Metallica’s James Hetfield, and the Sensitivity of Eights

Heavy Metal seethes with power and aggression. And Metallica is the best known metal band there is. And front man James Hetfield has always been the chest-thumping-est powerhouse in all of rock – quite certainly an Enneagram Eight.

James Hetfield - aggressiveType Eight is the Challenger, the Rock, the Bear, the tough, fierce, independent type. Eights don’t take any shit. They don’t want anyone controlling them. They love intensity. And if they perceive they’re being attacked, they’ll hit back – immediately, and hard.

Hetfield’s muscular rhythm guitar playing, his barked singing and equal love of vivid experience off-stage make him a poster child of Eights. His heavy drinking earned him the nickname “Alcoholica.” In the music documentary Some Kind of Monster, he returns to from a bear hunting vacation in Siberia.

But there’s another side of him.

Beneath every Eight’s hard shell is a soft and tender underbelly, which they protect with all their might. Very few get to see it. Hence, people around an Eight might not think of them as sensitive at all, and say or do things that hurt the Eight tremendously – though they probably won’t let anyone know that.

The personality is a survival strategy, developed early in life to get our needs met. A young Eight will learn that she can seize life by the throat and no one will mess with her. And she’ll repeat this so often and so well that she might forget that it’s not who she actually is, but just a strategy.

Hetfield came to see his personality for exactly this, after undergoing extensive therapy whilst in rehab for alcoholism. He described rehab as “college for your head,” where he learned that he’d James Hetfield - ragingbeen fighting to get what he wanted ever since he was a kid, and had continued to operate like that as an adult:

“Getting into Metallica meant that initially I had to fight to survive, for food, for the towel for the shower, for everything. And then fighting to be the best band you can be, and putting other bands down. Finding fault with everything was how Metallica was fuelled. And not only did I play a part in that, I was buried in that. “

He was fierce in asserting what he wanted the other band members to do in the studio, a tendency he later described as “totally childish.” He freely worked on side projects, but prevented other band members from doing so. He said:

“I had panic attacks that Jason or even Lars would start other projects and like those better than Metallica. To hold the band together I forced Lars, Jason and Kirk to stay and to go on. I love Metallica so much that I almost crushed the band with my love.”

James Hetfield sadWithin that desire to control others is a deep vulnerability, a fear of being abandoned. And given that the personality is, after a point, self-defeating, that exact desire can be what drives others away from us. In the case of Metallica, Hetfield’s iron hand caused bass player Jason Newsted to quit the band.

It’s easy for any of us to avoid the long, slow, humbling process of personal work, and I can only imagine this is especially so for a multi-millionaire Eight being given all the success one could dream of as a reward for his raging Eight-ness.

But introspection and the careful untangling of the personality comes with a different set of rewards. Hetfield has been sober since 2002. He limits Metallica’s concert schedule to three consecutive performances before taking a break to give his voice a rest. The band has set hours in the studio for writing and recording, replacing their earlier pattern of working late into the night, drinking until they passed out, and starting again whenever they woke up the next day.

In Some Kind of Monster he states that his alcoholism is rooted in abandonment issues stemming from his absent father growing up. He also discussed this in the documentary Absent, about this specific topic. In the manner of a truly healthy Eight, he has not only come to recognize his own vulnerability, but to embrace it, and let others see it too.

James Hetfield - happy“There’s a lot of machismo in this world, but I suppose the most manly thing you can do is face up to your weaknesses and expose them. And you’re showing strength by exposing your weaknesses to people. And that opens up a dialogue, it opens up friendships, which it definitely has done for me.”

He doesn’t regret the difficult aspects of his life and the battles he’s fought to overcome them, saying:

“In some ways I’m thankful for my addiction, because I experienced my inner self through it. Now I finally see a happy man. I could have died or gone into prison a hundred times. But nothing happened to me: my family is fine I’ve got fans who want to hear Metallica songs, and my band is intact. That makes me happy – really happy.”

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