Moving Beyond Your Number: Enneagram Three

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It can be especially hard for threes to hear their number, partly because in the US we live in a three culture, so I offer part of the preface I gave to twos last week. Please remember the words that follow describe your actions, not your identity. This series of posts might make you feel some guilt, and I think it is acceptable because guilt is simply feeling bad about what we do. Sometimes this is appropriate. However, the description below is not a description of who you ultimately are.

Shame is feeling bad about who you are, which is unhelpful for spiritual growth. Shame contradicts the true self because it denies the core truth of your existence: You are God’s beloved child. Shame is counter-productive because we respond to this denigrated sense of self by bolstering our ego through the compulsions of the false self. In short, please don’t let this post shame you. God loves you dearly. You are his heart in the world.

Moving on to the difficult spiritual work of confronting our false self, I ask threes to consider a time when something didn’t go your way. If you can, think of a significant struggle when something unexpected happened that exposed your vulnerability. This might be a time that revealed something other than your carefully-manicured image. This could have been when you lost a job or failed a class, or when that special someone ended the relationship. Any of these events might catch a three unprepared.

Threes prefer to think of themselves as people who anticipate events and act on them rather than reacting to unforeseen incidents. This makes it difficult for threes, who take pride in being people of action rather than reaction. Threes build ego around their ability to be generally awesome at life. When it fails, they seldom pause to evaluate or ask what went wrong in retrospect, being more likely to reframe a difficult event and move on. They say to themselves, Well, that didn’t go as planned, but I’ll be so impressive tomorrow that they’ll forget about that slip up. Or they’ll say, That mistake may have made me endearing. Or, Now I have the perfect embarrassing story for the next icebreaker activity. Threes rob themselves of spiritual growth by reframing their experiences.

A three may at other times respond to their failed attempt to control a situation by literally lying on the couch and withdrawing at nine. When threes crash in this way, they go numb instead of experiencing their pain. They move on, rather than feeling, grieving, processing, or allowing their pain to teach them. To grow spiritually, you must learn from pain. Richard Rohr says that success has nothing to teach us after 30. We are a people transformed by failure.

Threes, here are some practices for spiritual transformation. First, your real feelings are valuable, and sharing them enhances your relationships. You consider them messy obstructions, but sharing is the best way to build relationships. You must work to see the value of feelings.When you share your true feelings with someone, you are taking a huge step toward being seen for who you are. When you are seen for who you are, you will find you are loved for who you are. You believe people love you only for your successes. This belief will continue to rob you of the love you desire until you let someone into your inner world.

Finally, others do not judge you as harshly as you judge yourself. Everyone is not watching you all of the time, and it’s not all about you. You must learn mutual intimacy. This means sharing who you authentically are and sharing your failure with someone who is going to give you honest feedback. There is real depth inside you. Let someone in so that you might be seen and loved for who you are.