The Enneagram & Prayer: Type Three

A brief note: I just wanted to apologize for not getting this post live last week as I’d hoped. It’s been a challenging week for the holy mess I call my spiritual community, the folks of my church, and dwelling in grace and the Christ-life meant letting a few things go. Sarah Bessey posted eloquently last week about this in her post Lean Into the Pain (and has also had a tough week, so please do pray for her), and I’ve been leaning, learning, loving. I hope to be back on schedule now, but I’m trusting that you’ll be along for the ride no matter how bumpy it gets. So much grace to you, anam cara, soul friend.

And one more note: Richard Rohr’s daily email from the Center for Action and Contemplation has just turned to addressing the Enneagram. If you’d like to receive more Enneagram goodness, you can sign up here.


Type Three

The Success-Oriented, Pragmatic Type:
Adaptable, Excelling, Driven, and Image-Conscious


Type Three in Brief

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.

  • Basic Fear: Of being worthless
  • Basic Desire: To feel valuable and worthwhile
  • Enneagram Three with a Two-Wing: “The Charmer”
  • Enneagram Three with a Four-Wing: “The Professional”

Key Motivations: Want to be affirmed, to distinguish themselves from others, to have attention, to be admired, and to impress others.

The Meaning of the Arrows (in brief)

When moving in their Direction of Disintegration (stress), driven Threes suddenly become disengaged and apathetic at Nine. However, when moving in their Direction of Integration (growth), vain, deceitful Threes become more cooperative and committed to others, like healthy Sixes.

Source: The Enneagram Institute: Type Three

Type Three: The Achiever

Like Type Twos, Type Threes are heart-centered Types, although for the most part you wouldn’t know it. Called “The Achiever”, on the outside you wouldn’t necessarily be able to tell that Type Threes are deeply affected by their emotions and the emotions of others. Unlike Type Twos, Type Threes manage this heart-space by trying to control their own behavior, rather than trying to control or assist the behavior of others. Type Threes have the hardest time identifying and processing their own emotions on any of the types, and tend to look to others with the question of “How am I doing?” or “Am I successful?”

Type Threes tend to exude confidence and skill—and they are deeply talented and good at efficiency. In fact, efficiency is one of their deepest temptations, and they will do almost anything in order to be perceived as competent and successful. In their worst places, Type Threes vastly overestimate what they can do, overcommitting themselves and then running themselves (and often others) in the ground on order to not be perceived as a failure. Type Threes are always asking if what they are doing is of value and is having the desired effect.

Just like Twos, Threes often struggle with feelings of shame and worthlessness. Their besetting sin is deceit (or lying) and will cover over their feelings of shame by stretching the truth just a little further than it will bear. Type Threes don’t think of themselves as liars (and they don’t seem like that to others), but they are deeply tempted by the need to appear pulled together and successful, even when they are falling apart. As a result, Threes are chameleons, becoming whatever is most valued in a social setting, and convincing others (often quite well) that they are exactly the person for the job. Vulnerability and authenticity are difficult for a Three, especially while they are in process, unless they are in a place of deep safety and confidentiality. Nothing is more threatening to a Three than having their image of themselves threatened or, worse, shattered.

The glory of the Type Three is their ability to give themselves selflessly to causes that matter, achieving things not because it affirms their own sense of worth, shoring up their own faltering self-esteem, but because it is for the good of people outside of themselves. Threes living in their redeemed side give themselves to causes and themes that bring about positive change in the world, bringing peace and wholeness to those around them.

Type Three & Prayer

Type Threes most often show up to spiritual direction after a period of suffering or loss, sometimes not until the difficulties of aging bring their success-oriented trajectory to a screeching halt. When Type Threes experience something that they can’t just power their way through, they begin to ask questions about what might be beneath their scramble for achievement. Threes have difficulty identifying what’s going on in their inner world, and spiritual directors (myself included) can be fooled into aiding a struggling Three in their quest to achieve in the spiritual life (they want to learn how to feel right, meditate right, do the spiritual disciplines right). Type Threes are the quickest to drop the spiritual direction journey after just a few weeks or months, finding that this commitment to transformation isn’t something that they can “do” the way that have “done” everything else in their lives. Threes who are truly open to change will struggle openly with the journey but also find the deepest benefit from submission and rest.

  • Silent Prayer
  • Sabbath Prayer
  • Prayers of Service
  • Solitude
  • Scripture Meditation
  • The Prayer of Tears

Silent Prayer: Threes are so often focused on achieving something or getting it done that silence can be a difficult discipline. However, a Type Three can begin to grow in prayer and intimacy with God by realizing that God longs just to be with them, rather than be doing things for them or watching them do things. In the silence, the busy activity of a Three can settle and the more shy and uncomfortable experience of their emotional lives may emerge. Threes need to be careful not to make silence a challenge (let’s see if I can stay in silence for 25 minutes today!), but rather an invitation from God to simply be, to hold open space, to receive.

Sabbath Prayer: The space of rest is deeply important for a Three, who can see activity as equivalent to holiness. Sabbath prayer—whether it be pausing within a day to rest, to shabbat, to stop or taking a whole day to experience the delight and restoration of God—is countercultural to the more fallen side of the Three. Yet when a Three practices Sabbath, he or she becomes more deeply connected to their interior space and to others, having experienced God’s lavish delight over them and being willing to share it with others. The prayer of “stopping” (just stopping to be, to breathe, to notice in between activities or in transition) is a great discipline for a Three to undertake because it takes away the need for judgement or self-evaluation and focuses instead on being in the present moment.

Prayers of Service: Unlike a Type Two, service to others for a Type Three can be quite helpful in developing their awareness of God and their intimacy with the people whom He loves. That said, the types of service that a Three undertakes as a form of prayer need to be hidden. What I mean by this is that Threes will be tempted to think of themselves as holy or good (or to receive praise from others about their sacrifice or goodness) when they are performing acts of service for others. Threes who are being invited by God into a form of service as prayer need to be vigilant of their tendency to self-congratulate, and instead choose types of service (alms giving, walking a neighbor’s dog, volunteering at a hospice) that they don’t speak about to others and don’t consider glamorous or particularly “holy”. Service in this way draws a Three outside of their own impressions of themselves and into the needs of others and their community, into a communion with others that is modeled on the intimacy of our Triune God. This self-giving act becomes a form of prayer and unity with God that Threes will find healing and beneficial.

Solitude: On the heels of a recommendation to enter into community, I also recommend that Type Threes find time to practice solitude. Threes in particular can find themselves overly identified with either their group (I’m a part of a Pentecostal church or I’m a Republican) or their role (I’m an exceptional father or I’m an incredible employee). This identification leads them to believe they themselves feel what a Pentecostal or Republican or good father or great employee feels (and does), rather than knowing what they actually feel and experience. Solitude helps a Three to begin to identify who they are inside without those roles and identifications. This process can be scary at first for a Three, but over time longer periods of solitude (and silence) help a Three to recalibrate their identify around their belovedness in God, rather than in the roles that they play.

Scripture Meditation: Meditation on Scripture, especially Ignatian meditation, can be very helpful for a Three that likes to analyze and get rules or regulations out of their time in the Word, rather than experience. Meditation on Scripture slows a Three down in a way that causes them to connect with their interior world and feel the leading of the Spirit. If a Three can disconnect from the need to experience Scripture “the right way”, he or she will be thrilled and carried by the diverse and beautiful ways in which the Holy Spirit speaks through an imaginative experience of the Word. Because Scripture is living and active, Type Threes will be unable to pin down their experience of Gospel Meditation in particular into “one way” of being with God. Instead, the Spirit will speak differently through the Word each time, and the Three will find freedom in surrendering to the creative complexity of God rather than having to have the Word “mastered.”

The Prayer of TearsWhile it may be a surprise to the other Types, a Three has a deep well of tears within them because of their struggle with self-worth and self-esteem. I often recommend some kind of body work to a Three, whether it be chiropractic work, physical therapy or therapeutic massage (with an emphasis on the latter), as a way of accessing some of the deeper experience of the interior life from which Threes often stay disconnected. Tears themselves are a form of prayer, and it is helpful for a Three who is coming into a deeper connection with God, themselves and others to know that those tears are held and treasured by God, and that their appearance doesn’t have to mean that something is wrong—that instead, something could be very right indeed. Sometimes tears are our only prayer, and it is a very holy thing for a Three to get connected to their tears as way of communing and communicating with God.

Another Note On Prayer:

Threes can find their value in “doing” so much that even suggesting types of prayer can be a way of entering into more “doing.” Like Twos, physical expression of prayer can be helpful, but Threes also take this to extremes, becoming intense achievers even in non-competitive activities. The surrender that is helpful for Threes often involves community and confession, allowing others into their own places of insecurity and learning that they are loved not for what they produce but for who they are. In this way, prayer for Threes is most helpful when it is communal and oriented toward grace.


Type Three Playlist

(developed by Jennifer Brukiewa of Attending Grace Ministries)


Now it’s your turn.
Are you a Three?
What prayer forms have proven most helpful for you?
What ways do you struggle with prayer and your relationship with God?
Share with us in the comments.

Sources: The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective by Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert, The Enneagram and Spiritual Direction: Nine Paths to Spiritual Guidance by James Empereur, The Enneagram Made Easy: Discover the 9 Types of People by Renee Baron and Elizabeth Wagele, and Using the Enneagram in Prayer by Suzanne Zuercher.   enneagrambadage