When I was in grad school, my friend Sarah introduced me to the Enneagram.
“Take this test! I bet I know which number you are but I want to see if I’m right.”
A few minutes later, “it looks like I’m a…Two?” I said.
“That’s what I thought. I’m a Nine.”
Two? Nine? What did this mean? Little did I know then how much I would learn about myself…my strengths and weaknesses as a friend, spouse and parent through studying the Enneagram.
To give you a brief synopsis, the Enneagram is a tool for personal and spiritual development. Through it, you can identify your basic personality type (1-9) as well as wings (sub-types) and learn about unhealthy and healthy practices to help you live as your best self.
You know those times when you do or say something stupid, even though it was well-intentioned? I’ve found all of those ‘mistakes’ can be explained by my Two-ness and where I am on the healthy-unhealthy continuum.
You know those times when you feel deeply hurt by somebody or something and you rationally know it’s silly and it’s not a big deal – but it pierced your heart? Well maybe only Twos know what I’m talking about…but in any case, the Enneagram has helped me explore and understand and accept those emotions so I can move on.
I’m a Two, the “Helper”. And the more I read about it, the more embarrassed and insecure I became because OMG It’s TOTALLY me.
Here’s a rundown on the 2, from the Enneagram Institute:
Twos are empathetic, sincere, and warm-hearted. They are friendly, generous, and self-sacrificing, but can also be sentimental, flattering, and people-pleasing. They are well-meaning and driven to be close to others, but can slip into doing things for others in order to be needed. They typically have problems with possessiveness and with acknowledging their own needs. At their Best: unselfish and altruistic, they have unconditional love for others.
I feel best about myself when I am helpful to others. I rarely feel like I need “me time” or a “break” from DK. I love hosting parties for friends, I love introducing people to others I think they will find mutually interesting. I have all the time in the world for my friends and family. I will say, “Yes” to anything. I will “volunteer” for anything. I will say, “I’m good,” when someone asks if I need any help. I will push myself to the point of exhaustion and anxiety to help others. I will bubble like a cauldron of resentment when I do things to help people and they don’t notice. I will force my help and my ideas on people even when they don’t want it and then I will act the role of wounded victim when they say it’s too much. I tell ya, I’m a real treat.
When I think of hell, I imagine lying in a hospital bed surrounded by my friends and family and unable to communicate to them. However, I can hear and understand everything they say – and as it turns out they actually think I’m the worst person on the planet and give detailed examples of every single time I offended them or hurt them. Just the thought of that now makes my palms sweat.
As a parent, I am very attached to DK. I believe it’s important to respond to his needs promptly. I rarely let him cry out – dropping whatever I’m doing to answer his plea. My Two-ness gives me almost un-ending energy to make time for my family. But my Two-ness can also be enabling, smothering and manipulative.
One of the great things about being a Two is that I can easily anticipate needs. I will notice when someone’s glass is empty. I will listen in the gaps of what someone is saying to what they aren’t saying and offer help and comfort in those gaps. I can literally feel when someone in a crowded room feels out of place or left out or uncomfortable and I will turn on the charm like a light switch to engage them in conversation.
But, I will also let people get lazy in my presence. DK doesn’t have to use his words to ask me – I will get him what he wants. My husband doesn’t need to set an alarm in the mornings, do laundry or go grocery shopping – he knows that I will wake him up, make sure he has clean underpants and food in his belly. Shy people stick by my side as I carry the conversation, asking questions and coming up with topics so they don’t have to stand there in uncomfortable silence.
As a Two-parent, I have to sit back and force myself to watch DK struggle. To other Enneagram types, this would not even be a necessary consideration. They would not have to actively think about not engaging – but I have to ACTIVELY and FORCIBLY stop myself from intervening.
As a Two, I love to help others – even when they don’t want my help and definitely didn’t ask for it. I love sharing information (hello, this blog!) that I think others may find useful. But that doesn’t mean people actually want to hear it. So what if I notice you struggling with communicating with your coworkers and I learned about DISC Communication Styles and can tell you how that helped me enormously in communicating with neurosurgeons, engineers, and artists at my previous job? That doesn’t mean I should share it. I have learned that sometimes people just want to vent – they don’t want help, they don’t want a solution. They just want to be heard.
I have read and heard from other mothers further along on the parenting trajectory from me that you do not want to obey your child’s every command. Just because my kid is in tears, screaming “I want that chocolate bar” at the grocery store – does not mean I should get it for him. In fact, it means the opposite – I must NOT get it for him, lest I raise a spoiled brat. But helping others and putting their wants and needs ahead of my own comes so naturally to me that I know will absentmindedly offer him the chocolate bar before he even says that he wants it – although that still does not mean he should have it. My challenge as a Two-parent is to say “No” more often than I think I should.
The dark side of the two is an unpleasant sort of fellow. A manipulative, controlling, passive aggressive witch who does lots of nice things for you – but there are a ton of strings attached.
The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron & Suzanne Stabile says, “Though they’re not always conscious of it, the help un-evolved Twos provide others comes with strings attached. They want something in return: love, appreciation, attention, and the unspoken promise of a future emotional and material support. Their giving is calculated and manipulative. Twos think if they can wrest appreciation and approval, and evoke a feeling of indebtedness in others, then others will sense when they require help and provide for their needs without their having to ask for it”.
This is my fantasy.
Seriously. I daydream while I fold my husband’s underwear that he will come home, give me a big hug, say, “What would I do without you!? My underwear would never be folded and I’d go naked through the streets. My hyper-sensitive nose can smell the garbage from here, let me take it out now without delay!”
As a Two, I have to actively engage my kids and spouse in household chores – and be okay when they aren’t done quite to my standards. I have to ask for help.
As moms, we talk a lot about self-care. It is important for all types to engage in self-care – but especially Twos – because we so easily get lost in our giving to others and the more we give, the unhealthier we become with our giving – and soon we aren’t doing things for our kids and spouse because we love them, we are doing things for our kids and spouse because we want them to love us. Not the same, and for a Two – the distinction is a chasm for emotional well-being.
Self-care for me means saying “No” a lot more than I want to and asking myself “Am I doing this because I want to help or am I doing this because I want to appear helpful?”. When I put myself first and do what to me feels incredibly selfish but to my husband and anyone who is not a Two is just normal functioning, I have energy to do things I enjoy, like write.
Cron and Stabile write, “When they’re feeling secure, Twos move to the healthy side of Four, where they’re okay with not having to pretend they love everybody.” You know I’ve been doing my homework when I don’t care if you like me or not. “These twos have some understanding of the need for self-care and can focus inward, where they invest in themselves by doing creative things, which brings them joy.” (hello, blog!) “This is the place Twos can imagine feeling good about themselves when they aren’t helping someone else.”
So, here is my soul – bared on the page. And now you know, that if I’m saying Yes to everyone else and No to you – it’s not you, it’s that I’m tapped out and to say Yes to you would be to say Yes with tons of strings attached – and trust me, you don’t want that!