The Enneagram Sevens got to go first in this series, so now let’s turn to the Eights! In the first post of this series, I shared some of my thoughts about Christians and the Enneagram. Today we’re going to look at some of the specific strengths and weaknesses of Eights. We will see how to design therapy especially for this personality type so that they can get the most out of their experience. And most important, we will see how therapy can support Christian Eights live in the fullness of the Gospel.
First, you’ll want to make sure you understand the basics of the Type 8 personality. I encourage you to view the description of Type 8 from The Enneagram Institute or Your Enneagram Coach. The nickname or title for the Eight is the Challenger or Protector. At their best, Eights want to protect others, and at their worst, Eights will create an aggressive exterior to protect themselves. This can present some unique challenges to therapists.
When Do Eights Go to Therapy?
Eights often begin to despair and seek help when they are at the end of their ropes in relationships. Since a healthy Eight can act like a Two, they often overdo and over-care in marriages and parenting situations. Sometimes an Eight will feel like he has done all he can for another person and the efforts are rejected, betrayed, or ignored. This sense of betrayal or rejection will lead to angry, aggressive, or overbearing behavior. The Eight further reinforces his tough outer shell to protect from future feelings of weakness or helplessness.
In therapy, Eights will be eager to tell all about how needy and helpless everyone around them is. They will find it easier to talk about other people’s weaknesses than about their own. They will make overtures about how they are “open books” and “have nothing to hide,” yet they will struggle to talk about inner struggles and potential flaws. Therapists must use patience to hear about the external world of Eights before pressing into the internal world. Eights may have an initial charm and likeability, but will actually take a while to develop true rapport and trust.
Designing Therapy for Eights
In my experience, Eights need a long warm-up period in which they will demonstrate their strength to me. Since they are known as the Challengers, they will be looking for any sense of challenge from the therapist. As the therapist, I will layer any early challenges with lots of warmth and curiosity. I will use interventions that allow the client to keep things external for a while, as they are learning new skills and patterns. For example, a genogram or a timeline are fairly non-threatening because they are simply information gathering interventions that slowly unfurl insight.
When an Eight develops a strong sense of trust and rapport with me, I then get the chutzpah to push a little harder. I will start with questions about personal responsibility and what the client can change (rather than focus on other people changing). At times, I will go toe-to-toe with a client, matching their intensity. Sometimes this looks like calling out macho BS or insisting on practices discussed in therapy but never applied. Since relationships are important to Eights, you can help them learn to get to the heart. Help them focus on the emotional states of their loved ones and not just what they can do for their loved ones.
Eights and the Gospel
Eights have an internal fear of being weak and unprotected, which leads them to create a powerful exterior. Christian Eights can work towards knowing that Christ will always protect them. Knowing our loving Father can help Eights soften and use their strength for good. Sometimes therapists can act as a transitional object for this sense of security. We work hard to follow ethical guidelines that protect our clients from being betrayed or abandoned. This relationship can help Eights learn to trust God and others.
Since Eights have a powerful drive to protect others, there is definitely a place for healthy Eights in the Kingdom of God. Gospel-centered Eights can lead the fight to protect widows, orphans, the poor, and strangers. A faith-integrated therapist can bring out the true strength of Eights in light of the Gospel.
Tell Me About Eights
I’m not an Eight, but I may be raising one! The Eights that I have had in therapy have been challenging for me (hence the nickname, The Challenger). But I also get to see a glimpse into these people that many others don’t get to see. What has been your experience seeing Eights in therapy? Do I have any readers who are Eights and serving as therapists? I’d love to hear your perspective.