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Enneagram Type Three

Updated on December 8, 2010

The world of the Three

You probably know it well; Threes are the marketers, the salesman, the small business owners, the actors and sports idols and public speakers and politicians in our midst. For Threes, there was the Word: and the Word was, WINNING. Threes are merciless competitors who will compete with others or with themselves. Nobody is driven like a Three who has set his sights on a target and will stop at nothing to get there.

I will tell you about a man I worked for who is the most extreme Three I have ever heard of. He has taught himself to function on four hours of sleep every other day. He lives on chocolate coffee and Met-Rx© bars (chocolate chip). His personal trainer, on call 24 hours a day, is often over at his house at 3AM. He is there not to motivate and inspire him; he is there to prevent him from damaging himself by pushing himself so hard he rips the muscle/tendon connection. Before the stock market tanked, he was worth over 5 billion dollars. He’s a pretty special case, I’m sure you’ll agree.

What motivates them

Threes have a special advantage in business. Where Twos have an excess of emotion, Threes seem to lack the emotional development we associate with others. It’s not that they don’t have emotions, it’s that they can disconnect from them in a way that other types cannot. It’s a tremendous advantage when it is under the Three’s control. When it is not, they can become menaces to society.

Threes may have problems understanding what motivates other people, but because of their own detachment, they can learn how to act to their best advantage, how to fit in, all in the service of material success.

One school of thought is that Threes have a strong positive link to their Mothers and develop their aggressive, positive outlook from succeeding in pleasing them. Along with Threes, Sevens and Eights are also thought to have strong links to Mother - in the case of the Seven, a strong negative reaction, and for Eights, a strong ambivalent relationship. Is it a coincidence that these are the three aggressive types? In the large group of African American children raised by a Mother with no Father on hand, there are many types Three, Seven, and Eight, which may help account for the high level of violence in their communities.

What professions appeal to them

Threes are naturals as performers and in any of the performing arts, where the competition is heavy, the top echelons are almost exclusively Threes. Threes may turn their attention to politics as well; Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter are both Threes. Again, at the top of the game, you find Threes aplenty. While a Michael Jordan may have the physical gifts to dominate his sport, he is a dedicated and feral competitor fighting both physically and psychologically with his opponents. He has been known to hang around after the game and shoot for $1000 a basket with his teammates. He wins.

Talents and Traps

We’ve looked at the talent side of the Three almost exclusively so far, so it’s time to look at the trap side. Because of their emotional detachment, Threes may never develop much empathy with others. They may use them in manipulative, unethical ways or lie to gain advantages. They may begin to relish using others and cross the line into true criminal behavior.

The most extreme cases lacking empathy are said to be sociopaths. Think: Hannibal Lecter. They have an inner world in which all individuals are exclusively out for their own survival at the expense of everybody else, and any evidence to the contrary is interpreted as just another inept trick of the opposition. Such individuals are invariably the 3/2 subtype, in which the reptilian predation of the unhealthy Three is complimented by the delusional obsessiveness and manipulativeness of the unhealthy Two.

Healthy 3/2s are successes who make you like them because they have become genuine and are really likable. Arnold Schwarzenegger didn’t have the good looks of Christopher Reeve but he became far more successful because he was the real deal. He was a skinny little gap-toothed kid from sleepy Graz who became the top box-office action hero in the movies.

The other subtype, 3/4, is markedly different. 3/2s may play tough guys in the movies, but in life they look as polished as they can. Psychopaths like Ted Bundy do not have a dangerous, threatening presence; he was quite handsome and professional-looking. The 3/4s, influenced by Type 4’s feelings of inadequacy and victimization, act out their feelings much more openly and may have a rougher, even thuglike, presentation.

My friend Nick Turner conceives of a “clan” as a subgroup within a subtype, where many of the members may look and act alike. One such 3/4 “clan” is the group that includes Michael Landon, Henry Winkler, Sylvester Stallone, Tommy Lee Jones, and Ken Wahl.

The 3/4 seeks success too, but you get a feeling that they are at their best when swimming against the current. There is an element of the rebel, the risk-taker, the outlaw in them. While 3/2 performers have the glitz and polish, 3/4 performers have a depth and appreciation of human nature that the other subtype lacks. This gives them an advantage in the arts, and it makes a difference. I watched a videotape of interviews with more than a dozen of the top opera stars in the world, and except for one Seven, all the rest were 3/4s.

What they avoid

Threes defend their public self-image, so anything that tarnishes this is avoided. Most Threes have the sense to pick their fights, avoiding profitless battles, where others rush in.

What they seek out

Glory, triumph, success. Need I say more? In one company where I worked, I sat next to the marketing group, where one of the salesmen had a little black box with a button. When one of them closed a sale, he would push it, and the box produced a tempest of applause, mixed with cheers and whistles.

How they deal with fear and greed

Although Threes may seem fearless on the outside, they often have suppressed anxiety or worry, especially the 3/4 subtype. They may be unaware of this or only partially in tune with their fears. Unhealthy Threes can be insatiably greedy for trophies, the markers that let them keep track of their triumphs. More than once I have seen the expression “trophy wife” used by Type 3 men to describe their ideal mate. 3/2s may be so driven, like my utterly eccentric boss, that they take on an ascetic lifestyle and shove eating, drinking, sleep, human relationships, health, and other distractions aside. 3/4s often show more self-indulgence.

How they handle money and resources

Threes may be misers or relatively free spenders. Wherever they fall in the spectrum, they recognize the value of money, both as a means to other ends and as a marker indicating how substantial their victories have been.

How you can spot them

The 3/2 subtype goes out of its way to look polished, successful, confident, rich, and so on. The 3/4 subtype can present as a semi-polished predator in a well-fitted suit with a dangerous look, or a motorcycle-jacket wearing hood.

The best portrait of a 3/4 I’ve ever seen is in the harrowing The Executioner’s Song, where Tommy Lee Jones pulls an amazing amount of depth out of the dark side of human nature. Roseanna Arquette plays his girlfriend as a 4/3 and also does well. You often find such parings, where two people with different ratios of influence between two types get together.

Some famous examples of the type:

Bill Clinton, Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison, Ann Margaret, Cindy Crawford, Kiri The Kanaawa, Dick Clark, Tony Robbins, John Edward, Barry Bonds, Michael Jordan, Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Lou Reed, Jack Nicholson, Cate Blanchette, Winona Ryder, Gwyneth Paltrow.

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