Updated: May 26, 2021
In a nutshell
Type 3s are generally goal-driven and motivated to achieve, with a tendency to ignore what they themselves want while focusing on what will earn them praise from others. They seek out opportunities to prove their worth and typically try very hard to do so. Their Core Desire is to feel a sense of personal value, but paradoxically can deprive themselves of that feeling by ignoring their personal needs and trying to accomplish solely based on what others seem to value. To grow and be satisfied in life, they learn to accept themselves as they are and set goals based on what they value, rather than pursuing praise and external validation.
Levels of Development
Each of the nine personality types are formed based on a Core Fear we develop at a young age. This fear keeps us from being our fully actualized selves and acting from Essence, the version of ourselves that exists when we let go of our fears and ego identifications and allow ourselves to simply be. In response to this fear, we develop a Core Desire, which can either lead us back to self actualization and Essence, or towards deeper fear and false identity.
The Levels of Development are an aspect of each Enneagram type discovered in 1977 by Don Richard Riso. They provide us with a map of how we degrade as we hold on more strongly to our Core Fear, leading us to progressively deeper and more complicated emotional defense mechanisms. There are 9 separate levels of development for each type (not to be confused with the 9 types themselves), starting with self actualization at Level 1 and going down to pathological thoughts and behaviors at Level 9. Each level represents what happens when a new fear is introduced, and a new desire emerges in order to defend that fear. These levels are grouped into the "Healthy Levels" (Levels 1-3), the "Average Levels" (Levels 3-6), and the "Unhealthy Levels" (Levels 7-9).
For a detailed understanding of what happens to each type at each level, I recommend reading the Enneagram books co-written by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson. That said, it's important to have a general understanding of how each Type behaves at different levels, so I've provided an overview of the Healthy, Average, and Unhealthy levels below.
At healthy levels, Type 3s are in touch with themselves, their feelings, and those around them. Unlike their Average and Unhealthy counterparts, Healthy 3s are able to channel their focus and practical drive towards fulfilling their own goals and don't feel pressured to dedicate themselves solely to what will impress others. They may begin to strive to be "better", and have an image of a "best self" that they're working to become. However, they remain grounded overall - their efforts are focused on actually developing themselves (rather than on selling this image to others). They have considerable drive and focus and can generally accomplish whatever they set their minds to, becoming powerful forces for productive and positive change in the world.
To remain healthy, 3s operating in this zone should recognize how easy it is for them to lose touch with themselves and spend time reflecting on what they truly want, rather than what is practical or what others will reward.
At average levels, 3s begin feeling more concerned that they aren't good enough, and they respond by working harder to improve their performance and show their worth. While at first their actions seem similar to that of a healthy 3 working towards self-improvement, a big internal shift has taken place. Rather than wanting to be better versions of themselves, they now want to be better than others, and their hard work is going towards trying to prove it. As they feed this notion of a superior self, they become progressively less focused on substance and more focused on promoting their image. They seek status and outward success to prove themselves to others, and to mask their own feelings of jealousy toward others. They become thoroughly out of touch with what they actually want, and see only goals set by others' standards and the quickest path to accomplishing them. They begin to compromise morally as achieving these goals becomes more important than anything else. They lose their capacity to empathize with others, and dishonesty becomes common, narcissistically seeking to further themselves with progressively less care for others. It becomes difficult for them to connect with others as their own goals and image are all that matters to them. After all, true connection requires being vulnerable, and their "perfect" image rarely admits to having vulnerabilities.
To become healthy again, average 3s should begin to reconnect with what they want, in spite of what's practical. Society today makes it easy for 3s to support themselves in the average levels because it rewards people for suppressing themselves and showing an idealized image. Average 3s need to recognize this and work towards the personal rewards emotional health brings instead.
At unhealthy levels, 3s are deeply ashamed of themselves, fearing above all that the truth of who they are will be seen openly. Their self-stories about superiority degrade into an obsession with making sure people know they are superior, and they hyperactively sell this image while rejecting anything and anyone from their environment that could bring their charade to light. They openly lie to maintain the image of themselves which they believe represents the perfect person. At this point they are no longer burdened by the notion of morality and will go to extreme lengths to maintain their image. Their feelings of jealousy towards others has developed into hatred, resenting anyone who does not carry the burden of being the "best" as they do. They have such deeply low self esteem that they believe their posturing is a requirement for existence - if they let a single person believe they aren't as godly as they say they are everything they have will crumble to pieces. These intense feelings lead them to show great hostility towards anyone they perceive as a threat to their reputation, though they may keep their hostile actions as covert as possible so as to not ruin their reputation. That said, many may seek out or create environments that accept their hostility, or even reward it. For example an unhealthy 3 may gravitate towards intense careers at certain financial institutions or in Hollywood where people expect abuse and put up with it anyway. Alternatively, they may attempt to "poison" the environments they work or live in, pressuring coworkers or family members to shift their standards to accept abuse. They eventually become obsessed with destroying anything that reminds them that their image is a lie, and that they are indeed capable of imperfection. As they degrade, they lose touch with all feeling to the point of psychopathy and become capable of horrible acts of violence.
To become healthy again, 3s operating in the unhealthy zone need to seek professional help and work to release the burden of perfection they have placed on themselves. Accept that the resentment you feel towards others is a buffer that protects you from understanding that you simply want their approval, and begin to work towards being someone that they could genuinely care about.
Wings / Subtypes
Every person has some degree of every type at work in their personality, but Enneagram 3s are more likely to draw strongly from one of the adjacent types, 2 or 4. Because of this, we treat them as distinctive subtypes known as “Wing Types”. Not everyone has a strong wing type, but a majority of people do, so we generally describe a 3's type as either "3 wing 2" (3w2) or "3 wing 4" (3w4). 3s are the primary type of the Feeling Triad (comprised of types 2, 3, and 4) and so both subtypes are personalities centered very strongly around emotions and self-image.
3 wing 2
Compared to the 3w4, a 3w2 is generally more upbeat and people-oriented, focusing on endearing themselves to others and getting others to care about them. Type 2 wants to be loved by others, and Type 3 wants to be admired and praised.
In healthy 3w2s, the strong drives of types 3 and 2 combine and give the individual a high level of motivation to work towards altruistic goals. The healthy aspects of 3 lead this person to push to better themselves and strive to set and accomplish practical goals, while the healthy aspects of 2 lead them to connect with and serve others in their pursuits. They are sociable and charming, and can be emotionally self-revealing and caring as well. Where a healthy 3w4 can enjoy getting to know people, the healthy 3w2 will make a point of being friendly.
In average 3w2s, we see the individual's charm and social skill begin to be applied towards self-serving means. Attention-seeking and driven to separate themselves from the crowd, they become increasingly preoccupied with presenting themselves as "desirable", and gravitate towards careers and lifestyles that will win them admiration. The average aspects of 2 can also lead the 3w2 to seductive behaviors in an attempt to prove this desirability to themselves while simultaneously using the person they attempt to seduce, reinforcing their belief that they are superior to others. The self-image they create centers more strongly on the direct responses others give them when compared to the 3w4.
Unhealthy 3w2s are less openly aggressive than the unhealthy 3w4, but more back-handed and manipulative. The influence from type 2 leads the 3w2's image to involve an element of being "good", and overt aggression and hostility is incompatible with that image. However it also adds more emotional volatility to the equation, and at unhealthy levels the 3w2 is just as capable of violence as the 3w4. This side of them will likely emerge as an emotional outburst, punishing those who scorn them or make them feel unloved or deficient, even if those feelings were not intended and only exist in the 3w2's warped perceptions. The 3w2 is one of the few unhealthy types able to function and hide their issues, given their social skills and charm. They may be high-functioning psychopaths, seeming perfectly normal or even likable to those they choose to hide their violence from.
3 wing 4
Compared with the other subtype, 3w4s prefer to present themselves as dry, professional, and logical. Type 4's tendency to withdraw leads to a more introverted type of 3, focused less on people and more on objective measures of achievement.
Healthy 3w4s channel their emotional reflection and intuition (4) towards gaining a deeper understanding of themselves and the world around them than a 3w2 would. They value knowledge and insight over charm, and may comfortably spend quite a bit of time alone to study or improve the skills needed to accomplish their goals. However, their more introverted nature does not stop them from having deep relationships, and they are emotionally open and receptive to those close to them.
In average 3w4s, the two types' tendencies begin to conflict and create pressure. Average type 3 wants to achieve in the eyes of others and begins to elevate its self image above others to compensate for feelings of self-doubt. Simultaneously, the influence from type 4 leads the average 3w4s to cling to and define themselves by these feelings, essentially giving them a sense that they have much more to lose if they fail to accomplish their goals. While 3w2s fluidly find a place in the world in spite of their imbalances, 3w4s begin to feel more and more outcast and bitter, resenting themselves for their perceived incapability while simultaneously working night and day to prove themselves. The 3w2 will deny their self doubt strongly, even to the point sometimes where they are not really aware of its existence. By contrast, the 3w4 is desperately aware of these feelings and compulsively hides them behind the image they present, feeling almost as if their life depends on how successfully they can convince others that their image is who they really are. It matters more to them that nobody knows they are suffering than it does to get the suffering to stop.
In unhealthy 3w4s, the conflict of the two types increases even further. As with any unhealthy 3, their rage has escalated and they have a general hatred of others, simultaneously elevating themselves above others and justifying the hostility they enact towards them. Influence from unhealthy 4 brings the conflicting dynamic of deep depression and desire to withdraw, along with added grandiosity and narcissism. This combination of tendencies leads the 3w4 to be highly volatile in terms of mood and behavior. As unhealthy 3s, these individuals are excellent at controlling what they show others, so they may seem calm, in control, "normal" in one moment, then explode into violence or depression in the next. As narcissists, unhealthy 3w4s are highly sensitive to anything that reminds them of the falseness of their grandiose image, and their mood swings are likely to be triggered when they are reminded of that.
-Your value comes from who you are, not what you do. Learn to let your actions flow from what you feel, rather than relying on your actions to create the feelings you want.
-The truth is that you do not want everybody's approval. Pleasing people brings you farther from inner peace, even though it may feel rewarding to do it. Remember that if you feel like something is wrong, there is a reason, and you should spend time finding it rather than drowning it out.
-Accept that you have strengths and weaknesses - it isn't possible for you to achieve everything that you want to. Coming to this realization will help guide you to your true purpose, rather than being stuck trying to live someone else's life.
-It may be challenging, but in order to grow most people have to go against the grain of what some people around them want. Trust your inner compass and do what you think is best. Over time, the people who are supportive of a healthier you will find you, and those who are not supportive of you will fade away. Ultimately you will be better off.