to know they can handle it all and that all will be good for everyone surrounding them. They don’t show weakness. They may think things like, “I have to do everything, because I do it better.” Situations that feel beyond their control can leave them confused and lost internally, causing them to freeze up, and in an effort to reestablish control, they can become invasive. These are the most rigid of the Threes.

With so much energy focused on work and efficiency and security, there can be little mental and emotional space left for these Threes to be able to engage deeply with others. Though they may work hard to maintain relationships, they may have trouble making deep connections. When Self-Preservation Threes–especially less self-aware Self-Preservation Threes–do make connections, they can be superficial. They can view feeling their emotions as a waste of time, and this inhibits their ability to connect in intimate relationships, since a true relationship comes through each person being in touch with their feelings and their “real self.”

It can be hard for a Self-Preservation Three to be recognized as a Three. They may be easily confused with Ones or Sixes. This Three looks like a One in that the type is rigid, responsible, and self-sufficient. These Threes, like Ones, try to be a model of virtue in the things they do. The can be distinguished from Ones in that they move at a faster pace, pay attention to creating an image (even when they don’t acknowledge it), and conform to a perfect model of how to be as judged by social consensus, not according to internal standards of right and wrong (as Ones do). They differ from Sixes in that they are fundamentally image-oriented and work harder in response to insecurity, while Sixes find protection in other ways. And while Threes may question their sense of identity, they generally don’t allow their productivity to get slowed down by too much doubt or questioning.

John Lucovich Description:

Self-Preservation Threes strive to experience Essential Value in their accomplishments, lifestyle, and careers. They tend to emphasize efficiency, tangible results, and mastery of specific skills more than Sexual and Social Threes. Self-Preservation Threes are typically very driven and can be quite competitive, although contrary to some stereotypes not every Self-Preservation Three is wealthy and materially accomplished, as their values may lie elsewhere. A Self-Preservation Three may opt for a humble lifestyle, yet, they may be the most experienced healer in their community or a Yoga teacher with the most training and credentials to show for it.

As values and capacities change over the course of a lifetime, however, Self-Preservation Threes can struggle with finding a path forward in life that results from their authentic values rather than something they’re good at. They may find themselves running off an “inner program” that they adopted at an extremely young age and therefore find themselves struggling to feel relevant when outer circumstances and cultural views of value change. Likewise, they may avoid experimenting or trying out things that they think they won’t be naturally good at, limiting their options and overall approach to life early on. Their efficiency and achievement can lend itself to a kind of momentum toward goals that can sweep them up without their heart really being in it. They may find themselves following a path that is not aligned with their deeper values and have a hard time finding a path in life that isn’t based on their forward-moving energy.

Self-Preservation Threes are prone to workaholism, running themselves into exhaustion and achieving without awareness or concern of the larger context or impact on others. Even though Self-Preservation is their Dominant Instinct, people of this type can over-do exercise, physical performance, and work at severe cost to their overall health. These activities can become another means of achievement, divorced from their original aim of enhancing the body’s well-being.

Character Example: One of the most famous anti-heroines in fiction, Scarlet O’Hara of the novel Gone with the Wind is the embodiment of the self-preservation 3. She orients everything toward the survival of herself and her family—she wants to save Tara, prevent her father from falling to his death, expand Frank’s lumber mill to take advantage of the housing boom, and she will pick cotton until she wears her fingers to the bone to do it—and she expects the same of her sisters. “So help me, God,” she says at her lowest moment, “if I have to lie, steal, cheat, or kill, I will never go hungry again!” While her methods are not always commendable, her determination to persevere, her unshakable courage, her resourcefulness, and how she keeps her family alive and prospering while so many other families starve are part of what makes her so memorable. But like all 3s, Scarlett doesn’t know what she truly wants, either… until it’s too late to get it. It’s only when she faces Melanie’s death and realizes Ashley harbored no feelings other than lust for her that she realizes Rhett has always ruled her heart.

The Social 3

Beatrice Chestnut Description:

The Social Three has a desire to be seen and to have influence with people. This three acts out in vanity through the desire to shine before the whole world: Social Threes enjoy being on stage. This subtype is the most vain of the Threes, and the biggest chameleon.

The name given to this subtype is “Prestige,” which reflects the idea of needing everybody’s admiration and applause. This Three, more than the other two subtypes, likes and needs to be recognized, so they tend to be more out in front, basking in the spotlight. As children, it was typically important for Social Threes to “show” something, to look good and demonstrate competence in doing things, to get love. Support most likely came in the form of an approving “look” from parents.

Social Threes are socially brilliant. They know how to talk to people and how to climb the social ladder. These Threes feel a need to frame words carefully to get the maximum benefit, which is measured in terms of making the right impression, getting what they want, and reaching their goals. Their fuel is social success, though what exactly constitutes “success” can vary depending on the history and context of the individual Social Three. Some show intelligence, culture, or class; others have degrees and titles; and others have material symbols of social status – a nice house, an expensive car, designer clothes, or expensive watches.

The Social Three is very concerned with competition and winning. This is the most competitive Three. They are also focused on power, whether or not they are the one who has it. They tend to be demanding and authoritarian, though these characteristics may be hidden behind a presentation that is smooth, decorous, and humorous. Social Threes may view others in terms of how they potentially further or block the process of reaching their goals. They look at things in terms of how they can exert control over them, and they don’t allow themselves to be surprised by life.

The Social Three is also the most aggressive of the Threes, possessing a strong and assertive character. Because they are good at numbing out their feelings, they can – in the extreme – be cold.

Social Threes have a corporate mentality and a passion for doing the job in the best way it can be done- especially in terms of outward appearances. They think about what is best for the group, especially in terms of what will sell, what looks good, and what will reflect well on them. Doing what works for the group also works to further their image of success. For the Social Three, image and moneymaking may override good intentions or virtuous actions. In the current age, corporations are primarily oriented toward making money above all else, and this is reflected in the Social Three’s concern with finding an efficient way to meet corporate goals and enhance the bottom line, which may or may not take into account the destructive consequences for others in a wider sense.

This Three also has a lot of confidence in leading a group where they want to go. If a leader is not leading a group well enough, the Social Three can feel a strong desire to take over, as it can be frustrating for them to see the way forward and not be able to guide people in a more efficient or successful way. The Social Three enjoys being at the center of things.

These Threes have a highly developed talent for image-making and a strong ability to sell themselves (or whatever product they might want to promote). According to Naranjo, these Threes look so good, there’s almost a sense that they have no faults. It’s hard to see their flaws because they do such a good job at creating the right image. They look so good and seem to do things so well that any sense of there being a problem or of anything being left out is overshadowed.

However, Social Threes do feel anxiety about being overexposed. They feel vulnerable to being seen as having no worth. Because they place so much importance on making a good impression, criticism can be devastating to them, though they aren’t likely to show it. Wanting to look good also means it can be hard for them to fully reveal themselves to others, so they may feel a need to keep people at bay. They want so much to be seen positively, and so they can fear that people might see through their image if they get too close. It can be hard for them to open up and let up on managing their image. This strong need to look good can also prevent Social Threes from knowing and being connected to their real selves and their real feelings.

Social Threes aren’t likely to be confused with other types, as this Three is in many ways the most obvious Three, especially in terms of how Threes have historically been characterized in Enneagram books.

John Luckovich Description:

Social Threes look to experience Essential Value in their relationships and vocation, particularly with the people with whom they experience belonging. Many Social Threes are highly accomplished and talented, but much of their drive stems from wanting to inspire others through their example. It’s important for Social Threes to feel they are seen as exemplars of whatever may be valuable within their social context, and they especially want to be seen as special to loved ones on a personal level. Social Threes don’t wish to conform to their social milieu so much as they wish to be a force within it, the one who sets new standards and raises the bar higher for the culture they’re in.

They can be so skillful at progressing toward their aims that they may catch themselves pursuing a path that they didn’t have that much interest in. Often, Social Threes get caught playing many different roles for many different people and are unable to inwardly locate themselves apart from the roles they’re called to play. When a different persona is called for, Social Threes often become the exemplar of it. Many Social Threes fall into the trap of blurring their private life with their professional persona, living as if they have to always be “on” in promoting themselves like a personal brand. Private experiences may be undertaken with a public audience in mind, which can drive intimacy from relationships. The need to be seen as desirable and special can lead to Social Threes wanting to position themselves in socially exclusive circles, presenting an aloofness which may run up against their desire for personal connection and leaving Social Threes feeling alone and insecure despite whatever prestige they’ve acquired.

The ambitiousness of the Three personality can turn the desire for belonging into a motivation to constantly expand their influence, and they may begin to view others as personal challenges of whom they can win over and how quickly. Social climbing and vying for status, recognition, and exclusivity can replace any real connection with themselves and they can begin to act in ways that are in-congruent with their heart’s authentic wishes in order to get ahead socially.

Character Example: The rise, fall, and growth of a social 3 is the entire plot of The Greatest Showman. The ambitious, courageous and determined P. T. Barnum rises from a nobody into a somebody, but it is never quite good enough—he wants all the praise, recognition, and acceptance denied to him in his youth. He sacrifices time with his family to tour the world and bask in the adoration others have for his songbird, then faces a merciless scandal that causes him to realize all he truly wants in life is the love of his wife and of his friends. His best trait is his ability to organize others for success, to champion them in accepting who they are and using that to make money, but his lowest moment comes from booting them out of a party, because he doesn’t want a bunch of “freaks” drawing attention off him and his new “song bird.” P. T. Barnum’s fortunes rise and plummet, but in the end, we see the redeemed 3 riding off to watch his daughter perform in a ballet, rather than drawing all the attention for himself. He has learned what truly matters in life: the people in it.

The Sexual 3

Beatrice Chestnut Description:

The victory or goal that the Sexual Three subtype is interested in (that expresses this Three’s vanity) is one of sex appeal and beauty rather than money or prestige-but they are just as competitive in pursuing these goals as a business executive is in work matters. In this Three, vanity is not denied (as with the Self-Preservation Three) or embraced (like the Social Three); rather, it’s somewhere in between, being employed in the service of creating an attractive image and promoting important others.

The Sexual Three is sweet and shy and not as extroverted as the Social Three-especially when it comes to speaking about himself. It’s hard for these Threes to promote themselves, so they often put the focus on others they want to support.

Although they are just as capable as the other Threes of achieving worldly success through competence and hard work, these Threes don’t feel the need to achieve goals in the external world because their focus is much more on pleasing and making themselves attractive as a way of earning love. They see their accomplishments in the successes and happiness of the people around them.

Although Ichazo called this type “Masculinity/Femininity,” Naranjo explains that this is not Hollywood-style masculinity or femininity, or even necessarily a very sexualized masculinity or femininity This type is more concerned with having an attractive presentation as a man or a woman-and, subtly at times, with pleasing others by being attractive in a classically masculine or feminine way. And while Threes are heart types, in this subtype the pleasing may occur less through emotional connection or sexual seductiveness and more through a mental connection or enthusiastic support. Naranjo changed the name to “Charisma” to reflect the special way Sexual Threes motivate and excite the admiration of others through a quality of “personal magnetism.”

Sexual Threes put a lot of energy into seducing and pleasing others. They may have a fear of disappointing others, and so they justify themselves with excuses to avoid confrontation. People with this subtype may have fantasies about the “ideal partner,” and they may want to change their partner to be like they would like him or her to be. They may have fantasies of waiting for “Prince Charming” (or “Princess Charming”) and living “happily ever after.”

These Threes tend to be oriented toward pleasing others in the sense of having a family or team mentality. They may focus narrowly on what is good for the family (at home or at work) and project the image of someone who is good in this way.

Because so much depends on their being attractive to others, Sexual Threes think they need to be good and perfect to be loved. They tend to be very helpful to prove their lovability-they aspire to have the image of the “best lover” or the “perfect wife.”

Attaining love or desire from others becomes a goal, an achievement, a conquest for Sexual Threes. To support this, they have a passion for projecting a handsome, pretty, or sexy image. They feel an urgent need to be looked at and recognized as attractive by people they want to attract (romantically)-perhaps reflecting a lack of attention and admiration from their mother or father.

In this Three, there is a sense of disconnection from feelings and from the real self. They often have no real contact with themselves or others. This disconnection is emotional, sexual, and physical. One Three with this subtype commented, “it’s like we put out an ‘Out to Lunch’ sign.” This is the main issue for Sexual Threes. They typically experience a feeling of emptiness, like a void. This Three experiences an empty feeling in terms of having a lack of a clear sense of self or identity. This is related to the fact that the Sexual Three experiences difficulty in being, feeling, and expressing authentically. While they may be very attractive, they may also have low self-esteem and be unable to love themselves. In the face of this, they may “put on a good face” and look sweet and complacent while hiding their strengths as a way to look good for others.

The Sexual Three is the most emotional of the Threes, so you are more likely to see them expressing their feelings. This Three doesn’t wear the kind of social mask that a Social Three wears. There is a deep sadness within the Sexual Three. They often had a difficult early life, and they use “disconnections” from themselves as a way to forget, or to make up for and minimize, past abuses. There is a lot of fear of feeling emotional pain and sorrow, and so they learn to disconnect from their deeper emotional experience. They also experience criticism as very threatening, as it destroys their mask of being a “perfectly good person.”

Sexual Threes can look like Twos or Sevens. They can look like Twos because they seek to connect with others through being pleasing and attractive. They differ from Twos, however, in that they focus more on a specific image of physical attractiveness and less on shape-shifting, prideful self-elevation, and meeting emotional needs. They may be mistaken for Sevens in that they tend to be positive and enthusiastic in their support of others. They can be excellent cheerleaders. However, while Sevens are fundamentally self-referencing, Threes reference others as a way of determining how to be. Threes are more disconnected from themselves, while Sevens typically know what they need and want.

John Luckovich Description:

Sexual Threes seek to experience Essential Value through their desirability and the magnetism of their attraction displays. Sexual Threes want to be the most magnetic person in the room. They feed off of generating intrigue, mystique, and even controversy, and they aren’t much concerned with being liked or pursuing practical achievements. Competition in Sexual Threes revolves around being the most attractive and having the most captivating sexual display, and they’re most likely to have cultivated a striking personal flavor meant to stand apart from others.

Competition and ambition can also play out as making it big in fields where they can signal their sexual value, such as modeling or performing. “Failure” is extremely painful for Threes as a whole, but for Sexual Threes, failure is defined as a failure to attract, incite interest, or to keep the focus of their romantic partner. Sexual Threes will “pull out all the stops” to win a specific partner and will often adapt their personal style, preferences, and image into what they believe is most desirable. As a result, they often struggle to allow their partner to discover who they are beneath the display. When unbalanced and fearful, this can lead to Sexual Threes rejecting partners when an intimate bond forms, disappearing behind their sexual “performance,” or conversely, becoming possessive and controlling, suspecting sexual rivalry at every turn. Entranced Sexual Threes can isolate their partner from friends and other people or turn run-of-the-mill social engagements into “battles” of fending off rivals and projecting their energy all over the place.

Unhealthy Sexual Threes can view themselves and their partners as “prizes” in that having partners who are attractive and desirable becomes a statement on their own desirability. Therefore, imbalanced Sexual Threes may enter into relationships that support their narcissistic self-image or relationships that are toxic, wherein the partner’s lack of appreciation of the Three beyond their sexual display reinforces a further division between their persona and their authentic self.

Character Examples: In the alternate history television drama The Man in the High Castle, Nichole Dormer is a bold, sexually confident woman who knows what looks attractive, and intends to sell the Third Reich’s ideas through professions, surrealism, and style. She pursues what she wants without apology, but refuses to become “emotionally involved.” When her lesbian lover gushes that she loves Nicole, Nicole reminds her not to get carried away with herself or her feelings—this is just sex and fun, after all (even if it’s dangerous, and both of them could get arrested and imprisoned for it). She orients everything about herself into being pleasing to others on a sexual level, from how she approaches Joe and convinces him to join their group, to how she flirts with those she wants to take to bed. She is glamorous and attractive, successful at all she does, but… doesn’t know what she wants deep inside, or how to get in touch with her own specialness, as separate from whom she is and how she was born.

Spiritual Growth Suggestions

As 3s work on themselves and become more self-aware, they learn to escape cutting themselves off from they love and want and crowding out their real feelings by slowing down, making room for the vulnerability of “just being,” and getting in touch with themselves.

Notice when you are…

Working hard to support a narrow focus on tasks, goals, and achievement. Observe how you prioritize work tasks and goals to the exclusion of other elements of life. Notice daily what seems to be important to you. Observe how attached you are to your “list of things to do.” Note how driven and goal-oriented you are and what kinds of things you do to clear your path of obstacles.

Constructing and maintaining a specific image to impress others. Observe all the ways you evaluate your audience for the clues you use to design the right image. Notice when you need attention, and why. Note how you craft a specific image. How might you falsify yourself to conform to the image you want others to have of you? How do you feel when you get a positive response to your image from others?

Doing without stopping to avoid feeling. Observe the pace at which you  work and the ways you try to keep moving and avoid slowing down. Notice what you do to avoid gaps in your schedule that might allow your feelings to surface. If feelings arise, notice what the experience is like and how you react. Pay attention to how you suppress your feelings.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • How and why did these patterns develop?
  • What emotions are these patterns designed to protect me from?
  • Why am I doing this?
  • How are these patterns operating in me?
  • What are my blind spots, because of these patterns?
  • What do they keep me from seeing?
  • What are the consequences of continuing to be this way?
  • How do my coping mechanisms trap me?

Self-Development:

To counter-act working hard to support a narrow focus on tasks, goals, and achievement.

  • Embrace failure as a road to deepening your experience of yourself. Make room to consider more thoroughly what might happen if you fail (how you would feel and what you would think or do). Watch out for efforts to do a workaround—really try to confront what failure would mean to you. If you do fail, have compassion for yourself; see it as an opportunity to be vulnerable and let in what you spend so much time avoiding.
  • Reframe your definition of “success.” Question your assumptions about what it really means. Open up to the idea of being loved for who you really are, not just for what you accomplish or own. Ask yourself what you really want when you are competing to win or attract positive attention. Consider what a deeper sense of success might mean in the terms of your need for love and acceptance, and allow yourself to move in that direction. Recognize that true, more satisfying achievement is found in authenticity.
  •  Notice what you ignore when striving for a goal. Your narrow focus can cause you to avoid paying attention to important pieces of your life experience, such as what’s happening inside yourself.

To counter-act constructing and maintaining a specific image to impress others.

  • Question your focus on what others value as the basis for who you think you are. You may feel you don’t know who you are behind your roles and tangible characteristics, nor what you truly want. Examine the ways you construct an identity based on question ideals. Question your use of specific values and characteristics as guiding points in how you design your image.
  •  Learn to see the difference between your image-making actions and your real needs or desires. Become more aware of what you do for image-based reasons. Ask yourself if you are doing this because it’s what you want, or you think it will enhance your image? Ask important, compassionate others to praise and encourage you when you express views closer to your true self, and spend time getting in touch with your feelings.
  • Discover who you are as separate from your image. Ask yourself, “Who am I if I am not my image?” Remind yourself you don’t have to give your success in life to manifest more of who you really are; you can be successful both in the world and on a personal level. Deal with any fears you have about being excluded by the world for being authentic. Remember that your true self lies in your emotions, needs, and vulnerabilities, and that what you consider as weakness might be a source of strength. Only the real you can be present to receive love and acceptance. People want to know and love the real you, not an attractive model that prevents them from seeing and meeting the “true” you.

To counter-act doing without stopping to avoid feeling.

  • Don’t wait for a breakdown before you realize you need to grow. Act before you experience a massive failure, depression, hitting a wall, or a physical collapse due to workaholic behaviors. Notice if you are feeling stressed, over-worked, exhausted, depressed, or emotionally numb. Seek help when required.
  • Reclaim and value your feelings. Notice how you avoid certain feelings but not others. Let yourself be curious when you aren’t feeling your emotions. Ask yourself what you are avoiding. Notice if you “do” more to avoid your feelings. Allow yourself the time to notice, experience, and own your emotions fully. Watch out for any loneliness related to the annoyance of having to “be” for others, or sadness related to your successes being attributed to your “false” self. Open up to seeing how fear drives you.
  • Increase your ability to just “be.” Challenge yourself by learning to meditate or doing nothing at all—just sit and experience the world. If it’s hard, ask yourself why. Remember not to judge yourself by how much you do in a day.

Using your integration and disintegration numbers for self-growth:

Move to 9 by allowing yourself to be without doing, prioritize others and not just tasks or goals, and connecting to people without losing yourself./ You can learn to be more in your body, to include different points of view when completing a task, to slow down, and broaden your focus of attention. Learn the ability to “go with the flow” and not need to control. Embrace the 9 way of being in including others in making decisions, following others’ lead (instead of always needing to be in charge), not always needing to be the center of attention, and considering others’ perspectives, opinions, and input. Learn to relax and leave work at work.

Move to 6 in getting in touch with your fears, and slow down your pace in helpful ways. Find a balance between moving forward and reflection. Question things before you leap into them. Assess what’s happening at a deeper level than you normally do. Allow others to give you support. Find more faith in others, let someone else solve problems, and lean on them for protection. Questioning and self-doubt for you can be good, since it will let you question the public face you hide behind.


Sources: Richard Rohr, The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective, Claudio Naranjo: Character and Neurosis, Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson, The Wisdom of the Enneagram, Beatrice Chestnut, The Complete Enneagram: 27 Paths to Greater Self-Knowledge; John Luckovich. Sections quoted or paraphrased. Please purchase the original books for more information.