Dissolving “Enemy” Images

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Dissolving Internal Barriers to Wise Speech

This Nonviolent Communication practice is usually called “Dissolving Enemy Images,” but the word “enemy” can be problematic, because the object is much broader than what we generally mean by “enemy.” It can be used for a wide variety of people you’re having some kind of problem with. It could be someone you love who is “driving you crazy” at the moment. It could be a mildly annoying co-worker. Of course it could be someone who has hurt you badly. But it can also be yourself.

Here is a basic outline of the practice.


  1. * Start with a specific observation, an action of the person, that stimulated your enemy image.
    (Example: while you were speaking at a meeting this person started speaking about an unrelated subject and the meeting did not come back to your subject.)


  1. * Your thoughts/blame related to the observation.
    (Example: She was inconsiderate. The group doesn’t care about my contribution.)
  2. * Your feelings related to the observation(s).
    (Example: I felt shocked, disappointed, irritated, alienated.)
  3. * Your needs related to these feelings.
    (Example: I’m mourning not being heard, included, respected, mattering.)

Empathy for the Other

  1. * Your best guess of the feelings possibly present for the person.
    (Example: Maybe she was excited about her thought.)
  2. * Your best guess of their possible needs related to the feelings identified in #5.
    (Example: Perhaps she needed to matter.)


  1. * During the situation, did you create a meaning about you or your future out of what happened?
    (Example: I don’t speak up for my needs.)
  2. * Is it possible that your feelings and thoughts are more about the meaning than what actually happened?
  3. * Did more feelings and needs come up when you identified the meaning? If so, pause and make note of them.
  4. * Is the meaning necessarily true? Just a little crack can help.

Rewriting the Story

  1. * Are you blaming yourself for anything?
    (Example: Since many of my feelings are about the group, I should have spoken up when she interrupted.)
  2. * Could there be a misunderstanding?
    (Example: She might have thought I had finished.)
  3. * Imagine a scenario in which you would have as close as possible to no blame.
    (Example: She has poor hearing and didn’t hear that I was talking. Or she just had a big Aha! Moment and couldn’t contain herself.)

Next Steps

  1. * Circle back through your answers, highlighting any pieces that were particularly helpful. At this point you might pause for a few minutes, hours, or even a day or so, giving time for these pieces to percolate in the back of your mind.
  2. * Do you wish to renew or release the relationship? (This step is derived from The Book of Forgiving by Desmond and Mpho Tutu.)
  3. * If you wish to renew, write down your intention for how to prepare for and navigate the conversation.