Often the Enneagram Type 3 is described as a chameleon, shape shifting to be whatever wins admiration and success.

And as an Enneagram Type 3 myself, I’ve found that this shape shifting can happen quickly and on a subconscious level. I can walk up to someone to have a conversation, and the next thing I know, I’m feeling my energy shift. I’ve read their mood and intuited what it is they want from me. I can even sense what could possibly impress them.

The next thing I know, I may be smiling and bubbly to match their energy. Or I may be cool and aloof if they come off that way to me. I find myself borrowing their language and gestures, and when all is done, they think that we get along quite well.

What they don’t realize is that they just had a conversation with a mirror. They like the way I reflect themselves.

This effect is way worse when people don’t like themselves very much. Combative people can’t handle feeling their own energy reflected back to them, even if it’s toned down as it’s filtered through my expression. This is also rough on people who have complicated self-esteem issues. And it’s hard on me too! It’s difficult to explain but sometimes my body actually picks up on this before I engage with a person, and I end up avoiding them to protect both of us.

The way my energy shifts is very quick, and the only reason why I sense the change is due to the awareness I’ve built up over the years. My mind goes, “Oh, no. You’re trying to match this person’s energy right now!” And then I have to take a quick moment to check in with how I’m actually feeling to ground myself back into my identity. But even still, I don’t always catch the shift before it happens.

As a Type 3 Enneagram the question always comes up, “With all of this mask wearing and energy matching going on, how do I know what’s REALLY me?”

For Enneagram Type 3s, it’s really important to find the answers to this because doing so is the only way to live the life you want, and not the life that others want for you, or the life that will give you achievements that you don’t truly care about.

I am constantly connected to what others want from me and what others are doing, so it’s challenging for me to remember what works best for myself.

So here are some things that have helped me to NOT keep up appearances and be more centered in my real identity as an Enneagram Type 3.

Own Your Energetic Sensitivity

The nine Enneagram types can be categorized in many ways, and one of those ways is by the Centers of Wisdom. There are three Centers of Wisdom: the Body, the Heart, and the Mind. These centers are all about how you process life and your experiences. Everyone has access to all three centers, but we tend to use one more than the others.

The Type 3 Enneagram, along with Types 2 and 4, falls into the Heart Center category. That means the Type 3 Enneagram primarily processes life through emotions and feelings.

When looking at the types in the Heart Center category, they all strike me as being sensitive, emotional empaths. By empath, I mean that they can pick up on the emotions and needs of others so quickly that it’s almost subconscious.

Type 2s can intuitively pick up on what others need physically and emotionally, and they are known for doing whatever it takes to deliver that through serving. Doing so makes them feel needed.

Type 4s can naturally pick up on the emotions around them and use those emotions for insightful creative expression.

Enneagram Type 3s can sense the emotional desires of others, and as a result, they try to become the best of what others want.

Knowing the needs, desires, and emotions of others before they are fully aware of it themselves puts these types into the realm of emotional sensitivity.

I am sure that there are some Type 3s reading this who feel like, “Sensitivity? I’m not sensitive! Look at how hardcore I am at work and in life. I hustle, and I am the boss! There is no way I’m sensitive.”

When thinking about the Enneagram Type 3, I often reflect on Richard Rohr’s thoughts in this lecture on YouTube. Both of the wings for the Type 3 are heart centered. It’s like being heart, heart, heart. Of all the types in the Enneagram, Type 3s process life through their emotions the most.

Also the Type 3 Enneagram Type is extremely burnout prone. You can be going hard on all the things you want to accomplish, when suddenly you’re hit with a wave of exhaustion, to the point that all you want to do is sleep or veg out. Or even worse, you may get hit with a physical illness that stems from chronic stress.

Often it’s these moments of burnout and rock bottom that drives many Enneagram Type 3s on a journey to find their true selves and their soul. But you don’t have to wait until you hit the wall to do that. It’s better to make discovering yourself part of your daily life, not just a concept you turn to in times of desperation.

Part of that involves owning up to your sensitivity and how that affects the way you navigate life. My emotional sensitivity is tied to my sensory processing sensitivity (SPS). You may or may not have the trait of SPS, but it’s good to know if you do. Here’s a free test you can take to see if you have it or not.

But even if you’re not a highly sensitive person with sensory processing sensitivity, you are still an emotional empath. Figuring out what emotions and desires truly belong to you is essential to living a life that you love.

For more thoughts on living in alignment with sensitivity, you may enjoy my book, Love Your Sensitivity: 7 Essential Life Changes to Make After Learning You’re a Highly Sensitive Person

Overall, I try to remember that my ability to sense what others desire isn’t there so I can shape myself into what other people want. It’s there so that I can encourage others to do their best to achieve what they want out of life. My purpose is to tap into the desires of others and help them to be successful, and also to share how I’m living up to my own definition of success.

Take Personality Tests

When trying to figure out who you are, you have to start somewhere. Personality tests are great for figuring out your strengths and what kind of twist you give to being an Enneagram Type 3.

For example I’m not only a 3w4 but I’m also an INFP. So this gives my endeavors an artistic flair, and I strive for authenticity even in the face of my tendency to shape-shift to receive love and attention from others. My life is fraught with tension between achievement and being true to myself. The MBTI with its function stack model has helped me to be more aware of the tell-tale signs of overwork and stress. Also it’s helped me to see what I need as an INFP to get out of my head and emotions and into my body.

A good place to take the MBTI test and understand your function stack is at Personality Hacker.

Other tests I recommend taking are The Clifton Strengths Finder, The Red Bull Wing Finder and The VIA Strengths Assessment. And if you want more insight into how you handle money and do business, I recommend checking out the Sacred Money Archetypes® test.

The best thing about personality tests is that they have been an amazing tool for bringing into my life the things that work for me. As a Type 3 Enneagram, I want you to remember that it’s not about finding where you fit in, but finding what honestly fits you and what you need.

And by the way…

What Do You Need Right Now?

Like Type 2’s, the Enneagram Type 3 is a pro at sensing the needs of others. And when you’re good at sensing what others need and desire, that means that you most likely suck at knowing what you want and need.

Just a personal theory of mine, but I think one of the reasons why so many Enneagram 3’s fail to notice when they’re getting burned out until it’s too late is because they struggle to stay in touch with their authentic needs at the moment.

Real success is a dance between doing what brings you joy and doing what fulfills your needs.

When feeling overwhelmed and like there is too much stuff going on, that’s the time to step back and ask yourself, “What do I need right now?”

If doing this is a struggle for you, I recommend checking out this free journal I created with some simple questions that have helped me to return to a space of taking care of my needs and flourishing as a sensitive person.

Spend Time Alone

When you’re around other people, you are in shape-shifter mode. You are taking on their energy and translating it through your expression.

But when you are alone, that’s when you are truly you. This is the time to see what your own authentic energy and personality feels like.

As a sx/sp 3w4, alone time is my jam, but those with a two wing or social type are probably freaking out right now. I think the thing that Enneagram Type 3s dislike the most about being alone is that the personality mask is off, and they have no clue of what’s under there. Some fear that they may not have a personality at all—that there’s only a blank space where a true identity should be.

If you are a Type 3, do not let this sensation of no identity scare you. It’s telling you the story that you are not enough to figure out who you are. But the truth is that you are enough to figure out what fits you.

You are more than capable of honing in on what truly works for you.

And that feeling of nothing-ness points to a truth about our self perception: it’s something that can be easily changed.

So when you spend time alone, do so without your phone so that you can be fully in your own energy. Then reflect on the personal strengths you have learned about through your personality research. Then ask, “What feels the most authentic to me right now?”

Whatever feels the most authentic to you in the moment is who you are. Don’t overthink it. Accept whatever deeply resonates with you. Don’t be afraid of stillness. In stillness is where you connect with what’s possible and your true creative potential.

You may also appreciate having a list of questions to contemplate during your alone time.

Understand Your Emotions

Like Type 4’s, Enneagram Type 3’s can make the mistake of identifying with their emotions, thinking that emotions are personality.

This is a reminder that you are not your emotions. Emotions are simply your reactions to the world around you. They are not who you are. Knowing this leads to a much more stable sense of self because emotions are changing all the time. And when you build your identity on your emotions, you feel like you’re changing all the time, but you’re really not. It’s just that your reactions to life are always changing. In the midst of it all, you are still you.

Making it a practice to name your emotions can also do a lot to keep burnout at bay because you can see when you’re feeling tired and stressed before it all blows up in your face. For more on how checking in with your emotions can help you to be more productive, check out my post My Three Essential Steps to Better Productivity as a Highly Sensitive Person.

Experiment with Having Your Own Expressive Space

I’ve been keeping a blog for almost 10 years now, and I love doing it because when I write is when I am myself the most. In my online space, I’m not trying to keep up with anyone else or sound like anyone else. I’m simply sharing what I know and have experienced. I also love journaling for the same reason. It is a space where I can let out my authentic voice without thinking if it will win me any praise or accomplishments.

To be honest, there are a lot of things I want to accomplish with my blogging and my writing. And I do want to create things that are helpful to others. But I’m doing it from a space that feels true and real to me. My voice here truly sounds like me.

So as an Enneagram Type 3, try to find a place where you can use your authentic voice. It may be through writing, journaling, art or even singing. It doesn’t matter if you’re good at it or not. In fact it may be better if you’re bad at it. Being not so great at something helps you to move away from the performance mindset and more into the experiencing. Your voice may sound rusty at first, or you may not even like it, but that’s okay too. Our voices gain clarity and strength with use and practice.

The important thing is to have a place where you can express what you truly feel, desire, and dream of with as little influence from others as possible. This is the key to learning to truly see yourself as an Enneagram Type 3.