What is Internal Conflict?
Internal conflict is defined as the experience of having opposite psychological beliefs, desires, impulses or feelings. Cognitive dissonance is also used to describe internal conflicts, in the field of psychology. It is a state of mind where a person holds conflicting and inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes. Topics such as relationships, work commitments, religious beliefs, moral standpoints, and social ideologies can be the cause of this mental struggle, which can happen at any point in life.
For example, a believer in women’s rights who is also anti-abortion may have an internal conflict on that issue. Internal conflict can often be noticed in relationships where one person loves their partner, but they don’t feel emotionally attached. Religious internal conflict can happen when one is faced with religious teaching that contradicts that person’s way of life.
Why Does Internal Conflict Occur?
Whenever there is a disagreement between the brain and the heart, we start experiencing internal conflict. Several studies, including one conducted by the HeartMath Institute has shown that our heart holds a special kind of “intelligence” – intelligence that is supposed to be subtle, abstract and nonlinear.
There are no set of rules that govern the heart’s intelligence – it is at our discretion to tune in to that voice within, which can confuse us even more.
We are brought up in a society that is dominated by the mind, and we tend to become very confused and uncomfortable when our hearts try to interfere in our everyday matters. It is quite easy to listen to the mind, logically plan our lives and mindlessly obey what others teach us.
Our head intelligence is the intellectual hub, which gives a direction and a structure to our lives. The head is intelligent, logical and is very capable of judging a situation to decide upon the best course of action. Our heart is at the core of our physical form: it powers every part of our body.
A human heart contains roughly 40,000 neural cells, thereby forming a nervous system capable of sending complex signals to the brain – more messages than the brain sends to the heart.
Our heart intelligence is what breathes truth and life into this framework of our life journeys. Without listening to our hearts, we live unfulfilling, soulless and inauthentic lives. On the other hand, without listening to our heads, we live in absolute chaos.
Thus we realize that striking a balance is extremely important. We must listen to both our head and heart, but more often than not, we have a tendency to value one over the other, which is what causes us to experience internal conflict.
So why does internal conflict occur? It occurs because we lack calmness and balance between the heart and head. Our heart and our mind say two different things – both shouting at the same intensity. When our actions don’t sync with our values, the inevitable result is an internal conflict. So which do we listen to: the heart or the mind? Once we understand what creates internal conflict, we will explore the answer to this question above.
What Creates Internal Conflict?
Different situations create internal conflict. In each of these scenarios, there is no one ‘single cause’ or origin – as you will see, there are a number of governing factors:
a) Discontent – People become so focused on achieving BIG goals that they become completely dissatisfied with what they are and what that has achieved so far in their life.
b) Lacking tolerance and struggling to forgive – To have peace of mind, and overcome internal conflict, you have to forgive and allow people to be who they are. Love and forgiveness is the answer to most problems.
c) Low self-esteem – How can we overcome our envious nature? How can we stay in a place of peace and love for everyone? We create expectations for ourselves that are impossible to meet. As a result, we never celebrate our good efforts but only end up having internal conflict.
An internal conflict is said to happen when a person has two coexisting, but conflicting wants or desires. Quite simply, the more rational expectations, beliefs, and desires you carry, the more likely you are to suffer from internal conflict.
Individual Internal Conflict
Individual conflict is associated with the views you hold about right versus wrong and good versus bad. Internal conflicts are generally a result of a dilemma happening in your life and can be simple or complex.
For example, if you just got your paycheck and had a lot of bills to pay, you might be conflicted between the idea of going shopping. You know it is the wrong decision, but it’s hard to fight the urge to go shopping for something new. Everyone experiences internal conflict of some type.
Types of Internal Conflict
In the context of psychology, there exist different kinds of internal conflict, and this article attempts to cover most of them. Let us take a detailed view of each of these types of conflict, with examples, to have a better understanding of the concept.
1. Moral Conflict
When we have contradictory beliefs about ethical behaviours, a person is said to be in moral conflict. The conflict is very personal. The conflict happens when you feel as though you have to choose between two behaviours that are equal but opposing goods. For instance, the moral conflict could occur when a person values telling the truth, but lie to save another person’s life.
2. Religious Conflict
When your conflict revolves around belief, and when you are not able to reconcile certain teachings about any faith, then religious conflict tends to occur. For example, the most commonly occurring religious conflict – is that when one could be believing in a loving God, and yet not understand why such terrible, unfair things happen in this world.
Or a devout person who also start believing in the use of medical marijuana (a botanical medicine used to treat mood disorders, which is still classified as an illegal drug). When a person values both truth and religious beliefs, when faced with scientific facts, religious conflict can arise in the person.
3. Sexual Conflict
When people hold an opposing belief and desire about sexuality, then sexual conflict tends to occur. The sexual conflict could also be termed as the overlap with other types of internal conflict such as moral or religious conflict. For example, someone could be conditioned to believe that monogamous relationships are morally correct, and yet find themselves better suited to polygamous relationships.
4. Political Conflict
When a person sits between their political party’s beliefs and their own beliefs, political conflict arises. For example, a person may not want to pay higher taxes but still supports government programs. Or, a person might align with one political party but disagree with their treatment of the healthcare system in that country. Similarly, a person may be a believer of the political party but disagree with its political stances on major social issues.
5. Love Conflict
Love conflict arises when we love someone, but yet do some activity that hurts the person. For example, we may love our children, yet still spank them to make them obedient and disciplined, which causes us to feel guilty later. There are some habits of our partners which annoy us, but that does not prevent us from loving them. We develop an attachment with a person and desire to keep them in our lives but realize we have to move away from them to stay healthy.
6. Self-Image Conflict
Self-image is how you perceive yourself, or it is the mental idea you have about yourself. Often our image of yourself does not match our actions. For instance, you genuinely think you are a forgiver and a tolerant person, yet, a close friend betrays you. You feel like punishing that friend. This makes you wonder whether you are a forgiving person after all.
A person who believes they’re honest might make false statements on their resume to get a coveted job. Someone who takes pride in eating healthy food might not want to quit smoking. Or a person who has moral values, but might enjoy buying clothing that are allegedly made in sweatshops.
7. Interpersonal Conflict
In a social situation, when you want to behave one way, but find yourself acting in another way, then this is called interpersonal conflict. Interpersonal conflict is said to overlap with other types of internal conflict such as love conflict and self-image conflict. For example, you might hate talking about sports, but you may find yourself showing interest when your friends discuss it.
In another instance, when someone is offended by a friend but he does not voice any complaints. Interpersonal conflict also happens when we feel forced to behave in a way that is different than what we actually think – all done to maintain a positive relationship with a specific person. Or, for example, you may dislike drinking – but drink regularly because that’s what you feel is ‘cool’.
8. Existential Conflict
Existential conflict can arise when someone finds themselves feeling totally torn and confused about the ‘big questions’ in life. Or in other words, existential conflict involves feelings of discomfort and confusion about life when there are two opposing beliefs.
For instance, loving life but hating life at the same time. Consider the scenario where a person experiencing existential conflict believes that life is all about enjoying each day, yet at the same time, is more serious about the future. Or desiring to live life to the fullest, but unwilling to make an effort to get out of their personal comfort zone.
How to Find Peace of Mind
All war originates within as an internal conflict. What is the root cause of internal conflicts? The root cause is our attachment to beliefs, desires, and expectations. All the suffering occur because we believe in our thoughts, instead of seeing what they are in reality. Do we control our thoughts? No, we do not – as they all spontaneously arise and fall within the mind. But we need to manage these thoughts or need to resolve the internal conflict.
In general, the term ‘peace of mind’ is used to describe a mental state in which mental and emotional calmness prevails. Our mental calmness depends on our ability to calm our thoughts. We need to learn to control these thoughts and emotions so that our mental state is in peace or we have peace of mind.
It is a state where your mind is not overcome by anxieties and worries. The mental activity is phased down so that quietness and calmness can be experienced. We all have experienced this mental state, for instance, during a vacation or while reading a fantastic book. During this state, our mind is calm – we can find inner peace.
Here are probably the most effective and powerful ways to establish peace of mind:
Regular meditation. Meditation and the practice of mindfulness is becoming more mainstream. It is the most powerful and effective way to establish inner peace.
Distinguish between intuition and fear. Your heart’s intuitive voice within is obvious, strong, and unemotional. But, the fearful voice, on the other hand, is vague and emotionally-charged. Distinguish between these two voices will help you to find peace of mind.
What are you scared of? Be honest. What are you truly terrified of? Fear always underlies internal conflict. Sometimes by discovering your underlying fear helps you to gain more clarity, thus creating peace of mind.
Let your mind relax. Relaxing your mind is a great option to develop new perspectives. Try meditating, yoga, listening to soothing music or practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness can calm you down and increase your overall well-being.
Choose to stop participating. Sometimes allowing your life to move in the direction it wants – this could be a better option than forcefully blazing a path. After all, conflict cannot survive without your participation.
Remember that it is normal to experience internal conflict for any human being – there is nothing weird about it. In the case of internal conflict, all of us tend to listen to our hearts as it is associated with emotions. This might be an imbalanced approach: we need to use the heart together with the brain so that internal harmony is created and we have peace of mind.