“All conflicts in relationships are caused by internal conflicts in individuals”

What does this mean?

There are some things in our lives that are difficult to face, if not nearly impossible to deal with or do anything about. Keeping them in our conscious mind is potentially disastrous to our emotional and psychological well being. The minds defence to this problem is repression and denial. We either deny the problem to ourselves, saying; “although the problem does exist, I will pretend it doesn’t”, or we repress it, meaning we push it out of our conscious awareness and deep in to the darker places of our minds, and these coping tactics allow us to function through the day.

The trouble is that the problem hasn’t gone away; we’ve just hidden it f ourselves, inside ourselves.

By far the most common of these conflicts is what is called “The Fundamental Neurosis”. What this is, is the knowledge that our time is limited and that we all, one day, will die. If we were to carry this knowledge around with us every day, in the forefront of our brains, we would not be able to function very well; “what’s the point of living?”, “What’s the point of building anything out of our lives?”, etc. It would be emotionally and psychologically disastrous to our well being, so the knowledge of our own mortality, the awareness that out time is limited and the fear of our own death, all get pushed towards the backs of our minds.

Because the problems are still there, but because we are not consciously confronting the problem, the emotions that the problems create, still arise in our emotional minds. We have these emotions, but we cannot apply them to the problem that has created them because that would mean becoming aware of something that it would be potentially disastrous for us to be aware of.

How do we deal with the conflict this creates in us?

Well for the most part, people usually keep these emotions simmering away beneath the surface. Watch anyone close enough and you can see them struggling to keep control over their emotions and the conflicts they create. Many people are easy to irritate and it is as if they are looking for an excuse to erupt at something or someone.

It is our semi awareness of our limited and finite life, that we only have so much time, that makes us occasionally intolerant and impatient, say, when the car in front of you is taking too long to turn in to a corner, or being indecisive, or not driving fast enough. In reality, the extra couple of seconds of delay has an infinitesimally small effect on the amount of time we have left in the world, but it is because we are semi aware of the fact that one day our time will be up, we instinctively respond with annoyance at the slight delay. The annoyance really comes from the fact that we are annoyed that we don’t live forever. I know I am as bad as anyone else when it comes to being impatient behind the wheel, even though I am perhaps more aware of where the true cause of the annoyance comes from. I also get very irritated when someone takes too long to say something that could have been said much quicker, especially when I’m at work and busy. This is what Carl Jung was referring to when he said “Everything that irritates us about others, leads us to an understanding of ourselves”. When something or someone irritates us, the irritation is due to something irritating inside us that is stimulated by the external source.

So to sum up; When we can’t confront the true reason for conflict, we will seek to find an alternative external annoyance and apply the emotion of the internal conflict, upon an outside source. Usually resulting in reacting to a small irritation with a response well off the scale that the irritation should cause.

Sometimes, we will even invent or manufacture a conflict out of nothing in order to give us an outlet for the emotional response created by our internal conflict. This is especially apparent in relationships where a convenient target is nearby and “trapped”. When the pressure of the emotions created by the internal conflict gets too great to contain, we will seek and give ourselves a reason to blow our top at something or someone, like a volcano erupting, because the build up of lava has burst through. This is where the phrase “Blow My Top” comes from.

Speaking of being a “trapped” target. The fight or flight response comes in to play here. The fight or flight response is a primitive response that evolved during our much earlier incarnations. It evolved to take over at times of threat. It wasn’t required to be complicated; it just shut down everything that wasn’t necessary, while focussing all our remaining energies and faculties on immediate action to neutralise the threat and remove us from danger. This worked fine when the danger was being attacked by another tribe, or being eaten by a lion. Simple threats require simple responses. The fight or flight response was the optimum mechanism for dealing with the threats we used to face.

In today’s world we rarely have to face the threat of tribal wars or hungry lions. Today’s world has far more complex threats. It has threats that, sometimes, we just can’t run away from or attack, but our fight or flight response is still in existence, in its primitive form, within a part of our brain. It still has the power to shut down all non essential functions and faculties in order to respond to threat. It still has the power to take over any of our faculties in order to bring about our removal from the threat. The conflict arises from the fact that in today’s world nearly all our fears are of a complex nature that we simply cannot apply a simple fight of flight response to. We cannot run away from our sources of stress. We live our lives with a constant sense of foreboding of some, as yet unrealised, fears of the future; what if I lose my job, am I going to be able to keep up mortgage payments, unexpected bills, Do I have enough cash to get me through the month, etc. We cannot simply run away from these things and neither can we hit them with a big stick until they go away. We live with these fears constantly and we live with a heightened level of anxiety and stress that comes from holding back our emotions and our fight or flight response. Inside us, we are constantly in a state of conflict with the impulses of our instinctive fight or flight response and the knowledge that if we acted upon what our fight or flight response is trying to protect us from, it would surely end up being very destructive to our lives. This again produces a lot of internal conflict that cannot be confronted, so, again, we look for an outside target, a source of conflict that we can then aim our internal emotions and conflicts at. And if an outside source is not readily available, our own defences will manufacture a target in order to find a way to release the build up of pressure. We will invent a reason to have a fight with a partner, or find a small fault with a partner and turn it in to a massive flaw. The partner is the ideal target for this “projection”, they are trapped, and they cannot easily run away, they cannot easily escape the externalising projection of the internal conflict.

We will often play games in relationships where, inside it is us that wants to run away, but instead we will drive the partner away, because it provides the same result, an escape from the threat of feeling trapped. This could be considered as a projection of the flight response. Alternatively, and just as often in conflicts, we will provoke a violent response in the partner and this could be considered as a projection of the fight response. Most domestic abuse cases are not as simple as we sometimes like to make them, it is not a good versus evil battle, it is not guilty versus innocent, there are always complications and complex motivators hidden beneath the surface, and usually both parties are somewhat guilty of causing a situation through projection and projective identification. i.e. the aggression is projected on to the partner, the partner then responds to the provocation with violence, but the violence began with the projection. In other words, a violent reaction was the desired response, whether it was consciously desired or not.

We could say; “If you go out that door, we’re over”. What we are really doing is driving that person away so that they have no choice but to act upon their own fight or flight response, so they will either attack us, or run away from us. The final nail in the coffin is the “If you go out that door, we’re over”, we already know they are about to go out that door, they have already committed themselves to act upon their own defensive instincts, defensive instincts that we have provoked and brought to bear. The final “If you go out that door” becomes a further dare, a further motivator, another attack to instil the defensive response to flee. We are ignorant of the fact that, what they are fleeing is something that we have created. They are not in flight as such, they have been driven out. And in a sense, it is us that is fleeing. We are attacking in order to drive the partner away because it facilitates our own escape. We could then follow this up with “You left me”, “you made your choice when you went out the door”. The fact that we were instrumental in the motivating factors that brought about the other persons actions is conveniently buried

We all have a boiling pot of conflicts simmering beneath the surface, some of us manage them better than others. We all know people with short fuses.

We have so many games and ways of externalising internal conflicts that I couldn’t even begin to list them all, but the end result is always the same;

1. Find something to be the target.

2. Project conflict

3. Achieve a temporary relief from the pressures of the internal conflicts