Why Twos Help

Why Twos Help

by Eric R. Meyer

The psychology of Enneatype Two seems simple enough. The characteristic helping behavior is obvious and Twos are generally aware of feeling poorly cared for themselves, so we infer that they unconsciously “give to get”, offering care in order to receive it in return. That would make sense, and it’s easy enough to imagine how young children feeling neglected might have felt scared and tried to figure out a way to get the help they needed to survive. The only real challenge then is understanding why Twos would have such well-known difficulty accepting care when others actually offer it, but if we just accept that they’re somehow “blind to their own needs” the type has practically explained itself.

Or has it? I always wondered why Twos should be “blind” to their own needs, yet could still feel hurt when others don’t meet them. “Giving to get” is something we’ve surely all done at some time and a reasonable guess here, but having made it we should remember to notice any clue (like that peculiar “blindness”) that it might not be the purpose of the type’s caring behavior after all. Since the mechanism appears to be unconscious by now, even Twos themselves may simply accept a guess that sounds plausible enough (though hardly flattering). The underlying idea that type behaviors once seemed necessary to meet survival needs is just a broader guess itself, or hypothesis as scientists would say, being trained to keep an open mind. And Two is a heart type anyway, in which relational distress plays a larger role than fear. An explanation of the type based on survival fear, a need for care, and a strategy for getting it doesn’t really work as well as commonly imagined. If some deeper aspect of this pattern still hasn’t been recognized, how can we become aware of it?

Let’s start over. The facts are that Twos report feeling poorly cared for themselves; despite this, they have strange difficulty accepting care; and they’re driven to care for others. If we bear in mind that humans aren’t purely rational and refocus on feelings about caring rather than a physical need for care, and on relationship rather than individual survival, this picture may begin to make more sense. Feelings shape our perceptions and drive our behavior, even (perhaps especially) when we’re unaware of them. Relationship is crucial because human beings aren’t isolated individuals struggling to survive, but highly social by nature and deeply interconnected, especially in early childhood when personality forms. Bad feelings about relationship can persist for a lifetime, and unlike fear and other more familiar emotions, they don’t motivate us to seek what’s good for us; in fact, they discourage us from doing so.

The Relational Problem: Feeling Cared For

Twos seem to know what most often feels wrong to them in relationship: they don’t feel properly cared for. This is a central painful memory of their childhood, and so persistent that it remains a recurrent theme for them as adults. Young children are dependent and vulnerable for a long time, and it just appears to be human nature that they internalize bad feelings that arise in moments of relational difficulty, coming to feel that they themselves must somehow be bad. This becomes a problem in its own right, changing the entire experience of life: diminishing both inner awareness and openness to exploring the world, diverting energy into compulsive patterns, and lowering expectations – especially of relationship.

Not feeling cared for leaves you feeling abandoned and neglected, perceiving other people as inattentive, perhaps even heartless, little concerned with how they treat you – or anyone else, as Twos would be quick to add, being so other-oriented. In the sadness of this cruel situation, Twos cultivate pity for others who may be suffering, focusing on how much mistreatment the world seems full of instead of their own predicament. (Of course the more they hide their own needs, the more unlikely offers of help become.) They deal with their loneliness by eagerly pursuing relationship, targeting people they’re attracted to and trying to get them to like and want to be with them.

To understand type Two we must distinguish clearly between this general longing for connection, which is universal and pronounced in all the heart types, and the caring that is the focus of this type pattern. Establishing relationship often involves a dynamic of reciprocation, or “giving to get”; Twos do seek connection in this way, perhaps even more obviously than many other types, but aren’t necessarily trying to get someone to care for them. That issue just sneaks up on them. In the process of trying to attract and please people, Twos work hard to tune their self-presentation to reflect what they think others will like or want. Then once they relax and try to enjoy a relationship, all their own persistent bad feelings can arise, starting with not feeling cared for. In fact, the more attentive another person may actually be, the more confusing and awkward the situation can feel. It’s still hard for Twos to really feel cared for even when they are now cared for and know it should feel good, and that dissonance can make needing or receiving care strangely unsettling, even undesirable.

Exercise: To get a sense of this effect, try spending some time deliberately thinking “People are unkind, they won’t take care of me”. Most people are likely to recognize having felt this way occasionally, and Twos will have an entire life story about it. It may help to remember specific instances from childhood, and really wallow in them. Notice how this feels in your body (especially the upper torso), how you carry yourself, and what it’s like to interact with others while this is going on. Do they appear likely to take good care of you? Do you really want them to try? Once you’ve had enough of all that, try the opposite attitude for a while instead: “People are kind, they will take care of me.” You can imagine a good parent long ago saying “I’ll take care of you”, or even say this to yourself today. The good feeling associated with these words may be much less familiar and take a while to find at first, but once you begin to feel it, explore what it’s like in your body, and how it affects even a casual encounter with someone else. With the right intention it’s possible to make this shift from bad to good experience of relationship, at least for a short time. Regularly cultivating this positive feeling is a longer-term project that many people will find worthwhile, especially Twos.

The Idealization: Becoming the Helper

Feeling bad about ourselves is painful enough in adulthood. For young children, such a conflict with their own natural vitality must be unbearable, so I suspect they intuitively try to find some way to be good again, as the Enneatype patterns demonstrate: focusing on an aspect of goodness and identifying themselves with it. This idealization becomes the core of the personality, allowing a child to continue to develop a positive sense of self. If not feeling cared for was the most problematic experience at some critical time, as it must have been for Twos, they try to feel good about themselves again by learning to embody this very quality of good caring: becoming a good caregiver and helper, and responding whenever others appear to need help. They know the importance of this from their own experience. Care for others as you would have them care for you: this is a moral commitment, not a strategy for getting care yourself. The Golden Rule seems to come naturally to young children, in nine specific ways. This is why our type pattern involves such a feeling of rightness, and we remain so attached to it.

Unfortunately, adopting such a nice idealization is an abandonment of the genuine self as somehow bad. Being a good helper allows Twos to feel good about themselves again much of the time, yet can never really make up for not feeling worth caring for. At its best, a Two’s caring is a profoundly loving and supportive way of connecting with someone. But pursued automatically as the type idealization, helping can become a sort of compulsion instead and can easily be overdone, when Twos aren’t acting deliberately in an authentic expression of human connection. Simple kindness becomes more of an ideology, like political correctness. People can often sense the difference and may feel uncomfortable, or begin to suspect that the apparently generous help a Two is pressing upon them could involve some agenda or quid pro quo. In return, Twos can feel upset and hurt when people don’t visibly appreciate the caring and sacrifices they feel proud of. The world can seem not only cruel but ungrateful.

Twos like to think they have a special gift for sensing and providing what others need, because this is what feeling good about themselves has come to depend upon. They very much want to be seen by others as good, idealistic, caring people, and are easily angered when others seem less considerate. Twos are self-sacrificing and can ultimately overextend themselves trying to be the essential person whose help no one could possibly do without. But a type idealization doesn’t apply to oneself; Twos are “blind to their own needs” just as we all neglect ourselves in exactly the way we consider most important. Their idea of self-care might be some regimen of diet or exercise they think will give them more energy to do what they need to do for others. Type idealizations also tend to generalize broadly: a Two may want to rescue not only people they know but orphans or victims of any kind, unwanted pets, wild animals, the living Earth itself – seizing any opportunity to make the world kinder and more caring. Yet none of this can really make a Two feel worth caring for themselves.

Exercise: This particular idealization of helping and caring won’t resonate for people of other types as it does for Twos who live by it, and may even be a challenge to imagine. If you’re a Two, you can become more aware of its effect by spending some time consciously thinking “I’m a really good caring person, kinder than others”, and if you like you can add “if someone needs help I’ll give it.” Notice where your attention goes because of this, and what it’s like to interact with others with this motivation. Once you’ve had enough of that, try a simpler, unconditional feeling instead: “I’m a good person.” Again this isn’t just something to say to yourself but a feeling to find in your body; if these words don’t lead you to it you may find others that work better (“I’m not bad”, “I deserved to be cared for”, “I didn’t do anything wrong”) or a breathing practice that helps. To reverse the core self-abandonment of type, it’s essential to learn to feel yourself and your own goodness directly, not merely imagine or evaluate it. This will be another ongoing practice, perhaps a more challenging one. Once you do have this feeling, notice how you feel in your body and in the world, the quality of your attention, and how this will affect even a casual encounter with someone else. Naturally helping and caring for others may still be useful skills, but they can be used appropriately in a more spontaneous and authentic way when you feel more present.

You Can’t Always Accept What You Want

It may be uncomfortable to focus on unpleasant feelings like not feeling cared for, but the Enneatypes clearly result from some negative experience in early childhood. The usual assumption is fear for survival, which sounds even worse but is quite easy to talk about, probably because it’s wrong. We’re not eager to probe the sort of relational feelings that actually shape our type patterns, because they still feel bad today and we don’t cope with that very well. Not only do they lurk in the background and diminish our expectations of life, they can even make good experience difficult to take in because deep down we’ve given up on what we long for, as if we somehow don’t deserve it.

It makes no sense in purely rational or cognitive terms, but you may recognize what it feels like: in the very moment we find the connection we want, we can still have trouble accepting and enjoying it. This is what happens not only when you offer help to Twos (and others) who have difficulty feeling cared for, but also when you try to reassure those who have difficulty feeling supported: you can put a friendly hand on their shoulder, but if they can’t really let that in and trust it they may shrug it off awkwardly instead. These are the early relational themes of the Enneatypes, and we’re all likely to have some difficulty around them:

I’m proud of you.

I’ll take care of you.

I love you for who you are, not what you do.

You’re special to me.

I see you, I hear you, and I understand you.

You can trust me.

I want what’s best for you, even when I say No.

I respect you as a person in your own right.

I’m glad you’re here.

We have strong feelings and an entire story about our own type concern, while the others often go unrecognized. Upon first considering them, you may feel puzzled or blank: what is all this about being “loved for who you are”, don’t parents just naturally love their own children? It’s as if we never quite grasped the impact of these themes, having focused on another instead – yet we can still have trouble taking in these feelings too, which is surely why we can understand other types as well as we do.

These must have been serious challenges for a young child still developing a sense of self and well-being, feeling bad and having all that begin to fall apart whenever we didn’t feel securely held in relationship. Decades later we may still feel unappreciated or obstructed or unwelcome in moments of frustration and disappointment, because these feelings remain neglected and avoided. Simply becoming aware of the type pattern or understanding it as a legacy of the distant past helps less than we might hope, because feelings don’t easily yield to logic or evidence; they must be met on their own terms. As with all the types, the Two pattern is really about feelings about caring. It’s not focused on soliciting care in return; the whole theme of not feeling cared for is so uncomfortable that Twos mostly try to avoid it, as we all avoid the central problem of our type. Twos help others simply because they want to be good, and that’s their idea of what this means.

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Copyright © 2017, Eric R. Meyer. For an overview of this approach and its application to all nine types, see Part II of my earlier article “Relational Psychology of the Enneatypes” on the International Enneagram Association’s NinePoints magazine. [link]

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