Frustrated child

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When we think about conflict, what we most often have in mind are disagreements between persons or armed conflicts at national or international level. Another kind of conflict is the inner conflict, the kind were we are in conflict with ourselves. There are different types of inner conflict. One that most of us face every day is the conflict of choice, and this can take many forms.


Do I want tomato soup or fish fingers for dinner today?

Which shoes should I wear for the party tonight? Which high school should I apply for? Sometimes to choose is very difficult, and some suffer more from indecision than others. In some situations the choice is a win-win, – no matter what you choose the outcome is positive. But still it’s worse when it’s the other way around, when there seems to be no good or satisfactory choices. Sometimes the choices can get so hard that a person becomes paralyzed, unable to choose, sometimes even unable to do anything at all.


Conscience and moral dilemmas

At times we have conflicts between our values and what we have to do. This is something that really can affect your conscience to the point that it disturbs both your physical and your mental health. An example can be if you work with helping people, and the rules of the work place forbid you to help as much as you want to, or prevents you from helping in the way you percieve as the best way.


Conflicting goals

A kind of conflict that many people experience is the conflict between being honest and being nice. The classic example is when someone has bought a new sweater or other piece of clothing, has done something with their hair, or wonder which dress to use for the party, and ask you what you think. Should you be honest and tell them you don’t like it, or should you be nice and say that it looks good?


According to Johan Galtung, one of the main contributors within peace and conflict studies, there is always a solution, it’s just sometimes not so easy to find. In other words, when you have conflicting goals, in this case the goals of being honest and being nice, there is always possible to find a way or an answer that meets both goals by uniting them.


Personality conflicts

Another kind of inner conflict is when you wish to be in a certain way or to have certain abilities or qualities, but you don’t manage to live up to your own ideals of yourself. A part of you might keep you from acting on your values, and even make you do the exact opposite of what you see as the ideal or morally correct way. This can create a lot of tension within a person, and an easy way to picture it is the angel on one side of your head, and the devil on the other side. This is also described by different people within both psychology and conflict theory. Sigmund Freud calls it the Id and the Superego, and Friedrich Glasl describes it as the light part and the shadow part of yourself.



Inner conflicts can cause conflicts with other people and vice versa. Consequences of not accepting who and how you are in this moment, of unresolved inner conflicts in general, or of inner conflicts resolved in an unsatisfactory way, can also be anxiety, depression or mental disorders of varying severety. An extreme example of this is anorexia.


Ways of handling inner conflicts

A way many people deal with this is to use psycological defence mechanisms. These are usually used unconsciously, and are often learned already in early childhood. In many cases they contain the need to use others in different ways to keep ones own inner tension or conflicts in check, and can for example be the need for getting a lot of attention, the need to control other people and make them do as you wish, or the need to make others feel small or bad about themselves, in order for you to feel bigger or better about yourself in comparison.


Some more mature ways of coping with inner tension can also be mentioned. Amongst them is focusing at one’s strengths instead of one’s weaknesses. Another one is changing or channeling thoughts and feelings you don’t wish to have, into preferable thoughts and feelings, for example by using fantasy or humor to make thoughts and feelings into jokes or fun stories.


There are many teqniques that can be used for becoming counscious of what defence mecanisms and reaction patterns you use and to get rid of them or replace them with others, and there are also many good ways of dealing with inner conflicts. The best way might vary from person to person, and from conflict to conflict.