Updated: May 26, 2021
In a nutshell
Type 8s are willful, confident, focused leaders who have a tendency to be too aggressive. They are open and dynamic, spending their time and energy towards accomplishing their goals. They are highly realistic and can be very effective at getting things done. When healthy, they set goals that are in everyone's interest, and use positive methods to accomplish them. However, they run the risk of becoming self-focused and applying their formidable force of will towards furthering their personal interests instead. Their self doubt steadily increases, and they may begin to react to it by denying it and trying to prove it wrong. They go from wanting what's best for everyone (healthy) to wanting what's best for the people in their inner circle (average) to finally burning all of their bridges and caring solely for themselves (unhealthy).
Levels of Development
Each of the nine personality types are formed based on a Core Fear we develop at a young age. This fear keeps us from being our fully actualized selves and acting from Essence, the version of ourselves that exists when we let go of our fears and ego identifications and allow ourselves to simply be. In response to this fear, we develop a Core Desire, which can either lead us back to self actualization and Essence, or towards deeper fear and false identity.
The Levels of Development are an aspect of each Enneagram type discovered in 1977 by Don Richard Riso. They provide us with a map of how we degrade as we hold on more strongly to our Core Fear, leading us to progressively deeper and more complicated emotional defense mechanisms. There are 9 separate levels of development for each type (not to be confused with the 9 types themselves), starting with self actualization at Level 1 and going down to pathological thoughts and behaviors at Level 9. Each level represents what happens when a new fear is introduced, and a new desire emerges in order to defend that fear. These levels are grouped into the "Healthy Levels" (Levels 1-3), the "Average Levels" (Levels 3-6), and the "Unhealthy Levels" (Levels 7-9).
For a detailed understanding of what happens to each type at each level, I recommend reading the Enneagram books co-written by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson. That said, it's important to have a general understanding of how each Type behaves at different levels, so I've provided an overview of the Healthy, Average, and Unhealthy levels below.
When emotionally healthy, 8s are integrated with their environments and focus themselves and those around them towards productive goals. 8s take joy in action inherently, but healthy 8s have a sense of purpose and focus what they do around it. They are very likely to have their lives in order, meaning their personal and professional lives are set up in a way that works sustainably for them and whoever else is involved. They are always working towards something, but at healthy levels they do not lose sight of what they have. Healthy 8s embody the idea that to lead is to serve - they know they are in a leading position, but appreciate the fact that every position is equally important in getting the job done. An 8 can of course be healthy and balanced if they are not in a leadership position in their career, but they will likely discover as they go that in the working world they are more comfortable in a position of official authority (rather than being content with just personal freedom).
To remain healthy, 8s operating in the healthy levels should practice patience and make sure not to override their own feelings to achieve their goals. Remember that self reflection and processing your feelings is a necessary part to keeping yourself efficient - make it part of your life.
As 8s accumulate stress, they may begin to become less focused on their external goals because they fear that they cannot accomplish them. At average levels, 8s begin to put some of their focus into accumulating resources or developing new skills in preparation for later action. This represents a shift from being externally focused to being internally focused, which turns into selfishness and egotism if it's taken too far. The shift is partly motivated by self doubt (the fear that they don't "have what it takes"), and partly motivated by fear of loss. Healthy 8s set up their lives to be sustainably pleasing, whereas average 8s become afraid that they will lose the things they value. They begin to see more threats around them, and take an aggressive stance in response. They become pragmatic, and begin prioritizing directness, efficiency, and results over long term sustainability. In short, they become more dominant and less considerate, more secretive and less open. They create more stress for themselves as a result, but at this point they have developed tunnel vision related to their goals. They externalize the stress, telling themselves that the obstacles (often people) in their way are the real problem.
In order to become healthy again, 8s operating in the average levels should accept that being too assertive leads to more problems than it solves. There's nothing wrong with being direct and focused, but you create more obstacles than there have to be when you treat others with aggression.
As average 8s become more aggressive in the face of threats they perceive, they create more situations where the threats are real. This self-fulfilling prophecy results in a descent into the unhealthy levels, in which the 8 is isolated and has made many enemies. They may still have goals, resources, and skills, but they've lost connection to any true meaning or purpose in their lives. Generally speaking, unhealthy 8s are reactive and angry, repressing their inner world by living in a "fight-or-flight" state, viewing the world as an extremely dangerous place. If they haven't burned all of their bridges yet, they begin to turn on the people who once depended on them, proving to themselves that they are on their own, and trying to prove to themselves that they can survive that way. While they doubt themselves deeply, 8s are one of the few types that remain outwardly confident in the unhealthy levels, and typically have a narcissistic self image that elevates them above others (explaining their isolation in a way that represses their deep sadness about it). Eventually they become totally exhausted by the stress of the life they've chosen and can no longer mentally suppress their fear. They lose touch with the power they once had and begin to fall apart.
To begin the road back to health, unhealthy 8s should work with a professional to re-engage with their vulnerable side. Understand that what you're working towards is true power - personal power that cannot be taken away, and that others can recognize and appreciate you for. You've buried your emotional side, but it is actually the source of your true power.
Wings / Subtypes
Every person has some degree of every type at work in their personality, but in addition to their primary type, Enneagram 8s are more likely to draw strongly from one of the adjacent types, 7 or 9. Because of this, we treat them as distinctive subtypes known as “Wing Types”. Not everyone has a strong wing type, but a majority of people do, so we generally describe a 8’s type as either “8 wing 7” (8w7) or “8 wing 9” (8w9).
8 wing 7
When compared to the 8w9, the 8w7 is more aggressive and independent. It combines the 8's desire to prove its strength and achieve independence with 7's desire to fulfill its own needs and enjoy a variety of experiences. The result is an incredibly dynamic person who paves paths and charts courses into unknown territory, and makes it possible for others to follow them there.
In healthy 8w7s we see highly dynamic, extraverted leaders who can't be stopped when they set their minds to something. Influence from type 7 brings a dynamism and energy to the grounded confidence of 8 that is remarkably different from what we see in the 8w9. Healthy 8s in general are a force that can't be stopped, and the added independence and personal drive of 7 makes that even more true. Compared to the 7w8 however, the 8w7 will tend to be focused more on goals outside of themselves that will meet their personal needs. They want to prove to themselves they can independently meet their own needs, and so channel their considerable forces towards whatever enterprises will achieve that, whether it involves working with others or acting totally alone. In either case, people in their vicinity gravitate toward them because they are energized by the 8w7's conviction, and they can find themselves in positions of authority. Healthy 8w7s set their course for themselves, but if they've accumulated followers and close relationships, they will tend to view it as their job to protect those people. The simplest way for them to do that without compromising their own goals is to acquire and share considerable resources, and this is a major motivator that drives the 8w7 to achieve great things.
In average levels, 8w7s begin to separate themselves from others in their mind. They have always been independent, but as they begin to fear they are not strong enough to meet all of their own needs, they begin to ignore others. They do this because all people, regardless of type, are subject to influence from others and feel a subconscious drive to interact with and even join together with them. These feelings pose a threat to the average 8w7's "strong" self image because they risk making them aware of their inherent softness and vulnerability. Indeed, 8s are at their core one of the most sensitive types, which is why they try so hard to be strong. As a result, the average 8w7 builds their sense of independence by blocking others out of their minds, feeling a strong sense of separateness from others. This allows them to begin treating others more objectively in order to achieve their goals, and they can become more pushy and eventually even ruthless. Where 8w9s are more hesitant to upset the balance and begin to withdraw from others at this point, 8w7s continue to engage with others actively while treating them with less and less respect, seeing them simply as obstacles between them and their goals.
At unhealthy levels, 8w7s terrorize their environments and the people in them as they impulsively seek to prove their strength. Arbitrary attacks on others, verbal or physical, are relatively common as they have repressed their "softer side" completely, and any time a whiff of sensitivity arises in their subconscious they feel the need to act aggressively to overwhelm it. Where the 8w9 has numbed out their feelings of anxiety, the 8w7 is plagued by it, but externalizes it rather than allowing themselves to feel it. They see threats everywhere, failing to understand how clouded their judgement has become, and they lash out against their environment in reaction to their own feelings. Manic and grandiose, they need for their lives to be extreme in order to feel the sense of power they are after.
8 wing 9
Compared to the 8w7, the 8w9 is more reserved, independent, and earthy. Both 8 and 9 seek a high level of personal freedom, but the 8 goes about it by proving its strength whereas the 9 does it by avoiding conflict and seeking peace. These two forces lead individuals who are strong and highly self-assured and pursue their goals in a more people-oriented and diplomatic way.
In healthy 8w9s we see a person who is at once confident and receptive, trusting their own judgement above all but remaining receptive to the people around them. Compared to the 8w7, the 8w9 is more grounded and stability-oriented, and typically has a more long-term perspective in their endeavors. The serene aspects of healthy 9 lend themselves to the power and driving force of 8, and the result is that the healthy 8w9 is patient and determined, more willing to build towards accomplishments with a solid foundation. While they are highly driven, they do not have difficulty "leaving work at work" and can easily switch gears, leaving the "all business" side behind and enjoying some R&R. They readily jump to battle when it's time for action, but are generally very friendly and even light when their guard is down. They are comfortable on their own but are also capable of forming deep bonds with others.
Average 8w9s begin to show the split between their 8 and 9 sides more definitively. On the one hand, they become more aggressive and non-receptive in their work settings, and on the other they become more passive and inactive with regard to "less important" areas. While they are driven, active, and even friendly while they are in the public sphere, they begin to withdraw from it in an attempt to maintain their independence without creating conflict. They are more aware of and open to their softer feelings than the 8w7, but still tend to put them second when there's "work to do". The split between their 8 and 9 tendencies makes it harder for them to access the benefits of their 9 side. They become less calm and more restless, and less receptive to input from others. With 8 as their primary type however, they are still quite dominant of those around them, though they accomplish this less through bullying and aggression (like 8w7s) and more through the passive pressure that their determination and immovability bring, simply remaining fixed in their views and waiting for others to accommodate them. While they do become overtly angry at times, they prefer not to express it so openly and may bottle it up or misdirect it rather than dealing with the feeling.
At unhealthy levels, 8w9s pull back from public life and sometimes even become reclusive in order to maintain their sense of independence without having to constantly assert themselves. They become weary and withdrawn, depressed and unresponsive to their needs. At the same time, they do not give up their sense of strength and confidence and are incredibly stubborn and forceful when confronted, however they do not tend to go out of their way to confront others. 8s repress their soft side, and 9s repress their strong side, so in order to accommodate both needs at unhealthy levels, the 8w9 simply nullifies every feeling, but lets their aggressive side peak through when there is something to deal with. They are generally outwardly calm and disassociated but are capable of completely ruthless and devastating actions in the right circumstances. They have repressed their anxieties as well as their regard for others, and can take extreme actions without a care for the consequences on others. The unhealthy 8w7 can be seen as more violent and destructive because they are significantly more active, but the 8w9 is just as destructive and antisocial, incapable of empathizing with those they harm.
-8s have an interesting challenge in childhood because they are natural leaders, and yet nobody is qualified to lead until they reach a certain point in life. Moreover, leadership qualities like independence and decisiveness are often punished rather than rewarded in schools today. This leads many 8s to hold on to the feeling that they aren't appreciated in their adult lives. Take the time to find and deal with those feelings so you can pursue your goals more freely.
-Understand the difference between the Healthy behavior of working towards goals and the Average behavior of building skills or resources. It's healthy for you to develop skills and build resources in pursuit of your goals, but doing so just to bolster your confidence is not healthy.
-Find your purpose. If you're living and working just for the sake of it, you're missing out on the biggest component of a happy life.
-Find people you can open up to. You're a natural at not letting your feelings get in the way for practical reality, but they're just as strong and just as important as anyone else's.