Lori Mateer is a counselor who daily walks with individuals and couples together growing and maturing relationally as individuals, couples and community. Lori is actively working on Thrive training in the 19 brain skills with her small group and is experiencing surprising and encouraging character growth. She was a part of Jim Wilder’s The Pandora Problem’s 15 week training last year and continues to practice protecting others from herself as well as learning to love her enemies. Her time spent in the Pandora Problem was eye opening and continuing to remain in the training is transforming old bad brain habits.
As I sit here, I want to pass on what a dear friend is sharing with me. It is too good to keep to myself. The other day while sitting in our Belonging group, I asked my friend, “What can I do when my brain is stuck on seeing my husband or others as enemies?” He responded right away, “Remember when you were allies.” My first question was, “What is an ally?”
An ally is someone who says, I am in this with you, you are not alone. I want to face whatever comes by your side and I want you by my side. Well, it was apparent that my brain was seeing my husband as an enemy because I could only find a few places in 27 years of marriage that we were allies.
My brain was stuck in enemy mode, in the amygdala, that asks the question: Is this good, bad or scary? And depending on the answer should I fight, flight or flee? My brain was saying bad, scary, bad, scary. It could not remember the good – allies.
When my brain is in this place, I don’t feel like myself. I am tracking fear. I am not chasing joy. I am predicting every horrible thing that can happen with my husband or whoever feels like an enemy in that moment. I can’t bring to mind places where we are allies because my brain is stuck.
What do I need at this place? One thing is for sure, my brain doesn’t need denial or dismissal of the problems or situation. That only feels invalidating and brings no comfort to any involved. Being allies does not mean there isn’t a problem – even a huge problem. It’s just that that huge problem is being sustained when we live like enemies. The problems are probably being passed from generation to generation while we are in enemy mode.
Jim Wilder states in his newest book, Renovated, “A direct return to being relational (leaving enemy mode) is provided through encountering people who do not feel like enemies at the moment. The smiling face of someone I love – like a child, lover, dog, or grandchild – brings me back.” (p. 85)
After being in our Belonging group, I reached out to that friend who said, “Remember when you were allies,” because I could not get out of enemy mode on my own. I needed to connect with someone who was glad to be with me even when I was in enemy mode, not pretending or hiding in shame. This brought me back to my normal, relational self. Once I was back, I was able to write a list of all the places we were allies. In five minutes I came up with 39 places. Isn’t that wonderful? My brain was able to sync with someone who did not feel like an enemy in the moment and brought me back to who I am.
Why is this especially relevant right now? As a country we are at a critical point. We know hatred, passivity, shame, fear, disgust, dismissiveness, hopeless despair or rage. As I sat and visited with a friend I was aware, our country is in enemy mode and we need to find a way out. How do we learn to be allies? As I noted earlier, who are we encountering who do not feel like enemies in the moment? Where are our elders (role models) who can help us not just be allies but to love our enemies?
“But I have not yet learned to love when I am in enemy mode, only to get out of it. If an attachment person who loves me also loves my enemies, then I can learn to love those enemies too. Learning to love enemies is learned from people who love enemies.” (Wilder, Renovated, p. 85)
This friend from my Belonging group loves both my husband and me. He helped me come out of enemy mode with my husband. I felt love and attachment when I think of when we have been allies. This is why I am so passionate to share what I am learning; I have spent too much of my life in enemy mode. I’m not proud of this, it is just true.
Enemy mode will continue to prevail if I am not honest with myself and others and continue denying the problems that do exist in relationships. Instead, I need to be more aware that blaming and making others “bad” does not solve what is very broken. What is one step you can take today as this is a new skill, returning from enemy mode? Will you start here with me: “Lord, who feels like my enemy today? Lord, how do You see my enemy/enemies and what do You want me to know about loving him/her/them?”
As I asked the question earlier, where are the elders (role models)? I want to point to Jim Wilder as one. And he maps out a path to loving our enemies on page 85 of Renovated. I plan to share more of this on my next blog.
Until then, I’d like to leave you with the question my friend asked me, “When were your allies?”
When I was at Rutgers University, I had a black roommate my freshman year and we both didn’t feel safe with each other. I was a white girl from the Jersey shore and did not have a clue what her life was like. I didn’t. I knew what it was like to grow up in fear, in pain, being abandoned/rejected, alone and fighting to stay alive. But we did not know how to relate. In the Spring semester I went home for the weekend and returned to find her in bed, alone and very very sick. I immediately took her to the clinic, got her the help she needed, and took care of her until she felt better. After caring for her, she bragged about me to everyone and I was no longer an outsider. We were now roommates and we were friends. Our relationship started with a lot of pain because neither one of us could relate to each other’s life experiences, but we had both experienced some of the same pain: rejection, abandonment, being poor, fear, abandoned, unloved. We could relate there, 100%.
When have you felt like a person with different life experiences or a different perspective was your ally? Can you relate to the pain someone else carries even if you don’t have the exact same experiences? Will you sit and be with her/him in their pain? You might be surprised: you aren’t enemies, you aren’t different, your heart feels the same feelings and you don’t want to feel all alone in those feelings either.
Once you’ve remembered some times about your allies, tell that story to another friend. We need to remember when we have been allies and share it with others. Otherwise, our brain gets stuck in a most horrible place where everything feels bad and scary and nothing feels good or safe.
You can find more information on returning from enemy mode and Jim Wilder’s book, Renovated at lifemodelworks.org