Enneagram Type Three: The Need to Succeed

Winning

from http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/fc/FC_Barcelona_Team_2011.jpg

As we continue the journey around the Enneagram symbol, we arrive at Type Three: The Achiever, The Performer, The Success Story. American culture is set up to reward Threes because our nation is a Three nation. America was built to a large extent by people who showed up on its shores with empty pockets, a dream and the willingness to work hard. As a result, America has become the wealthiest nation on Earth. We admire people who “pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps” and are “self-made.”

There’s nothing wrong with working hard and being successful – don’t misunderstand me! Threes bring their wonderful leadership gifts to bear at all levels of organizations and government, inspiring others to excellence as they demonstrate and demand it. Few Types will work as hard as Threes. However, as we dig beneath the surface of Threes, we begin to understand what drives them to excel and work so hard, and it is far from triumphant.

Threes reside within the Heart Center, where shame is the governing emotion. This may seem odd, because Threes are the most confident of all personality types. They can be self-aggrandizing and even arrogant about their many accomplishments; isn’t that the opposite of shame? Oh, not at all. Threes are ashamed at an unconscious level that they lack value apart from their achievements. Riso & Hudson put it this way: “They want success because they are afraid of disappearing into a chasm of emptiness and worthlessness.”

Um, ouch. That hurts to even read, doesn’t it? Imagine having to live under the strain of that faulty notion! They live with the Superego message, “You are good or okay if you are successful and others think well of you.” This lie is what propels them into constant activity (and, sometimes, to self-promotion).

Threes can be mistaken for Sevens (to be discussed later) because both types, when entranced, are in constant motion. However, the motivations are very different. To a Three, to have an unscheduled hour on the calendar is to miss valuable opportunities to produce, to work, to demonstrate prowess. I am certain that a Three coined the phrase, “Anything worth doing is worth doing well.” “Inefficient” and “unproductive” are curse words for the Three.

The Three passion or, if you will, cardinal sin, is deceit. Not that all Threes are liars in the way that we typically think of. Being Heart-centered, Threes intuit the desires of their parents and will set aside their own heart’s desire if it’s not what their parents want, to make them happy. Threes convince themselves that the parents’ desire is what they wanted all along. It is done out of love, but it is the first lie they perpetrate.

More lies come as a result of the Three’s desire to be well thought of and liked. They can misrepresent their own capabilities, and they can be fantastic at telling people what they want to hear. They may actually mean it in the moment, but the sentiment lasts only until someone with a conflicting desire shows up. It’s this chameleon-like quality that often gives Threes the opposite result: they become known as fakes and phonies.

These are the slimy, used-car-salesman-type Threes. Not all Threes are like this! I have known some fantastic Threes. In fact, one of my best friends is a Three, and I adore her. There are a million variables that go into making each individual; no two are exactly alike. One of the variables is the level of emotional health and another is the level of self-awareness. At their best, Threes recognize that they are valuable simply because they exist. There is no requirement placed on their belovedness. They learn to just “be.” They are able to be authentic in each moment without reading the audience for cues on what’s expected of them or what will win them points. Threes can relax into their own beingness.

But most Threes—geeze, most humans in general—are not like this. Some are still entranced, following the Three script because they know no other way. And some are slimy, used-car-salesman types. Love them despite their sliminess. Love them because they exist, which is proof that they are worthy. If you know a Three, maybe you can introduce him or her to the Enneagram. You just might change a life.

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