The Psychology of Internal Conflicts

Posted on 2017-10-07 By Joanna

Internal conflicts are of one of the most dramatic elements of human development. Dramatic, for they are not only responsible for our negative experiences and rather frustrating existential dilemmas, but also manifest themselves in a positive way by inspiring us to take constructive actions towards growth and understanding of ourselves and life in general. Drama is fundamentally based on the flow between negative and positive emotions, just as is our experience of internal conflicts.

Being torn by different desires, drives or tendencies does not immediately guarantee our success of growing as a person. It is not necessarily the very conflict itself that pushes us towards development, but rather a nature of the conflict and the potential resolution of it.

The clash of values or ideas will drive us into at least two very different directions. We might at times feel as drowning in hypocrisy, desiring one thing and then doing something contradictory, or being driven by our feelings in one direction while reasoning our way towards the opposite way. Such internal war might essentially lead to existential anxiety or even resignation.

Shall we therefore relinquish one value and pursue the other in order to remove or deconstruct the conflict? I don't believe that the only possible solution is to make an either/or choice. Any conflicting ideas could be synthesised by taking a rather different perspective to the one where we see a clear split between the metaphorical black and white. Take the very simple example of choosing a career. On the one hand, we might feel as desiring to become an artist, but on the other we might also enjoy the option of becoming an engineer. Looking at our conflict in this manner will surely generate a lot of tension because we will feel pressured to choose only one option while dismissing the other. Regardless of the nature of such conflict, we will certainly feel pressured to choose just one option, otherwise there wouldn't be any conflict on the first place. What is missing here is a potential understanding as to how we could synthesise both ideas into a coherent model where we can, for example, organize our time in such a way where we can pursue two careers.

Synthesising two seemingly disconnected or contrasting ideas requires some creativity. Because our regular style of thinking is linear, meaning that we perceive events manifesting themselves sequentially and often separately, we will perceive and understand our internal world as being expressed through the same dynamism. When we think of a rain, for example, we can easily conclude that some clouds accumulated first, then it starts to rain, and then it finishes. That's sequential thinking based on observing causal relationships of different phenomena around us. In the same manner we will perceive that we are feeling happy because we finished some boring task, but soon that happiness will fade and will be replaced by another feeling triggered by something else. Each event seems to be separated, arising and fading with time.

Therefore, we will perceive any form of internal conflict as sequential – it will be easy to understand that sometimes we desire to choose one career, but at another time, we want to do something else and realizing both options might drive us mad because it will seem impossible to choose between two equally promising options. In other words, both ideas are separated, disconnected and sometimes even unrelated. We perceive one option (A), then the second option (B) and then we become tense, anxious or frustrated (C). A+B=C. Hence, the logical solution will be to eliminate one option in order to get rid of the result that the sum of both options produces.

What about non-linear thinking? This form of reasoning is about perceiving whatever is there to perceive beyond the original sequence of events. To go with the simple example of the cyclical weather, one can apply non-linear thinking and e.g. notice how our mood might be changing according to the weather, or perhaps that this sequence is not always true – sometimes it might rain and be sunny at the same time. The same happens when we examine our feelings from the very same method of thinking – there are many different feelings between happiness and unhappiness and there are a million different things that can help us to experience all these different emotions. The key is to go outside the sequence and perceive different applications, causes and experiences related to each event. In this case, A doesn't always adds to B and there is no guarantee that the sum of A and B will always equal C.

Therefore, if we step outside of the linear thinking and perceive our internal conflicts from the non-linear perspective, the whole story changes. It is not necessarily the case that our conflict is distressing to us, but perhaps it is our approach to such conflict that produces the whole confusion and unpleasant feelings. Or, who said that we must choose one option above the other? And even, what if by staying with the conflict and searching for a solution will eventually help us to come up with a completely new idea, therefore A+B won't equal C but will equal D?

Internal conflicts offer a tremendous opportunity to grow and to learn about alternative ways our life can play out. However, it is up to our ability to distance ourselves from what we know and feel, step outside the linear thinking and look at our conflict from a fresh perspective in order to welcome new ideas and potential solutions.