When Families Require a Common Enemy


when families require a common enemy

When Families Require a Common Enemy… to BE OK

I don’t know why some families do this: when families require a common enemy to be OK. There is probably a psychology term or an anthropology definition for the family unit needing a “common enemy” to survive. It is like back in the day our hunter-gatherer great, great grandparents needed to have a “them” to maintain the cohesive unit of the tribe. Without the family unit, people died.

  • So starvation was a common enemy – finding, growing, hunting food to survive became essential to maintaining the family.
  • Other tribes, clans, families were the common enemy – defending, battling, going to war were a part of life.
  • Faulty, differing belief patterns were the common enemy – so that anyone stepping outside of approved ideas or commonly held beliefs were often ostracized or eliminated.
  • The king or overlord were the common enemy – fighting for liberty and freedoms became a way to better the life of the group.

This is part of the history of man – our evolution – the need for a common enemy to unite us.

Anything that was seen as dangerous to the health, welfare, and cohesiveness of the family unit was therefore eliminated.

The survival of the tribe was central to everything they did.

Nowadays you will often find gatherings of people under the same banner, pledging allegiance to common thoughts, goals, belief patterns, histories and lifestyles. Often the banner we are called to protect and pledge our allegiance to for life – is the one that shares our blood: family. Another banner we often pledge allegiance to for life is the one that shares our faith: church. (There are many other banners: political beliefs, nation, etc. to which we pledge allegiance, but this article focuses only on two: family and church)

Under this banner, our blood families and our faith families often have a common enemy. It is almost as if these families require a common enemy to survive.

families require a common enemy to survive

For example: Having a gay child – something divergent from the rest of the (blood or faith) family – is received differently depending upon the evolution of the heart and belief patterns of the family. If their family members are receptive and open, receiving the child in their midst with open arms and lives – they are evolved as a tribe. If they are shunning, ostracizing, and willing “to eat their young” to protect themselves and the rest of the tribe from this difference– let’s just say they have some evolving to do (or as the Christian faith calls it “sanctifying work”).

(We could have a whole other discussion about the number of tribes that routinely “eat their young.”)

What you will witnessed in families of both blood and faith is this deep need for a THEM vs. US mindset. Without this common enemy they wouldn’t feel united. A common enemy can be an exhilarating bonding experience.

common enemy family bonding

  • Nothing says “family” quite like having someone to focus all our negative energy upon.
  • Nothing says “community of faith” quite like having someone we all love to hate.
  • Nothing says “bonding experience” quite like gathering the mob together to ostracize an offending member of the group (READ THAT ARTICLE ON THE MOB MENTALITY HERE).

In church this common enemy depends upon the religion, denomination, its bylaws, and common understanding of their holy texts. It could be: the liberal agenda, the gay agendas, the conservative agendas, ETC. Anything outside that specific religion’s earnestly held beliefs could be considered fair game as a common enemy.

These common enemies become what unites us – even more so than the God we worship.

I am familiar with a denomination that has taken this idea of a common enemy to such extremes that any group that happens to have differing values (being pro same-sex marriage, pro-choice, etc.) is no longer allowed to use any of their churches’ facilities. So the Boy Scouts – who are OK with gay leaders leading – who do not regulate this on a local level because each troop is autonomous – these churches are no longer allowing Boy Scout troops to use their facilities.

This is an example of circling the wagons to protect the interests of the group. It is fear-based and reactionary behavior and attitudes. And you will find within these groups fearful, reactionary members helping this common agenda against this common enemy. It is what they become known for – their common hatred, not their common love.

our common hatred not our common loveI don’t know why we need a common enemy to find one another attractive. I don’t know why so many need a common enemy to be OK within the groups they belong. Perhaps without a common enemy to focus our energy on we wouldn’t be able to bond or spend any time together because at the core we don’t even like each other all that much.

Stop for a moment, look at all of the people around you, now look at who you love and who you love to hate – together – that is your “common enemy.”

While many believe that this is a “banner of love” we stand beneath with our family, friends, and church communities, you will find our truth on the fringes where the carcasses of our common enemies lay rotting.

Here’s the thing: I haven’t met a family of blood or faith that does not do this – have a common enemy, fixate on a common enemy, annihilate the common enemy.

It is so ingrained in how we live, how we have “evolved” that it is difficult to eliminate from our reactive, relationship patterns. While the created goodness and love we have been formed in the image of inspires us toward better, there is still this underlying survival instinct that believes you NEED a common enemy to be OK.

So does your family or group have a common enemy – the source of all vitriol, venom, and rejection?

  • How does this play out in your conversations?
  • How does this play out in your interactions?
  • Is someone always on the outs?
  • What actions does the tribe take to maintain its health that also makes sure to silence the critic, reject, or rebellious members?
  • What steps can you take to eliminate the common enemy mindset?

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