Protective Mechanism of the Eight: I’m in Charge—You Will Not Mess With Me

The Eight defends himself against being rejected or hurt by instinctively creating a protective barrier around him, actually, an impenetrable shell which he mistakes as ‘power.’ He exudes an intense force-field that unwittingly says, “Touch this force field without welcome and all hell could break lose.” This “push away” energy is often visually evident in his posture, his gait, his intense glance, and his voice. You get the message clearly—“You will not bully me, coerce me, or hurt me. It’s not going to happen. Tread unwelcome and I might need to bully you or hurt you. This is familiar territory so don’t even test me. I like to be challenged, and am not likely to back down.” He is often addictively committed to holding this boundary—nothing gets to me, nothing!—while insisting that others respect him whether he’s earned it or not (the healthier Eight does the opposite).

Eights have a tremendous sensitivity—a blaring instinctual radar—to anyone intruding on their boundaries, be it moving too close without a welcome, invading their personal territory by looking at them for too long, or holding concealed, ill-intent for the Eight (the Eight feels this in his gut.). As one Eight in early recovery put it, “If someone looks at me in the eye for more than two seconds without my permission, that’s a challenge and I can’t allow it.  I feel disrespected and I will confront the individual.”

In the beginning of recovery they know no other way than to be in attack mode, to show no weakness or vulnerability, and to stand up to any one they feel threatened or disrespected by. Not the easiest position to be in to receive or invite help. And getting help, well, this violates their fundamental code of survival: Never put yourself in the horrendous position of actually needing help, let alone ask for it! They face their own private Idaho when walking through the doors of recovery: They must do what they are certain will destroy them—ask for help. So caught between the reflex of protecting themselves and being the strong one, and asking for help to stay sober, they more easily take on the role of protector, or attacking defender of others in recovery, before they’ve gotten the real help they need.

Here’s how one Eight took care of himself in early recovery: Martin, a 35-year-old, Type Eight guy, three months into sobriety, raises his hand to speak at a men’s AA meeting. He begins, as he often does, with, “I’m Martin, and this is the last place on earth I’d ever want to be, so let me be clear with all of you. You’re all a bunch of pussies and assholes, and I don’t like any of you. So go fuck yourself. I could care less if you like me. I don’t need your friendship and I don’t want it. I can’t bear to be around such a bunch of wimps. And just get this straight, I am not following your stupid rules. Like who invented the idea that you don’t have sex for a year? That is completely messed up. Hey, you might not be able to get it up, but I can. If I can get laid, then good for me. If you can’t, too bad for you. I am definitely not buying into this pansy-ass shit. If you guys don’t have a cock, then screw you. I do. I plan to use mine. I got sober so I could have sex as often as possible, not to take a damn year off. Easy for most of you I suppose, because by the looks of you guys, you probably couldn’t get laid if you tried. And if you need to drink over what I say, then go for it. So are we clear?” he says, a Type Eight, fuck-all-of-you-expression vibrant in his tone of voice. The shock of stunned quiet permeates the room. No one moves a muscle. Then, taking a deep breath, he says, “I’m Martin and I’m a fucking drunk and I need to be here, but I don’t like it. Okay. There, I feel better.”

That said, and five years sober, Martin laughs at himself. He’s been a hard hitter from the start, tough and combative, but today will fight for any man trying to get sober, while clearly stating what he does or doesn’t believe. Fiercely he proclaims, “Don’t let God drive you from these rooms. Don’t let anyone’s opinions about how to work a recovery program drive you from these rooms. I’ll be the first to say that I don’t believe in everything AA says, but I don’t need to believe. Today I have faith. I take what I need and leave the rest. I don’t know who or what God is, and I don’t need to,” he states, his vibrant truthfulness vibrating through everyone. And like all the types, he has room for growth. He says, “It’s taken me quite a while to trust that it’s okay for me to ask for help. But I do it for only one reason. You told me that if I didn’t ask for help, if I didn’t use a sponsor, I would drink. So I do it. I don’t like it, but I’ve gotten better at it. I do wait too long to reach out, but it’s a growth curve. I show up for meetings daily. And I pray because you told me to pray to a Higher Power. I don’t know what I’m praying to, I don’t like praying, I don’t believe in praying, but I know that I’m sober today, and I trust what you tell me to do.”

This trust took time. What supported him was his sponsor and fellow AA members, willing to sit with him through his storms, his raging, his don’t-mess-with-me-behavior till he saw that no one was leaving him, that people could handle him, could handle his anger whether expressed healthily or not, till he settled down, landed, and became willing to be vulnerable. And then he softened, in the powerful way a Type Eight softens—like a skilled martial artist blending strength and tenderness simultaneously!

The Spiritual Journey of the Eight—Taking Back One’s Will

The Eight’s journey through recovery will be a continual relearning of the precious lesson of ‘surrender.’ Once sober, once both feet are landed back on the ground and he no longer taken by his addiction, as soon as he can, he will, as is said in recovery circles, ‘take back his will.’ Borrowing from a recovery analogy, while he’s at a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous, his Type Eight personality habits (and his addiction) are out in the parking lot, doing push-ups and strategizing ways to more invisibly inhabit him. Everyone in recovery knows this stark lesson: just when you think you’ve extricated an unwanted personality habit (these are sometimes named ‘personality defects’ but I choose to call them ‘personality defenses’)—presto! The habit is back and riding comfortably in the driver’s seat! From somewhere in the depths of your being it reconstituted itself and before you can say ‘I’m liberated from my suffering,’ it’s in charge again! And—the god’s be damned—it arrives in a new disguise! Welcome to lessons of real-time humility. Very hard to get too big for your britches when your patterns have their way with you…once again…once again…once again.

For the Eight, the patterns of asserting oneself to protect oneself and shutting down one’s vulnerability are hardwired deep into his being. His walk into the rooms of AA will give birth to his freedom from addiction. But now the long and prosperous journey begins of undoing all the ways his personality structure is configured to harden his heart, to shut down the tender capacity of his soul, to keep people at a safe distance, and to survive amongst others as the strong one who protects his chosen allies, or intimidates his enemies. This is his deeper addiction—his addiction to intensity, force and control. Slowly but surely as a sober man he will see how these patterns continually and relentlessly assert through him till he realizes they have a life of their own within him, just like his substance abuse controlled him. He will experience emotional relapse over and over again until Step One looks like this: Came to believe and clearly perceive that I am powerless over my personality patterns. They are often quicker and faster than me.

At deeper and deeper levels, year five, year ten, year fifteen, year twenty in recovery he will need to relearn the deeper meaning of surrender, and how he is imprisoned by his addiction to intensity and control (“pacing he cage” of his ego as Bruce Cockburn wrote). Like peeling the skin off an onion, he will slowly but surely move towards real freedom. Meaning this: surrender is not a one-shot event. As he witnesses his personality in action, and as he learns to resist its dictates, slowly but surely he will feel the heartbreak and rejection that drove him to relying on his intensity and forcefulness. Courageously he will allow himself to feel and surrender to this. In so doing he will deepen his capacity to feel the real strength, realness, and aliveness that he truly loves, and the capacity to connect with his spacious and big heart. Then his powerful actions will be in service of love, instead of being driven by love of power. It’s a long slow journey through the labyrinth of one’s learned defenses. One can take heart that everyone moves slowly, and that baby steps are powerful!

What Helps the Eight to Stay Clean and Sober

1. Notice how you get taken by your need for intensity. At your best you want to feel strong, safe, self-reliant, passionate, alive and real. Your task is to notice when these healthy drives turn to forcefulness, intimidation, expansiveness, and control of others when you are feeling rejected, scared and unwanted. You are hard-wired to this habit of getting bigger, louder, fiercer and more aggressive when feeling rejected or threatened. When hurt, you harden. It’s automatic. This well-honed habit will wake up your addiction, and will insure that you have little satisfying emotional contact with reality. You will be unable to feel what you need, and alcohol will gladly be the replacement for soulful experiences with life. You must learn to sense your body in order to catch the early warning signs of arising mechanical aggression.

2. Enlist the support of another to help you become aware of when you are too loud, too aggressive, and too forceful. It takes time to learn to observe your personality-in-action, so in the beginning allow a trusted friend (sponsor, therapist, coach) to be a mirror for you. It takes many humbling moments of self-reflection to become conscious of the ways your personality habit has taken charge, observing that you’ve gotten too big and inflated to actually communicate in a way that really works. Begin to see that you like the intensity and flush of power that comes with it—it’s exciting and oh-so-stimulating, the adrenaline rush of amped up energy, the rush of power that deadens vulnerability and feeling of weakness, the inflated sense of self-importance, hey, damn, it’s juicy! Learning to withdraw your identification from this adrenaline rush is big work because it’s so blinding, fast, and so intoxicating you hardly notice you are engulfed in it. The dead bodies in your wake are sometimes your only clue that you’ve come off the rails.

3. Learn to be aware of your immediate impact on others. When caught up in the juicy and adrenalized energy of intensity, all four cylinders firing, you cannot feel how you’ve hurt, scared, intimidated or insulted another. These sensitivities seal over in your awareness. Start to notice the telltale signs that you’re ‘hitting too hard, too loud, too much!’ You will see it in the body posture of someone you’re interacting with as they shrivel away from you because you’ve scared them, they trying to stay beneath your radar and save their life. You’ll see the look of shock or intimidation on their face, their sudden silence and downward glance. You must consciously learn to ‘hear’ your volume level (Just how loud are you? Ask your friends, they will tell you! Instruct them to give you the sign: thumbs down.) Listen to your tone of voice and be conscious of its nuances. Is your voice threatening, commanding, pushy, angry? Notice how are you holding your body? Is your chest puffed out, are you intimidating others through your physicality, pressing too close to them, coming at them? Do you notice that individuals are freely expressing their opinions around you, or are they flying under the radar of ‘you,’ holding back their opinions to avoid igniting a dragon, i.e. you! Notice this! Your recovery counts of this.

4. Forewarn your loved ones, friends, and business associates. One Eight in recovery said, “I let those who work for me know in advance, that at times I will come across as threatening, scary and intimidating, and I won’t realize it. I invite them to let me know when this happens, to please bring it to my attention, because many times I am clueless about how I come across. I think I’m communicating in a calm manner and later am told that my voice was raised, that I sounded very angry, like I was going to hit someone. I was shocked to hear this, and sadly, I hear it more often than I would like, but this is my growing edge. I have to be honest…part of me likes overusing my power. It makes me feel in control and strong.” The point being, invite those you care about to call you on your stuff, to tell you when you’ve puffed up too big, even if it means coming up with a hand signal that says, “Too loud. Too harsh. Too scary. Stifle thyself” And when they hold you accountable, take a breath, listen, don’t fight back, don’t defend, become receptive to hearing them.         

5. Inhabit Your Body. Your growing edge is in learning to sense your emotions and the emotions of others. One fast doorway to empathy begins by learning to sense your body (via body scan meditation, etc.), learning to inhabit it such that when you begin to harden yourself, to ramp up your energy, or when taken by the rush of intensity, you’ll feel it in your body. Your body becomes the alarm system, the wake-up call for your intensity. The more often you actually keep contact with your body (we call this ‘being present in the body’), the more often you will sense your internal shifts—contracting and intensifying physically when angered or hurt, feeling your body toughen and enlarge under stress—and the better chance you can practice conscious restraint when triggered. Just being conscious of your body’s response when triggered will slow down your addiction to intensity, and your tendency to plow forward full bore.

6. Train your capacity for empathy. As an Eight, noticing that you cannot feel or sense the suffering or feelings of others, that the tender spot in your heart has disappeared, is a growing edge for you. Learning to put yourself in another’s position so as to realize their difficulties is a powerful exercise for developing heart-felt empathy (Gurdjieff, a magnificent Type Eight, called this ‘external considering’). Begin to take time to actually visualize and imagine what it is like to live in the skin of another. Become them in your imagination, inhabit their body, heart and thoughts. That is, you become that person that you dislike, or criticize, or hate, or distain because they are acting weak and powerless. You sense their suffering. And then, becoming this person, imagine you are looking out at yourself through their eyes. What do you see? This active visualization of considering others, sensing what drives them and affects them (which Twos are pros at), will begin to wake up your ability to feel empathy, and to notice when you are hardening yourself, hurting others and hurting yourself.  

7. Be aware when the sensitive vulnerability of others triggers you. Notice when you experience revulsion when others appear to you as too sensitive, vulnerable, weak, soft or unable to embody their strength and power. Most often their behavior bothers you because they are expressing vulnerability to emotional states you’ve had to ban and deny to survive as a mighty Eight (surely your childhood was a crucible for these patterns). In these moments take time to sense your heart and see if feelings of sadness, neediness, or emotional vulnerability are being triggered inside you, and if you can, breathe into the tenderness you are resisting (or breathe into the resistance you feel). Trust me, you will not lose your ability to be strong and protective if you give way to these feelings. Nor will you become a mush of weakness and inability to function. No, you’ll still keep all your gifts, but you’ll add your heart to the mix.

8.  Learn to modulate your confrontation skills. One of your precious gifts is the ability to call out the demons and devils in the room (AA meetings, group therapy meetings, conversations with friends) and confront them in a singular triumphant declaration of truth—nothing sugar-coated—a dagger of truth cutting thru the darkness lighting up the whole room (and destroys innocent bystanders at times!). This gift of delivering naked, lie-dissolving truth and waylaying all ego activity in an AA meeting is remarkable but the problem lies in the precision of the delivery. You easily cut to the chase with abandon while everyone shivers and awakens from the encounter with your intensity, and when used well, this is an astounding gift. Everyone feels more real from the inside out. You are wired to believe that the more intense you become (as in confronting your addiction, yourself and the neurotic behavior of others with a steel-penetrating laser of realness) the more effective you are. But more intensity isn’t better when others around you have withered like flowers onto the floor. Then you’ve missed the mark. In service of truth you’ve destroyed the receiver. In fact, you will discover a quiet, riveting intensity, when the words you speak are so real, so alive, so spot-on-amazingly true, that all that is required is a whisper and everyone is riveted and shocked into the truth of the moment. (The point being ‘it’s not the volume that wakes people up.) You must learn this art of precision, the art of noticing when silence, quietness, delicacy or a softer, gentler tone delivers the fierce truth just as effectively as your high intensity delivery. In learning to blend soft with direct and firm (the heart and soul of Chinese Goju martial arts), you deliver an even more precise, impacting, real, and passionate message. People hear you more easily when you are not plastering them to the walls. Full-on aliveness means you attune to the energy that is required in the moment to speak your deepest truth. Sometimes gentleness, sometimes fierceness. Realness and passion comes through many channels, and healthy Eights know how to play all the strings on the instrument of their soul. At your best you are as strong as a bulldozer, flow like hot lava, and are precise as a needle.

9. Notice the behaviors indicative of your loss of presence, awareness and contact your magnificent heart. When your personality is taking over, telltale signs arise: you begin to mistrust the loyalties of others, you perceive that others are teaming against you, you become harsher and more threatening, and you push yourself and others harder and harder. You become a hard-driving task-master. You talk louder, you believe that no one can be trusted and that you don’t need anyone (people are replaceable, commodities, not worth much), you think you are the most important person in the room (You are no longer right-sized!). You inflate your self-importance and thrive on feeling superior. When all this occurs be certain—you are headed down the road of self-destruction and addiction is waiting enthusiastically for you. Realize this: people are abandoning you because they feel you will not listen or consider them, and find it hopeless to even try. They sense you are in the game for yourself, and their only value is whether they produce for you. They feel like disposable objects in your projects. Because you’re scary they won’t confront ego. So, being smart…they leave. This is one of your wake-up calls—people are leaving because you are driving them away. 

10. Humbly and quickly apologize when you’ve caused harm. Nothing blows people away like a powerful Eight humbly apologizing for hurting, offending, or scaring them, or for being caught up in egotistical self-importance. It’s uncomfortable as hell to do—apologizing—because it smacks of weakness (in the eyes of your ego) and you will feel weak, humbled and vulnerable when you do it. But it is a doorway to your peace and happiness. Invite friends and co-workers to let you know when you’ve stunned them, ridden rough-shod over them, been insensitive to their feelings, got caught in big-shot-ism, or disregarded and disrespected their approach to problem-solving. Apologize quickly. Plan to do it often. Cherish the humility that arises as it is a sign that essence is speaking through you And understand and appreciate this with compassion: your less desirable behavior that intimidates, scares, hurts or threatens others happens so automatically under stress that in the moment you do not see, smell, feel, hear it. Apologizing will begin to give you eyes to see yourself in action. Humbly apologize (your heart will hurt when you do this). Humbly apologize. Humbly apologize. And get curious. Ask people “How did my behavior make you feel?” This too will begin to give you eyes to see yourself.

11. Notice when you are threatened by the genuine power of others. When you are caught in the fixation of your personality (meaning you are being taken by your need to assert your strength, power and control and out of touch with essence, etc.) you will feel threatened by the genuine power of others, and will begin to undermine them or outdo them as a response to feeling like you’re throne of power is being threatened. The ego agenda of the Eight (which is vastly different than the healthy agenda) is “I am the only one who can be in control. I don’t share power. If I share power I am weak and will be taken advantage of. There is only room for one of us.” Your real power, your healthy power comes online when you are genuinely interested in empowering others. If you are present and awake, you know that empowering others never diminishes your power, but actually expands and nurtures it. Can you tell the difference?

12. Learn to sit with your intensity before acting on it, i.e., learn to relax and ‘be.’ You must learn restraint. This comes from doing a meditation practice on a daily basis in which you sit quietly, noticing the rising and falling of thoughts, emotions, and the tides of your passion and intensity. Learn to sit in the furnace of yourself allowing your intensity and fire to simmer, cook, clarify, settle, and purify without getting up and going into action. Practice ‘being’ rather than ‘doing.’ You will begin to notice more clearly and acutely when you are being driven to intense action in order to avoid deadness, fear, ego-diminishment, or vulnerability. With time you will notice how and when you jump into intense action or confrontation as a means of escaping these less-than-strong feelings. A growing edge for you is in discerning when your adventurous spirit is being called into action for real, life-enhancing adventures, or when your defensive patterns are activated to avoid fear, deadness, and vulnerability.

Message to the Eight

Your deep gift is to empower others to arise and own their innate power and autonomy, to champion them to step forward into life, fully alive and lit up with passion, realness, capacity, big-heartedness, generosity and energizing juiciness. As you model and embody this in your personal action-filled, passionate life, your magnanimous heart is like a tornadic firestorm cutting through the deep losses and humiliations individuals have experienced activating their can-do courage, their dignity, their ferocious love of life, and their personal will. Such that they arise and declare, “I am here. I will live this life fully. I will give everything I’ve got. I will be anything but half-hearted.” This is the clarion call of the Eight. Your impassioned aliveness touches a life wire, invigorating and inciting people to be resourceful, independent, able to stand on their own two feet, able to think for themselves, able to walk through whatever challenge they face. Your lion-hearted message is loud and clear: you can arise and meet your challenges, you can muster the will, courage, and wisdom to match your difficulties and claim your autonomy.

These are some of the beautiful gifts of inspiration you give to the world!! Thank you!