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: Security

Average self-preservation 3s feel they must constantly work for security and stability (like 6s) and build up a base of material well-being (like 8s). Unlike 6s, security for them comes from money, assets, and a stable home, not from loyalty to a company, ideology, or a person. These 3s strive for efficiency, streamlining their lives as much as possible, seeking to maximize the energy they can put into achieving their goals.

They attempt to impress people not with sex appeal or social status, but with their stability and material well-being. They are are also detail-oriented (like 1s), keeping track of all aspects of their particular job or enterprise. While willing to take on responsibility, make sacrifices, and work long hours, these 3s feel motivated by the possibility of advancement. They look for tangible rewards for work well-done: raises, promotions, and positive reviews.

They can become excessively focused on their careers. Other aspects of their lives become secondary to work, and they may neglect their health and relationships because of unrealistic schedules. They cannot easily relax and may even spend vacation time contemplating projects or “doing homework.” In the lower average levels of development, these 3s become increasingly anxious whenever they are not working and may have difficulty maintaining intimate relationships. Convinced they could lose the material basis of their security at any time, they believe they must constantly keep swimming or sink. Stopping their highly stressful work habits feels like courting disaster. Downtime can feel like incapacity or illness (“what’s wrong with me? Why aren’t I being more productive?”). For this reason, real illness, whether physical or emotional, can be very threatening because it reduces their efficiency and productivity. A few days off could bring down everything.

In the unhealthy range, these 3s make gargantuan efforts to remain effective, sacrificing relationships and health for job security and money. They become highly prone to burnout and nervous breakdowns. When they can no longer function well, they desperately try to cover over any real physical or emotional health problems (“I’m fine”).

It can be hard for a self-preservation 3 to recognize themselves as a 3. They may get confused with 1s or 6s. This 3 looks like a 1 in that the type is rigid, responsible, and self-sufficient. They try to be a model of virtue in the things they do. But 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 a social consensus, not according to internal standards of right and wrong (as 1s do). They differ from 6s in that they are image-oriented and work harder in response to insecurity, while 6s find protection in other ways. And while 3s may question their sense of identity, they rarely allow their productivity to get slowed down by doubt or questioning.

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: The Status Seeker

These 3s need recognition and reassurance that they are making progress, moving up in the world. They need signs of being valued by their peers. Degrees, job descriptions, resumes, good grades, and awards are important to them because they strongly identify with their social roles (“I am what I do”). They want to have the right pedigree, the right credentials. This instinct can express itself in the cultivation of professional jargon and dress, and the flaunting of brand names, designer fashions, and expensive cars. What they find important as an indicator of their social value varies from culture to culture, and from 3 to 3.

As their anxiety escalates, these 3s increasingly feel the need to prove themselves. They can become highly driven in their social ambitions: constantly networking, giving out cards, and making connections. They may desire fame (“if a million people buy my product, I must be pretty great!”). Narcissism can lead to compulsive social comparison and competition—keeping up with the Joneses. As they become more insecure, they are prone to bragging, relentless self-promotion, and exaggeration of their abilities. This is especially true if they haven’t succeeded in their achieving their idea of success.

In the unhealthy range, these 3s are desperate for attention and can become dishonest in their pursuit of recognition. They may falsify their accomplishments and background to get work and to impress. They can get into situations they are not qualified to deal with. Their emotional distress renders them highly ineffective, but as much as possible, they will use charm or exploitation to prevent others from seeing their true condition.

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 Three: The Catch

Average sexual 3s possess a powerful desire to feel desired, not just in sexual desirability but in an overall drive to be valued and wanted. They work at developing an appealing, alluring image, strive to become the ideal of their gender and a cultural milieu, and often enjoy helping others maximize their attractiveness as well. They want to be the person their love interest wants to show off to his or her friends. They cultivate whatever personal qualities they feel will get others interested in them. These 3s desire to impress by dazzling. They seduce by drawing attention to their own exceptional qualities. This can lead to ambitions of becoming a movie star, a teen idol, or a fashion model. They may develop much time and energy to working out, to careful grooming, or toward finding the right look. They can be sexually aggressive in outdoing other people, in their ambition to be the “most desired.”

They often know how to attract mates, but not how to sustain an emotional relationship. They constantly fear they may be not able to live up to the image they are projecting. As sexual types, they possess a strong desire for intimacy, but as 3s, they fear a deep emotional connection. They may attempt to achieve emotional intimacy through sex, but in the lower levels of health, fears of their own undesirability may cause them to reject even people they care deeply about. They may use sexual conquests to dispel fears of being unattractive. Less loyal 3s are exhibitionists—wanting to display themselves either to seduce others or to reassure themselves that they are attractive and values.

Unhealthy sexual 3s can become caught up in promiscuity. Under the surface, they are extremely vulnerable but strike out at others who question their value. Slights to their narcissism, real or imagined, can lead to vindictiveness, sexual rage, and jealousy; often out of all proportion to their actual disappointment.

These 3s can look like 2s or 7s. They can look like 2s because they seek to connect with others through being pleasing and attractive. They differ from 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 7s in their positivity and enthusiasm. They can be excellent cheerleaders for their significant other. However, while 7s are self-referencing, 3s reference others as a way of determining how to be. 3sw are more disconnected from themselves, while 7s typically know what they need and want.

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. Sections quoted or paraphrased. Please purchase the original books for more information.