Imagine feeling the constant pull toward helping others, being the first call when a neighbor needs a ride or a coworker needs you to take their afternoon meeting. For many Enneagram Twos, it's natural to put others first, because you genuinely care about their wellbeing. But these efforts come at a cost. Being helpful can lead to feelings of resentment or frustration when you need help in return and don't receive it.
Setting boundaries helps Twos prioritize themselves without feeling guilty. It's an essential skill for any Two who wants to stay connected with others while protecting their emotional well-being.
Different subtypes help in different ways
To be clear, not all Enneagram Twos have the same wiring. Within every Enneagram number are three subtypes, and those subtypes can influence the Two's style of giving:
- Self-Preservation Twos are childlike and fearful. You help out of habit or a survival mechanism to entice others to like you and care for you. Like other Twos, you seek a positive connection with those in your circle, but you may give off a sense of neediness or even desperation when acting under stress.
- Social Twos look a lot like Enneagram Eights – leaders with an appetite for success. You are not necessarily more outgoing or sociable than other Twos, but you do want to expand your audience and win others’ approval through helping them. There is a strategy behind your “giving.”
- One-to-One Twos focus on specific individuals to receive your support, help and generosity. With this narrower field of focus, you concentrate your efforts on drawing chosen ones in to care for you in return. Others may describe you as seductive in your giving, as you give exactly enough to get the response you need.
Healthy Twos set emotional boundaries
No matter what your subtype is, helping becomes exhausting without healthy boundaries to set limits and delineate what is yours as separate from what belongs to someone else. Emotional boundaries include feelings, attitudes, hopes and expectations.
Healthy emotional boundaries prevent you from taking on someone else’s feelings as your own or displacing your needs to please someone else. They allow you to empathize without fusing with another. You remain an ally while staying within your own emotional lane.
For example, suppose a colleague arrives late to work, flustered from a long commute. While many types may empathize with their co-worker's disrupted morning, some Enneagram Twos can physically experience this frustration, allowing it to darken their mood. You may offer to grab a coffee for your colleague or help them with a pressing commitment. These acts can be valued contributions if the Enneagram Two’s motivation is to lighten their coworker's load. But if you're taking responsibility for improving their colleague’s day, then you're sacrificing your own emotional boundaries.
Spotting emotional boundary violations
If Enneagram Twos do not establish and stick to healthy emotional boundaries, they may unknowingly allow behaviors that lack respect. This can happen, for instance, when others start to rely on and misuse your helping nature, leading to feelings of resentment because you are doing everything and getting nothing in return. Over time, this can harm the very relationships that you are keen to maintain.
Here are some examples of boundary violations you should be aware of:
- Someone requesting your help for something they could easily do for themselves.
- Being manipulated into tossing aside your own priorities to serve another’s agenda, dishonoring your giving nature.
- Stealing your time, for example, when a friend stays hours late or a spouse rearranges your schedule because they know you won't say no.
- Dismissing your feelings when you try to stand up for yourself.
- Ignoring or minimizing your needs, assuming that you will always be there for them regardless of your own situation or well-being.
Establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries
As a member of the Enneagram heart triad, Twos naturally lean on their feelings and relationships with others. Establishing boundaries doesn't mean that you should no longer be helpful or kind – it simply means placing limits on your giving so that it does not cost you too much. Here are some tips for setting healthy boundaries:
- Take a step back and dive deeper
What motivates your desire to help? Do you feel an underlying need to be liked and appreciated? Are you “giving to get” so you will receive the dedication and care you seek in return? Are you creating a service “debt” to be repaid?
Perhaps not. Maybe your intentions are admirably genuine. Yet, are you enabling? Does your neighbor need a ride from you? Can their teenager leave early and drop them off instead?
Pause to pull yourself out of default mode. Rather than instantly agreeing or assuming you “should,” consider if helping is rescuing or if it is the best option.
- Choose intentionally
All Enneagram types may sacrifice for someone they care about at times. Relationships are a balance of give and take. The challenge is in learning you should not be the sole giver, constantly pouring out your kindness, energy and time without having those same gestures reciprocated. It's not about keeping score, but ensuring you have enough left in your empathy and energy tank to meet your own needs.
Give too much, and you may miss opportunities you otherwise would embrace. For example, you may have loved leading that charity drive but you didn't have enough time or energy due to all your other one-off commitments that left you depleted. By choosing more intentionally, you find yourself with more to give.
- Saying “no” without guilt
Generally, your popularity does not surge when you tell others 'no,' which is the rub for Enneagram Twos who wish to stay in the good graces of your tribe. Declining may take some practice, and you may feel discomfort.
Strengthening emotional boundaries means that you accept that others may occasionally dislike your decision. Think of saying 'no' as a necessary action that allows you to be more effective when you can help. Because you are a finite human, this cannot be every time.
- Asking for help yourself—and receiving it well
Pride is the passion of Type Twos and can lead to denying that you could use help, too. A helper reaching out for help (for yourself, not others) feels uncomfortable. Being on the other side of the exchange may feel unnatural. Isn’t that your role?
Rather than waiting until someone offers, ask for help and see how this feels for you. Reality dictates that we all need help at some time. We get sick, the car breaks down, or we live through a pandemic and need supplies. The list is endless, and heroic efforts sometimes come from others instead of us. Learning to share the helping muscle and receive well contributes to your growth.