Humanizing the Bully Using the Enemy Image Process
It’s easy to demonize the bully; that kid or adult who bashes another person because they are gay or straight, poor or rich, white or black or brown, Christian or Muslim or Jewish. When we do so, however, we disconnect not only from that person, reducing the likelihood that we can intervene in a way that will make a difference, but also disconnect from ourselves, from the part of us who is the bully. When we are disconnected from ourselves and others, we become more willing to treat someone as less than a person; to, in fact, act toward them in similar ways to the actions we are protesting from them. One way to re-connect is through using the Enemy Image Process. Using this process to get in touch with our own feelings and needs can help us become clear about what we would like to do in the situation and act in accordance with our values.
We have an enemy image anytime we hold an image of someone else that prevents us from feeling compassion and connection with them. The Enemy Image Process (EIP) has a simple structure; empathize with yourself, empathize with the other, and requests.
Let’s take a situation where you have seen two teenage boys walking along and one of them accosts another teenage boy, and go through what the EIP might look like.
You can empathize with yourself by going through the four components of NVC as Ike did in his last post. The observation could be what you saw, for example, one boy shoving another boy, saying to him “get out of the way, faggot.” Since this is empathy for you, you might use as your observation the thoughts that you notice in your mind when you see the bullying happening or think about it afterwards, perhaps something like, “I hate seeing that, I want to shake that boy and wake him up, or have him experience that so he knows what it’s like. Why can’t he see what he’s doing? Is he really so clueless? What kind of power trip is he on anyway? I’d go over there right now but I’m afraid of what his reaction might be.”
Then, check in with your feelings, trying to name them as accurately as you can. You might feel anger, sadness, or maybe some fear, or some combination of feelings. If you are doing the process some time after seeing it happen, you might also have some disappointment if you didn’t do something at the time.
Next, find the needs that lie behind the feelings. Your needs might be for safety, compassion, caring, and understanding that underneath our differences, we are all the same. Feel into those needs, imagining what it feels like to have those needs met.
At this point you might have experienced some shift already in your physiology; perhaps you feel a little clearer or more relaxed. You can then turn your attention to empathizing for the young man who was doing the bullying, through inquiring into what needs he might be trying to meet in his actions that you are judging.
As you think about it, putting yourself in his place, you realize that he probably has little understanding or knowledge of the person he is acting toward in ways that you don’t like. He might, due to the way he was raised, have prejudice built into him such that he isn’t able to see another possibility. You realize that his actions are likely coming out of a deep fear and pain. He may be trying to protect himself or fit into a particular group that he wants to fit into by distancing himself from a group that he sees as opposed to it. As each guess of a feeling or need occurs to you, feel into how that lives within you; how the fear of otherness, the pain of separation, the needs for community, protection, safety, and understanding occur for you.
It does not matter whether these guesses are correct. What matters is that in making them and feeling them within yourself, you are transforming the prior image you had of him. You are humanizing him.
As you put yourself in the young man’s shoes, you might find yourself getting triggered again, and need to return to empathy for yourself. This back and forth, between empathy for yourself and empathy for him, can continue until you feel some peace within yourself, until you no longer have the judgmental thoughts you began with.
At this point, you can consider what requests you might have. These requests can be for yourself and others. You might have a request of yourself to have a conversation with the young man, you might ask others to support you prior to having it by role-playing the conversation, you might decide to talk to his parents or teachers and request that they have a conversation with him. The list of possibilities, once we are on the other side of our judgments, is generally much longer than it was prior to going through the process.
Whatever you decide to do, you are more likely to act in ways that are satisfying to you because they are in alignment with what you value. Going through the enemy image process helps you separate a person’s actions from their being; in doing so, you are more able to treat the bully with the compassion and care that you would like to see from him or her.
This post was written by Julie Stiles.