You’ll Never Get Rid of Conflict, So Learn to Engage It Better

Part One: The new “How to Tend and Befriend Conflict” series. If you think you know how to deal with conflict, think again.

Michele DeMarco, PhD

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Volcano with rainbow multun lava.

Today kicks off what I’m calling the “Tend and Befriend Conflict” column : A four-part series that will change the way you understand, navigate, and engage the conflict in your life. The good news is that it works for all types of conflict: personal, professional, and in the broader community. Would love to hear what you think.

When I was young, I had three approaches to conflict. One was to yell, “Stop it!” (pronounced stauuuupit) in my best Whiners Family voice at whoever was irking me. A second was to try to talk out a problem with another person, but I’d often get so worked up in the moment that the words I wanted wouldn’t come. And the third was to run to my Harry-Potter-like cubby beneath the stairs in my house where a Strawberry Shortcake sleeping bag, flashlight, and Nancy Drew mystery could convince me that all would be okay when eventually I did emerge. None of these approaches were especially helpful.

In my work as a mediator, therapist, and clinical ethicist, I’ve come to see that I was not alone in my failed strategies to deal with life’s challenges or tension. What’s more, that these strategies and others like them easily carry over into adolescence and adulthood, often because we’ve never really learned what conflict is, what’s happening to us at an embodied level when it strikes, how this influences our feelings, thoughts, and behaviors — and ultimately, how all this directs how we approach conflict.

So, what is conflict?

In its simplest form, conflict is a natural disruption in human relationships. The word conflict comes from the Latin confligere, meaning “to strike together.” In other words, conflict is what happens when elements that are in opposition to one another are “striking” together or clashing.

Conflict is a natural disruption in human relationships.

There is actually “conflict” among scholars and interested others about how to define conflict in a broader sense. Some suggest it is a…

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Michele DeMarco, PhD

Award-winning writer, therapist, clinical ethicist, and researcher specializing in moral injury. I talk about the stuff many won’t. micheledemarco.com