“Enneagram: Challenger”

August 26, 2018


Robin McGonigle
University Congregational Church
Aug. 26, 2018

Enneagram: Challenger
II Cor. 12:9-10

In one of the churches I served was a strong, talkative, hard-nosed, competitive woman who had recently retired from her executive job in town. She had risen through the ranks at a large utility company and served as a vice president there in the 1970’s. After that, she became a journalist at the Wichita Eagle and had her own column. She was passionate, stubborn, outspoken, and even rough at times. At that church, we had open prayer time when people could speak out their prayers in church. Various people prayed for their family members, friends, co-workers, and situations around the world. But this woman often had a prayer for some issue of a political nature; and as she said her prayer, you got the sense that anyone who disagreed with her was plain wrong and, in her eyes, just stupid. She was powerful and polarizing.

One day, I complained about her to another person in the congregation who was also a strong woman. I expected sympathy and understanding. Instead, this person said, “You know she had to be that way to make room for the rest of us!” She went on to explain that our strong friend had made her way up the ladder in a man’s world. She broke the glass ceiling at a corporation and at a newspaper. In order to be a leader, she took on difficult tasks and proved herself to be a worthy leader. I still found her to be a rough person, but I had a new appreciation for her resilience and her leadership.

When I read the enneagram description of an Eight type personality, I was immediately reminded of her. We’re nearing the end of our enneagram study – an ancient personality profiling system that includes psychological and spiritual growth areas. If you haven’t found out your type, the online test is shown on the back of your bulletin. You will actually learn three different type numbers that relate to your personal way of seeing the world when you answer these questions. It is a helpful way to understand why you do the things you do – and why others act the way they do!

An Eight on the enneagram is strong. They are rocks of reliability and they can be trusted. Eights want to be bad boys and bad girls because early in their lives they got the impression that the world punishes soft tendencies, so they decide to be hard. As children many Eights had an experience of being repressed or pushed around. They couldn’t trust others so they learned to look to their own strength. Children of the Holocaust and children raised in poverty, where you can’t afford to show weakness or cry, become Eights. They believe that the strong rule the world and the weak don’t have a chance. So they put a high priority on developing strength, resisting the status quo, breaking the rules, and even ordering others around. To state this personality trait positively, Eights have intelligence, courage and stamina to do what others say cannot be done.

This is why one of the names attributed to Eights is the Challenger. They are aggressive, confrontational, high-voltage people. Eights have more energy than any other number on the Enneagram. They are fiery, zestful, earthy, full-throttle people. They radiate confidence, fearlessness, and strength. They are often seen as imposing, commanding personalities. One author said, “Eights don’t come equipped with dimmers. They are on or off, all in or all out. They ‘go big or go home.’” They can also be over-eaters, over-workers, over- partiers and over-spenders.

Eights have a hard time admitting mistakes and they don’t enjoy asking for forgiveness. They can be harsh – to themselves and to others. Eights will not put up with false authorities and hierarchies. And while they don’t allow others to push them around… they also dislike seeing others treated poorly. They take up the cause of the underdogs of society. Some great leaders and revolutionaries were Eights: Martin Luther King, Jr.; Fidel Castro; Mother Teresa; and Jesse Jackson are examples.

Eights are often outstanding at playing cards and at competitive sports. They avoid helplessness, weakness, and subordination. Because they know their own strength and can easily assess the weakness of others, they sometimes elevate themselves above other people and can go as far as making fun of their opponents as vicious or retarded. I knew an Eight who thought it was part of the game to cheat at card games. He often retorted, “If you are too stupid not to notice, then you deserve to lose!”

But the actual energy of an Eight is not anger or rage (although it may seem that way). Rather it is a passion and a total commitment to truth, life, and justice. While Eights protect the weak, they despise cowardice and softness. They like dangerous challenges and do not show fear. Eights respect people who put up resistance and stand their own ground. They are passionate lovers of life. Some Eights like to hunt, fish, or mountain climb. John Wayne is a classic Eight. Eights don’t see themselves as angry people. In fact, they’re genuinely surprised when they learn other people experience them as intimidating, insensitive and domineering. They see themselves as honest, straight-talking people who aren’t afraid of the truth. In an Eight’s mind, others have opinions while they have facts. They absolutely believe their viewpoints or positions on issues are irrefutable.

The struggle for justice is not only the strength – but also the temptation – but also the temptation of Eights. This can lead to Eights’ appointing themselves as avengers and retaliators, because their concept of justice is “balancing out”. Before I knew him, my father-in-law Jim had a falling out with his siblings because of their parents’ farm. There were four children – only one of whom stayed in his adulthood and farmed the land. When the parents died, the farm was to be shared among the 4 siblings. The son who had stayed and farmed offered to buy his siblings’ shares. But Jim, who was an electrician, wanted his siblings to sell him their shares so that he could retire and work the farm. When the other siblings sold their shares to the farming brother, Jim became estranged from all of them and never forgave them. He had a particular nasty phrase to describe his estranged family members… and even on his deathbed some of the last words he spoke declared that they were not to be listed in his obituary.

For the most part, Eights don’t like to look inside themselves to discover their tender sides. They see tenderness in others: in a little child or in an animal. In fact, at my father-in-law’s funeral (and long before I knew anything about the enneagram), I described him as a porcupine. I said he shot quills at anyone who came close to him so most people never got to see the very soft, tender spot he protected deep within him. The only reason I knew that tender wonderful side of him was through my children. This man who hated doctors, lawyers, family members, and most people, sat on the floor and played with my children. He pulled them in a wagon and showed them off to the neighbors. He got up with them in the night and changed their diapers before rocking them back to sleep.

Ernest Hemingway developed characters who were strong, self-involved, combative, adventurous, and brutal. His friend once said of him, “Papa (Hemingway) can be angrier than God on a bad day, when the whole human race misbehaves.” Some other famous Eights include: singer Johnny Cash; actress Lucille Ball; attorneys Gloria Allred, F. Lee Bailey; basketballs Wilt Chamberlain; football’s Mike Ditka; politician Bob Dole; TV personalities Dr. Phil, Rosie O’Donnell, Sean Hannity; and all the Hell’s angels members.

The symbolic animals of the Eight are the tiger, rattlesnake and the bull. Spain – the land of bull fighting – is the symbolic country of the Eight. The mask of strength is strong in Spain; there is bloodthirstiness in the culture.

The colors of Eight are black and white. Eights want clarity. With them it is often either/or:
• Friend or foe
• Good or bad
• Strong or weak
Eights are people of polar opposites. “Whoever isn’t for me is against me” is an Eight philosophy. In fact, an Eight can start an argument in an empty house! But watch out at the family holiday events. If things aren’t actively moving along, an Eight will pull out their phone and check their email. If the status quo continues longer, they will say something like, “I’d rather throw myself under a bus than live with this president for another four years.” And then they will sit back and watch the fun.

This brings us to the spiritual work for Eight types. And, as usual, it applies to all of us in one way or another. Eights need to recover a little of the open-heartedness that defines life for other types. They must practice remembering that they don’t need to be in charge or control to feel safe… that they can trust others. They also can practice making apologies and learning to experience forgiveness. Eights have an extremely tender side and they need to get in touch with it. Beneath all of their intensity and anger energy is a heart filled with love. A child or an animal can bring this heart-energy out in an Eight. The Apostle Paul wrote these words in II Cor. 12:9-10:
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

I do want to note that Eights are the most misunderstood and unfairly treated number on the Enneagram. In our culture, a male Eight is respected and revered for his leadership qualities, for his commanding presence and boundless energy. Sadly, we all know the word people use to describe a woman who takes charge, stands up for what she believes, and gets the job done.

As Brene’ Brown wrote, “Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy – the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”

While an Eight might think “It’s my way or the highway,” they would be better suited to remember the Apostle Paul’s words “When I am weak, then I am strong.”

Resources Used:
Cron, Ian Morgan and Stabile, Suzanne. “The Road Back to You; An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery.” InterVarsity Press. 2016.
Heuertz, Christopher L. “The Sacred Enneagram; Finding Your Unique Path to Spiritual Growth.” Zondervan. 2017
Rohr, Richard. “Discovering the Enneagram; An Ancient Tool for a New Spiritual Journey.” Crossroad. 1992.