What is an internal conflict?
An internal conflict is a psychological struggle whereby someone finds himself or herself in difficulty when making a decision during a personal situation.
You are grappling with an internal conflict if you are caught between (usually two) choices that are conflicting desires. It is a question of engaging with our psyche in order to make the right decision that is in our best interests.
Often, decisions we make can have a deep impact on our lives. Thus, the critical nature of these internal struggles can cause us to feel great angst and frustration.
We may feel insecure and powerless as the conflict of interests within us looms over us with increasing intensity. This makes the process of overcoming such struggles much harder. We become increasingly distressed, so the internal conflict will not be resolved.
Such dilemmas are commonplace within our minds. When we have to make important and hard decisions, we can struggle to choose between two co-existing but antithetical desires that can be confusing and troubling. Questioning what is best for us is a big deal and the gravity of this can leave us to be overwhelmed and unsure how to proceed.
Therefore, we must find a way of dealing with these predicaments in a sensible yet honest manner. This way, we ensure that we are not overcome by crucial, integral moments in our lives and our best interests are met.
How to deal with internal conflict
The way to deal with internal conflict is to be self-aware.
We should cultivate awareness of ourselves by concentrating on our most prominent emotions and what they are telling us. We should also consider our place in the external world.
Overcoming inner struggles and making coherent and mature decisions when we face an internal conflict is a matter of analysing our lives. We should take the time for reflection of our wants, desires and our character. This will allow for a better understanding of who we are and our place in society.
Mind the psychological barriers that might be sabotaging your decision making
When there is an internal conflict in our minds, there are a number of things that may make the situation worse. This would cause us to bring upon ourselves a state of deep consideration and reflection. We must do this to surpass the psychological barriers that lie in the way of us when we need to make a decision.
These barriers could be your mind resisting opting for a certain choice; one choice may be desirable to you, yet, the other is the more rational and sensible option. Your mind may resist the rational option, yet, you know it to be a mature and responsible decision.
Another example is if the situation involves an object or a person of personal attachment. This could range anything from a lover to a sentimental heirloom, for example. In this case, you may find it difficult to make a decision because the stakes are so high.
If you are unaware of what you want from life, unaware of your identity or just don’t know what you want to do with your life, then you will find it very difficult to overcome an internal conflict.
Having a vision, even if it is rough, of where your circumstances are heading, having some set of beliefs and having an understanding of your character allows for your decision making to have something to be targeted at.
Another important point about dealing with inner strife is that there needs to be a balance between emotion and rationale.
If we indulge too much in our emotional desires and needs, then our rational judgement may be clouded, and our choices may be misguided and reckless.
Whereas, only focusing on rationale and logic can be insensitive to our emotional and sentimental needs that need to be satisfied. This means that we could potentially deprive ourselves of contentment and happiness. Finding a balance between the two is crucial so that we make an informed decision that will meet our best interests.
Relax, reflect and evaluate so you can be sure you have done all you can to make the right decision.
Types of internal conflict
A dilemma posed by an internal conflict is usually encompassed by some emotional or ethical questions. We will often all face the same types of conflicts in our lives, although the nature of them will vary from person to person.
Here are a few examples of internal conflicts that we may find ourselves in at some point in our lives. Keep in mind the above examples of how we can overcome these struggles as well. We must self-reflect to make us aware of our needs and listen to our emotions and be rational in an equal manner.
Moral conflict is where you must decide between two choices that may be opposite in nature but can be equal in moral value. Each choice may provide some good, but maybe at the expense of causing a predicament elsewhere.
A good way to demonstrate this is a thought experiment posed by moral philosopher Philippa Foot called The Trolley Problem
A train is hurtling along a track that has five people tied to it. There is a lever to divert the train onto another track where there is only one person tied down.
Either five people will die or just one person will die. The dilemma you have is whether you should leave the train on its natural course and not interfere, or whether you should pull the lever, killing one person but saving five other lives in the process.
The thought experiment is a good way to illustrate what a moral conflict consists of. It also demonstrates the strain and tension it can place on our psyche when considering morality.
More realistic examples can help us see how we can fall into struggles of this type.
Perhaps your colleague doesn’t turn up to work one day because he had plans but was unable to book the day off. Your colleague is on their final warning and if found out, they could lose their job. They ask you to lie for them and say they had a family emergency so they will be off the hook.
Your colleague is being irresponsible and deserves to be disciplined, but they could potentially lose their job. You value honesty and believe in telling the truth, but telling the lie would save your colleague from the hardship of becoming jobless.
What do you do? This is a lesser catastrophic scenario. But it still can be translated to more serious situations such as lying for someone in court or with the issue of euthanasia.
Clearly, moral conflicts can range in degree of seriousness. The consequences of some choices can be on a much larger scale than some minor scenarios. However, the process of overcoming such situations is the same.
If you become frightened or scared by such critical moral dilemmas, you must take time to reflect on the situation. Take deep consideration of your own feelings and try to balance it with a rational response to the situation. You should also consider the effects your actions may have on others in the process.
Moral conflicts are probably the most difficult to overcome. However, by not letting the overwhelm take over and leaving time to analyse these struggles thoughtfully and responsibly, we can begin to tackle these conflicts.
Perhaps one of the most common conflicts we face within us is that of love. Not only are our delicate emotions at stake, but also that of someone else’s.
You may be engaged to someone but come to the realisation that you are not ready for marriage. You may love someone very much while getting a once in a lifetime job, which means you must move to the other side of the world, ending the relationship indefinitely. Finally, you may want to spend your life with someone but are annoyed by their irritating mannerisms, causing you to be exasperated by them.
The inner turmoil in these situations is easy to recognise. The process of dealing with these anxieties would make us deeply attentive to our emotions and what they are saying to us. It would also make us considerate of the other person that will be affected by our decisions.
Be careful not to make any rash decisions, which are tempting and possible in scenarios of heightened emotional vulnerability. Be sensible and thoughtful to do what is best for you. But also try to minimise the suffering that the consequences of your decisions may bring.
When dealing with the big existential questions in life, we can feel very powerless and confused about what opinions or what ideas to form in such huge inquiries. These issues are so large it is easy to find ourselves floundering in the wake of them.
We may wish to find meaning in our lives but believe that life is inherently meaningless. Perhaps you deeply wish to be more optimistic about life, but due to the suffering that you have experienced, you are unable to shake off your innate pessimism. You may start to question what is fundamentally right and wrong.
These are huge questions about life that aren’t easy to deal with. Due to the enormity of these issues, the first concern is to not let these questions consume us or else nihilism may take over.
Analyse yourself and recognise what your beliefs are and what you want to achieve in life. Mould your choices around these struggles to attend to your findings. We can feel dangerously lonely and isolated when combatting these immense internal conflicts. However, we should take comfort in the fact that everyone else will be combatting issues like these as well.
Internal conflict surrounding social situations is prevalent in many aspects of our lives. This can sound more like an external conflict. Still, it is much more to do with an internal struggle of how to tackle what an individual or society expects of us, or how they want us to behave.
Maybe you feel the pressure to adhere to social norms. People may expect you to act in a way that is not in accordance with your character or beliefs.
For example, you have just started university and have found a group of friends that you wish to integrate with. However, in order to build a relationship with them, you find yourself forcing yourself to like certain types of music. You have to restrain yourself from criticising opinions that you find reprehensible.
Yet, if you don’t make these sacrifices, you may find yourself friendless. You may have to behave in a certain way or adopt a fake persona in a job in order to be successful or fit in. In doing so, you are contradicting your ethics and values, but your livelihood depends on it.
A lot of social interactions can cause internalised strife. A choice between putting up with acting in a way we don’t like for possible benefits, or sticking by our principles and detaching from relationships that are causing us to not be true to ourselves.
Is it worth putting on a façade? Are the achievements you will gain worth betraying your beliefs for? Is there a way to reap the same wards whilst sticking to your principles? Do you have to choose a different direction in order to do so? Determine what is most important to you and choose accordingly.
An inner struggle that focuses on our image is very much an internal conflict that is questioning aspects of our identity. Character traits that you believe yourself to have can come into question and be contested in unexpected circumstances.
For example, you genuinely think you are a forgiving and tolerant person, yet, a close friend betrays you. You feel an urge to enact vengeance on this individual. This causes you to dispute whether or not you really are a forgiving person after all. You value honesty and consider yourself to be an honest person. Still, you consider lying to your boss after making a mistake because you don’t want the burden of the blame.
The dilemma of our image is similar to the social type of internal struggle as mentioned.
However, the internal conflicts of our image are not dictated by our relationships by others and their expectations on us, rather they are dictated by our pre-conceived notions of whom we believe ourselves to be. These notions become unstable and challenged.
We are either tempted to act against our values or are opened up to aspects of our personality and identity that we were not aware of before. It is through careful scrutiny of the situation and by thoroughly examining our emotions that we will come to recognise what our true qualities are. Then we can make the right decision.
These types of internal conflict are just a few that we are all likely to find ourselves caught up in at some point or another. There are other forms of internal conflict that exist but are perhaps more suited to specific lifestyles – political and religious conflict, for example.
Other inner struggles can be on a lesser scale than the ones we discussed above, such as procrastination or when trying to save money. However, whatever the scale of the inner strife we face, we must learn to reflect upon ourselves. We should evaluate what choices are best in accordance with our personal and social ideas and values.
Making decisions isn’t easy
Reflecting, analysing and attending to our emotions, needs and desires in order to build a better awareness of who we are, and striking a balance between emotional and rational reasoning for the basis of making a decision is a good model to follow. This can help us overcome internal conflict in a sensitive and mature way. Yet, we must be conscious of the fact that dealing with these struggles and making a choice is by no means easy.
The decisions we make will not be black and white. The predicaments we will be presented with will be multi-faceted. The choices we settle on may have certain repercussions on us and other people. These can be positive and negative – we must be aware of and prepare for this.
After making a decision, we may feel anxious whether we made the right decision. We could feel a loss due to another direction providing certain opportunities.
Internal conflicts are difficult to overcome because they are complex. It is not a question of choosing between what is good for you and what is bad for you. It is discerning what is more suited to your best interests, beliefs and values so that you can be true to who you are.
We must assess the self. In doing so, we can make decisions that will have an overall lasting and positive impact on our lives.
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