Personlity type 3

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Personalty Type THREE: The Achiever

The Success-Oriented, Efficient Type:
Adaptive, Excelling, Driven, and Image- Conscious

Generally, Threes are effective, competent, adaptable, goal-oriented, ambitious, organized, diplomatic, charming, into performance, and image-conscious.

Threes get into conflicts by being expedient, excessively driven, competitive, self-promoting, "appropriate" instead of sincere, boastful, and grandiose.

At their best, Threes are inner-directed, authentic, modest, admirable, well-adjusted, gracious, interested in others, and self-accepting.

Recognizing Threes
Type Three exemplifies our desire to be our best self, to develop all of our potentials, and to value ourselves and others. Threes are the "stars" of the personality types—people of tremendous drive, ambition, and belief in themselves. Threes want to excel, to be the best at whatever they do, and they are willing to put in the effort it takes to do so. Threes can be found at the gym, taking classes at night, putting in extra hours at work, learning how to coordinate their best colors when they dress—basically doing what it takes to shine. While Threes are energetic and ambitious, they are also diplomatic—they want to be liked and esteemed by others. They strive to be presentable and appropriate, not wanting to come across in ways that would be disapproved of. They know how to put their best foot forward and present themselves in a way that highlights their energy and confidence.

Threes are, above all, goal-oriented. They get a particular objective in their sights and then actively engage in activities that will bring them closer to whatever they seek. They pursue their dreams tirelessly, and cannot understand why others are not similarly motivated. Thus, Threes also enjoy sharing self-development tips, explaining how to make money, lose weight, develop career skills, and so forth. They are hard workers, diligent and effective—and they like helping others to be that way, too.

To achieve their goals, Threes learn to be highly adaptable. They are able to change course when necessary and may even do so several times, including a change of career, if that is what it takes. They may try different approaches to problems until they find a formula that seems the most effective. Similarly, Threes quickly adapt to different social settings, always wanting to be appropriate and to exemplify the values of whatever group they are in. While their adaptability can be an enormous asset, it can also be overdone, leaving Threes unsure of who they are or what their own deepest values are.

In all of their dealings, Threes value efficiency and effectiveness, and they are often prized by businesses for these values. They are extremely goal-driven, and once they are given a task to perform, will do their best to make sure that it is done as quickly and efficiently as possible. The problem is that Threes can be efficient to a fault—becoming accomplishment machines, brushing their real feelings and needs aside to "get the job done." This way of living can leave Threes feeling empty and emotionally isolated, despite the successes they may be having.

Problem arise because Threes learned in childhood that they are only valuable for their accomplishments and self-presentation. They believe that they will only be loved if they become extraordinary in some field of endeavor. Thus, the pressure to be outstanding in whatever they do is intense and draining. Even if they are not working at a career and are primarily keeping a home, they will strive to have the most outstanding home in their neighborhood and to be "Super-Mom" or "Super-Dad." Threes find it difficult to stop or rest when they are caught up in their drive for success. They believe that to do so is to risk failure—and most Threes would rather die than fail and risk being humiliated. Their drive for success can also create conflicts with their personal or family life. Similarly, intimacy issues are not uncommon.

When Threes push themselves too hard and are unable to deliver everything that they would like to, they may resort to presenting successful images to others rather than letting people know their actual state or emotional condition. They attempt to convince others and themselves that they have no problems and that they are doing great, even though they may feel depressed or even burnt out. They believe that they can "fake it until they make it," but if Threes do not slow down to deal with their emotional problems, sooner or later, a crash is inevitable.

In brief, Threes want to feel valuable and worthwhile, to excel, to be affirmed, to be effective and efficient, to perform well, to be "the best," to have attention, to be admired, and to impress others. Threes do not want anything that looks like failure, to sit around "doing nothing," to be overshadowed by others, to look unprepared or awkward, to be average, to ask others for help or support, or to be caught in distortions of the truth.

Their Hidden Side
Beneath the surface, Threes have deep anxieties about their personal value. They feel that unless they maintain a certain position or image in life, they will be devalued, rejected, and tossed aside as worthless. Thus, they feel a constant inner pressure to "have it together," to not need much intimacy or personal support, and, above all, to constantly perform at maximum efficiency. Unless you knew a Three very well, you would never suspect the degree of emotional vulnerability and insecurity that they conceal beneath their smooth, efficient surface. The fact is that despite Threes' apparent social ease, there is great loneliness and a belief that they must not need help or support. As much as possible, Threes try to avoid their feelings of shame and isolation, but a large part of their growth entails allowing these feelings to arise and become integrated into their functioning self.

Relationship Issues
Threes often report that they feel confident in their ability to attract other people. They are usually charming and magnetic, and they know how to behave appropriately. Also, many Threes spend significant time and resources cultivating their personal presentation. They work at being in good physical condition and are often well-groomed. They want their partner to be proud of them and their accomplishments, so they often are drawn to people who they believe will appreciate them. The problem is that Threes fear that many parts of themselves may be less than outstanding or even unacceptable. Fears of potential rejection may prevent them from letting people get close to them. Significant relationship issues include the following:

  • Holding the partner to strict standards that the partner does not wholeheartedly share.
  • Presenting a favorable image that they later fear they will not be able to live up to.
  • Fearing that people only want them for their looks or abilities.
  • Not speaking up when they need help or support, then resenting the partner for not supporting them.
  • Workaholism as a way of avoiding intimacy.
  • Pre-emptively leaving relationships out of fear of rejection, or having serial relationships ("conquests") as a way of bolstering their self-image.
  • Haranguing the partner for not reflecting well on them, for behaving in ways that do not support the Three's self-image.

To learn more about the compatibility issues of Type Three and their interactions with other types, click below on the Enneagram type of the other person in the relationship. This will open in a new window.

Type 3 The Achiever and type:
1     2     3     4     5     6     7     8     9

The Passion: Deceit (Vanity)
Deceit here is primarily a kind of self-deception. Threes convince themselves that only their image and their performance are valuable. They subconsciously feel that their own natural inner qualities are inadequate or unacceptable, so they strive to become the sort of person that they believe others would look up to. They have an idea of the qualities, talents, and appearance that they need to have in order to be acceptable, and they work tirelessly to embody those qualities.

Thus, Threes convince themselves that they must always be outstanding, superb, and exceptional—the best at whatever they are focusing on. To be any less than this is to fail, to be worthless. This is like the child who gets straight A's but is then tormented by getting an A-minus or a B-plus, or the athlete who wins several gold medals but then feels like a failure for getting a silver or bronze. This kind of self-rejection and self-deception causes Threes a great deal of suffering. Once Threes lose themselves in these self-deceptions, truth becomes whatever works to keep their self-image going, and they are able to deceive others, often without any apparent remorse.

At Their Best
Healthy Threes are excellent communicators, motivators, and promoters, and they know how to present something in a way that's acceptable and attractive. In the workplace, they can be very effective at building morale and company spirit. They value excellence and accomplishment and truly enjoy helping others discover how to shine. Even when they are not "coaching" others, they often inspire people to become like them in some way.

Healthy Threes are able to do this because they believe in themselves and invest time and energy in developing their native talents. They value themselves, their lives, and the people they love, seeing life as an opportunity to offer what talents they have been given to the world. They are also "adaptable" in the best sense of the word. If they see that they are doing something incorrectly or that their methods are not reaping positive results, they are willing to learn another way and to change. Further, healthy Threes are not in a contest with anyone. They deeply enjoy working with others toward shared goals and do not need to outshine their peers.

Thus, healthy Threes may or may not have significant accomplishments, but others are impressed by their realness and their heartfelt sincerity. They model an honesty, simplicity, and authenticity that inspires people. They do not try to impress others or inflate their importance; rather, they see their limitations and appreciate their talents without taking themselves too seriously. At their best, they are also tender, touchingly genuine, and affectionate—they truly become "heroes" and "role models" who inspire others by their outstanding achievements, humility, and warmth.

Personality Dynamics & Variations

An explanation of the Directions of Integration (Security) and Disintegration (Stress) can be found here, which opens in a new window.

Under Stress (Three Goes to Average Nine)
When Threes drive themselves too hard, their stress can go beyond what they can normally cope with. When this occurs, they tend to go on "autopilot," attempting to just get through things without being bothered, in the manner of average Nines. Threes going to Nine become more passive and fall into routines. They lose their focus and involve themselves with busywork to at least give the appearance that they are getting things done. If stress continues, however, they may begin to become shut down, listless, and depressed, losing interest in their projects and withdrawing from people. They feel little energy or enthusiasm and simply want people to leave them alone and give them space. They can become stubborn and resistant to offers of help at these times, not wanting to hear that they have a problem.

Security (Three Goes to Average Six)
With most people, Threes make every effort to be diplomatic and well-mannered. They do not want to say things that would be off-putting to people if they can avoid it. But when Threes feel that their relationships are secure, they can be more open about expressing their anxieties and frustrations. They may keep a "positive frame of mind" all day at work, only to come home and download their dissatisfaction onto their spouse or partner. ("I think my boss is going to go nuts on me when he finds out we still haven't got this report nailed down.") Feelings of self-doubt, dread, suspicion, and anger at others' incompetence can all surface in contrast to the Three's usual "can do" attitude.

Integration (Three Goes to Healthy Six)
As Threes let go of their fears of failure and worthlessness, they start to feel less competitive with others. They relax and find that they feel most valuable while working cooperatively with others toward shared goals and aspirations, like healthy Sixes. They learn to freely offer support and guidance to the people in their lives, but more importantly, they also learn to ask for support when they need it. Threes ordinarily put themselves under such pressure to accomplish their goals with little or no help that it comes as both a surprise and a relief to them that others are happy to help them in their endeavors. In short, Threes learn to trust others and to build lasting bonds with people. They become more selfless and courageous, embodying real qualities of leadership and self-sacrifice. By letting go of their need to outshine others, Threes become truly extraordinary human beings.

The Instincts In Brief
An explanation of the three Instincts can be found here, which opens in a new window.

Self-Preservation Threes: The Workaholic (Ichazo's "Security")
Self-Preservation Threes feel their value is dependent on their ability to take care of basic security needs. They strive to be practical and to make sure that they and their family have more-than-adequate resources. For many Threes this means some kind of financial success. Thus, Self Pres Threes work constantly to ensure they are building up a solid foundation. The problem is that they often find themselves unable to stop working. Because they believe their personal value is at stake, they cannot easily slow down or lighten their workload. To even take a weekend off could lead to financial failure—or so they believe. This lifestyle eventually takes its toll on their health and relationships. They may fit regular work-outs at the gym into their busy schedules in order to stay healthy but frequently neglect to rest and take quiet time. Others can find it difficult to make intimate contact with Self-Pres Threes once they are caught up in their drive for security and success.

Of the three instinctual variants of this type, the Self-Pres Three has the most difficulty contacting feelings. They tend to express affection through accomplishing things for their partner and by meeting practical expectations. But they may begin to see all of their relationships in terms of functional roles, transactions, task lists, and how well they and the people in their lives are fulfilling these roles. While this can be efficient up to a point, it often ends up creating distance between Self-Pres Threes and the people they care about.

Sexual Threes: The Catch (Ichazo's "Virility/Femininity")
Sexual Threes feel that their value comes from their desirability, so they do whatever they can to enhance their attractiveness to others. Many movie stars, models, and popular singers are Sexual Threes. They know how to project attractive qualities but also how to be a blank screen that others can project their desires onto. They often possess great charm and magnetism, yet they fear being dismissed by others for lacking some essential ingredient. As Sexual types, they want to have a strong intimate connection with someone, but because of the Three's image issues and underlying feelings of shame, they are often insecure about letting people know them too well. Thus, many Sexual Threes are able to gain attention and interest from others, but they fear that once they get someone's attention, they will be unable to keep it.

Sexual Threes want to be appreciated for their depth and intelligence too, but they fear that others are only interested in them for their attractiveness. Some Sexual Threes may go through periods of rebellion, downplaying their physical attributes for a while to see if people still like them and to find out more about themselves. Ultimately, this type grows by recognizing their own value directly—that is, without believing that it only exists reflected in the admiring eyes of others.

Social Threes: The Status Seeker (Ichazo's "Prestige")
Social Threes seek value by gaining social recognition—by having tangible signs of progress and success. They want to be recognized for their hard work and achievement (Employee of the Month, diplomas, awards) and to have ways of measuring their rise up the ranks. Social Threes are very adaptable, concerned with fitting into whatever culture they find themselves in, be it corporate or national. If they move to another country, they are able to adapt to the norms of that country more easily than most other types. If they join a spiritual community or ashram, they quickly become well adjusted to the social expectations of that community. The Social Threes are the most concerned with being appropriate and with avoiding any behaviors that would cause offense. At the same time, they are highly ambitious and so must balance their drive to excel and to surpass others with their desire to have others like and accept them.

Thus, of the three instinctual variants of this type, Social Threes are at the greatest risk of losing track of their core values and goals. They may adapt so successfully that they find themselves adrift without tangible goals or a clear path for achieving them. In this regard, they can resemble Sevens, moving from one promising project to another as they adapt to different opportunities that present themselves. Social Threes can also get into trouble by attempting to rise faster than they are able or by taking on tasks that they are not yet ready or qualified to perform. The desire to please and to impress can become a powerful magnet that can derail the Social Three from pursuing real, achievable goals.

The Levels of Development
An explanation of the nine Levels of Development can be found here, which opens in a new window.

Below is the complete Levels of Development diagram for Type Three. The levels range from most healthy, Level 1, to least healthy, Level 9. To understand these charts, start with the Basic Fear, at the top right of the chart. This fear gives rise to the Basic Desire, which is the Desire at the second level of health, the Level of Psychological Capacity.

The Desire of each level gives rise to the internal Attitudes (the A-Terms) of each level, which create the external Behaviors (the B-Terms). Over time, due to internal conflicts, these behaviors and attitudes create another layer of Fear at that level.

Each new Fear generates yet another desire at the next lower level, which gives rise to a new set of attitudes and behaviors, creating a spiral structure in which a person becomes increasingly enmeshed in self-destructive reactions and increasingly terrifying fears. The process of growth is to become aware of each of the cluster of attitudes and behaviors as they occur, bringing conscious awareness into the moment. As we do this, the underlying fears and desires also begin to emerge into consciousness, and the person begins to shift up the levels.

For more about this process see Wisdom of the Enneagram, and Personality Types.


Parental Orientation: Attachment with the Nurturing-figure

    Self-Actualization:   Basic Fear:
1. Level of Liberation
Lets go of their identification with a particular self-image, that their value is dependent on their accomplishments and the positive regard of others  

Of being worthless

        Basic Desire:    Secondary Fears:

2. Level of Psychological Capacity

"unlimited potential"

To feel valuable and worthwhile   That they will be rejected (of disappointing others by being less than outstanding)
        Secondary Desires:    
3. Level of Social Value

role models


To develop themselves (to be "all that they can be")   Of falling behind, of being over-shadowed by others
        Social Role: The Best
4. Level of Imbalance
constant doing
being "on"
To distinguish themselves from others; to be noticed, valued by others   Of losing the positive regard of others

5. Level of Interpersonal Control

meet expectations

intimacy problems
"reading" others

To create a favorable impression of themselves (to impress)  

That others will see through them — they will be humiliated, lose face

6. Level of Overcompensation
"showing off"
openly competitive
giving attitude
mocking/ sneering

secretly needy
To convince themselves and others of the reality of their image   That they are failing, that their claims are empty, fraudulent
7. Level of Violation
"cutting corners"
inner emptiness
feel insignificant
"nothing inside"
To preserve the illusion that they are still superior, still okay   Of being caught, of losing any reason for others to think well of them (that there is nothing about thempeople will admire)
8. Level of Delusion & Compulsion
pathological lying
feel cornered
detached from
To do whatever is necessary to support their false claims (without being found out)  

That their falseness and emptiness will be exposed — they will be ruined

9. Level of Pathological Destructiveness
hiding pathology
externally blank
To destroy whoever or whatever threatens them or reminds them of what they lack   Basic Fear comes true: they are rejected as worthless

Personal Growth Recommendations
for Enneagram Type Threes

Threes grow by recognizing that they do not need to separate their work and functioning from their feelings. Threes believe they will be less effective and competent if they allow their feelings to enter the picture. Thus, they wait until they are done with their tasks before they pay any attention to their emotions. Nonetheless, their emotions are always operating, even if unconsciously. And if Threes neglect them too long, those emotions start to make functioning much more difficult. Thus, growth for Threes entails pausing while working and actively checking in with their feelings. By tuning in to their heart, and becoming more conscious of their inner life, Threes derive much greater happiness and satisfaction from their work and from their relationships.

  • For our real development, it is essential to be truthful. Be honest with yourself and others about your genuine feelings and needs. Likewise, resist the temptation to impress others or inflate your importance. You will impress people more deeply by being authentic than by bragging about your successes or exaggerating your accomplishments.

  • Develop charity and cooperation in your relationships. You can do this by taking time to pause in busy day to really connect with someone you care about. Nothing spectacular is required—simply a few moments of quiet appreciation. When you do so, you will become a more loving person, a more faithful friend—and a much more desirable individual. You will feel better about yourself.

  • Take breaks. You can drive yourself and others to exhaustion with your relentless pursuit of your goals. Ambition and self-development are good qualities, but temper them with rest periods in which you reconnect more deeply with yourself. Sometimes taking three to five deep breaths is enough to recharge your battery and improve your outlook.

  • Develop your social awareness. Many Threes have grown tremendously by getting involved in projects that had nothing to do with their own personal advancement. Working cooperatively with others toward goals that transcend personal interest is a powerful way of finding your true value and identity.

  • In their desire to be accepted by others, some average Threes adapt so much to the expectations of others that they lose touch with what they are really feeling about the situation. Develop yourself by resisting doing what is acceptable just to be accepted. It is imperative that you invest time in discovering your own core values.