Word on the street is beginning writers shy away from conflict. I don’t think it’s just writers. People avoid conflict. Here’s the thing . . . come a little closer . . . closer . . . good. We’re faced with intrapersonal (internal) or interpersonal (with other(s)) conflict every minute of the day. We don’t always label the various presentations (disagreements, clashes, quarrels) as conflict. Regardless of our labeling, conflict happens. It is a way of life. So run if you like, but your emotional and physical exertion is pointless. Conflict is omnipresent.
Many believe conflict is: 1) a wicked knock down, drag out fight that leaves dishes (or bones) broken or 2) dagger sharp insults jabbed into a loved one’s back (or heart). In the past ten years of practicing psychology, I’ve listened to clients discuss such scene. Most smart people want to avoid these situations (interpersonal conflict). But is avoiding, dodging and weaving always the best thing? Nope. I’ll discuss why later.
Conflicts come in smaller packages, too. For example, when I woke up this morning, I grumbled, pulled the sheets over my head and argued with myself:
PosT: “Trace, get up sunshine.”
NegT: “But I’m warm. My bed is warm. And I don’t really help anyone at work.”
PosT: “Get up. When the warm water hits ya, you’ll be ready to heal young minds”
NegT: “blah blah.”
PosT: “Okay, you like eating and indoor plumbing?”
NegT: “You always pull that argument out. Jeez!” I tossed the sheets and rays of sunlight kicked my fanny to the bathroom.
That, my friends, is intrapersonal conflict. And I personally think this brand of conflict is the nasty beast waiting in the alley for us. But I’ll discuss the why’s of that later.
People get hung up on the idea that conflicts are bad and people who argue are difficult, unpatriotic, arrogant, self-righteous or insert whatever you’ve heard. But I’m going to shake things up a bit, expose you to the full spectrum of conflict. The way I see it, if you understand what conflict truly represents, you won’t treat it like some vile monster lurking in the alley, ready to suck your life force. Don’t get me wrong, it can be just that. However, more often than not conflict stretches our thinking and forces us to define (and stand up for) our values.
So I’m going to spend the next few Saturdays discussing the psychological underpinnings of conflict. I could make one long blog, but I want you to truly understand conflict. This means taking my time and giving you a good tour of the topic. I’ll spend a week discussing intrapersonal and interpersonal conflict. I’ll bring out some interesting characters called defense mechanisms for part of this discussion. I love a defense mechanism. Next, I’ll discuss the good and the bad ways to deal with conflicts in real life. Hopefully, you’ll learn some good things to use in your own relationships. And then I’ll look at conflict in writing. It is so important to write conflict into your stories. I believe the best stories show the internal and external conflict, with at least one form showing up on each page of the book.
Before I go, I’ll give you something to ponder. Think about a time when you argued with another adult and you thought, “I’m arguing with a five year old.” Guess what. You were. You are the sum of your life experiences. Those experiences shape how you interpret every interaction in your life. When someone or a situation stirs strong emotions strikingly similar to a past negative experience you time travel. You become five, ten, or the age tethered to the transgression. So the person across from you was experiencing a time travel moment. We all do it. Don’t roll your eyes and mumble psychobabble. I speak the truth.
Don’t be scared. I’m going to hold your hand every step of the way. I know this rocky terrain and the creature that roams here. More importantly, I know about its soft underbelly. So take my hand and let’s go explore.