Written by: Dr. Adriana Popescu, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
Disparate groups fighting against each other…
Individuals with clashing ideas and beliefs…
Hurling judgments and insults…
Stoking the flames of hurt, upset and hatred and more…
We see this everyday on a global scale in the news and on social media with an intensity of struggle and suffering. We hear of missiles firing and factions at war, shootings and strife. We see it locally in our workplaces, schools and communities where creativity and growth are stymied by fighting, judgment and control.
And of course, its ever present in our personal relationships and in our families, where upsets can fester over years and battles break out over petty issues. It seems that whenever people come together in any way, shape or form there is bound to be…conflict.
So what is really going on with conflict?
In what ways do we create conflict in our own lives and in the world?
Is it really possible to live a conflict-free life?
As a licensed clinical psychologist and empowerment coach who is an expert in the field of addiction and trauma, I hear about both interpersonal and global conflict in my work with clients every day. It seems that someone is always not getting along with someone else (or many someone elses!).
People in conflict experience anger, upset and unhappiness. There can be massive amounts of stress and the seeking of relief in ways that may not be productive or healthy. This can show up as more conflict with family or friends or people at work, in which there is the sense that nothing but difficulty can exist in certain relationships.
The Root Causes of Conflict
What are the root causes of conflict? What is really going on? There are certain factors which I have found underlie conflicts of all sorts. My friend, colleague and co-author of the Conscious Recovery, Conscious Being and Conscious Creation workbooks, TJ Woodward, talks about 3 underlying origins of conflict, and I have found them very helpful in working with my clients.
1. Misperception and Miscommunication
To find where conflict begins we must first look to what TJ calls “misperception and miscommunication.” We see these miscommunications all the time these days. Technology and the current world situation have created fewer direct interpersonal conversations. Texting and emailing have replaced phone calls and in-person meetings. You may send your spouse a text message and receive only an emoji in response.
With this kind of limited contact, it is easy for information to be misconstrued and misinterpreted. An emoji may mean one thing to one person and something entirely different to another. People will interpret what comes in through their own filters and lenses and it sometimes leads to things getting confused, fractured and disconnected. These situations can become rife with conflict.
2. The Need to Be “Right”
The next cause of conflict is rightness and righteousness; “I am right and you are wrong.” Or in the case of self-deprecation, “You are right and I am wrong.” This is coming from a judgment or fixed point of view. As I often say to my clients, judgment is the greatest source of human suffering; it’s a never-ending loop of right and wrong, good and bad. It breeds resentment and grudges with others, and when directed inward, creates a painful and toxic kind of shame.
I see this “wanting to be right” with clients when they are holding onto an upset that may have occurred a long time ago. They may be fighting for and proving the rightness of their point of view for years and years; “You hurt me and it was wrong.” The problem with this is that in not letting go of the rightness, they are the ones stuck and suffering. We can’t go back and change whatever occurred, nor can we get another person to change their point of view about it very often. This is where I challenge clients with questions. What do you think this rightness you are fighting for is going to give you? Is it working? Are you expecting someone to change who can’t or won’t change?
3. Wanting Others to Change
This brings us to TJ’s third basis for conflict, which is wanting other people to be or do something different. One of the surefire ways to invite conflict and suffering is to project and expect that others should change.
Perhaps you grew up with a parent who was cold and distant. You may spend your whole life wanting them to finally see you and validate you, or for them to change into someone warm and loving for you. I see this every day in my practice; people who harbor the hope, dream or fantasy that they could somehow change someone in their lives. This tends to lead to nothing but anger, disappointment and hurt, with people lashing out at each another or blaming themselves for not being able to get the other person to change.
The key to get out of the pain here is to let go of the expectation that people will change and realize that people will choose to be who they are as long as they choose to be it. The only person that we can actually change is ourselves and how we respond to others.
Now that we recognize what conflict is, and how we may be creating it, let’s look at the practices I recommend to eliminate conflict from your life. It is a daily choice to disengage from conflict, and it takes practice.
Spiritual Principles to Eliminate Conflict
As TJ Woodward discusses in Conscious Recovery, practicing spiritual principles is a beautiful path to eliminating conflicts and bringing about healing in our relationships and ourselves. These spiritual principles include nonjudgment, nonresistance, impermanence, compassion, and gratitude.
Nonjudgment is where we choose to not judge a situation, others or ourselves. This about moving beyond the right and wrong, good and bad; out of the black-and white thinking that creates the polarity that leads to conflict. It is about recognizing how a judgment is just an interesting point of view that doesn’t have any meaning or significant unless we give it that power.
Nonresistance is a choice to allow for whatever is occurring or whatever someone is choosing without trying to fight against it, control it or change it. This doesn’t mean being a doormat, and letting yourself be taken advantage of; you can instead say, “This doesn’t work for me,” without fighting, and walk away.
Impermanence is recognizing that nothing is fixed or permanent; everything changes, including our emotions. Taking a breath or sleeping on it before you come to a conclusion, judgment or action gives you more space and gets you out of reaction. So many conflicts come from rash actions in the moment that we often regret. What if you didn’t have to do anything right now? What if you could sleep on it and take a little time to relax?
Compassion for others and ourselves is an amazing kindness. If we can look at where someone we are in conflict with is functioning from and what is causing them to act in the way that they are, we can melt the sense of conflict and of fight from within. We can see how perhaps the other person is having a hard time, and maybe they are doing the best they can with the limited tools they have available. What if you too are also doing the best you can?
Finally, with gratitude we can change any situation. When we have gratitude for anyone or anything, even if it is something unpleasant or difficult, we can change the energy into something more beneficial for all parties involved.
It also is a powerful tool to get you out of judgment. Right now consider someone or something you have conflict with… what could you be grateful for about them? What does that change? Does your heart open up or soften in any way?
It is possible to create a conflict-free life, and it begins from within. Maybe for today you could play with adding one of the daily practices we explored here to a situation in which you are experiencing conflict. It definitely can’t hurt anything and it might just surprise you with what changes. And the more that you apply these principles to your own life, the more you actually contribute to a more peaceful, kinder gentler world.
What action can you take today to change the conflict in your life right away?
If you’d like to take a deeper dive into this subject, I will be facilitating an online workshop called What Would it Take to Have a Conflict-Free Life? on Wed. Jan. 19th at 11am PST. It will be recorded for anyone who can’t make it live. More info here.
For more information about TJ Woodward and Conscious Recovery please visit: https://www.tjwoodward.com
You can also find the books and workbooks mentioned here: https://www.tjwoodward.com/read
Dr. Adriana Popescu, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine Dr. Adriana Popescu is a licensed clinical psychologist and empowerment coach with over 25 years of experience in the mental health field. She specializes in treating addiction, co-occurring disorders, and trauma, and has directed a number of treatment programs in the San Francisco Bay Area. Adriana has a private practice in San Francisco and travels around the world coaching and facilitating transformational and empowering workshops. She coauthored the Conscious Being, Conscious Recovery, and Conscious Creation Workbooks, and she hosts a fascinating podcast called Kaleidoscope of Possibilities – Alternative Perspectives on Mental Health. She loves to empower people to overcome their imagined limitations, release their self-judgments, and discover the brilliance within – creating a life of infinite possibilities.