Forgiving as Defiance: How a Female Enneagram 8 Moves On

Forgiving as Defiance: How a Female Enneagram 8 Moves On

It’s been a year now since everything went up in flames. I am still recovering. I have reflected over and over again on the events of 2018 and what led to them. I have wrestled with feelings of rage, confusion, fear, defiance, and rejection, all of which seem to be set to a cycle. Thankfully, there are relationships and insights that have been lifelines to keep me from drowning. One of those was discovering the enneagram a couple of years ago. It’s popular in American evangelicalism right now, but I didn’t know anything about it. I had heard a Canadian author that I enjoy mention it in a podcast, so I looked it up and began reading books. Basically, the enneagram is an ancient personality typology enjoying a resurgence of interest in the past few years. Rather than mere personality traits, the enneagram goes deeper into motivations and primal fears that people hold.

I loved diving into the enneagram mostly because it made me feel less weird. It was comforting to know that there are plenty of others that think like I do. I also felt a bit justified when I read that my enneagram personality – a female 8, is identified by many many experts as the most misunderstood and attacked number. Male 8s, they say, are lauded in Western society because they are strong, assertive leaders who have amazing energy and capacity to move things forward. Female 8s, on the other hand, are viewed as aggressive bitches who won’t stay in their lanes. Society as a whole views female 8s this way, but religious communities in particular hate them. Patriarchy and female 8s are oil and water.

Learning about characteristics of 8s and how other personality types experience them did help me understand why my missionary boss kept insisting that I was angry all the time when I wasn’t. My passion was consistently misinterpreted as aggression, and my desire to see positive change in our community was called “undermining the leadership.” Being a female 8 was a serious liability on the mission field in a conservative community that saw distinctive roles for men and women. I would not stay in the box that a godly woman was supposed to stay in, and worse! I kept pointing out the stupidity of the box.

Though my “8ness” probably had a lot to do with all the events that led to us resigning as missionaries (and then getting (surprise!) fired 3 weeks before we flew home), it has also enabled me to move back toward a healthy equilibrium and to find a way to let go, even to forgive.

A few weeks ago, I listened to a podcast on enneagram 8s in which the author being interviewed explained what forgiveness was like for our personality type. He said that while 8s struggle with vengeance and can be incredibly vindictive, they are also the quickest of all to forgive – something that surprises most people. The catch is that an 8’s forgiveness is generally only offered if the offender can honestly acknowledge what they have done to the 8. This rang true for me, and it is probably why I almost obsessively fantasize about this person or that coming to me saying simply, “I didn’t realize it then, but I see it now. I am so sorry for hurting you and your family.” I feel like that alone could bring incredible peace and healing.

But I have no reasonable expectation that this will ever happen.

Priest and author Nadia Boltz-Weber described forgiveness as letting something go because it was so not okay that one refuses to be connected to it anymore. It’s about freedom. This description of forgiveness is one that I can understand and live with. (Nadia is also a female 8.) Somehow this understanding of forgiveness allows me to let go of my deep longing to have my suffering acknowledged.

At the bottom of all the drama in Indonesia was the clear message, both implicit in the actions of the community and explicit in their words, that I was not okay as I was. To them, it was not possible to be a powerful, vocal, smart, passionate, direct, female leader and also be godly. They insisted that I cannot be me and be godly, and I insist on never ever allowing them to be right. Ironically being an 8 is what is allowing me to forgive because, for me, moving toward forgiveness is an act of defiance to this false dichotomy.

If Jesus is God and God is love, than to be godly is to be loving. According to 1 Corinthians 13, love is patient, love is kind, love does not envy or boast. It isn’t proud, rude, selfish, easily angered. And it keeps no record of wrong. This is my measuring stick.

While I have never loved perfectly, I do believe that I loved vulnerably and with costly grace when I was in Indonesia. I moved toward people who did and were in the middle of betraying my family and sabotaging our ministry. I chose to believe the best and hope things could be resolved. I asked for (and was denied) opportunities for reconciliation. My reputation was slandered and continues to be. Ironically, it is actually much harder to love and forgive a year later and world removed. Anger and bitterness come up first when I think of the people from our old organization who participated directly and indirectly in our undoing. But I do not want them to be right about me. I do not what them to be right about women like me.

In the strangest twist of grace that is so laughably just like God, it is the very person that I am which was so detested by my former conservative missions community that allows me to forgive them. I forgive as an act of strength and courage. I let go of the need to be acknowledged and seen because I have the power to do so. I choose love and kindness, gentleness and self-control over and over and over again because I insist that these godly characteristics are not mutually exclusive with being a visionary female leader.

“You cannot be a godly woman outside of this box,” they said.

I reply, “Watch me.”


12 thoughts on “Forgiving as Defiance: How a Female Enneagram 8 Moves On

    1. Thank you! Yeah, I think it’s super important that the “how” to so many things isn’t just in a single answer. The enneagram helps me ponder what all sorts of things look like in my life.

  1. After spending about 8 years trying to find a church that I felt comfortable in, and finding myself unintentionally threatening the faith of almost every small group I joined and person I met, I have come to the conclusion that female 8s never last in a church environment. Last fall, during an Enneagram class at church – I had had several class on the Enneagram prior – I was struck by how foreign my personality was to the church members that showed up but when it was the 1s and 6s turn to share their personalities, the room kept erupting in laughter of familiarity, almost to a person. It occurred to me that 6s and 1s define a church, its values and its judgement of others. 9s are there for the ride and validation that everyone is trying to be like them (so explains my daughter that is a 9). Why should I strategically want to surround myself with people who shame me for who I am, almost by definition? As was predicted through the comments above, I have found solice, freedom, support and passion in the corporate world, as a leader of a new cutting edge technology solution. Meanwhile, there isn’t a church in my 8 years of attendance that thinks I have a question worth answering, an idea worth implementing or an observation worth hearing. As an expert witness, I’ve got the undivided attention of judges, but the church and its attendees have done their best to silence me at every comment and question.

    1. Goodness, I can relate to a lot of this! I feel like I’ve gotten the message of being “all wrong” my whole life in the church context. I hear your pain and grief through your words… me too. I’m sorry.

      In terms of the enneagram, I think that 2’s are the female ideal in the Christian world. They are the “helpers” and givers and struggle with maintaining healthy boundaries – exactly what the church demands of women. Conversely, I’ve heard that 8’s are the “masculine archetype” in Western society. I think it is certainly true of the Christian church. Strong and decisive leaders… the type that jump in front to protect others at great cost, the ones who speak up for what they believe, and vocalize their wants and needs and maintain strong boundaries… all of those things are respected and loved when they come from men, but women are not supposed to be that way.

      I don’t have time for it any longer. I don’t hold to gender norms and roles that so narrowly define both men and women that they exclude many who can’t fit those molds. God made us this way in love and with purpose. The world desperately needs female 8s right now. I believe that this season is ours to lead fearlessly in the midst of strong opposition because so few can withstand the battle. And we need each other so that we can remember the reasons why we must carry on.

      I don’t battle for the church any longer – truthfully, I am not sure that the current institution is worth fighting for. But I do battle for the sake of human beings because of love for Jesus in my tiny sphere of influence.

      Warrior on, Louise. We need you.

      1. Hi. I’m not primarily an 8. I’m more of an 8 in my tri-type. However, I wanted to tell all of you 8-ladies that you’re not an 8 by accident. You’re not broken. You’re not bad. You’re an 8 because God made you an 8. He carved you into an 8 with His own hands. He wanted an 8 to talk with and love through and who would stand with Him to challenge the status quo…so He made you an 8. On purpose. Intentionally. You make people uncomfortable but comfort is truly overrated. Comfort becomes an idol very quickly and then there you are, toppling idols because you were born to it. There’s balance, of course, to all thing, including one’s inner 8. That’s what we should be teaching: balance, not “badness.” I’m sorry that we’re still learning how to do that. I’m sorry that you often get caught in the crossfire. Like I said, comfort quickly becomes an idol. So, celebr8. (See, there you are, right in the middle of it.)

        1. Oh this part gave me chills, “Comfort becomes an idol very quickly and then there you are, toppling idols because you were born to it.” Thank you, Judy, for this reminder! Being an 8 has some hard parts to it, but it is also a gift.

  2. So sorry this all happened to you. I am a female 8 too. I love that God made me this way, and even though patriarchal Christendom is threatened by female 8’s, I know Jesus is never threatened. He invites us to sit as His feet as His disciples and empowered females to lead all around Him. The church and mission world has been losing female 8’s to the corporate world where they can lead. I hope we start keeping more of them.

    1. I think you’ve hit on something very accurate with your last two sentences. I remember thinking as a teenager how odd it was that I could lead a company or run for president, but I could not lead a church or preach to men. I remember thinking it was odd that a woman could be a CFO of a huge organization, but could not be an elder of a church. I remember thinking it was a bummer that I would have to go outside of the church to use my skills and gifts and what a shame it was that the church did not want the best of me. At that point and time, I had never heard of “complementarianism vs. egalitarianism.” I didn’t know that there was another way of reading Scripture that was more in line with the way Christ treated women as well as the overarching theme of redemption. I am glad I learned eventually, and I am grateful to have found a church that embraces women as leaders in every capacity. It is tragic how many women never find that and give their best to outside organizations, 8s or otherwise! The church has lost much because of that.

  3. Your wisdom here seriously affects my ability to believe in myself and my female 8 godly path regarding my gift of music healing and the barriers I encounter. Eternally grateful for the time, effort, and grace you put before us here…

    1. I am so glad! I am not always sure it’s a good idea or worth writing out my process for the world to see. But then I figure if it helps anyone else come up with the language and ideas that they need to understand their own experiences, then it is worth it! I am sorry for your encounters with pain, and I wish you all the best as you move forward.

  4. Dalaina I love you are female 8. Being a strong woman is often a threat especially to men. I am very sorry for all you have had to go through. You didn’t cave in you remained true to yourself and your family.
    I have a different word instead of forgiveness, since most people see forgiveness as making the wrong OK. I don’t need to forgive because I have never had the offender confess to doing wrong. I base this on our need to confess to God to be forgiven, I believe as humans we can have the same standard. But I use the word release. I release my offender he no longer has any control over me. This release is my freedom from a desire for vengeance but not for justice. This release calms my anger and allows me to work for equality and better protection for the abused. Release means the offender is totally responsible for the wrong, I am not.
    Thank you for your strength and courage to stand for the oppressed.

    1. I hear you, Shary. I think release is certainly a part of it. For me there is also a level of compassion that is growing. I recognize that there were people in Bali that lived in such deep fear and toxicity that they were reacting to that. If I see them as weak, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t responsible for their choices. But it does mean that I am able see them with more pity than range. It must be awful to live in such fear of losing control, of strong women, of vulnerability, of accountability.

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