Eights may be motivated to change for a variety of reasons, among them: boredom, a desire to help other people, a shock of recognition when the outer world reflects their inner vulnerability, accountability to others, when others threaten to leave them, shame at their own behavior, especially when they harm those they are pledged to protect.
Some Eights change in reaction to a loss of control. One Eight reported that she quit smoking because of the number of non-smoking zones that had gradually appeared in her world. It made her feel helpless and controlled and she didn’t want anyone to have that kind of power over her. Another Eight quit smoking by looking at each cigarette and asking: Who’s stronger you or me?”
Another Eight who had been a member of a Neo Nazi group had a sudden epiphany when he heard his 3 year old son using racist language. “It hit me like a ton of bricks. I knew I was taking him down a path where he’d end up in jail or be remembered for something horrible. All of a sudden, I didn’t want him to be like me.”
While some Eights are immune to social embarrassment, others are surprisingly sensitive to it. An Eight stopped drinking alcohol and began to discard his tough guy exterior when he was arrested for drunk driving. He was particularly struck by harsh words from a woman who asked how he would feel if his son was killed by a drunk driver plowing through neighborhoods at 73 mph. “I started crying,” the Eight said. “I had accomplished so much with my life and I was absolutely blowing it. I was embarrassing my family and friends. I said to myself, ‘This is enough. Just grow up.’”
Presenting problems to therapists and counselors can include: conflicts in relationships, medical problems especially heart attacks, addictions, regrets about past behavior, anxiety attacks, depression with no obvious source or from a medical condition. Eight clients could also want to end struggles in love relationships. or be seeking anger management and social skills.
Generally good goals for change are: working with vulnerability; finding new definitions of strength; learning to empathize with others; becoming more sensitive to their impact on others; seeing others 3- dimensionally; admitting they aren’t all that tough: that they can be hurt and learning how to nurture themselves.
The core challenge for Eights is to learn a different relationship to their own vulnerability, to discover whether it’s still truly necessary to maintain such vigilance in order to protect their soft underbelly. There is profound strength in kindness, and expressions of love; a different kind of strength than being mobilized and defensively staunch with the world. The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer once said: “maturity means learning to lean on your faults.” For Eights, strength means learning to lean on their weakness.
Someone who needs to dominate others is dependent upon those same people; domination is an aggressive form of dependency. If you can get Eights to realize that acting against others means that they are actually controlled by them, they will often desist.
Eights have a kind of innocence and curiosity that leads them to discover the world rather than dominate it. They may have under-developed loves – of nature, animals, children, travel, etc. These can be encouraged and supported.
Therapists and counselors who work with Eight clients may need to initially pace them by agreeing with their one-sided thesis about the world, or by aligning with them against outside forces the Eight is rebelling against. Later you might raise counter examples, and, if necessary, strike an equally tough tone and tell them the truth. Outwit them a few times but don’t gloat. Demonstrate how to be tough and then soft, tough and then not needing to be tough.
When you work with Eights it helps to access whatever is most secure and confident within you and speak neutrally. Some Eights will insist that you tell them the unvarnished truth, but you may still have to protect them sometimes or tell them the truth gradually. It is often effective to combine humor with respect and firmness. You may want to avoid seeming gushy, well-intentioned or overly empathic; in case they think you weak. Make it clear that you can take care of yourself but that you don’t have to have your boxing gloves on all the time – which means the Eight doesn’t either. You also might avoid presenting a therapeutically correct ethic or present a model of mental health right away – they could rebel but they may need and appreciate a psychological framework for understanding their problems and behavior. You may also have to be firm with them so they know you are not a fool. Under stress Eights will turn therapists into cartoons.
With an overtly Eightish client you may have to start out tough then gradually get tender by first adopting a like manner; a similar tone of voice, quality of energy, posture that matches the Eight’s aggression. After matching for a little while then you would change your manner. If you have enough rapport the Eight will follow. Otherwise go back to matching them. Since Eights externalize their feelings and mainly live in the present, you may have to work at connecting their outer behavior with their inner life and their present reactions with what happened in childhood. Not acknowledging childhood is the same as not acknowledging the child within i.e. their vulnerabilities.
Because they externalize, Eights will sometimes equate an outer behavioral change with inner change. While conquering an addiction or a bad habit may be laudable, this is another example of oversimplification and more externalizing of their inner troubles.
If you can afford to be kind to an Eight, expecting nothing in return, it will be surprisingly disarming and touch them deeply. Gratuitous kindness is a total contradiction of their “kill or be killed” world-view; it’s illogical jungle behavior. But you have to give freely, without agenda or condescension. Otherwise the Eight could cynically reframe your behavior as more jungle politics, a sneaky attempt at control.
Excerpted from The Dynamic Enneagram by Tom Condon
Copyright 2009, 2013 by Thomas Condon
Available as an ebook serial at Tom’s website http://www.thechangeworks.com
Tom Condon has worked with the Enneagram since 1980 and with Ericksonian hypnosis and NLP since 1977. These three models are combined in his trainings to offer a useful collection of tools for changing and growing, to apply the Enneagram dynamically, as a springboard to positive change. Tom has taught over 800 workshops in the US, Europe and Asia and is the author of 50 CDs, DVDs and books on the Enneagram, NLP and Ericksonian methods. He is founder and director of The Changeworks in Bend, Oregon.