Question: I'd like some information on transforming potent energy patterns stemming from my interaction with a very self-absorbed Enneagram Two mother. I don't understand the extreme Two well enough to figure out a strategy for establishing and maintaining a proper distance. My own Enneagram style is Four, and I admit to being a little uncomfortable about Two as the Four's stress point.
We can understand this reader's reluctance to acknowledge any positive aspects of an Enneagram style with whom she's had difficult interactions. She can balance her experience by appreciating the positive qualities of her mother's Two style when healthy: great empathy and the capability for truly unconditional caring - all part of style Four's potential, as well (Maxine Kumin's poem, "Nurture" beautifully conveys style Four's unique empathy and unconditional love).
Riso & Hudson described "the extreme Two" in Personality Types, naming unhealthy Levels 7 "The Self-Deceptive Manipulator," 8 "The Coercive Dominator," and 9 "The Psychosomatic Victim."
"Because their aggressions conflict with their all-good self-image… unhealthy Twos have to express their aggressions indirectly, by manipulating others to give them the kind of loving response they desperately want… the maestros of guilt… unhealthy Twos' manipulations pull them off their own center… throw others off the scent of their own manipulations… presenting themselves as 'helpers' who can heal the pain they have subtly caused."
Later in the chapter they help us gain distance and even compassion when reflecting on unhealthy Twos:
"The irony is that unhealthy Twos compulsively bring about the very thing they most fear: they want to be loved, but end up being hated, or at least unwanted by anyone... If we draw a lesson... it is that Twos can be right in their belief about the value of love, yet wrong in their manner of loving others."
Enneagram Fours interacting with Enneagram Twos could also take a look at some of the generic dynamics of the Four/Two combination and see what fits.
From the "Directory of Relationships" in Helen Palmer's The Enneagram in Love & Work): Style Four and style Two each tends to operate in a push-pull fashion around relationships - each pulls back when another is (more) available and moves toward when the other pulls back. Fours see Twos' indirectness and tendency to flatter as lacking emotional depth because Fours are "hooked" on emotional depth. The push-pull in this pairing can end if both agree to work on the relationship (possibly not an option with a parent). Instead of expending their energy outward at the other's flaws (no matter how well deserved), Palmer says Fours need to question their urge to criticize themselves ("'Why do I see my flaws when I'm around this Two?").
Perhaps most important for extricating themselves from a dysfunctional pattern (because Fours and Twos share a connecting line in the diagram), Fours can look for parts of themselves in the Two as an opportunity to do some shadow work. When we experience strong distaste for another Enneagram style, we're at a growing edge if we can acknowledge their disliked aspects in our own shadow. In Transformation Through Insight, Claudio Naranjo describes one way this might show up in style Four's "exaggerated suffering," developed in the child as an attempt to elicit love that's not otherwise forthcoming. He even describes the Four strategy as "seduction through suffering."
One of my favorite essays in Zweig and Abrams' Meeting the Shadow is "Finding the Shadow in Every Day Life," by William A. Miller. Among other suggestions to discover what lies hidden in our Shadow side, Miller asks us to examine our projections:
"Projection is an unconscious mechanism that is employed whenever a trait or characteristic of our personality that has no relationship to consciousness becomes activated. As a result of the unconscious projection, we observe and react to this unrecognized personal trait in other people. We see in them something that is a part of ourselves, but which we fail to see in ourselves... Certainly not all our criticisms of others are projections of our own undesirable shadow traits: but any time our response to another person involves excessive emotion or overreaction, we can be sure that something unconscious has been prodded and is being activated… if Jim is sometimes arrogant, for example, there is a certain degree of 'reasonableness' about my offense at his behavior. But in true shadow projection my condemnation of Jim will far exceed his demonstration of the fault."
This can be difficult work, but it truly allows us to let go of dysfunctional bonds and begin to act more freely. A style Nine I coached about projections was stunned to discover she'd happily boxed in her style Eight husband as "the bad guy" (the worst of style Eight) and herself as "the good girl" (style Nine's Idealized Self). After some Shadow work it hit her "like a ton of bricks" that she was making herself a victim. This was a truly transforming moment. Not that their relationship is perfect, not that she never again was hooked, but she became able to accept her attachment to being in control, to being "right," and was better able to see her victimizing pattern when it appeared ("it looks less ugly with every sighting"). She also began to feel forgiveness for her father, with whom she'd felt a victim even after his death.