Consciousness in a Conflict Situation

All conflict is caused by the unconsciousness mind. The reason is because our brains default to a fear response system when we encounter something that puts us in the conflict. Unless we consciously choose to resolve the conflict, we will end up fighting.

When we are in conflict we are typically unaware of other perspectives and other information. Because we are unconscious about this, we make assumptions and evaluations that are based on incomplete information. We need to expand the amount of information we have to work with. As we do that, our consciousness expands and the ability to look at the dispute from a broader perspective occurs. Thus, conflict management is a process of expansion of consciousness.

Conflict always involves uncomfortable emotions. Fear, anger, anxiety, frustration, and hostility are normal feelings experienced in conflict. Shifting from conflict to peace can be an exercise in gaining higher consciousness as we learn to be present in the moment with what we are feeling. When conflict feelings are ignored or repressed, the opportunity for a higher consciousness is lost. However, those feelings have not disappeared. They will reappear in another conflict and present a new opportunity for growth. Conflict feelings will continue to arise until they are confronted, acknowledged, and accepted. At that moment, they will disappear and leave space for the next, deeper layer of emotions to surface and be released. Conflict is therefore an essential part of that growth.

In the context of conflict resolution, consciousness occurs at two levels. I am feeling anxiety, and I am unconscious about it, I will probably be unconsciously reactive in a conflict. My anxiety will cause me to either run or fight. If I am conscious however I will be aware of my anxiety and I will be able to acknowledge it. Without resisting the anxiety and by simply sitting with the anxiety, it will slowly dissipate and go away. I thus have made a choice to be conscious of my anxiety, which allows me to choose a peaceful means of resolving the dispute rather than running from it or fighting it. With inner consciousness, we become aware of our internal states and make conscious choices regardless of what the states are.

Surprisingly, conflict is good because it tells us that there is something that needs to be changed. In addition, conflict pushes us to be innovative, changing things that need improvement for the better. The problem with conflict is how we approach it. If we approach conflict from an unconscious perspective, too easily conflict can become destructive. The fear response system in our brains, if left in default mode, will compel us to freeze, flee, or fight. This can be very destructive mentally and/or physically. On the other hand, conflict can be very constructive if we are conscious about it. If we realize that there is a conflict between us, and we can consciously choose a peaceful process. We can constructively choose a number of ways to resolve a potentially destructive situation. The key is being conscious about the conflict. Unconscious conflict is destructive; conscious conflict is constructive.

The destructive consequences of a conflict situation can be avoided. Our fear response system is triggered by something in our physical or emotional environment. Sometimes we are aware of what that trigger is, but most of the time are not. When you feel conflict emotions, such as anxiety, fear, aggression, or anger, you will note that you have been triggered. The problem is that as soon as our brain starts to generate these feelings, it looks for a cause. We unconsciously blame or attribute cause to the nearest likely object. Typically, that is another human being nearby. Again, because our fear response system is completely unconscious, we begin reacting against this person without conscious thought by accusing, planning, running, avoiding, or engaging in some other nonproductive conflict behavior. In the short term, the best way to get out of this cycle, is to change environment immediately. This means taking a walk, for instance, to remove triggers from our sensory environment. In the longer term, great success is found by reprogramming our brain through internal practices such as meditation. In addition physical exercise can help desensitize the fear response system, thereby generating a compassion response instead of a conflict response.

Adapted from a blog by Douglas Noll, Lawyer to Peacemaker

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