Who knows Karen Horney? Hardly anyone who is not psychoanalytically pre-educated. She was an extraordinary woman and a co-founder of neopsychoanalysis. Her most famous work was “New Ways of Psychoanalysis” published in 1938. Many books followed and in keeping with the theme of conflicts, one book should be mentioned: Our Inner Conflicts: Neuroses in Our Time – Origin, Development and Resolution.
Conflicts always accompany us. We cannot escape them. We can avoid them, that is. That is exactly what a large number of people do over and over again. Conflict avoiders are a dime a dozen, whether they are men or women. Yet there is a lot of knowledge and experience around the topic of conflict. Thousands of training offers on the topic of conflict resolution strategies, super clever half-truths on how conflicts can be used, what potential there is in them, etc., etc.. If these approaches were any good, we would certainly have a better approach to conflicts. We would indeed benefit from them, be able to use them for our personal and social development. But we do not! On the contrary, as is so often the case, many of us run from training course to training course, from seminar to seminar, from workshop to workshop, hoping for improvement – for personal advancement. All wasted time, wasted effort and wasted money. Because there is one thing these people definitely avoid. To explain clearly what exactly is being avoided, I return to 1938 and to Karen Horney. It is basically first and foremost about the inner conflict. She speaks of the Tyranny of the Should principle, which describes the inner conflict with one’s own demands and their non-fulfilment. The consequence is: Suffering. The situation only becomes neurotic when an attempt is made to compensate for the suffering situation that has arisen with other distraction mechanisms. This may sound complicated, but it is not. I will explain this with an example.
Marta is dissatisfied with herself because she cannot assert herself. She wants to be noticed, heard and respected. She wants to be able to appear self-confident and make herself heard. She attends several training courses on all kinds of topics. She learns a lot about personalities, personality development, overcoming fear, group dynamics, leadership methods and much more. However, she cannot get rid of the inner conflict inside her. She has acquired a lot of knowledge and skills, but has not learned how to resolve her inner conflict. Her feelings of guilt about letting herself down, about not being able to react appropriately to many everyday situations, continue to weigh on her. Ergo, she decides to attend further courses to finally reach her goal. But she does not really get closer to her goal. Disappointed, she then decides to work on self-discovery. She finds many offers, some of which are esoteric. Even these are of little use to her. When she doesn’t know what to do, she goes to a psychotherapeutic treatment. There she deals with her own development, with the circumstances that have made her become the way she is. She understands why she is insecure, she knows what has gone wrong with her and why the inner conflict is tormenting her, but she is somehow stuck and cannot get any further.
This neurotic loop is typical for many people. Interestingly, Marta’s behaviour actually prevents her from moving forward. Instead of dealing with her intrapersonal conflict, she shifts the conflict to an external level. She avoids her actual conflict. In doing so, she systematically increases the pressure of suffering. She learns to understand all levels, she now knows a lot about herself and others. But she still does not reach her goal.
I try to explain what is happening to Marta with the phenomenon of psychosomatics. The cause of a psychosomatic illness was originally in the psyche – the manifestation gradually shifted to the body. Of course, at some point the body becomes ill and therefore it also becomes a physical illness. But the cause was psychological. And here is a common misconception of many lay people and experts. It is not helpful to treat the cause alone and to believe that if you do that, everything will be fine again. In the meantime, the body is sick and no longer needs a cause to maintain the illness. Therefore, it is important to consider both – psyche and body. What do we do in our everyday world? We first treat only the body, the symptoms, so to speak. This is in line with the craze for further education and training. When all means have been exhausted, we reflect and tackle the psyche – which is now declared guilty for everything, because it caused everything. This corresponds to the ego trip with many psychotherapies and other hocus-pocus self-discovery trips. None of these isolated measures will be successful in the long run.
But what could help to learn to control inner conflicts?
Here is my suggestion
Step 1: Identify causes
It is essential to face the inner conflict situation openly and honestly. This requires a lot of courage and overcoming. Conflicts are anything but pleasant topics, because they show us our limits and are mercilessly direct to us. We have to endure this, otherwise we have little chance of success.
Step 2: Make a plan
What do we need in terms of support, we need a plan. What do we lack in knowledge and skills, where, how and when can we acquire them. Who can support us – we don’t have to implement and manage everything on our own. Find your helpers, but please find suitable helpers.
Step 3: Implementation
The last but most important step. Immediately put your efforts into action. Don’t wait for miracles, but work consistently on your personal conflict resolution. Do not be discouraged by setbacks. You will doubt yourself from time to time, but that is normal. Reward yourself, share your progress with your trusted loved ones and be proud of yourself. Realisation is literally “stepping out of your comfort zone”. You will grow from this if you do it right.
The reward: Conflict can make you powerful.
If you have the power to use your inner conflicts as a motor for your development, you will be powerful. You will be able to deal with fear and stress in your life in a completely different way. Your possibilities for action will become richer, just like your life itself. In principle, it is about replacing the tyranny of your own feelings of guilt with the ability to actively shape your life. Conflicts will then be your welcome guests:
“Oh hello – glad you’re here, what can I do for you (me)?”