Noticing the smell of smoke can help us escape a building that is on fire.  Noticing stopped  vehicles in front of us can help us escape having a collision.  Noticing that we are in enemy mode gives us an opportunity to determine if we are in relational danger.  As I mentioned in the first blog of this series, enemy mode is a damaging brain state where we cannot accurately perceive others equitably because we experience them as adversaries. The great thing about noticing if we are or someone else is in enemy mode is that when we notice it, we have the opportunity to escape abusive situations!  We can also escape our own enemy mode responses which can cause damage to our relationships and compromise our best self.  

Welcome back to part 2 of this three-part blog informed by the book Escaping Enemy Mode: How Our Brains Unite or Divide Us by Dr. Jim Wilder and Ray Woolridge (2022).  In my first blog on Escaping Enemy Mode, I introduced the concept of this damaging brain state and gave information about how to identify its different forms.  This second blog will equip you with an understanding of how to recognize enemy mode in ourselves, the relationship between our identity and enemy mode, and the healing steps to admitting enemy mode.  While it might seem idealistic to simply avoid enemy mode, this state of mind does not politely announce its arrival or ask for permission to enter our experience.  As Wilder and Woolridge (2022, p. 183) explain, “We cannot correct enemy mode by avoiding it.”  Due to the phenomenon of state-dependent learning “a behavior or pattern is best learned if your internal mental state is similar during practice and testing of the behavior” (Ma, 2021), so it becomes evident that  “we must recognize enemy mode during enemy mode. We learn how to escape enemy mode when we are in enemy mode” (Wilder & Woolridge, 2022, p. 188). 

Recognizing Enemy Mode in Myself  (Wilder & Woolridge, 2022)

To our detriment, the prefrontal cortex (PFC) is off when the right brain is in both simple and stupid enemy mode.  Given the crucial role of the PFC in intelligently regulating our thoughts, emotions, and actions, the brain operating without this resource might be likened to a classroom of five year olds without a teacher.  There are some questions that we can stop and ask ourselves when we are in enemy mode that are helpful in activating our PFC and engaging our identity and values.  The answer to these questions will help us recognize enemy mode in ourselves.

  • Is this relationship important?   With our PFC partially functioning and in enemy mode, the relationship won’t feel important at the moment.  With our PFC fully functioning, instead of feeling annoyed or indifferent, we are able to recognize that we feel protective of the relationship and the person.
  • Do we have each other’s backs?  If the answer here is “no”, we must ask ourselves if this is the most effective way to live our lives and handle our relationships. Most of us have heard the expression, “united we stand, divided we fall” which points out that life situations have better outcomes when we are relationally connected. 
  • Is this a moment to be proud that I’m human?  This question can help determine if we are attributing value to another human being through our words, thoughts and actions.
  • Am I offering justifications to protect my image?  Answering “yes” to this question might indicate that we are more concerned with protecting against vulnerability than being relational.
  • Are winning, success, and control my only values?  This question reveals our motives.  If other’s values don’t seem important to us at the moment, we will operate as predatory instead of as relational protectors.
  • Is serving the vision my justification for relational loss?  Consider if we might be more focused on our vision or cause than our relationships.  Our ideal focus on doing what we believe is “right” and “best” might possibly involve throwing others “under the bus”. This question is best asked last, because if not, and our relational circuits are off, it will be easy to justify vision-over-relationship instead of relationship-with-vision. 

The Relationship Between Identity and Enemy Mode

Escaping enemy mode is going to require both individual and group identity functions in the brain to be operational” (Wilder & Woolridge, 2022, p. 188).  Because our identities are strongly associated with the PFC and its functions, impairment of our PFC in enemy mode can cause us to lose sight of our true identity as well as make it difficult to recognize being in enemy mode.  It is vital that we have someone who encourages our best identity to help us admit when we are in enemy mode.  It is the insults to our identities, grown from our attachments to our families and identity groups, that lead to enemy mode.  Therefore, it will be easier to admitenemy mode reactions to someone who has a strong attachment to us.  

Steps to Admitting Enemy Mode  (Wilder & Woolridge, 2022)

The following are some helpful practices to seeing and admitting enemy mode in ourselves:


  1. Quieting:  Find a quiet and safe place to rest your mind, noticing how your body feels.
  2. Appreciation: Stabilize your brain chemistry by appreciating at least three meaningful experiences.
  3. Relational Mode Activation: Recall and make a list of at least three good and comforting relational moments in your life.
  4. Listing Feelings of Isolation: Make a list of the times in the last week (or day) that you felt as if someone else was not on your side.  
  5. Check In With Your Brain: If it becomes hot, cold, or upset, repeat steps 1-3 before continuing.
  6. Listing Historical Events: Make a list of enemy mode situations or experiences and notice how your body feels and your mind reacts.
  7. Recalling Relational Short-Circuit: Make a short list of how you have felt or reacted when you have been in enemy mode.
  8. Take a Break: Place the lists aside for a few days and then review what you have written, updating if necessary.
  9. Recruiting Help: Explain enemy mode to someone you trust and have them tell you when they have seen you in enemy mode.


Thank you for joining me in the second blog of this series as we have explored some practical tools for recognizing and admitting enemy mode.  This has prepared a foundation for the third and final blog in which I will discuss how an individual can escape enemy mode as well as how that individual can help others escape enemy mode.  Make sure to tune in next time to discover how we can learn how to act like our best selves, maintain our identity, be a protector, and stay relational even in the midst of challenging situations. 



Ma, L. (2021, November 11). Examples of How You Can Use State-Dependent Learning. Psychology Today.

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



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