Enneagram Type 2 - The Helper

Updated: May 26, 2021

In a nutshell

Type 2s are generally active and focused on fulfilling the needs of others, with a tendency to ignore their own needs. They aim to be useful, so they seek out people who want or need their help, and can be highly motivated, dedicated, and practical, inspiring others to be more charitable as well. Their core desire is to be loved, but at times can paradoxically keep themselves from fulfilling that desire by trying to control others, feeling that the help they give "should" get them love in return. The further they go down that road, the less in touch they become with what others actually need, and the more they try to use others to validate the image they are trying to create, namely the image of a "good" person. To grow and be satisfied in life, they learn to accept the reality that in addition to their "good" feelings, they have feelings that are not "good", such as anger, bitterness, and selfishness. Once they accept that, they can let go of the control they exert on others, and let go of the desire to do so altogether.

Levels of Development

Each of the nine personality types are formed based on a Core Fear we develop at a young age. This fear keeps us from being our fully actualized selves and acting from Essence, the version of ourselves that exists when we let go of our fears and ego identifications and allow ourselves to simply be. In response to this fear, we develop a Core Desire, which can either lead us back to self actualization and Essence, or towards deeper fear and false identity.

The Levels of Development are an aspect of each Enneagram type discovered in 1977 by Don Richard Riso. They provide us with a map of how we degrade as we hold on more strongly to our Core Fear, leading us to progressively deeper and more complicated emotional defense mechanisms. There are 9 separate levels of development for each type (not to be confused with the 9 types themselves), starting with self actualization at Level 1 and going down to pathological thoughts and behaviors at Level 9. Each level represents what happens when a new fear is introduced, and a new desire emerges in order to defend that fear. These levels are grouped into the "Healthy Levels" (Levels 1-3), the "Average Levels" (Levels 3-6), and the "Unhealthy Levels" (Levels 7-9).

For a detailed understanding of what happens to each type at each level, I recommend reading the Enneagram books co-written by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson. That said, it's important to have a general understanding of how each Type behaves at different levels, so I've provided an overview of the Healthy, Average, and Unhealthy levels below.

Healthy Levels

When emotionally healthy, 2s are deeply in tune with both themselves and others. Rather than hiding behind the image of a "good" person, they work to embody their ideals. This means that when they choose to help and support others, they do so from a standpoint of caring about the others rather than about what they are getting out of it. In stress, they may still begin lose touch with themselves and their feelings in the present, but they remain fundamentally balanced and realistic. Likewise, they may begin to have a somewhat prideful sense themselves as "good" people, but they remain primarily focused on doing good rather than being good. They become genuinely fulfilled by the feeling of helping others, while never losing sight of their own needs in the process.

To remain healthy, 2s operating in this zone should make a point to stay focused on how they are feeling in the moment. Make sure you consistently meet your own needs first, and help others with the time and energy you have to spare afterwards.

Average Levels

When 2s begin to focus their thoughts, time, and energy too strongly on others, they begin to have difficulty seeing themselves as separate from others. Their self-image becomes less stable because it can only be fulfilled if others play the role the 2 wants them to - that of a grateful recipient of the 2's help. Because of this, Average 2s begin to focus more on getting others to see them in a certain light and less on actually creating positive results for themselves and others. This shift from the healthy/practical to the average/prideful mode is damaging for many reasons, not the least of which is that it simply doesn't get the individual's needs met. The 2 is left pursing a strategy of seeking emotional gratification that leads them to instability in their relationships, and sometimes material instability as well. A layer of bitterness begins to color their image - instead of seeing themselves simply as a "good" person, they begin to see themselves as a "good" person whom nobody appreciates. Rather than let go of the image-based false reality, average 2s may double down on their strategy and become over-focused on and possessive of the people in their lives. The 2 has issues they want to have solved, and their perspective dictates that the people around them are supposed to do the solving for them in exchange for help/support - they want others to do for them what they think they're doing for others. However at this point the 2 is becoming too unrealistic and self-focused to be effective at helping anyone in meaningful ways, and few people are willing to engage in this type of exchange-based relationship with them. Even if they were, the nature of human life is such that we cannot be stable if we give up responsibility for ourselves.

To become healthy again, average 2s need to loosen up their emotional self-focus and increase their practical self-focus. Begin working to solve your problems personally, rather than holding on to the belief that you are owed something because of your past actions. Nobody is capable of doing this for you, but you'll find that it's not hard once you begin taking the steps yourself!

Unhealthy Levels

As average 2s go deeper into their other-focused survival strategy, they become more enraged at the people in their lives. They believe they "should" be taken care of, that they have "earned" it by putting themselves behind others for so many years. This growing inner aggression conflicts with the image of a "good" person they have created, but at unhealthy levels they are unable to mask it any longer. What results is a person who dominates others via manipulation. The strategies involved in emotional manipulation of others allow the unhealthy 2 to continue to get what they need out of others without admitting to their "bad" thoughts. Their manipulation tactics may "fool" some people for some amount of time, but on the whole once they have reached this level, they at the very least will seem "off" to people who are close to them. However, they are masters at "virtue-signaling" and may be skilled at convincing strangers or acquaintances that they are incredibly "good" people. However they take pleasure in presenting themselves as virtuous people who have been "tormented" or "victimized" as the sympathy this creates allows them to trick people into giving them what they want while simultaneously giving them a "safe" way to vent their negative feelings. As they go deeper into these patterns, the façade weakens and what's left is simply the aggressor who feels fully entitled to take whatever they want from those around them. Their delusions lead them to believe that they have been so mistreated that they are owed anything they could possibly want. As a 2 their core desire is love, and they will often seek it compulsively through coercion. Eventually, they may completely break down as a way to allow themselves to be cared for by others. In their minds, physical suffering is less painful than continuing to live in the fantasy world they have created in which they are perfect but nobody loves them. If they break down, or allow themselves to become ill or significantly injured, others will be forced to take care of them and they will finally have what they "want".

To become healthy again, 2s operating in the unhealthy zone should seek professional help so they can work through their pains and begin to take responsibility for themselves again. Begin to understand that it's OK for you to be dedicated to yourself, and in fact healthy people who have genuine love to give will be more likely to give it if you learn to value yourself.

Wings / Subtypes

Every person has some degree of every type at work in their personality, but Enneagram 2s are more likely to draw strongly from one of the adjacent types, 1 or 3. Because of this, we treat them as distinctive subtypes known as “Wing Types”. Not everyone has a strong wing type, but a majority of people do, so we generally describe a 2's type as either "2 wing 1" (2w1) or "2 wing 3" (2w3).

2 wing 1

Compared to the 2w3, a 2w1 is generally more virtue-oriented and less image-oriented. Type 2 wants to be "good" in the sense that they want others to view them as morally good, and Type 1 wants to be "good" in the sense that they want to adhere to their personally defined principles.

At healthy levels, these traits combine to form a paragon of sorts, enacting their principles in the world. While they will be generally less action-oriented than the healthy 2w3, they are more action-oriented than the healthy 1w2. Type 1 is a gut type and so is focused around topics of how the individual relates to the world, which adds a coloring of self-reflection and self-study that is less present in the 2w3. But because Type 2 is fundamentally action-oriented, the influence from Type 1 is secondary, and the healthy 2w1's principles will add depth and purpose to their action without distracting from it. At the same time, their 1 side gives them a clearer and more concise understanding of the world, and they may be prone to advising and guiding others as an "action" they enjoy taking.

At Average levels, 2w1's Type 2 side begins to define itself based on others, and the Type 1 side begins to pressure itself harder to meet its increasingly unrealistic standards. This leads to a strong internal split which causes a lot of volatility. In general, you can say that in any given moment one is either using their primary type's strategies or their wing type's, and the average level strategies of types 1 and 2 can both be quite intense. This gives rise to contradictory behaviors which can be quite confusing to others, alternating between the 2w1 subjugating themselves to the other (2) and criticizing them (1).

At Unhealthy levels, the 2w1's rage grows and they become manipulative and possessive (2) while simultaneously detaching its self-image from reality in order to maintain a sense of self perfection (1). Both types synergize to reject any notion that the individual is capable of any wrongdoing. The unhealthy 2w1 dominates others through hypocritical manipulation and eventually simple aggression, while strongly clinging to the concept that only they know what's right and wrong. Compared to the unhealthy 2w3, the unhealthy 2w1 is more self-focused. Their fantasy world revolves around their own self-story, and less around validation from others.

2 wing 3

Compared to the 2w1, a 2w3 is generally more image-oriented and less self-regulating. Type 2 wants to be loved by others, and Type 3 wants to be admired. Both types are in the Feeling Triad and so are personalities centered around emotions and self-image.

Healthy 2w3s are warm and action-oriented. Type 2 is motivated by helping others, and the added influence from Type 3 results in someone who is personally driven to make the largest positive impact on the world that they can. In any healthy 2 you find a person who is big-hearted, loving themselves and others equally, and who takes pleasure in communicating their positive feelings towards action. Type 3 orients itself towards success and finds health when it learns to define that success for itself. So the combination of types is double-oriented to positive action, with a practicality and results-focus that make the healthy 2w3 a champion in their circles. Being other-focused, healthy 2w3s are often quite charming, and enjoy conversing with others and making them feel good as much as they care about taking productive action.

Average 2w3s are image-focused from both sides and can lose touch with their own desires very quickly as they shift away from their healthy patterns. At average levels, they become less productive and more concerned with virtue-signaling (2) while also losing touch with their own desires and begins working harder to prove themselves (3). The 2w3's double action orientation remains, but their actions become less focused on positive results and more focused on simply convincing others that they are worthy of love. Because of both types' intense focus on what others think of them though, they can still be incredibly charming, knowing exactly how to present themselves and what to say to get what they want, namely validation. The validation they seek can be as simple as a pat on the back at first, but as they descend the levels of health they begin to use their charm to get others to lower their guard and place themselves in a more powerful position. You could say that compared to the average 2w1, average 2w3s are more openly self-serving and self-promoting, more willing to show others what they want to see in order to get what they want.

As they reach the unhealthy levels of health, 2w3s become highly self-focused and narcissistic. They use their considerable social skills to manipulate others for their own material benefit (compared to the 2w1 who manipulates others largely to fulfil emotional compulsions). The unhealthy 2w3, in line with the basic type 2, feels completely entitled to behave this way, seeing themselves as victims of an unspeakably challenging life. In spite of their focused, self-serving, damaging actions, the 2w3 is ultimately seeking love in a warped way. They manipulate for their own benefit because they feel they are forced to, because they have been victimized or because "that's just how the world works." That is the tune of their self-story, but ultimately it is a cover-up for the fact that they are just acting out their anger at the world and won't let themselves be aware of it.

Growth tips

-Accept that you are the only one capable of creating the feeling of self-love that you are ultimately looking for. Others might not appreciate what you do for them, and that is up to them. But you can love yourself no matter what others have to say about it.

-Rather than dwelling on people who do not appreciate you, find people who do. Even at your best you enjoy giving to others and being appreciated for it - in growth the goal is not to change that, but to respect it.

-Be aware that you may have learned to feel validated by taking actions that ultimately have negative results. Examine what you do for others, and ask yourself if they are things you really want to do.

-Connect to your purpose and find the best way you can to serve others. Everybody has a true purpose of service, regardless of Enneagram type, but it may be more important for you as a 2 to find exactly what that means for you.

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