Conflict Archives - Embodied Living

Conflict anxiety is rife. In my experience, most people have some fear of conflict. In fact, some will go to any length to avoid it.

Why we dislike conflict

In its essence, conflict necessitates that we be seen. If we take a stand to speak up for what we don’t agree with, we risk being seen for what we believe in. Indeed, I think it is a vulnerable place to be. If there is a part of us that says ‘I am not worth it’, it will feel scared in any kind of conflict situation.

Here is an article I recently wrote for Psychologies Mag to help you handle conflict.

Read the full article here.

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The Crack-Up” (1936)

When I was a 19 year old student with ‘know thyself’ in huge letters on my chemistry lever arch file, I was drawn to this quote. Now in my 40s, I am embodying it more and more, and felt inspired to write a blog post on non duality. For many people, black and white thinking is a key thinking error. We see things as dualities, this or that. We can be too quick to judge something or someone as ‘this’ or ‘that’ – good or bad, odd or normal, right or wrong, an idiot or wise, arrogant or compassionate. Our minds have a need to categorise, understand, control. By coming to a conclusion, making a decision or judgement about someone, we have a sense of control. Order is restored, we can relax. Or can we?

This type of thinking means that we feel anxious about shades of grey because that means we have to stay open to possibility or doubt, and we feel safer with a decision, one way or the other. This type of rigid thinking, causes people great stress; because the world is grey, not black and white. And, like it or not, we cannot control it. The desire for (and failure to) control, leads to illnesses such as autoimmune disease.

When Fitzgerald talks about ‘holding two opposing ideas in the mind’ – his is talking about non duality, letting go of opposites, moving towards ‘neither this or that’. When we do this it feels uncomfortable, we can ‘(lose) the ability to function’. This wise writer sensed this. If we work on tolerating opposites it feels uncomfortable – two opposing ideas held as both being ‘true’ takes a ‘bigger’ person – in that we need to get bigger, more expansive to hold that space. And, conversely, in holding that space, and the often highly uncomfortable feelings that go with it, increases our capacity, expands our resilience.

I will tell you a story. Last weekend I was on a workshop. It was a wonderful workshop but the teacher had a tendency to be a bit opinionated, strong, directive. And he was quick to make some dismissive judgements on big topics – yoga being one: ‘Yoga is good if you want a tight butt and a good body’. I felt angry: he was so wrong (and I was right!!). So, I spoke up and said so. He seemed irritated and suggested that I was too attached to my system of yoga, thereby ensued an exchange between us in front of the whole group of 30 plus people – all highly trained psychotherapists who knew all about projection, transference, countertransference and there we were playing out our ‘stuff’!

I felt anger/annoyance, a bit of fear (the entire room had stopped breathing!!) and curiosity. I sat there holding these powerful and uncomfortable emotions and felt a deep calmness too, and a gratitude of how differently I was dealing with this man (compared to similar situations in the past) and some opposing thoughts (‘is this guy a complete arse?’, should I be training with him?? or ‘is he ok, there is so much wisdom in what he is teaching, but what an arse! what just happened?’).

And I just sat with myself and held that space – with the difficult emotions and opposing ideas. I felt expansive, and calm too. And I held a possibility that if he was only 1 per cent or 5 per cent right, perhaps I have something to learn about myself.

At the end of that day, I wanted to connect with him and went over and we talked about the incident – and then he really listened as I told him what a big integrated system of yoga Satyananda yoga is – he said he would look into it. I felt heard. That was all I needed. He may not agree with me about the system, it doesn’t matter, this person had at least opened to listening. We worked together beautifully the next day! An old me, might have been so upset and angry I would have left the training. What a difference tolerating opposites makes!!

I think both him and I learnt a lot about ourselves that day. It is only in relationship with another, particularly a difficult or testing relationship, that we truly learn about ourselves, release our ‘programming’ from past events and traumas and move forwards on the path of freedom. But this only happens if we can learn to tolerate that space of non duality – or ‘neti neti’ as the Indians call it (not this, not that) – then we get bigger and consciousness expands, and we feel calmer and more resilient.

Most of us are uncomfortable with conflict. How to handle conflict is vital in all our relationships. Yet when someone does not like confrontation or conflict it can be a sign of a weak ego self.

Conflict needs a strong ego

When we are secure in our self, we are less bothered about what others think, or less preoccupied with others liking us. Paradoxically this takes a strong ego, so we need to build the scaffolding of the ego self (false self) so that it is strong enough to take criticism, dislike and confrontation. But any strength becomes a weakness if it is over used. So at some point we begin the journey of shedding ego to find the authentic self inside.

Being less bothered about being liked

I have noticed myself saying, these days, ‘I’m not that bothered whether or not someone likes me or not, or what they think of me: if they do, great, if they don’t, so be it.’ I am more comfortable being authentic. Sometimes that means that I upset others; and here I need to tread carefully.

The five freedoms

This reminds me of Virginia Satir when she talks about the ‘5 Freedoms of becoming more fully human’:

  1. The freedom to see and hear what is here, instead of what “should” be, was, or will be.
  2. The freedom to say what you feel and think, instead of what you “should” feel and think.
  3. The freedom to feel what you feel, instead of what you “ought” to feel.
  4. The freedom to ask for what you want, instead of always waiting for permission.
  5. The freedom to take risks on you own behalf, instead of choosing to be only “secure”and not rocking the boat.

How to handle conflict

I rocked the boat recently. When I was teaching a local group, an attendee made a complaint against me. The complaint was about something that they insisted that I ‘said’ – though I never said it, it was certainly a of twisting of my words- yet, if I really second positioned this person and where they were coming from, I could understand their perspective. So, I had to look inside at what motivates us to be kind to or understanding of others.

Unenlightened self-interest

Many of us act out of self interest: we are kind to others to please them or keep them happy, or we are motivated by a need to have others like us. So in the act of kindness or consideration or helping others, the motivation is actually self-interest. What might be termed ‘unenlightened self interest’. Of course, it does seem to benefit the other; they are happier perhaps because of our kindness. But when we look deeper, we are acting in this way, somehow, to make ourselves feel better. It is a kind of manipulation, we are playing the politician or the actor, and seek approval or reputation management. We fear others’ judgement, anger or disapproval.

Making a stand

Ok up to a point, perhaps. But what about when that leads to us to pay for this in the cause of our own self interest? After the complaint, I apologised for how the member took it and said that this learning would teach me to be even more sensitive in future. I could have left it at this and everyone would have been happy. Yes? I may have well had an easier life – and not lost an income stream!

But I noticed that this organisation treated other teachers/trainers in a way that did not seem to honour their rights; they put the members rights as priority. And I felt it important to make a stand and ask for some closure, some mediation on this complaint (which was verging on slander in some respects). I asked for my voice to be heard. When they refused and just insisted they were passing on some ‘feedback from a member’ , I gently stated my case and resigned. The process was confrontational and had some conflict. But if overall, it helps the club to think about their process for fairness, it might contribute to making other teachers and instructors happier in the long run.

Enlightened self-interest

So what’s my point? It’s about Enlightened self interest. I am not talking about acts of altruism (I’m certainly no saint), where we personally suffer through acts of kindness but that by acting to further the interests of others (or the interests of the group or groups to which they belong), we ultimately serve our own self-interest. In a way, we will “do well by doing good”. Our motivation comes in part by self-interest—not selfishness but enlightened, generous, self-interest. In this way we contribute to the happiness or wellbeing of the majority rather than the minority.