Series 27: For the Love of the Enneagram | Episode 04
Enneagram Threes – Lisa Whelchel on The Achievers
The next stop on the For the Love of The Enneagram train takes us to the land of the Enneagram Threes (also known as The Achievers). Leading us today are two Threes—someone you may know named Jen Hatmaker who’s a Three, and Lisa Whelchel. Lisa’s an actor (you may know her best as Blair from the ‘80s sitcom “The Facts of Life”), author, speaker, and life coach who is not only a Three herself, but who also raised a Three, and she’s just walked through a twelve-year journey of deconstructing and reconstructing everything about her life: everything she knows and everything she believed about herself and her faith. She’s dismantled so many internal walls that now, in her words, the love can flow without blocks. Lisa has bravely stepped out of safety and security in the pursuit of being whole, though her natural instincts told her to hide from the shame and fear she felt. She’s learned to overcome crowd-pleasing in order to live her own truth and be her most authentic self, and she shares what it looks like to be in a marriage and in conflict with someone of this type. And stay tuned at the end to hear from composer Ryan O’Neal (AKA Sleeping At Last), who shares his thoughts behind the music he created for the incredibly special Enneagram Three in his life.
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Lisa: Sit with and wrestle and perhaps even experience the possibility that it would be okay for you to be ordinary. You would be loved.
Jen: Welcome to the For the Love Podcast with me, Jen Hatmaker. Today, I’m thrilled to explore the world of my own Enneagram number, the Threes, with fellow Three: actor and life coach Lisa Whelchel.
Okay, everybody, hi. Hi, Jen Hatmaker here, your host of the For the Love Podcast. Welcome to the show. Well, guys, gosh, I just sent a little note to my producer after sending her this exact episode, I was like, “I never want the Enneagram series to end.” We are in a series called For the Love of the Enneagram. If your response is indicative of anything, we are all into it. It’s not just me.
I’m so happy that you’re here. I’m so happy this is resonating with you as much as it is with me. So next up in our series,, we’re diving into all the things around my own number, your girl Jen, Enneagram Three. To help me do that—oh, you’re going to love this episode. I am talking to a fellow Three, who happens to be somebody you probably already know, because Threes gotta Three.
Our next guest in the series is Enneagram Three Lisa Whelchel. So, Lisa has a tidal wave of accomplishments. I’m sure you remember her maybe first and originally as Blair with the good hair on the ‘80s sitcom The Facts of Life, of course. She has just done so much since. She’s authored more than a dozen books. She has stood on stages and captured thousands of hearts as a speaker. She mentioned this, but she walked 500 miles across Spain. She filmed a movie with Tyler Perry. She hosted a talk show with Jeff Probst. One year, when her three kids were growing up, they all piled into an RV for a solid year and drove across America. She has the audacity to remember that trip fondly.
But we also talk deeply about what these last twelve years have looked like and how Lisa has deconstructed and reconstructed. It’s powerful and it’s incredibly vulnerable. She let me know right out of the gate that she has not done a podcast since 2008. She hasn’t written a book since 2008. She has been in her personal work and in her space. This is the one she came out for. So, she said yes to the For the Love Podcast, “This will be my first time to sort of speak here and about these new ideas and places that I’m in,” and I’m honored, honored, to have hosted this incredible conversation.
Enneagram Threes, get excited, you are going to feel seen today. If you love a Three, if you work with a Three, if you’re parenting a Three, if you don’t get the Threes, dial and type. We’re going to help you understand us. We’re going to help you figure out how to be in conflict with us. We’re going to tell you what we’re really worried about, what we’re really thinking. Lisa brings in all her authenticity and vulnerability to the conversation and I’m so grateful that she did.
So, I’m pleased to share my conversation with Enneagram Three, Lisa Whelchel.
Jen: I am utterly delighted, Lisa, to welcome you to the For the Love Podcast. I’m tickled and tickled and tickled beyond words. Thank you for coming on.
Lisa: My pleasure. I’m tickled as well. I have a desire to meet you and I’m so excited to get to virtually meet you.
Jen: Me too. It’s time we have a lot of crossover in our circles. Now, I of course—and tons of my listening community—we’ve known you for decades and loved you for decades. So, it’s just so delightful to have you here. You’ve been on a path, you have been on a journey your whole life, but especially in this last decade or so, even these last few years.
Before we kind of dive in, a couple of things, will you give us an update about where you are in your life right now? Where are you? Who’s living with you? What are you doing? What are you excited about? And then maybe even how are you evolving? Right this moment, I’ve seen you hanging out with some of my beloveds from The Liturgists. So, I wonder if you could just give us the 30,000-foot view of Lisa and where you’re at right now.
Lisa: Wow, that is a big question. Since we are talking about the Enneagram Three, I am wired for efficiency. So, I will give you bullet points.
Jen: That’s so great.
Lisa: I’ll have to say that my journey—I’ll encapsulate the last twelve years because that’s really kind of where my deconstruction began, about twelve years ago. I read a book recently that talked about how the average deconstruction from beginning to end takes about twelve years. I’m really glad I didn’t read that in the beginning of it, because that does feel daunting, but I have found it to be true.
Lisa: Actually, at the beginning of my deconstruction, I had a dream. In the dream, I came upon a tollbooth, and the attendant asked me for twenty dollars to cross this bridge, and I said, “Twenty bucks? That’s an awful lot of money.” She said, “Oh, this passageway will cost you more and take you longer than you ever imagined.”
Lisa: “And you can turn around, but you first have to traverse the entire bridge and you can’t turn around until you get to the other side. At that point, you’ll be at the base of the mountain and it’s your choice.”
Jen: You dreamed that?
Lisa: I did.
Lisa: It’s been true. It’s cost me more and taken longer than I ever imagined. But when I did get to the base of the mountain—that actually was even more daunting—I didn’t want to turn around.
Jen: I’m just noodling that.
Lisa: So, in the last twelve years, I’ve gone through a divorce. I was on Survivor. Let’s see, I had my first grandbaby. I got remarried. I took a year to just do an internal adventure, but I did it in external ways. So, in that year, I did a thirty-day silent retreat, and then I went to Peru and did four Ayahuasca ceremonies. And then I went to Spain and walked 500 miles across the Northern Territory of Spain on the Camino de Santiago. I became a life coach. I really kind of withdrew from my previous life as a writer or a speaker, other than just a little bit dotted here or there. And then I remarried last year, and I’m living in Nashville and just got a new puppy and a new stepson.
Jen: Well, that is a year, you’re having a year. That was so much that you just packed in there that I am stunned. That was a very Enneagram Three list that you just made. Just absolutely power-packed with experiences. I love what you said. When you just gave that twelve-year marker, I did the quick mental math and went backwards about that amount of time in my story, and I find that theory true. I’ve never heard that number. I’ve never put like a bit of a bracket on what that might look like in the span of a human life. That’s been pretty close to my story, too. That’s really interesting.
Before we move on, because what you just said was fascinating, is there any way that you can kind of encapsulate—again, this is too big of a question—what did you leave behind? What are you now holding on to? What did this season of deconstruction and then reconstruction—what do you have now? What are you holding now?
Lisa: Well, I’ll say that I left behind ninety-five percent of my former life.
Lisa: That’s a big number.
Jen: Sure is.
Lisa: I will say the five percent that I was able to hold on to was the core and most important five percent of my life, but I would say the ninety-five percent I lost. They weren’t just periphery things. They were core things to my life, but they weren’t the core core. So, I left behind everything. I was able to hold on to my relationship with my children. Interestingly enough, I was able to hold on to the relationship with my ex-husband.
Jen: Oh, wow. Good.
Lisa: I was able to hold on to my relationship to Jesus. I can’t say I was able to hold on to my relationship to Father God, because I’ve had to let go of kind of the image of a Father God. That has been one of the most grievous things for me, because I loved having a father, which I didn’t have growing up. So, to let go of that image of a big, strong, powerful, all-knowing, all-protective image of a father has been one of the scariest things for me. I’m still in the process of that, and I have yet to really feel into replacing. I do intuitively know that there is a strong, holding, loving presence that’s available, but it’s so much easier to imagine and see an image than it is to sense into feeling a presence. So, I will say that I have been able to hold on to a sense of God, but I have had to let go of the image.
Jen: I have so many other things I want to talk to you about, but I am so sorry that you have just grabbed my attention so deeply. I wonder—because I’ve had a similar evolution in some different ways and also some same ways. There was a really strong period of release and deciding. I sift through the rubble, what remains here for me?
What made you start? Where was your tension? What were the things in your life that were rubbing or that were causing you to feel a cognitive dissonance where? Where was the rub for you that you felt like, I’m going to have to pay that twenty dollars. I’m going to have to cross that bridge?
Lisa: Yeah, I’ll say there was one specific moment followed by another specific moment, and then I will explain kind of where the rub manifested. So, the first moment was when my kids were in junior high, we moved back to Texas. I was raised in Texas, then I moved to California to be in show business. And then I left show business once my kids were born. So, I moved back to Texas when they were in junior high. I was invited to a home Bible study, but it was like unlike any home Bible study I’d ever been invited to. For one thing, the worship—we didn’t really sing. The room was filled with music, but we really just kind of felt the music and let it transport us. So, it wasn’t in the head, it was very much embodied. It took us inside ourselves rather than outside of ourselves. In that space, I begin to really feel the love of God.
I have known the love of God since I was ten years old and that has been my bedrock. I’m incredibly grateful for it. It was a foundation that kept me safe as a child actress. In terms of spiral dynamics, absolutely, it is very, very easy for me to transcend and include, to honor where I’ve been, to honor where many of my friends are. It doesn’t feel like there’s a hierarchy at all to me, because I get it. And yet, this space was not in my head. This understanding and experiencing of the love of God was beyond, “the love that passes understanding.” So, I was still feeling it. I was like, Oh my goodness. This is what the love of God feels like. It’s beyond just knowing.
Even though the knowing of it has kept me, I just had this understanding; if I could take this sense of the love of God to the women that I minister to, I wouldn’t have to say anything. I just said, “God, whatever this is, I want to take this with me. So, I don’t even have to talk. Just fill the room with this presence, so that every woman in there knows just at an experiential level how much they are loved by You.” And in that quietness, wherever it comes from, I just sensed the Lord say to me, “Well, I want that, too. The problem is that wall that you’ve built around your heart to protect you is the same wall that prevents My love from flowing out of you, so that it can be felt.” In that moment, I said, “Well, tear that wall down.” Of course, I had no idea what I was giving God permission to do.
Lisa: I didn’t understand that that wall had been built at a very young age for really important survival reasons. So, the last twelve years have been dismantling that wall. It’s been terrifying and it’s been painful. It’s been costly and it’s been worth it. But that was the moment it began.
Jen: Wow, wow. Those are some deep waters. Where do you feel like that has you right now? Specifically, spiritually, how did the dismantling of a wall affect the way that you live and interact and consider with the other people on this Earth right now?
Lisa: I would say that there’s an ease of acceptance for one thing. There’s never hate the sin, love the sinner. That’s just not there. There’s not even a sense of choosing to forgive, because there’s nothing to forgive when there’s an understanding and an acceptance. There are certainly times when I’m hurt, and I need to feel the hurt. I have certainly been known to spiritually bypass. That is one of my favorite ways to avoid, sure. When I do actually feel my feelings and allow them to flow through me, it’s not long, then there’s just such a deep understanding that to choose to forgive is not even a word that applies. It just is understanding and acceptance.
Jen: I love that.
Lisa: Because the walls are gone. I would say that there’s just a freedom. Love flows without the blocks.
Jen: Well, that is lovely. Worth the bridge, worth the mountain, worth the twenty dollar entry fee. I commend you on saying yes to that, because it is daunting to stare down a deconstruction of the faith that has served you all the way to that moment in your life. That feels very scary. I know exactly how that feels. I so appreciate your candor and your vulnerability to talk about what that looks like.
So, you just mentioned when I let myself feel my feelings, which is a fantastic segue to talk about what you and I are on the Enneagram which are big, big Threes. Here we are in the Enneagram Three episode. Let’s talk about this for a minute. I wonder if you could go back for us and tell me; how did you find the Enneagram and when and where? Because it intrigued you enough to train at an Enneagram workshop, right?
Lisa: I found the Enneagram through—my gateway drug dealer was Richard Rohr.
Jen: Of course.
Lisa: I also call him my celibate crush. My celebrity crush is Steve Martin. My celibate crush is Richard Rohr.
Jen: It’s very fair.
Lisa: My gateway drug was the book, Everything Belongs. From there, I read all of Richard Rohr’s books, including The Enneagram book. And then I did take a workshop at Esalen Institute with Russ Hudson on The Enneagram. I’ve always been fascinated with personality type beings, so this was just right in my wheelhouse and I got sucked way, way in to learning more and more about it.
Jen: Richard Rohr is so many of our gateway drugs. He actually was our guest in the series for The Enneagram One episode, which is so interesting to me because I experienced him so gently. Did you know pretty quickly that it had read you correctly? Did you know pretty early on “Yes, Three. That’s correct. Well, that’s how to identify”?
Lisa: I did. Right away, I knew it. But I will have to say that when I went to the workshop, I really, really was identifying more with the Enneagram Seven as Russ was talking. I type now as a Seven over and over and over again. Any test I take—I took a very in-depth test recently. Maybe it’s because I’ve done so much work on myself that the Three-ness in me doesn’t show up as much. Just as an FYI, I was taught when you do take a test, to take it as if you are in your early twenties, because that really is where your ego is most at its strongest.
Lisa: That will give you a clear read, because this is about our ego defenses and our ego structures. So that’s very helpful, because I was in a full-blown capital Three in my early twenties. That’s helpful, because if I were to take it now, I would think I was a Seven. Because I do show up, and we are all those numbers. But anyway, I was mentioning this, I raised my hand in class two with Russ Hudson, and I said, “I’ve always identified as a Three, but the more you talk about the Seven, I think maybe I’m a Seven.”
He said, “Lisa, if you’ve ever identified as a Three, you’re a Three, because nobody wants to admit they’re a Three.”
Jen: That is so true.
Lisa: Oh, yeah, that’s true.
Jen: When I first started working with the Enneagram, it was just pretty, pretty plain on its face that I was a Three. That was what I showed up as every time and what I identified to. I’m like, “I’m not telling anybody, I’m going to go to the grave with this.” I wanted to be a Seven. I thought, I’ll just tell people I’m a Seven. Because yes, Threes come with this—when I’m healthy, I’m able to say this, but it’s a bit of a caricature. There’s a lot more nuance and depth to a Three than is sometimes discussed. We are sort of a reduced version and sometimes feel like a soundbite that I don’t necessarily identify with in every way. What is your wing?
Lisa: l’m a very strong Two.
Jen: Me too, you and I are the exact same person. I’m a very strong Two. That scored really, really high for me as well. Because it’s interesting, I hadn’t ever heard to take it as your twenty year old self, as your twenty year old version of yourself. That makes sense to me, because I also am finding myself soften into my number a little bit. The edges are a little bit blurred.
I was just talking with Suzanne Stabile. I don’t know if you’ve read any of her work or sat under her teaching, but she was telling me, as was Richard, that another trend as we get older is that we start identifying with the opposite wing a little bit more. That if you and I are hard Three-Two, that the older we get, we start noticing that Four energy showing up a little bit more. I thought I hadn’t heard that either. So, one day you and I can look forward to just being really, really precious. We can be precious Fours, us. We’re very, very special.
Lisa: I love that. I love that idea. I want to be more of a Four.
Jen: Right. I love the Fours in my life. They’re so tender and sensitive.
Lisa: I do, too.
Jen: They create beautiful things and they’re thoughtful. Those are the parts of me that I struggle sometimes to access.
Lisa: Yes, absolutely, the artists and the poets in the world. They’re just living on the edge. I admire that.
Jen: I do, too. The Fours are able to sit really deeply in other people’s pain. I’m not there yet. The Three in me is always wanting to fix it or to be its PR agent. Let me just brush this thing, I can polish this up. I can really put this into high rotation as its best ideal version, and that’s not super helpful to real pain.
When you think backwards—and I do this, too, because Enneagram’s such a great tool to self-identify a lot of points along the way—to try to make sense of choices I made or ways that I felt along different paths, do you remember when you first noticed about yourself that you were, and of course this is reduced, a go getter?
Threes are known—for everybody listening who thinks we’re just talking code—Threes are like the achiever, kind of known to be performance-striven. They tend to be a little bit shiny, charismatic. At their best, they love their communities. They have very high ideals. They’re good leaders, they can be really good leaders. And then of course, at our worst, we can be starved for approval and applause. We can be competitive and jealous. When did you notice in your own life like, Oh, I have big Three energy? I’ve got big drive, I have ambition. What did that look like for you? How far back did that go?
Lisa: Well, looking back, I’ll say I read a book once, and it said to pay attention to your earliest memory because it’s a good indication of whatever type or whatever the message perhaps you’ve been living your entire life by. That was fascinating to me, so I began to go backwards until I got to the earliest memory I could remember. It was when I was three years old. My mom had signed me up for this summer nursery rhyme reciting class with my two other cousins.
It was a six-week summer class. Every week we would go, and we would learn one nursery rhyme. We would color a picture that accompanied it. By the end of the six weeks, we had a little folder with each of the pictures. For kind of a little recital at the end of the six weeks, we were to memorize one of the nursery rhymes and recite it as a little recital for our parents. Well, I went beyond that.
Jen: I knew where this was going.
Lisa: I memorized all six of the nursery rhymes.
Jen: Yeah, of course.
Lisa: And then I added hand motions and choreography. I had this really big animated smile. So, the teacher put me on as the grand finale.
Lisa: I was three. At the very end, I just kind of wowed the audience, because it’s just all very, very fuzzy. In my memory, I remember the purple folder very, very clearly. And then I remember just this image of catching my father’s eye in the back of the room. He was smiling and the sense of it is like, “Ah, he’s smiling at me. I think he likes me.” And then this other image just follows on that I was on my mother’s hip. She was carrying me around this dance studio, which is where it was, and just sensing that she was proud of me, and I got it. In that moment, I internalized that message: Oh, so this is how you get love and admiration and approval. Don’t just do what’s expected of you, do what’s more than expected of you. Do it really big and do it with a smile. I’ve been living my life from that message on.
Jen: It’s so interesting, because I think what so many Threes experience, especially women, is that you’re kind of born as you are. This is who we are, but we put into rotation what was sort of natural for us, which was some charisma, and some polish, shine, ambition. We want to do the best version of the thing. We have these interesting goals that we apply. We’re kind of good at it, but then that behavior is so rewarded. It’s so celebrated that it creates potentially this cycle of poor motivation, which isn’t just This is who I am, and this is what brings me joy to live on earth in this way, but then, it’s the response that is almost addictive.
So, I’m curious as a fellow Three, do you ever feel like you battle what you actually want for yourself versus what other people have trained you they want from you? What if you want from yourself changes that don’t necessarily fall in line? They’re not in alignment with what other people think you are or what they can get from you or what you do for them. How do you stay integrated and true to yourself?
Lisa: Well, I’ll have to say that prior to even this moment, I didn’t know that I was performing. So, like these twelve years that I’ve been on—this is my first podcast to even speak out after these twelve years of deconstruction. I haven’t written a book since 2008. I have done some speaking, but I have been very, very careful to speak. I’ve spoken only about grace. If I’m in an evangelical setting, I have tried to hold honesty and authenticity with honoring the church setting. So therefore, my message of recent has been honoring the gratitude I feel for the safety and the boundary of the law, which was what kept me safe while I was in that setting, as a child actress especially, and even as a young married and a young wife and mother.
Also, that we are actually called to move beyond that into the freedom and being to be lived by the law of love and move into grace. That when I knew that God was wanting me to learn more about grace, that my first response was, Well, I really love the idea of learning about grace. I just don’t want to need grace. To need grace means I’ve messed up…
Jen: I see.
Lisa: …and I’m a failure. Of course, it was terrifying.
Jen: An Achilles, yup.
Lisa: Oh, yes. I do try to speak authentically within the context of church, but most of all, I have kind of withdrawn from that as well. Before that, I believed I was being authentic. The truth was I was being authentically unreal, if that makes sense.
Jen: It does. It sure does. Wow.
Lisa: So now, I’d say in the last twelve years, I have so withdrawn because I didn’t know who I was. I was afraid to speak out. For one thing, I feel a big responsibility and I do know that people listen to people in authority.
Lisa: If something’s in the written word, it has some gravitas to it that sometimes is not really deserved. So, when my beliefs were so changing, I really didn’t want to put it down on paper, because the truth is there’s some things that I have written in books that now I don’t believe that way anymore.
Lisa: You can’t go back. Only now am I speaking out, and all I can do is say, “This is what I believe now, and it may change tomorrow.” That’s all I can say.
Jen: That is a very healthy Three, who is willing to have personal integrity, rather than just giving the room what it wants. That’s something we’re adept at. That’s something that Threes do. We’re very, very adaptable. We can adapt to any room, any scenario, any moment. We’re quickly adaptable. So overcoming that natural skill set, which has its place, and you mentioned that. It does, it serves as a protector at certain times. It has its place and it has its use. But for me, it’s been a lot of important work to resist that capacity that I have to simply adapt and adjust to be whatever that room wants me to be. That has always served me because that’s rewarded. That gets rewarded every time, but I found that behavior’s so fractured. I felt like such a fraud inside of it. All these different versions of myself showing up at different times, and then ultimately competing with one another, because they were saying different things. They were pretending different things. That was not sustainable for me.
It was such an unfulfilling way to live that I decided to go against my instincts and live true. That has a cost, as you mentioned, it’s twenty dollars and some change. I still contend, like you said earlier, that it’s worth it, absolutely worth it to live free and to live true and to tell the truth. To have one version of who we are in every room that we live in, it’s powerfully liberating, very powerfully liberating.
Lisa: It is. I think to even expand on that a bit, our one truth can be multiplicity. That’s even more confusing.
Jen: That’s good.
Lisa: But to give ourselves permission to feel contradictory in ways.
Jen: Nuanced. Sure.
Lisa: That’s okay, too. I think that that gives us even more space to be. That we can have contradictory feelings within ourselves in any given moment. So that also just gives us room to breathe.
Jen: I love that you said that. One of the most celebrated traits in my sort of previous world was certainty. That there’s just This is how you feel, this is how everyone feels. This thing is not challenged. We don’t push on this. We don’t have a different opinion. We don’t have a different experience. We don’t have a different thought, which is just not true. That’s not true for humans. One of the points of freedom for me is that I can hold to complicated ideas, and maybe consider both of them in the same hour. I’m not sure which way I’m going, and I can change my mind. That has been a real permission for me to live into my better version—into what I think is really true and whole.
I want to ask you this question, Lisa. We’re Threes, so we are in the center of the heart triad. Two, Three, Four is the heart triad. You and I are in the dead center of it, which interestingly sounds like maybe we would be able to have the highest access to our feelings, but it’s kind of the opposite. The Twos and the Threes actually access their feelings better than you and I can, because we’re so highly adaptable. This is what Suzanne Stabile told me in the first episode in the series. She said, “Threes absolutely experience everything through their feelings first.” We’re dead center at the heart triad. So, everything comes into us through our emotions, we feel it first. But she said, “Where a Two and a Four can essentially experience things and their feelings and then stay in them, the Three, with her high adaptability, feels her feelings, and then immediately moves it to her head, where she can manage it. She can polish it up. She can fix it. She can get over it.” So, I felt very like accused by that comment. I’m like, “How dare you? You don’t know me.” I’m wondering if that has been your experience. Also, has that evolved for you? When you experience things, does it come in through your feelings then up to your brain, or have you done enough work that you can kind of sit in the feelings longer and just feel them instead of just fixing them?
Lisa: No, that is absolutely 100% my experience. It always surprised me, because as I mentioned, I’ve always loved the whole personality typing. So, I’ve been fascinated since I was a teenager. Myers-Briggs, even since I was a teenager, anytime [I was] taking the test, I’ve tested as an INFJ. That’s always shocked me, because I was like, Feeler? I’m not a feeler. I’m a thinker. I’ve always been surprised by the result until I realized that part of it is I’m such a deep feeler, but the immensity of my feelings scares the heck out of me. They’re so big, I can’t tolerate them. So, I have to get out of them immediately and manage them. I manage them very well in my head.
Jen: Of course.
Lisa: Not only are the Twos, Threes, and Fours the feelers, they are also in the shame triad. Shame is when we go in fear and we hide. When we feel fear, we hide, and we feel shame. We hide, and that is actually why I became an actress, because I was so paralyzingly shy as a child. In second grade, my second-grade teacher told my mom she was worried about me, because at recess, I would just go out and take a book under a tree and read, rather than play with the kids. She said, “I’m just worried about her because she’s not very social.” It was because I was paralyzingly shy, even then I was going to my head and just going out to read.
At that point, my mom took me to an all-day kind of a child study center, and I did a bunch of tests. Even at that point, after all these tests, the doctor said two things: “She is afraid of rejection. She has a high IQ, but she goes to her head in order to manage her fear of rejection.”
Lisa: From the time I was very, very little, that is how I’ve learned to manage this fear and this shame and itis hiding. So, I hide from my feelings, I hide from my fear.
Jen: Me too.
Lisa: And then on the other side of it, then I perform to be someone else.
Jen: Absolutely. I mean, that is it. That’s the Three’s path. What’s tricky about that is that it works. That’s what’s tricky.
Lisa: Yes. Not only does it work to keep us safe, but it actually is very successful.
Jen: That’s it.
Lisa: So, to give that up is a very high cost. I remember when in the beginning of this deconstruction, it hit me, Oh, if I actually surrender and say yes to what I’m being asked to do, I may not ever be as successful as I’ve been before. That was a real choice I had to make. It’s actually proven to be true in a Western kind of way.
Jen: I like that you said that, because we Threes are very known for goals and being somewhat success-driven. That is what people say about us. It’s often true. So, I’m curious. What does success look like to you right now in this stage of your life? How has that changed? What do you consider now the thing that to me feels successful?
Lisa: I will say I’m kind of in transition from labeling success, for me. The last twelve years, it just has been a kind of an inner journey, really. Of course, Richard Rohr says, “You do take your Enneagram energy and overlay it over anything.” When I knew that silence and stillness was where God so often shows up in the most pure form, I took my Three energy and was like, I am going to be the best at being still than anybody else.
Lisa: Nobody else is going to be better at silence and doing nothing than I am. So, here’s me being the best at being silent and still. I went like all in.
Lisa: The 30-day Silent Retreat sounds really un-Three, except it is a very Three thing to do if a Three is trying to learn how to be silent and still.
Jen: So hilarious.
Lisa: And then it sounds really good, except I wrote on my computer 92,000 words on that 30-day Silent Retreat.
Jen: Did not.
Lisa: My mind was not still. I want to give myself props for baby steps, I tried, but the Three energy was still alive…
Lisa: …and well. But I will say now, I have longed my whole life and I have believed that marriage could be a spiritual path. That in the crucible of an intimate relationship, that we are wounded in the context of a relationship, and that you can really, truly only be healed within the context of relationship. That for our core wounds, you have to let someone into the core places. That also requires immense safety and security. I’d say there’s no better place, but one of the most optimal places would be within the construct of marriage. I would say now, where I am and where I’m focusing my energy is, I am enjoying just being in this crucible of a new marriage with a partner who also wants to be awake and conscious and brave.
We are activating and triggering each other’s core wounds. [They have to be] activated and triggered so that we can feel them in and see them and deal with them, so that they can be healed. That’s what I’ve longed for. I’ve done enough work on myself alone. I reached the end of what I can do alone. I need to be triggered in my core wounds and work through that. So that’s where I am now.
Jen: Oh man. Gosh, we’re doing some of that work this very minute. I mean, up to the very minute I got on this podcast, “Oh my god, you’ve got to get out of my office. I’m about to talk to Lisa.” So that is very near and dear to me and true and real. So, speaking of that, I’m sure that you have made your shiny new husband take the Enneagram. What’s his number?
Lisa: He’s a Nine.
Jen: Oh, I love Nines. Oh, how nice. A Three-Nine is a good combination. What does that look like in your marriage from an Enneagram perspective?
Lisa: I will speak first to the blessing of the Nine. This is a good segue, because I want to speak to something that Russ Hudson taught in this workshop that I have not read elsewhere, and yet has been really, really helpful for me in understanding the Enneagram. He had a little bit of kind of a tweak on where we go in strength and where we go in growth. He said, “Where we go in stress is also where we go in safety.” That so resonated with me.
Jen: I have to think about that.
Lisa: I see that every single time. Because for instance, a Three goes to Nine under stress. So, when I just feel like I’m overwhelmed, I’m done, it’s too much, I can’t do it, I’ll just say, “Okay, that’s it. I give up.”
Lisa: “I’m sitting on the couch, I’ve got to read.”
Jen: Absolute sloth. Complete withdrawal. Same.
Lisa: Exactly. But here’s the thing, being married to a Nine has given me the safety. I’ve never been a TV watcher. I always read. I love to read. I’ve never watched television, except Survivor. I don’t watch television. I love to read. I love to learn. It’s my joy. I love to work. It gives me pleasure. I’ve always been on a diet. I’ve always been exercising. In the last three years, I’ve put on forty pounds. I have binge-watched all of the most famous shows.
Lisa: I love it. And you know why?
Jen: You love it.
Lisa: Because I am safe. I am loved.
Jen: I see.
Lisa: I don’t have to perform. I don’t have to be beautiful. I don’t have to have a perfect body. I don’t have to produce. There’s no pressure to be anything. He loves me for me. He once said, “I think it’s great that you’ve done all those things. If you worked at the Shoe Carnival, I would love you.” He said, “Of course, I know you, you would be regional manager in eight months. I would love you, no matter what you did.” That’s safety. I am loving being in that Nine space. Russ said that if you didn’t get the where you go and stress in childhood, it’s actually really important to go back and get that for wholeness. So now from this place of I don’t have to perform to be loved, I can actually go from there to a Six, having retrieved this sense of safety and being loved, just for being rather than doing. I’m going to be a more whole Three…
Jen: That’s so good.
Lisa: …or more whole Six side.
Jen: That is so resonant with me. I have a handful of spaces and people with whom I know for sure I am 100% loved for just who I am, not at all of these things that I do, which I also love. I love my work same as you, but that it has no bearing on who I am in that relationship and how that person perceives me. I am on my best self inside those places.
That is where my shoulders come down and I relax. And then I’m able to be that wonderful space of growth, which is that upside of a Six, so connected, so loyal. Just that beautiful sort of relational advantage that the Sixes in our lives bring us. I love that you’re in that place. I’m really happy for you. It’s work for Three to get there and I know it. I know that that required laying down so many things, and unlearning and relearning. I commend you. I really commend you that you have landed there in your life. It’s incredible.
Let’s tell people this, because a lot of people listening today are not Threes. They do not understand our energy. They don’t understand our big, audacious ambitions. We can’t help it but to be the regional manager. It’s just the way we’re born. But they’re married to a Three, or they’re in partnership with a Three, or they work really closely with one, or they parent one, let’s just say. They’re close to somebody who’s a Three.
What would you tell them? And I’ll pile on after your answer, if that person is finding herself or himself in conflict with one of us, in conflict with a Three, how can we advise them? [What are] the best strategies to resolve it and to move forward in the relationship? What can we tell them about what a Three is thinking and feeling inside conflict? How to reach us and how to connect and how to get to the other side of that thing?
Lisa: I will speak personally for myself, because I don’t know that this applies to everybody. My middle daughter is a Three with a Two wing. I think her husband has also come up with a really beautiful image for how to be in relationship with her that works well. He says that when they are in conflict, that she gets inside her igloo. She has a little window with a sniper gun. She is laser focused. She’s sharp and quick and knows how to just fire. He knows that he can’t come to the front, he’ll be shot down. So, he has to go around to the back, and kind of hug her from behind, and let the warmth of his love melt some of that igloo. And then be strong, so that her backbone can feel the strength of him. It’s a lot to ask.
Jen: It is.
Lisa: But to have someone that can first be soft enough to help reach our soft spots, because I will retreat first of all.
Lisa: I need somebody to come get me, which takes a lot of bravery.
Lisa: When I retreat, I probably have my sniper gun out the window as well. So, it takes a lot of bravery to approach me in that space, but I need somebody to come get me. And then to be soft enough, but then not so namby-pamby soft that I can’t feel safe. I need some strength to feel safe enough and some solidity that I can then express my feelings without feeling that I’m going to overpower somebody with my feelings. That’s also a fear of mine. It’s the Two wing I think that I have to take care of somebody and therefore I can’t be the full power of who I am. So, it’s a whole lot to ask.
But if someone that’s in conflict with me can realize that underneath all of that strength, there’s a softness that is crying out, “Come get me, come get me, come get me, and I need you to be strong, so that I can relax into you, and also be strong, and fight with me a little bit.” I know that sounds like a lot to ask, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.
Jen: It doesn’t hurt to ask. It doesn’t hurt to shed some light on what’s actually going on, because what people see is the sniper going out the window. It’s helpful to say This is what’s going on inside. I can tell you, for me, everything you just said is pitch perfect, spot on. That’s precisely true. One of our interior fears as Threes are that we are really loved well when we are good, when we’re performing, when we are serving well, when we are being good leaders, when we are succeeding, we’re achieving, just when we are this incredible version that people want from us. This great version of ourselves.
So, conflict suggests that the whole mechanism could unravel, that “See, we knew it, we’re not loved.” Things go wrong, I’ve made a mistake. We’re in conflict. What that signifies to me is that I’m about to lose the love part. I’m about to lose that connection. It’s in jeopardy. So, for me to be approached in such a way to say, “Hey, come down out of the rafters. This is a hard moment, there’s tension inside of it. We’re going to have to say some hard words. We’re going to have to have some hard conversations, but I love you. We’ll get to the other side of it. Neither one of us is going to die. This doesn’t mean everything’s doomed. Don’t catastrophize. We can do this hard thing and come through on the other side of it and still deeply love one another.” That’s so reassuring to me that I’m not just about to lose the whole thing, because something’s hard or bad, because we’re just not great at conflict. That’s not our skill set.
Lisa: Exactly. I think it’s also so helpful to hear somebody say that and remind us, because I think we’re not only good at conflict, but we’re so used to immediately jumping out of our feelings…
Lisa: …that a small feeling feels disproportionately huge.
Jen: Sure is.
Lisa: It’s like somebody to remind us that, “Okay, you know what? This year, we’re not going to die. We’re not going to divorce. You’re not going to lose. You’re not a horrible failure.”
Jen: That’s right.
Lisa: “This is actually just a conflict. We’re going to get through it.” Because everything inside of our body is telling us this is the end and it’s horrible.
Jen: That’s true.
Lisa: We’re failures, because we’re just not used to feeling these feelings. We know how to get out of them. When we can’t get out of them, we just catastrophize.
Jen: Just terrible. So, yes. Lisa and I both readily admit that that’s a tall order. Everybody who’s married to a Three is like “Good lord. Oh my God. I need my own personal, like, crisis counselor just to have a basic argument with my person.” This is something that we work on. A healthy Three at least knows this about herself and wills herself to stand in the feelings longer than we want to, which is longer than five seconds. So, I’m working on this so hard right now. Oh my gosh.
In fact, I told you, my husband and I were having a big-time conversation, literally just before this podcast, and it had gone on for—please give me a gold star like a Three wants—an hour. It had gone on for an hour. And then I fully got to some point and I was like, “That’s just it. That’s it. I’m at capacity.” He just laughed. It was an hour, you have to acknowledge you’re so proud of me for doing that for an hour.
Lisa: I’m proud of you.
Jen: Thank you, Lisa. Okay, one last question and then we’ll wrap it up. For the Threes that are listening right now, and they are like, “Okay. I want to be more healthy. I want to be more whole. I want to grow. I want to be beautiful inside of my relationships. I want to be tender. I really want to be healthy.” If you could just pick one—of course we could say a million things toward our Three community—what one piece of advice might you say knowing how they are wired, what they’re afraid of, what they’re motivated by, what their instincts are? What would one piece of advice, what would you say to them? This is a place to start.
Lisa: I would say dare to sit with and wrestle with, and perhaps even experience the possibility that it would be okay for you to be ordinary. You would be loved. You don’t have to save the world. That God is not needing you to do anything, even if you’re doing grand works for the kingdom of God. Even if you’re doing wonderful social justice things on behalf of people and the marginalized, those are all wonderful things. Even if you are really taking care of a lot of people in your world, even if you are making a difference on behalf of other people, that’s all fabulous.
Even if you are shiny in your Three-ness and in it’s all very altruistic, but live with the possibility that if you lived on the corner of Main and Second Street and watched television and took your kids to Little League and cooked dinner occasionally and never did anything spectacular ever again but simply enjoyed the simple things of life and relationships with a small community of people, and went deeply into just what was around you and the people around you and the things around you, and lived deeply in a small circle, and experienced deeply the love that was everywhere just around you, and loved an experience that ordinariness, that would be absolutely bring as much joy and pleasure to God as the shiny things you do for Him perhaps out of fear that you need to do that to please Him.
Jen: Lovely. That is such a wonderful and a perfect answer to the question. We’re going to wrap this up. These are just three kind of quick off the top of your head questions that we’re asking everybody in the Enneagram series. So, here’s the first one. If you could choose to be a different Enneagram number, which one would you pick?
Lisa: I see that’s a toss-up between the healthy Four or helping Nine. The healthy Four are the artists and the poets. I longed to be the veil, to be that thin in my life. And then I think that healthy Nine really is at the peak and the pinnacle of the Enneagram, where there is the wholeness of all the types. I would long to have that experience.
Jen: Yes, me too. Okay, swap that. Which part of your exact personality do you enjoy most about yourself?
Lisa: I love learning. I eat it up. It’s like dessert to me. I love books. I love workshops. I love learning. Here’s the thing. My hunch is when Rumi met his teacher Shams, Shams told him to throw all his books into the fountain before he could actually move into deeper learning, which was deep wisdom. I have a hunch that’s probably what would be asked of me to move into the deepest learning. That would be the next cost in sacrifice asked of me and I’m not quite ready. I love it, because I love reading so much. I love learning, but I do have a hunch it may be something that the horizon asks of me to sacrifice if I want a deeper one.
Jen: We’ll keep our eye on that, but I also love that you’re a learner. I love learning too, just cannot get enough to feed these minds of ours.
I just appreciate you. Thank you for coming on the show. Thank you for your incredible tenderness, for talking about your story, and your path, and what you are learning and where you’re going. It meant so much to me, definitely as a Three who understood every single word you said, but also just a person and a woman. So, I am deeply grateful that you said yes to this podcast, the first one since 2008. Thank you for doing it. I really treasure your presence here and hold it with really, really tender hands. So, we’re thrilled, thrilled to have had you on. So, thank you.
Lisa: Thank you very much for inviting me and thank you for being a safe space. Thank you for the sacrifice that you have gone through to create a safe space, not only for me, but for so many. So, I’m very grateful.
Jen: A nice thing to say. Okay, sending you all of my love.
Lisa: All my love back.
Jen: Thanks, Lisa.
Jen: And now to tell us more about the music you’ve been listening to in this episode, we hear from composer Ryan O’Neal, AKA Sleeping at Last, about the inspiration behind this piece.
Ryan: Threes are amazing people like right out of the gate. Just excellent. Not because of what they do, but because of who they are. And I know this personally because my wife is the type Three, which means that writing the song around the house was really challenging, because when I’m writing, I’m trying out all sorts of ideas, mostly bad ones. And because it’s her type, I was just really insecure about her hearing any of it before it was finished. My initial idea for the song was to kind of go all out to be as big and grand in the recording as I possibly could, so even hire a 100 piece orchestra. That was the intent for several months leading up to actually writing the song. And the deeper I dug into the type in my research and in my own experience as a partner to type Three, I knew that in order to show the type Three in there in their true beauty, it was to be as intimate and vulnerable with the song as possible. So everyone already knows that type Three’s are capable of leading a million piece orchestra if they wanted to. But I believe that the health of the integrated Three brings that same level of excellence just by choosing to be vulnerable and open. So this song is one of the more intimate songs of the bunch. So it’s primarily piano and my voice.
There are violins that weave in and out of this song. And for the strings, I wanted them to feel less like the string arrangement and more like a floral arrangement, which I know sounds weird. So the strings sort of flourish or bloom and wilt away throughout the song and little in little moments. I don’t know. Maybe it’s because my wife adores flowers, but I just kept thinking about flowers and everything I read and learned about the type Three as they are just naturally beautiful. The hope for the song is to remind type Threes that they are wonderful without lifting a finger.
The word worthy suddenly just made a lot of sense to me, which is kind of what I aimed at with this song. And that led to writing the final lyric of this song.
Jen: Well, there you are, everything you ever wanted to know about Enneagram Threes. So nice to have a conversation partner like that. Isn’t it so nice when you speak to somebody who really understands your internal wiring? That isn’t asking for an explanation, but is more like “Yes, me too.” It’s so good to be among our people. I’m grateful to her for joining us on this show, and to you, for listening. You guys are sharing the tarnation out of this series. I love that you are. I hope it’s a tool in your hands.
By the way, if I didn’t already mention this, the whole thing was my assistant Amanda’s idea. She had it a year ago. She’s like, “Guys, I’m just going to quit if we can’t do a series on the Enneagram.” So, this is her brainchild and her baby. I’m so happy that she kept her foot on the gas. Laura and I were like, “Yes, fine, we’ll obey you.” Also, next week, we go to Enneagram Four, probably one of the greatest conversations in this series. I will be talking to Enneagram master and all around phenomenal human being, Ian Cron. So he said so many things in the Enneagram Four episode that just had me really, I literally ran inside the house and told Brandon, “I’ve got to just tell you five things I heard of this episode that I need to get off my chest really quickly.”
So, you’re not going to want to miss next week, or any of the weeks frankly. So, thanks for sharing these episodes, and for subscribing, and rating, and reviewing the podcast. That helps the podcast so very much. It means the world as we read every comment you guys say. We care about your input. We are listening and delighted to serve you week in and week out.
So, you guys, see you next week for the Enneagram Four episode. You’re going to love it. See you then.