Conflict is a part of the human experience. It can be necessary and sometimes it can be nasty.
Drama resulting from dysfunction, addiction and alcoholism often centers around conflict. That can be some of the most stressful elements when dealing with the disorder of substance abuse.
Some months ago I learned that dysfunctional conflict often involves what has been dubbed the “Drama Triangle” by Psychiatrist Stephen Karpman. This theory implies that within conflict we each play the role of:
Victim powerless, hopeless and stuck
Persecutor critical, blaming, controlling, superior
Hero pain reliever, rescuer, keeps victims helpless
We revolve in and out of each one.
Do you see yourself in this?
Many times I’ve stood in these positions. In past disputes I tended to veer back and forth between the Victim and the Hero, I didn’t realize how much I liked being both. But I could be a pretty good Blamer too.
No matter which role, I was somehow always wronged andalways
We’re often hard-pressed to self-examine and consider our unhealthy participation in conflict, due to the effects of whoever, whatever is coming against us. But once we become of aware of unhealthy patterns, we can’t unknowthem. Therefore, we’re not granted the luxury of resorting back to them. Those who are smart don’t get to play dumb. We are no longer the Victim, Hero or Persecutor. We’re a Participant in the cycle.
No matter how infected the situation, healthier ways of handling conflict are possible. Information for how to modify our lives around this subject is available if we’re interested in improving and pursuing peaceful lives. Craft method and Verbal Judo are excellent tools for managing conflict and hostile situations.
We’ve all seen situations where those once in close relationship had a disagreement and instead of settling the matter in order to move forward, they turned adversarial. Resulting in a once resolvable conflict becoming a toxic feud.
The truth is, when it comes to conflict some people live for it and many don’t fight fair.
Rebecca, a Mother struggling with a daughter who has substance abuse issues called me earlier this year in deep distress. Her call wasn’t about her daughter this time, it was about trouble she was having with a friend she had been close to for years. One she had gone walking with, met for coffee, spent hours on the phone with, sharing many personal life experiences.
The two who were once like sisters, had a disagreement about politics that went shockingly off the rails. The conversation quickly escalated from politics into an argument over who was right, who was wrong, who was better or worse, who was being unfair and who needed to back off.
As each continued to stand their ground, the conversation then turned personal and ugly. Rebecca’s friend became so enraged she began to unload shot after shot off topic, eventually shouting things she had “always hated about Rebecca.”
She went as far as to remind her about some of the painful and embarrassing things told in confidence and what a good friend she’d been during the times Rebecca’s daughter was a “strung out mess.”
It was a dagger to her heart.
Their conversation ended with a threat that Rebecca had “better not be caught anywhere alone in public.”
Hours later, relevant passive-aggressive quotes and posts began appearing on social media, as the offended woman began what seemed like an effort to position herself to be a Victim and a Hero, while running a campaign of hate against Rebecca, the friend she once loved dearly. How quickly it went from opposing views to weapons drawn like enemies.
It’s hard to believe anyone should have to worry about a disagreement turning into that. These are wives, mothers and business women…these are adults! Someone we were once close to using toxic, unfair tactics against us is always a shock. But conflict can get crazy and the strongest of bonds can be broken in a moment.
What could have calmly been settled that day exploded into a raging battle and because of it the two were never able to recover their friendship.
Unfortunately, it’s not an uncommon occurrence. Friends turning into enemies and family becoming strangers is a mystery that most of us will never solve. Conflict is baffling, powerful and often involves years and layers of built up emotion, resentment and other issues one might be carrying.
It’s worth realizing that when someone takes the turn toward personal and vicious, versus sticking to facts and effort to move toward understanding and resolution, there has to be bigger, unhandled issues going on with them.
There are times in conflict when like Rebecca, you’ll have to step away from the relationship and deal with the effects on your own rather than chasing someone down to make them realize how you feel, what they’ve done, what they’ve said, what you meant, how they’ve hurt you…and so on.
In some situations, peace can only be made internally.
When it comes to conflict, the best issues to resolve are my own.
Concerning others not treating me fair, well or kind, that’s on them to work out. However, once I’ve received a signal that a conflict is going to go past conversation into viciousness or feuding, it’s my responsibility to protect myself. Whether that means to stand up for myself, defend myself, or withdraw from the situation.
We instinctively know when we have reached a point of no return and the issues aren’t going to be settled, at least not in that moment. Past that point nothing good comes about, we’re only adding damage. If the person opposing us doesn’t seem to have the will or capacity to acknowledge their side of the issue without becoming venomous and upset, that’s not our problem to work through.
For situations that tend to go from from disagreement to combat in .03 seconds; you are in control of what you’ll allow.
HOW DO WE HANDLE HEATED CONFLICT?
It pays to look deep within. Becoming self-aware and checking our motives is key. We can always come back to our motives.
Questions to ask ourselves:
Am I driven to win? Do you have to be the bad guy for me to be good? Am I motivated by revenge? Am I trying to cause someone else to feel what I’m actually feeling inside?
Am I motivated for peace and solution? Or am I driving to win, making sure the other person loses.
Is it possible that I’m reacting out of old emotional injuries? Am I heated in this situation but actually my hostility is surging out of other issues going on in my life? Think about it.
Self-realization leads to solution.
At some point we have to decide we are either going to be motivated for peace or we’re not. Examining your own motives and patterns will always reveal these truths. Our heart knows the honest answers to these questions if we’ll get quiet and ask.
Is it worth it? We’re not here on this earth forever, we don’t know when a conversation with someone will be the last. Do I really want my last conversation with someone to be how right I was and how apologetic they needed to be? I absolutely don’t.
But it’s about balance. In repeat patterns of conflict, I also know that I can’t be the one who always apologizes, who always makes peace just to keep the peace. I can’t always be the one who’s wrong!
There are times when someone needs their feet held to the fire, others need to be accountable for behavior that is not okay for us. It’s not good for anyone if we are regularly tolerating what we don’t feel good about, in order not to make someone uncomfortable because they can’t handle being called on their stuff.
That’s codependency and dysfunction.
There is a time to keep peace, there’s a time to bite our tongue. There is also a time to firmly stand your ground in order for another adult to realize maybe they need to do some self-examining.
Professional advice I was given in the years we dealt with the worst of family conflict:
You are not required to receive insults, abuse or vitriol. Nor are you healthy when using those kinds of tactics.
Think around corners, beyond the moment I’m in. Is there a possible solution or is this just exhausting drama that will not end? Does this take my focus, energy and time away from important things such as other friends, family, priorities and goals? Am I going to be able to undo the damage of how I’m handling this person right now should my feelings change or our paths cross again? Or will my words and actions in the heat of the moment make it awkward running into each other.
Interrupt the pattern when I recognize I’m in one: Stop, breathe and modify usual responses to take a healthier direction. Regardless of discomfort. Being healthy and functional is sometimes going to be uncomfortable!
Leave room for amends, always leave a space for someone (including yourself) to come to their senses and own how they’ve acted. Don’t allow yourself to go too far in once it’s become heated. It could be that they (or you) have bigger issues going on behind the scenes causing more emotion and less control.
Take care of yourself, protect yourself, tend to yourself, be aware of yourself. We are in control of our responses and we are to be our own advocates.
And remember, “Conflict cannot survive without your participation” ~Wayne Dyer
When it comes to conflict we aren’t the Victim, Persecutor or Hero; we’re either Participants, or we’re in pursuit of peace.
Author of Unhooked