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What is High Conflict?

Frequently, we humans get caught up in conflict for the simple reason – we are in some way attached to it. Although this statement may sound absurd at first, it has been proven over and over again to be true. This doesn’t mean that we wake up in the morning and start looking for a conflict to get attached to. But, it does mean that getting drawn into conflict is a common human tendency—one we most likely learned as we were growing up.

iStock_000002790034_LargeThere are two primary reasons for our tendency to get attached to conflict. The first reason is conflict is what we know. Our parents and other key people in our lives may have frequently been in conflict, so we developed that same habit. The second reason can stand alone or it can be reinforcement for the first reason. It is fear; fear of what the consequences might be if we don’t “defend ourselves” in a conflict and/or fear of what else life might have in store if our energies were not caught up in and distracted by conflict.

When conflict is a familiar phenomenon in our lives, we almost always come to believe that it’s just the way life has to be. Our belief system tells us that conflict is a given in life and that we can’t change that fact. We see conflict as a reality of life and we see ourselves simply – and inevitably – caught up in it. But, the surprising truth is that conflict is not “inevitable” in anyone’s life—not yours, not mine, not anyone else’s.

It only takes one person involved in a conflict to change it. Conflict is a dance that requires at least two people. If one person in a conflict begins to set boundaries and change the dynamics of interaction, a new energy arises that creates a major shift—and the conflict ceases to exist. The phrase “It takes two to tango” is absolutely true. You simply can’t have the dance of conflict without both parties agreeing to partner up.

We sometimes get so caught up in our conflicts that all we can see is “my side” vs. “the other person’s side.” When we’re invested in believing that “my side” is where truth (or justice or correctness) lies, then we automatically believe that the other person is wrong and “just needs to do what I want them to do.” But, this is exactly where we need to stop and take a closer look because this place is where we become active perpetrators of the conflict.

Parents swear, and children suffer 2Out of that belief comes the next belief that keeps us locked into the cycle of conflict: “The other person is robbing  me of my happiness by their refusal to change.” In other words, we’ve come to believe that our happiness is dependent on the other person changing how they think and act.
Let’s reiterate. It is ideas and beliefs that perpetuate conflict. All we have to do is let go of that controlling idea that “the other person needs to change.” If we can be willing to change our own way of thinking and doing things, almost always the conflict will end.

It’s not up to us to change someone else. The simple human truth is that the other person will or won’t change. What they do or don’t do, will or won’t do is based entirely on what they perceive their own needs to be and how they choose to address them.

And it is not up to us to know what they need—that’s their job. It is, however, up to us to know what we need. And when we know what we need, then we can get about the business of changing ourselves and changing our own lives. We can start letting go of conflict, discovering what makes us happy and taking responsibility for getting ourselves there.