How to Transform Enemy Images

by | Dec 8, 2020 | Healthy Relationships

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Our membership has been exxploring of how we can transform enemy images that we hold about other people, and I wanted to share a few insights from our call last night with you this morning.

Enemy images are fixed, rigid ideas we have about others.

Anytime we think about “those people” as narcissistic, privileged, toxic, American, or a long list of other identity labels, we run the risk of reducing their essential humanity into a static enemy image.

These labels are grounded in a deep negative judgment we hold about a person or group or people, and these fear-based judgments also block our ability to empathize with or connect to them as another human being.

As we subtly dehumanize others, turning them into an object rather than a subject through our language and labels, we also find it easier to be unkind, judgmental, violent or harmful to them because – unconsciously – we either want to get rid of them or break through to them, and believe that force and hurt are the best tools for this.

Dehumanization is one of the primary instruments of both psychological and physical violence. We turn people into objects so that we feel free to harm, coerce, and exploit them for selfish purposes.

If you’d like to work on transcending and transforming any enemy images that you might hold of others, here are some stages for self-assessment, and an exercise to help you get more spaciousness and insight into places that might be keeping you tight, braced, and stuck.

The Four Stages of Awareness: Working with Enemy Images

  1. First, we find ourselves engaging in “us versus them” thinking. We decide that “they” are less than we are, that “they” deserve to be punished/harmed for the “greater good,” and we find ourselves thinking through the lens of dualism and creating more fragmentation. In stage one, we are also quite threatened by differences, and struggle to with the tension that emerges in places of divergence.

  2. In stage two, we start to become aware of the costs of having enemy images. We gain insight into the ways that holding enemy images and diagnostic cables actually separate us from our own and others’ essential humanity, and we begin to see the value of exploring alternatives to punishment (for example: healing, growth, learning, and protection).

  3. In stage three, we notice when we are holding another person or group of people as “the enemy” or “those people” and then commit to doing the internal work necessary to reconnect with the essential human suffering arising in relational spaces, to connect with the pain that drives tragic strategies (even if its unconscious to them and you initially) and reconnect to shared each person’s human needs and goodness.

  4. As we practice, we find ourselves increasingly able to approach all people – regardless of our differences and fears – with compassion and dignity, and we find ourselves desiring well-being, belonging, protection, and healing for all people.

Here are some reflection questions that might help you untangle some enemy images of your own.

First, bring to mind a moment when the person you are seeing as an “enemy” did something, said something or didn’t do or say something that you believe they should have.

Then identify the following:

  • The precise observation of an action taken by the person of which you have an enemy image. Identify a specific micro-moment where you get activated.

  • What feelings arise for you related to the observation(s)?

  • What needs of yours are related to these feelings?

  • What feelings might be present for the person?

  • What needs might be related to the person’s possible feelings?

  • Identify any possible misunderstandings. Use your imagination.

  • What meaning are you giving to the observations you made? Identify them.

  • Is this meaning (or are these meanings) true? How do you know? Are you sure?

  • Imagine a scenario that would lead you to have as close to no blame at all for the person. Under what circumstances might you do exactly the same thing? What conditions would need to be in place for you to behave in the same way?

What shifts did you notice? Did you arrive at any new awareness?

As always, I’d love to know! Leave a comment below.


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1 Comment

  1. Genevieve Giblin

    Thank you, Yvette. This topic is meaningful to me……I appreciate the ways it is broken down, and I plan to "sit" with it, and journal….and shift a bit, I hope.


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