I once heard of an incident on a subway in New York City. A small elderly woman was riding home chatting pleasantly with the people around her. At one stop a large man in a dirty trench coat entered the subway car. He had a glazed look in his eyes and was probably on drugs.
The man sat down near the old lady and began to stare at her fixedly. This continued for two subway stops until he suddenly rose and stood over her. He unsheathed a large knife, raised it above his head and stared at her with a blank-eyed, abstracted look.
According to a witness, the tiny old lady was visibly afraid but looked directly at the stranger and said, “I never thought that you would be the cause of my death.” The man froze, seemingly paralyzed, the knife still raised above him. Then he shook his head slightly. The train arrived at its next stop. Without a word, he put the knife away, turned and was gone.
In a way, this story illustrates the gift of Enneagram style number Two: the ability to personalize, to see through to the essential humanity of others despite everything that we put in the way. The old lady’s response to the man with the knife was so specifically personal that he could no longer see her in the warped way necessary to do her harm.
Two is the most purely interpersonal of Enneagram styles. They know better than others that all human beings are members of one vast family. Anthropologists currently trace humanity’s origins back to a common founding population in Africa about 200,000 years ago. We are all probably descended from two or three mothers and even today are no more than 50 strangers removed from a blood relative. Geneticists say that, functionally, there is no such thing as race; the differences in our DNA are so minuscule that the concept is meaningless.
This kind of interconnection is something that Twos absolutely, intuitively assume. Most people with this Enneagram style feel as if the world is a network of people, a family of nations. Each individual is irreplaceable and of infinite value and we are here on earth to honor our unaccountable need for each other. As such, a Two’s well-being is inextricably linked to that of others and giving love is the most important thing that he or she can do. “Compassion comes from feeling another’s pain” a Two says, “but to give and not count the cost – that is real compassion. I tell others to reach out to one hurting person in your home, your neighborhood, your community. That person might be like a drop in the ocean. But without that drop, the ocean wouldn’t be complete.”
Healthy Twos are involuntary humanists. They consider themselves their brothers’ and sisters’ keepers and their sense of service to others is genuine and deeply lived. “I love people,” a Two explains, “and I have compassion and empathy for them. I am alive to the degree that I have that.” Another Two who often weeps without embarrassment for society’s castaways says, “I am a very emotional person. I see kids in trouble on TV, and I cry. I hurt for people.” “I’ve lost lots of people that I love,” another Two adds, “But when it comes to loving people, you don’t really have a choice. If you want to feel alive and experience something wonderful, you have to risk great loss. Relationships mean too much to me to ever walk away from them.”
Healthy Twos know that true giving is its own receiving. Partners in durable, mutually satisfying marriages often say that they give more than they take. Many of us have known times when it felt good to contribute without expecting a return, to give out of affection or for its own sake. We might enjoy another’s enjoyment of our gift and feel we have been given something as well. At their best, Twos love others without expecting a return, since giving love is its own reward.
Twos habitually “send” themselves out to other people, to intuitively divine what others may feel or need. “I let my heart be someone else’s heart” is how one Two described this habit. Healthy Twos do this voluntarily, willingly identifying with others while maintaining their own point of view and attending to their own needs. Whatever the Two has to spare she gives freely. The phrase “lend yourself to others but give yourself to yourself” describes what Twos do when healthy.
At their best, Twos have exceptional ministerial skills. Portraits of Christian saints often describe the behavior of devoted Twos, as do descriptions of Jesus. Whether or not it has succeeded, the classical intention of Christianity – beginning with the precept “Love thy neighbor as thyself” – is fundamentally Twoish. You can also see Twoness in sub-cultures and occupations focused on the care of others such as nursing, the hospice movement, psychotherapy, ministry, matchmaking and doctoring. Florence Nightingale, founder of modern nursing was a probable Two. The influence of Twos is also evident in occupations that involve working with children – pediatrics, teaching preschool as well as other professions that are rooted in interpersonal service.
When Twos are less healthy, they begin to repress their needs and funnel their energy towards helping others – whether the others want help or not. Twos still “send” themselves over to other people, but now they forget to return to their own position. Instead, the Two switches places, sensing someone’s thoughts, feelings and needs as though they were the Two’s own.
In the trance of their Enneagram style, Twos deny and suppress their own wants and needs, judging them as selfish and turning them into a shadow. Then they relocate those wants and needs over in another person and, in effect, give to themselves, through the medium of that person. In this way a Two’s healthy altruism devolves into an idealized giving that is actually selfish, rooted in a need to be needed.
An American who lived in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii when the Japanese bombed the island at the beginning of World War II remembered that, in the heat of the emergency, all the food stores on the island threw open their doors and told residents take whatever they needed. A month later the island’s residents received bills in the mail for the emergency food and supplies they had been told were free.
While a Two may consciously believe that his helpful intentions towards others are selfless and pure, he may unconsciously expect to be repaid. Meanwhile, the others may feel like they are being given something against their will or that they have had their pockets picked – something feels intangibly taken rather than given.
A son received a gift of a heavy winter coat from his Two father. Since the son lived in Miami and his father lived in Canada the son realized that his father had given him a present that the father wanted. The son recalled an earlier incident one Christmas when he had given his father a shirt. The son’s birthday was in January and for his birthday he received the same shirt in return. The Two father had assumed that since his son had given him that particular shirt, it actually meant that the son wanted the same shirt. After all, the father only ever gave his son what the father secretly wanted.
Not surprisingly, Twos can struggle in their relationships. If you deny your true needs and motives, it’s hard to relate authentically to others. You may also not know your boundaries – where you end and other people begin. The key question for Twos is whether they are giving out of choice, or driven by their need to be helpful. The dark side of giving to others is the longing to be taken care of yourself.
Entranced Twos use flattery, manipulation and seduction to get others to respond to and define them. As they further suppress their true emotional needs, they compensate by inflating and exaggerating their value to others, a dynamic captured in this description of Alma Mahler, wife of Gustav Mahler, the famous composer: “Half in love with self-sacrifice, Alma agreed to immolate herself for the greater good. But, beneath her genuine love for her husband and her satisfaction at being his muse, lay regret for her own lost creative life. Much of her later boasting about the extent of her influence over the creative men in her life stemmed from this early truncation of her own musical life. She was always unsure of herself, and many of her flirtations after her marriage were to restore her own sense of worth.”
If the high side of the Two style is close to saintly, the lowest side can be exceptionally destructive. The motif of stalking an objectified “loved one” goes with very unhealthy expressions of this style as does the metaphor of the vampire, who lives on the blood of others. Deeply entranced Twos can be prone to guilt-inducing martyrdom, blind hostility as well as psychosomatic illness; the latter getting them attention and care and may also be a way to indirectly express anger by making those who care about them suffer. You can also see the unhealthy extremes of the Two style in the disorder “Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy” where mothers make their children ill to gain a feeling of importance; and in “Factitious Disorder” where health care workers endanger patients for the thrill of heroically reviving them and the praise they garner from coworkers.
Confused Feelings and Pride
Twos are part of the emotional trio who reject themselves, over-identify with roles and and have trouble knowing how they really feel. Twos specifically reject their “selfish” needs and feelings in favor of playing a role of someone helpful to others. This helpfulness is supported by an emotional habit of jumping into other people’s skin. After judging and repressing his own needs, the Two relocates his own rejected needs over in the other person and then tries to give to himself by metaphor, via the medium of the other person.
Any Enneagram style can be co-dependent, but the contours of pure co-dependence are built into style Two: I’ll give to you so that you will give back to me, so that I will feel nurtured and cared for. As a Two wryly summarized her first marriage: “I gave him everything I had and then I said, ‘Now, give it to me!’”
So a Two might enter a new situation feeling tired and thirsty. Rejecting his own needs as selfish, he sees a woman who looks tired and thirsty and sits down next to her. Next the Two begins to make conversation, drawing out his companion. After some initial chitchat, the Two begins to flatter, a prelude to asking about his companion’s comfort: “That’s a beautiful shirt, you sure have good taste. Are you comfortable in that chair? Gee, it’s hot in here. Are you thirsty? Can I get you some water?” If the other person says “yes” to the water then the Two might reply, “Well, maybe I’ll join you.” Now that someone else wants a glass of water, the Two has permission to quench his own thirst. His water is in her water.
A Two first realized the difference between his helpful self-image and his true feelings when, as a child, he was told by his mother that the family’s ailing dog had been euthanized: “When I heard the news I felt myself starting to get upset; a cry of outrage rose up in me. ‘How dare you do this to my dog!’ was the thought that fueled my indignation. I remembered the many times that I had taken care of Scout, how much I had played with her and given to her, how much she had meant to me. A sense of irreparable loss began to grow. The thoughts and feelings swirled through me. Tears formed in my eyes, and I opened my mouth to protest. My mother, who had been watching me evenly, said, ‘Before you say what you’re about to say, I just want you to know something: we had Scout put to sleep two weeks ago. You just noticed today.’”
Speaking at Oxford University, English politician Lord Longford was asked his views on humility. Longford advised the questioner to read his new book, which, he said, “is the finest book about humility ever written.” Twos control through pride. After rejecting their true feelings and adopting a helpful role towards others, they develop an exaggerated, compensatory idea of their value and worth. Meanwhile, Twos rationalizes their selfish motives and become simultaneously blind to the true needs of others and their uncomfortable reactions. When Twos feel rejected, needy or unloved, pride can become their most striking feature.
When they first learn the Enneagram, some Twos balk at the notion that they are prideful since they don’t necessarily gloat, brag or preen. But pride can come out in subtle ways; a Two might talk of helping others while implying that he is indispensable. Or make himself the actual subject of the story. Here, for example, is a Two speaking of nursing a dying friend: “It mattered so much to her that I was with her. And she held on for me to be with her when she passed on. It was very hard on me. I’m not going to lie to you and say that it didn’t devastate me.”
Another implicit expression of pride can be seen when Twos treat other full-grown adults like children, patronizing and infantilizing them, trying to evoke childlike needs so that the Two will then be needed as a nurturer. A Two explains: “When you’re always filling somebody else’s need, when you’re jumping into them, there’s something very condescending about it. The prideful idea is that other people can’t possibly take care of themselves without me.”
Psychotherapist Ed Dunkleblau tells a related story about a woman who was one day pushing her adult son through a shopping mall in a wheelchair. She was approached by a friend who voiced his surprise, saying “I didn’t know that your son couldn’t walk.” “Of course he can walk,” she replied. “But isn’t it nice that he doesn’t have to.”
A friend of a man whose Two mother lived with him noticed one morning that the mother looked tired. Asked why, she replied, “I was up all night watching my son sleep.” Twos dissociate from the shadow of their own needs through the defense mechanism of repression. When Twos compulsively give to others, they reject and suppress their own feelings. Meanwhile they fill themselves with a vision of the other person – his voice, his feelings, his needs. In the Two’s mind’s eye, the image of the other person could become large, bright, shiny and close. The Two can hear the other person’s voice as though it is speaking inside her body. As the Two fills her body with the other person’s feelings, her own are crowded out.
Let’s say a Two goes with a friend for a drive in the country. When the friend asks: “Where do you want to go?” the Two replies, “Wherever you want to go.” The Two actually wants to go north but she senses that her friend wants to go south, so she suppresses her preference, and south is where they go. At lunchtime the friend asks, “Where do you want to eat?” The Two already senses that her friend wants fish and chips. She would rather have Chinese food, but she pushes down that feeling and says, “I don’t know. How about fish and chips?”
After lunch there’s a choice of visiting one of two lakes. The Two wants to go to Fish Lake but it’s obvious that her friend wants to go to Echo Lake. He says, “Would you mind if we go to Echo Lake this time?” The Two looks at his face and sees how happy it would make him to go to Echo Lake. She feels his preferences inside her. Underneath she grows more upset but tamps her feeling down and agrees to his plan.
All afternoon the Two makes similar compromises, repressing each personal preference until a moment – invisible to the friend – when the Two has had it “up to here.” The feelings she has pushed down have been slowly rising back up. From the friend’s perspective nothing is obviously wrong, but each time the Two has repressed a feeling, her “threshold” has inched higher. Finally, she erupts into angry blaming (“You never care about what I want!”) – the distorted by-product of her repressed feelings. After she has erupted, maybe made a scene or possibly said the worst, amnesia sets in. A few moments later the Two is docile, vacant of feeling and again receptive to her friend.
There is a sea cucumber said to have a defense like this. It lives attached to rocks and is unable to swim. If a diver or a fish looms too close, its main defense is to open its mouth to the entire width of its body and then vomit its internal organs. Coated with a viscous substance, the organs stick unpleasantly to the offending fish or diver, who then swims away. Completely empty, the sea cucumber closes its mouth and re-grows its internal organs within two days.
Excerpted from The Dynamic Enneagram by Tom Condon
Copyright 2009, 2013 by Thomas Condon
Available as an ebook serial at Tom’s website http://www.thechangeworks.com
Tom Condon has worked with the Enneagram since 1980 and with Ericksonian hypnosis and NLP since 1977. These three models are combined in his trainings to offer a useful collection of tools for changing and growing, to apply the Enneagram dynamically, as a springboard to positive change. Tom has taught over 800 workshops in the US, Europe and Asia and is the author of 50 CDs, DVDs and books on the Enneagram, NLP and Ericksonian methods. He is founder and director of The Changeworks in Bend, Oregon.
Tom can be contacted at: http://www.thechangeworks.com