The Natural Nurturer’s Dilemma

In childhood, Twos learned to become "little nurturers," and believed love was available only if they helped others. What would happen if you loved yourself unconditionally today?  -- The Enneagram Institute

The Enneagram is comprised of a set of nine distinct personality types, with each number on the Enneagram denoting one particular type.  Each of us emerges from childhood with a dominant personality, although it is common to see a bit of oneself in each of the nine types.

I’ve tested as a Two on the Enneagram. This comes as no surprise to me.  My natural tendencies point strongly in this direction.  I became a little nurturer to my younger sister when my Mother died, a bigger nurturer when my half-sisters were born, and a giant nurturer by the time I became a young adult.

Interestingly enough, the designation of "nurturer" has accompanied me into middle age.  But you know, I earned it, and I deserve it…that label, “People Pleaser.”

I find it fascinating that, although I learned to stand on my own (become self- reliant) at an early age and take responsibility for many aspects of my life, I never acknowledged or accepted the fact that I had to take responsibility for nurturing myself.

In short, I never considered how satisfying and freeing it might be to love myself, just myself!   In my view, that was someone’s else’s job.  As a result, I have spent many years working diligently to ensure that my family, friends, teachers, managers, co-workers, and, yes, of course, my spouses would love me back when I expressed my "unconditional” love toward them. 

In terms of a relationship, whether romantic or not, I convinced myself  that if I made an effort to acquiesce to others’ requests and desires, no matter how great or how small, I could create so much harmony that it would lead directly to a fulfilling, loving relationship. My return on investment would be quite straightforward: I would be the recipient of the other party’s kindness, compassion and love.   

But, surprise! That unconditional love I craved so much wasn’t always the end result, even after sometimes extraordinary efforts.  However, despite repeated disappointments, I kept forging ahead, practicing the same “overly nurturing” behavior and seeking love, approval and acceptance from basically anyone and everyone I came in contact with.  I always took the passenger’s seat in relationships and was quite comfortable letting the other party do the driving.

One of my greatest lessons in life has been that as a “natural nurturer,” a Two on the Enneagram (meaning that I tend to make others my first priority), I have deliberately minimized my own chances for personal happiness.  I have often refused opportunities to make my own sunshine and to impact relationships in a confident and positive way because I was so overly focused on others' happiness.  It was so much easier, and more natural, for me to wait for the proverbial relationship crumbs that I was used to having thrown my way.

Is one of the reasons my past relationships and marriages have failed because I nurtured others too much at the expense of nurturing myself?   I truly believe so.  I often wonder, what might have happened had I asserted myself early on?  Maybe I would not have had four unhappy and unbalanced marriages; and, as a side benefit, I would now have a much smaller, less complicated paper trail to explain!  Perhaps at least one of my marriages would have had a good chance to succeed, if I had expressed my desire for a fair and equal position in the relationship, rather than always assuming the subservient role.

Think about it. Are you focused on your own happiness within a relationship or marriage as much as on your partner's happiness? Doesn't a balanced, healthy relationship sound better than one where you spend 100 percent of your energy serving and pleasing your partner in order to secure that tiny bit of love and approval you hope will enhance and validate your sphere of happiness? 

Now I know that I can still be a nurturer at heart, while still making certain I’m managing to love myself first!  This takes work for someone like me, but I’ve made true progress.  I’m getting there.  It’s never too late to tweak yourself for the better, without losing who you are at your core!