Most of you probably know the feeling of being your own nemesis. Maybe you’re trying to live up to your standards or fulfill the expectations of others. Or maybe you’re in a catch-22 situation and have difficulties deciding which way to go.
These are just a few examples of intrapersonal conflict. Inner conflicts are very common, but many people don’t realize that they have them and that they have become their own worst enemy.
Inner conflicts are not necessarily bad. They can be the trigger for change and personal growth. However, if an inner conflict is unresolved for a longer time or the person cannot solve it without external help, it can become toxic and chronic.
Your soul is out of balance. Inner conflict means battling with yourself.
Conflict is inevitable
You might think I am referring to conflicts between others and us. Your boss, child, or spouse perhaps. However, I am referring to your inner contradictions. The struggle between what you think you “ought” to do and what your heart truly desires.
Not only is conflict inevitable, how we handle it decides about our level of success and happiness. Conflict is the root of paralysis for some, the root of change (personal, social, or relational) for others. Conflict forces us to develop creative responses and solutions and can lead our personal growth.
How do inner conflicts arise?
The term conflict stems from the Latin word “conflicts” and means to strike two things at the same time. Conflicts can arise when we experience something that doesn’t comply with our belief system.
Conflicts occur if we present a person with over one, equally powerful desires or motives present at the same time.
We differentiate between three types of conflict:
1. Intrapersonal Conflicts (or goal conflicts)
2. Interpersonal Conflicts (between individuals)
3. Unconscious Conflicts (repressed, unresolved conflicts)
Let’s look at intrapersonal conflicts in more detail as they are very common.
a) Approach-approach conflict
You have two choices, both will lead to a positive result, but you can only do one or the other. For instance, you love your home town and just found the perfect house you want to buy when you get a terrific job offer in another state.
Buying your dream house means you cannot accept the job offer and v. v.
b) Avoidance-avoidance conflict
You’re forced to decide for one of two negative choices. You cannot avoid both.
For instance, you can either invite your mother-in-law (you don’t get along with) to live with you or pay (almost) more than you can afford for a senior living facility.
c) Approach-avoidance conflict
Probably the most tricky one. The same goal/object has both a positive and negative side. For instance, you get a lucrative job offer, but you know it’s likely a merger will happen, and the job is risky. c) is most tricky because it presents an inner ambivalence.
What these conflicts have in common is that it’s about finding a solution. If you don’t, things turn toxic.
The philosophical fable by Aristotle (popularized by French philosopher Jean Buridan) is a hypothetical paradox that fits this card.
One variation is the hypothetical situation wherein the donkey is equally hungry and thirsty and stands exactly between a stack of hay and a bucket of water. The paradox assumes that “the ass” will always go to whatever is closer. The donkey cannot make a rational decision between the water and the hay and dies of both hunger and thirst.
Another variation is that the donkey stands between two haystacks of the same size and the donkey starves to death.
The donkey had learned two cognitions: He’ll eat the bigger stack of hay and he will eat the one closer by.
You’ll find resources that help you resolve any inner conflicts you might experience and enhance your cognitive flexibility at the end of this article.
Decisions we must make in our everyday life are far more complex. Both variations come with advantages and disadvantages and they trigger emotions. Emotions are the factor that can make rational decisions (pro / contra evaluation) difficult or even impossible.
In the worst case, the person reacts like the donkey in the fable. They’re paralyzed and make the worst decision - no decision.
If a person feels trapped in a conflict, they might perceive themselves as a victim of circumstances. Keeping the conflict alive has advantages. You can blame others and you need not accept responsibility (as you’d have for a wrong decision.)
The perceived ambivalence is the self-deception of someone who can’t tell what they truly want from what they allegedly want.
How to tell if you experience inner conflicts
Are you your own worst enemy?
A person who has inner conflicts might exhibit some of these behaviors:
- feels guilty or ashamed for some of their natural impulses
- hard time saying no
- experiences sudden mood and personality changes
- influenced by peer pressure, the opinions and expectations of others
- finds it difficult to decide in the first place and has second thoughts and doubt once they decided
- attracts toxic people and find themselves often in dysfunctional relationships
- seeking support from others for a lack of self-efficacy
- easy to distract them from problem-solving, for instance, in the form of entertainment, self-medication, escape-oriented spirituality
- unsure about what they want from life, in their career and relationships
- volatile when faced with a challenge
It’s easy to see if you experience conflicted vibrations because your life situation will create ample “realities” where you see these conflicts reappearing again and again.
If you have areas that are stressful or you feel unfulfilled and experience disharmony (in any area of your personal life, career, health, relationships, finances), they are mirrors, showing that you carry unresolved conflicts in you.
Finding your inner peace
People who find peace within themselves are the ones who find a sense of “stability” in who they are.
While most people are more attracted to terms such as “success” “power”, inner peace is the most powerful state for living your happiest life.
Knowing who you are, what you want and being content with yourself and your life is the first step of getting what you want.
The quality of your relationships, and therefore success, depends on your ability to handle conflicts.
In my article The Power of Mirror-Neurons I explain how and why others react to conflicts and emotions within us.
Inner conflicts are not just stressful and exhausting for yourself, and the results you are getting, they will also negatively affect the quality of your relationships in the long run.
Self-confidence and inner peace are powerful weapons against deadly stagnation.
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