Is Conflict Necessary to Grow & Learn?

smaller conflict image

Conflict, a nasty word to most people and something that almost everyone says they avoid or certainly don’t enjoy.

So why does it exist in most of our lives?

Because without it we wouldn’t grow or learn.  And avoiding it stops us from growing and learning about ourselves, the person we are in conflict with and how to have healthy relationships.

There are two types of conflict one very closely associated with the other;

Internal Conflict
We all have internal dialogues going on in our minds on a daily basis and often these dialogues can develop into conflict most of it going unnoticed.  It could be as small as what to have for lunch. “I should really stay in and eat a healthy salad but the rest of the crew are going to that lovely restaurant.  What should I do?”  Or “ I should really go to the gym after work.  But I’ve had such a busy day I’m exhausted and deserve to go home and lie on the couch.”. These are necessary conflicts because they allow you to measure what is right for you and help you make informed decisions.

It’s when decisions can’t be made out of the internal conflict and the mind starts to overthink and ruminate that difficulty arises. You then have arguments in your head with yourself or the person you are thinking about and negative thinking ensues and proliferates. When this happens it can often be the silent trigger of external conflict.

External Conflict
External conflict is necessary in most relationships.  Conflict resolution strengthens relationships and deepens understanding between two people whether it’s your boss, your parent, your child or your partner.  But resolving conflict can be much more difficult when you have unresolved internal conflict.  An example of this if you are having difficulty with someone at work but are unable to address it so the conflict remains internal and lots of arguments and discussions of what you would say or should have said are going on in your head.  Then you come home and a family member starts giving you a hard time about something small and you explode.  It happens to us all.

older son with older parentsCommunication is good in these situations.  When you arrive home say you’ve had a bad day, don’t let the emotions fester inside you.  Try and talk it out with someone impartial.  Someone who is just on your side, while this may feel supportive, often just adds fuel to your fire.  It’s always good to talk to someone who is going to understand both sides of the story.

Look after yourself.  Self care is so important and often we are last on the list of people we look after well.  Find a way to relax, switch off and wind down.  For some that’s sweating it out at the gym, for others it a long walk or a long soak in the bath.  Find something that does it for you. Eat healthily and get a good nights sleep.  Minding ourselves helps us to deal with conflict easier and more rationally.


Elaine Hanlon operates a clinic at Diabetes Ireland Care Centre in Santry. She offers counselling and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. To book telephone 01 842 8118