Contents: Please use these links to jump to the relevant sections.
- The Enneagram 3
- Identifiable Traits
- Defense Mechanisms
- Enneagram 3 Wings
- Social Variants
- Self-Preservation 3
- Social 3
- Sexual 3
- Spiritual Growth
The Enneagram 3
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 when it comes to their pretenses and feelings. They tend to 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 the 3s are 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 in as much as they are seen by others as 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 but must never be questioned seriously. That attacks too much 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 most difficult time with the natural aging process; when they can no longer ‘attract’ others or conceal their physical flaws, when they are no longer able to ‘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 difficult 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 credited to 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 3 is motivated by a fear of failure and the fear of self-exposure or rejection 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. Tends to undervalue thinking that is not scientific. Values technology.
- Ruthless in human interactions when it comes to 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 due to 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, in so doing, 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 were not seen or heard enough, and decided to 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, a 3 child 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 be admired 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 become aware of “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. They become uncomfortably aware of being out of touch with their hidden self. It troubles them that 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 starts to recognize 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 are willing to 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
Enneagram types often have influences from the number on one side of them, more than the other. While it’s possible to have balanced wings, or no wing at all, most people can relate to one wing in particular.
3w2: The Charmer
Healthy: 3w2s are more emotional and spontaneous than 3w4s. Their outgoing, vivacious quality can resemble 7s. They can be friendly, helpful, and generous like 2s while maintaining the pose, self-esteem and high personal achievement of 3s. They want to beloved and have a drive to be close with people, but they sometimes substitute public life and the recognition they obtain there for a more satisfying private life and domestic stability.
Average: 3w2s attempt to suppress any characteristics that interfere with their desirability, feeling that their value comes from the ability to attract and even dazzle others. They want others to like and admire them. They know how to “turn it on” to impress, and this often becomes a preoccupation. Their behavior can have a smooth, artificial quality that undermines their attempt to be popular and credible. They are highly competitive, although usually covert about it. They may resort to multiple images to satisfy their social relations and to perform in intimate situations.
3w4: The Professional
Healthy: 3w4s feel that self-esteem comes from their work and career success more than from personal qualities. They want their work to be outstanding and well regarded, often putting great energy into their careers. They take pleasure in whatever profession or “craft” they have chosen and are willing to make great personal sacrifices to maintain their professional integrity. While diplomatic and charming, they are serious and task-oriented and can resemble 1s.
Average: Powerful ambition and self-doubt mix in 3w4s, inevitably creating tremendous pressure. Their drive for perfection is similar to a 1, but they aspire to embody perfection in some way to avoid being rejected or shamed as inferior. They feel they are putting their entire self-worth on the line with every project. They often project competence and poise but can be private socially (in contrast to the more outgoing, affable expressions of the 3w2). They may also display pretentiousness and arrogance, mixed with self-consciousness and self-contempt, making the 3w4 perplexing and sometimes at odds with itself.
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 are motivated by the possibility of advancement. They look for tangible rewards for work well-done: rises, promotions, and positive reviews.
They can become excessively focused on their careers. Other aspects of their lives tend to become secondary due to work, and they may neglect their health and relationships due to unrealistic schedules. They are unable to 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. Convince that the material basis of their security could be lost 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 are no longer able to 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 be recognized as a 3. They may be easily 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. The can be distinguished from 1 in that they move at a faster pace, pay attention to creating an image (even when they don’t acknowledge it), and conform to a perfect model of how to be as judged by social consensus, not according to internal standards of right and wrong (as 1s do). They differ from 6s in that they are fundamentally 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 generally don’t allow their productivity to get slowed down by doubt or questioning.
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 are strongly identified 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, as well as 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 that 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.
The Sexual Three: The Catch
Average sexual 3s are characterized by a powerful desire to be desired, not just in sexual desirability but in an overall derive 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 kind of person their love interest wants to show off to his or her friends. They tend to 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 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 tend to strike out at others who question their value in any way. 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 fundamentally 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.
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.
Main analysis from Claudio Naranjo: Character and Neurosis. Wings and Subtypes: Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson, The Wisdom of the Enneagram. Look-alike section of Subtypes and growth sections: Beatrice Chestnut, The Complete Enneagram: 27 Paths to Greater Self-Knowledge. Sections have been quoted but some are heavily edited. Please purchase the original books for more information.