Enneagram Type 8: The Protector

Written by Tim Branch

Original Design: They help improve others’ lives by using their gift of Power to protect, defend, and sometimes lead the Body of Christ. Eights inspire others to accomplish things they may not have thought possible for themselves.

Desire: To remain in control of their life and their future

Fear: Being controlled, being at the mercy of someone else

Sin: Fear causes them to amass power and use it to control others, in an effort to not be controlled themselves. This can lead to catastrophic consequences if left unchecked.

What they long to believe: “You can let your guard down safely.”

How to Know if You’re an Enneagram Eight

  1. I am a decisive action taker. I rarely get paralyzed by indecision.
  2. I say what I think—and that’s gotten me into trouble before.
  3. I always know where the power is at in a room.
  4. I can size people up extremely quickly and figure out their weak points.
  5. I’m hard to offend. But sometimes I offend others and have no idea I even did it.
  6. Conflict isn’t hard for me. I’d prefer to just get it all out on the table.
  7. If you come after someone I care about, you’re gonna get more than you bargained for.
  8. I’m normally the one who tells the waiter that an order is wrong at my table.
  9. People often see me as intimidating, but I have a very tender side that I keep to myself.
  10. I’m often tempted to wonder whether I can really trust the people around me.
  11. Sometimes it’s hard to be vulnerable. I don’t like giving people power over me.

How Enneagram 8s Work

One word stands out when describing Eights: Strength.

Strength of will. Strength of perseverance. Strength of character. Strength of charisma.

Eights are protectors of the weak. When healthy, they use their strength to stand up for others and reshape the world to how it should be.

They’re confident and assertive, with unmatched forward energy. If there’s a brick wall in the way, it doesn’t matter. They’ll get the job done one way or another. And the brick wall may or may not be there at the end.

I’ve known many Eights. Each of them I’ve heard say some form of, “They say it can’t be done. I say, watch me.”

Eights have strong opinions and aren’t easily swayed by others—making them defenders of the right thing even when it’s not the easy thing.

They are also very purposeful and easily take on new things.

They’re hard to offend. But the flipside of that is they don’t always know when they’re offending other people. “Wait, he got offended by that?” is a common phrase I hear Eights say.

An Eight’s primary emotion is anger. It’s often the first place they go to when they sense injustice. And because they’re wired to go head-to-head with conflict, They often find themselves on the front line of a fight.

When an obstacle is in front of them, they have an ability to “tune out” the actual power of what they’re going up against, as well as their own weakness. They can put blinders on, only paying attention to getting the job done. But this can also lead them to miss things in their environment and in themselves.

Eights always know where the power’s at in a room. When they feel the need to step up and take the power, they typically have no problem doing so. Often, Eights will subconsciously try to gain power because they fear being controlled. Because if they’re the leader, they don’t have to submit to anyone, right?

This is why Eights shoulder a massive responsibility to get healthy. Because they gravitate toward leadership—and their leadership drastically impacts the quality of life of the people around them.

Eights actually have a very soft side, but they typically struggle to show it because they’re afraid of being betrayed. They have trouble being vulnerable because they worry it gives others ammo that could one day be used against them.

This is one reason they’d rather you just shoot them straight in conflict, and why they shoot straight in conflict.

I once heard an Eight say, “On some level, I feel a little betrayed almost every day, because someone feels something bad from me and doesn’t say anything.” Interestingly, Eights actually feel connection in conflict. They’d much rather just talk about it and get it all out in the open.

How Enneagram Type 8s Reflect God

If you’re an Eight, you may feel like the fear of being controlled and the fear of being betrayed have led you down some dark paths.

But know this:

While dangerous in their fallen form, those weaknesses are actually just twisted versions of God’s image inside you—wonderful gifts He’s given you that have been hijacked by the enemy.

They don’t need to be thrown out. They need to be untwisted.

The original design of an Eight’s lust for power and control, is a God-given ability to make the world safe and good. Eights were made with the ability to reshape their surroundings, to move mountains. They show us an incredible picture of God’s Power as a protector. When we look at Eights, we get a glimpse of the part of God’s personality mentioned in Psalm 46:

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts. The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”

Eights operating in their original design will smash through a brick wall so that the rest of us can walk through it.

They hold the privilege and honor of helping level the mountains so the rest of the Body of Christ can operate effectively.

Eights living in deep relationship with God become free to focus on other people. They become attentive to others’ needs rather than their own fearful need for protection. And most of all, they  finally gain the ability to be truly vulnerable.

Where it Goes Wrong

Eights are a picture of God’s power. But that gift can be twisted by a well-crafted lie.

The main fear Eights struggle with is the fear of weakness, which causes them to deny weakness.

Starting at a young age, they noticed that when someone is in a position of authority over you, they can control you and make you miserable. So an Eight developed a fear of giving someone that power.

Eights hear the voice of the enemy saying, “Are you sure you’re able to be vulnerable with this person? What if you let them in and give them power over you, and then they use it against you?”

This leads an Eight to their cardinal sin, Lust.

It’s not necessarily sexual lust, although it can be. It’s Lust for power.

They begin to believe no one can be trusted to have any power over them—which makes them double down on control. “If I grab control first, no one can hurt me.”

Vulnerability is weakness, they hear. Don’t let anyone in to see something they can use against you.

But the great irony is that by turning off their vulnerability, the Eight’s innermost self becomes isolated, and therefore weak.

When you aren’t sharing your insecurities and pains with a healthy community, the only sounding board you have is your own thoughts. And that’s where the Father of Lies gets to do what he does best: Sow seeds of doubt. “Did God really say…”

Instead of trusting God that they won’t be hopelessly controlled, they feel a compulsion to deny weakness and start accumulating power—which provides a suit of armor and a sword for if anyone threatens to control or betray them.

But it also makes them incredibly lonely.

Why They Embrace Their Burden

Why does an Eight do this?

Same reason we all do it.

Because the enemy’s lies make us believe that our unhealthy behavior is actually helping us.

It’s easy for an Eight to believe their lack of vulnerability is keeping them safe from being controlled themselves.

Fear tells them, “If you let this person in, they’ll have power over you. Keep them at arm’s length. Present a confident, powerful self on the outside. That way nobody will have any way to break through the armor.”

That’s a powerful sales pitch for an Eight who’s terrified that they may be betrayed. So they make an agreement with the fear. “Keep me safe. I don’t care how you do it. Just do it.”

The only problem is, it doesn’t exactly fix anything. Yes, they get a suit of armor that makes them feel safe from outside attacks. But in their efforts to avoid weakness, they actually become weaker on the inside because of their isolation.

And inside weakness eventually ends up working its way outside.

At Their Worst

As their fear spirals, Eights grasp for more and more control.

They use their gifts—the ones that were intended to protect and defend—to pressure and oppress. They do anything they can to make sure they never get put in a powerless position ever again.

They become paranoid of others, wondering who might turn against them and how to gain power over that person.

They ruthlessly play corporate chess to eliminate threats, and they begin seeing people as objects to serve their goals.

Unhealthy Eights as leaders can be terrifying—they can destroy communities, people groups, cities, and countries. They can literally go as low as Hitler.

How to Grow as an Enneagram 8

I know those are harsh words. But if you’re an Eight, the important thing to remember is that your dark side is simply that—the dark side of an incredible gift.

Your strength is a great power. It can be used for good or for evil. You can use it to protect others, or destroy others.

That’s why the enemy is spending so much effort attacking this gift of yours. He gets a massive return on his investment when he spends his energy on you. (Think about how many pastors you’ve seen derail an entire church with their secret sin.)

But the truth is, he’s afraid of you. Because he knows if you were to truly step into your gift, you would be extremely dangerous to him. 

When used properly, you can make an incredible impact on the world. So your responsibility is to harness the strength inside you.

Stewarding your gift well means learning to master vulnerability—with God and with others—even when it feels like you’re putting yourself in a weak situation where you could be controlled or betrayed one day.

It means noticing when you’re “denying” your weakness.

This feels so paradoxical to an Eight. But it actually opens you up and gives you the freedom to use your gift the way God intended.

It gives you the power to access your thoughts and feelings more readily. And more than that, it gives you the ability to finally connect genuinely with your Heavenly Father. Because by lying to yourself, you’re also lying to Him about your needs.

Imagine yourself being carried into a medical tent with a giant gash, and God coming up to you with medical supplies. “Let’s take a look at your injury,” He says…but you refuse. “No, I’m not injured. I’m fine. Go help someone who’s actually hurt.” This denial keeps so many Eights from growing or healing.

To grow, you’ll have to start trusting that you can lay down your power…and still be okay.

Here’s why:

Back in ancient times, armies would shoot flaming arrows into an unsuspecting enemy’s camp. But the main use of this strategy wasn’t to kill people… it was to separate the camp by causing complete havoc.

The attackers knew that an army marching together was much more fearsome than a bunch of isolated soldiers, far from the instruction of their general. When the camp went up in flames, the attacking army had no trouble defeating their enemy, scattered and confused.

This is how the enemy attacks us.

Fiery arrows of isolation keep us from experiencing community.

When a person becomes isolated, they become weak.

A lie the enemy tells you is, “You should be able to do this alone, if you were strong enough.”

But when you get isolated, you feel less accountable for the secret areas of sin in your life, which means they can thrive in the darkness. And it’s SO much easier to start believing the lies you hear about yourself. Because there are fewer voices reminding you what’s true.

We were not made to do life alone. Not even Eights.

God often calls Eights to a common journey when you say yes to a life with Him: one where He slowly proves to you that even if you were controlled or betrayed, you’d still be okay.

It’s a journey toward real, genuine Trust.

Slowly but surely, God teaches you to trust that he’s going to take care of you. When you fully trust Him, there is no need to fear these things. Perfect love casts out fear. And He is fully in control.

Sure, that doesn’t mean bad things won’t happen. Maybe you’ll be betrayed by someone. But Trust is believing God when he says that “His plans are to prosper you, not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).

Trust lets you lay down your fear and be vulnerable.

It’s so lonely hiding in a suit of armor, staying safe from the “danger” of vulnerability…at the cost of never feeling the touch of another person in your most sacred inner places.

You keep your secrets, but you never feel fully known and fully loved.

But how freeing it is to finally let your guard down and let someone meet you in those places. You realize how alone you’ve felt, keeping your most tender, sensitive self locked away inside.

The funny thing is…when you learn to let others into your weakness, you paradoxically become stronger than you ever imagined.

When an Eight learns to lay down their fear, embrace vulnerability, and trust God’s control…they realize what Paul meant when he said, “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10)

God is calling you higher. He’s calling you out of fear, and toward who you truly are.

Eight, because of how much I love you, I gave you the image of my own raw power. I have huge plans for you, but you have a GREAT responsibility to use this gift wisely. You weren’t ever meant to close off, and allow your fear to twist this gift into a lust to control others. Your true identity is protector. And I designed you to be so much stronger when you’re relying on me instead of yourself. Step into your original design—and let’s change the world together!”


So what does it look like for an Eight to stop living out of fear, and start living out of vulnerability?

Here are a few practical action steps:

1. Grow in awareness of when you’re denying your vulnerability to try and remain safe.

Part of the Eight’s journey is learning to be honest with yourself (and with your loved ones) about your shortcomings.  It’s learning to catch yourself when you’re trying to hide a vulnerable feeling via anger/aggression.

Can you see places in your life where you’re hiding your tender side? Where you aren’t admitting your weakness or vulnerability? It’s tempting not to look at them or to deny them—because your fear tells you if you were weak, you could get taken advantage of.

Don’t judge yourself as weak for revealing your tender feelings. Instead, practice opening up to trusted people in your life, and being vulnerable with them.

When one of your tender spots reveals itself, don’t deny it. Let it exist. You aren’t a complete human without it, and you can’t fully love and be loved without revealing it to God and to your loved ones. So much of a life with God involves seeing our weakness and letting God move into those places.

Brené Brown says, “Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.”

As you open, you’ll realize you grow in depth of feeling, and you’ll realize you always had this depth of feeling but were often just deaf to them, or you were muting them to try and be “stronger.” You become a more complete person when you allow yourself to feel, and to trust others with your weaknesses.

2. Reconnect with the little kid who put up walls to be safe.

That little kid was just afraid, or sad, or anxious. You had to grow up fast.

You can probably remember a moment when you were hurt deeply, and you decided not to be vulnerable ever again. So you put armor on and swore never to be too weak again. This meant you wouldn’t let people see into the fragile places.

A friend of mine says that eights are actually one of the most sensitive types on the enneagram. They’ve just beaten it out of themselves and deny it for safety. Their fragile selves feel alone and scared, but they can’t show it because they have to keep up the shell.

It’s okay. It was what you believed you had to do to survive. But now, it’s time to heal.

Here’s a thought experiment: If you were to write a letter to your 8-year-old self…what would you say? You may find a great deal of empathy well up inside you as you think about it.

This can help you move forward.

3. Set some goals around creating safe, trustworthy community for yourself.

As an Eight, you’re great at taking action. Use that to your advantage — look for ways to find people who can be trusted. Go deeper in relationship with them.

Then, slowly open up to your trusted people. You’ll start to notice how freeing it is to let someone else help carry your burdens alongside you.

Some ideas to create this community as a Christ-follower:

  • Find new church groups. Go to them. Say hi to people. Invite them to grab lunch or dinner after events. Connect with these people over coffee.
  • Have a dinner at your house, and ask each person you invite to bring one person you don’t know. You can make this a monthly thing — and it’s very effective to bring in quality people  vetted by your friends that you already know and trust.

God made you for this kind of community. Imagine finally feeling fully known and fully loved, even for your weaknesses. No isolation in your innermost places. Confident that you’ll be okay, even without your suit of armor or your sword. Finally able to open up the way you were intended to.

It’s possible, but it takes vulnerability.

4. Notice how you power up and go into tunnel vision when you get challenged.

The goal here is awareness. It’s learning to make the choice to power up, rather than doing it on autopilot and becoming a bull in a China shop.

When you put your blinders on and try to overpower someone, you’re blocking out your ability to see the weakness of your own position. This can be useful when you need to get something done at work, but it can come back to bite you in relationships. Like in an argument with your spouse, or your mom, or your kid.

This tendency can make you really bad at “reading the room.” You may do or say something that offends or frustrates someone without even realizing it.

You want to get to a place where you’re noticing the moments that you block out everything and go tunnel vision when you see an obstacle.

Try to grow in mindfulness of when you’re doing this, so that you can consciously choose to do it rather than letting it happen to you.

This a superpower that needs to be harnessed.

5. “Finessing your energy” is a skill that every Eight needs. Get better at it.

As you grow in awareness of when you black out and go Challenger mode…you start realizing that you have more control over it.

Your goal is to be as precise as possible with your energy. To use just enough to get the job done, without running people over. Here’s what I mean:

The energy you bring to a 5-year-old little girl is completely different than the energy you bring to a boxing match. Between those two, there’s obviously a LOT of middle ground. But Eights can struggle to choose the right energy level for that middle ground.

You might say something much too harsh for someone else to handle. Or you might argue a point with someone too hard, for how unimportant the argument actually is.

That’s why it’s so important to learn how to bring the proper amount of energy to an interaction—and if you get good at it, you’ll find you actually get what you want more often in the long run.

Imagine your words and actions like a surgeon’s knife. You may need to make an incision. But you need to be incredibly precise with the incision you make, or you’ll risk leaving a massive scar on someone.

Learn to figure out when to be gentle with people, based on their body language, the subtext behind what they’re saying, or their eye contact.

If you notice yourself getting ready to overpower someone, look for signs you may not be reading the room. People shooting glances at each other, people making subtle suggestions to deescalate the situation, etc.

If you can get good at reading these signals and responding by switching into a more gentle energy, people will likely respond very positively.

6. Give a friend permission to tell you when you’re going overboard or making someone uncomfortable.

This is an action step for what we just talked about. It’s gonna require you to be vulnerable with that person and admit that you want help.

Ask trusted people afterward whether they saw you do anything that made someone feel uncomfortable. There’s no shame in asking—it’s how you improve your own radar.

7. Practice the art of confession.

“When I am weak, then I am strong” isn’t just a nice saying to get framed in your hallway. There’s much more to it.

You’ll find deep freedom in confession and vulnerability with trustworthy loved ones. It may trigger your fear of being controlled—but paradoxically, it actually unburdens you and allows you to finally feel free.

That’s one of the reasons why James 5:16 tells us to confess our sins to one another. It takes you from isolation, and plugs you into the Body of Christ, where you belong. Jesus said, “I am the vine, and you are the branches.” A branch that’s cut off is useless. Don’t become disconnected from the vine.

God is calling you to move toward him by laying down your armor and your sword, and letting Him into the mess. Because that’s where He can get some real work done.

Look for people you trust to confess your sins to. Make it a habit. You’ll find that your relationship with God grows and flourishes.

The Ultimate Enneagram 8

When an Eight is living out of their original design, they are finally able to be open and vulnerable with themselves and others. And that makes them stronger than ever.

These Eights go to battle on behalf of others, because they don’t live in fear for their own safety anymore. They have a deep Trust that God has their back. There’s no need to worry.

They finally have let go of the idea that they need to either control, or be controlled. And that allows God to come in and heal their hearts. They know how to be led by God and to relinquish control to Him.

This bears an incredible amount of fruit in their relationships with others and with God. And that works its way out into a MASSIVE amount of impact in the world.

Extremely healthy Eights as leaders create change that echoes throughout generations. They transform the world around them and enable others to be great. They fight for us and level the mountains.

God uses them to make a way where there is no way, so that the rest of us can thrive.

Do you have any other thoughts about being an Eight that should be covered in this post? Email me at [email protected].