“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
- The Enneagram 3
- Enneagram 3 Wings
- Social Variants
- Self-Preservation 3
- Social 3
- Sexual 3
- Spiritual Growth
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.
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.
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 Helpful Expert
The super-ego influence of their wing makes 3w2s assertive and polished humanitarians. They identify goals or achievements and work toward them with deliberate intent, but also feel a strong inner voice reminding them of “how I should be,” that encourages them to be generous and helpful. They cultivate an image of being “the best” at whatever they care about, but also as someone who is benevolent and generous with their time, attention, or expertise. They are polished and aware of how they are coming across at all times and want to avoid being disliked. Their desire to connect to others means they may devote a great deal of energy to causes or individuals as a likable expert/teacher, one who “knows the way” and can “help you reach your full potential” (especially if they are the social 3).
3s do not mind cutting corners to achieve things, but a 3w2 has an inner nagging about their behavior not aligning with a helpful ideal. They fear if they are not competent, polished, efficient, or unloved (if they cannot attract others and hold onto them), they are not a full person; the 3w2 fears feeling hollow and secretly isn’t sure of what they can offer others, if it’s not either through efficiency and achievement (awards, promotions, being desirable according to their high standards) or their ability to assist (through problem-solving, offering advice, and fixing problems). They are the more outer-focused and reflective 3, who is willing to conceal parts of themselves to be liked. But they also enter into relationships with a firm agenda and an awareness of what they can “bring” to the relationship—the pride of the 2 in being needed often drives this 3 to assume whatever role is required of them, while having an idea about how they want the relationship to unfold. They run the risk of emotional attachments becoming formulaic, and based on what they have to offer the other person, while disowning their own need for affirmation, praise, and encouragement.
There’s as much desire to attract love and affection as there is to impress, which makes them sensitive to rejection and hungry to fill their need for love through being impressive and desired. 3w2s can be emotional, sensitive, romantic-minded, even infatuated with love, and hungry for intimate relationships, because of the 2’s capacity and desire to form romantic attachments. The 2 is wrapped up in the desperate need to be loved, which makes it difficult for them to handle being single; as a result, the 3w2 want to connect on a deeper level to others. But it’s hard for them not to just assume a role and use that instead of intimacy (the idea of “being the best” mother/lover/father/friend, as marked by external things, rather than offering vulnerability instead). 3w2s fear there’s nothing beneath the masks they put on in all of their relationships; if others get too close to them, there may be nothing to offer them. It’s a struggle for them to learn to simply be true to their emotions in the present moment, and not have to be in control over the relationship. They are assertive, quick to make decisions, and can overstep their boundaries with other people out of a desire to “help” them. But they also feel the most emotionally completed when others need them and love them for what the 3w2 has to offer them—whether that is business advice or help solving a problem.
Their 2 wing assures the 3w2 that they are likeable for their ability to assist in some way, and also gives them a sense of entitlement (the belief that they should be appreciated for their contributions at work, at church, or in a relationship). 3w2s need to be liked, so they find ways to win people over by being charming, available, and flattering. By doing this, they ensure that they are important and needed by others. Their pride comes from being useful and necessary—others need them to be assertive on their behalf, to quickly take care of problems instead of over-thinking them, and to intervene and guide them in wisdom or to make better decisions. Doing so allows the 3w2 to feel relevant in the lives of their loved ones or those they want to impress. But they can also struggle to see when to leave people alone and not rush to problem-solve, because 3w2s don’t believe in self-pity. They want to fix problems, but without overstepping themselves and alienating people.
3w2s devote a lot of time and energy to becoming the best at their chosen path in life, whether that is to be the most seductive person in existence (sexual subtype), an expert who leads others to similar enlightenment (social subtype), or to offer the best health plan that helped them achieve maximum stamina (the self-preservation subtype). A sense of ‘should’ drives them, which means a 3w2 can cut corners and rationalize it as being the wisest course of action, but there will be an inner nagging voice dictating to them what they ‘should’ do and how they ‘ought’ to behave. 3w2s may go through people or around them or climb over them in their bid for success, but there’s also a need to connect to them and win them over; if they can’t change someone’s mind about them, that person is a fool. A 3w2 senses if others do not like them and may feel driven to do something about it. They are far more dependent on others’ opinions of their worth than they care to admit, and adapt to situations out of a need to be liked. 3w2s need to win at life and have others who love them, so if they do not succeed, they can still feel worthy because they are important to someone. They feel torn between the 3’s avoidance of emotional intimacy and the 2’s desire to increase intimacy through sharing; it’s hard for them to let down their guard with others and stop cultivating a specific image to impress, and it’s hard for them to let go of their agenda, which is to be “higher” than others (a position of authority, which makes them feel important). The idea of being themselves, without any artifice or stories about how they impressed someone at the office today, to be earnest about their feelings of loss, disappointment, or fear, scares them, because what if the other person rejects me for not maintaining my image of “having it all together”? 3w2s need a great deal of love, acceptance, and encouragement whenever they face failures, but it also sustains them on a regular basis.
They may use gifts and generosity (the things success has brought them) as a compensation for emotional closeness; rather than be raw with their feelings, they will buy you a Cadillac. Their tendency as an attachment type is to meet people halfway and morph to accommodate them, becoming whatever the person or situation needs; 3w2s can over-reflect people and their desires and threaten to lose themselves, caught up in giving others what they want or need rather than knowing what they want from the situation on an intimate level.
3w2s can deny their softer feelings and emotional needs out of their ability to push aside their emotions and get things done, and also reject the concept of themselves as needing anything from others (since that is not “attractive” and seems dependent, which goes against their self-image of being self-reliant and resourceful). They may deny caring what others say while internalizing it all the same, adjusting to them, or defending themselves and their image of not-caring to maintain their persona of being efficient, driven, and unconcerned with appearances.
2s come from the rejection triad, which means they reject being needy themselves while projecting neediness onto everyone else—everyone else needs them, so they are important in other people’s eyes. The 3w2 assumes not only they are going to win at life, but that others need them, while the 3 doesn’t need them in return. They crave attention, flattery, and praise, while telling themselves that it’s wrong to need those things, or that they don’t really need them. But without them, the 3w2 withers and feels less motivation to keep going—why would they be brilliant and do their best if no one is there to be impressed by it?
3w2s are optimistic and ambitious. The 3 re-imagines reality in a way that favors themselves to maintain their image (they didn’t fail, it wasn’t the right opportunity for them; they aren’t upset about losing a significant other, this leaves them free to find a better match!), and the 2 feels they ‘should’ focus on what’s good in themselves and others, so 3w2s generally have a positive attitude about their talents and goals, as well as the people they care about. This leads to over-confidence in how much they deserve attention, praise, and appreciation for all they do for others. They become resentful if their attempts to assist are not appreciated, and may fail to understand others’ need to be emotional rather than solve the problem. Their aggressive stance approach to problems is to identify and solve them, because to do otherwise stagnates you in life, and 3w2s do not want to get stuck. They are good at self-promotion through being helpful or generous with their expertise. Extroverted 3w2s find it easy to become self-help gurus, confident if you follow their advice you too can become more… famous, efficient, productive, successful, etc. 3w2s struggle harder than 3w4s at getting older, because their career is important to them, but a career does not last forever. They will not always be consulted, seen as relevant, or their advice needed; once they retire, they look for ways to participate in others’ lives. It’s hard for them to admit they can’t do “it” anymore or that their advice is not needed; they attempt to stay relevant and flourish the most when they find someone who still admires them.
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 Critic
This 3 has more of a connection to their heart, but is also more withdrawn and negative and struggles more with secret fears of inadequacy. 3w4s have a withdrawn wing to go with their assertive core, which means they go through people and situations to accomplish their goals, but also have a sense that they are not quite right and do not fully belong in the world. 4s suffer from feeling alien, broken, and problematic, as if they were born in the wrong place or time or to the wrong family; that flavors the 3 and draws them away from people into introspection. It develops into a 3 whose tastes are ‘cultivated’ to avoid being ‘mundane’ or ‘too common.’
This is the elitist 3, who prides themselves on their superior taste, on owning the ‘best’ things, on praising art others do not understand, and who spends a lot of internal time agonizing about how to present a cultured version of themselves that isn’t common or trite or ordinary. They battle feelings of inferiority while being determined to succeed, and may fight imposter syndrome. The 4 wing wants them to stand out, to cultivate a unique ‘something’ to offer others, or bring a perspective no one has thought about, while the 3 wants to succeed and to win. The desire is to stand out for being special, rare, and refined, without being a ‘sell-out.’ What the 3w4 doesn’t realize is they are still manufacturing their identity; the 3 is carefully choosing how to display their 4 wing brokenness in a way that is attractive and stands out or projects their desirability and sense of power.
Because 4s have to be emotionally invested in what they are doing, 3w4s are more task-driven than people-driven; 4 does not move toward people and is self-absorbed in their need to dig deep into themselves and pull something out to offer that isn’t like what’s around them. The 3w4 puts a great deal of pressure on themselves to reject the outside world, yet they can’t help absorbing its messages. The attachment of the 3 wants to meet halfway, and to evolve to go with the situation, but the 4 is resistant to this, seeing outside forces as ‘tainting their vision’ or as being too ‘basic’ or not ‘being true to myself.’ 3w4s try and find a middle ground between being what’s needed, achieving at it, and ensuring their success, while also rooting their source of pride in not being like other people, but being above them in tastes and talents to compensate for their secret feelings of inadequacy. They change their negative self-talk into external positivity—they have cultured tastes, high standards, and are not pleased by the mundane offerings that so easily sate other (“normal”) people. They suffer from wanting to be accepted and yet never fully being satisfied with their situation or lot in life. They are meticulous perfectionists with their projects, because their 4 wing has a strong sense of how things ‘ought’ to be in a more idealized state, and the 3 wants to gain the competency, skills, and talent necessary to ensure it comes out exactly the way they want it to.
The4 wing pulls this 3 away from people and roots them in a crafted and exotic sense of self. They still adapt, but not in a way that compromises their intentions.3w4s can suffer from emotional dwelling more than 3w2s—3w2s move forward toward situations and people, fully confident that they are wanted and relevant; 3w4s aren’t sure that they are wanted, because others can’t understand them and may not see what they have to offer as valuable. Nor do they bounce back from rejection or failure the way a 3w2 does—the 3w4 gets stung, feels insecure, becomes moody, and comforts themselves with the idea that the masses can’t understand their genius yet (but that won’t stop them from trying again). Rejection on a romantic level is especially hard for them, since the 3w4 switches between aggressive energy (pursuit of what they want) and being offended and ready to find fault in their partner. Frustration comes in when others and their circumstances aren’t living up to their lofty expectations. They are sometimes moody and may cling to romantic ideals rather than accept what they have. 3w4s may romanticize what they cannot have, and fail to appreciate what they do possess as a way to keep themselves frustrated, like Scarlett O’Hara pining over Ashley in Gone with the Wind. He’s the one person she cannot seduce, which makes him unavailable—and that’s why he’s attractive to her. She can’t have him. The minute the impediment between them is gone, after Melanie dies, Scarlett doesn’t want him anymore. When it becomes attainable, it loses all desire for her.
This is typical of a 3w4, to idealize and romanticize and long for what seems impossible, and then not want it once it’s within their reach. Their desires are fraught with frustration, and they find ways to remain thwarted despite their successes—longing for one more thing that could make them truly satisfied. Wishing for intimacy, but not thinking they can achieve it. Pining over a lost love or opportunity, while working to move forward. They feel torn between the future and the past; the 3w4 is always thinking about what they will do and achieve, while feeling a melancholic pull toward people and things that are behind them. When they slow down and stop achieving, their mind may move into a space of abstract “longing” (melancholy) that nothing seems to fill.
3w4 want others to understand why they are having strong feelings about something or reacting in a certain way, but they also do not want to look bad, so they prune stories in the retelling to make themselves sympathetic and cultivate the reaction they want from others, to match their intense internal overreaction. They are aware that being reactive can be alienating to others, but get offended if their ideas or expertise are minimized (if they are not seen the way they want you to see them). 3w4s cannot maintain as stoic of a public persona as the 3w2, and may lash out, become angry, get moody, or feel deeply hurt by a criticism, in accordance with their feelings.
They struggle between positivity and negativity, since 3s focus on what’s working and wonderful about their situation while 4s notice and call attention to problems. 3s want everything to be attractive and 4s want things to be realistic and original. The 3w4 can delve into more surrealistic things, grotesque images, or ‘real-ness.’ 3w4s are also highly critical and discerning, hard on things and people who do not live up to their high standards, and inclined to focus on flaws and mistakes. If their ego goes unchecked and they achieve power, they can be ruthless in how scrutinizing they are, how disdainful they can be about shoddy efforts, and arrogant in their sense of superiority. They may see others as tasteless drones who lack their creativity, and as things that succeed on commercial terms as being done by talentless hacks.
The desire to know themselves and stand out for being unique and different can lead them to self-introspection and a desire to be more authentic. 3w4s as they get older become less dependent on others and less critical of their “baser” tastes, and more able to deal with their own feelings rather than shunt them aside to get things done; they promote being different or broken or their trauma not as a lifelong hindrance or an excuse as to why they did not succeed, but as proof of how far they have come and how much they have grown or overcome.
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 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
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: Nancy Wheeler in Stranger Things embodies this kind of a 3. She’s determined, persistent, and hard-working, at first overdoing her homework (and not wanting to make out with Steve because she has a test coming up), and then being a diligent researcher for the newspaper. She often strikes out on her own, and insists on doing things for herself. She’s proactive and ambitious, but also aware of taking risks and confident that she can handle whatever life throws at her. And yet, in all of her ambitious “doing,” she is often disconnected to her emotional center and unsure of what she really wants in her heart space.
The Social 3
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
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: One of the most famous anti-heroines in fiction, Scarlet O’Hara of the novel Gone with the Wind is the embodiment of the sexual 3. As Rhett says, she can’t stand not thinking she’s not still the “cutest thing in shoe leather.” She is neurotic about her sexual attractiveness and allure, but discerning in whom she cares about and doesn’t. She is also disconnected from her emotions, not realizing how much she cares about Rhett until he’s gone, while pursuing a man simply because he won’t surrender to her. She often uses her feminine wiles to get what she wants, but not being ‘desired’ because she’s the most wonderful thing around is what wounds her, far more than anything else. She can “lie, steal, cheat, or kill” to get what she wants, but she can’t force others to adore her, and that pains her.
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?
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; The Instinctual Drives and the Enneagram by John Luckovich. Sections quoted or paraphrased. Please purchase the original books for more information.