In the Shadow of Type 2: Neediness

We Need Help

We Need Help (Photo credit: Alain-Christian)

2s see themselves as caring, sympathetic, kind, nurturing, friendly, giving, compassionate, warm-hearted, and above all, helpful.

2s make good friends. Having a 2 in your corner can be very reassuring. They will readily offer their assistance—sometimes even before the other person is aware he or she needs it. 2s’ sense of self-worth depends upon how valuable they are to others, or how valuable they perceive themselves to be.

Everyone needs a helping hand from time to time, and we can probably agree that there isn’t enough genuine altruism in the world. So it’s easy to applaud the selfless behavior of 2s. It’s also sometimes easy to take advantage of it since 2s really, really want others to like them.

The Flip Side

Of course, as with all the types, there’s a catch. If 2s aren’t acknowledged for all they do and recognized for the important role they play, they may either turn into martyrs or lash out at the very people they had previously lavished their love and attention on.

In The Enneagram Spectrum of Personality Styles, Jerome Wagner lists repression as the primary defense mechanism of 2s:

Because your own needs make you anxious, you keep them out of your awareness by repressing them. You project your needs onto others (so other people are needy, but you aren’t).

Needy is kind of a loaded term. There are people all over the world in need of the most basic elements of survival: food, water, shelter, clothing, and personal safety. They are undeniably needy, or at least in need. Then there are those of us who haven’t experienced those kinds of needs and aren’t likely to.

But emotional needs are important, too. The mental health profession makes an interesting distinction between needs and neediness. Becoming aware of and expressing one’s needs is a positive thing. Being a needy person, however, is generally viewed negatively. On top of that, we have the cultural dissonance (somewhat reflected in the divisiveness of U.S. politics) that applauds both self-reliance and toughing it out, on the one hand, and concern for the less-fortunate, on the other.

Everyone of us needs to show how much we care for each other and, in the process, care for ourselves.

–Princess Diana

In a way, 2s reflect our society’s discomfort and ambivalence about needs, neediness, and needy people. Although quick to identify, sympathize with, and respond to others’ needs, they relegate their own needs to the shadowland. In a way, they tend to themselves by tending to others. But, of course, that indirect route isn’t really very satisfying for either party.

Don Riso and Russ Hudson (The Wisdom of the Enneagram) suggest 2s examine their motives:

Twos tend to give too much and then regret it. Be brutally honest with yourself about your motives when you do anything for anyone. Learn to doubt your own rationales. Learn to listen to your body and your heart: when both ache, you know that you are hurting, and giving more to others so that they will appreciate you will not ultimately heal that hurt. On the other hand, closing down and cutting off ties with others will not solve the problem, either. Only brutal honesty about your intentions and your needs will do.

I’m not so sure about the being “brutally” honest part. Many 2s are carrying around a huge bag of unmet needs, so I think they need to be gentle with themselves. Getting into the habit of asking, “What do I need in this situation—or right now?” can help them slow down, settle down, and learn to focus inward, rather than outward.

The irony for 2s is that acknowledging their own needs—and being straightforward and honest about getting them met—can actually lead to the deeper, more intimate connections they crave. The more they take care of themselves, the more they will be able to freely offer themselves to others, and the more likely they are to develop the genuine friendships and relationships they are looking for.

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10 responses to “In the Shadow of Type 2: Neediness

  1. I love the compassion in this piece. And it rings so true with the 2’s I have known. I look forward to the rest of this series.

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  9. Nice. I think you caught the essence here very well.

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