I was Two-Resistant.
I’d learned to wash dishes and vacuum
before I could write my name and tie my shoes.
My mom even called me her “right-hand helper.”
Why would I want to be a two?
Narcissistic people like to use helpers.
“Helper” seemed like just another word for slave.
I was doing the Enneagram shuffle.
As you can imagine the Enneagram discovery process can inspire us to move beyond the abuses of the past and find a more fulfilling life, but it’s not always pretty and at times it can get downright messy. Nowhere does it get messier than when we give ourselves the wrong number and try to make sense of what isn’t ours to do. This is what happened to me for several years.
It’s been ten years since a pastor friend introduced me to the Enneagram. To be honest, I wasn’t impressed. I took an online test and my highest scores were in types two and seven. I had very strong traits of both. I immediately decided to reject being a “Helper” which is what the Enneagram Two is often called.
I convinced myself I’d just been groomed to be a two by growing up in a patriarchal family and church society where women were expected to be the helpers—after all, wasn’t Eve called a “helpmate?” I had just discovered the word “Ezer” which is often translated helpmate is in scripture several other times and it refers to God Herself coming through to save a life. This understanding filled me with new hope—one in which all kinds of possibilities were within my grasp as a woman. A woman’s role as defined by God was about so much more than carrying a water bucket and believe me, I’d carried more than my share of water buckets during my teens living off-grid and without running water.
I learned about the Enneagram around the time my family of origin went through “The Great Divorce.” I’d done just about everything I could to help people until it became obvious narcissistic people just wanted to use me and flying monkeys cared more about their standing in the family than to break with the status quo. Wasn’t forty-five years of helping enough? I decided I was done with being a helper. Ugh!
I was pretty sure I was a type seven. Nothing makes me more excited than new ideas and new adventures. And like many sevens, I have trouble sticking with projects until they are finished. Although I have been sticking with my memoir for six years now, oh wait, it’s still not finished. (Ugh, sevenish again.)
So due to my need to train the monkey mind, I was pretty confident I was seven dominant on the big E. It always felt so nice in theory. I like variety and adventures and creativity and other sevenish things, but the problem was:
I was using my BEHAVIOR to determine my type rather than my MOTIVATION.
I was dealing with an algebraic equation—there was a big X in the mix because I didn’t understand my own motivation.
Now if you grew up fundy Christian like I did, you might hear a little voice in the back of your head that says, “All this focus on yourself can’t be right. Just stop thinking about it and go do “something good.” But I don’t believe God arbitrarily wants us to do things just for the sake of being good. I think God wants us to understand ourselves so we can be safer (and saner) people. I think God wants us to understand ourselves so we can serve others in our own unique way. If God wanted us to be Stepford Wives, he would’ve cloned Eve. Because of our uniqueness, there’s a very limited you and me to go around. I believe it’s important to understand ourselves so we can discover what God has personally ordained us to do.
I love to prepare and share a meal with other people. I like to think of unique gifts and creature comforts that might make other people happy. I always thought my love of family meals and friendship meals was more about experiences and there is certainly some truth to that. That’s why eating out is fun—different cultural experiences via the palate. I figured I was a seven because I treasure moments full of variety. But the more I thought about my motivation, I realized my love language is “quality conversation” and sharing a meal is communion. It’s looking someone in the eye. It’s a shared gastronomical experience. It’s scintillating conversation. It’s the laughter and feelings of warmth and love that come from sharing a meal. This all seemed very “sevenish,” a couple months ago, but now I realize this sharing of meals is also a very “twoish” behavior.
If you are still trying to figure out your type, it is important to remember this about the Enneagram—two people of different types can have very similar behavior. This is why we can’t determine someone else’s number–we can’t read their heart or know their motivation. Our friends have to figure this out for themselves. And figuring out our life’s motivation is soul-searching work. We’re not talking about temporary motivations like going to a ball game or making a quilt—we’re talking about the motivation that powers a life, all the time, twenty-four/seven. For those of us who’ve had narcissistic people tell us who to be and what to do, it’s not something we can figure out in one night.
Realizing I’m a Two dominant on the Enneagram helped me understand why I was always trying to serve a meal to my family–I wanted them to feel loved. We grew up in a scarcity of love and stability. I planned birthday parties and family gatherings because I wanted to give my family what we didn’t have as kids. I wanted us to sit around a table to eat because we’d often eaten our meals around a wood stove or campfire or heaven forbid a motel bed. I wanted to sit down like normal people and look each other in the eye and talk about inspirational things.
I wanted to offer all these things to my family of origin because I wanted to be the shero who made the cake and cooked the meal and wrapped the presents and built a family out of the scattered tatters of the life we’d once lived. I wanted to escape the past and build a fairy tale. But enter narcissism… People who cannot enjoy a homemade cake if there’s an egg in it–even though they’ve eaten dozens of bakery cakes with eggs for years. Now I realize the issue really wasn’t an egg in the cake, but about right-talking. It was not about love, but control.
When I realized my motivation at 3:00 in the morning, I woke up from a dream where I was helping people during some flood in Louisiana where we used to live. I wondered why I dreamed this, then I realized most of my dreams are about helping people. Dreams reflect our subconscious and even my subconscious wants to be a darn helper. I’d already studied enough about the Enneagram for years to realize part of its value as a tool is to help with our subconscious behavior.
I sat straight up in bed because I finally admitted it to myself. I wanted to be the frickin’ glue that held my damn family together. I thought they needed me to do this and to be honest, I needed it more. I needed to be needed. I needed to be needed so they would love me. I needed to play the Shero because that was the role given to me in early childhood and I had accepted it. My shero goals might have been valuable in a healthy family with good boundaries, but boundaries were a foreign concept to me until I was forty-five.
Even though my motivation reveals that I’m two dominant, that doesn’t mean I don’t still have lots of seven attributes. That’s the beauty of the Enneagram—even while doing the Enneagram the shuffle, even when we get the type wrong, we can still learn some things about ourselves. Whether we get the number right the first time or the third time, we have learned something about ourselves and others in the process. As crazy as working with the wrong number sounds, my marriage still benefited from the Enneagram. How can this be? Well for one thing, my husband had the right number for himself so as we both began to understand his patterns better, we had less misunderstandings.
Beatrice Chestnut in her book The Complete Enneagram, calls Twos the Befriender. I like that better than helper. Sure, I still like to help, but I do enjoy befriending people and that fits better with who I think I am.
I’m sharing my messy Enneagram Shuffle experience so you know the Enneagram is so much more than a personality test. It’s not enough to find your number; if you want the benefits that come from the Enneagram, you’ll want to dig deeper to understand your life patterns. And while the Enneagram can help us discover our personality patterns, the ultimate goal of the Enneagram is to transcend personality. Many of us get stuck in old patterns and fail to recognize our life’s potential because we overlook the possibilities. The Enneagram helps us crawl out of the boxes we’ve been using that aren’t helping us. It helps us understand our own unique way of being in this world.
So maybe you’ve taken an online Enneagram test and now you have two or three numbers and wonder what in the world to do with them. It’s time for you to do the Enneagram Shuffle. Remember these numbers are not your final destination, they are simply clues to your dominant type. You are at the beginning of an interesting and exciting process of knowing yourself so hang on for the ride—it gets much better.
Triads are an additional clue to helping you find your type.
Triads might help you find your number because they reveal the underlying need you picked up in childhood. Each triad is specific to three certain types on the Enneagram and it is found by answering one question:
How you respond to an alarming event?
A. Is your first response to act before thinking?
Do you get angry? Is your first response to do something, punch someone, do whatever it takes to get this situation taken care of?
B. Is your first response to think about it and plan carefully?
Do you like to take time to decide the best way to resolve the situation?
C. Is your first response to feel something?
Do you get emotional before you try to solve the problem?
Your first response to an event will guide you to your triad which is a clue to your Enneagram type. Once you realize which triad you are in, it narrows your type down to three numbers.
Did any of these numbers show up when you took the online test? If so, this type is worth exploring and reading about and you might be much closer to knowing your type.
8 The Challenger
9 The Peacemaker
1 The Reformer
When people in the Gut Triad encounter a life event, their first reaction is to do something. They tend to act before thinking. Anger is always waiting beneath the surface.
5 The Investigator
6 The Loyalist
7 The Enthusiast
When people in the Head Triad encounter a life event, their first reaction is to think and plan. They tend to overthink things. Fear is always waiting beneath the surface.
2 The Befriender AKA Helper
3 The Performer
4 The Romantic
When people in the Heart Triad encounter a life event, their first reaction is to feel something. They tend to be emotional. Shame is always waiting beneath the surface.
Another way to sort out this question, is to ask yourself which do you feel the most in life, anger, fear or shame? This might help some people, but at least one number in each category is resistant to acknowledging this shame, anger or fear, so if you are one of those types, it might not help. This just means you need to do more research.
Fear shame and anger are not pretty words, they reveal our darker natures, but don’t let that stop you from figuring this out. You are only human and all people struggle with all of these issues. The idea is to figure out which one affects you the most. The sooner you understand your weaknesses the better you can manage your life and the less power the narcissist will have over you.
Whether you are still discovering your type, or you are ready to dig deeper here are some great books that have helped me.
The Road Back to You by Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile
The Complete Enneagram: 27 Paths to Greater Self-Knowledge by Beatrice Chestnut
The Wisdom of the Enneagram by Riso and Hudson is considered the Enneagram Bible
The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective by Richard Rohr
Also new and about to release is
The Path Between Us by Suzanne Stabile
If you prefer to learn through podcasts, here are some of my favorites
Typology Podcast with Ian Cron
The Road Back to You Podcast with Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile
The Enneagram Journey with Suzanne Stabile
The Liturgists Enneagram Podcast (This is just one podcast, but well worth it if you are new to the Enneagram/ If you like the liturgists they also have a fairly priced class on the Enneagram )