“Escaping enemy mode ultimately depends on living a life that is relational, at least most of the time. The three central elements of relational life are: building joy, bringing out the best in others, and recovering quickly when enemy mode starts”, (Wilder and Woolridge, 2022, p. 225). 

Thank you for joining me for the third and final part of this blog series on Escaping Enemy Mode, inspired by Jim Wilder and Ray Woolridge’s 2022 book, Escaping Enemy Mode: How Our Brains Unite or Divide Us.  My first blog post on Escaping Enemy Mode introduced the concept of this damaging brain state and gave information about how to identify its different forms.  The second blog post educated readers on how to recognize enemy mode in ourselves, the relationship between our identity and enemy mode, and the healing steps to admitting enemy mode.   Without further ado, this final blog post will equip individuals with the necessary tools to prepare to escape enemy mode, to escape enemy mode themselves, and to help others escape enemy mode.  “The fast-track operations deep in the brain go into action before conscious thought has a chance, and when these fast operations make a mistake, we are in enemy mode before we are conscious of how we got there. Self-rescue means learning how to get out of enemy mode”, (Wilder & Woolridge, 2022, p. 213).  Let’s look at some practical skills for self-rescue.  We can know that when the concept of escaping enemy mode begins to feel like a win for us, our friends and our best self, then we are ready to start the process.

Planning Our Escape  (Wilder & Woolridge, 2022)

The list of following practices can help us identify which areas in our escape plan might need attention.  Discovering areas of weakness is a strength and learning to do something on demand gives us a great sense of confidence.  

  • Practice Self-Quieting:  The obvious connection is that quieting ourselves can help us avoid doing something stupid/impulsive.  Neuroscience consistently reveals a strong correlation between self-quieting and mental health.  According to research, the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and insula play a key role in emotional and bodily awareness, as well as integrating external sensory information (what’s going on around us) with internal bodily state signals and emotion (what’s going on inside of us) (Jang et. al., 2018).  Deep breathing techniques such as  4~7~8 breathing and  box breathing can calm our nervous system and help us stay curious.
  • Know Where to Land:  It is vital that we can discern the difference in our body and mind when our relational circuits (RCs) are on versus off.  Take a moment to go through the RCs checklistWhen our RCs are on, we see the relationship or person in front of us as bigger than the problem or pain we face; while our RCs are off, we see the problem or pain as bigger than the relationship or person (Loppnow, 2021).  Know what it feels like to be operating with your relational circuits on and practice being relational.
  • Avoid Toxic Shame:  Toxic shame focuses on what we have done wrong. It is always destructive to our identity whereas a healthy shame message reveals our mistake but keeps us connected with our identity.  Toxic shame is typically accompanied by anger or embarrassment when we make a mistake.  Healthy shame is typically accompanied by perspective-taking around how we can become our best self.
  • Write a Description of My Best Self:   If we don’t have a target goal in mind for any endeavor, we can be assured that we will never hit it.  How do we want to act so that we can feel proud of ourselves afterward?  Take a moment to think about who your “best self” is and write down those qualities.  A trustworthy, attached person might be a helpful resource in creating this list.  
  • Feed an Attachment:  Because all three styles of enemy mode involve a lost awareness of attachment (i.e., relationship), reminding ourselves of meaningful attachments is a valuable resource.  Strengthen the attachments you have by intentionally giving eye smiles (eye contact that communicates to someone that they are the apple of your eye and a source of joy) and recognizing their facial expressions that communicate they are glad to be with you.  
  • Practice Intentional Compassion:  “Practicing intentional compassion begins with noticing the hurt, especially the hurt we have caused. Compassion grows when we allow ourselves to sit in the pain with the person we have hurt without trying to fix it.”Wilder & Woolridge, 2022 p. 215).  Sitting with someone who has been hurt by another person, or by us, then connecting with their pain and feeling it in our body, validates their pain and increases our compassion.
  • Explain to Others What I Plan to Do:  Explaining how enemy mode impacts us and how we plan to get out of it helps the procedural center of our left brain remember more clearly what it is that we plan to do.  
  • Locate and Enlist an Encourager and Coach:   Setting out to be better, or to do something better, requires two things: a healthy example and an encouraging partner.  Encouragement is a powerful resource in achieving something out of reach.  This might look like finding someone who models staying relational and asking them to be a mentor. Spending consistent time with the mentor will allow that person to have influence over our ability to get out of enemy mode.
  • Practice Discussions About Finding the Least Harmful Solutions:  “Practicing figuring out the least harmful solution while we are calm and with people we are attached to will help both sides know what we need when the time comes.” (Wilder and Woolridge, 2022 p. 217).  Because enemy mode is all about winning with no real consideration of collateral damage, it is important to consider mutually beneficial solutions for anticipated situations while the brain has perspective and clarity.
  • Start Off Easy With Someone You Generally Like:  Practice re-friending (i.e., the process of quieting ourselves, turning our relational circuits back on, and re-establishing joy with the person in front of us) with someone who is easy to re-friend.  Remembering that re-friending changes how we react to others, shifting from reaction and antagonism to seeking the best outcome for both sides.
  • Get to Know Your Usual Enemy Patterns:  If we observe the enemy mode patterns we have been exhibiting in the past, we will be able to notice the start of enemy mode faster.  We gain confidence when we let ourselves notice how we have escaped enemy mode in the past.  
  • Pick a Start Time When You are Less Rested and Stressed: Timing is everything.  We should practice re-friending at a time when we are not overly tired or hungry.  

Authors Dr. Jim WIlder and Ray Woolridge emphasize that escaping enemy mode requires changing our brains.  The following are suggested ideas to escape each of the three types of enemy mode.   

Ideas for Escaping Simple Enemy Mode (Wilder & Woolridge, 2022 p. 237)

  1. Notice in my conscious slow track brain when I “should” be having an attachment response.
    “This is my child greeting me after a long day at the office. They love me and miss me.”
    2. Restart my attachment system using procedural memory by doing the following:
             a. Say out loud  “Please give me a moment to get my relational circuits back on.”
             b. Make a note to myself about where I left off with the task.
             c. Remember an important joy moment (preferably with the person in front of me).
             d. Once my face starts a slight smile, greet them warmly.
    3. Thank people who remind me to become relational.

Idea for Escaping Stupid Enemy Mode  (Wilder & Woolridge, 2022 p. 243)

  1. Utilize instant quieting methods (such as controlled breathing).  
  2. If unable to quiet, go to a place where I can cool off and use my quieting method there. 
  3. Follow the steps for escaping simple enemy mode. 
  4. Go back and share any pain I have created without attempting to justify myself.

Ideas for Escaping Intelligent Enemy Mode  (Wilder & Woolridge, 2022 p. 245)

  1. Identify the relationships I have that are worth keeping.  
  2. Ask these people to tell me if they see me in enemy mode.   
  3. Thank and reward everyone on my keeper list who tells me when I am in enemy mode. 
  4. Find a coach/mentor I respect who can call me out on any ways I might be fooling myself.  
  5. Invest myself in helping each of my keepers develop their best self in one area of weakness.

Helping Others Escape Enemy Mode  (Wilder & Woolridge, 2022)

Remaining our best self with our true identity, particularly under pressure, is critical for helping others escape enemy mode.  “Personal shared stories synchronize brain activity between two people. The weaker brain follows the stronger brain whose patterns are not easily disrupted. In this way, a stable identity can provide stability for someone whose identity system is becoming unstable. If the stronger brain is in enemy mode, both will go down.” (Wilder & Woolridge, 2022 p. 257). 

  • Self-Rescue:  We need self rescue by our left brain so that our relational identity can be in charge.  If our left brain has learned the signs of where/how our right brain can get stuck in enemy mode, it can initiate change.
  • Language and Procedure:  We can talk ahead of time about working cooperatively to escape enemy mode.  Using conscious slow-track language such as “I am in enemy mode with…” in conversation with others can be a cue that we need to be encouraged to operate out of our best self.   
    • Speed:  Being around people in enemy mode tends to pull us in as well.  Helping others is dependent on how well we are able to help ourselves.  We need to be able to pull ourselves out of enemy mode quickly in order to stay relational with others who we are trying to help. If we find we cannot do that, we may need to take a quick break from the people pulling us into enemy mode.
  • Relational Practice:  Practicing staying in our best selves with people we trust helps us be better prepared to interact with strangers who are in enemy mode.  
  • Have a Team:  For those who are experts at being in enemy mode, they respond far better to an identity group effort to help them escape enemy mode.
  • Group Identity:  It is easier to help someone out of enemy mode if they are affiliated with a securely attached belonging group that is supportive of staying relational and escaping enemy mode.  
  • Reduce Dependency on Fear-Based Motivation:  This is all about connection versus distrust in our relationships.  If we are able to stay connected and relational with one another while discussing a problem, the outcome will be much better than trying to discuss a problem while feeling fear or distrust. Sometimes, fear/distrust can register inside of us as a simple enemy mode symptom. The felt sensation is fatigue and coldness toward the other person.
  • Raise Their Social Standing With Me:  Because the human brain is very sensitive to any sign of being disrespected, pointing out what we value about the other person who is in enemy mode can be very helpful.  
  • Tell Mini and Micro Stories: Brains connect through stories.  If we want someone in enemy mode to track with our relational brain we must be quick to make the connection through story.  This mini/micro story might be as abbreviated as: “so you have an adult child living at home too?”. 
  • Sharing Pain:  As mentioned earlier, compassion plays a significant role in keeping us out of enemy mode.  Sharing the pain that we have caused is especially important.
  • Helping Others Prepare:  We can prepare our stable and relational identities by communicating things such as: “I want to be on your side, and I know you want to be on mine.”
  • Make Re-friending Mutual:  We can train our brains to work together.  We understand that falling into enemy mode will happen again and so we can agree to help each other recognize and escape.

Conclusion

Thank you for joining me in this blog series!  We have covered a lot of ground, from understanding what enemy mode is, learning its different forms, clarifying the relationship between our identity and enemy mode, recognizing enemy mode in ourselves, learning how to escape enemy mode, and learning how to help others escape.  I hope you will take some time to follow the practices provided and see what changes you might notice in your thoughts, emotions, and relationships.   In conclusion, remember that intentionality is rewarding, and our “identity is formed by learning emotional regulation in relationships that bring joy. Being able to quiet ourselves while having our feelings keeps the relational attachment bigger than the problem” Wilder & Woolridge (2022 p. 269). We become our best selves when we invest in our relationships!



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