Fine Distinctions – Threes – Tom Condon

Fine Distinctions – Threes – Tom Condon


Self Preservation Threes

• Self Preservation Threes are unusually capable, organized and efficient.
• Especially good at discovering the best strategy for getting a job done, getting from point A to point B as quickly and effectively as possible.
• Think of Olympic athletes who are utterly focused on goals and make themselves into achievement machines.
• This is subtype and personality style of uber athletes like Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong.
• Often have a prodigious work ethic.
• Don’t have to have a massive amount of money, just enough according to how they have defined security.

• Taking material care of their immediate family is high on their list of priorities and they may do a better job at this than they realize.
• Tend to compete with themselves, try to break their own record rather than trying to out do their next door neighbor.
• Preoccupied with acquiring material security as a way to calm their anxieties about survival.
• May have a poverty model; could have grown up poor and insecure.
• A Three with this subtype could amass millions and still, say, harbor a morbid fear of dying broke.
• This subtype has a stronger connection to Six, expressed in worries about security and a compensatory drive to overcome the feeling that their success is shaky.
• Some see the world as a harsh, dog-eat-dog kind of place.
• Can’t stop working, addicted to activity, continuously create and meet challenges.
• Use drugs and alcohol to take edge off their fears; prone to mid-life health crises.

Intimate Threes

• Healthy Intimate Threes are especially deft at wearing masks, choosing the roles they play either for the benefit of others or in the service of getting things done.
• Know the difference between who they really are and who they seem to be.

• Unusually tuned to this difference in others and have a sensitive sympathy for the human frailties that we try to hide behind roles and posturing.
• Charming, have a sense of humor about themselves and make exceptionally good mentors.

• Especially prone to persona – playing a role of one’s self.
• Mask themselves with an image of a sexually appealing man or woman. • Image is based on community or cultural ideals of masculinity or femininity or matching their particular partner’s definition of an ideal mate. • Can be sexual imposters, faking intimacy; even when they are naked they are not naked.
• Sometimes an Intimate Three’s persona is not based on overt sexual desirability but some other criteria, ie being interesting or smart.

• They may be drawn to plastic surgery, keeping their bodies fit and attractive.
• Intimate Threes who need to be seen as desirable are hiding an exact opposite part of themselves, a self who feels anything but attractive.
• If an Intimate Three is committed to maintaining his defense then his relationships could be short. He might cycle through many partners, jettisoning each when they get too close to the truth.

• Some are distinctly exhibitionistic.

Social Threes

• Social Threes are generally status-conscious. When healthy, they are unusually clear-eyed about the true value of life’s prizes and awards.
• Especially aware of the emptiness of success for its own sake and usually want more out of life.

• Excellent networkers who use their reputations and social contacts to serve humanitarian concerns, for instance, using their power and prestige to benefit charity.
• Brings the leadership qualities; good at teaching groups of people or being the head coach of a team effort.

• Reward and inspire those they lead; generous about giving credit.
• Recognize that their own accomplishments partly rest on the efforts of others.
• Unself conscious examples of what they preach and teach.
• Can display a seamless graceful merging of self and role and, oddly, can be at their most authentic when wearing a mask.
• Often invent themselves by consciously modeling others of a desired social or economic standing.
• When less healthy, may directly confuse their inner self with the outer world’s badges, honors and totems.
• Measure themselves by money, position, awards or results; strive to match group standards and have the right credentials.
• Exceptionally worried about what other people think of them.
• Materialistic, want to own the best brands and be identified with those products; the right possessions give the Three status.
• Prone to hypocrisy, deny qualities or behaviors that contradict their self- image.

• Some lead reckless double lives, implicitly daring the world to discover their secrets.
• Can be self-sabotaging. If they were born poor and became rich they might do something that brings them back down to where they started; for instance, going bankrupt or getting caught with false credentials in a way that ruins their status and reputation.

Connecting Points Three with a Two Wing

• Often highly gregarious and good communicators.
• This wing brings a measure of extraversion, an unforced charm and leadership qualities.
• Honorable and sincere, try to do well by others.
• Go out of their way to be honest and transparent.
• Often genuinely nice people, warm hearted, with positive outlooks and uncomplicated, affectionate natures.
• If they have achieved some measure of worldly success, they are generous in their support and mentoring of others.
• Canny negotiators and efficient administrators.
• Preoccupied with seeming ideal to others. This can extend to friendships, family, as well as at work.
• Have a stronger social focus because they need so much external validation.
• Stronger connection to Six; less likely to question authority and convention.
• Capable of preening, boastful behavior and shameless self promotion. • Some are openly competitive, revel in winning and believe that they are better than others.
• Can develop messiah complexes, becoming convinced that they are exemplars of the right way to live.
• May believe they are farther along than they are and begin teaching to others what they have not yet truly learned.
• Easily slip into impersonation, falsifying their sentiments for others and intentionally lying to gain advantage; the behavior of con-artists and sociopaths.
• Can be exceptionally hostile; see other people as two-dimensional things.

Three with a Four Wing

• Have the motivation and ability to work on themselves.
• Some accomplish everything they set out to do materially and then embark on a path of self-analysis, artistic exploration or teaching.
• They still like challenges, but are more thoughtful, intuitive and idealistic.
• Generally more introverted; a little cooler and distant in their social presentation.
• Can have a distinct romantic streak.
• More ironic than Threes with a Two wing who tend to be enthusiastic and possibly naive.
• Can lack a sense of humor about themselves and accuse their critics of being too plebeian to appreciate them.
• A high-minded quality that is really a form of vanity; mistake their ambitions for principles.
• Less obviously image conscious, but can still project a vague, implicit superiority.
• Implicitly competitive but tend to compete with themselves first.
• In some Threes the expression of their Four wing is chronic, a depressive quality or a running sense of dissatisfaction with what they have.
• In others, the Fourness is episodic: listening to sad music for emotional release, being a scientist with a secret interest in the occult.
• Self-pitying; may see themselves as victims when they fail.
• Tend to be jealous in relationships.
• Can over rate their accomplishments and uniqueness; could believe they are more talented than they are.

Three’s Connection to Six

• A healthy connection to Six helps Threes drop their masks, admit their flaws and risk being seen for who they are.
• A Three’s genuine emotions generally have a fearful cast and fear is a door to their other feelings.

• Make commitments to ideals beyond winning and succeeding.
• Develop personal loyalties to family and friends; increased spirituality. • Ethical concerns become more important, moral courage emerges.
• Stay faithful and keep their agreements, even at the risk of losing face.

• Idealistic; work for social change.
• Fear of revealing what is behind their image, their Achilles heel, the young insecure self the Three otherwise tries to conceal.
• Connection brings anxiety that fuels the Three’s desire to mask; run from the “awful truth” about themselves. Imposter syndrome.
• Can be nervously ambivalent about relationships, unable to decide or commit.
• Want to choose the “right” person based on society’s criteria; underneath they fear that their unlovable “true” self will be unmasked.
• Can over identify with hierarchies and traditions; give their power to authority figures and play good child roles that get them approval within the dependency.
• Sometimes the connection to Six is counter-phobic and takes the form of seeking constant challenge to overcome inner fears.
• Can be afraid to stop because they sense an exhausted laziness underneath their hyperactivity – the shadow of the low side of Nine.
• Prone to co-dependence and addiction.

Three’s Connection to Nine

• Brings a capacity to self-observe as well as a slower tempo of thought and action.
• More receptive to the people in their lives; appreciate their idle time, especially when spent with family and friends.

• Connection helps Threes emerge from their roles and relax into being themselves.
• The modest, unpretentious quality of Nines is latent in Threes.
• Winning becomes less important; success may be seen as an illusion; they take “timeouts” from the world’s races.

• New projects are entered because they look interesting, will benefit others or for intuitive reasons that the Three can’t explain.
• A capacity for amiable peacemaking and a well-intended desire to make friends and family happy.
• Prefer equal relationships, instead of competing with others.
• Can bring a Nine-like confusion especially about action; may lose sight of their goals and start going in circles at high speeds, doing the wrong thing.

• Neurotic habit of altering themselves for their environment can get worse.
• May flip from hyperactivity to paralysis; or go into a collapsed state; become indolent and procrastinating like a Nine.

• Lack motivation and direction; become passively depressed, use drugs or alcohol to further deaden their feelings.
• Nihilistic “what’s the use?” attitudes; numb, Nine-like apathy is possible. • Can feel a depressive futility about attempting anything.

• This connection is especially evident when Threes have “midlife crises. • The Nine’s emotional numbness reinforces the Three’s emotional absence.


Excerpted from The Dynamic Enneagram by Tom Condon

Copyright 2009, 2013 by Thomas Condon

Available as an ebook serial at Tom’s website


Tom Condon has worked with the Enneagram since 1980 and with Ericksonian hypnosis and NLP since 1977. These three models are combined in his trainings to offer a useful collection of tools for changing and growing, to apply the Enneagram dynamically, as a springboard to positive change. Tom has taught over 800 workshops in the US, Europe and Asia and is the author of 50 CDs, DVDs and books on the Enneagram, NLP and Ericksonian methods. He is founder and director of The Changeworks in Bend, Oregon.

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