by François Beausoleil
(adapted from the book: The Blame-Free State)

Who are we, what can we do, and how enjoyable is life without relationships?

According to Neil Farber, Ph.D., columnist for the magazine Psychology Today: “When it comes to detrimental things that you can do to screw up your relationships, blaming the other person for something – justified (in your mind) or not, is at or near the top of the list.”

At the core of blaming resides the concept of “enemy images.”

enemiesAn enemy image can be described as a sustained blame that we hold, or a persistent negative idea of someone else, ourselves, groups, animals, objects, situations, and so on.

Many of us know well the experience of thinking about a specific person and, every time, feeling upset, resentful, or angry. That’s the general feel of enemy images: a clear sense of wrongness about a specific subject.

The work on enemy images is directly connected to the core of the whole nonviolence movement.  In Hindi, the word for nonviolence is Ahimsa; Ahimsa can also be translated this way: “State of the heart that has no enemies.” I believe that there’s no more important skill than being able to open our hearts to others, to ourselves and to the situations that we’re in.  This is why I spend a lot of my time and energy teaching on this topic.

In terms of NVC Leadership, maintaining enemy images can be very costly; it can lead to conflicts with organizers, colleagues, members of NVC organizations, participants, etc. Enemy images also lead to a higher level of stress, which, of course, is detrimental to our ability to be present as leaders and make optimal decisions from moment to moment.

Although I use many different ways to dissolve the enemy images of others that pop in my experience, I mostly use a six-part system:

  1. Being Heard
  2. Assuming Positive intention
  3. Rehumanization
  4. Meaning
  5. Rewriting the story
  6. Finding the underlying self-blame

listeningPart 1: Being Heard

Human beings need to be heard. People “complain” or “vent” because they need to be heard. I often say that when someone is heard, 50% of the problem is solved. In other words, we often need some space between our reaction to a challenging situation and finding the solution for it.

The key to being heard is to focus on two elements: feelings and needs (feelings are underlined and needs are in bold in the example below).

 

Examples

Heard by Someone

Heard by Self
(Written, Spoken Out Loud,
or Silently)

A trainer is leading an NVC training and one of the participants is very critical; that person keeps saying: “This sounds great but it would never work in the real world.” “I’m guessing you werestressed and annoyed hearing that person, you might have wanted some trust and a sense of ease for running the training; is it accurate?” I’m getting uncomfortable andnervous. I want some trust that what I’m sharing has value in various contexts…and I’m longing for a sense of partnership andshared holding during this program.

It is also crucial to refrain from using non-empathic responses. Here are some examples of what not to say.

Examples

Non-empathic Responses

A trainer is leading an NVC training and one of the participants is very critical; that person keeps saying: “This sounds great but it would never work in the real world.” Gathering Data: Is it something that you hear often?
One-upping: I had two people like that in my last training!
Feeding the fire: Wow, some people have no openness at all to learn new things; they should stay home!
Giving advice: Interrupt immediately and every time that person speaks
Storytelling: I remember being in a training with Marshall and…
Denying: Don’t get distracted by this
Analyzing: You’re too soft and idealistic… you should be ready for this type of comments.
Judging/criticizing: You should not teach NVC since you don’t know how to handle situations like this.

Part 2: Assuming Positive Intentionenemyfriend

This is similar to giving the benefit of the doubt or offering the presumption of innocence.
In a nutshell: in face of anything that happens in relation to what someone does that impacts you, you have a choice: assuming a negative, neutral or positive intention. While we actually don’t know what is their intention, we can choose to assume that people have a positive intention; I believe that doing so is one of most liberating thing you can do, and most of the time you’ll be right.

Example

Negative Intention

Neutral Intention


Positive Intention

A trainer is leading an NVC training and one of the participants is very critical; that person keeps saying: “This sounds great but it would never work in the real world.” He is trying to discredit me and NVC. He’s just curious about to apply this in his life. He wants to make sure that I address how to apply NVC in real life situations; not just for him but for others in the group.

Part 3: Rehumanization

Simply put, when we have an enemy image of someone, it means that they have stopped to some degree being human, and become a thing, an obstacle. To bring back the humanity of people whom we’re upset with, there is a simple formula: put our attention on what they might have been feeling and needing at the moment of the action that they took.

Things don’t have emotions and don’t need anything, but humans do; so as soon as you glue feelings and needs to the people whom you have enemy images of, they have a chance to become human again, and then we’re likely to be able to relate with them as such. This can lead to understanding, and potentially compassion, which opens the door to inner peace and fruitful collaboration.

Example

Feelings
(at the Moment of the Action)

Needs
(at the Moment of the Action)

A trainer is leading an NVC training and one of the participants is very critical; that person keeps saying: “This sounds great but it would never work in the real world.” He might have been skeptical, and worried that NVC doesn’t offer valuable support for him. He might also have been in deep mourning and despair about the relationships in his life. Maybe he wanted reassurance and specific information that could be useful to him.

Part 4: Meaning

Now, here’s one of the most helpful distinctions that I can think of to live a “sane” life. In the words of Tony Robbins: “We only feel pain in relation to the meaning we attribute to things, not in relation to the things themselves.”

Here’s how it works: something happens and we immediately assign a meaning to it. This type of meaning often has the words “never” or “always” in it; it is some conclusion about life that feels completely true in the moment and happens almost simultaneously with the event. Typical examples are: it will never work; I’ll always find a way to ruin things, and so on.

The way to work with this is to (1) first discover the meaning that we attributed to the event, (2) question the validity of this meaning by asking the question, is it true? (3) see that our reaction is caused by the meaning, not by the event.

Example

Meaning
(about Self, Others,
or the World)

Resulting Emotion

Is It True?

A trainer is leading an NVC training and one of the participants is very critical; that person keeps saying: “This sounds great but it would never work in the real world.” It’s impossible to teach NVC to people like that. Sadness, discouragement It seems like it, but I’m pretty sure it’s possible… it might just take more time.

Part 5: Rewriting the Story

Misunderstanding
To complete the DEIO process, it’s crucial to put on your detective hat, to search out options other than what seems obvious. To do this, I suggest that you ask yourself: “Could there be some misunderstanding* in this situation?” I believe that about 80% of conflicts are based on misunderstanding; therefore, if we can uncover them, we drastically increase our ability to be in the Blame-Free State (see examples below).

Creating a Scenario
The final piece of the puzzle involves creativity, imagination. We are very talented at, often very quickly, creating worst-case scenarios. Let’s see if we can use this talent to design a scenario that would leave us with as close as possible to no blame at all for the person whom you have an enemy image of.

Example

Possible Misunderstanding Between People Involved in the Situation

Scenario that Would Lead to No Blame

A trainer is leading an NVC training and one of the participants is very critical; that person keeps saying: “This sounds great but it would never work in the real world.” He might actually see the value of NVC in some situations but not in others.  He also might not fully understand how to apply NVC since he’s just starting. Maybe he tried to use some NVC in real life situations, and it didn’t turn out well. He wants to make sure it doesn’t happen to him again, or to anyone else.

Part 6: Finding the Underlying Self-Blame

self-blameAt the heart of most blame for others resides a blame toward ourselves (or someone whom it would be too difficult to admit that we blame**). As mentioned before, we often cover up this self-blame by directing our upset toward someone else to avoid the pain that would result from assigning blame or wrongness to ourselves. Therefore, it is essential to find the self-blame if we want to resolve a blaming episode, grow our self-understanding, and have the possibility to expand our freedom by moving out of shame or guilt.

Here’s how it would look:

Example

Blame for Other

Underlying self-Blame

A trainer is leading an NVC training and one of the participants is very critical; that person keeps saying: “This sounds great but it would never work in the real world.” He is trying to discredit me and NVC. I should explain better!  I also should be able to handle situations like this!  I guess I was not prepared enough… or maybe not ready enough.

Which brings us to learn how we can dissolve enemy images of ourselves.  To learn about it, please refer to the book: “The Blame-Free State.”

 

* or miscommunication.

** I encountered this scenario twice in my work with clients: In the first, a mother blamed many people while defending her son in a situation in which the son obviously had something to do with the problem. In the second, the wife protected her husband, by blaming elsewhere.