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The Self-Preservation Three Enneagram Personality Subtype

Chestnut (2013) calls this type “Security” and notes that this is a countertype to Sexual or Social Three subtypes. Often the outwardly-focused Three personality style (being efficient and productive, setting goals, marshalling resources, and accomplishing aims in a desire to attract attention, validation and recognition, aka Love) is less overt in the Self-Preservation Three with their focus on Self-Preservation Instinctual  Concerns such as Self-Care and Well-Being, Maintenance and Resources, as well as Domesticity and The Home. 

Wagner (2010) suggests that when the “passion” or “vice” of a point Three style merge with self preservation concerns, security is sought through money, material possessions, status, and success.

These THREES (erroneously?) believe they will survive because of the objects they possess. And if they possess the best brand names, they will survive more successfully. Even if you’re not doing well, at least look like you are.
Insecurity, though, never knows just how much is enough. If money can’t buy you love, maybe it can buy you identity, status, security. Worth and approval come from work and earnings. When THREES are out of work, they’ve literally lost everything, including their self. So they work hard to assure job security.
Since lasting security is found only in one’s essence or real self and in genuine I-Thou relationships, the personality may at times be on shaky ground, and feel quite insecure because it is unreal, and must continue keeping its mojo working, performing well, increasing earnings, acquiring and consuming goods, belonging to successful organizations, etc.

Following Ichazo, Naranjo calls this subtype “Security” because these Threes work hard to achieve a sense of security, both in terms of material and financial resources and knowing how to do things effectively. Self-Preservation Threes express a concern with security in that they have a need to feel autonomous and self-sufficient–to know how to take care of themselves and others.

People with this subtype often had a childhood in which they didn’t have enough protection and resources. In response to those conditions, these Threes learned to be active and efficient doers, oriented to taking care of themselves without help from others. They have developed a special focus on autonomy in the face of a jeopardized sense of security.

This preoccupation with security can also extend out to others. This person emanates a sense of security; they are solid people who you might go to for advice. They seem outwardly calm and organized, like they have it all together, but they are anxious underneath. These are assertive people who specialize in solving problems and getting things done in a high-quality way–and while they work very hard, they don’t show their stress. They are usually financially secure, highly productive, and “in control,” but they also report feeling an underlying sense of anxiety related to the effort it takes to achieve the sense of security they crave.

Self-Preservation Threes strive to be the ideal model of quality in whatever they do. They want to be the best example of how to be in whatever role they play: the best parent, the best partner, the best worker, the best at whatever they do. They feel a need not only to be seen as good, but also to actually be good. They do this both to achieve a sense of security and to inspire admiration in others without being obvious about their vanity. They want to be admired because they do things well, and they want to do the things they do in the best way possible–not just to have a good image that people will find attractive, but also to live up to that image. Their tendency to adapt to a “model” also motivates them to forget their own feelings.

Following the perfect model of how things should be done means being virtuous, and being virtuous implies a lack of vanity. In this sense, the Self-Preservation Three “has vanity for having no vanity.” This means that while this Three wants to look attractive and successful in the eyes of others, they don’t want other people to know they want this–they don’t want others to see that they have actively created an image to look good to others. They don’t want others to catch them in the act of wanting or working to look good because they have an ethic that say that “good,” or virtuous, people are not vain. Some Self-Preservation Threes are aware (and will admit) that they want people to admire them for their good image–though, generally, they want to keep this a secret–but some Self-Preservation Threes believe so firmly that it is wrong or superficial to want the approval of others that they won’t admit this desire even to themselves. These are people who want to be so perfect that it’s not in their code of honor to allow for vanity.

In denying the presence of vanity, the Self-Preservation Threes represents the countertype of the three Three subtypes–that is, this Three is the “counter-passional” type, the Three that doesn’t necessarily look like a Three. Though these Threes are motivated out of vanity, just like the other Threes, they deny their vanity to some extent, and so their character is shaped more around going against the energetic pull of vanity. And there is a natural opposition between the vain desire to attract attention and a primary instinctual drive toward security and self-preservation. Unlike Social Threes, who will more openly brag about their accomplishments, Self-Preservation Threes avoid talking about their positive characteristics and high-status credentials because they believe it’s bad form to advertise their strong points, even if they also want others to see them as successful. They may be either modest or falsely modest.

In terms of the mental habit of deception, this subtype is also anti-deception in that they try to tell the truth. The deception in this Three comes at a more unconscious level; when it comes to knowing their true motivations, Threes often confuse their image-based reasons for doing things with their real feelings and convictions.

Self-Preservation Threes display a strong workaholic tendency and are motivated to work very hard to achieve security. They have a compulsion to be self-reliant and to feel in control of their lives. They also feel responsible for making everything happen, and can even have a sense of omnipotence. Along with their need for control and their underlying anxiety, they may experience a sense of panic when they need help or lose autonomy.

The passion for security in this subtype leads them to oversimplification in life, reducing their focus and interest to what is “practical and useful.” These individuals have an imperative need to know they can handle it all and that all will be good for everyone surrounding them. They don’t show weakness. They may think things like, “I have to do everything, because I do it better.” Situations that feel beyond their control can leave them confused and lost internally, causing them to freeze up, and in an effort to reestablish control, they can become invasive. These are the most rigid of the Threes.

With so much energy focused on work and efficiency and security, there can be little mental and emotional space left for these Threes to be able to engage deeply with others. Though they may work hard to maintain relationships, they may have trouble making deep connections. When Self-Preservation Threes–especially less self-aware Self-Preservation Threes–do make connections, they can be superficial. They can view feeling their emotions as a waste of time, and this inhibits their ability to connect in intimate relationships, since a true relationship comes through each person being in touch with their feelings and their “real self.”

It can be hard for a Self-Preservation Three to be recognized as a Three. They may be easily confused with Ones or Sixes. This Three looks like a One in that the type is rigid, responsible, and self-sufficient. These Threes, like Ones, try to be a model of virtue in the things they do. The can be distinguished from Ones in that they move at a faster pace, pay attention to creating an image (even when they don’t acknowledge it), and conform to a perfect model of how to be as judged by social consensus, not according to internal standards of right and wrong (as Ones do). They differ from Sixes in that they are fundamentally image-oriented and work harder in response to insecurity, while Sixes find protection in other ways. And while Threes may question their sense of identity, they generally don’t allow their productive to get slowed down by too much doubt or questioning.

Chestnut introduces us to Virginia, a Self-Preservation Three, who explains:

“I’ve always been an achiever. In preschool I finished tasks so early that I was assigned to help others in order to say engaged. By first grade, the school counselor explained to my proud parents that my insistence on perfect homework and exemplary behavior were early predictors of later anxiety, I have worked incredibly hard throughout my career and am now an officer of a Fortune 500 company. Married and divorced twice, my pattern was three to five years of being the perfect wife, followed by emotional exhaustion and an angry husband. Vulnerability or relying on others makes me uncomfortable. I love being counted on to tackle difficult challenges and strive to be hyper-responsible, fair, and generous. Although I crave admiration for these traits, I avoid seeming to care about superficial appearances. I need to be the good traits. When I first studied the Enneagram, I rejected the idea that I could be an image-conscious Three. I made myself a Six, even “performing” once as a model Six on an Enneagram workshop panel. My goal now is balance: vulnerability (versus fierce autonomy) and stillness (versus overactive doing).”

Specific Work For The Self-Preservation Three on the Path to Healthy Integration

Self-Preservation Threes can travel the path form “Vanity” to “Hope” by slowing down and making room for experiencing more than just what’s on their “to-do list.” They aim for hope by leaving themselves more space to feel, and to express those feelings, so that they can tap into the rhythm of their own inner experience. As a Self-Preservation Three, it is important to notice when you create rationalizations for not allowing space for deeper emotions and relational needs. Allow yourself to find a security through deep connections with other people, not just by relying on yourself and working hard. Allow yourself to realize that you don’t have to be responsible for everything. Create safety through shared feelings of mutual trust, as opposed to going it alone and working so hard to be autonomous. Learn that your anxiety is a sign that you have deeper feelings and needs that aren’t’ being addressed, and instead of working harder, take care of yourself by listening to your real self, allowing yourself to rest, and taking refuge in hope, the expectancy of future bliss that you don’t have to make happen all by yourself. Allow yourself to be still, such that you can make room to have an experience of vulnerability and more of your true self.