Eight’s Conundrum: Tigers with Butterflies

Enneagram Burning Question:

I need help with how my style can feel intimidating to others. I love to argue and wrestle with an issue and some people find great engagement with that style. Others don’t. I need more tools in my tool box right now. 

Do you have any suggestions? I find the best way to get my brain working on transformation is to ask for help.


Exuberant Eight


Dear Exuberant Eight,

I love that you chose to ask for help. It sounds like you’d like to have your contributions better received by others who are not comfortable when you are in your argue/wrestle mode. This line of inquiry could bear fruit for you as well as for them.

More Tools, Please

Adding tools to our toolbox is an excellent metaphor. All enneatypes would do well to consider expanding the ways in which they can meet life. Type Eight is specifically benefitted by this “adding of options,” since Eights so often feel misunderstood being seen as bowling someone over instead of for the enthusiasm they feel. Adding some gray tones as choices in the typically black-and-white inner landscape can really enrich life.

When looking at the world through the lens of Eight, heart-nuances shrink, and I’m not as likely to pick up on my impact on the other. The whole setup of Eight is to defend the vulnerable heart- and it is with the heart’s tenderness that we are able to feel into another’s needs and sensitivities.

So adding heart-centered tools to your toolbox could certainly support your being better received, but even more importantly, could help you receive your own experience with more sensitivity and warmth.

Tigers with Butterflies

Thinking of totem animals associated with types may be useful here.  Let’s say Eight is a tigress, but wants to be able to play with more animals than just other big cats. A tigress won’t do well to pretend she’s a butterfly or a beaver, but she could develop an awareness that her tiger-ness will naturally frighten other animals. And she can learn to approach others with a “modified gusto.” 

The tamping down of life energy can feel oppressive at Eight. Often Eights experience that they are spending their life “tamping it down” and long for the freedom to let the unchecked energy express freely. It is be important to find the places where you can go “all out,” not holding back, and not worrying about your impact on others.  And then there’s the rest of the time…

Noticing and Naming

In approaching interactions, you could start with the intention to really watch the other with curiosity. In a conversation, when you feel the energy start to rise, you could name it, at least to yourself, if not to the other.

Here are some examples of how you could name it:

To yourself:  “Wow. I can feel myself getting really excited about this.  I’m going to ground my energy and see if I can feel where the other might be coming from too.”

Or to the other: “I’m noticing I’m getting really animated. Some people can experience my fervor as overwhelming. How is it impacting you?”

Or: “This is fun for me. Are you having fun?”

Or: “I’m interested to hear your take on things too. Let me know if I get so into this that I forget to listen to you.”

Or: “Sometimes I don’t know how to say things gently when I’m feeling tender. I’m worried about telling you this, so please remember I’m vulnerable under this bravado.”

Or: “You’re pretty quiet. Am I the bull in the china shop again?”

Or: “Uh oh. I think I may have just let my exuberance get the best of me. Are you doing OK?”

Taming the Tiger

On the contrary, when you’re not innocently overwhelming someone, but rather feeling aggressive or using your force to push things or people the way you want them to go, this is another great opportunity to take a breath, notice what’s happening, and name it if you can.

Some examples of how noticing and naming could sound:

To yourself: “I can’t believe how stupid X is being! I’m furious. Time to breathe and see what’s so hard for me about it.”

Or to the other: “I notice I really want to give you a piece of my mind. I’m going to take some space and come back when I’m feeling productive and more open.”

Or: “I’m getting triggered, and when I get like this I can say things I regret. Are you up for talking about this tomorrow when I have my wits about me?”

Or: “I see I’m getting pushy here because I don’t feel things are right. Let me explore what’s really bothering me.”

You could use statements from this list, or find your own in the same vein that fit for the moment. They’re not guaranteed to shift everything, but with an attitude of attention and curiosity, they will likely create different experiences that can be observed and learned from.

The emphasis is best placed on noticing your own reaction, rather than letting the behavior of the other control your reaction.

The V-Word

Even more powerful than coming up with the “right” line, would be to recognize and/or address what’s really tender under there. Remember, Eights are super-sensitive to feeling vulnerable (the V-word). Usually my anger-energy rises much more boldly and quickly than my hurt or fear or anxiety can make itself known.

This is actually the Eight program’s aim. My big life-force gives me a sense of power, agency, righteousness that allows me to go to sleep to my heart or to my tenderness (because I need to protect myself from the intensity of pain there). tiger-mama

Compassionately consider whether you’re up for this kind of exploration. If so, you could try some of these questions:

To yourself: “How might I be experiencing this situation differently if I didn’t have to shove my vulnerability away?”

Or: “What might change if I saw this situation through the lens of innocence (mine, and others’)?”

Or: “What might I be not wanting to experience here?”

Or: “How might I be putting my vulnerability onto others in this situation? Is it possible to reel it back in and own it?”

Or: “How am I seeing the other as ill-intentioned? What if I saw them as simply doing their best, and trying to protect themselves, rather than assuming they are bad?”

Or: “If I could approach this situation with my heart wide open, what might I say or see differently?”

Thank you for the question EE. I hope these ideas and examples enhance your exploration of this important thread. An Eight with an open and sensitive heart can be an irresistible force for good in the world.

Wishing you both strength and tenderness on your journey,


Have you had experiences as an Eight or with an Eight about ways that exuberance and relational sensitivity can go together well?  Please share below.

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