Hey, it’s Laura again. Let's talk about Enneagram Threes! This one may get a little more personal because I'm a Three... something that took me years to find out.
Threes are called The Achievers, The Motivators, and The Performers. They are ambitious, self-assured people. Success and being “the best” is very important to a Three, but the best might look very different depending on a person’s family, community, and culture. The stereotype is all about being rich and famous, or climbing the corporate ladder, and that can be true sometimes. But it could be being the best mom ever, the best Christian, the best in yoga class, the best artist or musician, the top of your class… you get the idea.
Threes don’t necessarily need to be perfect, they just want to be the best. They want to have a pile of achievements and feel recognized for them. And Threes often are good at a lot of different things, partly because they’ve been making sure they have something to show since childhood. But as a Three becomes healthier, their talents can show through genuine authenticity, honesty, and support for the greater good.
Players gon play
Back to having something to show, Threes are pretty image-conscious. I’ve been thinking about this one a lot, as I’m introverted and not generally the flashiest person in the room. But I realized that for me, and maybe other Threes, image is a fluid thing. If I’m at a folk concert, I need a Boho look. A rock concert? My biker jacket of course! Hiking? Better grab all my best gear. Going out for drinks? Tell me the vibe of the place first, so I can match. Threes can be chameleons, because they always want to look like they have it together and are a “player” in that setting.
It takes increased self-awareness and intentionality for all of us to hone in on our own personal identity and allow it to show no matter where we are or who we’re with. But this can be especially difficult for Threes. When they’re not self-aware, those constant attempts to have an image with a good impression lead to one of a Three’s vices: deceit. That one hit hard. I usually wouldn’t outright LIE… I mean c’mon. But I can definitely craft a narrative to show only the parts I want to be seen. Or casually adjust the truth so I don’t look like such an idiot. New flash to Laura, that’s deceit.
As a Three, I grew up believing that I had to achieve to be loved, I had to be the best to get attention. This isn’t necessarily because I got that message from my parents, I think if anything it was accidental. But that’s what I perceived. I can still easily fall into the trap of becoming a “human doing” instead of a “human being.” Even in the little, mundane things, I have to be productive and efficient. I don’t like wasting time, money, food, or potential. And when I do, it’s really hard for me to let go of that thing because I was inefficient. I see myself getting caught up in that cycle of anxiety and it’s completely infuriating, but I don’t know how to stop it.
Is being me enough?
Threes have two major fears, and they’re connected. The first is the fear of failure. Just like success, failure is pretty subjective. But Threes are terrified of it. They also frantically “do” to receive love because they believe that behind all the doing, there is...nothing. An emptiness not worthy of love or acceptance. Failure to do (and do well) = failure to be loved. I have struggled with identity and being who I am despite what others want me to be because at my core I think being me is worthless. I would never articulate that, and like many Threes, am often thought of as someone who is self-confident and competent. But it’s all part of my desperate attempt for love and acceptance, and the belief that I’m never enough.
Threes are the primary type in the Feeling traid (2,3,4). That means we are the most out of touch with our authentic feelings. Kind of ironic for a therapist? Yeah, I thought so too. But here’s the thing: I’m very good at identifying other people’s feelings. But my own? And SHARING my own, when they’re vulnerable? Ehhhh not so great at that. For all my feeling words in my arsenal, it’s hard for me to articulate mine. And it becomes even harder when I know expressing those feelings will mean I’ll cry, say something stupid, look bad, or potentially get rejected.
*Mind Blown* on this whole Three things because, for a long time, I immediately wrote off Three as definitely not my type. Sure I could get with the stuff about Threes being attractive and charming, although that felt weird too since I’ve always been pretty self-conscious. But a lot of other Three stereotypes are slick car salesmen, corporate climbers, and attention-seeking celebrities. Not. Me.
But it’s super important to learn about types, not stereotypes. And I had to start accepting the facts about myself, and not what I hoped to see. Early on in my study of the Enneagram, I saw all the icky parts of Three and thought nope, not me, no way. What I know now? That the things that tend to bug me the most in other people are the ones I know are part of my own shadow side.
Threes and Spirituality
I tend to migrate toward leadership in most groups that I’m part of, and that has been true in churches and spiritual groups too. Leadership can be really fulfilling, but sometimes I’ve found myself in these positions that took advantage of my natural tendency to focus on productivity and doing, and made it that much harder for me to engage in my own relationship with my God, mindfulness, and spiritual rest. It has also made it easy to me to fall into that “doing” trap with God too.
I’m learning that resting in a God infinitely better and more powerful than me is not scary, but truly freeing. And that I can just “be” with God, no expectations to perform.
Growth Tips for Threes
- Take a day to do nothing productive. Relax, veg out, binge watch a show, go to the beach, snuggle up with a blanket and read a (fun) book on a rainy day, journal, pray. Don’t make it about how much self care you get done either. Sit in the discomfort of not “doing” and remind yourself of the importance of rest.
- Practice small moments of vulnerability. Perhaps it’s asking for a day off for a mental health day. Or being honest with a loved one about a bad day. Start with small things and slowly build up to increased vulnerability. Like anything else, it takes practice.
- See a therapist. They can help you begin to process your feelings, and what’s beneath them.
- Do good things anonymously. Don’t take the credit or get the reward.
- Practice accepting losing, being second best, or simply not winning. I’m not saying you have to go lose intentionally. Just remember that other people are just as talented and deserve to shine too.