Enneagram type Three: The Achiever

Driving force: Shame being repressed

Spotting Enneagram Type 3s

3s are distinctive for the image they present of their idea of success or of the opposite of something they once experienced as a failing. Whether or not life has treated them well, they have a genuine drive that others can struggle to match. The temperament might be upbeat, charismatic, or brusque, or, if you’re in the right position, you might see two faces. They may successfully give the impression of having created all-star lives for themselves, or you may catch an unhealthy 3 exaggerating or lying in an attempt to shore it up. This is the type that can seem “plastic” or even to have “sold its soul.” However, deeper feelings are never lost, and can be closer to the surface than they appear. 3s are prone to sudden questioning, often as a mid-life crisis but possible at any age, in which their goals begin to seem too superficial or not worth how much they have sacrificed. The 4 wing adds self-awareness, can be a tormented personality, and can push such a crisis quite early, after which their strong initial desires compete with self-questioning. The 2 wing is more defended but has more genuine goodwill.

Type 3s may make things worse for themselves by:
Burning themselves out on pursuing achievement or social media behaviors
Choosing status over deeper wants and needs
Holding themselves to unrealistic standards

Type 3s may make things worse for others by:
Bragging and showing off
Deception and insincerity
Constant, aggressive, or unwarranted competitiveness

Why Do They Do That?

3s don’t try to “be themselves” because they develop confidence through the process of identifying fully with an image. They composite an idea of what a successful, for example, entertainment personality, professional, or parent is like and then, rather than just imitating it aspirationally, they change their view of themselves to one that embodies it. Problems arise when others don’t mirror that perception of the 3. 3s believe that the world loves a winner. They may not realize when others instead see them as superficial, fake, or full of themselves, or may consider it better to be seen as competent regardless. They know that in some sense their facade is what people want to see — it’s what the world asked for. Though they can be ruthless to their competitors, their intention is to love the audience that loves them. In a way, even when they seem selfish, they may be doing it all for someone else — parents who pushed them to excel, organizations they serve, family they support, and all the people who reinforce with their behavior that praise accompanies success.

What It’s Like To Be A Type 3

Someone’s got to be the winner, and 3s don’t see why it shouldn’t be them. By habitually seeing themselves as a top-tier contender, they can consistently believe in the possibility of being the best and go for it. What other people think of them looms large in 3s’ minds and commands a lot of energy, which is then channeled into the pursuits that create their ideal self-image. Although from the outside social media may appear to be 3s’ natural habitat, it’s actually an environment they didn’t evolve for that takes its toll on them. Tearing themselves away from comparisons that make them feel bad is tough for 3s. They’re naturally oriented to what they see as the top, and the top of the whole internet is a whole lot higher than the local zenith that 3s of past generations started with. 3s are buoyant when things are going well for them and have a bouncing-back quality. As much as they fear failure, they readily reframe it as a temporary learning state and keep going. But when their ideal becomes out of reach, so does their sense of value and stability. Anxiety is increasingly a part of the picture.

You can make type 3s feel heard by:

Accept that it’s important to them to continue to show you the best and most competent side of themselves.
Accept that it makes sense for them to feel like discussion of their shortcomings is an attack.
Accept that attaining achievements and performing admirably in the things they choose makes sense for them to prioritize.
(You can still gently push on these things, but get into their position first and push from there.)

Acknowledge the extent and value of the effort they have put in, as they do so, as consistently as is appropriate for your relationship to the 3, without too much hyperbole or essentializing about being “the best.” Encourage them to show themselves as a person without pushing on their vulnerability or dismissing their efforts. For example, ask them about personal favorites rather than for more personal stories. 3s’ sensitivities are closer to the surface than they appear, and that in itself is likely a sore spot they don’t want attention on.