Part 4 of 9 in the Enneagram Virtues series.
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The Virtue of the Type Three is “Veracity” but you’ll also see it called “Honesty” or “Authenticity.” All three of these terms have their strengths and weaknesses.
“Honesty” fits as the opposite of the Vice of the Three (“Deceit”), but to me it connotes a sense that Threes are inherently dishonest, which sounds more nefarious than their chief compulsion of Deceit. I also find “Honesty” implies that truth without diplomacy is a virtue, which I don’t believe it is. (Picture the defensive person’s retort, “I was just being honest!”) In fact, the Christian tradition says of such blatant “honesty” that Truth without Love is meaningless. And the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh teaches that if you speak the truth in a way that the listener can’t hear, it’s no longer the truth.
“Authenticity” is nearer the mark, for me. But in the Enneagram world, this apt description is often mixed up with the Type Four’s compulsion and path of growth since that type is known for searching for the authentic but never quite finding it.
“Veracity,” on the other hand—although an uncommon word today—has many of the connotations that we want. It’s clearly related to truthfulness, squarely in the realm of the Three, and an obvious Virtue to the Three’s compulsion of Deceit. Deceitful how? My teacher Fr. Richard Rohr shared the story of a Three who would come to him in spiritual direction and say, “Don’t let me bullshit! Don’t let me bullshit!”
What Threes Are Fighting
Because, of course, Threes love to “bullshit.” (Excuse the borrowed phrase, but it’s too perfect not to use repeatedly.) They do this mostly on an unconscious or subconscious level. After all, Threes aren’t really known for telling tall tales or being compulsive liars.
But Threes do occasionally “bullshit” on a conscious level. No matter the level on which it’s happening, this “bullshit” has an expanded definition. The compulsion of Deceit isn’t outright lies per se—that would be too obvious. Instead, Deceit encompasses a broad range of activities: outright lies—yes—but also lies of omission, exaggeration, avoiding accountability, putting your best foot forward (and hiding the other one), attempts at filling voids, shape-shifting, being unaware of your emotions, and not trusting others with the real you, warts-and-all.
Again, Threes are often unaware that they’re living this way. But they are.
Many Threes internalize early on (often from a caretaker) that they must earn love. The Ones sense this earning in moralistic terms: to be good enough. Threes sense this earning in terms of success: to have achieved enough. To have added enough value to their person.
It’s an incredible burden to feel you must, in some way, perform your whole life. “I’m only as good as my last performance” is the lie the Three naturally believes. (In this way the compulsion of the Three is Deceit for others but also themselves; they desperately want to themselves buy into the self-image they’re selling.)
The Three believes she is inherently without worth apart from what she does. The Three sadly attempts to compensate for not sensing intrinsic worth and the true self by manufacturing something of worth: achievements. A false self. (You can see how the Enneagram is a tool for compassion.)
The Power of ‘Veracity’
“Veracity” comes from the Latin veracitas. It’s related to the same root that’s in the word “veritable,” which has a lovely definition: “being in fact the thing named and not false.” Allow me to give a modified definition for the Virtue of Veracity as it relates to the Type Three: “being in fact the person who is actually there, fully seen and fully valued.” It’s a truthfulness of the Three’s very being. Veracity is such a strong antidote because, like all of the Virtues, it lets the type “off the hook” for maintaining the fruitless and bankrupt worldview it has. Just as getting to take off the armor and realx into vulnerability is liberation for the Eight, getting to step off the achievement hamster wheel into unearned worth is liberation for the Three.
A life void of “bullshit” is a truthful life. Truthful how? Truthful in what I am presenting to others and to myself. Rather than wearing a mask entitled, “the person who …” the Three can simply be. To believe that you are what you do is a burden too great to bear. And it carries within it the inherent belief that the Three is somehow separate from everything around it—an outside, separate self acting on the world to produce something of value.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Veracity, in contrast, affirms the inherent connectedness of the Three to all of reality. Rather than an outside agent acting to create value, the value is already present through the mere fact of the Three’s existence—a beautiful, infinite, indestructibly linked part of the whole. The Three is connected to all of life, and it is from being present to this truth that the deepest levels of engagement and the true self emerge for the Three.
When accessing Veracity, the Three can actually experience for himself that no value is missing. With Veracity, the Three recognizes that any distortion of reality—any attempt to embellish or “improve” on one’s contributions and self—is a gross and unnecessary disservice. What parent would show up to their child’s recital and play Rachmaninoff on their smartphone, hoping to disguise the child’s true music? It’s precisely the child’s music as it is—just the way it is—that moves the parents to tears. The Three living into Veracity is like that. It’s not that Veracity means being okay with being less; it means seeing that the undistorted you is actually more than what you could ever hope to manufacture through effort or recognition.
The Gift of the Mirror
In attachment theory, one of the main internalized questions people ask in their relationships is “Am I lovable?” The Three seems to be living a life dependent on creating something lovable, which is to say, by having something lovable rather than being someone who is worthy of love.
“What is there to love about me, really?” thinks the Three.
The Three’s energy is attuned to the question of being lovable. (I have a theory that the whole right side of the Enneagram focuses on asking, “Am I lovable?” while the left focuses on asking the other key question: “Can I depend on you?”) If, like the Three, you don’t really believe that you’re worthy of love simply by being yourself, what can you do? One exercise psychologists will recommend is staring into a mirror and saying to yourself, “I love you.” It’s a lot harder than it sounds; often there are tears.
The Three has spent a lifetime practicing Deceit with others—and with themselves. They don’t actually believe they’re lovable apart from what they do.
Threes need the encounter of the mirror—either real or metaphorical—to see themselves clearly. This is often a trusted person in their life. It may be themselves. Mirrors neither embellish nor distort; mirrors speak the truth. And to say, “I love you,” to the unembellished, undistorted face staring back at you is to practice a radical acceptance of the truth: you are beautifully and wonderfully made, perfectly lovable as you are. Your truth, accessing Veracity, is that you are dynamically a part of the whole without any effort required. And it’s from there that you will live your life of intrinsic value.
There’s no need to believe the self-deception because it doesn’t serve you. It may produce affection or admiration—even within yourself. But eventually the aware Three will see that these are temporary and rather poor substitutes. They never satisfy.
James Finley says that “we were created in such a way that only an infinite union with an infinite love will do.” Our life is love; it’s who we are through and through. And to become ever more awakened to this reality is not only our hope, he says, “it is our destiny.” The more often the Three can orient herself to the truth of the mirror, the more she will touch the authentic liberation of Veracity.
A radical reorientation of the Three’s life away from the masks and toward the real is what they’ve actually been waiting for. To do so is good. It’s beautiful. And it’s the Truth.
Also in This Series
Samuel Ogles is a writer, speaker, spiritual director, and certified Enneagram teacher living in the western suburbs of Chicago. He co-hosts the Ask a Spiritual Director podcast, and he loves communicating, spirituality, and empowering others with deeper insights and a vision for change. Learn more at SamuelOgles.com.