While reading Louise Pennie’s book The Cruelest Month, I was introduced to the concept of “Near Enemies.” Chief Inspector Gamache, the chief homicide detective, is having a discussion with Myra, the local psychologist, about possible suspects in a murder in a small English village, when she asks him if he had heard of the concept of Near Enemies. It is two emotions that look the same but are opposites. One pretends to be the other, and it is often mistaken as the other, but one is helpful while the other is harmful. As long as the harmful emotion is in place, there is no room for the helpful emotion. It destroys good will. At times, it is difficult to know which emotion is in charge. Near enemies are sneaky and hard to spot.
I was immediately captivated by the concept and the roles they play in our daily lives. This concept helps us see subtle differences in how we are feeling. It is so easy to mislabel our feelings and even our own intentions. Knowing the difference and being able to identify what emotion is at work can help us see factors that can cause misunderstandings and areas where we get stuck.
The near enemies are:
1. Over-Attachment masquerading as love
2. Pity rather than compassion
3. Indifference pretending to be Equanimity
Three Common Near Enemies
1. Over-Attachment masquerading as Love:
Love is complicated, and our education about it is extraordinarily limited. We learn much of out opinion about what is called “love” from movies and television shows. There are sitcoms and dramas that show various families, ranging from the perfect to the dysfunctional. It spreads confusion and misinformation.
Consider this example: A mother who dotes on her children. She loves them deeply, works hard and gives them her all. This may work until it is time for the child to become independent. She feels hurt when her child tells her, “no” or wants to be separate. She feels rejected and unimportant when they want to be with friends and not include her. She does not want to let them go at a time when it is essential for them to learn independence.
This is an example of confusing love for attachment. When we become over-attached to those whom we love, we become dependent upon them. We are not free to grow and neither is our loved one. Healthy attachment feels connected and free at the same time.
The concept of codependency is another example of over-attachment masquerading as love. It is the belief that “I am not whole if I do not have you”. It clings, stifles and holds the other back in the name of love.
This can work both ways. Love also can be seen as someone trying to possess you when they are expressing their love. That is the responsibility of the recipient. No matter the other person’s motives, we are responsible for understanding our feelings and reactions to others. We can only control ourselves.
2. Pity as Compassion:
Compassion is the ability to feel another’s pain and joy, because we have fully experienced our own feelings. It brings people together and creates the space where healing happens. It allows for growth, hope and transformation. Compassion sees the needy person as an equal.
Pity, on the other hand, sees the person in need as inferior. Pity is an attitude of superiority and is given through a position of having power over the other person. Pity is an unwillingness to feel. It kills hope, a belief in a better future and relationships. Pity leaves you alone.
The two - pity and compassion - may look the same on the outside, but the difference is the spirt in which it is given. It is a difference that comes from inside, and one that will be felt by the recipient.
Pity comes in the form of giving to others because it make you feel superior.
Compassion is knowing the person is in need and asking what do you need. It is giving in accordance with what they need, not want you want to give in order to fill your own needs. Just as it is with love and over attachment, it works both ways. When a person is given compassion and feels it is pity it is important to question what is in the way inside that blocks the ability to receive a gift freely. Have you been taught that needs are bad? Are you ashamed that you have needs?
To my way of thinking, an important part of that is developing compassion for
ourselves. Having compassion for ourselves enables us to be with ourselves through all that life brings. It allows us to behave as agents, capable of growth and change, and capable of influencing our own lives. When we have compassion for ourselves then we can give compassion more effectively.
3. Indifference as Equanimity:
Equanimity is the ability to feel deeply while knowing that there is more to the situation than just that one emotion. This is the quality that make it possible to overcome disappointment, heartache, losses and overwhelming life events. It is through equanimity that we find our core when we are in the midst of strong emotion.
Indifference is not feeling and not caring. It can come in the form of denial, inattention and, at its worst, not seeing that people are worth caring for. Indifference comes from having unmet needs.
A young father was awakened in the night from his son’s screams. His son has asthma and it was assumed that he was having a severe attack. The father remained calm and reassuring in the face of his son being inconsolable. He remained composed as he made a midnight trip to the emergency room. Even in the face of his son’s panic and fear he responded with equanimity because he knew that no matter what happened he was there to handle the situation.
Each of these situations presents us with opportunities to know ourselves more deeply, and opportunities to grow. Do one or more of these pairs of Near Enemies play a role in your life? Can you identify which feeling prompts you to act? I can help you probe those thoughts and discover what makes you tick. Call me at: 919-881-2001