Thirsty For Conflict

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Some people move almost seamlessly from one hostile conflict situation to the next. Any seeming periods of calm are actually the calm before the storm, they’re the exception to lived experience not the rule. But these same people tend to blame everyone and everything else for the creation of that conflict. For many it’s a jarring insight, if and when it ever comes, that the common denominator in all of those conflict situations is them.

The psychological defense mechanism that keeps them from clearly seeing their own central role in the creation and maintenance of conflict is projection. They take what they can’t or won’t see in themselves and project this material onto the people and structures around them. While they are the ones with the hair triggers, while they are the ones thirsty for conflict, while they are the ones constantly on the lookout for any pretense to unload, they fancy themselves as righteous warriors defending their rights against hostile forces.

It’s a little ironic to call projection a defense mechanism in the context of what we’re talking about here since the life orientation of this personality type towards people and the world is not defensive but offensive, it’s a strike first ask questions later mentality, a bullying mentality, an aggressive mentality. Karen Horney called this characterological orientation moving against.

We quickly see that the true conflict for those whose lives and personality structures have become defined by the moving against mentality exists within the psyches of these people, not out there in the world. They suffer deeply but can’t or won’t admit it to themselves. Unconsciously they’re always looking for a pretext for conflict in the external environment in order to funnel those painful, hard to pin down feelings away from themselves and into someone else in the misguided attempt to find psychic relief. But the plan backfires, as should be painfully evident by the fact that calm is only ever achieved for a very short time before the internal pressure starts building up again, before all that roiling broiling conflict that has never been adequately dealt with, that isn’t even consciously viewed as a problem, reaches a crescendo and must once again be unloaded onto some unwitting, undeserving target.

And the sad reality is that, like we said, these people are likely to rationalize their own destructive behavior on the grounds that it’s their victims who are the aggressors, that these victims put the wheels of conflict in motion not them. But those thirsty for conflict already have conflict raging within themselves. Their thirst is the attempt to try to put out that painful fire by making someone or something else deal with it instead.