Existential Psychology

The Meaning Of Conflict

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Most of us operate under the basic assumption that when people offer up their viewpoints they’re seeking our agreement. That’s because when most of us offer up our own viewpoints that’s exactly what we’re doing, we’re seeking agreement. Dissension can be negatively reinforcing. At the unspoken existential level agreement from our fellows equals validation and connection. Dissension is anxiety provoking because to our irrational Selves dissension threatens to turn us into nothing. People, at least in the West, firmly attach worldviews, beliefs, values, etc. to sense of Self, which is why any incoming stimuli that contradict entrenched points of view are looked at sideways if not with outright hostility since these stimuli seem to threaten to obliterate Self.

But the deep human need to bridge the gap of existential isolation and feel connected to our fellows coupled with the deep human need to maintain individuality at all costs makes most of us ambivalent towards conflict since on one hand conflict proves that we’re separate entities while on the other hand it seems to keep us from the sense of oneness that felt connection entails.

The irony is that it’s exactly those intractable subjective beliefs, values, opinions, etc. that keep us from authentic individuality and from authentic human connection. Firmly held beliefs are of course sometimes the fruit of the labor of growth and self-actualization, for some they are the result of hard work, openness to various viewpoints, and long reflection, but for the majority intractable points of view have been culturally transmitted, instilled from the outside, forced into the psyche from an early age before the intellectual or emotional apparatus had a chance to form. This is why any serious challenge to these beliefs usually elicits an irrational emotional reaction, one that leaves little room for differences of opinion, one that either quickly gives ground, the masochistic life solution, or seeks to win the other over through persuasion or force, the sadistic life solution.

But at the unconscious level the true conflict is not between Self and Other but between Self and Super Ego, between the authentic person yearning to become and the inauthentic person made up of the instilled conglomeration of norms, values, and tabus taken consciously to be synonymous with Self but known at the deeper level of existence to be fraudulent, to be an alien invader, to be a hostile foreign presence.

In this sense it’s only by shedding the norms, values, and tabus of the super ego and discovering authentic norms and values that match the unique Self that true individuality and true connection are possible since as long as super ego is taken as one and the same thing as Self the human organism becomes a living receptacle for the past and present beliefs and preferences of others, and it’s not the unique individual connecting to people and the world but that instilled conglomeration of norms, values, and tabus connecting to people and the world.

There’s nothing inherently bad about conflict when it’s your authentic internal Self conflicting with the external world since the external world can never perfectly match unique internal traits or development. And individuality will by definition experience some friction when it comes into contact with individuality since individuals are not perfectly alike. But most of us believe conflict is bad because we unconsciously transfer the true roiling broiling underlying conflict between Self and Super Ego to the more psychologically palatable conflict between Super Ego and world in order to smooth over the discomfort felt from betraying who and what we really are in order to stand with the norms, values, and tabus of the super ego instead.