Enneagram 3 The Performer

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Posted with permission from Ocean Moonshine

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.

The Instinctual Stackings of Enneatype Three

Enneatype Three belongs to the feeling/image triad. The fear of being unlovable and the concern with validation are expressed differently with the different instinctual stackings.

With the self-pres instinct dominant, the need for validation is tied to material possessions. Feelings of safety and security are tied to the Three’s always having enough and to being seen by others as having enough.

When the social instinct is dominant, the concern with validation of image is accentuated, so there is generally a competitive nature to social Threes. Social Threes may go to great lengths to further the image of themselves as being successful. In the social Three, since image validation is accentuated, we find a subtype that can be very competitive when it comes to social status.

The sexual Three is competitive in the area of physical attraction. Their focus is on being seen as someone who is able to attract and secure a mate.


This subtype is the most reserved and introverted of the subtypes of enneatype Three, and possibly the hardest worker. They generally put a great deal of effort into their work, excelling at whatever they choose to do. They usually do what it takes to rise to the top. There is a strong desire to excel, although the areas chosen may differ widely from one Three to the next. These Threes are competitive in a quiet way. On the high side, they can be very generous with what they have learned and acquired. The driving motivation for their hard work comes down to their fear of not being good enough. Self-pres Threes seem to feel that if they get that promotion, have enough money or buy a big enough house they will then be lovable, admired by others and finally stop feeling like a failure. The false belief that they are what they accomplish is the driving force behind the behavior of self-pres/soc Threes. When healthier, this subtype comes to the realization that all of their hard work won’t change what they fundamentally feel inside. They learn to prioritize other aspects of their lives. They slow down and begin to accept themselves as they are. As the sexual instinct is last, less energy is available for intimate relationships. These Threes can therefore have a hard time with intimacy until they learn to slow down and prioritize their relationships.


This subtype also focuses on material success but is overall less concerned with status. These Threes often try to do it all, be the perfect mother or father for instance, while working many hours, and maintaining relationships with friends and family. This subtype is prone to double and triple booking the hours of the day. Their sense of style is quite apparent. You may see them having quite a talent for design and creativity especially, where it comes to their homes and appearance. They take their relationships seriously, but when unbalanced can become cold when their self-pres instinct is threatened in any way. With the social instinct being last, they can have a distrust of new people within their circle of influence. Their focus is not naturally in the social arena, so this can unnerve the self-pres/sexual Three.


The social instinct combines with the dominant Threeness and accentuates the desire for external validation. This Three derives validation from peer admiration due to high social rank. Of course, the actual sources of admiration (money, a large house, college degrees, flashy cars, etc.) will vary greatly depending on the individual life circumstances. However, the goal will always be on attaining an enviable status in the eyes of others, which necessitates a degree of conformity to the norms of the individual’s culture. For example, a social/self-pres Three born in American society will likely strive to epitomize the “American dream” by embodying all the qualities most Americans currently associate with perfection. These Threes will work tirelessly to find an attractive mate, attain a beautiful home, drive a high status car, and, of course, possess a physically appealing appearance. The bottom line is, unless the social Three perceives their status as being “exceptional” compared to their peers, they feel utterly valueless; there is no middle ground. This stems from the Three’s fear that they are inherently empty and must continuously prove their worth by receiving validation. The social Three thus focuses their energy on the arena of social status.

When backed by the self-preservational instinct, the need for material stability is intensified. For this stacking, status will invariably be associated with wealth. This often leads to a tendency to have lucrative, highly-respected careers in fields such as medicine, law, etc. Self-preservation in the secondary position can also lead to fears and preoccupations with health and safety when the social needs are believed to be unmet.

Having the sexual instinct in the last position diminishes this type’s need for intimacy and intensity. Being social types, however, this subtype of Three can mimic a sexual variant’s vivaciousness and out-reaching. However, they sometimes lack the resources for sustained intimacy, because the social and self-pres needs will trump the effort for closer bonds. As a result, unhealthy Threes of this stacking will have many colleagues in high places and successful, respectable acquaintances; but may be lacking deep, true friends.

When this subtype is healthy, they can become very generous and can direct their high energy and enthusiasm into the social sphere with extremely positive results.


This stacking will cause most of the social variant issues described for the social/self-pres to manifest. The primary differences will be in the arena of interpersonal relationships. Because this is still a social subtype, this Three will strive for the accumulation of wealth in cultures where there is social validation for wealth. The motivation for attainment of material wealth will be derived less out of need for stability and more purely from the desire for social admiration. As with all self-preservation last types, this Three will find it difficult to expend sufficient energy in practical matters, except where there is social pressure to do so. Therefore, just as with the social/self-pres Three; this Three will have an desirable home; but most likely it will fall into disarray when visitors are not expected. With the social/self-pres stacking, there is more internal motivation (stemming from the self- preservation instinct in the secondary position) to maintain order and stability for themselves. With this soc/sexual subtype the motivation to keep up appearances is more purely external.

This type can still be materially successful, but they will not be as directly focused on this goal as the social/self-pres Three. There will be many occasions where the lure of enjoyment (even excess) will take precedence over the need to stay on the “straight and narrow.” Focus on interpersonal relationships, as well as longing for intensity of experience is far more pronounced in this type of Three than in the social/self-pres. Having the social instinct backed by the sexual instinct creates the most playful energy combination, making this Three seem somewhat like a Seven. While social validation is still the primary focus, sexual validation as well as intimacy are also sought, and it is more likely for this subtype to choose “impractically” in the area of relationships (though they may keep their more “socially unacceptable” friends hidden from public scrutiny.)

When these Threes are healthy, their interpersonal skills become a useful tool for grounding themselves and for finding what they really want from life and for finding who they really are. They learn to maintain a more consistent identity, bringing all of who they really are to the forefront, which means recognizing the real self first.


This subtype can appear almost Four-like. They can be dramatic and appear introspective, especially with the Four wing. There is an on and off quality to these Threes. They can be very emotional and then become very business like. It’s not uncommon to find this subtype in the arts, especially as actors, singers or performers. The outward sexual energy coupled with the secondary self-pres energy can cause these Threes to focus on projecting an image of themselves to the world. They will seek validation in the area of their persona. This type especially wrestles with the authenticity of the persona/image they create. On the one hand, the image protects the real self, but at the same time they hate the image they project. This subtype is likely to be in a constant state of flux when it comes to the image they project and for this reason, they run the risk of burn-out and disillusionment. They are more prone to depression than the other subtypes.

When healthier, these Threes begin to trust their intimate relationships, and begin to disentangle the real self from the flux of partial identities they create. They learn that being vulnerable is necessary if they are to get what they really want, which is to reveal the real self and trust that they are lovable even with their flaws.


The focus of this subtype is less on material gain. The basic fear for this type is loss of intimate love. The sex/soc subtype, like the sex/self-pres, lacks trust in their intimates. Because they feel unworthy of true love, they don’t believe that anyone can love them solely for themselves. Therefore, they continuously strive to hold onto their intimates’ admiration, deluding themselves that if they are admired, they may become worthy of love. They do this through vigorous maintenance of their appearance, achievements, etc. Ageing is often especially difficult for this subtype.

This insecurity leads to an incessant need for reassurance from intimates, in the form of words of affirmation or time spent together (to the exclusion of others). This insatiable need often leads to intense jealousy, which only serves to distance others from them, thus erroneously affirming the Three’s basic fear that they are unworthy of true love. While they share a lot with the sex/self-pres Three, the secondary social instinct adds an element of competition when it comes to questions of desirability. This subtype likes to be seen as the alpha male or alpha female.

When the sex/soc is healthier, they realize this competition is self-defeating. They can take comfort in the thought that another person’s success and attention do not take away their worth in any way.

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