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Enneagram Type Eight Explained

Updated: Dec 30, 2023

A Complete Guide to Enneagram Type 8


If you or someone you know is full of intense energy, wants to be in charge wherever they go, and loves to push people to their best--even if that means being hated for it--then they may be a Type Eight Challenger.


Also if you’ve tested or been told by others that you’re a Type One, Two, or Six, but are not quite sure, then this is for you--especially since women that are counter-phobic Sixes and men that are actually Type Two Helpers often mistype themselves as Eights. You can blame gender stereotypes for that! If you want help figuring out your type, reach out to schedule an Enneagram type consulting call.


Major Personality Traits


The Enneagram Type Eight is nicknamed “The Challenger” because they find their identity by overcoming obstacles and imposing their will on their environment. Eights naturally feel challenged by life and so they respond by challenging it back. Eights also feel like a bit of an outsider or vigilante because they’ve always done what they thought was right, even if it flew in the face of social norms or mainstream morality. It takes a lot of effort to constantly resist your environment, but thankfully, Eights have a ton of mental and physical energy, which is why they’re usually workaholics.


Eights work so hard because their core desire is to be in control of their life. Naturally, that means their core fears are all tied to being controlled or harmed by others or the environment--even natural disasters touch on the core fear for Eights. Challengers don’t often feel the fear too viscerally for two reasons: first, they avoid emotions like the plague and prefer physical or logic-based work; second, they’re usually filled with a ton of self-confident, bordering on arrogant, energy.

This makes Eights super comfortable going it alone, and in fact, teamwork is tough for Eights unless they have some form of clear authority within the group.

Eights are motivated by leaving their mark on people and places, and that only comes from being in charge--or so they believe. It’s probably not surprising that Eights don’t have much patience for weakness, and that usually stems from the fact that they had to grow up really fast (see Childhood section below). It’s important to know that when dealing with Eights, there is often no appealing to their softer side because they weren’t taught the value of mercy or vulnerability growing up.

Vulnerability creates the opportunity to be hurt or abandoned, and Eights are terrified of being abandoned.

That’s why they push up against people so frequently, because they want to figure out sooner rather than later if you’ve got what it takes to keep up with them.


Eights however, do have an incredibly soft, sensitive soul. They’re hard on the outside, soft on the inside, which is why so many Eights love animals (even the biggest, baddest, gruffest dude still jostle his dogs face and say “good boy, who’s a good boy!”). Although Eights primarily protect themselves by pushing others away, they do have enormous potential to use their strength for the betterment of others and they have a truly heroic sensibility when it comes to self-sacrifice for the greater good.


Childhood


In their earliest years, Eights may have looked a bit more like Twos as they ingratiated themselves with friends and family through acts of service. They were potentially needy little kids like Twos as well. Eights are born with an innate sense that their needs would and should be met by loving parental figures.


This feeling ends early and abruptly, as most Eights report that they had to grow up fast due to a lack of support in the home or looming danger in their environment, like growing up in a rough neighborhood. Many Eights are abandoned by their protective figure, usually the father, and so their maternal figure, usually the mom, has to step in and fulfill that role. This usually makes the Eight feel ambivalent about their maternal figure because they no longer have the ability to be a purely nurturing figure, and quite honestly, they’re not doing a great job at being a provider slash protector either. The Eight copes with this trauma by trying to become “dad,” much like Type Twos try to become “mom” to get their father’s attention. Playing the role of the father or provider so early in life keeps "survival issues" at the forefront of the Eight's mind for the rest of their lives. It also makes Eights quick to resent authority figures that appear incapable of handle situations.

They see leadership as a matter of life and death, because growing up, it was.

Ultimately, the lost childhood message of the Eight is that "you will not be abandoned." And I would hope that Eights can pass that message on to their children rather than overemphasizing toughness is a way of avoiding the necessary pain of relationships.


Wings


Every Enneagram type has what’s known as a “wing”--it’s simply an overlap of traits with the personality type directly to the left or to the right of your primary type. So Type Eights can either have a Seven wing or a Nine wing. You always have a stronger leaning toward one wing over the other at any given time in your life.


The MAVERICK

Enneagram 1 wing 9

The first thing you’ll notice about this subtype is their aggression. They are assertive and engaging and highly controlling in every situation. There is no “taking a back seat” here unless it’s a very strategic play to advance their position in the long run. This is probably the most extroverted and independent of all Enneagram types.


They’re also hopelessly themselves all the time. There’s no off-switch for their intensity. They’re the same way at work as they are at home, as they are at a little league game, as they are at the gym, as they are at a nail salon. It doesn’t matter--they are getting what they came for.


This intense charisma and belief in chasing the greatest possibilities life has to offer makes them easily attract followers (which is why I'd also call this type the Serial Entrepreneur). The positivity of the Seven can make Eights super inspiring, even if they’re full of it. The mix of the Eight's desire for power and the Seven's desire for experiences makes this subtype move fast and hard towards their goals, and they will steamroll anything or anyone that stands in their way.


When unhealthy, they are the stereotypical bully and can justify their actions by claiming that they’re “just a straight shooter” and “tell it like it is.” This can come from a place of seeing themselves as above the standards that lesser individuals are subject to. Their stress level, enhanced by the natural anxiety of the Seven, can make them easily feel betrayed and react harshly against anyone that dares push against them even in the slightest way. On the other hand, when they are healthy, this type mixes their practical concerns for the well-being of others with their limitless supply of energy to leave a truly inspiring mark on society.


The BEAR

Enneagram 1 wing 2

Eights are naturally assertive types, while Nines are naturally withdrawn types (see Triads section below). The Bear is the classic strong, silent type who still knows how to get their way, but they do it from a far more reserved, observational way that is so subtly imposing at times that you don’t even know it’s happening. They’re the ones sitting in the back of the room reading everyone’s body language and waiting to speak up until they’ve had a chance to analyze everyone else first.


The differences between Eights with a Nine wing (8w9) and Eights with a Seven wing (8w7) are truly unmistakable--from the overall intensity of their general demeanor, to the 8w9's total disinterest in having a prominent career. Bears are far more concerned about a small, unique sphere of influence, like a family or classroom or military unit. The Nine's desire for harmony makes this subtype more particular about disturbances to their sacred sphere of control, so they’re incredibly choosey about who they let inside. The Nine wing also makes this subtype more quietly stubborn vs. outwardly combative like an 8w7.


When they are unhealthy, Eights with a Nine wing are prone to seemingly random explosions of anger because both Eights and Nines are in the Gut Triad, and all Gut types suffer from rage. They are also far less prone to anxiety than the 8w7, and it’s pretty hard to overwhelm this type with the scale or scope of a challenge. Again, that’s mostly because they’re incredibly stubborn and they have high self-assurance, often due to the Nine's ability to block out negative emotions. At their best, 8w9's are supportive, warm, steadfast, and almost like the wise grandparent you wish you had growing up.


Integration & Disintegration


The concept of a movement toward integration and disintegration is a central teaching of the Enneagram. It’s the idea that we embody the traits of other personality types depending on how healthy we are.


Disintegrated EIGHTS

Enneagram 1 disintegration to type 4

So when Eights are unhealthy, they disintegrate to the worst characteristics of the Type Five Investigator and they retreat from the world of action into the world of the mind. Unhealthy Eights begin to sense that they have overextended themselves or exposed some vulnerability, and so they isolate in order to strategize about how to get their power back. Fives are naturally suspicious and somewhat antisocial, so disintegrated Eights hold their cards very close to the chest in an attempt to maintain both their personal safety and a sense of control.

Integrated EIGHTS

Enneagram 1 movement of integration to type 7

When Eights are healthy, their movement of integration is to the best traits of the Type Two Helper. This is a very noticeable shift in the Eight's demeanor, as they come down off any existing power trip and discover that they’re lives are actually the most fulfilling when they treat others as equals and allow people the space and freedom to be peers. The Two's best qualities are their selfless service and unconditional love, and when Eights tap into these traits, they have a profound ability to enhance the lives of others through their energy, commitment, and humility.


Instincts


The Enneagram instincts describe the most basic ways we function in our daily lives. The pattern normally goes that we operate out of one primary instinct, then our secondary instinct really just serves the first, and the last instinct is usually repressed due to some formative experience we had growing up.


Instincts are the reason why people typically mistype themselves, or get mistyped by others. Your instinct can operate so intensely that it’s what most people experience when they’re around you, so they make a superficial read ("oh you're so extroverted you must be a Three or Seven").


The three instincts are the self-preservation instinct, the social instinct, and the sexual instinct.


Self-Preservation

The self-preservation instinct drives us to protect our physical and material well-being, so Eights that operate primarily out of their self-preservation instinct want to control anything that influences their material security. They’re typically physically fit people as well as financially stable. Since resources like money are of primary concern, self-pres Eights usually find a way to be the boss at work and at home when it comes to how resources are spent.


They are far more materialistic in how they prove their power or dominance, so they tend to have some stereotypical symbols of success like a really nice house or a beautiful sports car. Self-pres Eights are the most self-centered of all Eights because of their fears regarding personal safety. Again, Eights go to Five when they’re unhealthy, so hoarding resources for personal security is a huge problem. Self-pres Eights justify all their behaviors with “hard work.” They believe that putting in the hours means they can do whatever they want with what they’ve earned.


This also makes them more serious and uptight than other Eights that may be more willing to spend their money on playful activities. When this instinct is functioning in a healthy way, self-preservation Eights realize the point of having a lot is to share a lot, and they can be the most generous version of the Type Eight personality.


Social

Social Eights highly value loyalty and respect. They can seem like Type Six Loyalists because of their commitment to friends and allies. Social Eights are also known for holding court and constantly telling stories that reflect their knowledge or ability to overcome adversity. They also really don't mind having heated debates--in fact, they can stir up a debate intentionally from time to time, not only because they enjoy the intensity of it, but they also use arguments as a way of testing those around them.


Social Eights prefer predictable people because they fear abandonment, so the more steady a person is, the more the social Eight will bring them into the fold. Social Eights will do just about anything for the ones they love, but that means it takes a while for new people to work their way into the social Eight's good graces. The high value they place on loyalty also makes them hold grudges indefinitely. So once you upset an Eight, it's unlikely that they'll ever let you back into the circle of trust.


At their worst, social Eights will use their aggressive charm to take advantage of weaker people in order to advance their lifestyle. They can make great scam artists because they have so much charisma and confidence, and most importantly, they can shut off any feeling of culpability for the pain they're causing others because only a weak person would let themselves get exploited like that. Even social Eights that aren’t trying to be malicious can often sweep unsuspecting people up in their overly ambitious plans for success.


When social Eights are healthy, they are constant cheerleaders for and defenders of their loved ones, and they put tons of energy into inspiring others to work hard, to be brave, and to become their best self.


Sexual

It’s important to note that the sexual instinct is not about just wanting to have sex, it’s about a desire for heightened experiences, which all Eights already have so you can only imagine how off the rails a sexual Eight can be in their need for intensity. In fact, part of the origins of the Enneagram included an attempt to integrate the seven deadly sins into personality types, and the deadly sin assigned to Type Eights was lust. So there’s something natural about Eights having a primarily sexual instinct.


Sexual Eights are charismatic like social Eights, but they have more of a quiet intensity. They are very passionate about their individual relationships. Sexual Eights can treat their partners like the end-all, be-all of life itself. Sexual Eights are also known for having a rebellious streak in them, and they often enjoy being “bad” by breaking the rules or giving the middle finger to authority figures in some way. They can vacillate between the brash, intense bravado of stereotypical Eights and becoming soft, nurturing and affectionate.


Most sexual Eights play rough with their significant others and can become too comfortable with constant bickering or teasing. They struggle to "be nice" because they see vulnerability as losing the battle or like putting ammo in your enemy's chamber. It can be very difficult to have mutual relationships with sexual Eights because they prefer positions of strength (again, the Eight's core desire is to dominate their environment), so they like being the parent, the big brother, or the mentor that's in the primary seat of power and influence. When they feel really out of control, or if their relationship is floundering, sexual Eights react by attempting to isolate their defiant loved ones so that no one else can challenge the Eight's authority, or influence their loved one’s perception of realty. When they're healthy, sexual Eights provide a source of stability for their loved ones through their unshakeable commitment to their relationships.


Triads


There are three triads within the Enneagram. These triads all group personality types based on shared behaviors that can really help you to understand why you’re so similar in one area and so different in another. The triads have evolved over time and are a major way the Enneagram integrates widely held concepts from mainstream psychology. They’re a great reminder of the ways we share so many behaviors with each other no matter what personality type we are.The three Enneagram triads are the Triad Centers, the Harmonic Triad, and the Hornevian triad.


Enneagram 1s as part of the Gut or Body Triad Center

Triad Centers

Type Eight Challengers are in the Gut triad alongside Type Nine Peacemakers and Type One Reformers. All gut types struggle to with their impulsive reactions to reality, and they primarily wrestle with feelings of rage because of all the things that are out of their control. Ones consciously suppress their anger because it feels morally wrong, Nines are unaware of their anger, and Eights over express their anger. Eights feel like anger is a great fuel source and they use it not only to motivate themselves but to motivate or control others as well.


Harmonic Triad

The Harmonic Triad is all about the way we cope with pain, trauma, or failure. The three groups are the competency group, the positive outlook group, and the reactive group.

Eights are in the reactive group along with Type Four Individualists and Type Six Loyalists. Reactive types respond emotionally to pain or trauma. Since Eights are in the gut triad, their emotion of choice is anger or frustration. Anger makes Eights feel powerful, especially in moments when they feel powerless because life has shown them how out of control they really are. Things like the sudden death of a loved one cut deep for Type Eights because they work so hard to protect themselves from exactly that kind of pain. If Eights are reeling from a major setback, they expect their loved ones to react the same way they do. If you react differently, it’ll feel like you’re against them. So just be wary of voicing a contrary opinion when the Eight has just had their heart broken.


Hornevian Triad

The Hornevian Triad is describes the general ways each type behaves social situations. Each type's primary instinct has a ton of influence here. The three groups of the Hornevian Triad are the withdrawn group, the compliant group, and the assertive group.

Eights are in the assertive group, along with Type Seven Enthusiasts and Type Three Achievers. Assertive types believe the key to their social success is to assert themselves and make their presence known. Eights can show some variety here based on their wing type, because Eights with a Nine wing can actually be a little shy if they’re out of their comfort zone, but most of the time Eights believe you should make your presence known in every room either by voicing your opinion or dominating the conversation. Many Eights are just large or loud people in general so they don’t have to do much to assert their presence. This assertive nature of Eights is what drives them to seek clear leadership positions in work and in their personal lives.


Practical Exercises

The Enneagram is incredibly critical and it touches on the most sensitive areas of our lives. That’s because it’s foundational belief is that the ego, or what most people call your personality, is just the YOU you’ve become to survive in this world.


There’s a layer below your ego called your essence, or your “true self.” Think about it like becoming the best version of your personality. Either way, the only process to get that true self out of you is to become aware of that top layer of your ego so that you can make healthy choices to either identify with it or transcend it.


Here are a few ways Type Eight Challengers can choose work on transcending their ego:

  1. Let love, not control, inspire growth: The greatest sign of health for Type Eights is when they are truly focused on other people. Not focused on bending them to become what you think they should be, but empowering them to do what they naturally want to do. Eights always have an idea about what others should be doing, but Eights inspire others not through their pushiness, but through their slow and steady and consistent support. When healthy Eights tap into those traits of the Type Two Helper during their movement of integration, they can create such a powerful sense of unconditional love rooted in strength that finally inspires the growth they’ve been hoping to see in others.

  2. Let others off the hook sometimes: Eights need to check themselves when they’re feeling punitive or vengeful. Eights can have a warped sense of fairness because of the way they were raised. I know the idea of “turning the other cheek” sounds weak and gross to most Eights, but part of self-awareness is learning when your ego is poisoning your mind. The unhealthy ego of the Eight justifies all sorts of wild punishment for people, so counteract that by letting people off the hook every once in a while, even if it feels crazy. Remember that revenge is never a recipe for true healing.

  3. Let the soft side take ground: To the same end, Eights would be wise to tap into their softer side. There’s a phrase that’s used in men’s spirituality that goes, “The young man who cannot cry is a savage, and the old man who cannot laugh is a fool.” As a male writer, I can't speak for the ladies, but so many men are terrible are tapping into this softer side for fear of looking weak. Brene Brown has talked endlessly about this topic as well in her discussions around masculine shame and vulnerability. Eights really need to notice this blind spot before they get too old, or else they risk turning into bitter, old tyrants at work and at home.

  4. Let a respected elder hold you accountable: Eights would do well to find a respected mentor that can help advise them on navigating their emotions and correct their self-serving behaviors. Many Eights live with zero accountability for their actions because they’re always in charge. So whether it’s a therapist, a mentor, a counselor, or any respected elder of some kind, Eights need to work hard to find someone outside of themselves to be accountable to. Accountability is a vital way for Eights to practice giving up power in a safe space so that they can learn to cultivate the trust and humility that was fractured as children.


Bonus Fluff


🇪🇸 Country: For the Type Eight Challenger, the country is Spain. Any country that sponsors both fighting and running with bulls has definitely got some “Challenger” DNA in the culture.


🐂🐍🐻 Spirit Animal: The Eights' spirit animals are the bull, the rattlesnake and the bear (aka the 8w9).


✨ Famous Type Eights: Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemingway, Donald Trump, Rosie O'Donnell, Serena Williams, Saddam Hussein, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Dr. Phil


🦸 Marvel: In the Marvel Universe, Tony Stark aka Ironman is a Type Eight.



SOURCES: Much of this information comes from an amalgamation of sources, but the primary source of this information comes from the works of Russ Hudson and Don Riso of the Enneagram Institute (The Wisdom of the Enneagram, Personality Types, Understanding the Enneagram), followed by Richard Rohr's The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective, and Helen Palmer's The Enneagram in Love & Work.

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