Enneatype Eight

Type Description

People of enneatype Eight are essentially unwilling to be controlled, either by others or by their circumstances; they fully intend to be masters of their fate, to “take charge,” to do whatever needs to be done. Eights are competitive, strong willed, decisive, expansive, practical, and tough minded. Eights typically have an enormous amount of energy and frequently have powerful physical appetites. There is an unapologetically expansive quality to the physical presence of the type Eight personality. Eights generally don’t have to announce their presence for others to know they are there. The central problem for individuals of enneatype Eight is that the need to avoid being controlled can manifest in the need to control, the need to be “in charge,” the compulsion to dominate. This can lead to all sorts of practical difficulties, as the world is not always liable to conform to the dictates of the Eight’s will, but the deeper problem for the Eight is that the need to avoid any semblance of being controlled can rob the Eight of the fluidity, receptivity and acceptance that is generally necessary to live a full, balanced and truly happy life.

Eights often experience life as a struggle for existence in which only the fittest survive. Life thus dictates competition from the point of view of the Eight, and Eights naturally intend to be the ones who survive. They typically adopt a survival strategy that involves either a rise to the top of the existing hierarchy, or an “opting out” altogether of the current system and its structures of power. Eights of the former sort are typically found in positions of leadership, whether it be of their own family, company or political party. Eights of the latter sort tend to be independent contractors, free-lancers of all sorts, and even outlaws – those who, in other words, exist outside of the accepted framework of civil society and its often artificial system of rules and obligations. Eights of both basic tendencies need to feel financially independent, and while most Eights do manage to find some means of making peace with their society, they always retain an uneasy association with any hierarchical relationship which does not position the Eight at the top.

While some Eights adopt something of the “lone wolf” persona, most Eights have quite a number of social connections, whether to family members, friends or business connections. Eights are very much present in the world and are frequently extroverts. True intimacy however does not come easily or naturally to Eights. Soft and tender emotions tend to make Eights feel “weak,” and, more to the point, intimacy requires Eights to lower their defenses and thereby become vulnerable. Vulnerability, in turn, triggers the Eight’s fear of being controlled. Thus, intimate relations are often the arena in which the Eight’s control issues are most obviously played out. Questions of trust assume a pivotal position. Eights tend to test their intimates to see if they are worthy, to see if they can be trusted not to betray the Eight’s confidence. Betrayal is absolutely intolerable to Eights and any hint of it can provoke a powerful retaliatory response. Eights are looking, ideally, both for someone they can respect and someone they can protect, a paradoxical combination to be sure, but, while the Eight’s loneliness can only be assuaged by finding an equal, the Eight’s feelings of vulnerability can best be assuaged if they know that their intimates depend on them. While Eights do not trust easily, if they do admit someone into the inner sanctum, they generally prove to be stalwart friends and steadfast allies. Not all Eights do form truly intimate relationships however, as some Eights are simply unwilling or unable to compromise their sense of self-sufficiency.

Eights are often prone to anger, one of the few feelings they allow themselves to feel in its pure form. As mentioned, the experience of tender emotions such as compassion, love, sorrow, melancholy and pity can cause the Eight to feel vulnerable, as such emotions are caused by, and in turn cause, a feeling of ego permeability and “openness.” Anger, on the other hand, embodies a feeling of being in opposition to the world and, at least as the Eight experiences it, a sense of the importance of overcoming that opposition. In the Eight’s experience of anger, ego boundaries are consolidated, the world kept in opposition, and the Eight focused on domination. The ability to accept the more tender emotions into consciousness, far from being a weakness is actually a sign of true strength. In this light it is worth remembering that one of Gurdjieff’s students, J.G.Bennett, noted that at the end of his life, Gurdjieff’s face wore the saddest expression he had ever seen. (Perhaps it looked something like the face of Johnny Cash as he sang Trent Reznor’s “Hurt.”)

Eights frequently consider “morality” to be just one more means by which society attempts to exert illegitimate control over them. It is, they reason, the weapon that the constitutionally weak use to keep the naturally strong “in line.” Eights, like counterphobic Sixes, are suspicious of rules, and often take an oppositional stance to authority. But, as Eights are generally strategic, they seldom take on a battle they know they cannot win. Their rebellion and lack of respect for “the rules” therefore, is often camouflaged. While Eights tend not to respect external systems of rules, they often have their own internal sense of right and wrong, which consists of personal loyalties and freely chosen commitments. These the Eight will fight to protect. Eights are often said to have an internal sense of “justice,” and it is true that Eights are acutely aware of the ways in which power is used and abused. When unhealthy, they are perfectly willing to misuse power however. Only the strong survive, and whoever gets in the Eight’s way might have to be sacrificed to the Eight’s ambition. Healthy Eights however develop a generosity of character which is almost the direct opposite of the unhealthy Eight’s selfish self-assertion. Healthy Eights, those Eights who have developed the capacity to love, are among the most generous character types in the Enneagram. Martin Luther King should be considered in this regard. He found power in restraint and strength in humility. Unhealthy Eights, on the other hand, are the most brutal of the enneatypes. Unhealthy Eights are bullies who enjoy intimidating those whom they see as weak and who feel little compunction about walking over anyone who crosses their path. They are crude, brutal, dangerous and grotesquely insensitive to the feelings of others. An element of sadism frequently enters the picture, sadism being a clear and obvious manifestation of the attempt to attain power by means of domination and humiliation; a weakness posing as strength.

In the traditional Enneagram, the passion of type Eight is said to be “lust.” This should not be confused with the insistent desire to enjoy the pleasures of the senses, sexual or otherwise, which is more characteristic of the gluttony of type Seven. The lust of type Eight has an expansive quality to it – rather than the need to “take in,” the lust of type Eight manifests in the need to push outwards- to assert the self in order to attain the objects of desire. As with the passions of all the enneatypes, the term should not be read in its narrow or conventional sense, and the lust of type Eight need not manifest sexually. When it does, the Eight often finds it difficult to marry the often enormous desire for purely physical gratification with the more tender emotions of love and compassion, and herein lies one of the keys to understanding why the passion of type Eight might be considered a vice or sin. Whether the passion of lust manifests sexually or not, it involves a quality of self-assertion, a tightening of the ego boundaries, a stance that is often oppositional between the Eight and the other. What the Eight primarily desires is power…power sufficient to insulate the Eight from ever being vulnerable or weak. Such power is always a delusion however, and it is the search for it which prevents the Eight from attaining true health and integrity of character. Naranjo comments thus: “Hidden as it may be behind the enthusiastic expansiveness, jollity and seductive charm of the lusty, it is the loss of relationship, the suppression of tenderness, and the denial of the love need in the loss of wholeness and sense of being. Enneatype VIII pursues being, then, in pleasure and in the power to find his pleasure, yet through an insistence on overpowering becomes incapable of receiving – when being can only be known in a receptive attitude. By doggedly claiming satisfaction where asemblance of satisfaction can be imagined…he perpetuates the ontic deficiency that only feeds his lusty pursuit of triumph and other being substitutes.”

Eights with a Seven wing tend to be more expansive extroverted and openly aggressive than those with the Nine wing. They are more likely to be sensation seekers and are generally more overtly ambitious than those with a Nine wing. Eights with a Seven wing especially tend to relish intensity of experience. Conversely, Eights with a Nine wing hold more of their energy in reserve and exhibit more of a grounded, even stubborn quality. They are generally less obviously volatile than Eights with a Seven wing but can slip just as radically into open aggression when pushed.

Type Exemplars

Socrates and George Gurdjieff were both Eights. Each impressed his followers as much by his personal presence as by his intellectual contributions. Each were men of large appetites and expansive energies. Those who mistype Socrates as an enneatype Five seem to be laboring under the false impression that only Fives can be “thinkers,” although both men do demonstrate the Eight’s often strong connection to Five. Gurdjieff’s legacy is more recent, so mistypes of him are not so common.

The ancient world seems to have provided a fitting stage for type Eight energy and many of the key military figures of antiquity have been Eights – Alexander, Julius Caesar, Hannibal, Attila and Emperor Qin to name just a few notable examples. They murdered millions.

Naturally, given the nature of the type Eight fixation, many of the world’s most influential modern leaders have also been Eights: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Josef Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, Fidel Castro, Martin Luther King Jr., Golda Meir, Indira Gandhi and Lyndon Johnson.

A good quotation from Lyndon Johnson’s biography illustrates enneatype Eight’s means of sizing up an individual:

“While Lyndon Johnson was not, as his two assistants knew, a reader of books, he was, they knew, a reader of men–a great reader of men. He had a genius for studying a man and learning his strengths and weaknesses and hopes and fears, his deepest strengths and weaknesses: what it was that the man wanted–not what he said he wanted but what he really wanted–and what it was that the man feared, really feared.

“He tried to teach his young assistants to read men–“Watch their hands, watch their eyes” he told them. “Read eyes. No matter what a man is saying to you, it’s not as important as what you can read in his eyes”–and to read between the lines: more interested in men’s weaknesses than in their strengths because it was weakness that could be exploited, he tried to teach his assistants how to learn a man’s weakness. “The most important thing a man has to tell you is what he isn’t telling you,” he said. “The most important thing a man has to say is what he’s trying not to say.” For that reason, he told them, it was important to keep the man talking; the longer he talked, the more likely he was to let slip a hint of that vulnerability he was so anxious to conceal. “That’s why he wouldn’t let a conversation end.” Busby explains. “If he saw the other fellow was trying not to say something, he wouldn’t let it (the conversation) end until he got it out of him.” And Lyndon Johnson himself read with a genius that couldn’t be taught, with a gift that was so instinctive that a close observer of his reading habits, Robert G. (Bobby) Baker, calls it a “sense”; “He seemed to sense each man’s individual price and the commodity he preferred as coin.” He read with a novelist’s sensitivity, with an insight that was unerring, with an ability, shocking in the depth of its penetration and perception, to look into a man’s heart and know his innermost worries and desires. (From Robert Caro’s Lyndon Johnson.)

General George Patton and George C. Scott, the actor who famously played him, were also Eights. Other actors include Shelley Winters, Bette Davis, Charlton Heston, Frank Sinatra, Sidney Poitier and John Wayne.

On the American scene more recently, Eights include Donald Rumsfeld and the aptly named Vice President Dick Cheney. Senator John McCain is also an Eight. Also the former senator, Ann Richards.

Singers include Courtney Love, Queen Latifah, Pink and the “Man in Black” – Johhny Cash.

Famous Eight artists include Pablo Picasso, Diego Rivera, and Lucien Freud.

The authors Ernest Hemingway, Edward Abbey and Norman Mailer were also Eights. Also, feminist and philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft.

Also: television “personalities” Dr.Phil, Nancy Grace and Paula Dean. And, of course, “The Donald.”

Fictional Examples include: Plato’s Thrasymachus, Star War’s Darth Vader and Lucy from the comic strip Peanuts.

Possible Mistypes

Eights and Ones can both be dominating and self-assertive. Both are drawn to leadership roles. Typically it is the more passionate and visceral type One who is mistaken for the Eight – Rudi Giuliani being a case in point, or Osama bin Laden. But Ones dominate in service to an ideal and are more rule bound than is the Eight, who is typically a law unto himself.

Twos are more likely to be mistyped as Eights than the converse, and even that mistype is likely to occur under a narrow set of circumstances. While it is true that Twos can be quite bossy, Twos are primarily emotionally centered whereas Eights repress the more tender emotions. Twos are needy; Eights self-sufficient to a fault. Twos are manipulative; Eights are direct. Twos are soft; Eights are hard etc.

Eights and Threes are both competitive, and both can be dominating and drawn to leadership roles, but Threes are fundamentally concerned with receiving external validation, something which is almost entirely foreign to enneatype Eight’s mindset. Threes want to be admired; Eights want respect, even if it is grudging. Threes are much smoother and conciliatory than Eights, something which seems compromising from the standpoint of type Eight.

A mistype between Eight and Four is generally unlikely, but a Four with Three, especially one with a sexual/social instinctual stacking could conceivably be mistaken for an Eight. Eights, on the other hand, should not be mistaken for Fours. Such Fours can be passionate, competitive and dominating. But Fours are generally far more comfortable expressing their emotions than are Eights, and are especially more comfortable with expressing vulnerability, even if they do sometimes do it an a paradoxically aggressive fashion.

Eights can be mistyped as Fives when they are especially intellectual. Fives can be mistaken for Eights when they are especially self-confident, as they sometimes are in their own areas of expertise. Both types are independent and place a premium on the avoidance of displays of vulnerability. But an examination of the fundamental themes of their lives should reveal the stark underlying differences. Fives are sensitive and are susceptible to overwhelm and energy depletion; Eights have an expansive physical presence, are frequently insensitive, and are more likely to overwhelm others than to be overwhelmed themselves.

Eights and counterphobic Sixes can quite easily be mistyped, and it is not uncommon for counterphobic Sixes to mistype themselves as Eights. Both types can be ambitious, competitive and even dominating. In addition, both types tend to have issues with authority. But there is a much more reactive, volatile, unpredictable quality to the aggression of counterphobic Sixes than there is to the generally more strategic aggression of type Eight. Moreover, there is generally a more personal quality to the aggression of type Six than there is to the more goal oriented aggression of type Eight.

Eights and Sevens can be mistyped, especially if the wing is especially strong. Both types can be sensation seekers who love adventure. Both types can be competitive and overwhelming. But as a general rule, Sevens find focusing to be quite challenging whereas focus comes naturally to Eights. Sevens have a lighter approach to life and generally have a quick nervous, mental energy which contrasts with the more grounded instinctual energy of type Eight.

Eights and Nines might possibly be mistyped, especially, once again, if the wing is particularly strong. But Nines are generally conflict avoidant, especially in close personal relationships, whereas Eights often enjoy a good fight. Nines struggle with self-assertion whereas self-assertion comes naturally to Eights. Nines have to avoid being overwhelmed by others; Eights have to avoid being overwhelming.

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