My very first dreams were about people—
usually my parents and grandparents,
but also the occasional stranger.
When I was three years old, my mom had a friend named Gladys who came to visit us. She brought potato chips, and my dad tried to pay her for them. She refused the dollar, and he insisted, and they both pulled on the bill at the same time and ripped it in two. My three-year-old self, found this ripping of money hilarious.
A few weeks later, Gladys got sick and went to the hospital. My mom visited her while I stayed in the car with my dad. That night I dreamed I went to the hospital and soothed her brow with a cool washcloth and brought her flowers and the other half of the dollar bill. When I woke up, all I could think about was how I could help this dear woman get well. I dreamed of my grandma in this way too—I dreamed of making her smile.
My early childhood dreams of helping people should have been my first clue that I am “two dominant” on the Enneagram, but of course, I wouldn’t discover the Enneagram until I was in my forties and then I would be confused about my number for a few more years. Meanwhile, I spent my life doing a lot of things for love.
It’s important to note that people who are leaning into Two on the Enneagram scale are called Helpers for a myriad of reasons—some healthier than others. I’ve heard it stated that helpers are motivated to help so they can feel loved. I certainly see there is truth to that, but giving as an Enneagram Helper is not as transactional as it seems, for one thing, the helper’s desire to be loved is for the most part unconscious. In other words, I have rarely done something for others with the thought that they owe me in return. If I only gave in a transactional manner, I would have stopped serving my family and others who didn’t reciprocate my attention years ago.
Two-Dominant Helpers feel exhilarated when they give to others. Serving is what inspires them and makes them tick. When we see a need, if it’s within our power to grant a wish, we’ll do it with lots of razzle-dazzle and generosity. That generosity can continue for quite a long time despite the recipient’s ability to acknowledge or return the favor.
Over-giving is how co-dependents are created—giving, giving, giving until one day the Helper wakes up and realizes some unscrupulous character has been using them, then beware, all hell will break loose. This discovery of being used is when the otherwise pleasant, Helper will become angry, but the flip side of the anger is when a Helper feels appreciated. If they feel appreciated, they will give until they die because it’s in their nature. A Two dominant person will put on everyone else’s oxygen mask first and ignore their own. Then, with their last, dying breath, they won’t lament their unnecessary sacrifice, but rather curse those who took their sacrifice for granted.
So what is wrong with this picture? What makes a person willing to sacrifice their self when it’s not even necessary? By the way, this type of sacrificial giving is quite different from when the narcissist plays the victim—the clue here is the word plays. The Helper gives, while the narcissist plays the victim. A helper becomes a victim because they’ve been used, while the narcissist pretends to be a victim to gain the support of the flying monkeys.
So like I said above, an Enneagram Two will kill herself or at least shoot herself in the foot to help someone else, and she will feel good about the sacrifice until someone takes her for granted. I realize this is what happened to me during my family’s great divorce. For over two decades, I gave and gave and gave. I am an empath who very easily feels the pain of others. I wanted to lift my family members out of the shame of poverty and emotional abuse, but because I had no clue what narcissism was at the time, I allowed other people to use me.
As the first born and naturally helper child, I was groomed to meet my family’s needs from a very early age. My father not only taught me that Jesus required me to sacrifice for others to gain my salvation, but my parents took advantage of my natural inclinations and groomed me to meet their needs. By four I was vacuuming and doing dishes and cooking simple things like tomato soup. By five, I was changing diapers and boiling bottles of milk on the stove for my youngest siblings. I continued to cook and clean until the day I left home. I never really minded being called my mom’s right-hand helper. It came naturally to me until my teen years when I daydreamed about going to school and having friends. The imbalance in our relationship was that I have always served my parents’ needs while they overlooked mine.
The carrot at the end of the stick was always their approval and love. When I gave them money as an adult or agreed with their theology, they would praise me and say you are such a thoughtful person. The highest compliment my mother has ever given me was to tell me I was a “thoughtful” person. I tried to live up to that standard by doing whatever she wanted. When I didn’t measure up and followed my conscience is where we parted. I still reached out to her, but for the most part, my mother and my father criticized everything I did from feeding the homeless to the type of music I listened to, and it was difficult for them to understand that I might view God more grace-filled and kinder than they had taught me. That was the parting of the ways—when I began to see things differently. The fact is I have often seen things differently, but I was often afraid to speak the truth because I didn’t feel loved as myself.
My “Helper” aptitude with my parents boiled down to what Brené Brown calls hustling for self-worth. Not a good thing—but made a much worse habit if you are trying to get your self-worth by pleasing narcissistic people. My goal was to follow the carrots until I reached the end of the rainbow and found a pot of love. Of course, since this blog is about narcissism, most of you know there will never be enough carrots to make this happen because narcissism doesn’t produce love. It’s an empty pot and the sooner we recognize this is a dead end, the happier we can become.
So what have I done for love? In my early life, I taught my siblings to read. I never thought they used me for this, I love reading and wanted them to enjoy it too. Sharing what we love with others is being a helper at its best. I would say this is the Spirit that motivated most of my giving through the years. Into this category, fits every Birthday party and Christmas present I’ve planned for my niece and nephews, siblings or parents. Not once have I felt any of them owed me anything back. I adored my family members and gladly gave up my own time or money or vacation to make or do something for them.
Also into this category fits the things I did for the homeless or church friends. Every year, I make lots of decorated cookies with royal icing to give away to friends or the kids in my church and random strangers. I love nothing more than giving something away. It puts me on a high.
Speaking of highs, I had a boyfriend in college who was nearly always high, and our relationship crashed as soon as it took off, yet I still took his phone calls and spent hours listening to him for months even though he was borderline and emotionally abusive. I had been taught to sacrifice so others could be saved. I imagine I was doing my religious duty to give my time, money and attention even when I knew he was a jerk. A line got crossed when I realized he was using me and demanded a little more action than I was willing to give. From then on, I viewed him as the “spawn of Satan” which was a popular term at the time. Now I know he wasn’t evil, he just had an addiction, but I was well on my way to becoming an enabler.
Twos are among the Enneagram types who can take the temperature of everyone in the room the minute we enter. It’s like we have sonar to find anyone who is hurting or in a crisis. We also have a high tolerance for crazy people and bizarre situations and can stay up all night to “be there” for someone. I have a friend who used to ask me, “Where do you find these people?”
Weirdly holding people’s hand isn’t always enough. I tried to be a “good witness” to a drug addict once. I babysat her daughter for free for months allowing her child to live with us. I’ve never regretted what I did for the child. (Once again, this is part of being at my best as a two.) But the part where I came to her house, cleaned her house, came back the next day, made her breakfast and coffee and made her kid take a shower and did her hair so I could drive them all to church to get saved and then feed them at my house became exhausting. An older church friend I knew at the time worried because she thought I always had to go way over the top on every project. I decided she was right; it got to be a little much when I realized I had no time left to clean my own house.
Fast forward a few years and most of the church projects I did were to gain God’s approval much like the way I worked hard to earn my parents’ love. I also had no boundaries in that I seemed unable to say no to anyone who asked me to do anything until a few years ago. I was in a hotel in Bend, Oregon reading the book, Changes That Heal by Henry Cloud at four in the morning when I discovered my boundaries had been strewn across five states and possibly Alaska. I was so shocked to realize I was so messed up, that I screamed bloody murder and probably woke up half of the hotel.
My boundaries were blurred between myself and my parents, myself and my siblings, myself and the church, myself and the homeless, myself and the people online, myself and just about any alien within my gates. I had been doing and being what others needed for so much of my life I wasn’t sure where others ended, and I began.
Sometimes being two-ish looks like giving my money and other times it looked like creating and painting a double-sided float for my church to use for a fourth of July parade. What was wrong with this picture? My zeal often requires my dear husband’s help and in this instance, his entire birthday was spent working from dawn to dusk on the float. If I had it to do over again, I would plan a better day for my beloved. At the time, I just wanted the approval of church friends and God. I couldn’t get in touch with my own needs, let alone my spouse’s needs. In this case, the helper failed to help the person most dear to her heart.
And bringing my husband along for the wild ride to save others has been the case in much of our marriage. My husband who is Enneagram Nine dominant hasn’t always complained because he hates friction and confrontation. But this is where understanding our types has improved our marriage—we know ourselves and each other much better today. Because I know he won’t oppose me up front, I have taken to asking what he thinks before it gets to any confrontation. Because he knows I might be hustling for self-worth, he will gently ask me why do you want to do this—is it because you enjoy it, or because you will worry about what people think?
So what have I done for love? How can I count the many ways? I have cooked and baked and cleaned houses. I have sewn and decorated and painted for causes. I have given and worked on projects literally until my fingers bled. I have emptied my bank account and allowed my emotional love tank to run out of steam. In my worst giving, I held my heart out for narcissistic people and said here, take it and fill it, only to have it trampled on the ground.
There’s a story told by Don Miguel Ruiz about a boy who gave his happiness to a girl who dropped it, and it broke into pieces. The moral is never give your happiness away to anyone. The only way to maintain your joy is to keep control of it and not allow others to mess with it. This is the dilemma of the Enneagram Two—we feel so inclined to give, that we give with the biggest shovel we can find–until we accidentally give our happiness away. I’ve learned the hard way. No more giving to the narcissist or the flying monkeys. If you too, are Enneagram Two dominant, then I have some advice for you. No one, and I repeat, no one will maintain your happiness as carefully as you can, so don’t let go of it. Hang on to your heart. Be in charge of your own happiness—it’s the only guarantee.
In the next few blogs, I’ll be discussing the Enneagram. I believe it’s a tool that can help survivors of narcissistic abuse thrive.