Understanding and resolving internal conflicts
Have you ever wanted to do something, but found there was some unnamed invisible thing holding you back? Or perhaps you were able to take one step forward… only to take one step back shortly after. Often when we have a goal, while there are parts of us that do want to move towards that goal, there are also parts of us that don’t want to change. There are parts of us that benefit from staying where we are.
For example: You want to make more money but you’re a spiritual person and you believe money isn’t spiritual. Or you want to work more effectively but you’re hesitant because that might mean you’ll be asked to take on more work or you’ll become more visible and being more visible doesn’t feel safe. These contradictions aren’t always easily seen and we often don’t think about it. They’re like invisible things holding us back.
We often see these kinds of internal conflicts in stories. It’s the hero who is launched on a journey to slay the dragon. While he’s called to greatness and realise his potential, there’s another part of him that’s afraid, that wants to turn around and go home, that doesn’t know if he can do it. Think of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, perhaps the most famous monologue (“to be or not to be”) is about someone being conflicted about whether he should commit suicide or live and suffer.
While these internal conflicts are often fascinating to watch or read, they’re not so fun when you’re the one experiencing them. While it does seem to be part of the human condition, that doesn’t mean we can’t do anything to help us through them.
Is getting more motivated really the answer?
On a smaller scale, these internal conflicts can result in procrastination, as not doing something you know you really should do. One part of you wants to get that project done, but a conflicting part of you is saying “but it’s hard, I don’t want to”, and so you end up procrastinating, checking emails, scrolling through social media, getting more coffee, cleaning the house etc
Some would say that it’s a lack of motivation, and that the answer is simply to get more motivated. This might work, but when you understand what’s going on at a deeper level it becomes apparent that there are two ways to approach it, and the “get more motivated” approach can be more detrimental than helpful.
Let’s say Bob is working in a company he really loves and he wants to move up to a particular leadership role in that company. On the one hand, he sees amazing benefits from being in that position: he’ll have more control over what projects to work on, he’ll be able to lead a team in the way he believes it should be done, he won’t have to deal with some of the smaller tasks that annoy him, and he’ll get a higher income, but…he’ll also have to speak publicly twice a year (and that feels mildly terrifying), he won’t be working next to a co-worker who’s become a dear friend, and because he thinks the job is so fantastic, he’s afraid other people are going to try and take it from him.
If you simply told Bob “hey, don’t think about those negative things, just put all your attention on the benefits you’ll get” that’s asking him to ignore information and in a sense lie to himself. He’ll continually require motivation and courage every time he has to speak publicly, he’ll reminisce about working with his friend, and he’ll always be afraid someone is trying to take his job. Add to that all the other difficulties of his position and things start to get out of hand.
Plus, when we’re in this state of conflict, not only are we not making progress, but we’re also losing energy. All that pulling and pushing that’s going on inside you can be mentally and physically exhausting.
But what if instead, he worked through the negatives? (his fear of public speaking, his sadness at not being able to work next to his friend, and his fear that others will take his job)
Now there’s an alignment. There’s no need for him to get more motivated because there’s already a benefit to moving forward and there isn’t anything holding him back. That makes moving forward easy and natural.
Different kinds of internal conflict
There are a couple of different ways that this kind of conflict can show up:
Secondary gain: as the name suggests, this is when there is some gain, some benefit to not moving forward. It’s when there’s an upside to having the problem. When there’s a benefit to staying where you are. Or put another way, when there’s a downside to changing. In almost every change we make, there will be some part of us that wants to feel safe, and what we know (where we are) often feels safer than what we don’t know (where we’re going).
Here are some questions you can ask yourself to see if you have any secondary gains:
Is there any downside to making this change?
What would I have to give up to get this result?
What’s the benefit of staying where I am?
What would it be like if I didn’t have this problem?
Who would I be without this problem?
Keep in mind that sometimes secondary gains seem illogical from a rational/logical perspective.
Tail enders are those little voices of doubt that come up when we declare what it is we want. For example, you might decide “I’m going to start listening to my team more carefully and be more present when I’m working with each person one-on-one.” Just after you’ve thought that, you might get a little voice that pops up saying things like:
“who do you think you are?”
“That’s not going to work”
“They’re going to notice something is different and call me out on it”
“Last time you tried, you failed miserably”
They’re called “tail-enders” because they come up at the end, like a tail attached to the thought.
To see if you have any “tail enders”, affirm some goal that you have and then be silent and listen out for any voices that come up in your head contradicting you in any way. As above, keep in mind that what comes up can seem illogical.
What to do about it
A very useful tool that you can use to apply this knowledge and get results is called “Tapping”. If you’ve never heard of it before, you can learn the basics below. If you’re already familiar with it, feel free to jump to the next section in this blog where you’ll get some tapping prompts and ideas.
“Tapping” (EFT) is a scientifically proven, mind-body connection method. It allows you to rapidly reduce the emotional intensity of situations in your life. Science shows that when you reduce that intensity, you are more intelligent, resourceful and resilient amongst many other things. You’re better able to see problems from new perspectives and take more efficient action.
While knowing what to do is powerful, we can often have resistance to doing the things we know. With Tapping you can reduce and sometimes completely eliminate that resistance. This isn’t just a mental hack, this is something that has profound effects at the level of your nervous system, your biology, and your subconscious mind.
Tapping involves lightly tapping on acupressure points on your body while focusing on a specific problem. This physical action of tapping sends a calming signal to your brain and body. The result is that the problem that once caused you distress, now has little or no power over you. In other words, you’re removing what’s in the way rather than using more force.
Remember to take responsibility for your own wellbeing when using Tapping or any other method.
Tapping: how to do the basics
1) Identify a specific negative experience (past, present or future) to work on.
2) See if you can feel any emotion or physical sensation when you focus on this. (eg: feeling stressed, angry, tightness in your chest, pit in your stomach etc). Identify the level of intensity for you right now on a 0-10 scale (0 being no intensity, 10 being maximum intensity).
3) Tap the side of hand point continuously while saying the following 3 times:
“Even though_____________(insert problem), I deeply and completely accept myself”.
eg: “Even though I’m stressed by this project, I deeply and completely accept myself”.
(Note: If the last part of this statement feels off, you can try using “I accept I’m feeling this” or “I’m OK right now”).
4) Gently tap the 8 points about 7 times each with your fingertips while repeating a brief phrase at each point, that reminds you of the problem. eg: “feeling stressed”, “this project”.
5) Test to see if there has been any change on the 0-10 scale of intensity or a change in emotion/physical sensation.
6) Repeat until intensity is 0, adjusting statements to reflect any changes you experience.
keep in mind that these are just the basics of one method. You may either need more knowledge or the guidance of a trained practitioner to get the results you want. Check out these blog posts where I cover the most crucial information when it comes to getting better results with “Tapping”:
Tapping for secondary gain
If you have a secondary gain, try using Tapping on the negative things that come up. If we take the example of Bob and being afraid of public speaking, you can use Tapping to begin to release that fear. Or if it’s about not being able to work with his friend, an initial statement could be: “even though I won’t be able to work with Dan if I get this job and that feels sad, I deeply and completely accept myself”
Tapping for tail-enders
If you have a tail-ender, use Tapping to remove the intensity from that inner voice. That way it has less power over you. If you read the following blog posts, you’ll also be better equipped to find the deeper layers of where that voice comes from and resolve it at the core. That will help you make greater progress long term, as it will likely mean you won’t have to deal with the same voice the next time a similar situation comes around.
Photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash