How Do You Deal With Intrapersonal Conflict?:9 min read

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Norms are indispensable if we must develop as a society and as individuals. However, those societal standards or expectations may sometimes conflict with your interests and desires, and this leads to Intrapersonal or internal societal conflict.

What’s Intrapersonal conflict?

Intrapersonal or societal internal conflict when personal feelings, values, and goals do not align with the norms of society. And since social norms are enforced with rewards and punishments, the individual is left with an internal tension – to choose between their desire and the sacrifice or punishment.

Intrapersonal conflict should not be mistaken for interpersonal conflict – which means a disagreement or contention between two or more people.

It shouldn’t also be mistaken for “societal conflict” – which means a struggle for power or ownership between two or more people.

In fact, intrapersonal or internal societal conflict is all about an individual and happens only within that individual. Though, intrapersonal conflicts often result in interpersonal conflict (if not resolved)

What Are The Types of Intrapersonal Conflict?

Three main types of intrapersonal conflicts include Approach-Approach, Approach-Avoidance, and Avoidance-Avoidance intrapersonal conflicts.

  1. Approach-Approach conflict happens when you have to choose between two things you want. It’s like wanting to obey your traditional norms whilst keeping with your religious doctrines.
  2. Approach-Avoidance conflict happens when you have to deal with a situation that has both good and bad parts. It’s like wanting to move to a new country but also being scared you will lose all your friends.
  3. Avoidance-Avoidance conflict happens when you have to choose between two things you don’t want. It’s like hating violence but also being afraid of not fighting for your country.

To better grasp this; let’s look at some examples

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What are examples of intrapersonal conflict?

You can experience Intrapersonal conflicts anytime, anywhere, and in many forms. For example 

  1. As an introvert almost everyone expects you to be actively involved in every school activity. Which compels you to pretend to be a showboat (sociable person) to fit in with colleagues.  
  1. Most young people are forced to dress in certain ways because the grown-ups think it’s inappropriate even though the fashion sense may be “dope” and decent. For example, my braided hair and pierced ears have attracted a lot of scorn and caused societal tensions wherever I go. In addition, my father is not a big fan of my style. The reason is that most people expect male children to have clean low-cut, and earring-free ears. It makes me wonder if it was a biological taboo for a male child to be born with hair and keep it. Of course, I know this is only a perception bias on their end, and I have tried explaining, but the conflict remains.
  1. Another instance, one which stirs a lot of controversies, is the idea of gay marriage.  It is considered a felony in some countries. Citizens are not allowed to have this sort of relationship – you get to do jail time in a green jumpsuit if you are caught in Nigeria. Yet, people who claim to have been born that way are making a strong argument (an argument too strong to be cheaply ignored).   Imagine how this law affects anyone who is inclined to this kind of romance. 

However, from experience, in most cases, the law doesn’t stop people from acting on their desires; it only nudges them to do so behind closed doors.

“Originality implies being bold enough to go beyond accepted norms”.

– Anthony Storr

Though it’s important to obey the law and connect with others, if you are not careful, such tension can make you (or anyone) feel guilty about not being true to yourself, leading to feelings of anxiety, and depression. Those in turn gradually erode productivity, creativity, and relationships.

Young people who are characterized as impulsive, adventurous, and assertive, often encounter this type of conflict because they are most likely to indulge (or at least, suggest) new ways of thinking and practices that threaten a long-aged societal standard. 

Why do we need to follow social norms?

“You should do what other people do unless you have a very good reason not to.”

– Jordan Peterson

Peace and order depend on societal norms. Without them, we become chaotic and eventually destroy ourselves.

For instance;

  1. The pandemic (COVID-19) might have wiped us all out if we hadn’t worn masks and taken other preventive measures.
  1. Unwritten societal norms like being honest and benevolent with other people foster strong and reliable connections for future commerce and relationships.
  1. Environmental Protection policies like the planting of trees have a huge impact in saving us from numerous environmental hazards like erosion. 
  1. Road signs reduce the rate of accidents. 
  1. Without the fierce restrictions on manslaughter, our races might not have survived this long, or at least we would be half of the population of vaquita porpoise (a marine mammal present in the Gulf of California, in Mexico).

“All that is valuable in human society depends upon the opportunity for development accorded to the individual.”

– Albert Einstein

Yet, even if you must follow societal standards, they should at least make practical sense to you, reflect most of your values, and be of benefit to you (else, you will be bound to suffer intrapersonal conflicts…)

Below is a short guide to resolving your intrapersonal conflicts.

How to resolve Intrapersonal conflict:

“But if everybody’s crazy, you’re the one that’s insane”

– Shawn Corey Carter

Intrapersonal or Societal internal conflict can be difficult to resolve because societal standards vary according to geographical location and culture and are often rigid.

Therefore, the easiest way to resolve intrapersonal conflict is to stay in a society that reflects your morals and social needs. A society model that is practical and beneficial for the majority of the population would be difficult (and dangerous) to oppose. So you either adapt your behaviour to the standards or leave. This might mean relocating to a new city or country where their norms are compatible with yours – hence, no conflict.

Of course, changing your immediate environment, circle of friends, and residence can have a huge impact on your social and mental health. But, going against the norms might have more dire consequences. So do not act rashly.

If most societal norms conflict with your personal feelings, the first (and wisest) thing to do is to question your feelings; perhaps it’s not society but you that is to blame. 

And if you discover that your feelings are not justified, despite how difficult and uncomfortable they might be, then you might also notice your sufferings (internal conflicts) fizzling out by themselves once you let go of your intransigence. 

There are very few instances in which breaking the law can be justified. Like in the cases of Rosa Parks, Wangari Maathai, Nelson Mandela, Liu Xiaobo, and many others who broke laws for good reasons.

When is it right to go against social norms?

During the civil rights movement, Rosa Parks (a black American) made headlines for sitting down to advocate for her cause. 

On the evening of December 1, 1955, Parks sat in the front seat of a bus in Alabama, headed home from work. During her trip, she was asked to give up her seat to a white passenger. 

At the time, in Alabama, when a bus was full, black people were required to relinquish their seats to white people. This was the norm. But he refused and was consequently arrested.

As a result of her arrest, a boycott of the Montgomery bus system lasted for 381 days (which was instigated by Martin Luther Jr). 

Subsequently, Her action resulted in a Supreme Court decision banning segregation on public transportation in 1956. 

Rules broken today become norms tomorrow.

– Bill Gates

In other words, rising against a societal standard that causes unnecessary pain and suffering is a worthy endeavour – i.e. it’s right to go against a societal norm that is wrong (but you must be careful and aware of the potential consequences). Usually, there are avenues put in place by governments for expressing such grievances such as organizing peaceful protests and advocating for legislative change. However, it’s important to be strategic. Consider the potential impact of your actions, be prepared for resistance, and build alliances with others who share your concerns. Social progress often happens incrementally, so even small victories can be stepping stones towards a more just and inclusive society.

Also Read: You’re a Product of Your Beliefs [This Is How To Ensure Your Beliefs Are True And Helpful].

Final thought: How intrapersonal conflict can be addressed and managed in a positive way

There won’t be a society without people, and since everyone has a myriad of ideas that are particular to them, taking this privilege away from them without a justifiable reason, will wreck them internally, in turn creating external chaos.

So, to address and manage intrapersonal conflicts in a positive way everyone (including you) should express their ideas and goals humbly and respectfully, with others. After which the ideas and goals will be discussed, pondered on, and in some cases tested, to sieve out those that might be detrimental to the overall progress of society. Managing intrapersonal conflicts this way will create a conducive environment for everyone, fostering enhanced innovation, stronger decision-making, increased self-awareness, improved empathy and understanding, and reduced societal conflict. 

In other words, rather than evaluating people by a set of fixed rules, assess them by the depth and richness of their intent and actions.

It is not easy, but that’s the way – i.e. how we must act to bring about a better society.

Recommended Content: Finding Harmony Within Chaos: 3 Steps to Resolve Your Internal Conflict.

A mindful self-help writer and photographer

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