Enemies – The Wall of Separation

I first learned the term “enemy image” in my NVC trainings from Marshall Rosenberg, the founder of Nonviolent Communication. I have heard it used many times by NVC trainers and others since. I hold an enemy image as any judgment I hold about others or myself that creates separation or distance between us. This can occur when I hold myself as better than OR lesser than another. Rather than connect to another’s (or our own) heart, if we are holding an enemy image, we are sitting in judgment of another or oneself, making meaningful connection much more difficult if not downright impossible.

Image Courtesy of Rawich/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image Courtesy of Rawich/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It is probably much easier to see how holding a negative judgment of someone builds separation and how you see him/her as an enemy. Think of someone you have a negative judgment about – perhaps you think they are rude, selfish, obnoxious. You probably don’t have to think too long or hard before names and faces pop into your mind. Grrrr, they are just so wrong! Isn’t that how it goes? Maybe it is your Ex who brings up the strongest emotions. Maybe it is someone else. Sad but true; it is often the people who have been most dear to you that end up as your arch enemy in battle, real or just in your mind. I know; it has certainly happened to me.

No matter whom it may be, an old friend, an in-law, a public official, a celebrity on the television, or your Ex; it’s the same story. Enemy images are a way in which we think about someone. I don’t know about you, but an enemy image can arise in my mind very quickly and quite effortlessly.

When we fail to agree with someone’s actions, beliefs or values, our first response can often be an automatic, vivid enemy-image projection. We find ourselves feeling completely disconnected, maybe disgusted, outraged and even self-righteous in the face of a perceived assault on our own actions, beliefs or values. Our “enemy” is selfish, stupid, deluded, aggressive, insensitive and intolerant. Feel free to add to this list of characteristics!

An enemy image can extend to an entire group of people, not just one or two people who bother you. Not only are that person or group different and therefore your enemy, but in your mind, they probably are also inferior to you.

When we hold negative enemy images of others, we typically put ourselves above our “enemy.” A friend told me about a time when she was on the playground in the 3rd grade. She remembers goofing around with her friends. They thought they were the “in” group. The other girls, well, not so much. Dang, they thought they were so cool. The other girls they judged as creepy and brainy. (Anyone familiar with this?!) The message? Obviously her girl-gang was far superior!

Taken to the extreme, the nurturing of our enemy images can evolve to the level of dehumanizing the other. When we consistently fail to go deeper, to ask ourselves if holding a particular enemy image might make us believe we are somehow better than them; when we do not inquire beyond this sense of superiority to understand our part in circumstances or thoughts leading to the enemy image, we only make things worse. We expand the gulf between ourselves and maybe, let’s say, with our Ex or former best friend.

How do we do it? We strip our “enemy” of all human qualities. We reduce them to a static entity, incapable of change or even their humanness. At the same time, we grow stronger in defense of our own position and self-judgment that we are superior. Closing the gap becomes almost impossible. Alas, the enmity grows; the war begins, or worse, accelerates.

From my perspective, enemy images exist even when you hold a positive judgment of someone. Why? Because anytime we judge another we create separation. When you have a judgment of another person, you are seeing them as separate from you – perhaps better than you. As I mentioned above, it is often the people we once felt most close to, had the strongest positive judgments about, that we now hold with increasing disdain and harsh judgment. The fall from grace is often rather short and quick.

Instead of holding judgments, we can explore within our hearts what it is we are feeling and needing. When you notice that you are judging another person, you can ask yourself what it is that you need. Is it that the behavior you are judging is painful and you need respect? Is it understanding? Often the judgment itself (he’s so selfish) will shed light on the underlying need (consideration). Once you can shift from seeing the other person as wrong, you will move out of an enemy image. When you can shift to see your shared humanity, your common needs, you will be more likely to find solutions to your differences and struggles.

Give it a try and let me know what you think below.

In support ~

Signature for Cat J. Zavis, Coach for divorced parents

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