What does it mean to be you?
If I were to ask you to describe your “self”, you might come up with a series of adjectives.
Here are some adjectives that people with an Enneagram Four personality style often identify with.
|productive & multi-focused||idle or overfocused|
|on the go||slow motion|
|promoter||wait and see|
|salesperson||sit on the shelf|
|pragmatic & bottom line||head in the clouds or bogged in trivia|
|upwardly mobile||back water|
|competent & cutting edge||inadequate & outmoded|
You might also recognise in reading this, that not everyone is like you. In fact, only about 10% of the population have your personality style.
This is really important to bear in mind when it comes to our dealings with other people. Because we cannot help but be ourselves, as well as see the world through the lens our own personality style, we often assume that other people might think, feel, and respond to us and their situation in a similar way to us. This is often the cause of a great deal of conflict and upset in our lives.
Other than the above adjectives, what does it really mean to be YOU.
Here are some other factors that are reported to hold true for those who identify with a Three personality style.
Threes are…motivated to be viewed as successful, attractive, accomplished, and competent. They derive their sense of self by being seen favourably by others. They seek value through accolades, success, and efficiency. Threes strive to be the best at everything they do and focus on developing the perfect image to compensate for feelings of worthlessness and valuelessness.
Primary motivation: To be viewed as successful, attractive, accomplished, and competent
Common Adjectives: Ambitious, energetic, perfectionistic, overachiever, image-conscious, goal-oriented, popular, attractive, driven, expedient
Other People Describe Me As: Successful, attractive, alpha/dominant, smart, charismatic, capable
Strengths: Leading, winning, adjusting to the situation, being a good ex-ample, motivating others, efficiency
Weaknesses: Impatient, workaholism, perfectionism, image-conscious, approval-seeking
Personal Image Style: Professional, cool, stylish, effortless, trendy, smooth, polished
I Avoid People Who Are: Unmotivated, negative, lazy, people who make me look bad, slow
Biggest Fears: Losing, looking bad, incompetence, rejection, being exposed/unmasked
It Upsets Me When Other People: Are lazy, unmotivated, negative, slow, depressed
I Avoid Feeling: Like a loser, negative, lazy, too emotional, unmotivated, sad
I Need: To win, to succeed, to look good, approval, awards/accolades, positive attention, praise
Here’s a simple equation which I believe has profound implications for how we understand our “selves”, also our life situation, past/present/future, and most importantly for our therapy journey together: how we deal with upset and suffering in our lives.
YOU = INSTINCTS/LIFE FORCE/ENERGY + NATURE/TEMPERAMENT/PERSONALITY + NURTURE/CULTURE/LIFE-CIRCUMSTANCES
Let me break that down a bit for us.
We often forget that we are animals. Human animals, but animals nonetheless.
What kind of animals are we? We are mammals, we are primates. And like all animals, we are “ruled” to some extent by our instincts.
Instincts are very simply our natural, automatic behaviours and reactions that have evolved over time to help us survive and thrive. These instincts are innate and serve to guide us through various aspects of our life.
As you read about the three most important human-animal instincts below that make up (y)our “life force”, ask yourself the following all-important question as a human-animal: which of these instincts “dominates” my life as a living creature, by and large?
Even though we utilise all three instincts, generally speaking, our basic functioning relies more heavily on one instinct (our dominant instinct), followed by a secondary “assistant” instinct, while a third instinct is usually “repressed” or under-utilised in some way.
This is because our life-force isn’t limitless (both whilst alive, and clearly when dead), and so our nervous systems and innate, instinctual functioning is often forced to make automatic instinctive choices for us in terms of where we focus our energies.
When you read through the following needs and focus of each of your three instincts, have a think about where your life-force mainly gets channeled (this would be your dominant instinct), as well as which instinct isn’t being given enough energy or attention:
THE SELF-PRESERVATION INSTINCT’S NEEDS AND FOCUS:
Self-care and wellbeing:
(1) Diet, (2) exercise, (3) sleep/rest, (4) relaxation (time in solitude, walk in nature, meditation, yoga, etc.), (5) adequate stimulation (reading, listening to music, healthy sex life, watching documentaries, etc.)
Maintenance and resources:
(1) Money/finances, (2) time-management (self-management, time to self, time with others, being on time, etc.), (3) practical application and skills (being able to address practical needs, fix things, manage life, etc.), (4) work habits/persistence (the ability to follow through, finish tasks, discipline, habits around practical ventures, ways you are handy, etc.), (5) energy management ((how we use our energy, deal with stress, balance silence with activity, etc.)
Domesticity and home:
(1) Comfort/domesticity, (2) safety/security, (3) structure supports life/base of operations (home management, home as a solid launchpad), (4) beauty and holding (comfortable and inviting living/workspace, feeling held by your home, etc.), (5) recharging/restoration (home as a place to restore).
[Further exploration: Is Your Self-Preservation Instinct Balanced, Over-Dominant, or Impaired? How does the Self-Preservation Instinct function in your life and show up in your personality style?]
THE ONE-ON-ONE/SEXUL INSTINCT’S NEEDS AND FOCUS:
Broadcasting and charisma:
(1) Transmitting (initiating energy that broadcasts), (2) display (doing behaviours to get yourself noticed, (3) being attracted and following energy, (4) choosing/fitness (evaluating attraction; auditioning and being aware of being auditioned), and (5), competition/winning.
Exploration and edge:
(1) Activation and arousal, (2) taking risks and having adventures, (3) getting out of comfort zone (breaking habits and feeling soggy in routine), (4) seeking stimulation, and (5) following and honouring impulses and inspirations.
(1) Disappearing into something or someone (which is restorative as it gets us away from the egoic self), (2) intense focus and concentration applied to an activity, (3) losing boundaries and sense of self, (4) spending energy (pouring self into something and giving self wholeheartedly), and (5) seeking fusion and at oneness.
[Further exploration: Is Your Sexual/One-on-One Instinct Balanced, Over-Dominant, or Impaired? How the Sexual/1-on-1 instinct function in your life and show up in your personality style?]
THE SOCIAL INSTINCT’S NEEDS AND FOCUS:
Reading people and situations:
(1) Reading facial expressions/body language/tone of voice/moods, (2) reading between the lines, (3) interest in others/attunement/tuning in, (4) empathy/concern, and (5) adapting to cures/adjusting behaviour.
(1) Creating relationships: engaging others, (2) sustaining relationships: maintaining connections and knowing when to end them, (3) communication—speaking and listening, (4) cooperation/reciprocity and (5) play/shared enjoyment/celebration.
(1) Getting involved or not: what do I participate in?, (2) need to contribute: something beyond my own needs, (3) enrolling: getting others interested and involved in what I am passionate about, (4) part of something bigger/sense of place, (5), belonging and welcoming.
[Further exploration: Is Your Social Instinct Balanced, Over-Dominant, or Impaired? How the Social Instinct function in your life and show up in your personality style?]
Instincts generally work and shows up for us subconsciously. This means that we might be thinking or feeling or behaving in certain ways that are largely governed by our instincts, even though we are unaware of them at work within us.
As we seem to be dominated by ONE of the three instincts, as well as under-utilising aspects of the other two, it can be helpful to consider ways in which we balance our instinctual drives throughout the day, as well as in our lives in general.
This is something we can discuss more when we meet and begin to reflect on your life and the situations you are dealing with at the moment.
“You” were once a baby. Babies don’t have fully-formed and expressive ego-functioning styles (aka personalities) which usually only come online in mid-childhood. But even as infants, we all have a very definite temperament or “nature”.
Regardless of our environment when growing up, some babies are more social, or playful, others less so. Some babies are generally quite compliant or easy-going, others are more difficult or demanding. Again, like our instincts, this stuff is just hard-wired into us as human-animals.
As with our instincts, we often forget or downplay our “natural temperament” when it comes to assessing or thinking about our lives, which can cause a great deal of emotional pain and suffering as our expectations on ourselves (as well as others) might be completely out of whack with who we really are and how we function, for better and for worse.
Our adult personality style is really just the “flowering” or “above ground” aspect of our temperamental/instinctual roots. This style will be affected by our upbringing to some extent (see the next section: NURTURE), just as a plant will grow in a more robust way in certain environments rather than others. But it’s probably wise to understand first and foremost whether we are a rose bush, or an orchid, or a sunflower.
Unlike plants we have a nervous system wired up to a brain stem, as well as a right and left-hemisphere which allows for more complex processing of our instincts and natural inclinations.
When our dominant instinct (self-preservation, social, or one-to-one/sexual) is combined with our core personality type, we get a more nuanced understanding of our personality (i.e. a subtype).
If you would like to check out how your three “instincts” move with/against your personality type, have a read/listen to this article on Three Ways To Be Three.
Each of the subtypes described will capture an aspect of “You” (as we have all three instincts), but you will probably also find that one subtype speaks more directly to how you identify as You.
If none of these subtypes speak to you, you may decide to look at another personality style from those I provide here, as perhaps Three doesn’t “fit” the You you most identify with.
If possible, please make a note of the subtype that best identifies You and the qualities you identify with, as this will be useful for your understanding of yourself and how You function. It will also give us some useful “scaffolding” with which to explore your current life circumstances and how You are experiencing them.
If you’d prefer to watch a video, or listen to a podcast outlining the qualities of the Three subtypes, I’d recommend the following:
The interplay between nature (genetics) and nurture (environmental factors) is complex and multifaceted, making it difficult to determine the precise extent to which our life-force/instincts + temperament/nature/ego functioning are influenced by upbringing and trauma. However, it is widely accepted that both nature and nurture play significant roles in shaping our personality, temperament, and ego.
Some key aspects of the nurture side of things which would be good to explore together when understanding “you” and how you show up in the world include: parenting styles, cultural influences, socio-economic status, and traumatic experiences. These factors can contribute to the formation of an individual’s temperament and ego functioning, but they don’t necessarily alter our basic instinctual and temperamental settings.
It is important to note that the influence of environmental factors can vary from person to person, depending on individual genetic predispositions and resilience. Some people may be more susceptible to the effects of upbringing and trauma, while others may be more resilient.
Understanding the complex interplay between nature and nurture is essential understanding how you function, and is built into the Five Factors that constitute my integrative way of doing psychotherapy.
This is something we will always need to bear in mind when thinking about “you”.
I look forward to doing this with you soon.