You want, but something keeps you.
You know you shouldn’t, but something pushes you to the opposite direction.
Latent conflicts are a constant in our life and become often a source of anguish, anxiety and frustration.
There’s no doubt that being in front of an internal conflict is not usually funny or particularly pleasant. In the best case it’s an undesirable situation and, at worst, pathological.
However, the way in which we face these conflicts and how we solve them will decisively influence our level of satisfaction and happiness. And since we can’t avoid conflicts, the best is to equip ourselves with the necessary psychological tools to solve and even take advantage of them.
Internal conflict: The forces that push to opposite directions
The conflict, in Psychology, involves the activation of two or more strong motives incompatible with each other. It’s a dilemma in which one reason distances us from the other, demanding an internal adjustment.
In some cases, the reasons at the base of the internal conflict are positive, we’re attracted to both a decision and another, as when we must decide between going to a concert or a theater or choose between two university careers that we like both.
In other cases, the reasons that feed the internal conflict are negative since none of the options appeals us, but we’re obliged to make a decision; that is, we must choose the less negative. Deciding whether to keep a job we don’t like or renounce and assume the threat of unemployment is an example of internal conflict in which both solutions are perceived as negative or threatening.
Positive internal conflicts generate a degree of tension and stress due to having to make a decision, but negative internal conflicts can cause a high level of anguish and anxiety. The latter aren’t easily resolved because we can feel helpless and fall into paralysis due to the fear generated by the two solutions. In this way, a person could spend years trapped in this type of conflicting situations.
However, conflicts are not always so obvious.
What is a latent conflict?
Conflicts are often unconscious; that is, we are not able to clearly identify the source of our anxiety or anguish. We feel strong impulses, like fear and hostility, but we don’t understand where they come from.
Latent conflict has not yet been expressed in a manifest behavior that allows us to identify it, but it’s at the base of other conflicts and therefore makes it difficult to understand them.
This type of conflict feeds on resistance. We want something, but unconsciously we refuse to enjoy, experience or fight for it. It’s a contention, although we are not fully aware of why we’re holding back. As a result, there is a misalignment of our desires, needs, thoughts and behaviors.
The 3 most common types of latent conflicts
We can be victims of different types of latent conflicts, some of the most common are:
1. Moral conflict. This internal conflict refers to two or more contradictory beliefs about ethical behavior. The usual thing is for a belief to prevail in our conscious mind, but deep down we feed another opposing belief, which we’re usually afraid to recognize, but is exerting a force from the unconscious that destabilizes us. It is common when we embrace a value system imposed on us by family or society but on which we haven’t reflected and that goes against some of our impulses, desires and needs.
2. Conflict of self-image. This conflict arises when we behave in a way that doesn’t agree with what we think we are. We can be proud of being kind but when we are faced with a situation in which someone provokes us, we react with aggressivity. This latent conflict usually involves a problem of acceptance, we prefer to stick to the positive image we formed of ourselves and deny the characteristics we consider undesirable, but since these don’t disappear by magic, they continue to pulse and determine our behavior.
3. Interpersonal conflict. This conflict is not external but has an internal origin since it implies an internal ambivalence. It is usually common in the couple and the family since this type of relationship makes us more vulnerable and sensitive, which usually generates a lot of fear and resistance. In this case, the usual thing is that we’re forced to behave in a way we don’t perceive as authentic, just because it is supposed to be what we should do. The problem is that this latent conflict, although we don’t recognize it, comes to light in form of resentment or tension.
Why latent conflicts arise?
The latent conflict isn’t recognized because one of the reasons represents a severe psychological blow. Recognizing that opposing force can shake the image of ourselves or the world, so our mind activates a kind of defense mechanism through which protects us as we consider that this desire or instinct will make us – in a way – more vulnerable. It’s usually the repression of that content, but since it continues to exist, its dynamic force pushes from the unconscious, generating a sensation of diffuse discomfort.
In reality, that latent conflict is the expression of the idea that the mind – and so the brain – function – or should function – as a unified system in which there’re no internal contradictions or disharmony. In fact, in Psychology itself, conflict was assumed for a long time as a “divided personality”, in contrast to an “ego” that should be a unique and harmonious entity, so that any deviation from that intrinsic balance and cohesion was considered pathological
Basically, this latent conflict, as indicated by a study of Columbia University, is also an inability to take responsibility for our desires, instincts and needs when they go against what is considered socially correct.
How to solve a latent conflict?
Many of the strong impulses we experience, such as fear and hostility, are culturally disapproved. Being immersed since birh in a moral system that dictates what is good and what is not, very soon we learn that certain psychological contents are “dangerous” or “threatening”, so we develop mechanisms that allow us to hide them. First we hide them from others, then ourselves.
The problem is that hiding a latent conflict doesn’t solve it. It will only generate anxiety, anguish and frustration without knowing why. The key lies in allowing these latent conflicts to access the conscience in order to analyze them rationally.
Recognizing that our “ego” is constantly changing and that one of our most important tasks in life consists precisely in rediscovering ourselves – and, if posible, deconstructing ourselves – will help us lower rational barriers and develop a more open mind in which latent conflicts aren’t seen as threats but as opportunities for introspection for change.
We must understand that latent conflicts are an opportunity for self-discovery. After all, the presence of a conflict implies the need to address certain truths. They’re a call to take away the social layers and connect with our true essence, so that if we channel them well, they will allow us to live more fully, authentically and happily.
Sato, T. et. Al. (2009) The Internal Conflict Model: A Theoretical Framework for Integration. The Humanistic Psychologist; 33(1): 33-44.
Coen, S. J. (1989) Intolerance of responsibility for internal conflict. J Am Psychoanal Assoc; 37(4): 943-964.