The way we fight today was learnt as a child
All of us are on a journey to become fully ourselves, yet at every step the world pressures us to conform and obey the system. It is here that much struggle inside us happens as we so need to feel we belong. Many simply give themselves over to an institutionalized system, but if we listen, our inner self continues to cry out, ‘No, this isn’t me!’ and resists being squeezed into something it’s not. For too long we’ve not stood our ground and said, ‘Yes’ when we should have said, ‘No’, or ‘No’ when we should have said, ‘Yes’. Our over-compliance to, or reaction against the system, causes conflict within us.
Each of us has a very different experience of conflict situations. Our unique style of coping was largely learnt from our family. Throughout our growing years, we’ve formed our very own attitude to conflict as we saw what was allowed or not allowed – if say, we were taught it’s okay to be noisy and heated in conflict, or if we learnt instead to be silent and withdrawn in it. With certain people we learnt we could react one way and with others, it was another. We knew where it was safe to give our own perspective and where we dared not voice it. We may say, pretend to be compliant to our boss’ demands yet ‘cook’ with anger underneath, then take it out on our undeserving dog. Even with God we may feel we aren’t allowed to voice our frustration and anger for not doing what we’ve longed for, for life’s circumstances beyond our control. Or we may feel guilty when we rage against Him.
Each of us has a chosen stance towards conflict that we need to understand because it impacts us and others we engage with. Conflict is meant to be a positive and powerful tool for change but more often we associate it negatively with feelings of being messy or out of control. What is helpful to realise is that the feelings we experience when we’re in a conflict now are not ‘first time’ feelings. They started long ago when we were vulnerable as little ones. The emotions we couldn’t cope with then, define our experience of current conflict. Though now in an adult body, we once more feel unable to defend ourselves as if we’re still that small person. We resort to the past patterns that worked then – Did we run? Did we rage? Did we shout? Did we withdraw? Did we give or take blame? We’ll often do the same in our grown up context. Sometimes even seemingly small conflicts create puzzling big emotions.
Looking at the different styles of conflict helps to realise that our own is not the only way to do it. Other people might see a situation very differently and if we don’t understand their pattern, then conflict can easily escalate and leave us feeling misunderstood. When we have insights into another’s conflict style, it will help not to cloud the issue, and facilitate connection rather than separation.
The conflictual patterns that we have ‘work’ for each of us, give us power, help us get what we want. It’s very helpful to look at our survival strategies when things aren’t yet ‘hot’. Where do we need to risk practicing a shift in our infantile beliefs and patterns to make conflict a more creative experience?
There’s no way to totally avoid conflict. It’s definitely part and parcel of who we are, but we don’t want it to become a negative, destructive thing inside that does damage to us and those around us. It’s an ongoing journey but it’s worth every well-won step to make it into a life-giving process.