The Social Eight
No Middle Ground
When we are in our Enneagram trance, we adopt certain narrow options as the only way we understand and deal with reality. Some Enneagram numbers identify with one kind of experience, others with another. Eights exclude ambiguity. By excluding ambiguity, Eights ignore the middle ground in their relationships and opinions because they don't want any ambiguity. You are either for or against.
A fixated Eight is as close to digital thinking as anybody should get. When you look at a photograph, you see shades of gray (in a black and white photo) and you see some things clearly, others you see but not quite as clearly (like skin blemishes or faint lines). If you're an Eight, the vision is more like a Peanuts cartoon - two or three bold lines gives you all the information you want: you decide right then and there whether or not the person is friend or foe, and (here's the catch), that's all that is really important. That's all they consider. They just need a couple of "clues" to know whether you're a good guy or bad guy and everything else sort of fades. Teenagers do this around style of shoes or length of hair, athletes do it with jerseys, and entranced politicians do it by slogans.
If they are really unhealthy, Eights under-identify with all others. They see others as alien to them, others are the enemy. They have no feelings for the feelings of others. As they get a little healthier, they identify with a few people (good guys) and misidentify with most others. Life is conceived as a war and you have to prove you're on our side or you are presumed hostile.
The subtype of the social Eight is especially prone to this. Social Eights have a secret wish that all children born into the world would be issued jerseys that would classify them as good or bad, enemies or friends. Social Eights are right at home in any athletic contest because they love being with their friends. And they love being against their enemies with equal gusto.
Listen to Rush Limbaugh, an obviously fixated Eight: he wants to know - and wants to tell you - whether a person is liberal or conservative. That label must be affixed. And if you are liberal you are all bad, if you are conservative, you are all good. This polarization is what attracts a large audience: he takes the vague inarticulate anger and gives it sharp focus. This is the hallmark of the social Eight. They see themselves as champion of the people, knights in shining armor, leader of the resistance against evil in the world. Elaine Strick in the movie September acts it out nicely for you. She is loud, boisterous, domineering, insensitive and crude. But at the same time she is totally dedicated to the family, she sees herself as the protector of her children, she will go to bat for what she thinks is right and is passionately concerned about justice.
Social Eights see themselves as taking care of the underdog. (What they're really doing is projecting their own softness onto others and then taking of that in the other). "I am not in touch with my own vulnerability, so I see you as vulnerable. Because you are so vulnerable, I have to take care of you. Fortunately, I am strength personified without any weak chinks in my armor so I can take of you quite nicely.") They overidentify with their strength and underidentify with their weaknesses. If you've ever been up against the playground bully, you've see this dynamic in action.
In the recent movie, Ransom, Jimmy the kidnapper is a social Eight. He sees his role as champion of the poor people taking vengeance on rich guys like Mel Gibson. He takes care of "his woman," on the other hand. His world is good guys and bad guys. Sociopaths can't feel remorse for their crimes because the enemy deserved it. Soldiers don't come home and regret bombing villages. During that time, the world was divided into for and against and you did what you had to do. Eights live in that world to some degree all the time. I have an Eight friend who wants to argue politics - fiercely - all the time. It's really important that I see things his way because if I don't, I will become an enemy and he doesn't want that.
As Eights get healthy they become able to admit they were wrong, which is tantamount to letting complexity and nuance into their world. They become more concerned about holding their group together without needing an outside enemy. They soften, they assimilate their emotional connection to Two and learn to identify with others. That's why the proper way to negotiate with tough Eights is always to appeal to their soft side. If you attack, you reinforce their conviction that the world is full of enemies and you're another one of them. If you refuse to play the enemy, you weaken this distorted world view and lessen the need for military-like emotional defense.
- Because Eights provide such wonderful dramatic conflict, they abound in movies. Condon's chapter in his The Enneagram Movie and Video Guide has some great ones. To his list, add Cobb who is a ragingly unhealthy Eight. (John Wayne is THE movie Eight.)
- Watch/listen to the Rush Limbaugh Show. He is unhealthy enough to display the characteristics in vivid detail. If Eights soften the style with humor they become much more attractive. Limbaugh is usually humorless. Bully Bill O'Reilly is likewise a social Eight. He tolerates no views other than his.
- Pick your enemy (liberal/conservative, straight/gay, feminist/chauvinist - whatever) and come up with a definition of that group that THEY would accept. Now argue their position for a few minutes or paragraphs until you understand them.
- What is your soft spot? (For some it is pets, others children, others the elderly, most Eights have a lovely soft spot. Where's yours?) Many Eights have a soft spot for nature.
- Who holds a position you think is really crazy? Can you find some level on which their position makes sense? ("Behind his stupidity is a desire to...) or some such argument.
- How do you draw? Buy a cheap print of French Impressionism. Notice how fluid and nuanced it is. What can it teach you?