“You’re intimidating,” so many people have told me in my adult life. This was way before the profile of an Enneagram Eight brought it to light.
The funny thing is, I’m 5-foot-6 when I’m wearing shoes. Especially as a young adult, I had a hard time seeing how I could be intimidating.
But after my wife and others I trust continued to tell me I was intimidating, I finally started to wonder. Maybe I am intimidating to other people … but why?
I think it will helpful to start by letting you know I’m a military brat. My dad was in the Air Force when I was growing up, and, on average, my family moved every two years or so.
But after a rare four-year stint in northern Virginia from sixth grade up to my freshman year in high school, the real challenge began.
Moving and moving again
My freshman year was in Stafford, Virginia. My sophomore year we moved to Montgomery, Alabama. Then in my junior year we moved again to Great Falls, Montana. And my senior year, my family moved to Panama, Central America while I stayed behind to live with another family and complete high school in the states. Needless to say, it was a turbulent time for me.
Every year of high school brought challenges my peers didn’t have to face. I had to make new friends. Learn new rules. Adjust to a new environment. Understand new social norms. Just a few hurdles I had to jump over with each new school year.
I experienced a fair amount of traumatic events in those years. Still, that time shaped me into the person I am today. No, I wouldn’t want to do it all over again. But at the same time, I’m deeply grateful for how the Lord used it in my life.
The Enneagram 8: “the Challenger”
According to the tests, the reading I’ve done, and the opinion of those who are closest to me, I am the dreaded Enneagram Eight—the Challenger. In fact, the Enneagram Institute paints me as the “powerful, dominating type who is self-confident, decisive, willful, and confrontational.”
The Enneagram Eight’s basic fear is being harmed or controlled by others. And while this is only a part of the picture when it comes to who I am, the basic desire of an Eight is to protect themselves or be in control of their own life.
You can probably see how easy it is to draw a straight line from my ever-shifting military upbringing to the Enneagram Eight I just described.
Because life was so unpredictable for me as a high school kid, I now crave to be in control of my environment. And because I am a sinner, I will (at times) do so intimidatingly when I feel threatened. Sometimes this is a bad thing, and I share my opinion quite forcibly with others. Which can frighten or intimidate. Other times, however, this can be a great thing, because I adamantly defend what is true and fair.
When being an Enneagram 8 is hard
For example, on the negative side, once a friend of mine did something that (in my opinion) was selfish and unkind. I got really fired up and vented at length to my wife. Even though I didn’t know the whole story. But I remember throwing my friend under the proverbial bus in front of my wife, casting him in a villainous all-bad light.
As it turned out, when I learned the details about my friend’s “selfish and unkind” actions, I was partly wrong about my friend. Because of what I inaccurately observed and what I didn’t know was going on behind the scenes, I came to the wrong conclusions.
Eights like me have a tendency to jump to strong conclusions when we sense oncoming harm or unfair situations. This is regardless of what the nuanced truth might be because we’re temperamental. And this can lead quite easily to sin.
When being an Enneagram 8 works
On the more positive side, however, Challengers have a tendency to stand up for what is right and truthful in a forceful way when the situation calls for needed protection.
Recently, a leader at a local church my friends attend taught some clearly heretical and anti-biblical things. The leader taught this untruth to a number of easily-influenced college students.
I received firsthand proof this leader was communicating a false gospel and passing it off as truth to a young demographic I care deeply about. I got involved immediately by working with some of the other leaders and pastors at that church to call out the heretical teaching and discipline this leader appropriately.
Now, I don’t go to this church. So why did I get involved?
Because the thing I love the most in life was being threatened—the gospel of Jesus Christ. Plus, a group of people I care about deeply—college students—were threatened. The gospel and those young people were at risk of being harmed, so my “Eight-ness” kicked into high gear quite fast. That was certainly a positive thing.
Enneagram Eights often get a bad rap because of our intimidating nature and strong opinions. I get that. And I’ll be the first to admit I need to work on the negative part of my personality that has been deeply affected by my sin and the sin of others toward me. When I’m under stress and don’t walk with God, I can be fearful, secretive, suspicious, aggressive, and withdraw from others.
But the negative stereotype of Enneagram Eight isn’t the complete picture of who I am. When I align with the gospel, I can be soft, optimistic, encouraging, and tactful with others. Because then I act as a child of God who reflects the admirable traits found in my Savior. Eights are prone to sharing more of their hearts and their relationships can flourish because they resolve disagreements faster and more thoughtfully.
The gospel for an 8
The gospel brings out the best the Enneagram Eight has to offer, because Jesus is in the business of changing lives. He says in Revelation 21:5, “Behold, I am making all things new.” As a result, the natural old things of history before Christ have passed away with its fear, insecurity, and domineering nature. New things have come (2 Corinthians 5:17). They are encouraging, optimistic, caring, courteous, and protectors of the truth.
Sure, I might come off as intimidating, but Jesus is redeeming those negative parts of my life … and I like the sanctifying results I’m seeing as He works.
Copyright © 2019 Shelby Abbott. All rights reserved.
Shelby Abbott is an author, campus minister, and conference speaker on staff with the ministry of Cru. His passion for university students has led him to speak at college campuses all over the United States and author the books Jacked, I Am A Tool (To Help With Your Dating Life), and Pressure Points: A Guide to Navigating Student Stress (New Growth Press). He and his wife Rachael have two daughters and reside in Downingtown, Pennsylvania. Instagram/Twitter: @shelbyabbott, Web: shelbyabbott.com