Enneagram Type 3: The Achiever
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The Enneagram of Personality, or just the Enneagram, is a representation of personalities using a geometric figure, also called an enneagram (little e), to express nine interconnected personality types. While each type is unique it is related to other types through the circle connecting the type to each of it’s wings and the lines or arrows in the center connecting the type to the ones it imitates in times of stress or growth. The Enneagram is used in business management training to better understand interpersonal dynamics in the workplace.
Types Two, Three, and Four constitute the Heart Triad. This triad is primarily motivated by their feelings. Those in the Heart Triad are do not believe they are worthy of love so they take on personas to attain it. Because of this, they are more image-conscious than the other triads. Within the triad, threes are the most image-conscious though they struggle the most with understanding feelings. They prefer to ignore them, sometimes to the point that they don’t even acknowledge they exist both within themselves and others.
Three’s also make up part of the central triangle of the Enneagram’s geometric figure. The 3-6-9 connection is strong as it creates a closed loop from the other types. These three types can blend together and sometimes be difficult to classify.
“Being a Three living in [the United States of] America is like being an alcoholic living in a saloon.” ~ Ian Cron
At their best, Threes are authentic, self-accepting, and everything they appear to be to the world. They are modest, gentle, and benevolent. When healthy their heart comes out and they are secure enough in themselves to even enjoy self-deprecating humor. They will be able to see their own value and competency. Belief in themselves drives them to be their best with ambitious self improvement. They are highly motivated and able to motivate others.
At their worst, Threes are vindictive and deceptive. Their fear of failure and humiliation drives an obsessive desire to destroy anything that showcases or even admits their own faults. Jealous of other’s success they become willing to do anything to maintain their illusion of superiority. Unhealthy Threes can be opportunistic, even attempting to ruin other’s success in order to make themselves look good.
This information is to help you understand yourself or those around you. There is a line between a personality type and a stereotype. If you aren’t careful you can see all Threes as the success-crazed, ruthless, image-obsessed business person who claws their way to success on the backs of those they left behind. This is a cliche but it’s not without some truth. Our culture is obsessed with success and image, not just in the USA. This culture glorifies the average to unhealthy Three. Achievers who are moving toward a healthy balance are truly impressive because they are swimming against the cultural current. For those of us around Threes be it at work, friendships, or relationships, the best thing we can do is express to them they are accepted and loved just for who they are while still calling them out when they get too task driven and success obsessed.
The Enneagram Type Three is “The Achiever” or “The Performer”.
Threes are called “The Performer” because of the way they are able to read a crowd and put on what ever show is needed to motivate or inspire. They are also known as “The Achiever” because of their strong desire for success and to appear successful. Unfortunately for unhealthy Achievers their desire for success doesn’t stem from a desire for the benefits of success but from an avoidance of feeling empty and worthless. Without the attention and sense of accomplishment from success Threes feel they have no value. Ricky Bobby exemplified the Three when he said, “If you ain’t first your last.” To the unhealthy Three second place is just first loser.
Performers have an uncanny ability to quickly assess a social situation and morph themselves into the person or personality needed to win over the crowd. They are shape shifters who can shift their personality to match any environment. Threes are the method actors of life. If not careful, a Three can become a social chameleon. They will lose themselves in the roles they play around others to the point of forgetting who they really are. Though, every now and then a Three will pause long enough that they start to feel like a fraud.
Adaptation is not the Three’s only super power. They have an almost super-human ability to multitask. This is great for them when many things need to be done to achieve a goal. However, it can devalue the individual tasks and make it so they aren’t doing their best on each one.
Threes can make for great role models, they’re desire to improve themselves and show it off motivates those around them. However, they can see people as a means to an end. While they won’t show this, they’ll appear to be actively listening but if they don’t thing you are useful they may be planning their next deal or organizing their ToDo list in their head.
Three’s don’t experience emotions, they perform them.
“Threes do feelings more than have feelings” ~ Ian Cron
Threes struggle to even recognize their own feelings. Without knowing it, they will observe how others react and express emotions then mimic that behavior. Efficiency and task completion are most important to a Three. If necessary they can delay or hide their feelings to get the job done, or if it might tarnish their otherwise perfect “all together” appearance.
As kids, Performers learned that having their own feelings or identity was not acceptable. They felt that their real identity isn’t enough so they have to become the best version or prototype of what they important people in their lives (parents, teachers, boss, ect.) deem successful.
Their rush to succeed and achieve what they think will make them valuable causes Threes to alienate from themselves. They will lose themselves in their ambitions and forget what they actually want or feel.
In early childhood, the Achiever at some point picks up on the message that “You are what you do.” This causes them to focus on success as that is the basis of their identity. Success is a matter of context for the Three. It is based on the values of the people they are around.
Desires and Fears
The basic desire for the Three is to feel that they are valuable and worthwhile. They are motivated by a desire to be admired and distinguished from others. They need to be affirmed in their success and impress others.
A sad restlessness follows the Three. They are always looking for advancement, always striving for success or to be more. Threes don’t like down-time to the point of needing activities and things to accomplish even on vacation.
The root of fear in a Three is that of being worthless. They perceive themselves as empty and without value so they gain value by succeeding in areas those around them value.
Achievers have to face the fact that they have spent their lives being what they think others want them to be. They have no idea of who they really are and they fear there is no-one behind the performance.
Examples (Healthy, Average, Unhealthy)
Healthy Threes are self-accepting, having learned and accepted who they really are behind the performance. They have moved beyond being known by their accomplishments. They are aware of their own emotions and how they relate to others. Secure Performers know how to use their high energy level to not only improve at work but to improve themselves. When they find value within themselves they become kind and benevolent, focused on a common good.
The average Achiever is very concerned with performance and pushes themselves to be an overachiever. They are constantly comparing themselves to others trying to climb social and career ladders. They become obsessed with being the best at whatever they are doing. The mediocre Three’s sees love as something that needs to be earned. Terrified of failure, their self worth depends on their ability to overwork and push themselves harder than others. They are concerned that underachieving will cause others to think less of them.
The unhealthy Three is unable to admit mistakes or accept any form of failure. This gives them a superiority complex to the point of deceiving themselves into thinking they are better. At their worst the Achiever is vindictive and relentless in their pursuit of success and accomplishment. They will use anything in their power to hide shortcomings and failures including back stabbing and sabotaging others to appear successful or better.
Deceit is the Deadly Sin of the Performer.
While it may seem that they deceive others when taking on a persona to impress a crowd, the Three’s real deception is to themselves. Performers lost touch with who they really are and either believe their own persona and lies or forget what they are really like and are confused when trying to be themselves.
Threes believe they have to constantly cultivate an image of success in order to win the approval of others and be worthy of love. If not careful this can go so far that the Three will not be able to discern between the image they create and the person creating it.
Achievers have trouble doing any sort of transformational work or growth because they aren’t able to see themselves for who they are and have a starting point.
Workaholism is a risk for the Three. They may over-stress their body, work to exhaustion, or go on intense starvation diets to meet a perceived image. They are at risk for over indulging in coffee or energy drinks. Stimulants such as cocaine, amphetamines, or even steroids are their drug of choice.
Wings and Things (Arrows)
Threes with a Two Wing (3w2) are known as “The Charmer”.
Two being the helper, the Charmer is more charming and intimate than the other Threes. They are successful when they help other’s succeed. They have a strong desire to be recognized for their ability to help others. Excelling in sales, charmers also make great entertainers, politicians, and pastors. They want to be stars.
The 3w2 is more loving and generous than the other Threes. Their true selves contain the traits they use to appear loving and kind. Unfortunately if they do not feel appreciated for their effort to help others they can become angry, resentful, and even hostile.
Threes with a Four Wing (3w4) are known as “The Professional”.
Threes with a Four wing feel an internal contradictions because the Three will do anything to appear successful whereas the Four is highly concerned with authenticity. The Professional faces a massive amount of inner confusion since their Three side is ever changing to accommodate the landscape whereas the Four is internally calling the Three a fraud.
The 3w4 is doesn’t desire to be the star like the 3w2, however they can face more of superiority complex in that they are more pretentious than the other Threes. The Professional works more intently to create the perfect image for a situation. They are artistic and more emotionally intense than the other Threes.
Direction of Integration or Growth for Threes points to Six.
When moving from unhealthy vanity and self-deception toward commitment and cooperation, Threes take on the positive aspects of the Six or The Loyalist. Threes moving toward Six find they are less competitive and defensive. They don’t need to be in control or the center of attention, instead focusing on what is best for the group.
Healthy Performers find they are in touch with their own feelings and can understand the feelings of others. They desire to connect to something that is bigger than them. Achievers taking on the traits of the healthy Six have more time and energy to devote to family and friends. They are able to accept being loved for who they are instead of what they do.
Direction of Disintegration or Stress for Threes points to Nine.
Under stress the Three takes on the unhealthy aspects of the Nine or Peacemaker. They become disengaged and apathetic. Achievers under stress can lose themselves in unproductive busywork. They may even stop working all together and just veg-out binge watching TV.
The ever-present optimism and confidence dissipate to be replaced with self-doubt. Without motivation, the stressed out Performer doesn’t care about appearance to the point to no longer going to the gym or even attempting to eat healthy.
Interacting With Others
Interactions with Threes.
When interacting with a Three, remember they are motivated by admiration. Not just a kind word like the Two, but specifically acknowledging their accomplishments. The Achiever is very task oriented, even when interacting with other people. They will have a goal for conversations and may get frustrated with irrelevant small talk.
The Performer also likes to be the center of attention in social situations. Even if it isn’t their celebration, they will become the life of the party. If not careful, when Threes interact with each other they may start to vie for attention not wanting to give the other person a chance to talk.
Working with Threes.
Threes are the ultimate “go getter” as they are in their element at work. They need achievement and recognition. While Threes crave success, the success they crave is defined by the people they are around. Not all Threes are CEOs or rock stars.
When healthy, Threes are visionary leaders who’s drive and determination to build something inspires the people working for and with them. However, less healthy Achievers will do whatever it takes to appear successful, including tearing down their own team.
Setting a goal, mastering it, then setting another and doing the same is the ultimate life for an Achiever. They can become so goal oriented that they set aside their own feeling to focus on the task.
Friendships with Threes.
Performers prefer friendships that are undemanding. Their focus is on getting things done so they avoid high-maintenance friendships with people who are too demanding of their time and energy. Because Threes naturally adapt to the crowd they find they have lots of acquaintances, people who like being around them but aren’t close friends.
Of those they consider friends, the Performer will keep their groups separate. They change who they are, even at the appearance level to adapt to each group. When hurt a Three’s defense strategy is identification. They will totally engross themselves in their work or goal forgoing any type of interpersonal interaction.
Relationships with Three.
Threes have the hardest time in relationships because they are the least in touch with their own emotions. This is one area they need the most work but barely see it. Performers put their effort into presenting the image of the perfect family. For unhealthy Threes the image of perfection can become more important than the actual relationship.
Threes’ ability to multitask can leave the people in their lives feeling less important than their ambitions. For a Three, doing the taxes and planning out tomorrow’s day is perfectly acceptable while their partner is having a serious conversation. To the partner though, it can seem they are not worth the Three’s full attention.
When success is defined as a happy relationship they can take on the role of the devoted partner to achieve that success. The same with parenting, they will become the best parent when that is their definition of success.
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