Dissolving “Enemy” Images

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.” The practice 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 also be a mildly annoying co-worker. Of course it could be someone who has hurt you badly or someone about whom you have judgments that are creating a sense of separation. But it can also be yourself.

Here’s a basic outline of the practice. When you’re first learning it, it’s easiest to do this in writing. And if it’s your very first time, choose someone in which your level of blame is no more than 5 on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being very low and 10 being exceedingly high).

The Story

  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.)
  2. What are your thoughts/blame related to the observation?
    (Example: She was inconsiderate. The group doesn’t care about my contribution.)


  1. Optional: What shift(s) would you like to see happen and what might this do for you?
    (Example: I’d like to feel less upset. That would make it more likely I can be heard.)
  2. What are your main feelings related to the observation(s)?
    (Example: I felt shocked, disappointed, irritated, alienated.)
  3. What are your needs related to these feelings?
    (Example: I need to be heard, included and I have a need for respect and 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 #6.
    (Example: Perhaps she needed to matter.)


  1. During the situation, did you create a meaning about yourself or your future out of what happened? (Note: this is often what creates pain in the situation. It’s a kind of blanket conclusion.)
    (Example: I don’t speak up for my needs.)
  2. Is it possible that your difficult feelings and thoughts are more about the meaning than what actually happened?
  3. Did more feelings or 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. Optional:
    • What might you lose that you value if you were to let go the blame?
      (Example: I might never be heard.)
    • How could you let go of the blame and still keep what your might lose that you value?
      (Example: I could be very honest and have a conversation about it.)
  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. Are you blaming yourself for anything? (Very often there is blame for ourselves under the blame we have for others.)
    (Example: Since many of my feelings are about the group, I should have spoken up when she interrupted.)
  2. 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.
  3. Do you wish to renew or release the relationship?
  4. If you wish to renew, write down your intention for how to prepare for and navigate a conversation.
    (Example: I’d like to approach this with curiosity and openness.)


The above is based on the work of François Beausoleil, learned at one of his “Blame-Free State Intensives.” He has incorporated this work into courses now offered online at the Empathic Leadership Institute. Deep gratitude to François. His teaching has made a profound difference in my life.