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 and always right.
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 unknow them. 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, 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 fell silent when her friend became so enraged she began to unload one petty shot after another. Going off topic completely, eventually shouting the things she had “always hated about Rebecca.”
She went as far as to remind her of the painful and embarrassing things told in confidence along with what a good friend she’d been during the times Rebecca’s daughter was a “strung out mess.”
Each low blow a dagger to the heart.
Their conversation ended with a threat that Rebecca had “better not be caught anywhere alone in public.”
How quickly it went from opposing views to weapons drawn like enemies.
Hours later, relevant passive-aggressive quotes and posts began appearing on social media, as the offended woman went from Persecutor to positioning herself as Victim and Hero, while running a campaign of hate against Rebecca, the friend she once loved dearly.
To have someone close turn on you with such velocity is beyond mind-blowing. Ever been there?
It’s hard to believe anyone should even have to worry about a disagreement turning into that. These are wives, mothers and business women…these are adults!
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 when someone takes a sharp turn toward personal and vicious, versus sticking to facts and effort toward understanding and resolution, there has to be bigger, unhandled issues going on with them.
We’ve all been there.
There are times in the heat of conflict when like Rebecca, you’re best to step back from the relationship and deal with the effects on your own rather than chasing someone down to make them realize how you feel, what you meant, the impact of what they said, how you’re hurt…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 us fair or kind, that’s on them to work out. Once we have received a signal that a conflict is going to turn into viciousness or feuding, it’s our responsibility to protect ourselves (and act right).
Whether that means to stand up for your point, defend yourself with dignity, 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 disagreement to combat in .03 seconds; only you are in control of how you respond and 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 motivated for peace and solution? Or am I driving to win, making sure the other person loses. 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?
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 very often 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!
Do not post about it! When it comes to conflict and social media, never the two should meet! It’s not stable to drag your strife out for public viewing. It’s an immature, nasty, low level tactic.
Settle matters in person, or move on.
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
Conflict Resolution Information:
For trustworthy information, comfort, encouragement and support: