Conflict is uncomfortable, right? Even though we know it’s normal, expected, and inevitable in any close relationship, it doesn’t make it any less painful or less challenging. Whether it’s with our family, friends, coworkers, or strangers…don’t we want to enjoy our relationships and not be in conflict? Yet, it’s not wise to avoid conflict either. When we avoid difficult conversations, we’re sacrificing inner growth and healthier relationships. Notice…this is how we avoid what we don’t want and unfortunately block what we do want.
“The heart is like a garden: it can grow compassion or fear, resentment, or love. What seeds will you plant there?” ~ Jack Kornfield
Let’s begin by exploring how we can build better relationships even in the midst of challenges. So, how can we have the courage to be honest, open, caring, and less judgmental? When we were children, it was simple; we lived from our heart, not our head. Most children are full of joy, carefree, openhearted, and naturally curious. When we were young, we assumed the best in others and we were open to expressing our needs and wants. We certainly didn’t expect people to be mind readers.
On the contrary, as adults we often don’t share our truth for fear we won’t be accepted or loved, we’re fearful we might hurt someone or “make” them mad. Know this for sure, no one has the power to “make” us feel hurt, weak, unstable, or unsafe. This is our power and authority…unless we give it away. Giving this kind of power away is serious business. No one should ever have the power to determine our inner state of being. So, when we feel hurt by someone, we need to face what we believe inside that we’re allowing to cause us pain. Obviously, we believe there is truth to what was said…otherwise, we wouldn’t have given it a second thought nor taken it personally. The hurt feeling points us to the inner growth we need to overcome what’s holding us back.
Yet…instead of caring for our own needs, we often depend on others to fix us, and expect them to read our mind. We turn a relationship into a transaction of trading wants and needs, which is the surest way to ruin any relationship. Even worse, we don’t give grace to others or to ourselves. Remember this, we are all doing the best we can at our current level of growth and experience. Whether your ego agrees with this or not, it’s true.
So, why can’t we at least give people the benefit of the doubt? Notice, the ego is the one creating fear and doubt. What if instead of trying to discourage others, we build them up? And…this means building ourselves up as well. Considering everything we’ve been through in the last few years…if there was ever a time to start being kind, isn’t it now?
We can…overcome the ego’s temptations and tricks. Let’s take a look at what’s going on and the symptoms that warn us. When we feel stress in our bodies, it’s a sure sign that conflict is arising. We’re tempted to resist reality. Instead, realize that resistance will only take us back into spiritual unconsciousness.
Some of the signs to watch out for are…anger, fear, tears, confusion, defensiveness, urgency, elevated blood pressure, perspiration, trembling, name-calling, yelling, etc. When we feel the warning signs of stress, we can redirect our attention by using specific strategies to change course. Instead of falling in the same hole, we can choose to go down a different road.
Before engaging in a conflict, let’s make a plan to do what’s needed to stay in alignment with our true inner self. Thus, when differing opinions arise…and they will, we can feel safe and not threatened. This is how we can stay spiritually conscious, present in the moment, and not get lost in our thoughts listening to the ego’s nonsense.
Let’s pause now to consider what we need to know and embrace…to get to a place of peace.
- We need to listen to others with the intent to understand…not judge, blame, or be a victim.
- It’s essential we listen consciously without interrupting. This means we’re not waiting to reply or planning a reply. It takes practice and conscious discipline, so we need to be patient with ourselves and others.
- Make a note when needed rather than being tempted to interrupt or go back into our thoughts.
- We can face conflict without anger or fear. Everything is neutral until we believe the ego’s narrative.
- Remember, all problems are caused by thoughts that are created by the ego. It’s happening to us, so we need to be more responsible for our part and use our inner boundaries with ourselves and the ego.
- Be aware that we all do the best we can with our current level of growth and experience. This is true for everyone.
- Finally…when we face conflicts, we need to be mindful that this is only a life situation and not life itself. If this was our last day on earth, we’d probably be more compassionate.
“Most people don’t listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” ~ Steven R. Covey
Let’s explore how this happens to us so we can recognize it and end suffering for good. Again, notice it’s happening to us; it’s not us. We get lost in our head and the ego takes us over. This is how we become spiritually unconscious. We lose presence by going into the thought narratives in our mind. So, we need to know how we can recognize or sense the signs of threat that lead to conflict and know our thoughts are coming from the ego.
It’s easy to be tempted to engage in the face of emotionally charged issues such as politics, religion, money, in-laws, children, and more. It’s difficult enough to deal with our own ego-talk, but when we add someone else’s conflicting opinions and judgments, it’s even more difficult to stay neutral.
Remember, the ego lives in a place of fear, lack, and resistance to the truth, yet our true self dwells in love, freedom, courage, and inner peace. We’re not under threat…the ego is, and we aren’t the ego. We must not go along with the ego nor protect it. Instead, we can put our relationships first rather than the ego. The truth is…there is never a threat. It’s an illusion. The ego will tell us anything to convince us to go along with its negativity.
We’re all familiar with the voice of fear and doubt, i.e., ego self-talk running in the background of our mind. This is how the ego expresses its fears and desires. It stays in a protective and defensive mode, ready to cause trouble. When we pay attention to our thoughts and engage with the ego’s upset, it’s able to fuel itself with our energy. Remember, thoughts refer to past and future stuff in the mind…not what’s going on in the present moment.
When we fall for the ego’s tricks and the ego fuels off these dual situations, we feel trapped. Yet the problems we face are never about the situation itself. Instead, problems are created by our thoughts about the situation. Thoughts turn a normal life situation into a conflict by splitting us into two warring factions. Life becomes two, thus divisive. Know this for sure, all situations are neutral until we believe the ego and engage with its narrative. This is why we must learn how to recognize our thoughts before we engage so we can neutralize them. Yes, we can learn to go beyond the spiritual unconsciousness of the ego rather than getting stuck in the same hole.
Consider questioning your thoughts by asking: “Is it true…Is it 100% true” and What is the impact on me, if any?” Step out of the mind by redirecting your attention to your breath. Slowly, take three conscious breaths and then wiggle your hands or feet to feel their aliveness. Visualize a peaceful place such as vacationing on the beach or in the mountains. Rest there in the presence of inner peace.
The following are a few more strategies to defuse the ego and conflict.
In recovery groups, this acronym HALT is used as a reminder for self-care. Too often, we’re stressed because we don’t take care of our own needs. Try using this practice when you feel vulnerable.
HALT or pause and ask yourself these 4 questions:
- H – Hungry: Am I hungry?
- A – Angry: Am I angry?
- L – Lonely: Am I lonely?
- T – Tired: Am I tired?
Try these statements to end conflict, help defuse the ego, or buy more time for a peaceful resolution:
- Let me think about it.
- You might be right.
- I understand.
- Can you tell me more?
- Thank you for sharing.
- How can we work this out?
- I’m sorry.
- Let’s pause and “Take 5”. Take 5 minutes or more to cool off or delay the conversation.
Remember to give yourself grace as you grow and be proud of how far you’ve come. I hope you’ve enjoyed this blog. Please share it with someone because it may be just what they need to hear today. Come back for next month’s blog and…
For more insight, consider reading Chapter 7 “Understanding Thought” in my book: “Breaking Free from the Ego: A Course in Finding and Freeing Yourself”. https://amzn.to/3mC7vO9
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About the Author – Trina Carroll-Houk is a spiritual teacher, counselor, and founder of Breaking Free Boundaries, LLC who specializes in self-awareness, mindfulness, and the spiritual dimension of being. Her goal is to help people improve their quality of life so they can experience inner peace, meaningful purpose, and greater fulfillment. Trina represents a movement focused on helping people release what limits them from living in a higher dimension of spiritual consciousness.
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