The Strangely Powerful Psychological Tactic of Developing An Imaginary or Anonymous Adversary

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The forces that drive human nature can vary greatly from person to person. However, one of the most powerful and profound of those forces is one that speaks to our very core as human beings — competition as well as the desire to win. For certain personality types, adopting a me against the world mentality can have remarkably positive effects on their progress and growth. People with an inflated sense of belief that somebody, somewhere doesn’t want to see them succeed have an internally visceral advantage. One they essentially constructed. They are motivated by a primal drive to persevere and see their adversaries crushed beneath them, even if only metaphorically. And here’s the best part, as it turns out — these so called adversaries don’t even necessarily have to be specific, tangible or in some cases, even really exist.

While achieving success for the sake of bettering the lives of our loved ones as well as our own is nice — for some of us it’s not enough. It’s not as satisfying as the thought of doing what they said you couldn’t and proving all of them wrong. Perhaps it’s partly a practice of vanity. An inflated sense of self importance leads us to believe we’re slightly more often thought about than we actually are. But if we can use this belief — even if it’s a bit distorted — to our psychological advantage then why shouldn’t we?

It’s been well displayed throughout human history that we are a species that enjoys and thrives off of organized competition, in both the formal and informal variety. From the Ancient Greek Olympic games, to modern day politics, romantic pursuits and conquests and to the more obvious and direct competitive arenas such as professional sports. As Psychologist and writer Sander van der Linden, Ph.D. puts it in his article The Psychology of Competition on, “competitiveness is a biological trait that co evolved with the basic need for human survival”. The article states how economists credit competition as an essential driving force in maintaining efficient and productive markets. Which is obviously because the presence of competition forces us to hold ourselves to a higher standard. He also points out that competitions tend to be more enjoyable when one is victorious. It’s what drives us to compete in the first place. It is the very nature of it.

An arena in which this tactic is commonly yet perhaps unknowingly utilized is Modern day hip hop. The genre itself was founded by the historically disenfranchised, those who not only always embraced an underdog mentality but found a way to use it for the purposes of their own empowerment. There may have never been someone who adopted a them against the world mentality more than rap legend Tupac Shakur, as he went on to name a song as well as the entire album it was featured on exactly that — Me Against The World. It could be said that no force drove him like the belief it was him against them, whoever they were. Though Pac had plenty of real life and tangible enemies and adversaries, as indicated by not only his murder but the multiple attempts on his life before that, much of it seemed almost theatrical. However, it may have been these deeply internal and exaggerated if not imagined adversaries that both drove him to greatness, as well as to an eventual early grave. He seemed to have such a strong belief someone was out to get him that it drove him to paranoia, which is obviously not the brand I’m recommending. It was as if in his quest to crush an imagined adversary he ended up creating a multitude of real and unfortunately fatal ones. A wide variety of hip hop artists have gone on to utilize an exaggerated sense of Us or Me VS Them since. From DJ Khaled opening songs by screaming “They doubted me all my life” in the background to Eminem crediting those who doubted him with being what drove him to keep moving forward. These artists have shown our They — being our adversaries — don’t always have to be real or specific. They can be generalized, heightened for effect or even completely made up. figments of our own imagination or opposition based loosely in truth that motivate us beyond measure.

The benefit to an imagined adversary is it never goes away. A winner is never officially declared, thus our driving force never ceases to exist as it does when a real competition ends. Developing an imagined adversary or arch nemesis negates the downside of the extrinsic incentives of external competition by converting the competition or opposition into an intrinsically internal and eternal one. Which in turn can have a more powerful psychological effect on our minds and the driving forces within us than we could have ever imagined. So find your They. Develop an imaginary adversary and vow to crush the competition beneath your feet. Life is an endless competition, a never ending marathon of progress. Never stop competing to be better than the opposition.

Writing About the Human Condition, via My Thoughts, Observations, Experiences, and Opinions — Founder of Journal of Journeys and BRB INC ©

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