Type Three: The Performer

successful personIf you are a Three, you are an energetic, adaptable and achievement-oriented personality with a strong belief that love and recognition are only for winners. You habitually focus your attention on tasks, roles and image. You get a lot of approval for what you do and you spend time (consciously or unconsciously) presenting a particular persona which can change depending on the environment you are in and the people with whom you’re spending time.

This is all done in service of connecting to others. You believe the persona you are projecting is who you really are which is ultimately self-deception of your own authentic self with feelings that can be messy. You tend to project any feelings of inadequacy onto others. These include idleness (wishing people would get moving and be productive), being a nobody, a failure, a rookie amateur, inadequate and you push these feelings about yourself out of your awareness. Your challenges include being overly competitive, overworked and impatient. Ultimately you discover all this DOING and success orientation separates you from others who desire an authentic relationship with you.

Each type has its own idealization, avoidance and defense mechanism which holds the idealization “in place”.

For Type Three:

Idealized Self-Image: “I am successful/I am a winner”.

Avoidance: Failure

Defense Mechanism: Identification: Identification is the unconscious modeling of one’s self upon another person. (What does a winner look like? How does a winner act? How do winners talk and what do they talk about?)

Threes use identification as a gatekeeper which helps avoid feelings of failure and maintain a self-image of being successful.

What to expect if you are in a relationship with a Three:

  • Threes expect recognition for a winning image and style. Reinforce regard for the person, separate from what they do.
  • Understand that Threes confuse ideas about emotion with authentic emotions.
  • Hold fast and be fully present when their genuine feelings emerge. They get tenuous and confused.
  • Expect intolerance and speed in the face of darker emotions and also expect them to tune out negative feedback particularly if they don’t agree with it. It’s helpful to reframe it as a growing experience.
  • Expect them to speed up during difficulty. Slowing down feels like failure.
  • Remember, while Threes avoid their feelings, they still are heart types and are looking for connection. Time spent doing things together,women walking laughing, driving or high energy activities are a way to connect .
  • Share how you feel when they are moving so fast (perhaps doing something productive as you try to have a conversation). Share if you feel unimportant or worthy of some down time.
  • Don’t be surprised when you discover things about them which they never shared. They may unconsciously withhold news about themselves or people important to them particularly if it holds a possibility of failure or doesn’t portray a good image.

Learning to recognize the patterns of type, accepting them with compassion and learning to relax them brings us to the present moment where life can be experienced more fully. Recognizing these patterns in others helps us understand and relate to them.


Practices for growth for Threes:
walk in the woods

  • Moderate your pace. Notice what happens as you slow down
  • Welcome feelings as normal even if they aren’t shiny and fast.
  • Understand that failure is a normal part of being human and not a disaster
  • Notice how you place disproportionate attention on assumed “winners.” Remind yourself that most people are more than their medals or the things they reveal to the public.
  • Realize that real love is for you as a human being rather than for what you accomplish
  • Many Threes tell me they can’t meditate. So, if you are working on becoming more mindful, begin by just slowing  down and taking a slow walk and looking around to appreciate what surrounds you.
  • Learn to listen without an agenda. Really slow and be curious about what is underneath what others may be saying. Be mindful of interrupting or finishing another’s sentences.
  • Practice self-compassion and self-forgiveness when you feel you have failed.
  • Leslie’s Type Three meditations on CD Baby or on iTunes

Feeling grateful for something helps keep our focus and energy on it. This is helpful when working with the Enneagram because gratitude automatically shifts focus away from those things which habitually grab attention to perhaps more productive or nourishing things.  Intentionally cultivating a gratitude practice is an excellent way to broaden our focus of attention.

For the Three, gratitude for a sunny day, a beautiful moon, their child’s smile…..anything that does not involve their effort to achieve.

Sources: Helen Palmer; Bergamo Intentional Learning Community, Type Three panelists; Enneagram Studies in the Narrative Tradition

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