Conflict Part 2: intra- or interpersonal conflict

We should learn to love conflict

Understanding types of conflict means being able to act

In the first post, I discussed participation in conflicts, i.e. who is primarily involved in the conflict. We found that those involved often draw other people into the conflict to secure support for their position. Before we turn today to the question of whether the conflict is internal or actually between two parties with different concerns, I would like to get rid of one more point about involvement.


Typical conflict constellation

Often one finds a typical constellation in the participation of conflicts, namely a transfer of the conflict to another person. The original conflict is shifted to a previously uninvolved person or group of people from one side of the party. The actual direct opponent is avoided, passed over or ignored. Here I would like to point out that people who act in this way have very specific personality traits. They tend to cause destruction through division and seek revenge. This shift of participation to other people or groups is not aimed at trying to resolve the conflict, but only to fight the actual conflict opponent. How can we prevent this? There is only one promising possibility, namely that the potential conscripts refuse to participate in the conflict. Unfortunately, that happens very rarely. Most of the time, this revenge staging works very effectively. In these cases, conflicts are misused as a means of destruction or devaluation. I believe that this is a common reason why we become afraid of conflicts, attribute them negatively and therefore want to avoid them. We do not want to be brought forward, we are very afraid of being made bad or accused in front of other people. As the saying goes, in the truest sense of the word; Character assassination. Once spread publicly, garnished with emotional arguments and we have to fear to be judged by the outside world. Bad quality of such people. Borderliner are world champions of such practices – very sneaky, but effective. Narcissists verbally abuse and accuse their victims on the one hand and involve all possible accomplices in the dispute. Only when they feel inferior to the conflict partner do they avoid direct confrontation.

Types of conflict

Back to the question of the kind of conflict. Is a conflict intrapersonal, i.e. an internal conflict, or is it a conflict between parties in which different views have to be reached to achieve a goal? Let’s start with the inner conflict. Practical approaches to understanding internal conflicts were made very early, e.g. by the German American depth psychologist Karen Horney (* 1885 † 1952), described. Her late work; “Tyranny of the should” describe the inner conflict that leads to the specific requirements and non-fulfilment to great suffering. Horney is considered one of the essential psychoanalysts and representatives of neo-psychoanalysis. Her works are varied and deal with fear, fear and hostility, competition and its consequences, self-hatred and self-contempt, sadism and masochism. She was an extraordinary woman who finally turned away from Freud with her world-famous book: New Ways of Psychoanalysis in 1938.
I mention Horny in connection with internal conflicts because through her work, she has systematically formulated the essence of intrapersonal conflict. On the one hand, it causes us suffering, but it also includes the request to do something for us. That is the crucial thing, the quintessence of the conflict on all levels. Conflicts are the drivers for the explicit request to change something. In the best case, this should improve the current situation, and that is exactly what we should achieve through conflicts. But since conflicts are abused by many people, there is a risk that we will be publicly discredited, accused or devalued. So, we often avoid conflict; fearful and insecure, more than self-confident and courageous people.

People with unresolved, traumatic internal conflicts do not have it easy to manage. Due to external conflicts, they quickly get into an unprocessed dynamic, so they are more or less reminded of the traumatic experiences. When a conflict arises, they experience this situation over and over again.
Often, they even consciously or unconsciously stage conflict situations and do not behave adequately, but rather violently, in the course of the argument. Nor can they distinguish between their trauma and the current conflict. Therefore, heavy artillery is deployed, and statements and evidence are often given that do not correspond to the facts. The subject of the dispute is excessively dramatized, and this behaviour often leads to an uncontrollable escalation. Clear indications of a conflict staging can be recognized by the fact that these people are extremely valued, and the alleged opponent is significantly devalued. The saying, make an elephant out of a mosquito, fits in well with this approach. This growing into the conflict accompanies us not only in our daily work but also in our private environment.

Let’s summarize briefly

Inner conflicts want to tell us something, namely: you should change something about your situation. If we can do so and resolve this conflict for ourselves, then all is well, because the dispute is resolved and disappears. If, on the other hand, we fail to cope with our conflicts, then they continue to work in us. Over time they solidify, and we are reminded of them again and again by external influences. That is why we re-enact the unresolved conflict over and over again. Sometimes uninvolved people are drawn into the conflict to escalate the conflict. That is the domain of trauma research. This term is also often used in relationship research.

Another peculiarity of internal conflicts

I want to draw attention to another peculiarity of the inner conflict that should not be assigned to the category of re-enactment; namely the transfer of conflict. In doing so, intrapersonal conflicts are transferred to an interpersonal level. Example: Father has a conflict at work because he feels overwhelmed. He comes home and scolds the children for any missteps that have nothing to do with his conflict. Here it is worth thinking about how unfair recriminations can sometimes arise. All too often, there is a conflict avoidance from another setting behind it. In the example with the father, the conflict arose in the father’s field of work and had nothing to do with the home environment. The father tries to cope with his conflict in family life. On the one hand, this can be of an intrapersonal or interpersonal nature.

Interpersonal conflict

Conflicts between two people or parties are called interpersonal conflicts. Ideally, those involved manage the conflict by not introducing any internal conflicts into the solution process. If those involved seek further help through the involvement of other people or groups, then only in the sense of expanding their skills to solve the problem adequately for all parties. Mediation is undoubtedly an absolutely sensible part of such processes.

More conflict distinctions

Another specific form of distinction is the intra- and intergroup conflict analysis. That is a chapter in social psychology. Those who are more interested in it should deal with the famous “tucking game”. Why? Because it is a game simulation that involves two women entrepreneurs. What emerges from this simulation is that if cooperation is sought, it is always beneficial for both sides. If a threatening situation is chosen, there are only losers. I believe that this finding applies to all forms of conflict. Conflicts are potent phenomena. Like all full resources, conflict can be of great benefit. In the wrong hands, they do great harm.

Source: M. Deutsch, R. M. Krauss: The effect of threat upon interpersonal bargaining. In: Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology. 61, 1960, pp. 181-189.

Ok, but where do we put our two examples from the first episode? It was about two couples who each had an ongoing conflict with one another. We will find out next time – that much is already revealed. It becomes very interesting for understanding relationships between partners. The ongoing conflict in relationships serves an essential purpose.

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