Although the external conflict is a thankless subject in psychology, the inner conflict is much more negatively appraised. What is the reason for such a wrong opinion about the inner conflict?
At first, the inner conflict is naturally against the self-preservation instinct. The inner conflict is a collision or opposition with oneself, so it is a violation of own interests.
Secondly, the inner conflict is a form of self-destruction which is a pathological symptom of human nature. Pathology can have many different forms, but usually makes a person less effective in everyday life, and realization of the social requirements.
The Essence of Inner Conflict
In Dabrowski’s interpretation, the inner conflict is a positive mental phenomenon, because:
Inner conflict disintegrates the coherent structure of an individual and introduce, at least, the ambiguity of emotional, instinctive and volitional attitudes (Dąbrowski, 1973, 68).
In other words, its task is to destroy balance and stability in the mental life of a person. It sounds awful, doesn’t it? At first glance, it is very dangerous to the person concerned. I am afraid that often it could be the truth, but this risk is unavoidable.
The inner conflicts are frequently only partially conscious, especially on the lower level of development. In addition, sometimes conflicts may apply to more than one level in personal growth.
I would like to add that in Dąbrowski’s theory a person can develop on one or more level, usually on two or even three levels. It means that some behaviours or feelings are located on the unilevel disintegration, while other ones are on the multilevel spontaneous disintegration level. When they are starting to be systemized according to a set of values, we can talk about the multilevel organized disintegration.
Additionally, according to Dąbrowski, the “royal path” of development which bases on the creative and self-perfection instinct leads through the inner conflicts. It means that the inner conflicts are an unavoidable part of human development, especially the accelerated development. The vertical aspect is characteristic for the inner conflict. The higher – reflective functions are in opposition to the lower ones, which are automatic and impulsive.
The Conflict and Maladjustment
Positive maladjustment is related to the growing consciousness of a person in the process of development. Sometimes one’s standards and attitudes are not compatible with one’s awareness, which comes to a higher rating of values. This axiological imperative rises after the internal pressure of a person (Dąbrowski, 1973).
In the Elements of the philosophy of development from 1989, for mental growth characteristic are conflicts with oneself, it means the internal or inner conflicts. They lead to “the positive alienation” in their own inner milieu. It is alienation from the lower oneself to the higher one. On the other hand, it is looking for oneself, for being more oneself, and more authentic than earlier (Dąbrowski, 1989).
Inner Conflict and the Brain
In the process of development the „psychosomatic relations” are often associated with conflicts. They cause functional difficulties, which make the existence of a person more difficult. These obstacles bring attention to these states. Thanks to the psychosomatic relations a person starts observing the mental and emotional structure of a person (Dąbrowski, 1972).
According to Dąbrowski, the inner conflict leads to widening consciousness. It is a process of psychologization of conflicts initiated in the sympathetic –parasympathetic level. But, what does it mean? What is the connection between conflict and brain activity?
Emotions are related to the limbic system, especially the amygdala and cerebrum. The fight or flight reaction mentioned in the previous post on conflict is a response to stressful situations caused by conflict. It is a reaction that is changed in mindfulness or meditation practice by increasing the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system and decreasing the sympathetic system reactions. In this way, the role of the cerebrum and responsible for memory hippocampus increases. The density of the grey matter in the hippocampus also increases.
In conclusion, meditation has a meaningful influence on the transformation of the external conflict based on the limbic system and impulsive reactions into the inner conflict founded on the reflection which is connected to the cerebrum.
Transformation and Inner Conflict
Dąbrowski says: Due to the transformational impact of inner conflicts, autonomous and authentic values are formed (Dąbrowski, 1973, 69). In other words, thanks to the inner conflict one distinguishes what is valuable from one’s point of view. It means what is more (more myself) and what is less (less myself) suitable with one’s inner world as complex of feelings, thoughts, imaginations, and opinions. In this way, self-cognition is possible thanks to the inner conflict.
In addition, the inner conflict develops the self-consciousness and the axiological sensitivity of a person.
We can also talk about the third aspect of the inner conflict, which brings knowledge of what “is” in one’s life, and what “ought to be”. It sounds quite enigmatic, isn’t it? It is just like to see oneself in the time or in the process of growth.
On the one side, it is a consciousness of our own reality (reactions, feelings, attitudes), on the other side, it is self-seen in the developmental plan, with the vision of some developmental goals.
Empathy and Conflict
Although conflict is from the definition of the opposition of cooperation, Dąbrowski’s answer in this matter is not so obvious.
It is a fact that external conflict can ruin social life because one can be in opposition to others. This situation can cause many negative reactions and feelings. One starts looking at someone as one’s personal enemy or concentrates on their own hurt feelings so strongly that they do not sometimes notice how heavily others hurt.
Self-preservation instinct in the background of the external conflict makes agreements and clashing with others a form of a fight. In spite of the illusion of moral or social rights, it is a symptom of selfishness. Its opposition is sensitivity, which may deepen and enrich relationships.
Inner mental conflicts, the collision, and struggle within oneself, are not without influence upon the growth of identification and empathy toward other people. Conscious “operation” of those two dynamisms allows the evolution of the mental structure of other people, their richness or underdevelopment, their history, and development rate, their difficulties, and their “white spot” (Dąbrowski, 1973, 69).
As a result, the inner conflict bears knowledge about others, which lets them understand and forgive their behaviors and attitudes. Thanks to this knowledge, one is friendly to others as to human beings, but without approving everything they do. It is important because, in this way, one is not an enemy to others, but their demanding friend.
Conflict and Hierarchization
Dąbrowski noticed that the inner conflicts are not only subconscious regression but restructuration of the psyche. Furthermore, the inner conflicts raise the person on a higher level of development.
When the process of hierarchization move from the phase of spontaneous conflicts and un-programmed searches for solutions to a phase of greater role of consciousness and organization, then the psychoneurotic processes reach a different level of expression (Dąbrowski, 1972, 80).
Consequently, people with inner conflicts have stronger developmental dynamisms. It results in more intensive and long-term development than in the case of the people without inner conflicts.
In the inner conflict meditation is a source of changes in ways of thinking and feeling. Meditation leads to an order of thought and emotions and to the creation of own hierarchy of values.
Inner Conflict in Therapeutic Perspective
A very important step in struggling with the conflicts, especially in inner conflicts. The crucial problem is the mental tension in this case. They are connected to tiredness, anxiety, depression or suicidal tendencies. Therefore, to minimize this negative influence of the conflicts it is important to release mental tension.
How can we reach this goal? In Dąbrowski’s interpretation, the best solution is to shift an emotional tension to interests and talents. Another alternative is contact with nature or aesthetic experience.
An individual absorbed in disintegration processes sometimes begins to feel excessive one-sidedness of their own efforts, manifests the desire to transpose inquiries, experiences and disintegration breakdowns by trying to go beyond them (Dąbrowski, 1979, 106-107). This therapeutic method Dąbrowski called the “mental crop rotation”.
Spirituality of Conflict
According to Dąbrowski, a person has a chance to come up on a higher level of development thanks to the spiritual practices, such as contemplation or meditation. It is not just a matter of the internal silence, but about the more conscious overcoming of trends of the lower level in everyday life. Confrontation with life challenges is a very important part of the growth.
This clash, due to its freshness and timeliness, clearly postulates the need for a solution, which is made basically in activities that are periodically distant (temporarily and qualitatively) from everyday experiences, and thus in silence and meditation (Dąbrowski, 1979, 103).
A clash, in this case, is a confrontation with everyday life which could appear to be a real challenge for a very sensitive person.
Despite many life experiences, it is a problem so serious that Dąbrowski called an effort connected to a confrontation with everyday reality in meditation “a positive creative struggle” with the internal and often external milieu.
Everyday life often condemns one to choose between negation, affirmation or stalling. The last one is probably the most demanding way of reacting to reality because it opens one for a higher level of oneself. Sometimes coming to the best solution needs time and reflection. So, in this manner, the inner conflict leads to the development of self-cognition and self-awareness.
Dąbrowski K. (1972). Psychoneurosis is not an illness, London: Gryf,
Dąbrowski K. (1973). The Dynamics of Concepts, London: Gryf,
Dąbrowski K. (1979). Psychoterapia przez rozwój [The Psychotherapy through Development], Warszawa: PTHP,
Dąbrowski K. (1989). Elementy filozofii rozwoju [The Elements of Philosophy of the Development], Warsaw: PTHP.