‘Frenemies’ or Near Enemies of Gentleness

How gentleness can sometimes be misunderstood

Photo by Fernando @cferdophotography on Unsplash

Bingz Huang invited me to write an article for her #PracticingGentleness collaboration. She is the Queen and embodiment of all things gentle and knows that gentleness is a big part of one of the modalities I use, Focalizing.

But instead of looking at what gentleness is or how we use it in Focalizing, I was drawn to look at what it isn’t. I sense I was drawn to do this because I see our Western culture giving such a high value to attributes with a more obvious energy or potency and this leaves gentleness, in my view, needing a bit of a rebrand.

Like many qualities of a more subtle nature, gentleness can sometimes be misunderstood or confused with other qualities that don’t hold the same obvious power.

I can speak from experience that before becoming more intimate with the true fragrance of gentleness I fell into the trap of adopting ‘near enemies’ as a poor substitute.

Near enemies (or ‘frenemies’ as you could think of them) comes from the Buddhist concept referring to qualities that are a near miss of the four noble immeasurables. A near enemy is a subtle quality that we may miss or confuse as useful or helpful when, in fact, it can become an obstacle that is hidden or harder to distinguish. Far enemies are often obvious because they seem to be the total opposite.

Gentleness has some obvious far enemies; brutality, harshness.

But what about its near misses?

The ones I have fallen into in the past would be placidity and meekness.

These don’t heal, just as brutality and harshness don’t.

True gentleness in healing has a warrior like quality to it. A gentle warrior — but a warrior nonetheless.


To be gentle within the healing process, most of us must go against two things that are in many ways far enemies of both gentleness and the healing process:

1. The desire to ‘heal fast’

This is approaching the healing journey at the same velocity that the traumatic impact had. Wanting answers quickly, throwing vast amounts of effort into reading or cathartic experiences.

‘The slow way is the fast way’ is a phrase I use often, and to go against the desire to heal fast takes a gentle determination from within. Our nervous system needs this gentle love language in order to repair and heal.

2. The toxic wellness messages of ‘fixing’

My oh my, there is an awful lot of this! It is hard to look anywhere in the wellness industry without seeing marketing messages like “You can’t be in a relationship unless you fix your trauma”.

I call bull on this one. Sure, many of us may want or desire to have more conscious relationships but the idea of fixing simply adds more shame. To go against this often takes a compassionate witness — one with a gentler approach to healing that doesn’t see healing as fixing the individual. A therapist or witness that believes in the individual’s innate inner wisdom.


“Trauma is not what happens to us, but what we hold inside in the absence of an empathetic witness.” — Peter Levine

Neither of the antidotes I mention (and I am only just scratching the surface) have a mere whiff of being placid or meek.

In fact, I tend to agree with what the late philosopher and psychoanalyst, Anne Dufourmantelle, who wrote in her book, “Power of Gentleness”, that gentleness was, above all other things, a force of potentiality. She also argues that “Because it has a transformative ability over things and beings, it is a power.”

Yes, yes and thrice yes Anne!

So, keep going friends.

Go gently.

Go with power.

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