Being inside of a conflict often feels uncomfortable.
I used to go to great lengths to avoid the tension of disagreement. I used to hide my perspectives, needs, and feelings because I didn’t want to upset people around me, especially if I knew that my viewpoint was totally different.
I also used to be really good at pleasing others, thus creating a sense of safety for myself. Even though I enjoy harmony in relationships to this day, with time, I learned that peace at the cost of authenticity is not real.
Conflict is often viewed as something negative. We associate conflict with such words as violence, anger, fighting, war.
I believe that many of us simply haven’t learned how to navigate conflict skillfully. Conflict can actually lead to positive change and greater intimacy between the people involved. When we can steer conflict in the direction of creativity and deeper understanding, it can serve, deepen, and enliven us.
Let’s look briefly at the architecture of a conflict.
When we are locked in our personal positions, there is usually no room for movement. Transformation of conflict requires spaciousness, from either people who are involved in it or from a third party.
Conflict usually asks for a reorganization of some sort that might shake up the current structure that both people are inside of. This might feel threatening to one part of us and exciting to another part of us.
Here are some guidelines that we can use to navigate conflict with compassion and kindness:
1. Welcome conflict when it arises, rather than invest energy in ignoring or avoiding it.
2. Craft an intention that would support you in containing the conflict (i.e. my intention is to deepen my understanding, my intention is to surrender to truth that arises, my intention is cultivate deeper intimacy with myself and my partner).
If appropriate, you can chose to share this intention with the person you are in conflict with. This will support you in creating an environment of benevolence, rather than seeing each other as “enemies.” Or you can simply invite deeper/higher wisdom to support you in the process.
3. Become curious about your inner state: notice your thoughts, feel your feelings, trace your body sensations, pay attention to your breath.
4. Become aware of patterns and dynamics. Does this remind you of something that you experienced in your childhood? Does this feel like a pattern in your relationships, in general?
You might sense that your energy drops into your younger self and you become activated. You might have an “aha” moment when you realize that you are projecting your parent onto your friend or beloved. You might discover that the conflict arose because you haven’t shared the whole truth.
5. Give space to disagreement, moving beyond the paradigm of who is right or wrong.
6. If possible, allow the perspective of the person you are in disagreement with to land within you, in your mind/emotions/body/soul (which isn’t the same as you abandoning yourself). What do you sense or discover?
7. Notice if the combination of steps you took allows a deeper understanding to emerge. Pay attention to any insights that might arise. Maybe your heart opens and you feel more connected. Maybe the fabric of relation with another becomes more palpable or you realize that you need to express your anger.
From a new place that you touch inside of yourself, a myriad of possibilities can come into focus.
You might discover a creative solution, which you haven’t seen before, that meets you and your partner’s needs. It’s possible that the conflict drops away entirely when deeper truth is realized. What might happen is that as you shift inside, the other person might start showing up differently. Or, as you feel through your fear, you can see the situation you are in with more clarity.
When more spaciousness opens up, either within you or between you and “the other,” the repetitive cycle of a conflict simply can’t be fueled anymore. When an outlet is found from the ingrained pathway, the energy will move in a new direction, liberating you from supposed entrapment.
“Often, we don’t have external relationship problems, but we have internal relationship problems between the fighting parties in ourselves.” ~ Thomas Huble
The inspiration for this article came from Katherine Woodward Thomas and Thomas Huble.