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As a Helper, You Need to Take Care of Yourself

A Type Two Enneagram person is described as an empathetic, sincere, and generous person who looks after others more than they love themselves. They are unselfish and altruistic, drive to be close to others, and go out of their ways to be self-sacrificial for others. ​The Enneagram Institute ​describes Type Two enneagrams as ​The Helper​, a person who is genuinely helpful to people at best, and very invested at seeing ​themselves​ as helpful at worst.

A helper has three levels of being: healthy, average, and unhealthy. An unhealthy helper rationalizes what they do to be resentful and angry, and can be domineering and coercive of others. An average type two becomes overly intimate and intrusive, and are your stereotypical people pleasers. The healthy type twos care about their own needs while being empathetic, unselfish, and unconditionally loving others.

The biggest challenge for helper-type personalities is taking care of themselves and their own needs. And that is something all helpers have problems with: how can you take care of yourself when you spend so much time taking care of others?

I am a Type Two Enneagram and although I believe the Enneagram system to be an oversimplification of our actual lives. I am a Christian and know that people in the Christian community are very invested in ​The Enneagram Institute​ reminds us that we are “less able to respond to people in a balanced way if [we] have not gotten enough rest,” and it also urges us to take care of ourselves properly. Helper types have a tendency to seek out rewards for good works and helping others, for seeking credit and calling attention to good works.

Helpers might look to self-care as something they don’t need. I know I have said, in the past, that I don’t believe in the notion of self-care because we have to be for others more than we have to be for ourselves.

But then I became a teacher in inner-city Baltimore, and the craziness and hecticness of my job has thrust me into the position where I realize self-care is not only real, but a necessity. Even when we don’t believe in it, we take time for ourselves where we’re decompressing ourselves and looking after our own needs because we’ve been looking after others so much.

In Stephen R. Covey’s ​The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,​ he describes the tasks we face in life and work as four different quadrants. Quadrant I describes tasks that are urgent and important, like the deadline we have coming up in ten minutes. Quadrant II describes tasks that are not urgent and important, like the hobby and side-hustle we have outside of work that we ​choose ​to devote a lot of time to. Quadrant III describes tasks that are urgent and not important, like the endless pointless meetings that we have to go to, and Quadrant IV describes the not urgent and not important tasks we engage in that don’t yield much value, like scrolling through Facebook and Instagram when taking a break between stressful activities.

When I was first introduced to the book, I realized that I spent most of my time in Quadrants I and IV. I am either incredibly pressed to finish a report, assignment, or plan for a class last minute most of the time. When I am not doing something that is immediately urgent or pressing, especially during the school day, I find myself mindlessly going through Facebook and refreshing my e-mail every 10 seconds.

In my free time when I’m not working, and especially on the weekends, I find myself to be a lot more balanced, spending that time in Quadrant II. I am able to work with my church and read the Bible, run, spend time with my girlfriend and my friends, catch up on my favorite TV shows, and slow down.

The question remains of why I can take care of myself at home, but can’t take care of myself at work. I have learned that it’s a process, so I won’t magically get better at taking care of myself overnight. I still volunteer to do too many things. I have a hard time saying no to favors that I should definitely be saying no to, to my students but also to other teachers and administration. I have trouble asking for help because I feel like I should be able to handle everything by myself, but I don’t. I never will.

Helper types like myself often fall into the danger of the savior complex, where we always feel like we need to be some sort of Messiah and save people and do whatever we can and hyperextend ourselves. I feel this every day with my students to some degree, even if I don’t admit it.

Having a savior complex isn’t helping, it’s vanity. It’s not only vanity in education, but in any other profession that requires us helping others, like being a doctor, nurse, or therapist.

To be a good helper, you have to be able to help yourself. You are not going to be at your best after getting two or three hours of sleep. You are not going to be at your best if you can’t set healthy boundaries. You cannot just push through everything. To spend the most time in Quadrant II behaviors, take breaks and pace yourself. Sleep.

Above all, find what works for you and what helps you, on a day to day basis, decompress and reset. You’re stressed out every day as a helper and burned out because you have a job that society expects the world of, and also one where you feel like you have to everything. You may have a personality that feels like you need to fix everything.

To take care of yourself when you have a helper personality, reconnect with the hobbies that make you who you are. No, that doesn’t mean going to the bar every day for happy hour (even if you may indulge every once in a while), because a drinker isn’t a part of your core identity. You might be a runner, play an instrument, a gamer, a religious person. All of these are part of what make you you, and without those things that make you who you are, you’re only going to get sicker and suffer more.

Outside of being a teacher, I am a believer, a runner, and a writer. I have learned that all of these activities that make a core of my identity aren’t mutually exclusive, but tie into each other. Running makes me a better teacher. Praying more and reading the Bible make me a better writer. Writing frequently helps me process the traumas that happen at work.

I will call these activities “identity activities” because these are the activities that we don’t know who we would be without.

It’s hard and it seems like you don’t have time. I can’t tell you how many times this year I’ve not gone on a run after work because I felt exhausted and felt like shit. But you have to engage in your identity pieces ​precisely​ in those times when you feel like shit and ​precisely​ when you feel like you don’t have time, because you owe it to yourself to take care of yourself, and no one but yourself.

As a helper, it’s hard to look after yourself. But once you do, you will have a more sustainable and fulfilling road to becoming a better helper.

Previously published on medium



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Photo credit: by Fabio Comparelli on Unsplash

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