As the Enneagram analyzes what fears and emotions drive people, it can be a helpful tool for character creation. When you’re creating a character for your novel or story, it’s useful to understand not just what she does, but why she does it. The more you know about the inner workings of your character’s mind, the better you can portray her on the page.
Today, we’re continuing our series on the Enneagram with Type Two, often referred to as the Helper or the Giver. In the Marvel universe, there is no character who fits this type better than our friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man.
“I’d rather just stay on the ground for a little while. Friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. Somebody’s got to look out for the little guy, right?”
—Peter Parker, Spider-Man: Homecoming
Motivations and Fears
Twos, Threes, and Fours are feelings-oriented people who don’t believe they can be loved for who they are. Twos want to be needed, and rely on other people to bolster their self-worth. They are motivated by pride, which is interesting because they seem selfless. Their pride is rooted in the belief that they are necessary for someone else’s success or well-being. “They relish in the myth of their own indispensability,” writes Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile in The Road Back to You.
The basic desire of being loved, needed, and appreciated is encapsulated in Marvel’s Spider-Man. In fact, Spider-Man: Homecoming is all about Peter Parker struggling with these emotions.
Peter loves that his powers allow him to help people, and he’s especially elated by the attention of Tony Stark. He bases his feelings of self-worth on Stark’s opinion of him and on how “big” his good deeds are. Helping old ladies cross the street safely isn’t enough for Peter. He wants to do more; he wants to be one of the Avengers, saving the world from alien attacks and supervillains.
He waits around for Stark to call him for a mission, at first refusing to go to the Academic Decathlon nationals just in case something else comes up:
“I can’t go to Washington because if Mr. Stark needs me, then I have to make sure that I’m here.”
When Stark advises him to stay close to the ground and build up his game helping little people, Peter assures him he’s ready for more than that. And, of course, the rest of the story is about Peter trying to prove himself by taking on the Vulture. Peter is afraid of being unwanted or unworthy, which is the Two’s basic fear.
Obstacles and Desires
These are descriptors commonly used to describe Twos:
What makes a fictional Two interesting is when desires born from these traits conflict with their goals.
Peter’s actions, including helping people and sacrificing his time and safety, are spurred by his desire to be accepted. He wants to be worthy, wants to prove himself. But Stark tells him no. Stark even puts “training wheels” in the spidey suit so that Peter can’t access all of its capabilities yet. In Stark’s eyes, Peter is in training. He is not ready for bigger things. Peter “overcomes” this obstacle by hacking into the suit and removing the training wheel program. Of course, that only gets him into deeper trouble. For a story, that is the result you want: characters attempting to overcome their problems, but getting into deeper trouble because of their efforts.
The most interesting obstacles you can put in a Two’s path are ones that make them face their fear of worthlessness. Twos may commit to self-sacrifice for the wrong reasons or become destructive in their search for love and acceptance.
Stress and Security
The Enneagram has a useful diagram to demonstrate how a character might react when they feel stressed vs. when they feel secure, safe, and comfortable. Some characters may lash out in their stress, while others may keep their feelings internal, which can be expressed through inner dialogue or subtle physical cues.
When a Two feels stressed, he behaves like an unhealthy Eight (the Challenger). This means he could be dictatorial or violent; or he may feel invulnerable and do something reckless. The Enneagram Institute suggests over-eating and hypochondria as conditions a Two could be susceptible to.
Peter definitely gets reckless in Spider-Man: Homecoming, taking on situations that Stark warns him he’s not ready for and rushing headlong into danger. He nearly drowns from getting entangled in the parachute built into his suit, gets trapped inside a truck, and chases down dangerous villains.
When a Two feels secure, he behaves like a healthy Four (the Individualist). Healthy Fours are creative, self-aware, tactful, honest, and compassionate. You can see glimpses of these traits in Peter, but he needs time to get there.
Stagnant characters are boring characters. Use the Enneagram’s descriptions of what a type looks like at healthy, average, and unhealthy levels to plan a character arc. There are nine levels of development (not to be confused with the nine different types of personalities)—one to three being the most healthy, four to six being average, and seven to nine being unhealthy. These levels of development can help you decide where you want your character to start and how their personality progresses. (Are they unhealthy at first and move up to healthy? Are they average and improve? Are they healthy and become unhealthy? Do they move up and down the scale?)
Peter is somewhere in the Average Levels at the start of Homecoming—chasing his desire to feel self-important and needed. An Average Level is a good place to start for a heroic character, one you want your readers to like from their first appearance. The unhealthy levels are more appropriate for a villain. An unhealthy Two might be manipulative and entitled, rationalizing their actions because they feel victimized by others. An average Two, however, may be a people-pleasing meddler in the name of love, one who feels self-important and lacks humility. Average levels leave room for growth, but not enough space that readers wonder why they’re rooting for this character. Though Peter is flawed, no one can deny he wants to do the right thing. We still love him as a character, and his flaws are also linked to his young age—he hasn’t lived long enough or gone through enough experiences to justify a lot of wisdom at this point.
The most significant indication of Peter’s growth comes at the end of the film, when Stark gives him the opportunity to join the Avengers. Though this offer is everything Peter dreamed of at the start of the movie, he’s gained some perspective by the end. He says no, understanding that he needs more time as a “friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man” to develop his powers and keep his ego in check:
“Thank you, Mr. Stark, but I’m good.”
This decision is especially significant because Peter is still a kid—a teenager who is learning and growing. His ability to recognize his own weaknesses demonstrates a wisdom many adults don’t even have. It speaks to his character as a hero and gives us hope for the next generation of Avengers, which he will someday represent—just not yet.
If you decide your character is a Helper, I hope my thoughts on Enneagram Twos and Spider-Man help you in your character development. Use this tool to consider not just what they do, but why they do it. For further research, I recommend The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile.