top of page
  • Writer's pictureClaire Bentley

ENNEAGRAM TYPE 3

Updated: Oct 25, 2023

FOR CREATIVITY AND CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT


INTRODUCTION


The Enneagram is a personality classification system which divides the human population into nine broad personality types based on their desires, fears, beliefs and behaviours. In this series of blog posts I will take you through each of the nine Enneagram personality types in detail, looking at how you can use them to improve your creative work patterns and to inform character development in your artwork.



The Enneagram circle
The Enneagram circle

There is dispute about the validity of the system as applied to ‘real-world’ humans. I’m not going to enter that debate in this series. However, I believe the system is potentially useful for creatives as a way of framing and understanding both our characters and ourselves. It is important to remember that personality systems are broad tools to aid understanding: there is lots of nuance and individual variation, and people rarely fit perfectly into one category or another.


WHY ENNEAGRAM AND NOT MYERS-BRIGG?

The Myers-Brigg personality classification system is also useful for understanding our characters and ourselves. However, I find it more complex and less intuitive than the Enneagram system. For example, when studying well-written fictional characters I can usually identify their Enneagram type quickly and easily, but I would struggle to identify which of the sixteen Myers-Brigg categories they fall under without reference material and a little free time to work it out. In addition, unlike the Enneagram, the Myers-Brigg types are not evenly distributed through the population: I am an ‘Advocate’ (INFJ), the rarest category at 1% of the population. In the Enneagram system I am a Type Nine, so many more ‘like-minded’ people to learn from.


However, the main reason I prefer using the Enneagram to the Myers-Brigg for character development is because story structure and story theory revolve around identifying the desires, fears, motivations, and misbeliefs of your characters. The Enneagram has these baked in and, even more crucially, the descriptions of healthy and unhealthy versions of each type make it far easier to see how a character might grow or disintegrate during a story (depending on what type of character arc you are writing).


WHY THIS BLOG SERIES?

The Enneagram is useful for understanding your pattern of work and behaviour when it comes to your creative life, so you can work out your strengths and weaknesses, find out what works for you, and identify areas where you could improve.


I have been using the Enneagram to inform character development in my current work in progress and it has been invaluable for helping me shape and develop their personalities, beliefs, and change arcs. There is a lot of information about the Enneagram but very little in terms of how to practically apply the system to character development in creative work. Therefore, I created this series of blog posts to explore each of the nine types in detail, and to provide guidance and examples when it comes to using the Enneagram for character development and plotting their change arcs.


There is a huge amount of information out there regarding the Enneagram and these posts barely scratch the surface! Therefore, I have linked many references at the end of the posts (including the ones which informed this series) if you would like to explore the topic further.




WORKING OUT YOUR ENNEAGRAM TYPE

There are tests out there (both paid and free) which can help you identify your Enneagram type. However, (again unlike Myers-Brigg) you can probably work out your type from the descriptions.


A word of caution: study each of the types before deciding which one best describes yourself. It may not be the one you initially think! When reading through the descriptions I initially couldn’t find one that quite worked for me, then ‘decided’ I was a Type Three, even though there were parts of it that fit and parts that didn’t.


However, when I reached the Type Nine description I had a moment of ‘oh s***, here I am’. If the description feels uncanny and makes you feel uncomfortable, you have likely found the right one for you!


It is worth saying again that people do not necessarily fit perfectly into categories. I had strong scores for multiple Types when I took a test (it turns out Type Nines are good at adopting the behaviours of other types!) I also later found out that healthy Type Nines behave like healthy Type Threes, which could explain why I felt an affinity for the Type Three description.


My point is, study the types first before deciding which one best describes you!


TYPE 3 OVERVIEW: THE ACHIEVER


Zoomed-in drawing of Type 3 on the Enneagram

PERSONALITY TRAITS

· Ambitious

· Pragmatic

· Adaptable

· Driven

· Confident

· High-achiever

· Image-conscious

· Competitive


SUMMARY

(https://www.enneagraminstitute.com/)

“Threes are self-assured, attractive, and charming. Ambitious, competent, and energetic, they can also be status-conscious and highly driven for advancement. They are diplomatic and poised, but can also be overly concerned with their image and what others think of them. They typically have problems with workaholism and competitiveness. At their Best: self-accepting, authentic, everything they seem to be—role models who inspire others”.


DESIRES

To feel valuable, admirable, successful, worthwhile, and respected.


FEARS

Being worthless, a failure.


MOTIVATIONS

· Affirmation

· Distinguish themselves from others

· Impress others

· Receive attention, admiration and respect


WINGS

Three with a Two-Wing: the Charmer

You are charming and persistent. You crave attention from those around you and can get angry and aggressive if you don’t receive it. You help others, although you wish to be recognised for your achievements.


Three with a Four-Wing: the Professional

You wish to stay authentic to your true self, although you may struggle to identify what your true self actually is. You may pretend to be someone else to suit your wider circumstances, although you know you’re not being authentic.


DIRECTION OF GROWTH

Adopt healthy Type Six behaviours by becoming more cooperative and loyal to others.


DIRECTION OF STRESS

Adopt unhealthy Type Nine behaviours: becoming apathetic and disengaged.


ARE YOU A TYPE 3 CREATIVE?

Do you recognise yourself in the description above?


If you are a Type Three creative then you are a high-achiever: you have self-belief and enjoy personal development and contributing your achievements and skills to the world. You may be popular and well-regarded, and enjoy motivating others to help them achieve their full potential. You are likely to be successful and well-liked, providing a living example and inspiring others to be their best as well. As a Three you may focus on being pragmatic and leaping into action, suppressing your feelings so you can get on with achieving things without emotions ‘getting in the way’.


Your definition of ‘success’ may vary depending on your values, culture and background. Regardless of your specific personal definition, your aim is to become your version of ‘successful’. You may have learned how to behave and perform in such a way as to receive praise and attention from others, excelling at certain activities which are valued by those around you.


As a Three, it is likely that you want success not for the material advantages it may offer, but for the feeling of accomplishment it may bring (and avoiding your fear being worthless and having no value). The risk is that you may put so much focus and energy on being of value to others that you end up neglecting your own core feelings, desires and interests. You may lose touch with your inner self, no longer sure of your own values and desires, having always conformed to the expectations of others (and excelling at it).


You may have grown up in a household which valued achievement and bestowed shame if success was not achieved.


A plate of attractive homemade cupcakes symbolising achievement
Success and achievement motivate Type 3 creatives


YOUR WORK PATTERN

You do best when you can work hard, grow, and work towards your potential. You are adaptable, take advantage of opportunities, and put your energy to good use. You are charismatic and good at interacting and networking with others.


You have strong focus and work ethic. You like to set big goals and focus on productivity (although this can become obsessive and leave you feeling unfulfilled).


YOUR STRENGTHS

· Ambition: you have the will and energy to strive for whichever goals you take on, and you believe in your ability to succeed.

· Efficient and productive: you make the most of your time.

· Adaptable: skilfully adjust to different people, projects or situations.

· Driven: high energy and enthusiasm for getting things done.

· Motivated: you work hard and rise through the ranks quicker.

· Encouraging: you encourage those around you.

· Charisma: you are likeable and friendly, projecting a positive self-image.


YOUR WEAKNESSES

· Self-critical: high standards help you in accomplishing your achievements but can also leave you concerned with your image.

· Fear of failure: success is vital to you, therefore any type of loss can be damaging and difficult to recover from.

· Self-neglect: may focus on gaining approval of others rather than focusing on yourself.

· Negative perception: others may see your drive and competitive spirit as damaging or obsessive.


RECOMMENDATIONS FOR GROWTH

· Be honest with yourself and others about your needs and emotions. Assess how you are really feeling about a situation and the expectations others have of you.

· Do not view failure as a setback: rather it is a learning opportunity for even greater success in the future.

· Resist the temptation to impress others or inflate your own importance.

· Take time to connect with people you care about, even in small ways.

· Take breaks so you don’t exhaust yourself and so your inner voice is more audible.

· Get involved in activities which help others rather than your own personal advancement.


TYPE 3 CHARACTERS IN YOUR ART

I will speak to writing because I am most familiar with this, but the lessons can be applied to other creative art forms.


WHERE MIGHT YOUR CHARACTER START?

The ‘average’ Type Three individual may start in a place where they are highly concerned with their performance, status, and / or success. They are pragmatic and efficient and are likely doing their job well, but are terrified of failure. They drive themselves hard to achieve goals because their self-worth depends on it. They may compare themselves with others, wanting to be the ‘best’, and may display arrogance and contempt towards others if this self-comparison isn’t favourable. They may be social climbers or workaholics.


They may be concerned about how others perceive them, and may mould themselves according to others’ expectations and what they feel they need to do to be successful. They may constantly promote themselves and try to impress others, coming off as narcissistic and with grandiose notions about themselves and their talents / achievements. They may have issues with intimacy and credibility.


HOW MIGHT YOUR CHARACTER GROW?

A healthy Type Three is authentic, modest, charitable, kind and benevolent. They are self-assured: aware, and accepting of, their inner self, and may even adopt self-deprecatory humour.


They are energetic, competent and effective: believing in themselves and in their own value, and relying less on external accomplishments or appearance. They always aim to be the best they can be. Even if they fail, they are resilient and happy with themselves (regardless of the outcome).


A healthy Type Three character will explore their own interests rather than pushing them aside for the sake of others. They prioritise rest and recovery to avoid burnout.

They value their relationships, and are comfortable helping others and trying new things. They can accept constructive criticism without becoming overly sensitive.


HOW MIGHT YOUR CHARACTER DISINTEGRATE?

A Type Three character is in danger of manipulating and exploiting others because they fear failure and humiliation. They are opportunistic and willing to do anything to preserve the illusion of their superiority, employing devious and deceptive strategies so that their ‘failings’ and wrongdoings will not be discovered. They work tirelessly with no regard for themselves or others. They may feel empty and ashamed, especially if they struggle to find the drive and motivation they used to have.


They may covet the success of others, and may manipulate, betray or sabotage people to triumph over them and ruin their happiness. They may be ruthless and may gloss over basic interrelational skills, e.g. behaving ethically.


Prone to psychopathic behaviour, workaholism, stress, addiction to stimulants, narcissism.


DEVELOPING YOUR TYPE 3 CHARACTER: WORKED EXAMPLE


Let’s say the one-line theme of your story is ‘you can only be the best by working with others’. You could make your main character a Type Three because they are competitive high-achievers. They begin the story with the misbelief ‘I must become the best by outperforming everyone else’ (the ‘lie’, or the opposite of the story’s theme).



Chess pieces symbolising strategy and success
Will the Type 3 character work with their colleagues or will they undermine them to be the best?

In the beginning they may be doing well in their job (e.g. they lead a project team) but are so arrogant, driven and critical of others that they alienate everyone around them. Perhaps they are so focused on their own self-image and success, and so avoidant of constructive criticism, that they keep trying to blame their fellow team members for errors. The project they are working on fails. The protagonist must then accept responsibility and learn humility, helping and working with the others in the team and valuing their relationship and contribution. Together the team turn the project around.

If the protagonist is in a negative change arc then, instead of using their shame to learn growth, they spiral further and become manipulative and exploitative, lying to cover their tracks and their own role in the team’s failure. Maybe they are successful in diverting blame away from themselves. Maybe they are not.


This is just one example. Your theme may not suggest an obvious Enneagram type that ‘fits’, but it could be interesting to ‘try out’ your theme with protagonists and antagonists of different Enneagram types to see how these dynamics could impact your story and plot. Remember: a protagonist or antagonist (or any side character) could be any of the Enneagram types, and could grow or disintegrate within their type (or stay the same) during the course of the story.


TYPE 3 CHARACTERS IN WELL-KNOWN STORIES

EXAMPLES: TYPE 3 CHARACTERS FROM HARRY POTTER

I do not agree with or condone any form of transphobia, and have not given a single penny to She-who-must-not-be-named since she outed herself. However, the story of Harry Potter helped me a lot as a child, and its characters remain some of the best known in the literary world. That is why I have chosen Harry Potter characters as examples in my discussion of the Enneagram, so that hopefully you can appreciate how the Enneagram might be used to help create strong, unique and conflicted characters. These categorisations are based on my own judgment and knowledge of the characters: please feel free to disagree (and let me know in the comments if you do!)


DRACO MALFOY

Draco Malfoy embodies the characteristics of an unhealthy Type 3 personality. He has grown up in a home with parents who strongly preach the supposed superiority of pure-blood witches and wizards. They have extremely high expectations of him and a concrete vision of what their son’s ‘success’ should look like: a highly-skilled wizard who parrots their own beliefs and behaves as a highly respected ‘pure-blood’ wizard should.

Draco is gifted and intelligent, achieving high marks in his studies at Hogwarts.


However, Hermione Granger usually outperforms him: a fact which rankles all the more because she is muggle-born. Draco’s own father mocks him for being beaten by a witch of muggle parentage. Harry Potter portrays other qualities of which Draco is envious: being popular, courageous and well-liked.


Draco treats Harry and his friends with cruelty and contempt because he is secretly jealous of their achievements and their friendship. He wants these things but has no idea how to earn them, so instead resorts to arrogance, deception and sabotage to try to undermine the main trio.


When he joins the Death Eaters and spirals further, he loses some of his arrogance, becoming withdrawn and apathetic, and more fearful than ever of failure (not just because his life depends on his success).


The sad thing is: if Draco had grown up in a different family, his achievement-oriented personality type would have helped him become self-aware and successful, and he likely wouldn’t have adopted the pure-blood mania of his parents.


EXAMPLES FROM ENCANTO

Encanto is one of my favourite films from recent times. The characters are unique and fascinating, and the arcs they undergo are powerful and relatable. Therefore, I have also used Encanto to provide examples of the different Enneagram types in character-based art.


LUISA MADRIGAL

Luisa is, again, different. Like Draco she faces a large amount of pressure and expectation from her family (namely her Abuela) to be ‘the strongest’ and to perform her many tasks in the community admirably and efficiently. Luisa herself wants to do well and to be of worth to the people she cares about.


However, underneath her calm and controlled exterior she is a writhing mass of stress, self-doubt, and fear of failure. Her superhuman strength is, literally, at breaking point, and is at risk of shattering beneath the weight of each additional expectation piled on top of her. Apart from being so relatable that Luisa’s song almost had me in tears the first time I watched the film, we can also see that Luisa is neglecting psychological self-care because her workload keeps her so busy. When the magic of the miracle begins to weaken because of strain within the family, Luisa’s power is the first to weaken.


By the end of the film Luisa remains strong and capable, but Abuela learns to stop piling pressure on her granddaughter, and Luisa finally feels able to take time for her own wellbeing.


RESOURCES

I couldn’t find much that was geared specifically to fictional characters in writing (or other art forms). However, there is much more to explore within the Enneagram system, and I have listed some helpful resources below:

The Enneagram Institute: https://www.enneagraminstitute.com/

Don Riso and Russ Hudson have published multiple books on the Enneagram system

These resources provided a foundation for the blog posts in this series, which I then applied to understanding your creative work pattern and crafting fictional characters.


BEFORE YOU GO…

Are you an Enneagram Type 3? Are any of your characters Type 3? Please join in the discussion (contact details below).


Please feel free to comment on the article and/or contact me if you have any questions!


Socials: @cbentleywriter on most of them!




Buy me a coffee: https://ko-fi.com/clairebentley

I welcome respectful and friendly discussion on the topics I write about, including if your opinion differs from my own.


Disclaimer: generative AI

I do not use generative AI to produce or inform my blog, my images, or my fiction. All of my content is generated by the chaotic firing of my own (human) brain! (I have access to some images through my Wix subscription). I do not consent to the use of my content, images, or fiction to train generative AI models. Please contact me to discuss permission and compensation if you wish to use my content in this way.

Recent Posts

See All

Comments


bottom of page