Series 27: For the Love of the Enneagram | Episode 09
Enneagram Eights – Sarajane Case & Abi Robins on The Challengers
Make way for the Enneagram Eights! On this week’s episode, we get to chat with not one, but two experts about the steely armor and tender insides that make up The Challengers, as they’re sometimes called. Sarajane Case of Enneagram & Coffee helps us unpack the hallmark characteristic of an Eight—their strength—and reveals that an Eight’s strength typically stems from childhood happenings that trigger the notion that they have to take care of themselves, which they can also wrap around their loved ones and those in need. This protective instinct means that Eights aren’t intimidated by opposition, but they do fear being betrayed or controlled—and when that happens, it can appear that Eights don’t need a shoulder to lean on. But, as Sarajane shows us, in order to love an Eight well, they need to see strength in us so that they can release the heavy responsibility they feel to carry the world’s weight on their shoulders. Abi Robins of Conscious Enneagram shares their expertise as not only an Eight themselves, but also as a teacher of The Narrative Enneagram. Abi also breaks down a new-to-us Enneagram term called “subtypes,” of which there are three—self-preservation, one-to-one, and social—and shows how these subtypes affect the way our Enneagram numbers play out in the world. Abi opens up about the incredible resilience that Eights possess and vulnerably shares what type Eight growth looks like to someone with a marginalized identity. Abi explains that a heated exchange that may look like an argument to some types is just a problem-solving, connective conversation to an Eight, and how that willingness to engage with an Eight, even when it’s messy, is the key to unlocks an Eight’s trust. Make sure you listen all the way through the hear how composer Ryan O’Neal (AKA Sleeping at Last) created a piece as strong as the Eights are, with a little touch of vulnerability that those who are close to Eights are lucky enough to glimpse.
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Sarajane: Type Eights are bold, they’re independent, they’re honest, they’re likely the person who has continually pushed you to be more thoughtful, egalitarian, and driven in your own life, but they really are pushers of us, into being better, being more, getting through discomfort, and doing it anyway.
Hey, everybody, Jen Hatmaker here. Hi, welcome to the For the Love Podcast, super glad you’re here today.
You probably know that we are in a series right now called For the Love of the Enneagram, and it is awesome. I mean, it’s just awesome. If you’ve missed any of it, I highly encourage you to go back and pick it up, even if it’s not your number, because we are all connected to people that we love that are every number on the Enneagram. Every single episode has been so enlightening for me, I’ve learned so much, it’s helped me understand my friends better, my husband better, my kids, myself. Just go back and listen, definitely start with Episode One with Suzanne Stabile, she high-levels the whole Enneagram deal for us.
Anyhow, for this episode, finally, I’m so pleased to tell you that once again, we have not one, but two guests who are going to help us unpack all the complex goodness inside of those wonderful Enneagram Eights, also sometimes known as the Challengers. Oh, Enneagram Eights, I love them, they are such a force in the world. So, I’m just telling you, if you’re lucky enough to have an Eight in your life, congratulations, you must feel really secure and really safe because that’s how the Eights make me feel, for sure. I love how they show up in the world.
So, to begin, Sarajane Case is an author and a speaker and a podcaster and she’s based out of Asheville, North Carolina. You might know her by her online moniker, Enneagram & Coffee. Have you seen this? She teaches self-support through the lens of the Enneagram, and her writing has been featured everywhere, from Apartment Therapy to Parade Magazine. Sarajane does some of her best work on Instagram @EnneagramAndCoffee, that’s her handle, plus she’s put out a book called The Honest Enneagram, and a podcast called Enneagram & Coffee. So, she’s hustling some fantastic work out into the Enneagram world. Sarajane happens to be an Enneagram Seven, who’s going to help us unpack some of the nitty-gritty traits of one of her wing options, which is an Eight.
And then, after Sarajane, to tell you specifically about the lived experience of an Eight, we have a stellar Enneagram teacher named Abi Robins, who you might know under the moniker of the Conscious Enneagram. Abi is another trained Enneagram Teacher—we’ve had so many incredible teachers in this series—who is certified in The Narrative Enneagram, which we’re going to talk about because that’s not something we’ve really parsed out thus far in the series. Abi is also a yoga therapist whose teaching combines the very transformative insight of the Enneagram with the holistic and embodied practices of yoga therapy, which is really important, the body intersection here matters. Abi seeks to share these two very powerful systems to help people better understand themselves and those around them, and live just more fulfilling and meaningful lives, which is exactly what the Enneagram has offered me. Both of these conversations are just fire.
So, I’m so pleased to share my conversations with these incredible teachers. First, with Sarajane Case of Enneagram & Coffee.
Jen: Sarajane, I have watched you and listened to you and now I am so delighted to have you on the For the Love Podcast. Thank you for being here.
Sarajane: Yeah, I am so thrilled to be here. Thank you for having me.
Jen: 100%. So before we move into the Enneagram Eight, which is what this episode is about, can you just talk to us briefly about what your type is?
Sarajane: Yeah. So I’m a Seven wing Eight, and I am a counter type. So I’m a social Seven, which means that in behavior, I can look a lot like a Two or a One, but in motivation, I’m definitely, 100%, internally a Seven. So I essentially know that being my unabashed Seven self won’t keep me in good social standing all the time, and so I’ve learned to really put myself last, over sacrifice, and live in moderation, as a way to be more socially acceptable.
Jen: So interesting. So is your Eight wing pretty strong?
Sarajane: Yeah. It’s pretty hefty.
Jen: You can speak quite saliently to the Eight, not only as an expert, but as somebody with a strong Eight wing. So let’s get into that. So we’ve got the Enneagram Eights to discuss today, which its moniker is sometimes known as The Challenger. Can we dig in here a little bit more, because there’s always more than meets the eye, there’s always a reduced, truncated description of every number, which just never tells the full story at all. So can you talk a little bit more broadly about some of the main traits of an Enneagram Eight: what they love, what they don’t love, what motivates them, what they’re afraid of, what they’re excited about, et cetera?
Sarajane: Yeah. So type Eights are strong, charismatic leaders. In childhood, they say that a lot of Eights often experienced some form of betrayal, so something that settled the idea into them that they would need to take care of themselves. And because of this, they learn to lean on their strength and hide their vulnerabilities to prevent being open and susceptible for their betrayal down the road or in the future. So a lot of times you might hear a type Eight say like, “I don’t want that to be used against me.” That could be a phrase.
And this can lead our Eights to developing a defensive stance. And this can happen both in defense of themselves, but also in defense of those in need. So you also might see them happening on behalf of someone else. If they see someone who they see as vulnerable, that same strength gets wrapped around the people in their life.
In general, type Eights are bold, they’re independent, they’re honest. They’re likely the person who has continually pushed you to be more thoughtful, egalitarian and driven in your own life. But they really are pushers of us, into being better, being more, getting through discomfort, and doing it anyway.
Jen: It’s so true. I think about Jo Saxton, one of my very favorite Eights, and she’s a coach. She just sits in the pocket of her own strengths, which is pushing others to their highest ideals.
Sometimes Eights have a reputation that they don’t really need people, and that connection is not important to them. But my Eights tell me that that’s not true, it’s just so happened that sometimes one of their basic fears, either being betrayed or controlled, shows up like that inside perception of connection. So could you talk about that a little bit more, what an Eight actually wants internally, in terms of relationship and connection and closeness, and then sometimes what that looks like on the outside?
Sarajane: So I think about our type Eights as almost like a Two, a really warm, gooey, mushy Two, wrapped in steel, wrapped in a coat of armor.
Jen: That’s great. What a good description.
Sarajane: Yeah. And they have like the soft open center and they’re aware, they’re hyper aware of like, This is gooey in here and I really can’t let anyone find out. Because if I let them find out, then they’re going to use that against me or it’s not safe. And I think that we can hold empathy for that. Because at some point in their life, they received the message that that’s true, that they aren’t safe.
And so when I think about our Eights, instead of assuming they don’t want love, I have to assume that they learned—I have to ask the question, “Where did you learn to be so strong? What in your life caused you to have to power up instead of receive?”
Jen: If we could take that one step further, I’d like to talk about how an Eight feels about their feelings. Because what’s the monologue insight and Eight’s mind as they observe and evaluate their own feelings? Because as a Three, when I think about, How do I feel about my feelings? I definitely feel them. That’s the first way that I experience any given moment, of course, is right through my emotions, but I pretty quickly move it up to my brain. Like, Okay, that’s enough. What do I think about this? And how am I going to solve it or get past it or whatever? So how do Eights feel about their feelings and then what do they do with them?
Sarajane: There’s a demand for honesty and upfrontness from our Eights. And so in some ways there’s almost a clean break between sharing their feelings, if it’s from that intellectual place. If I can say, like, “Oh, I had this feeling, this feeling existed,” but there’s no invitation into that feeling with them, I think that that’s one difference. They want there to be, it’s almost like a separation like, “I can share.” But there’s a sharing from a place of distance.
And if they feel like I’m pulling at them or pulling at their emotions, then a wall will go up faster. And the other thing that can happen is that their anger might be the feeling they feel first when a negative emotion arises. It might start as anger. And a lot of the work is really getting under the anger and saying, “Okay, I’m angry, but what’s really here? Am I feeling anxious about something?” Because typically there’s something under that anger feeling, but they have to really dive into it and get real with themselves and with others about what that is.
Jen: That’s really useful to hear for people in a relationship with an Eight, just understanding that sometimes the first presentation of any feeling, any given feeling, looks mad. And to have the patience and the fortitude to stay with that, and then dig a little is such a useful tool.
So speaking of relationships with Eights, what is your perception of how Eights are in romantic relationships, in intimate relationships? What is their work like in order to get to a place where they trust? I mean, they trust someone else to be loyal to them and to not betray them and to not control them and to love them as they are.
Sarajane: So a lot of times it’s really fear of loss of control of their life. Not necessarily control of other people, but more so that they have control of their own choices. And so a lot of the work is in releasing that, creating a collaborative space where you’re deciding together, that can take some practice and some work.
The other thing that our Eights, I think, really need to focus on is again, Am I choosing strength over vulnerability in this moment? To maintain a committed relationship, we have to choose vulnerability, and it’s a quicker pathway for our Eights to choose strength than to pause, slow down, and choose vulnerability. It’s just a faster access point.
Jen: I relate to that so much. I have to really talk myself into staying in a vulnerable space.
Obviously, one of the greatest things about an Eight is how much wonderful work that they do in the world, how many Eights wear the helm of advocacy work and justice work. And they’re such strong and capable leaders and they’re not easily intimidated by opposition. In fact, that’s highly engaging. So what would you say are healthy Eights offering when they are in their highest ideals, when they are offering their best selves to the world? What does that look like?
Sarajane: Yeah, that protection, that bubble of protection and that bubble of strength, it gets opened up to hold more people. So for most Eights, they have themselves, they have maybe their significant other, maybe their mom or their dad, or close family members and friends. That expansiveness, that opening of that space, inviting other people into it is this beautiful opening that our Eights can do, where they provide protection and strength and all of this emotional labor on behalf of people in need. And they work sometimes the hardest on behalf of those in need.
The Eights who have really integrated, they have learned this incredible balance of pulling in their strength and using it as an asset while at the same time honing in on their vulnerability to invite connection. So they can do this on a mass level. If they’re advocating for something, instead of what their low-level behavior might be, which is to just be like, You’re wrong! I don’t want to hear anything you have to say! They might be able to really pull in some of that power they have in vulnerability to listen and connect while also pushing people past their comfort zone, into doing the hard work.
Jen: Yes. Yes. It’s so fantastic. I have several Eights, very healthy, integrated Eights in my life. And that is exactly how I experience them. And even though Eights sometimes get this unfair reputation of being challenging to be in relationship with, that has not been my personal experience with most of the Eights in my life. There is such an ability to be in deep, meaningful connection that’s sincere, without sacrificing any of their power or their strength in the world.
So let me ask you this, and then we’ll wrap it up. If we have an Eight in our lives, if we’re married to one or maybe we are parenting an Eight, or a really close worker, or a best friend is an Eight, what is the best way that we can show up for them and love them well? What communicates to them, “I see you. I am for you. You can trust me.”
Sarajane: Eights are so used to being the strong ones that in loving the Eights in our lives, we have to show them that we can stand our ground. They have to know that in order for them to rest, they need to see our strengths. So a lot of times we find our Eights in relationship to people who maybe aren’t as comfortable expressing their strength and standing their ground. And that means that the Eight never gets to let go and be the one who’s “weak” in the moment. Where did they get to lay their head? Because our Eights tend to carry the burden for all of us.
And so to love an Eight, you have to power up sometimes and just show them, “I am not going to back down. You’re allowed to break down here and it won’t break me down.”
Jen: Wow. That’s so good. It’s so great that you say that because that is not at all the way that some of the other types would feel loved. That it’s just so useful, not only to understand our own selves, but the people that we love. It’s such an incredible relational tool. Because for the people who would find powering up to feel like conflict maybe, or aggression, to an Eight, they’re like, Oh, finally. Oh, thank you. I can sit on the couch because you’re okay. That is just such a great tip.
Okay. These are three quick questions that we’re asking all of our Enneagram experts in this series. And so you just pop off here. Obviously being a Seven-Eight is wonderful. We wouldn’t change you, nor would you change you. But if you could choose to be any other Enneagram number, even for a day, which number would you choose? Why?
Sarajane: I secretly wish I was a Five. I try to pretend like I’m a Five all the time, because they do the thing, I’m very good at picking up lots of information in lots of different topics. And they’re really good at committing and going really deep into one topic. And that’s something that takes a significant amount of effort for me. Committing to one thing, it takes a lot of effort. And I just like the idea of being like, “I just like to read my books and I am so independent and don’t need entertainment all the time. And I know how to manage my energy and set good boundaries.” And I love that, that’s an idealized version of who I am that I would just like to just lean into.
Jen: That’s so nice. Our Fives are going to love hearing that, because Fives are not very well understood. And so, in general, that’s my experience. I think they’re going to love to hear that wonderful view of one of their greatest strengths, which is so true.
Hey, if we swapped out a little bit, which part of your personality and type do you love the most about yourself?
Sarajane: I think I’m very resilient. Life can hand me anything, and I keep going and I keep going with belief that it will always get better.
Jen: Here is the last question that we actually ask every single guest in every single series, it’s from Barbara Brown Taylor, who’s just a fan favorite around here. And you can answer this literally however you want, big, small, important, not important. What’s saving your life right now?
Sarajane: Plants. I’m going to say plants.
Jen: Oh, tell us more.
Sarajane: Okay. So right now, we’re all staying at home, most of us are. And I am a Seven and I have traditionally in my life been the kind of person who woke up in the morning, left for the day, and came home right before dinner, right when it was time to go to bed. Full day out. And so being home all day, I have had to have something to tinker with, and so I have filled my home with plants. I started a garden. And it just gives me a place to put all of that excess energy that could go into things that would be much more stressful. Yeah. So plants, I think. They’re keeping me sane.
Jen: Ah, I love that. Okay, Sarajane, really quickly, before we get off, will you just tell my listeners where they can find you, where you’re at on the internet and what you’re working on? What can we look forward to next from you?
Sarajane: Yeah. So you can find me @EnneagramAndCoffee on Instagram and on the podcast. If you want to stay in touch with more of my life, I have Sarajane Case, which is more a behind the scenes organization type stuff. And then I have a book called The Honest Enneagram and I have a relationships course coming out as we’re speaking and is in mid launch, all about the Enneagram and relationships.
Jen: Oh, yay. And so do we find that online? Is that at your website?
Sarajane: Yeah. You can go to Instagram and find it, and it’s linked on Enneagramandcoffee.com as well.
Jen: Oh, perfect. How wonderful. Thank you for coming on today. I’m so happy to meet you, when we’re back out in the world and if we’re ever in the same town together, I would love to meet you in person to give you a big squeeze.
Sarajane: Oh my gosh. I would love that. What a joy.
Jen: And now, to reveal more of the mysteries inside an Enneagram Eight’s mind, here is Enneagram teacher Abi Robins. Abi, delighted to welcome you to the For the Love Podcast, thank you for saying yes to this today.
Abi: Well, yeah, thank you for asking me. It was a very exciting Twitter message to get.
Jen: That happened really fast. Listen, Twitter can make fast friends out of people.
Abi: That’s right.
Jen: I was just, whoop, right into a DM.
Jen: So fantastic. I have filled in my listeners a little bit about who you are, but I wonder if you would be willing to talk a little bit more about you, your story, your life, your Enneagram work, because you’re certified as a teacher in the Narrative tradition, which is not something we’ve talked about in this series yet. So, can you talk about both what that means and high-level who you are and what your life looks like for the rest of us?
Abi: Yeah, definitely. Well, my name is Abi Robins. I’m an Enneagram teacher and coach, and a yoga therapist. I’ve been doing this work here in Austin, Texas, for the last two and a half years. Oh my gosh, maybe it’s three and a half now.
Jen: Time goes fast.
Abi: Yeah. I live here in Austin, Texas, with my fiancée and our two daughters. I was certified as an Enneagram Teacher in The Narrative Tradition.
Essentially, the key components of The Narrative Enneagram are that we learn the types from the types themselves. So, their main focus of teaching is through the panel method, so getting a group of five or six or ten of one type up on stage to share what it’s like to be them. Imagine what you’re doing with this podcast, but instead of the highly specific way that the type is showing up for one person, you get the ability to see how that type shows up over a wide swath of different kinds of people who’ve had different kinds of experiences. And so their approach is intentionally intersectional, I mean as much as the Enneagram has been, which is really awesome. And through the panel method, you really get to see a lot of the nuance in each type, like these types show up in a myriad of different ways, but you also really get to see the fine threads that are tying these people together and how they see the world.
I chose The Narrative Enneagram for that reason, because the panel method is so powerful, but also because they have a really strong focus on the somatic parts, so the body work, the energetic work that goes into all of these type structure things. :ike, it’s not just a head or a heart thing, it is also very much a body thing.
Jen: I really appreciate the inclusion of the body piece. That so often gets left behind, it’s left out entirely, we just deal in mind and heart issues, leading the body entirely out of the conversation, which doesn’t really even make sense.
Abi: No, it doesn’t.
Jen: We experience everything through our bodies and our bodies have so much to tell us about what we’re responding to, and so I really love it. I love having the body piece integrated into this specific work.
So, you’re an Eight, which is sometimes called the Challenger. Some of the literature around an Eight—of course they’re all reduced, if you have to put a phrase on any one given type, it’s going to be reduced. But one of the phrases that gets attached sometimes to the Eight is “the need to be against.”
Now, to me, it seems like that can be a really wonderful and important thing, especially right now, the injustices that we’re fighting against in our world, like, what an incredible trait to have. So, as you use your strength as an Eight to fight against injustice, unfairness, things that are wrong, things that keep people disenfranchised, how do you feel your particular work keeps you on the path of a healthy Eight? How do you stay in that zip code of your type?
Abi: Goodness. Well, this is a really great question. It’s a hard question to answer, because, quite honestly, not only as an Eight, but as a queer and non-binary Eight, I’m definitely not the most marginalized person in the room most days, but I have experienced a lot of difficulty because of who I am. Right? It’s difficult to find a way to stay on the “path” of a healthy Eight when there is so much legitimate threat to my life and wellbeing. I live in Austin with my fiancée, and we’re incredibly lucky to live in Austin. But my family lives in Kansas City, and if we want to go visit them over the holidays, we have to drive through Oklahoma. We know what gas stations we can stop at and which ones we can’t.
And so it’s a difficult thing, because I have to balance this very real, very legitimate need to protect myself and to protect my family from these sorts of things, and to not be consumed by that, to not be consumed by that drive. This is why so much of my work in the Enneagram community is about this intersectional approach to the Enneagram, because for somebody who is straight, cisgendered, white, all of these very central cultural experiences, what growth and staying on the path of being a healthy Eight look like is very, very different. A lot of the kitschy things you might throw at an Eight—the platitudes or whatever—they don’t always fly with people with more marginalized identities.
Jen: I’d love to hear you talk about that more.
Abi: A big keyword for the Eight is trust, learning to let go and to trust the people around you, to trust that you won’t be betrayed. Just like I was saying about driving through Oklahoma, it’s hard to practice that trust when there is a very real and legitimate threat to your wellbeing. It’s one thing, yeah, it’s easy for a cis, straight, white dude to practice trusting other people, because he’s not actually in harm’s way most often, culturally-speaking. And every step you take away, every step farther away you get from that centralized identity becomes harder and harder to practice that trust because so much more is on the line.
So, I think for me personally, this question of how do I stay on the path of being a healthy Eight, I have my own teacher and my own yoga therapist that I see religiously every two weeks, as much as I can now in this time—I mean, obviously we’re in COVID times and the lockdown and whatnot—I’m really working to stay active in my communities and stay connected to people, so in my church community, in my Enneagram community—there’s a thriving Enneagram community here in Austin. And even in my neighborhood, I feel like that’s one blessing of the lockdown is we’ve really gotten to be good friends with our neighbors, the people we’re in proximity with.
And so doing that and really staying connected to my partner and doing as much as I can to staying committed to my own personal practice, I mean, these are the things that keep me on that path and help to give me the discernment of when I need to put the guard dogs away and when I can practice trusting people, and when I need to have those pit bulls front and center.
And that’s the thing with a lot of the Enneagram community in general, we talk about how we’re trying to overcome our types, we’re trying to grow out of our types, and the reality is our types are necessary. They are very valid ways of moving through the world, we just don’t want to be locked in, we want to have the flexibility to do something else when something else is called for.
Jen: Totally. Well, the Enneagram gives us so many opportunities for growth like that, just really clear paths. I’ve gained so much clarity on possibilities for me in front of any given scenario, so I know what my instinct would choose. And sometimes that’s the right thing, and sometimes that can be overcome when I want it to be, when I need it to be, when the situation calls for it to be. Again, I find the Enneagram so useful there, because I’m able to say, “Your gut instinct is saying this, but it’s possible that this is just the way you see it, and there may be a different perspective.”
What is your Eight energy, where does it come out with the dogs, as you mentioned, primarily in your particular life? What does that look like when the people who know you best and love you most would be like, “There’s that Eight”?
Abi: It’s been interesting. You mentioned earlier the need to be against, and I resonate with that to some extent. But, for me, it’s less a need to be against, but it’s just I’m so for what I’m for that I don’t care if somebody else is not. I’m happy to have what most people would assume are difficult conversations.
Jen: The Eights are like, “Bring it on.”
Abi: Yeah. I think that that comes out a lot for me, personally, in how I talk about things and how I’m regularly relating to people.
We had a get-together several months ago, before the lockdown, of the Enneagram community. A woman had come up to me who was a Two, and she was referencing a workshop that we were in together—we both took back in October, it was quite a while ago—and she was like, “I want to talk to you about the fight we had at the workshop in October.” And I gave her the most blank stare. I was like, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
It felt so surreal, because it’s one of those things that people joke about in the community. In the Enneagram literature, it’s like, “Eights have this way, what’s a fight to some people is just a lively conversation to an Eight.” It didn’t register for me at all. I had to be like, “You have to explain this to me because I don’t remember.” I remember at that workshop, there was something where I felt really heated, but it didn’t involve her at all. And so I was like, “You’re going to have to explain this to me.”
And then we both, of course, laughed because of how hilarious it was that the Two was like, “Oh my God, we had this awful fight, and I’ve been thinking about it for months.” And she’s like, “I’ve actually really learned a lot from it.” And I’m like, “That’s great!”
Jen: You’re like, “Wow, I haven’t thought about it one time since that day.”
Abi: Yeah. I’m like, “I probably didn’t think about it while it was happening!”
Jen: So great. That’s actually just so helpful for the rest of us to hear who are not Eights, because some of us who overthink connection, we can be convinced that even just a heated discussion or conflict or whatever—tension, even—signals to us disconnection, and it doesn’t necessarily for you, not at all. It’s just solving a problem.
Abi: I think even beyond that, for me, it actually does signify connection.
Jen: Yes, that’s what my Eights tell me.
Abi: A friend of mine, who’s a Seven—her name’s Kim—we had a really long, heated conversation, and she shared in the middle of it, she’s like, “I’ve felt really nervous to talk to you about these things because I don’t want to put our friendship in jeopardy.” And I was just like, “You know that that’s not the case.” We’ve been friends long enough that she’s like, “Yeah, I know that in my brain, but I’m having trouble really feeling it.” And I was just like, “We’re good. We can have these difficult conversations and fight all day, but we’re not disconnected, we’re not fighting about our actual relationship. We’re talking about politics or the current events, whatever.”
And so I think that that’s something where the Eight really comes out is just in the way that I approach people most often. I’m big, I’m loud, I’m often in your face, and I don’t really care.
Jen: Right. That’s so great to hear because one of my favorite Eights is just like, “No, no. When we’re in an intense moment, that, to me, signifies that you are engaged with me, it is connection, it is not disconnection.”
So, your partner, Danielle, is a Four, isn’t that right?
Jen: I would love to hear what your relational dynamic is like, a Four/Eight, and where do those types really just absolutely complement one another and work beautifully together, and then what are your growth points? What are the pain points between an Eight/Four? Because there always are some, right?
Abi: Right, yeah, always. Like you said, the Enneagram has offered us so much in terms of our relationship, and Danielle and I agree that without the insight that the Enneagram has offered us, we would not be together.
Jen: Interesting. Wow.
Abi: Just 100%. It has been so helpful. There are some places where it feels like we are just an absolute perfect match. We both meet the world with a lot of intensity. We are very authentic people, we’re people who value that about others. And because we’re both focused—or, I don’t know if it’s focused or we both really enjoy and thrive off of intensity—we don’t scare each other.
Jen: That’s good.
Abi: Danielle is not afraid of me. Danielle’s not intimidated by me—which, being an Eight and being assigned female at birth, I have been told that I’m intimidating so many times in my life, and I’m sick of it, at this point. If you’re intimidated by me, I’m not going to waste my time.
But Danielle’s not afraid of me. She doesn’t back down from me. And I am not afraid of her, I’m not afraid of the emotional intensity that she brings. And so I think, in that regard, we can hold a lot of space for each other, and those are some of the things that I really appreciate about our relationship.
She’s often game for the intensity that I bring to things. We planted a Corona garden—we decided, in our front yard, during lockdown, that we were going to plant a garden. Of course, we’re not just going to have one garden bed. I spent a week. I have eight, 8×4, foot and a half deep garden beds that we have covered our entire yard with, and she’s just like, “Yeah, why not?”
Jen: That is very big-time Enneagram Three energy you just applied right there. That’s exactly how I would have done it, like, “How can this be the biggest and the best?” Right, so she’s game, she’s with it. Because you’re right, Enneagram Fours are emotionally intense.
Abi: Yeah. To be very honest, I feel like the places where we have, as you said, growth opportunities…
Jen: That’s the nice way to say it.
Abi: …the pain points, they actually have a lot more to do with subtype than they have ever done with our actual type. And so learning subtypes was super important for us. She’s self-pres and I’m sexual or one-to-one.
Jen: Can you talk a little bit more about that? We’ve not explored that in great detail in this series.
Abi: Yeah. I’ll just give a very brief rundown.
There are three basic instincts that every human has. The need to self-preserve, like the instinct to keep yourself, your home, all of these things safe and around, you want to survive, so that has to do with survival, whether it’s food, shelter, family, this sort of thing. And then there’s the need to create, whether that’s creating life through sex in a hetero relationship, or whether that’s creating from an artistic space; there’s a lot to do with connection and creativity in the sexual or one-to-one instinct. And then there’s the social instinct, so this is the instinct that tells us where we are in our community, in our group, in our horde. According to Enneagram wisdom, there’s one of those instincts—we have all three, but there’s one that we tend to hyper-focus on, and that affects how our type plays out in the world.
Again, that’s super basic. There is so much to know and to read and to understand about subtypes, and I would never claim to be the subtype expert, but I’ve used it enough in my own life that I feel confident talking about how Danielle and I relate from our subtypes.
Jen: Yes. So, her subtype was what? Would you replay?
Abi: Self-pres. She’s focused on the security piece of making sure she always has enough money, making sure the house is in good order, making sure that we’re all fed and clothed, so very homebody energy. She likes being at home, so she really enjoys the lockdown, it’s been great for her. Where I’m sexual or one-to-one, my focus is on connection. Like, I want to be connected to you, I want to be creating a lot of energy around projects and things that I’m doing, and my spiritual path, this all falls into that sexual instinct.
And the pain points that we have is when things hit the fan, my go-to, the first thing that I want to secure is the relationship, that connection, that intensity that you can have one-to-one with this kind of person. And the first thing that she wants to take care of is the money, the house, are these things taken care of? And so we miss each other a lot in those instances, where she’s like, “I can’t connect to you because we have to deal with this issue,” and I’m like, “How can we possibly deal with this issue if we’re not connected?”
Again, the Enneagram has been so helpful, like, we went into couples therapy and our therapist didn’t have to do a whole lot because we would just talk Enneagram at each other for an hour at a time.
Jen: We do that, too.
Abi: Right? And then just write the therapist a check.
Jen: Right! “Thank you for listening to us.”
Abi: Yeah, right? So, it’s been really valuable to see how I can support our connection and Danielle’s ability to stay connected by being more focused on my career and have more money coming in and be more financially stable. That creates a safer space for Danielle to connect with me the way that I want her to. And Danielle’s done a lot of work, she knows that if I’m not feeling connected with her, then I find it terribly difficult to do work, to see clients, whatever it is that I’m doing. I’m just like, “I don’t have the energy for it. I want to connect to this first,” and so [she’s] creating space to connect with me in order to help me do the things that I want to do. It’s been cool to see how we’ve both grown in these areas where we weren’t as attuned before.
Jen: I know, I just love it. The subtypes are a really interesting area to explore in Enneagram work, to just deepen our understanding of who we are and the people that we love, and to see new relational possibilities in front of us, which it is all possible, it really is. I feel like this work has armed me with so much compassion and understanding for the people that I love. Whereas, perhaps before the Enneagram took a lot of deep roots in our lives, I just always thought, Why don’t you see this like I do? Why are you like this? The way that I am understanding this scenario is obviously the right way. It’s not true at all. It’s a compassionate tool, I think, inside relationships, for sure. I love hearing you describe the subtype work, nobody else has really talked about that, it’s super useful.
What would you say if somebody listening is in partnership or a marriage with an Eight, or they’re parenting one maybe, or they work really closely with an Eight, and they find themselves in conflict with their Eight, what would you suggest as a spokesman for your people, how might somebody engage in conflict with an Eight to move the thing toward resolution quicker? What works for you? What do you need in that moment?
Abi: The thing that I think surprises people the most about being in conflict with an Eight is that the less you back down, the faster it’s going to be over.
Jen: That’s so weird.
Jen: It’s so fascinating. Gosh.
Abi: There’s very few things in this world that upset me more than somebody who’s not willing to stand their ground. Every Eight is different, every person is different, and obviously at different levels of ability to listen and to understand, but I think really assuming positive intent goes a long way with an Eight, and just not backing down. If you really think that your way is better, show me. If your way is better, fine, let’s do the better thing. But you’re going to have to convince me first, and if you’re not willing to stand up and to really say what you think or believe in these instances, then you’ve just proved to me that I have every right just to walk all over you because you don’t actually believe anything that much.
But as far as speaking from the Eight and what we do really well with is having somebody stand up to us because then we know that we’re in connection, then we know that this is worth fighting for. Being honest and upfront with your Eight friends is going to go so far.
Jen: Totally. That is so true.
Abi: If you’ve got resentment or things harbored from a long time ago, we feel it and we don’t like it. And what you’re telling me is that you don’t actually care enough about the relationship to bring these things up and to talk these things out and to actually engage in what’s happening. And that’s really what we’re looking for is this engagement, this connection that’s born of the conflict. I always think about sparring, like you can’t get much closer to a person than when you’re sparring with them, when you’re actually fighting with them. I know not every type feels that way.
Jen: They don’t. The Nines, they’re withering, they’re dying. They’re like, “No, don’t make me.”
Abi: I think for those of us who are learning the Enneagram, it’s our responsibility to be the ones who step outside of ourselves in order to make things change. If you’re listening to this and you’re not an Eight, but you’ve been studying the Enneagram and you want to put this stuff to work in your life and you’ve got an Enneagram friend or partner or boss or coworker or whatever it is, it is up to you to make the first out-of-pattern move.
Jen: That’s good, I like that.
Abi: Because it’s not the other person’s responsibility if they haven’t signed up for this journey, we can’t put that on them. And I feel like that’s a lot of the conversation around Eights is that “Eights need to do this, and Eights need to do that to make everybody else comfortable.” And it’s like, okay, for me on this journey, I’m working on a lot of those things. But if there’s an Eight who hasn’t signed up for this journey, they’re not going to do that, and it’s not their responsibility because they don’t know.
Jen: That’s right. And it’s actually a relief to hear you say that friction or tension, that high level of engagement, it’s not off-putting to you. That actually, to me, is a relief, that helps me know that really I can be fully expressive with my Eights in my life, that that will not push them away from me, and I don’t have to hide or pretend with them. That, to me, feels like great news, wonderful news.
Abi: And we want it, we crave it. If you’re not doing that, we know it, and we don’t feel close to you.
Jen: Wow, that’s great. That’s fantastic.
Okay, Abi. These are the last questions that we’re asking everybody in the Enneagram series, and so just top-of-your-head here. Obviously, we all love who we are, we don’t want to be somebody else, but let’s just say for a day you could choose to be a different Enneagram number. What would you reach for?
Abi: I would definitely choose to be a Three.
Jen: You would?
Abi: Yeah, 100%.
Jen: Tell me why. No one ever picks that.
Abi: Okay, here’s the deal: Threes are often just as intense, right? It’s all the good things about being an Eight, but so often,, I wish I had the sense of what people thought of me and how I was coming across, and I wish I was able to be flexible enough to be able to make things happen the way that Threes do. A lot of the same intensity, but often you’re a lot better at it than I am because you can do those shifting things, and that feels so difficult for me. I don’t have a sense of how I’m coming across to other people. And that’s why with things like, “You’re intimidating,” or whatever, those things hurt, they come as a surprise to me because I have a very different experience of myself. I am trying to be friendly and kind and considerate, but I often do that with so much energy that it puts people off.
Jen: What a charitable reading of a Three, that was nice. That’s great.
How about the opposite of that? Which part of your personality do you love the most?
Abi: Ooh! Hmm…
Jen: Because Eights are just so wonderful, they’re so great in the world, I love the Eights in my life so much.
Abi: I really like being an Eight. I would say I would definitely choose to be a Three for a day, but I would definitely want to come back to being an Eight. There are a lot of things that I really like about it. I like that I’m, for the most part, very practical, like the work that I do in the world is accessible because it’s right here right now, it’s like, “Let’s put boots on the ground.” I like that I’m protective, and I feel like my fiancée and my family really benefit from that, and I enjoy doing that, like that feels like a service in the world that I do really well at. I like being intense.
Jen: Sure, me too.
Abi: Right? I like being myself to the fullest possible extent. Even years before I knew the Enneagram, I always had this sense that if I just go real hard, then everyone else will know it’s okay to go hard, too. They can be themselves. If I’m unabashedly myself, then other people can do it, too, and I can lead by example in that way.
Jen: That’s fantastic.
Abi: And I appreciate that question, because Eights get a real bad rap. And the truth is I like being an Eight, I like who I am, and obviously there are a lot of pieces that need some work, right?
Jen: But that’s all of us.
Abi: Yeah. And I’m not here to pathologize my personality. I’m going to celebrate the pieces of myself that I feel like need celebrating, and I’m going to work on the places that need work.
Jen: I love that. I think your assessment of yourself is spot-on. I feel incredibly safe with the Eights in my life. They give me a sense of safety in more than one way. The Eights are a harbor for the people in their lives, and it’s just a wonderful trait. I love the Eight energy, every Eight in my life is precious to me.
Here’s the last question, we ask everybody this question actually in all the series, it’s from Barbara Brown Taylor, who we love here. Please answer this however you want, like this can be a really earnest answer or it can just be ridiculous, it’s just completely up to you. Here it is: what’s saving your life right now?
Abi: Honestly, Danielle is saving my life quite a bit, our kids are saving my life quite a bit. Gardening. The simplicity of going outside and watering plants and watching things grow and getting to do that with Danielle and our kids. I mean, it’s so important right now, because it’s hard to put a finger on what it is that’s saving my life when I feel like I need so much saving. This time is hard. I have a great community of friends and wonderful people. Stouthaus Coffee Company is saving my life literally every day.
Jen: Yes. That’s a great list.
Abi: It has to be a list, because I need a little too much saving for one thing.
Jen: Yeah, you’re so right. The question is rigged right now.
Okay. I’m so delighted that you came on today, you just spoke so candidly about Eights, and that helps me understand. You said several things I hadn’t really heard before [that are] so incredibly useful. So, would you mind telling everybody before we sign off here where they can find you? Because you are doing such interesting work in the world, and I would love for my community to be listening to you and following you and experiencing your work.
Abi: Yeah. You can find all of my stuff at ConsciousEnneagram.com, so C-O-N-S-C-I-O-U-S-Enneagram.com. I always say that was the worst branding mistake ever, choosing two words that people can’t spell very often.
Jen: Totally true. You’re so right.
Abi: And that’s where you can find most of the things, @ConsciousEnneagram on Instagram, I’m usually pretty active over there, and on Twitter and Facebook and YouTube. And if people listening are interested in the Enneagram and also happen to have a queer identity, I run the Queer Enneagram Facebook group, which is actually growing pretty large, which is cool, I’m excited about it. We talk about this intersectionality of the Enneagram and this piece. And there’s more coming in the next year, when I can get the rest of my life together.
Jen: I love hearing that.
Abi: Yeah. And then I have a book coming out in April. The Conscious Enneagram will be out on April 27th, 2021, but available for pre-order in July, at some point. So, that’s really exciting. The website is really the easiest way to find everything, but those are the highlights, for sure.
Jen: That is exciting. Congratulations on all.
Abi: Thank you.
Jen: Big, big things in your next calendar year. Fantastic.
I am grateful for your work and how you specifically run along the fault lines of intersectionality, I think that’s really important, and a lot of fresh frontier, new soil to churn up, specifically inside this conversation. So good for you for being a pioneer, and I’m really happy to hear that that community is growing and finding traction with one another and in the greater conversation, and so hooray for that.
Abi: Yeah. It’s good stuff.
Jen: I’m just delighted to meet you, and now we’re friends, and we live in Austin. Now when the world opens back up some day, Texas is a mess right now, but…
Abi: Yeah. It might be a while.
Jen: We will go to your coffee place, we will patron the coffee place, we will thank them for saving your life, and it’ll be coffee on me.
Abi: All right. That sounds good.
Jen: Thank you, Abi.
Abi: Yeah. Thank you so much, Jen, I appreciate it.
Jen: And now to tell us more about the music you’ve been listening to in this episode, we hear from composer Ryan O’Neal, AKA Sleeping at Last, about the inspiration behind this piece.
Ryan: I have a lot of amazing type Eights in my life. They actually somehow make up the majority of my friends, oddly enough. So that fact, along with the not so hidden direct and outspoken qualities about the type Eight, I was really, really nervous about writing this one. I knew right away that the Eights [got] the short end of the stick, and [there are] a lot of conversations about the Enneagram. It’s so easy to focus on the intensity, but there’s so much more there, and I really wanted to write a song that could capture the nuance and the beautiful vulnerability of the type Eight.
To lean into this direction, I was actually going to write it as the most intimate and sparse song in this collection, but the more I thought about it, the more I read about the type Eights, a quote from Beatrice Chestnut made a lot of sense to me, and she said that the type Eight superpower is actually superpower. And I knew that the instrumentation that needed to be strong and actually sound powerful.
So even the key, I chose to record the song at the very tippy top of my vocal range. So recording it was intense, and honestly in my vocal takes I nearly passed out borderline yelling these lyrics. And I also wanted the lyrics to include a lot of verbs, because I feel like type Eights are sort of the people version of verbs. So in my research, I had a lot of conversations with different type Eights, and I noticed a commonality, that they reference like a moment in their life where they sort of felt like something shifted, almost like they had enough. And so that’s where I started the lyrics of the song.
As their story continues throughout the song, the armor slowly comes off, and they offer up this incredibly sweet childhood vulnerability that is such a gift. And that letting go transforms the armor into justice and it transforms the type Eights into these powerful figures standing up for others that can’t. So the song softens in moments of vulnerability, but ends with this strength and power channeled into protection of others.
So my hope for this song is to underscore the sensitivity of the type Eight, the strengths and the vulnerabilities. And I just really hope it honors these incredibly powerful people.
Jen: I want to thank both my guests today for being amazing. Thank you for bringing your expertise to bear on this conversation. Thank you for your incredible energy in the world and all you have offered us and continue to offer us. I sure do love an Eight. So, I hope that was useful to our Eights listening and everybody who loves an Eight.
And that means that we have one more episode in the series. And we will move, finally, next week, to our Enneagram Nines, the absolutely beloved Nines, who have been very funny on all my social media accounts. As we’ve been posting these episodes weekly, one at a time, they’re like, “Well, the Nines are last, but don’t worry about it, we’re fine, we’re fine, we’re not going to complain, everything’s fine,” which, if you don’t know what a Nine means, you’ll find out next week, it’s just very on-brand for a Nine. As mentioned, as teased out, next week I talk all things Nine with one of the greatest ones I know. I’m delighted to welcome back to the podcast my dear, dear, dear friend, Sarah Bessey, and she is so well-versed in the Enneagram. She was teaching me about it long before I understood it. You’ll love it, you’ll love her episode, it’s just that simple. You’ll love it. Everybody come back next week for our final episode in the series.
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