Emotional Near Enemies 

Emotional Near Enemies

There’s a quote in the Godfather: Part II, “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.” Long before the Godfather script was even a thought, Sun-tzu, a Chinese general who lived around 400 B.C is credited with this phrase. Regardless of its timeless origin, we all have heard it before. It’s ingrained in our memory. This phrase was probably meant literally during timesof war, but there are many metaphorical implications. Let’s look at some from an emotional perspective. 

Five-time New York Times bestselling author and social science researcher, Brené Brown, in her newest book, Atlas of the Heart, discussed a concept called, “Near Enemies.” Near enemies are similar to but different than what we’re trying to get to in order to build meaningful connection. It’s thoughts, feelings, and actions that are almost meaningful connection, but actually serves to undermine it. Most research on this concept comes from Buddhist and Christian teachings on virtues. We will look at some examples to get perspective.

Virtue #1 – Lovingkindness

Lovingkindness is about loving others without expectation and wishing the best for others. A near enemy of lovingkindness is attachment. This says, “I will love you only if you do this for me.” There are conditions. The receiving person feels loved only when performing to the giver’s standards, which undermines meaningful connection in any relationship. Alternatively, clinginess is also a near enemy. This says, “I have to rely on you to love me because I don’t love myself.” Clinginess is about fear, not love.

Let’s be clear, loving your enemies does not mean you have to accept bad behavior from others. Healthy boundaries are an absolute must in any relationship (friendships, romantic partners, coworkers, boss, acquaintances, etc.). Sometimes healing needs to take place to address attachment traumas like experiencing near enemies of lovingkindness, and that’s ok. You’re not alone.

Virtue #2 – Compassion

Compassion means wanting to help another person, or to be with someone suffering. It’s about being in the trenches of life with another person. Some words in my research on near enemies of compassion that came up were pity, enabling, and people-pleasing. Compassion is an action word. It is a feeling that is followed by doing something. Pity is saying, “I really feel sorry for that person” while standing back and doing nothing. 

Enabling is a term we most often think of when it comes to addiction, but it fits more situations as well. Enabling is where we feel sorry for another person and instead of walking alongside the person in their pain, we take over and carry all the burden ourselves. There’s a sense of unfairness about that in two ways: 

  • 1. In healthy relationships we give and receive compassion. We don’t carry burdens alone.
  • 2. This lets the other person off the hook. Sometimes there are valuable lessons we take away from the other person when we take over, robbing them of experience, growth, healing, and a sense of their own empowerment to overcome.

People-pleasing also is not compassion. People-pleasing has an ulterior motive. It’s about doing for others to avoid conflict, not because we really want to help. 

Compassion is not about taking away suffering or pain or getting people to like you. It’s about being present.

Virtue #3 – Joy or Appreciation

This one’s tough. Remember the time your neighbor bought that new car or that time your coworker got promoted? On the outside we pretended to be happy for them but inside we felt that tinge of jealousy or disappointment because it wasn’t happening for us at that moment. The near enemy of joy or appreciation is hypocrisy. It’s important to define hypocrisy here. Hypocrisy is insincerity and hides our true emotions. We are looking at our “I-ness” not our “We-ness.” In my research I’ve found that most of us live with a “scarcity mindset.” This is the idea that there isn’t enough for everyone. There’s just not enough love, money, things. When we aren’t the one receiving, we feel like we are losing something. I invite you to challenge the scarcity mindset by remembering that there is enough love, room for promotions, opportunities, and growth. Someday it could be you getting that new car or promotion. Remember, there is “We-ness” in our humanity. We’re all in this together. When we share joy and appreciation with others there is meaningful connection.

Virtue #4 – Equanimity

Don’t tell anyone but I had to look this word up. It means evenness of mind or balance. A near enemies of having a balanced mind is indifference or apathy. This looks like resignation or withdrawal internally, but others are seeing cool, calm, and collected. Nothing bothers you. Some near enemy statements here are:

  • “It doesn’t matter.”
  • “It’s no big deal.”
  • “Everything is ok.”
  • “I’m ok.” (When I’m actually really angry with you).
  • “I don’t care.”

We are internalizing pain with this near enemy. We suffer emotionally at our own cost, while the other person doesn’t even know! 

Equanimity is about what Brené Brown calls, “feeling embodied and connected to self.” This is about checking in with yourself. How are you feeling about the situation? It’s the vulnerability to say, “I’m not ok with that. You hurt my feelings. I would like…” 

The “We-ness” of our humanity is that we all want to be heard, be seen, and be valued. 

These are just a few common examples of emotional near enemies. There are more. Unfortunately. The silver lining here is that we have the power to change these near misses. We do that through cultivating meaningful connections with others and with ourselves.

In some cases, talking with a professional counselor could be beneficial to assist individuals in working through emotional near misses. If I can be of any assistance, please contact me.

I’d love to hear your feedback on this article. You can get in touch with me at www.connectiveclinicalcounseling.com.