One of the most fundamental principles of the Enneagram is that you self-type. This means that even as an Enneagram expert, I can’t tell you your Enneagram type. You need to recognize yourself within one of the nine habits of attention.
Self-typing is extremely useful on several levels. It acknowledges that behavior isn’t always a direct map to motivation. Since the Enneagram is about motivation and only you know why you are doing something, you are the only one who can say what type you are. Another benefit of self-typing is that it encourages self-reflection. You are asked to look deeply into your own motives for your actions. The very process of learning your Enneagram type cultivates emotional intelligence.
Self-typing has lots of benefits but it also has a few key drawbacks, the biggest of which is that people sometimes become confused about their own motivations. I conduct lots of Enneagram typing interviews with people who come to me because they’ve narrowed their type down to two or three options but then become stuck. And one question I hear often is “I’m not sure if I’m a Type 3, Achiever or a Type 8, Leader. Both resonate with me.”
Type 3/Type 8 Lookalikes
At first blush, it’s easy to see how these two types look alike. Driven, resourceful, and goal-oriented, both Type 3s and Type 8s can be assertive people who place a high priority on achievement. Externally, both can be materialistic, successful in their chosen professions, and high energy with themes of workaholism. There is a theory that most corporate CEOs are Type 3s and Type 8s, and while this would be statistically difficult to verify, it makes sense. Both types focus on achievement and can be single-minded in their pursuit of success.
These types can also have similar vulnerabilities. Both can be sensitive to power dynamics and “looking bad” in front of others. Both can have hidden insecurities that get triggered by failure, and both can have themes of impatience. They go after what they want, and they want it now.
But if you look into the mind of a Type 3 and the mind of a Type 8, you will see very different landscapes.
The Mind of a Type 3
Type 3s focus on success and achievement because their own internal compass for how they are doing is not very strong. Without a clear internal guide, they look to the outside world to give them validation. It is hard for them to separate image from reality, and this is part of why they can be so image-conscious. For a Type 3, image and reality fuse together. Whether direct or indirect about it, they want you to see their success, from the college degree that hangs on their wall to their new business card documenting their promotion.
Highly self-aware Type 3s often talk about feeling empty inside and how achievement fills this void. This is part of why it is so hard for Type 3s to slow down. Like a shark that needs to keep moving forward to stay alive, Type 3s move into action to maintain a sense of themselves. Most Type 3s report they don’t enjoy “just relaxing”- they want a goal to focus on.
The Mind of a Type 8
Type 8s tend to see the world like a battlefield, and some Type 8s even use wartime metaphors when describing their internal experience. Their drive to achieve and accumulate wealth is driven by a desire to be strong and powerful and to avoid feeling weak and vulnerable. They can be image-conscious but not to support their internal sense of worth. They have a clear sense of themselves. Instead they use image, material possessions, important titles, and so forth to establish a sense of power and to avoid vulnerability. They want success as a means to gaining power.
They tend to be more tolerant of failure, especially if it is a failure they feel they can learn from, and their resilience often allows them to rebound quickly and jump back into the next power building initiative. Type 8s also have a soft spot for the underdog and the vulnerable. There is an observable protective element in most Type 8s.
If you are stuck wondering if you are a Type 3 or a Type 8, ask yourself:
1. How comfortable are you with conflict?
Type 8s tend to be comfortable with conflict and may even use it as a communication strategy to get to the bottom of an issue. Some Type 8s feel that the truth comes out in a conflict. Expressing anger typically comes easily and naturally to Type 8s. It’s not that they go seeking conflict, but they certainly don’t back away from it, and there is an unmistakable directness about this personality style.
Type 3s are focused on how things look, so in most circumstances, they avoid conflict and take a more indirect approach (backchannel conversations and so forth). If their goals are threatened, they may engage aggressively but the aggression is usually brief. They may posture as angry but then crumble in the face of a true fight. Conflict feels uncomfortable for most Type 3s.
2. How much time do you spend thinking about what other people are thinking about you (and hoping it is good)?
Type 3s typically report 50 percent or more of their daily thoughts are spent thinking about what other people are thinking about them. This is because they fuse image with reality, so managing their image with others is important. Type 8s report spending much less of their time worrying about the thoughts of others. They might care about the opinion of a few important people but they aren't generally overly concerned about “what people are thinking about them.”
3. Can you relax and do nothing?
Type 8s can take time out to rejuvenate. While they do tend to be workaholics, they might book a nice holiday and rarely leave the hotel. Type 3s, on the other hand, tend to stay on the go. Even during a holiday, they will often rise early and have a day filled with events to be checked off their list. And Type 3s are famous for fusing work and leisure together so a holiday might even include a business meeting.
4. Does the world feel more like a race or a battlefield?
As outlined, Type 3s feel they are racing towards a goal, trying to achieve and be the “best” in all situations. Conversely, Type 8s feel they are on a battlefield with a goal to maintain a sense of strength and power. Racing to the top is less interesting to them as they prefer the independence and freedom to go at their own pace.
It’s worth mentioning that part of the confusion in typing is that the nine habits of attention are just one element of the Enneagram. There are also subtypes, wings, arrows, and more. For example, the self-preservation Type 3 is surprisingly modest (despite wanting praise) and the social Type 8 is surprisingly reserved (although wanting power and control). If you feel stuck, go a bit deeper into the Enneagram. You can talk with a trained typing expert or learn more about Type 3 here and Type 8 here.