When it comes to talking about Enneagram Threes, you’re about to get a double whammy. Not only do I work with Threes in therapy, I am a Three in therapy myself! There are some specific considerations that apply to Christians who are Threes, and today we will talk about how to help them get the most growth and change out of therapy.
The Achiever or Performer are nicknames of the Three. Threes are concerned with racking up accomplishments and with portraying a successful image to others. Threes can adapt to various situations, easily becoming whatever the present group will find most impressive. I encourage you to check out the descriptions on the Your Enneagram Coach and Enneagram Institute websites. You’ll also want to read my introduction to this series on the enneagram if you’re wondering if Christians should really use this tool.
Why Do Threes Go to Therapy?
Threes have a deep belief in their own potential to achieve, and they have a drive to accomplish more and more. At times, Threes can start to feel like they are not living up to their potential. This leads them to seek out professional help so that they can understand what is holding them back. Although the Three might want everyone else to see him as successful, he is willing to allow a capable professional to see some cracks in the facade in order to increase future success.
Because Threes frequently achieve and get things done, their outer lives appear “together.” Career, school, social life, and even parenting will likely look very impressive from the outside. Because Threes are driven to perfect their image, they can be thrown off by things not going well in other areas. For example, a Three with a physical or mental illness may feel betrayed by her own body or mind. These biological or emotional problems feel like saboteurs on the Three’s success path. A Three will be driven to get rid or minimize the problems so that she can get on with other accomplishments.
Similarly, Threes might be caught off guard by perceived failures in relationship. When a Three has excelled in school and career, it comes as a surprise when he fails in marriage or parenting. He will seek out therapy to figure out how he can succeed in these interpersonal areas, as well. Unfortunately, some of the very characteristics that make Threes successful in other areas cause them to fail at relationships. Threes are the most likely to be workaholics and to value image over vulnerability and authenticity. In therapy, Threes can learn to put drive and image in their place and focus on the real value of relationships.
Designing Therapy for Threes
Threes are likely to look for a therapist whom they perceive to be capable and successful. As a therapist with an elite educational background, some clients seek me out simply because of my alma mater. Of course, when it comes to insurance and specialties, it’s not always possible to choose a therapist simply because of an impressive resume. However, at the beginning of therapy, a Three might be feeling out the therapist to ascertain whether the therapist has the same drive to achieve or whether the client can impress the therapist. Threes may struggle to walk a line between real and false humility as they begin to bare themselves to the therapist.
Threes fear failure and desire admiration and praise. A therapist can blend authentic encouragement with specific challenges to motivate the Three to change and grow. Therapists will need to remind Threes that there is no “winning” at therapy–you don’t get a grade. Yet Threes can get a lot done and appreciate conquering a challenge. Assigning homework or reading helps Threes feel invested in therapy.
It is most valuable if clients can connect with their authentic selves. Threes may not have a clear idea of their true selves, since they are busy crafting personas. Therapists can reassure clients that they are loved and accepted without any of the bravado or accomplishments. Teaching strategies like self-compassion and various forms of meditation or mindfulness may be helpful for Threes who minimize parts of themselves that they perceive as failing.
Threes fear exposure and not measuring up. When therapists use unconditional positive regard for their clients, the Three might feel a little sheepish, but will soon blossom under the acceptance found in therapy.
Threes and the Gospel
There are a couple of important messages that Threes need to hear about how the Gospel impacts them. First, the work is complete. When Jesus died, He said, “It is finished.” Threes do not have to impress anyone or achieve anything more for salvation. It is the one area that they can give up striving.
Second, Threes need to know that they are loved and accepted as children of God because of Jesus’ accomplishment, not their own. While Threes fear exposure, God knows every dark secret and still chooses us. It is hard to imagine a human cherishing us in this way. No need to impress anyone, in fact, the polished image just detracts from true intimacy with God.
In therapy with Christian Threes, a capable Christian therapist can help point the client to the throne of God. When Hebrews 4:16 says that we can approach the throne boldly, therapists can remind Threes that our boldness doesn’t come from our own achievement, but through Christ’s finished work. Understanding God’s deep love and grace can help Threes live in an authentic way, achieving true gains for God’s Kingdom.
Tell Me About Threes
I admitted above that I am an Enneagram 3, so a lot of the content of this post comes from my own experiences and my work with other Threes in therapy. However, I’d love to hear from you about your experiences as a Three and your work with other Threes. What did I miss? What part made you feel seen (in a good way)? Join the conversation below in the comments or on Instagram @soulgritresources.