Enneagram type Eights get a bad rap. I think they are treated more unfairly than any other type when teachers are explaining the types for the first time. People seem to be more judgmental and harsher toward Eights than they are empathetic and caring. Maybe it’s because they think Eights can handle it. Maybe it’s because they just don’t understand them fully. Maybe it’s because they meet perceived aggression with aggression.
I try my best not to do this. I happen to be married to an Eight, and I love her dearly. It’s unfair to paint an overblown caricature of her or any other Eight as overly hostile and aggressive and mean. Any Enneagram type can be hostile or aggressive or mean or angry or bitter – not just Eights. And often, the anger and aggression of an Eight comes from a holier place than from other types.
Let me explain.
Eights are commonly known as “The Challenger.” They have a deep seated need to be against. They do tend to be more outwardly aggressive, but more often than not their anger and hostility is directed toward those whom they perceive to be oppressors or bullies or rule breakers. Eights are in the corner of the underdog. When they see injustices of any sort, their anger boils over and the “momma bear” comes out.
When Eights are unhealthy, that’s when they revert to self-preservation and survival mode, looking out for their own needs and protection. They fear betrayal and vulnerability. They try at all costs to avoid appearing weak. But when they are healthy, they realize that vulnerability is a strength, not a weakness. They become more concerned with the safety and protection of others and will fight to the death to save them.
Many people think Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mother Teresa were healthy Eights.
Most Eights, when they were children, picked up on the message that only the tough and strong survive. If you show any physical or emotional weakness, you’ll get eaten alive. And so they developed a rock hard exterior wall, making themselves look and act tougher than they really are. They had to grow up fast, and most of them can remember the moment when their “innocence” was lost, when they could no longer be the care-free, naive little kid anymore. They had to toughen up or face the consequences.
That’s why Eights make such good social workers, civil rights activists, therapists, lawyers, and humanitarians. Beneath that hardened exterior is a soft heart that feels deeply for the needs of the weak, helpless, vulnerable, and oppressed. But that protective wall can be a real barrier to intimate relationships. Eights have a hard time letting people into their inner circle of trust. They will often do everything within their power to test you and push you. If you stick around through all of it, then you’re in. But the moment they suspect betrayal or abandonment is coming, then you’re out.
TELL ME THE SECRET OF YOUR GREAT STRENGTH
One obvious biblical example of a Challenger would definitely be Samson. His story is told in Judges 13-16.
Samson’s birth was prophesied by an angel. It was a miraculous birth to a barren couple. But from the start they were told that Samson would be different. He would be a Nazarite for his entire life. The Nazarite Vow was usually only taken for a few weeks or a couple months. For Samson, it was a lifetime commitment. No hair cuts, no alcohol or wine, no contact with dead bodies – you know, normal kid stuff.
As long as Samson observed the regulations of the Nazarite, then God would bless him with power from God’s own Spirit. Samson is the literal embodiment of strength. No one could do what he did. He killed a lion with his bare hands. He slew 1,000 Philistine warriors with a donkey’s jawbone. When he was tied with ropes, he broke his bonds like they were string.
But he was also too strong for his own good. Did you hear that, Eights? He threw his weight around and strong-armed his way through relationships and his public life, leaving a trail of destruction in his wake. There was a lot of collateral damage from his unhealthy anger and aggression.
Eights feel a strong need to seek vengeance. If someone hits them, they want to hit back harder. Grudges. Revenge. Payback. This is the form of “justice” that unhealthy Eights carry out. But as we see time and time again, violence begets more violence. Read through Judges 14-15 and you will see what started out as a simple wager over the answer to a riddle devolved into mass slaughter and chaos.
If Samson had one weakness, it was women. The vice of Eights is lust. That doesn’t necessarily mean strong sexual desire, but in Samson’s case it definitely does. Samson is a complete idiot when it comes to women. The story of Samson and Delilah could have been entirely avoided if he had just kept his lust in check. She’s actively trying to betray him and he’s so blinded by his desire for her that he can’t see it.
Four different times Delilah asked him what the secret to his strength was and how he could be defeated. Eights HATE that question. Three times he flat out lies to her. I’m not saying he should have told her the truth right away due to the fact that she was trying to help get him killed. But this is how Eights often treat even their healthier relationships. I think this line is telling and speaks volumes about what it means to be an Eight in relationship:
So the secret of his strength was not discovered.
His blinding lust was ultimately his downfall. He finally revealed his secret (which, again, would be a good move in a healthy relationship, but not when your S.O. is trying to literally kill you). His head was shaved, he was overthrown and captured, his eyes were gouged out, and he was put into prison. While imprisoned, his hair began to regrow.
The Philistines held a huge banquet in celebration of defeating Samson, and they all wanted to bring him out for their entertainment. (Side note: our society loves to be entertained by Eights even today. Think about the reality TV shows that litter our stations. Most of them would be incredibly boring without a “Challenger” to stir up conflict. Eights – don’t let your anger become other people’s entertainment. That’s not healthy.)
With one last prayer Samson cries out to God to return his strength. He pushes with all his might against the support pillars, and the whole facility comes crashing down – killing thousands of Philistines and taking Samson along with them.
Remember, while Samson had his personal beef with the Philistines, they were also the enemy and oppressor of the Israelites. Samson made the transition from fighting for himself to sacrificing himself in order to protect and deliver his people.
We may give Eights a hard time. We may not understand their attraction to conflict and arguments. We may be turned off by what we perceive to be aggression and intimidation. But the fact is – Eights are world changers. If we live in a world with a pressing problem, then we don’t want a bunch of Nines and Sevens and Fours working on it. We need our Eights to come in, throw some bombs, shake things up, hash out the arguments, and GET. STUFF. DONE. Sometimes the boat needs to be rocked. Sometimes the status quo needs to be thrown out. Eights embody the strength of God which says:
“The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.”