Your mind and heart feel like they’re split in two.
You want to do something, but another part of you is screaming “NO WAY!”
You believe in something, but you just cannot condone an action that belief teaches.
You feel like something is right, but then you also feel like it’s wrong.
How can you make any sense of all this mess, all this internal conflict? You feel like your brain is melting and you’re starting to get desperate.
If you feel like you’re going a little bit crazy, or the confusion is getting too much to handle, stop right now. Pause what you’re doing, close your eyes, and take a deep breath. For the next minute, focus on your breathing coming in and out. In this article, I hope to help you get to the root of your internal conflict and how to find peace of mind.
What is Internal Conflict?
Internal conflict is the experience of having opposing psychological beliefs, desires, impulses or feelings. In the field of psychology, internal conflict is often referred to as “cognitive dissonance,” which is a term that refers to holding conflicting and inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes. This mental struggle can occur at any point in life over any topic such as relationships, work commitments, religious beliefs, moral standpoints, and social ideologies.
An example of internal conflict would be a person who believes in women’s rights but does not condone abortion. Internal conflict can often be seen in relationships where one person loves their partner, but they don’t feel emotionally available. In the religious world, internal conflict often occurs when one is faced with a doctrine or teaching they are uncomfortable propagating.
Why Does Internal Conflict Occur?
Your worst battle is between what you know and what you feel. – Anonymous
When we experience any kind of internal conflict, what is really happening is that there is a disagreement between our heart and head.
As shown by research conducted by places such as the HeartMath Institute, our hearts carry their own special kind of intuitive intelligence. As we were raised in societies that were (and still are) dominated by the mind, we become very confused and disconcerted when our hearts get involved in everyday matters. It is very easy to listen to the mind, mindlessly obey what others teach us, and logically plan our lives. But our hearts carry their own special kind of intelligence, an intelligence that is nonlinear, subtle, and often very abstract. There is no formula or set of rules that are attached to the heart’s intelligence: it is up to us to tune into the voice within, which is often what confuses us so much.
Our head intelligence is what helps to give our lives structure, direction, and practical application. But our heart intelligence is what breathes life and truth into this framework of our life journeys. Without listening to our hearts, we live soulless, unfulfilling, and inauthentic lives. But without listening to our heads, we live in absolute chaos.
As we can see, balance is needed. We need to listen to both the heart and head, but often, we tend to value one over the other which is what causes us to experience internal conflict.
So why does internal conflict occur? It occurs because we lack equanimity and balance between the heart and head. Our heart says one thing, but our mind says another: and both shout at the same intensity. When our actions don’t match our values, the inevitable result is a feeling of discomfort, even shame. So which do we listen to, when, and why? We’ll explore the answer to this question soon, but first, we need to understand what creates internal conflict in the first place.
What Creates Internal Conflict?
We experience internal conflict for a number of reasons. Often, there is no one “single cause” or origin, but there are a number of factors which include:
- The beliefs and rules we inherited from our parents
- The religious beliefs, dogmas or creeds we were indoctrinated to believe
- The societal values and ideals we adopted growing up
Quite simply, the more mental beliefs, ideals, expectations, and desires we have, the more likely we are to suffer from internal conflict.
8 Types of Internal Conflict
There are many different types of internal conflict, and I will attempt to cover as many as I can below. Pay close attention to which ones you resonate with.
1. Moral Conflict
Moral conflict arises when we hold conflicting beliefs about something to do with our personal ethics. For example, moral conflict could occur when a person believes in human rights but doesn’t believe in euthanasia. Or a person could value telling the truth, but lie to save another person’s life.
2. Sexual Conflict
Sexual conflict often overlaps with other types of internal conflict such as religious or moral conflict. For example, a person might be a faithful Christian but they discover they’re homosexual. Or a person might value monogamous relationships when sexually they are better suited to polygamous relationships.
3. Religious Conflict
Religious conflict is quite common because it revolves around belief and beliefs are very mind-orientated, making them particularly fragile. Examples of religious conflict could be believing in a loving God, but finding it hard to accept that this “loving” being sends people to hell for eternity. Or a person who is religiously faithful, but also believes in the use of medical marijuana (which is still classified as a drug). When faced with scientific facts, religious conflict may arise within a person who values both truth and their religious belief.
4. Political Conflict
Political conflict arises when a person feels split between their own beliefs and their political party’s beliefs. For example, a person may believe in America but doesn’t believe in paying taxes. A person may align with one party but disagree with their treatment of the healthcare system. Or a person may believe in the political philosophy but struggle to support the politician propagating it.
5. Love Conflict
Love conflict is what happens when we love someone, yet we want to do something that hurts them. For example, we may love our children, but believe we have to smack them to make them obedient, which causes us to feel guilty. Or we may love our partners, but find their habits to be intolerable which causes us to act out. We may also love a person and wish to keep them, but realize we have to let them go.
6. Self-Image Conflict
Your self-image is the mental idea you have about yourself, e.g. “My name is Karen. I’m a patient, loving, and compassionate person. I’m a disorganized artist who supports the rights of animals … etc.” Internal conflict arises when we are met with evidence that contradicts our beliefs about ourselves. For example, a person who believes they’re honest might lie on their resume to get their dream job. Someone who takes pride in eating healthy might not want to give up smoking. A person who identifies as an empath may feel constant resentment towards another person. Or a person may believe they’re ethical but might enjoy buying clothing that contributes to sweatshops.
7. Interpersonal Conflict
Interpersonal conflict overlaps with other types of internal conflict such as self-image and love conflict. This type of conflict occurs in social situations when you want to be one way, but find yourself acting in another way. For example, Sally hates talking about sports, but she finds herself faking interest in what her coworkers talk about. An introvert doesn’t have much energy but creates a high-energy facade to fit in with others. Or someone is offended by a friend but says nothing even though they want to.
8. Existential Conflict
Existential conflict involves feelings of discomfort and confusion about life, particularly when two opposing beliefs or desires arise. For instance, hating life but loving life at the same time. Or wanting to live life to the fullest, but not wanting to make any changes or get out of your comfort zone. Existential conflict can also be directed towards the world, for example, wanting to save our planet, but at the same time believing that it’s doomed.
Please note that all of these examples of internal conflict frequently overlap with each other. This list is also not definitive, so feel free to leave a comment if you believe I’ve left any types of internal conflict out.
How to Find Peace of Mind
All war originates within as internal conflict. And what is the root cause of internal conflict? Attachment to beliefs, desires, and expectations.
Quite simply, all our suffering occurs when we believe our thoughts, instead of seeing them for what they truly are: passing fluctuations of energy within the brain. Do we control our thoughts? No. Otherwise, we would always choose to think happy and harmonious thoughts. We don’t even know what our next thought will be, or what our next ten thoughts will be because they all spontaneously arise and fall within the mind. If we don’t control these thoughts, then how can they possibly mean anything about us unless we give them meaning?
If you can truly understand what I’ve just written, you’ll find that a lot of your internal conflict dissipates very quickly. Simply sit down for however long you want, and try to notice where your thoughts come from. Do you control them? Or … are they controlling you?
Aside from that, here are some other tips which I hope can help you find more peace of mind and clarity:
- Distinguish between intuition and fear. The intuitive voice within your heart is very clear, strong, and unemotional. However, the fearful voice is vague and emotionally-charged. Learn how to distinguish between these two voices because they are often confused. Read more about following your intuition.
- In the long-term, what would be the wisest choice? When our heart dominates, we tend to make rash, poorly thought-out decisions. This is where the head comes in: foresight. Foresight is wisdom. With the limited knowledge you have right now, what would appear to be the wisest decision in the long-term?
- Weigh up the pros and cons. If you’re struggling to find clarity, divide a page into two sides. List all the pros of your decision on one side and the cons on the other.
- Figure out your number one priority. Internal conflict often appears when we have no clear priority. What is your biggest priority at the moment? What do you value the most?
- What mistaken beliefs are fuelling your confusion? What false, misleading, limiting or second-hand beliefs are causing the conflict within you? Write down your problem on a page and next to it ask “Why?” For example, you might want to keep your job but also crave to stay at home with your kids. Asking why relentlessly, you might discover that you believe that staying at home with your kids makes you a failure, and you’ve adopted this belief from society.
- Be ruthlessly honest: what are you scared of? Fear always underlies internal conflict. What is inflaming your cognitive dissonance? What are you truly scared of? Sometimes discovering your underlying fear helps you to gain more clarity and direction.
- What is the “lesser of two evils”? If you had to choose – gun to your head – what decision would you make?
- Adopt a future perspective. From the perspective of you resting on your deathbed, what would you regret the most?
- What is resisting the flow? One easy way to examine what is “not meant to be” is to examine what is causing the most resistance in your life. Remember, life flows effortlessly. It is our thoughts and desires that cut the flow. So, explore what is creating the most resistance in your life. Are you clinging to a ship that sailed long ago?
- What is a more loving approach? Are you honoring your authenticity or honoring what you “think” you should do/be? What approach or choice is more aligned with the truth, with love?
- Is there a more important underlying issue? Sometimes internal conflict actually hides deeper issues that need to be explored to find a resolution, such as negative self-beliefs, unresolved shame or childhood wounds.
- Relax your mind. Relaxing your mind is a great way to develop new perspectives. Try meditating, listening to soothing music or practicing mindfulness. Often the best answers come when we aren’t looking for them.
- Choose to stop participating. Do you need an answer right this very moment? Sometimes allowing life to move in the direction it wants is a better option than forcefully blazing a path. As teacher Wayne Dyer once wrote, “Conflict cannot survive without your participation.”
I hope these tips can help you find more peace of mind. Remember that it’s completely normal to experience internal conflict – there is nothing weird about you. Also, when it comes to internal conflict people tend to romanticize the heart and believe that we should only listen to whatever the heart wants. But this is an imbalanced approach: we need to use the heart as well as the brain so that internal harmony is created.