Latent conflict: what does my unconscious “I” want to communicate to me?
I want to, but something holds me back. I know I don’t have to, but something pushes me in the opposite direction. What happens to me? The answer can be traced back to the concept of internal conflict already widely studied by Lewin.
For Lewin there is conflict when a person is forced to choose between incompatible, contradictory or mutually exclusive objectives or courses of action, that is, when the action necessary to reach one automatically prevents the person from reaching the other . “A situation in which the forces of approximately equal value but directed in the opposite direction act simultaneously on the individual”.
On a psychological level, a struggle has started within the ego: two opposing forces of equal intensity both require satisfaction. A dilemma in which one reason moves us away from the other, demanding an internal adjustment.
In some cases, there are legitimate reasons behind the internal conflict , in fact, we can be attracted to both one decision and another. For example, being undecided between two university careers that we both like.
However, there are cases in which the reasons that feed the internal conflict acquire a negative value : when none of the options attracts us, but we feel obliged to make a decision. For example, decide whether to stay with the partner you no longer love or leave him and take the risk of being alone. This can be a classic example of internal conflict in which both solutions are perceived as negative and frustrating .
Of course, internal functional conflicts can generate tension and stress, but negative ones are more disabling as they can cause a lot of anxiety and anguish. Generally, these are conflicts that are not easily resolved, which leads the victim to a condition of impotence as trapped in their own inconsistencies.
But are conflicts always so evident? Let’s talk about latent conflict
Conflicts do not always manifest on a conscious level, and this occurs when we are unable to clearly identify the source of our anxiety. This is the case with latent conflicts. We perceive emotional distress (fear, anxiety, anger, hostility), but we don’t understand the causes.
At the root of the latent conflict are emotional resistances. We want something intensely, but unconsciously we refuse to enjoy it, try it or fight for it .
It is a contest, even if we are not fully aware of why we are containing ourselves. As a result, a misalignment is activated between our desires, needs, thoughts and behaviors .
Examples of latent conflicts
The condition of unrecognized conflict can also lead to symptoms of a physical nature. Through symptoms, the body itself becomes a “battleground” for the conflicting parties.
In “somatization” the symptom can sometimes manifest in symbolic form the type of conflict it expresses; for example, fatigue (feeling of physical tiredness) can symbolize the expenditure of energy by a conflict that leaves little strength to the individual ; vomiting may indicate refusal to face an unacceptable relationship; itching, or rather dermatitis, can represent a form of self-aggression due to mixed feelings: hate mixed with guilt.
We can be victims of different types of latent conflicts, some of the most common are:
1) Ethical conflict
This conflict is triggered when two or more contradictory beliefs about ethical behavior are highlighted. On a conscious level, a belief prevails but deep down we have an opposite belief, which we are usually afraid to recognize, but which is exerting a force from the unconscious that destabilizes us.
When, for example, we accept a system of values that is imposed on us by the family or society (religion, political ideology), but on which we have not reflected and which goes against some of our impulses, desires and needs.
2) Conflict of self-image
It triggers when we behave in a way that disagrees with what we think we are. An example? We like to maintain a calm and peaceful behavior, but when we are faced with a provocation, we react aggressively.
This latent conflict usually involves an acceptance problem: we prefer to stick to the positive image that we have formed of ourselves and deny the characteristics that we consider undesirable. This conflict brings many problems, referring to the previous example: even if we try to ignore it, the aggressive nature does not disappear by magic, it continues to pulsate causing frustration, irritation and inevitably conditioning our behavior.
3) Interpersonal conflict
This conflict implies internal ambivalence, it emerges in the form of resentment or tension. Interpersonal conflicts are quite common and involve the family and relational sphere: environments that make us more vulnerable and sensitive and consequently generate a lot of fear and resistance.
In particular, it is expressed when we feel compelled to behave in a way that we do not perceive as authentic, just because it is supposed to be what we have to do. In work and family contexts, there may be “implicit rules” to which to submit, a sort of regulation that we have tacitly accepted but which generates a conflict in us.
4) Sentimental conflict
Even in relationships there are often latent conflicts. Many times we resort to quarrel, offenses and grueling provocations while feeling feelings of love or affection.
To give a simple example, I will quote the good old Freud, who explains to us that “when a man and a woman quarrel, it is because there is a latent sexual attraction between them, that is they are madly in love, but they don’t want to admit it”.
Freud, with this observation, explains that two people (or two groups, by extension), the more they fight, paradoxically the more they love each other, and evidently need each other to discover themselves deeply in their most authentic individuality.
This does not mean that behind every quarrel and every form of provocation there is love. This conflict occurs only in certain circumstances, when one does not want to accept or admit the sentiment towards a specific person. An example? Denying the feeling of love for a person who does not correspond to ideological standards of “ideal partner” (from a social, economic, physical … point of view …).
Why do latent conflicts arise?
We are not always ready to process a conflict, this is because our internal responses are inadequate for our external world. Here the internal conflict is confirmed by a further external conflict.
The elaboration of an internal conflict would undermine our identity. The elaboration of the unconscious force that causes the conflict, in fact, contrasts with the image we have of ourselves or of the world: identifying the conflict would mean questioning too many things and our mind hates uncertainties! To dispel any doubt, our mind activates a sort of defense mechanism capable of further masking the unconscious force: we believe that desire or instinct will make us somehow more vulnerable and for this reason we conceive it as something to be avoided at any cost.
Faced with situations that require the elaboration of new answers, we are unprepared: we always try to provide old answers because they are the ones that determine the most certainties . In the situation of frustration it is natural that a latent conflict develops within us, however the idea of questioning our way of being or the perception we have of the world is too difficult to caress.
How can you resolve a latent conflict
Many of the impulses we experience such as fear, anger and hostility are culturally disapproved. Since birth we are integrated into the social fabric with its moral rules (that is, we often learn what is right and what is not), we learn that certain psychological contents are “dangerous” or “threatening”, so we develop mechanisms that allow us to hide them. First we learn to hide from others, then from ourselves .
The point is that hiding a psychological content does not solve anything and in the long run it only generates anxiety, anguish and frustration . In daily life the source of this anxiety or frustration can be associated with many symbolic events: even if the event is resolved, there will be another that will generate the same malaise. For each solved problem, another and another will present itself … How to solve? The key is to allow these latent conflicts to access consciousness in order to analyze them rationally.
Managing latent conflicts does not mean solving them because every communicative act hides a possible germ of conflict. A necessary condition is to interpret the conflict as a problem to be recognized.
We have to understand that latent conflicts are an opportunity to get to know each other . After all, the presence of a conflict implies the need to face some truths.
Accepting that our “I” is constantly evolving and that one of our most important tasks in life is to rediscover and evolve ourselves, it will help us to lower rational barriers and develop a more elastic mentality in which latent conflicts are not seen as threats , but as an opportunity for introspection and change.
So, by accepting the scheme of cooperation rather than that of fierce competition, we can bestow upon ourselves the possibility of accessing our deepest emotions and granting ourselves the power to open ourselves to them, in order to be able to observe more closely and without fear those parts of us that we do not know, which frighten us, and that only the relationship with the other can bring out more striking.
It is an invitation to shake off the “layers” that over time we have built so as to connect with our true essence. The ideal way to align needs, desires, thoughts and behavior .
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