Enneatype Three

Type Description

People of Enneatype Three need the admiration of others in order to feel worthy; indeed at a very deep and largely subconscious level, Threes feel as though they need to see themselves reflected in the eyes of others in order even to exist. At the very center of the type Three fixation then, is a fundamental confusion about the difference between appearance and reality, image and substance, who they are and who they are taken to be.

Threes are people who adopt an ideal of success and attempt to embody it. This ideal frequently comes from their parents, and many Threes unwittingly live out their parents’ unlived lives. If the Three is less connected to the parents, or for some reason finds other influences more compelling, the ideal will be drawn from the broader culture. As modern western culture is pluralistic, there are many possible ideals from which the Three might choose. Whichever ideal is chosen however, it is something which, by its very nature, is approximated by just a few. Threes are therefore forced to compete.

Threes tend to pursue their chosen ideal with zest, determination and focus. They believe in their innate abilities and are optimistic about their prospects. They tend to be good networkers and know how to rise through the ranks. They know how to present themselves, are socially competent, often extroverted and sometimes charismatic. Many Threes subtly and even unconsciously alter their self-presentation to appeal to the particular person or audience with whom they are engaging. In the process of doing so, they sometimes lose touch with who they really are.

Threes frequently are successful, at least as defined by their chosen system of values. They tend to be doggedly determined and are not easily deterred by failure. Lance Armstrong, whose success has even managed to be inspirational, is a good case in point. But while Threes do tend to be “successful,” sometimes even extraordinarily so, they are often secretly afraid of being or becoming “losers.” It is almost as though they were afraid of being “found out.” Some Threes actually self-destruct when they achieve overwhelming degrees of fame or fortune. It is as if they realize how disconnected they are from their grandiose image, how false and phony it all is, how poorly anyone really sees them, how alone they actually feel even in the company of those who treat them with adoration. Elvis Presley is a striking example of this phenomenon.

It is not surprising then that Threes can sometimes find intimacy difficult. Their need to be validated for their image often hides a deep sense of shame and confusion about who they really are. Having achieved success, Threes can begin to wonder whether they are truly loved for who they are, rather than for what they have achieved or how they appear. Threes tend to be large hearted, generous and likable, but they are often difficult to really know.

Threes get in trouble when they confuse true happiness, which depends on inner states, with the image of happiness that they so easily project. When Threes are out of touch with themselves, it is as if they had an inner checklist to determine the extent of their well being: good job – check, attractive spouse – check, beautiful children – check. Threes can sometimes manage to convince themselves that they are happy because they have achieved the external markers of happiness, such is their disconnect from their true selves. When this occurs, Threes ignore the inner promptings of their heart which tell them that something vital may well be missing. Beneath the façade, many Threes hide a sense of meaninglessness. They are prone to identity crises and are sometimes depressive, although they seldom allow this to show. The attainment of the image never quite satisfies, and the greater the disjunct between the Three’s image and who they feel themselves to really be, the more likely the Three is to experience psychological disturbances of various kinds.

Traditionally, Threes are said to harbor the vice of “deceit.” This vice doesn’t necessarily refer to dishonesty in the conventional sense, and certainly many Threes are ethical in that sense of the term, although some, of course, do adopt lying as one means of achieving success. The central deception of the Three however, is that which the Three engages in by mistaking the image he or she projects, for the reality of an inner life, and for seducing others into making that same mistake.

There is an important sense in which the core fixation of enneatype Three is a part of the universal condition of all human beings, or at least of all who still identify with the ego rather than the essential self, with the images we project rather than the substantial beings we are meant to be or become – virtually all of us that is. The primary types of the Enneagram – Three, Six and Nine, are representative of core fixations at the heart of the human condition and are hence universal. It is the fate of enneatype Three to be forced to confront the question of the true nature of the self most directly and most intimately.

Healthy Threes manage to embody valuable ideal qualities without losing contact with their depths and they inspire and encourage others to live up to their own individual ideals. They are generous with their time and energy and are willing to help others actualize their potential. They take on leadership roles without any desire to dominate or enforce an abstract ideal; they lead from the heart. They have a healthy pragmatism; they enjoy the things of the earth and want others to share in them as well. When they become unhealthy however, Threes can turn into a “human doing.” They immerse themselves in activity in order to distract themselves from their growing sense of inner emptiness. Increasingly cut off from their depths, they become glib and superficial. As they descend into narcissism, they can become cold blooded and ruthless in pursuit of their goals. The once optimistic Three becomes cynical and nihilistic; unable to believe in themselves, they are unable to believe in others.

Threes with the Two wing are warmer and more people oriented than those with a Four wing. They are generous and expansive and usually have a large number of friends and acquaintances. Classic extroverts, they intuitively know how to connect with others at an emotional level; they tend to use this ability to further their personal and professional goals. Threes with the Four wing tend to focus their energy on projects rather than people, although they still have a fair amount of social energy. The introspective energy of the Four wing is difficult for the Three to integrate. Consequently, Threes with a Four wing sometimes attempt to escape it’s pressure by way of workaholism. They tend to be more conflicted about matters relating to intimacy than Threes with a Two wing.

Type Exemplars

Many leaders have been Threes. A good case can be made for typing the biblical Moses as a Three, although not Charlton Heston, who’s an Eight.

Pericles was a Three.

The American presidents George Washington and Bill Clinton were Threes. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, former Mr. Universe, is a clear example of a Three who reinvented himself in mid-life when his earlier profession was no long a viable option for him. On the scene more recently, is Condoleeza Rice.

Authors Gail Godwin, Truman Capote and F. Scott Fitzgerald were Threes, with Fitzgerald portraying classic Three concerns in his novels. Andy Warhol was an artist whose work also strikingly demonstrates the type Three concern with the nature of image.

Newscasters are frequently Threes; such are Anderson Cooper, Diane Sawyer, Jane Pauley, Brian Williams and the recently deceased Peter Jennings. Also talk show host Oprah Winfrey.

Many entertainers have been Threes. In addition to the already cited Elvis, Whitney Huston and Jennifer Lopez come to mind, both of whom, like Elvis, suffered emotional crises subsequent to achieving great fame. Also, Madonna, Shania Twain, Paul McCartney and Sting. David Bowie is another, quite versatile and elegant in his presentation.

Ken Wilber is quite a good example of how an intellectual Enneatype Three can be mistyped as a Five. Wilber is far too comfortable with name dropping and self-promotion to be a Five however. The physicist Brian Greene and the late Carl Sagan are also examples of intellectual Threes.

Many actors are threes – Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt and Robe Lowe come to mind, but also Ben Kingsley and Jennifer Connelly.

Many famous athletes are Threes: Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, as well as baseball’s Derek Jeter, Hideki Matsui and Alex Rodriguez…heck, half of the Yankee Baseball team are Threes, as is the overall Yankee persona.

Fictional examples include Hercules and Odysseus and Star Trek’s Captain Kirk (as well as William Shatner who plays him).

Possible Mistypes

Threes and Ones are both oriented towards an ideal, detach from emotions under stress and can be workaholics. Typically, it is Threes who mistype or are mistyped as Ones. But Threes are much more comfortable with self-presentation and self-promotion than are Ones who often find these things to be difficult or impossible. Ones are seldom as acutely aware of the image they are projecting than are Threes.

Threes and Twos can mistype, especially if the wing is strong. But Threes tend to be more ambitious than the more other regarding Two, and while Twos can be very competent, they have a much harder time putting their emotions on hold to get the job done; Threes can detach from their emotions more readily. Elvis Presley is a Three who is commonly mistyped as a Two because of his generosity and large hearted energy, but his most central problems centered around his concerns with image, and he had difficulties establishing truly authentic intimate relationships because of it.

Threes can mistype as Fours, again, especially if the wing is strong, but Fours are much more introspective and emotionally aware, even emotionally self-indulgent when unhealthy. As Threes become unhealthy, they increasingly detach from their inner states and become less emotionally aware. Both types can suffer from depression, but Threes much less so than Fours, and when they are feeling low, they tend to consider it a sign of weakness and try to work it off. Jackie Kennedy Onassis is a good example of a Three who is sometimes mistyped as a Four, because of her elegance and sometimes even mistyped as a Five, because of her detachment. Both traits can be accounted for by recognizing the fact that she was a Three.

As indicated above, intellectual Threes can mistype as Fives, although Fives recognize their self-consciousness and are unlikely to mistype as Threes. Threes have an exuberant self-confident belief in their own abilities that doesn’t come naturally to Fives. They can much more readily take on a leadership role and tend to be more self-promotional then Fives.

Threes and Sixes can both be successful and image conscious, but Threes are far more self-confident and comfortable with self-promotion than Sixes. Sixes are more anxious than Threes and are not as optimistic about future prospects as are Threes.

Threes and Sevens are both outgoing and talented, but Threes generally have an exceptional amount of focus whereas Sevens tend to be scattered. Threes care more about status than Sevens who are far more concerned with enjoyment than are the more serious Threes.

Some Threes, like Eights, are dominating, and both Threes and Eights can be competitive, but Threes are far smoother than Eights who often enough adopt a manner reminiscent of a bull in a China shop. Threes are more concerned with appearance than Eights who sometimes even delight in confounding other’s expectations. Some Eights will even deliberately accentuate their crudeness as if to prove that they are unconcerned with others’ perceptions. Finally, Threes unlike Eights, are not concerned with domination as such but only as a means of achieving validation.

Threes and Nines can be mistaken if the Nine is unusually successful or the Three unusually depressed. Threes have trouble with authenticity however, whereas Nines have difficulty adopting social poses. Threes are much more self-confident than Nines, who tend to underestimate their own abilities.

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