Up Close With Enneagram Style Eight
In our attempt to understand the Enneagram, we create images in our minds of each of the nine types. It’s how we learn, getting these categories down in our minds and associating people we know to these categories: what they look like, how they talk, what kind of feeling they evoke in us. The challenge is to keep open to new learning, which is not always easy. Maybe because the Enneagram is so important to us that we tend to get fixed (or fixated) in our opinions.
It never ceases to amaze me that people will come up to me at workshops that I teach and say: “You can’t be an Eight; you’re not angry enough!” Of course, I would prefer that they say, “You are unusual in my experience of Eights, unlike what I thought Eights would be.” After all, I am the teacher with some 32 years of intense Enneagram self-work. I know what type I am, at least in this system. As we say over and over again, it ain’t the external behavior, it’s the internal character structure and motivation. (And it’s not the facial characteristics or body posture, either.)
Now it’s true that sometimes a person’s type just shouts out at us. Even a person walking down the street can signal so much through their body language. We can honor our impressions while not assuming we can be 100% certain (if you are really good, think 49%). When I first attended the Palmer/Daniels training program in 1991, I had been teaching the Enneagram for 10 years. I thought I was great at typing people, reading their bodies and attitudes, etc. What I discovered was that I was right only half the time (pretty good actually since there are nine types), but if I wanted to get to greater accuracy, I had to interview people at length about how they think and feel on the inside. In my experience with the EPTP typing interview protocol, 5 out of 10 people are pretty straightforward, 4 out of 10 are challenging but you can get there, and with 1 out of 10, you just can’t pin it down. Ultimately people have to discover the type for themselves. Yes, it’s frustrating when some pick what we think is the “wrong” type. We just want to tell them, convince them otherwise. But we have to offer our opinion in a very respectful way. Having been spectacularly wrong with a number of people, I have learned to be more careful, both for their benefit and my own pride.
I teach regularly in China where people are pretty new to the Enneagram, and I find a lot of stereotyping. Not only that, but they will argue very loudly, even at times yelling at people on panels (until I re-direct them). Great enthusiasm; poor knowledge base. They say, “It’s about the way people dress!” For example, they might say that if you are an attractive woman who dresses very well, then you must be a Three. One thing I can say about the young Chinese, they are very assertive! During introductions almost everyone vigorously shouts out their name and profession. You’d think there weren’t any Twos, Fives, phobic Sixes or Nines in the room. By contrast in Brazil, so many people appear to be Sevens. Of course, they are not all Sevens; it’s just a very Seven culture.
When I was a young Eight — I’m thinking early 20’s — I was so angry and uptight that everywhere I went dogs would bark, small children would run to their mothers, and people would give me a wide berth. My purpose in life was revenge: against the church, the school system, and the political establishment (this was during the height of the Vietnam War). I was good at vengeance, or as I would have said, seeking justice and making trouble for unjust institutions and people. I drew the line at physical violence. This proved to be awful for my personal relationships and health, but it took a while for me to get this. Fortunately, I had loyal friends who called me in for an “intervention.” Led by a type One, they said: “We love you, but you can’t go on this way; you have to change.” (Hey, it took eight of them to face me down, but it worked.) This, and the end of the war, started me on a path of healing which led to major changes in my character structure.
While I appreciate Sandra Maitri’s notion that our true “soul child” is found at our heart point, and our personality type is some kind of compensatory structure, I have to disagree. I was born an Eight; I have the soul of an Eight; I come from a long line of Eights tracking back through Irish history to the Vikings. (A big thanks to the civilizing influence of the Celts.) I do have a Two heart point, and I have traveled there a lot. Being partnered with a Two for 10 years – plus being a counselor — pulled me into that space to the point where I had many of the problems, as well as potentials, of Two. But eventually I integrated back to Eight, albeit with a much bigger heart center.
I don’t get real mad at people who think I’m not an Eight, although I do feel that they are missing out on my story and my history of inner and outer work. Mostly I think they have a lot more to learn about the Enneagram types. As Bea Chestnut describes in her article, subtypes really make a difference. So do body types. As an Eight in a small body, and one who was regularly beaten at home and at school, I just didn’t have the physical confidence that I see in large-bodied Eights. As a good social subtype Eight, I started groups for strength and protection. After I was knocked around in a Rajneesh workshop in the late 70’s, I started pumping iron and I’m 35 lbs bigger now! (In my revengeful way, I’d say the best guru is a dead guru, that way they can be rehabilitated like Rajneesh/Osho and can’t screw things up with their own narcissism.)
You know, the really wonderful message of the Enneagram is that we are not locked into our type structure if we do the work. We can transform ourselves at a deep level! I know this personally from many years of being immersed in healing work, body therapy, and growth stuff. I’m just not the same angry guy I used to be; although I still get angry a lot, I know how to let it go. My 35 years of practice as a counselor also had profound affects. I learned to be quiet and receptive to others, giving them the space. This developed my Two, my Five and my Nine spaces. I’m sure that in another profession I would have come out differently. Early on I thought I’d be a lawyer; interesting to speculate how that would have affected my personality.
Have you ever met an introverted Seven, a warm-hearted Five, a happy Four? How about a gentle Eight or an assertive Two? Then you know there is plenty of variety within the types having to do with subtype, family and cultural backgrounds, and also levels of development. As we discuss other people’s types, friends, family, and public figures, we can have strong opinions but at the same time we need to know that we don’t always know. At least, it’s been a good lesson for this Eight.
Peter O’Hanrahan is a seasoned Enneagram teacher, counselor, and business consultant with special expertise in the 27 Enneagram subtypes as well as somatics and the Enneagram. POhanrahan@aol.com