“Could one brain state explain why we hate, stop listening, stop talking, start blaming, raise our voices, see others as against us, want them to lose, unfriend, post nasty remarks online, sue others, fall out of love, divorce, stop caring, abuse, bully, feel alienated, despise a politician, race or religious group?” (Wilder & Woolridge, 2022, p. 19).

Welcome to part one of this three-part blog on Escaping Enemy Mode.  The content of this series is taken from the book Escaping Enemy Mode: How Our Brains Unite or Divide Us by Dr. Jim Wilder and Ray Woolridge (2022).  During the COVID-19 pandemic, Wilder found himself observing people becoming alienated at a rapid pace.  Whether it was over obtaining toilet paper, wearing a mask, showcasing racial injustice, or supporting political candidates, there was a prominent theme of people acting as enemies of those who disagreed with them.  This was a time characterized by unprecedented divisiveness. Wilder, a neurotheologian, wanted to understand what unseen processes in the brain divided people in order to help them reverse this mindset and achieve unity.   While the mindset of enemy mode was observed exponentially during the pandemic, we can find it anywhere at any time as long as people remain stuck in psychological immaturity due to unresolved trauma.  Enemy mode infiltrates families, organizations, work environments, churches, and friend groups. This blog is intended to help the reader understand enemy mode more fully and learn how to identify its differing forms.  

What Is Enemy Mode?

Enemy mode is a damaging brain state where we cannot accurately perceive others equitably because we experience them as adversaries.  In this literal state-of-mind, our brains become overloaded by distress (which we are often not aware of without practice) and shut down certain functions, so we are unable to see others as fellow humans with value.  Instead, we begin to see other people’s motives as bad, threatening, or harmful, resulting in our withdrawal or attack.  

Because of its impaired functioning, the brain in enemy mode objectifies people, seeing them as an annoyance or threat, an argument to be won, or a problem to be solved.  Once a person gets into enemy mode, compassion goes out the window, and we very simply desire that the other person, group, tribe, or party loses.  The brain in enemy mode lacks attachment and fights for status. And the brain in this state almost always thinks that its reactions and moods are justified out of self-defense, as the defensiveness is in direct response to what’s wrong with “them” or because of “them”.  

Just as there is a visual pathway in the brain which converts light to vision allowing us to see, there is a social awareness pathway in the brain that allows us to perceive that we are with another of our own kind, a fellow human.  If processing fails in the first example, we are physically blind. If processing fails in the later example, we are relationally blind.  Given that the human brain was designed by God to be deeply relational, if we are not living out of our full brain (i.e., relating to others with all neurological systems online), then we are not living out of our best selves or our true identity.   

The Three Different Types of Enemy Mode (Wilder & Woolridge, 2022)

  1. Simple Enemy Mode.  This level of enemy mode is characterized by low energy and minimal brain activity.  A tired, distracted, disinterested, or overly focused brain is fertile ground for this type of enemy mode.  In this state our body language and facial expressions send out subtle signals that we are indifferent, uninterested, and apathetic.  We are neither excited or curious about connecting with others.  When relational connection signals are missed, ignored, mistrusted, or feared, an uneasy tension develops between the parties involved. Once either person perceives that they are being ignored, overlooked, forgotten, etc.,  an incentive for simple enemy mode is formed. This stage is often felt as self-preservation. 

Signs Of Simple Enemy Mode:

  • Minimal responses such as:  “What do you want?”
  • Not curious about what the other person is thinking
  • Feeling misunderstood, ignored or manipulated
  • Locked onto our problems
  • A sudden end to interactions
  • Rigid focus on rules, policies and procedures
  • Decreased awareness of the body
  • Distracted, not present or connected
  • Relational Circuits (RCs) checklist shows circuits are off (click here to learn more about RCs and take the test), Loppnow, 2021,  

2. Stupid Enemy Mode.  This state of enemy mode is characterized by high energy and hot anger, within which we are no longer able to stay connected to people or remember that they have value.  Common to this state are actions/behaviors such as yelling, blaming, threatening, and name calling.  This stage is typically followed by some level of regret.   

Signs of Stupid Enemy Mode:

  • Our voice is considerably louder
  • We say or do things we later wish we could take back
  • Everyone appears to be against us or at least not “with” us
  • We feel out of control/overwhelmed
  • We feel angry or afraid, but sometimes very excited
  • Often alcohol or drugs are involved
  • We feel tired and ‘stretched too thin’
  • We act differently than our usual self
  • We lose sight of ourselves and get hyper-focused of the problem/person
  • We act like our parents or someone we swore we would never imitate 
  • Our words are about exhibiting power rather than reason
  • We sometimes “keep it to ourselves” when faced with someone more powerful
  • Our thoughts and words express contempt, rage, and hatred
  • We immediately notice other people’s vulnerability and humiliate them for things like their race, age, gender, sexuality, social status, clothes, weight, attractiveness, etc.

3. Intelligent Enemy Mode.  “Cold” anger, or low energy anger, characterizes this specific enemy mode which fills the brain with thoughts of resentment, vengeance, and deceptions.  Intelligent enemy mode can be short lived or last up to years as a cold indifference to others’ pain.  Unfortunately, this form of enemy mode can be passed from one generation to the next.  “Insensitivity to emotions, pain, and attachments becomes a value for intelligent enemy mode operators,” (Wilder, Woolridge, 2002, p.  98).  This form of enemy mode can involve plot lines and hidden motives with the goal of the “enemy’s” demise (desiring they “learn their lesson” or know “how it feels”).  

Signs of Intelligent Enemy Mode

  • Chronic distrust
  • Keeping “Us and Them” separate is valued
  • Control is more important than care or relationships
  • Image is carefully managed
  • Weakness is exploited
  • Living in ideals and principles instead of emotions
  • Calloused
  • Uses the pain others feel for a win
  • Can take over communities, affiliations and recruit new members
  • Winning justifies actions

Important caveat: According to my colleague, “The previously described types of enemy mode and their symptoms are outlined for a neurotypical population. Enemy mode can show up differently for neurodiverse individuals because of the way their brain handles imbalances in dopamine and blood flow. For instance, individuals with Variable Attention Stimulus Trait, or VAST (the brain state that can easily lead to ADHD) naturally bounce between relational states that mimic simple and stupid enemy mode. This often leads to people with VAST being inappropriately and unhealthily stigmatized as lazy, stupid, selfish, etc. until they get help balancing their brain and learning neurological optimization tactics. When these individuals move toward balance and optimization, they shift to more regulated norms that help reduce the stigmas” (K. Ferlic, personal communication, February 25, 2024).

Conclusion

In this blog, you were introduced to the concept of enemy mode and learned how to identify its three different forms.  Now that you understand a bit more about what this brain state is, you may be wondering “how do we avoid it”?  Stay tuned for the next blog post in this series!  We will learn how to recognize enemy mode in ourselves, the relationship between our identity and enemy mode, and the healing steps to admitting enemy mode.  Noticing enemy mode is necessary to finding an escape route that will free us to live out of our God-given identity and cultivate healthy relationships.  

Reference:

Loppnow, S. (2021, January 18). Relational Circuits (RCs) – An Introduction to a Vital Tool. Loppnow Relationship Center. Retrieved January 18, 2021, from https://www.loppnowrelationshipcenter.com/blog/relational-circuits

Wilder, J., & Woolridge, R. (2022). Escaping Enemy Mode: How Our Brains Unite or Divide Us. Moody Publishers.

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