Enneagram Type 2 – The Helper / Carer – The Need to be needed.
Over the past two weeks we have been exploring the Enneagram as a tool for personal and spiritual growth. It is personality tool that presents 9 basic personality types. Each week, we are invited to learn more about ourselves and those around us. And each week, we are invited to see the best qualities of each personality type reflected in the person of Jesus, as well as in Scripture.
As we explore Type 2, the Helper or the Carer, I begin with a fictional story about a person we shall call Debbie:
Debbie lives her life for others. Almost all her energy is spent seeing to the needs to others, whether these are the needs of her children, her husband, her parents, her parents-in-law, her friends, her neighbours or helping out at the local Care Home.
In many ways, Debbie comes across as being an example of selflessness.
These tendencies of caring and meeting the needs of others began very early on in her life. For whatever reason, very early on, Debbie felt that she somehow needed to win the love of those most significant in her life. The way she coped with this was to constantly do things to help out her parents, caring for them as well as her siblings. At the root of these tendencies was the unconscious need to be needed, accepted and loved, thereby ensuring that she would be loved in return.
In many ways it often brings her great joy to help others out. And as an adult, these caring, helping, generous, sympathetic and self-sacrificing tendencies have in many ways become a real asset to her, especially in her work first as a carer, and then as she trained to become a nurse. Many of those who are under her care in the hospital are very lucky to have her on their ward, and love to see her when she comes on duty.
While, at her best, Debbie can be described as caring, considerate, generous, sympathetic, supportive, self-sacrificing, helpful, adaptable and loving, Debbie’s personality also has its dark side. As I have already said, underlying all these wonderful qualities, is a deep need to be needed and loved in return. And this need to be needed is the source of many of her flaws. When she is stressed, or feels that her love and care are not being acknowledged and returned, Debbie can very easily become dependent, needy, possessive, flattering, interfering, manipulative, seductive, self-important and at her worst, a little hysterical. She takes great pride in giving so much of herself to others. It makes her feel important, and sometimes even a little superior to others.
One of the greatest dangers of Debbie’s caring tendencies, is that she never makes time for her own needs. She is often utterly exhausted giving so much of her energy to others. Probably Debbie’s biggest struggle is learning to say ‘No!” She is afraid that if she says no, she will lose the love of others. As a result, sometimes she can also feel quite resentful towards those she is helping, because often it feels like she is running on empty and that people are taking advantage of her.
Debbie’s greatest need is to realise that she is lovable, just for who she is, and not for what she can do for others.
In her Christian faith, it is such a relief to hear from the Apostle Paul that we are saved by grace, and not because of our works, but it is also a truth that hasn’t quite sunk in yet. She carries with her an underlying fear that if she is caught napping, and not caring for others, she will not be acceptable to God.
Today we are onto our 3rd week in our Preaching Series on the Enneagram. The first week we did an overview of the Enneagram and the 9 personality types. Last week we explored Type Ones who are motivated by a deep need to be good and so have a deep tendency to self-police. This week, we explore Type Twos who are motivated to do actions of love and caring, out of a deep need to be needed. On the surface, the impression is given of great acts of selflessness, but if truth be told such acts are not quite as selfless as they seem because they are motivated by the very strong need of the self for the reward of people’s love.
Like all of us, Debbie has her good days and her bad days. But she is in good company. A lot of famous and successful people have been Twos. These include: Mother Teresa, Dolly Parton, Lewis Carroll, Princess Diana, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Luciano Pavarotti, Florence Nightingale, Jimmy Carter. The culture of Italy, typified by the Italian Mama expresses something of the personality of the Two.
As we consider the life of Jesus, we can see many of the best qualities of the Two in the life and teachings of Jesus. At the heart of Jesus teaching is the greatest commandment, which is to love others as your love yourself. Love and caring for others is at the heart of the Christian life, but what the Two on the Enneagram can often lose sight of is the second part of the statement, “Love your neighbour, as yourself”. A Two can be so busy trying to win other people’s love with the need to be needed, that they can so easily lose sight of properly caring for themselves in a balanced and wholesome way.
Twos love being rescuers, and we see these rescue tendencies at work in Jesus in the story of the wedding at Cana. Despite saying to his mother that his time had not yet come, Jesus does not say no to her requests for help, as he gives of himself to help them out of a predicament. The Two in Jesus is also seen, when, in a healthy way, he seeks to take time out alone with his disciples to rest and recuperate, but when he sees how a crowd has come looking for him, he is moved with compassion, because they are like sheep without a shepherd. And perhaps that is where Jesus shows the balance of a healthy two on the Enneagram. He regularly takes time out to rest and pray in order to be rejuvenated in order that he can give of himself again. Sometimes these plans for time out get hi-jacked, but taking time out is enough of a priority for Jesus, that it seems he is never completely overwhelmed by the needs of others. He balances self-care for his own inner world with active caring and service towards others.
Our passage today is a typical example of the tendencies of the Two at work, as Jesus takes off his outer garment, puts a towel around his waist and begins to wash his disciples' feet. But in this passage, we see that Jesus is not motivated by a need to be needed. He is not acting as a servant in order to win over the love and affection of his disciples. He is not trying to fill an empty hole in his ego. In the passage we read the following words: “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.” Jesus acts not out of of an empty neediness, but out of a deep self-knowledge that he is loved by God.
By contrast, the story of Mary and Martha show Martha to be an unhealthy Two on the Enneagram. She is serving and working in the kitchen out of a need to be needed, and when her efforts don’t seem to be acknowledged, and Mary does not come to her aid, she becomes resentful. The need of the Two, is to learn from Jesus teaching to give with no strings attached, “don’t let your right hand know what your left hand is doing”, don’t serve out of a desire for recognition or to try and get people to love you, and when serving, caring and helping cause resentment, it is time, like Jesus, to take time out.
Just as it is possible to be a healthy One on the Enneagram, so Jesus shows us that it is possible to be a healthy Two on the Enneagram, and for those caring and self-giving tendencies to be an asset and a gift rather than a burden.
Helpful coping cues for a two would be:
• I am loved by God just for who I am, and not for my service.
• I have a right to say no.
• I need to take care of myself first, just like in the aeroplane flight instructions to put on your own mask first, before you start helping those around you.
• When you see your love becoming needy or clingy, remember the words of that Sting song: “If you love someone, set them free”.
• “Love your neighbour as yourself”