Reflections from an Enneagram Two: Learning to Receive from Others
When I was first exposed to the Enneagram, I was told that it focused on our core sins. That sounded very threatening to me because I love to focus on positive things. But I was also curious because I knew that with Jesus, we can face our sins and receive forgiveness and transformation. I now see this tool as a dear friend that I greatly appreciate.
Alice Fryling in Mirror for the Soul says the Enneagram exposes our “true self” and our “false self.” It’s been uncomfortable to look deeper at my false self and my weaknesses, but I am thankful for the ways that I have gained greater insight into my life, motivations, weaknesses, and strengths. It has also been helpful for me to understand others who are different than myself.
The Benefits of “the Helper”
I identify as the Two on the Enneagram, which is usually called “the Helper.” Twos are motivated by helping others. We get our personal needs fulfilled by being needed and by giving others what they need and want. We seek out relationships, especially those that give us the opportunity to help.
In relationships and ministry, the Helper is a great asset. It’s easy to find people who focus mostly on themselves, so when individuals who are generous, give practical help, and are willing to do whatever is needed show up, most people welcome and like them.
And everyone needs some kind of help. Ministry is all about helping others. As we minister to people, we find out the needs that they have. We want to help others experience God’s love, peace, and new life in Christ. We want to help comfort them in difficult times. As an InterVarsity staff who ministers to college students and staff, I’ve found countless ways to help. Sometimes it’s practical, like offering food or a ride, or it may be helping someone with a problem by offering advice, prayer, Scripture, or a listening ear. We want to see others flourish in their faith and will do what we can to help them grow even when it is challenging and requires a lot from us.
We also live in a broken world, with homelessness, poverty, abuse, racism, sexism, violence, broken relationships, self-hatred, depression, and much more. Twos will never run out of people to help. At our best, we are loving, generous, and unselfish. We can provide a healing presence for others, reflecting God’s love. With all these positive things that the Helper offers, what can possibly be negative about Twos?
The Blind Spots and Weaknesses of the Helper
Twos need to be aware of our hidden motives. I confess that there are things I do that appear to be loving, but that are actually motivated by selfishness and my need to be needed. When I feel needed by others, I gain confidence and belonging and build my self-esteem. I feel good when I meet someone’s needs and gain their appreciation, acceptance, and approval. Often as Twos, we want to do what people want so we will be useful and they will continue to affirm and appreciate us. We struggle with being people pleasers because we don’t want to disappoint others. This may also cause us to be intrusive, to be overly helpful, to nag, or to even be controlling. We may expect others to help us when we have needs and be disappointed when they don’t. Rejection is difficult for us. When we feel unappreciated, we may continue to help but we may feel angry or bitter toward those we are trying to help. This is a false type of love.
Twos can also believe the lie that to be loved, we must be needed. We may even believe that God loves us more because we are helping others. It’s easy to feel that we are indispensable, and sometimes even the source of love in someone’s life. Twos struggle with pride.
Fryling says in Mirror for the Soul:
Pride is the word the Enneagram uses to describe the compulsion (or passion or sin) of the Two false self. They may be proud of the fact that they know what you need, but you do not know what they need. They may be so proud of their perceived ability to solve your problem that they cannot see that you want to solve your problem yourself. Or they may just be proud of all the things they are doing that are working. How could the world get along without me? Of course, they dare not admit or show their pride because that would not be loving.
Another challenge for the Helper is being in touch with our own needs or making them known. Because we spend so much of our time focusing on others, we may forget about self-care. Relationships can be one-sided and imbalanced because we are always giving and never receiving.
As Fryling writes, “The choice for a Two is, ‘Am I going to love because I am created to love, or do I believe I have to love in order to be okay?’ In other words, for whose sake am I doing this?”
Relating to God as the Helper
It is both easy and difficult for Twos to relate to God. As we live out God’s kingdom purposes and see the Holy Spirit powerfully at work touching lives, we experience great intimacy with God and deep fulfillment. When we partner with God to help others, we can be thankful for his good work, celebrate what he does, and worship him with great joy because we have the privilege of being God’s heart, hands, and feet to those in need.
I know that God is the ultimate helper and that I desperately need his Spirit to work in me to help others. But I have also tried to help others without involving God at all. Sometimes I feel so powerful helping others that I subtly believe I am the savior and forget Jesus. Twos may also just see God as the one who helps us help others and not relate to him as our lover and friend. It may be hard to be honest with God about our own needs because our focus is always on others.
When we feel stressed by all the needs around us and especially those that we are not able to meet, we need to ask God for direction about who he is asking us to help. When we are overwhelmed by the needs of others, we need to remember that we can come to God and rest in his care of us, knowing that we don’t have to meet every need because we have a Savior who is strong and able. We can receive love from God apart from helping.
The Helper on the Road to Transformation
How does the Helper grow and let God transform them? We need to honestly face our blind spots and weaknesses. Pride stops us from admitting our own needs and receiving. We may believe that we have more to offer someone and even subtly believe we are better than others. Pride may be the motivation for not revealing our vulnerabilities because we want to only present our strengths so that we can look good in the eyes of others. If we don’t repent from our pride we miss the joy of receiving from others and of relationships that are mutual.
The path to real love is humility. As we face our weaknesses, we can welcome God more deeply into our life, draw close to him, and allow him to transform and redeem us. When we face our impure motivations, we can confess our sins, receive God’s forgiveness, and ask him for love from a pure heart. If we are unrealistic about what we are expecting from others, we can ask God for forgiveness and give God our desire for control. God can show us how to give and receive from others without expectations. Sometimes we show love to others as a way to avoid our own fear of being unworthy of being loved. In those moments, we need to let the Holy Spirit reveal the deeper motivations of our heart.
When we feel anger or defensiveness, we can ask the Holy Spirit to show us what is really happening beyond the surface. Our negative emotions can also be signals to us that we are needy. Are there boundaries that we need to set on our giving? Is our helpfulness intrusive or controlling to others?
Jesus commands us to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27). Loving ourselves is equally important to loving our neighbor. Our love for others is limited when we cannot love ourselves. Ask God to reveal more of his love to you and show you that your sense of worth and value come from him, not what you do for others. Practice healthy mutual relationships, where you both give and receive. Don’t feel guilty when you pay attention to your own needs. Let others help you even before you help them. Don’t change yourself so that others will like you more, but rather enjoy the freedom and joy of being loved in both your strengths and weaknesses.
After many years of receiving God’s unconditional love and healing, I am still working on being in touch with my own needs. I need to grow in being more honest with God when I’m in need. With God and others, I still fight the pull to focus on someone else’s needs without feeling completely free to share my own vulnerabilities. I need to be intentional about sharing my weaknesses in relationships and let others give to me without feeling like I have to give back to them. But I am on the road to transformation because God is at work in me as I face difficult blind spots and habits.
In an earlier relationship, I was really focused on giving to someone I was discipling. Because I was able to help her in many areas of her life, we got really close and I really enjoyed that relationship. However, she sensed that there was something unhealthy about our relationship because she felt that I was leaning into her to receive my sense of self-worth, and she was greatly troubled by that. It was brought out in community and I repented of my unhealthy leaning in to help her. We had to disengage for a while and God brought healing and restored us to a healthier relationship. I still help sometimes but our relationship is based on far more than that. I also seek out peer relationships with strong people who will ask how I am doing and give to me. I feel the joy of knowing that they know my sins and weaknesses but still love me.
We are fearfully and wonderfully made by God (Psalm 139:14). I am thankful that God appreciates who I am apart from the role I play in helping others. I am complete and whole even if others don’t need my help. I can pay attention to my real needs and receive from God and others. I can say no when appropriate and know that God still loves me. When I give and others may not appreciate me, God sees all things and is pleased with me. He is the one I serve, and he loves me unconditionally and completely. The journey toward wholeness is a process, but I am so thankful that God is so powerful, generous, and gracious!
Image designed by twentyonehundred productions team member Jono Gay.
Brenda has spent over 41 years leading, discipling, and developing InterVarsity students and staff in San Francisco and Hawai`i. You can support her ministry at https://donate.intervarsity.org/donate#17.
Spiritual director (and former InterVarsity staff member) Alice Fryling introduces the Enneagram with questions and meditations to lead you into deeper self-awareness. You'll learn how you can experience God's love more abundantly and extend God's grace to others more fully.