Reflections from an Enneagram Eight: Learning to Be Vulnerable
Let me start by saying that I’m not an Enneagram expert—far from it actually. I still feel like I’m learning exactly what it means to be a type Eight. When I was first hearing about the Enneagram I had lots of questions and doubts about what type I was. I took a bunch of different tests a ton of times, and even though I tested as an Eight the majority of the time, I wasn’t convinced.
If I’ve learned anything about the Enneagram it’s this: this is a tool for understanding yourself better, for making yourself more aware of who you are and how you interact with others. This tool should make us people who are better able to partner with Jesus in loving ourselves and loving others, not put us in a box and make us feel trapped!
As I’ve learned more about Eights I’ve realized that they are generally self-confident, confrontational, strong, assertive, honest (sometimes brutally), and decisive people. When I read that description now I feel like it pretty accurately describes me, but if you’re looking for someone else who’s also an Eight to compare this description to, think Donna Meagle from Parks and Rec. She gives off an intimidating, my-way-or-the-highway kind of vibe, but once other characters get to know her, she becomes fiercely protective and challenges her friends to be the best versions of themselves. She expects those in positions of power to do their job well and she won’t accept anything less than that. (Also, if you don’t know who Donna Meagle is then you should rearrange your priorities and make time to watch Parks and Rec. It’s amazing. Knowing that I’m in the company of Donna as a fellow Eight makes me so proud because she is #hilarious.)
Eights are primarily driven by their desire to be in control of their environment, especially the people around them. When Eights are healthy they are confident in themselves as well as their ability to take control in any situation, driven, and natural leaders. They are great champions for others, pushing those they care about to be the best that they can be. But when Eights are unhealthy or feel threatened, they can become egocentric, domineering, and manipulative.
I have seen all of these qualities in myself at one point or another. But when I was trying to figure out my Enneagram type, the thing that kept deterring me from believing I was an Eight is that Eights are very guarded people. They use their strong and self-confident nature to put up a front and often struggle with being vulnerable because it means letting go of the control they crave and letting others in. I just felt like that wasn’t me. I always viewed myself as a vulnerable person, willing to share exactly what was going on internally with those around me.
But as I learned more about my type and became more aware that Eights tend to shy away from vulnerability, I started to notice that when I felt out of control of a situation, all of these walls would go up and suddenly I wasn’t this vulnerable person that I thought I was. Knowing my Enneagram type in those situations is so helpful, because I’m able to recognize what’s happening and attempt to work through it. For me, working through it usually involves admitting I was wrong, and I really don’t like doing that because it means giving up control. It’s been really helpful to work on this in relationships where I have a lot of trust, where I know the person who I’m speaking with isn’t going to say, “I told you so,” or make me feel bad about being in the wrong. As I’ve practiced this with people like my husband and my closest friends it’s made these types of conversations easier in other areas of my life as well.
I have to be honest. People that know me know that I’m a very confident person. I believe that I have a lot to offer the kingdom of God as an Eight, but the majority of you don’t know me, so it feels weird to be writing about what strengths I bring to the kingdom of God. I don’t want to come across as prideful, but the reality is, I do believe that Eights have a lot of strengths to offer the body of Christ and I possess some of those strengths! As an Eight I am really good at challenging people, asking them good questions, and urging them to overcome obstacles to take risks and reach their fullest potential. As a full-time campus minister I am able to challenge my students to listen to the Lord and actively respond to what he is revealing to them. I’ve recently been working with a student who wants to reach Black students on our campus. Some fears, doubts, and barriers are keeping her from being excited about fully diving into this new challenge, and I’ve been able to walk with her through that, praying with her and urging her to see what it could be like if she took this risk and started this new small group. I know that part of this is just being a good campus staff, but I believe that my Eight-ness contributes to being able to challenge and spur her on in this new mission.
Because I struggle with a desire to be in control, especially of people in my life, I have to be very careful that when I’m challenging others, I check my own desires and make sure I’m challenging them to pursue what God has for them and not what I have for them. Sometimes as an Eight, I’ve decided that X is what someone else should do, and I push and push and push for that to get done, when in reality I’m just advancing my own agenda, not the Lord’s. I have to be aware of my desire to be in control of others and really, really listen to what people are telling me. There have been times in my campus staff work when I just kept challenging students who told me they wanted to step down from a leadership position instead of really listening to them and to their hearts. Sometimes, not doing X is the right thing, and that’s something I really need to be aware of as an Eight.
Sometimes I also feel like I’m in a constant battle with myself. My human desire is to control, manipulate, and dominate and, well, with Jesus that doesn’t really work. My truest desire is to let him be in control of my life and surrender all of myself and my plans to him, but this human desire to control all people and aspects of my life takes over a lot. I have to remind myself to remember that Jesus is in control, that his plans are best, and that I need to trust him. Remember when I said Eights struggle with being vulnerable? Sometimes it’s even challenging for me to be my full self with Jesus, but when I realize that I can be, I experience so much freedom.
In my relationships with others I have to be aware of my intensity. Sometimes my need and desire to control can come across as being a bit over the top. I like to be right, I like when people pick my decisions over others, and I like when my plans and my direction are valued and pushed forward because it means that I have maintained control. But I also need to learn to be okay when that doesn’t happen, and to practice not shutting down or bullying people into choosing what I want. This can honestly be really hard for me, but becoming aware that I struggle with these things has been really helpful.
Knowing my Enneagram type has made me more self-aware. Now when I’m experiencing tension when something isn’t going the way that I planned, I’m able to realize that my Eight-ness is showing. My fear of being out of control is coming out and I have to watch my tone, my motivation, and my reactions. I am also more able to live into the good parts of being an Eight. I know I’m good at challenging people and inspiring them to take risks, so I live into that in my job and my relationships. I know I’m good at helping people live into their full potential, so I strive to help them reach that. I know that it’s helpful that I’m decisive, so I try and serve in roles where I can be an asset in that way. Knowing my type allows me to serve in a way that hopefully honors and glorifies God.
If you relate to any of the things I’ve talked about in this post, you might be an Eight. But you could also be another type as well. My best advice is to take your time in figuring it all out. You’re still growing and maturing and developing as a human. As you pursue figuring out what type you are, try not to box yourself in or wrap your identity up in one single type. You may possess a lot of or even all of the traits of your type, or there may be parts of the description that you really feel like don’t describe you. Either way is okay. Your number doesn’t define who you are. You’re still you, beautifully and wonderfully made by Jesus, and this is just a tool for helping us learn more about who he made us to be.
Spiritual director (and former InterVarsity staff member) Alice Fryling introduces the Enneagram with questions and meditations to lead you into deeper self-awareness. You'll learn how you can experience God's love more abundantly and extend God's grace to others more fully.