My chosen reading material for my wait at Seattle Tacoma International Airport was Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert’s “The Enneagram”. Having retaken the Enneagram test while staying with Idelette, and finding myself having impromptu conversations about it while staying with a friend in Portland (Leigh, you were not far from my thoughts when I had these conversations, *grin*), I found myself curious to read, and reflect again, on my type.
As I began the chapter on my type – type 2 – I was surprised by how apprehensive I felt about reading my type. Since learning about the Enneagram about five years ago, I have often spoken about how it has helped me become healthier, and especially how it’s helped me navigate interpersonal spaces in healthier ways. But somehow I had forgotten how painful it can be to have a mirror held up to you and show you your shadow side in all its glory.
As I read the chapter, I started to remember, started to feel and started to see, and with the remembering, feeling and seeing came the re-awakening. You see, two’s need to be needed. And in order to fulfil that need, I become very helpful. When you tell me you need me, when you tell me you depend on me, when you praise me for being so helpful, you feed my need, and I feel happy.
But the downside – the shadow side – of my type is that twos become too helpful; we become so busy with helping others that we bury our needs, and sometimes we even forget that we have needs. This leads to pride, where we then look down on others because they have needs, and we erroneously think that we do not have any. Just writing this flushes my face with shame, but I need to hold this mirror up and have the courage to look at what is being reflected back to me. I need to do so because when I see my true reflection, only then can I truly begin to heal. When I live in the shadow side of my type, my boundaries become too porous; I overextend myself with helping others and in the process, I get lost.
As I continued to read the chapter, I found myself evaluating where I am, wondering why I have been feeling so discontented with this year when I have so much to be thankful for.
I began to see how saying “yes” to certain things and to certain people – because I wanted to be as helpful as I can – meant that I was saying “no” to myself and my needs.
The extent to which I chose to be helpful has meant that I have not able to meet my own needs that I had identified at the start of this year. Once again, I was not able to help myself in my attempts to help others.
But this past Sunday I woke up feeling sad, and I realized that I could no longer deny the undercurrents of emotions. I decided to that I needed to go to my happy place – Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens – with Francesco.
And there, under the gaze of my beloved mountain, surrounded by God and the beauty of His Creation in one of His cathedrals, I chose to confront the reality of my choices for this year. Francesco helped me process by asking me questions that invited me to be honest about what I needed. I began to reflect on what I had been saying “yes” to, and how that resulted in me saying “no” to my dreams – and my needs – for this year.
Since then, I have not slept well because I started to choose strengthen my boundaries. Strengthening my boundaries includes saying “no” to others so that there is space for me to say “yes” to me. And this is a painful process for me, because saying no to others means that I will no longer be the go-to person. I will no longer be indispensable. I will no longer be needed. And that scares the heck out of me.
And then Francesco completely threw me a curveball. While chatting through my concerns of disappointing people, of worrying that my choices would be selfish, he asked me if my helpful nature could not be in service of me. That stopped me in mid thought. What? Be helpful to myself? Be needed by myself? It sounded too strange; I had never thought about it that way. But the more I thought, the more I sensed a glimmer of something really significant.
Why can’t my helpful nature be in service of me?
Why can’t I be needed by myself?
In bible study on Wednesday evening, we reflected on Luke 10:25-28. 25,
“On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ ‘What is written in the Law?’ he [Jesus] replied. ‘How do you read it?’ He [the expert] answered: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ‘You have answered correctly,’ Jesus replied. ‘Do this and you will live.’”
We reflected on what it means to love one’s self. The law expert that wanted to trap Jesus said that we must love the Lord our God with all our being AND love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Jesus’ reply was that when we do this we will live. Again it felt like time had stopped because of something significant.
We will live.
And living – to me – is not only about surviving; it is about flourishing.
It was as if I had read this passage for the first time. Slowly, it dawned on me that if I love myself – if I am attentive to my needs – I will live. If I love myself, I will flourish. I realized that saying “yes” to my needs is not being selfish; by saying “yes” to my needs, I love myself.
Strengthening my boundaries – saying “no” to some – so that my helpful nature is not at the expense of my well-being, is not being selfish. It is about acknowledging what I need. It is about learning to recognize my capacity in the moment and to make choices based on that capacity and not on my need to be needed. It is about recognizing what I need and loving myself enough to attend to my needs.
I am learning that when I attend to my needs, when I love myself well, I will be able to help others without them needing to need me because I have already fulfilled the need to be needed for myself.
And when I love myself well, then I will love God and neighbour well, without strings attached. When I love myself well, I will not only live… I will flourish.
So I have a couple of questions for you, and I would love to hear your thoughts…
What do you think it means to love yourself?
What do you need to say “no” to in order to say “yes” to what you need?