Resolving Interpersonal Conflicts through Emotional Awareness – Part 1

Our conflicts with other people can stir up all sorts of emotions. Resolving these interpersonal conflicts requires that we navigate our own emotional turmoil. In these types of complex situations, our emotional responses can be mixed. We can feel anger mixed with caution, resentment mixed with regret, impatience mixed with understanding. So how do we work with our emotions, and move towards what’ll help us resolve a conflict?

Look at Yourself First

Conflict is one of those situations where you can feel compelled to look at the other person first. After all, they’re the one “causing the problems”! But it’s not as simple as figuring out who’s at fault. In the life’s complexities, settling a conflict to deep satisfaction is more nuanced than labeling who is guilty or innocent. Our rage, our self-righteousness, and even our sadness, may not be settled by such a simple outcome.

In order to address how we feel in a conflict, we must address our feelings. A conflict with another can cause turmoil within, and it is indeed this turmoil that pushes us towards resolution. Ultimately, we want to feel better.

A situation where we’re in conflict with someone else, though, can evoke a lot of complicated responses. There are unknowns in the other person’s motives. They might trigger our sensitivities and bring up strong feelings. The choices we consider, to find resolution, might fill us with fear, and we might be unable to act. On top of it, we might love the other person and that itself might cause us doubt ourselves.

This type of complex situation requires a nuanced approach. And yes, we could talk to or confront the other person right away. But even then, the outcome depends a lot upon the approach. Good approaches must be crafted within, and they must resonate with our selves. Through careful listening to our feelings and working with them, we can make powerful, effective choices in these kinds of situations.

Our Emotional Reality

Each emotion can push us to act. Yet, if we act too soon, the results can feel terrible. If we act in anger, we might end up saying things we regret. If we act in fear, we might let others step over our boundaries.

Now, positive emotions can also be harmful to react to. If we only act from compassionate desire to understand, we may neglect our own interests and prolong the conflict. If we only act from hopefulness, we might dismiss the other’s concerns and actually escalate things.

Only when we consider all our emotions and their interests can we find a balanced solution. We want to find a way to engage that is healthy and giving, yet also assertive, courageous, and communicative. The starting point is our own emotional awareness.

Example of why you need to look within to resolve interpersonal conflicts. Complex, conflicting emotions arise that need to be worked within.
Conflicts with other people aren’t always straightforward, and often this is because of our own emotionally complex responses. But by working with our emotions, we can learn and grow in our capacity to engage with others in a healthy way!

Consider Your Own Conflict

Think of a situation in your life where you have a conflict with another individual. Maybe they get on your nerves, or maybe there’s a more overt conflict between you both.

What is the first feeling that comes up? Hold it in your awareness while you feel it intensely, taking no action.

Then, consider a second feeling, and a third and so on, feeling each.

It might help to write down your feelings, maybe elaborate as to why you feel those things. How are those feelings in conflict with each other?

Finding Balance

One of the main difficulties of resolving interpersonal conflicts is when we get stuck in one particular feeling or another. A singular perspective like this, blown out of proportion, can obstruct your ability to find true resolution. We can get stuck, feel powerless, and imagine that the resolution is only in someone else’s hands. When we do that, we can feel self-righteous and justified in our blame. But it’s important to recognize that, through blame, we are actually putting ourselves in a disempowered position. Self-righteousness is not empowerment – it’s an indication of the exact opposite.

The dis-empowering nature of single-mindedness is why it’s important to cultivate an attitude of being mindful of the complex nature of our feelings. When we look for resources inside our feelings, we open up pathways that, otherwise, we might not have seen.

Getting Stuck

But let’s say you bring all your feelings to the surface, feel them, and look at why you feel those ways – what if it still seems unworkable? All these considerations might sometimes leave you feeling like you’re no closer to any new choices, and you might end up feeling rotten and like you can’t do anything about the situation.

In Parts 2 and 3, we’ll look at working with a variety of common feelings that can come up when you’re resolving your interpersonal conflicts, and how you can transform those feelings into empowering choices.

Click here for Part 2 – Understanding the Negative Emotions

Click here for Part 3 – Understanding the Positive Emotions

Note from Oliver: Hi everyone! It’s been a while – I’ve been experiencing life in many ways, and haven’t felt inclined towards writing articles for some time. However! I feel like I want to get back into it, and to take inspiration from others! If there’s any topics you’d like me to cover, please leave a comment with the idea! I want to make sure that the things I bring up are relevant to everyone.

How to (Really) Keep Calm and Carry On

Sometimes, your stress just needs a time out. Observing your stress stops you from engaging with it and creating even more stress.

When we get severely stressed out, for all kinds of reasons, we can get into a mode where nearly everything pushes our buttons – other people, our own thoughts, what we imagine might happen, or what we think might be true. At such times, it’s like the only thing we want is to run away, escape, and lash out at anything that disturbs us. Continue reading

The Courage to Face Any Thought

Oftentimes, thoughts can go all over the place. They can go so many places you may have no idea how the images in your head even got there. Images of pain and violence, or those of your worst fears. And every time your thoughts get going, you begin to dread having to see those things again in your mind. You’re not the kind of person who thinks those things! Can’t they just leave you alone…?

Do you know what I’m talking about? Maybe it happens for you after a scary movie, when your mind wanders back to the things that haunted you. Or maybe the phrase: “What has been seen, cannot be unseen” calls what I’m talking about to mind.

All in all, it’s when you don’t want to think a certain thought.

Continue reading

Becoming at Peace with Your Own Path

Maybe you’ve been perturbed at someone who seems to know a lot more than you do. Yep, even today I felt the same way. And I know it’s not always just because of jealousy, but because the way they live their life makes you reflect on your own path.

“Is my way wrong? Am I missing something?” These were the kinds of questions I was asking myself.

Sometimes I worry about these things. I wonder if there might be something, just outside of my awareness, that if I was aware of it, it would make a huge difference in my life.

Then people come by who seem to have it all figured out, like they’ve found the thing, and yet, what they say doesn’t seem helpful to me at all. Frustrating!

Continue reading

The Princess of Stories and the Giant

Just wrote this today for L.C. Ricardo’s fairy tale writing contest posted on her blog here. To write it, I just let the image spur an adventure to take place inside myself. This was spontaneous, but I feel like at least one character I’ve run across before (the self-accepting giant) was a part of this tale. It seems that this princess, if I have represented her accurately, can be extraordinarily powerful when distressed, as you will see. I feel like this method of inner work is the least accurate, but nevertheless I enjoyed the process, and I hope you enjoy the results. : )

— Story Prompt Picture — copyright Lissie Elle Laricchia

The Princess of Stories and the Giant

Once upon a time, a girl found herself standing in a confusing, foggy land. At first she searched for a way out, but eventually she got bored and frustrated, and sat down to take a nap, saying under her breath, “if only I could find a real story, if only I could find a REAL story…”

On waking, she found a ladder standing next to her, its top disappearing into the fog above. Looking to the left and right to make sure no one was looking at her being so mischievous, she began to ascend.

Halfway up the ladder got all oily, and it was hard to keep going. She began to think, “oh, but what if it’s no good up there either? Maybe it’s just a boring old place too.” But, given that she hadn’t been able to find anything below for so long, she decided to power through, and even though it took a great deal of strength, she passed the oily area and kept ascending into the clouds.

No sooner had she begun to think about how long the ladder was than her head popped through the clouds, and she could see the bright blue sky above her. She was curious, but still sad.

“Oh, is this all there is?” she said. “I know all about the blue sky. I’d rather be lost in fog than be here where I know what to expect.”

But since she had nothing better to do, she started to wander around the clouds. It wasn’t too long before her sad, wandering eyes, met with the sight of a giant stirring something in a large pot. It smelled bland.

“Excuse me,” said the girl. “What are you doing?”

“Hm?” said the giant. He had a deep voice and rather fuzzy eyebrows. “The question is, what are you doing?”

“Me? I’m trying to find a story. You see, when I find one, I’ll catch it in my net and take it home.”

“Oh? Let me see that net.”

The girl took out a small notebook from her pocket and handed it to the giant, who couldn’t flip it open with his giant fingers.

“Well I’ll leave you to it,” he said after trying several times to open the notebook and failing.

“Why, what are you doing?”

“Just making some soup.” said the giant.

Just then, the girl noticed that the giant’s pot was sitting on what looked like a large, red frog, who was getting redder by the second, and looked angry.

“Don’t overheat it now,” said the giant. He tapped the frog with a stick and all the hot air blew out of him, and he returned to a gray color.

“Who’s he?” said the girl.

“Nobody in particular,” said the giant, “But he helps me with my food. Whenever he gets angry and forgets to breathe he heats up. Quite convenient – except that sometimes I need to remind him to breathe.”

“Oh, I see,” said the girl, and she wandered around the giant’s outdoor kitchen quite confidently, eventually walking right up to the angry face of the frog, and poking its nose.

“So what makes YOU so angry?” she said. At this the frog puffed up with anger.

“Best not do that,” warned the giant.

“And says who? What gives you the right to get so angry? You silly frog.”

The frog rolled his eyes, breathed out, and returned to normal. A smile lit up the girl’s face.

“This is funny!” said the girl, jumping towards the frog.

“Easy does it,” said the giant. He put his hand between the two of them and nudged her back.

“Hey! Stop that will you?”

“Bugger heats my soup, don’t need you disturbin’ him none.”

“Well… fine.” said the girl, mirroring the frown in the frog’s face.

She began to pace around the giant’s home-with-no-walls, kicking wisps of cloud as she went. She went and sat on the bed and brooded.

Just then, the sky began to darken. Dark clouds moved in far above them (a fact the girl found surprising), and thunder could be heard in the distance. The girl got concerned and complained to the giant, but he sat calmly eating his soup as he answered her.

“Things happen from time to time, but I am here, and capable enough, perhaps. We will see.”

This did not comfort the little girl at all, and she kept wandering around clutching and the table’s legs, which were as wide as trees.

Soon after, a man riding a black horse drew near. The girl hid behind the giant in fright, for the horse and its rider were just as big as the giant, and the rider wore a helmet of twisted metal, which frightened her even more.

“It’s time.” said the man on the black horse.

“Time for what?” said the giant calmly.

“Do not take me for a fool. It is time.”

“Do explain yourself,” said the giant, “For I am the fool here, if there is to be one.”

“Leave your smart words for someone who will show you mercy,” said the man. He grabbed the giant’s shirt threateningly.

Just then the girl gained some courage, since she was with the giant, and shouted out, “Just leave us alone you lousy git!”

Her blood ran cold, however, when the horseman turned to look at her, face hidden beneath the metal helmet. He reached out a gauntlet-covered hand towards her, but the giant blocked it.

“She is of no concern to you,” said the giant, “Now leave us be.”

“Ah so you have a friend now, and do not wish to be left alone anymore…” the man then took off his helmet, and the girl could see his wild eyes and hair that thrashed about in the wind. “What hypocrisy! What double-talk! You fool! Don’t you see now that-”

But whatever else the man was going to say was lost when the giant took the opportunity to slam his fist into the man’s exposed head. The man went flying, but was able to stand after a short time.

“I promise you I will return, and take your head with me. An attack on me will not go unnoticed, you insolent fool. Your strength will not protect you forever.”

Just then the frog blew out a jet of flames, scaring the man away.

“I didn’t know he could do that,” said the girl.

“He is useful for many things,” said the giant, and sat back down to dinner. The girl still felt nervous.

“What are you going to do about that man?”

“Things will work themselves out, one way or another.”

The girl was not so sure, and went to sleep uneasy.

When she awoke, the giant was already up, putting logs away in his kitchen. Where he got the wood from she could never guess, but didn’t ask the giant about that, because she what she saw was that the entire cloud area around the giant’s cabin-without-walls had fallen away. She crawled to the edge and could see the green earth far beneath them. With a squeak she ran away from it.

“What’s going on?” she said to the giant.

“I don’t know,” said the giant, calm as ever. The frog had to keep breathing rapidly though, because he kept getting angry fast.

“But… how will I get down?”

“Well, how did you get up?”

“The ladder… but, but, I can’t go down now! You’re in trouble here, and, well, what good could I do down there.” She began to get very nervous.

“I don’t know, but what do you think you can do up here, either? Get a story?”

“Oh I don’t care about a silly old story now,” said the girl, “I want to know who did this.”

Just then she noticed, out of the corner of her eye, a dignified looking man approaching. As he did, a small bridge of clouds formed. He was normal human-sized, and looked quite small to the girl.

The man, who had a well-greased, tiny mustache, pulled open a large piece of parchment.

“By degree of the king of the castle in the clouds, you are hereby requested (that means ordered, said the man) to return the girl to the human kingdom below, and appear in court in one hour’s time for trial.”

“What is my offense?” said the giant calmly.

“You will find out when you get there,” said the man, who looked severely annoyed.

“What’s the matter with you?” said the girl, “He hasn’t done anything! And what do you mean return me to the human kingdom? I go wherever I want to go, thank you very much!”

The man answered her with a sneer. “What would you know of it? You’ve only been here the past day – from what we know – and no, it doesn’t involve bothersome little girls like you.”

“I will go,” said the giant. “Just make sure you do not involve her in any of this.”

“Fine, as if I have any authority to do that.” said the man. “Good day.”

“I don’t like him,” said the girl. The giant just shrugged his shoulders, and began to pack his things into a bag, including the frog.

“I’m going with you!” said the girl.

“I don’t think that’s wise, but follow along if you wish.”

They started off along the clouds, the girl grumbling to herself all the while. She didn’t like the situation at all, nor how the giant just went along with it. He could have easily just thrown that messenger off the clouds.

Before long, they reached the castle in the clouds, which was a tall white castle that nevertheless had a swirling black cloud around it. The girl didn’t like the look of it at all. As they walked through the city, the residents all looked at the pair with suspicion, and even resentment. But why would they care? Was the giant really all that bad?

She and the giant reached the entrance to the castle, and were asked to wait while the heavy marble doors were opened by twelve tiny men. Stepping inside, they caught sight of the larger people living inside. One of them, standing next to the throne, began jumping up and down, pointing at the pair who had just entered.

“That’s them! That’s them! Damn them!” It was the man from before, and, the girl noted, he looked excited.

The king remained unmoved, looking at them as dispassionately as if they were rocks, a look of intense dissatisfaction on his face. He was dressed all in metal, with a red and black velvet cape that stood in contrast to his white throne. He finally stopped leaning on his fist in order to pick his nose.

“You there,” he said, flicking his booger then pointing to the men standing behind the giant and the girl, “close the doors.” He turned his attention to the giant.

“As you may have gathered, you have been summoned here today to answer for your heinous crimes. I call them heinous because that’s what they are.”

“Would you mind telling me what they are?” said the giant.

“You tell him.” said the king to the messenger from before.

“Oh – yes, of course,” he said as he unrolled another large scroll. The king had returned to picking his nose.

“Ahem, yes, your crimes. They are as follows: being far too peaceful. Ah, I mean, refusing to lend us your strength in battle.”

“And my punishment?” said the giant.

“Now wait a minute!” said the girl, “THAT’S no crime! He’s just staying out of your business, what’s wrong with that?”

“What’s wrong with that, little girl,” said the king, leaning forward, “Is that with him the enemy could outnumber us three to one and we’d still have a good chance of winning.”

“I don’t care! Fight your own damn battles!”

“And my punishment?”

The king got a maniacal look in his eye. “At noon today your head is to be struck off and posted in the town square to serve as motivation for the people. At last you will have served your duty to your country.”

The giant was silent, the girl dumbstruck.

“What..? You, you can’t be serious.”

The prince now sauntered forward.

“Oh yes, we are quite serious little girl, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.”

She stared wide-eyed, in shock.

Just then the frog burst from the bag. He started shooting flames all around the room. The response was quick. The prince picked up his black mace and sent the frog flying. Then the king drew his sword and began to approach. Then the giant pushed the king back.

“No, I am the only one to die.” The girl noticed he was talking to the frog. The frog looked sad, and slunk off into the corner.

“Yes, good froggy, obey your wise master,” said the prince with smirk.

“Oh I wish I could just…” said the girl.

“What, punch my lights out?” said the prince, grabbing her arm. How cute, what, did your mommy teach you how to fight?”

“The girl is to be left out of this, too.”

“Fine,” snapped the king. “But that is also an offense. I think… I’ll put out your eye along with your head just for failing to return her.”

Suddenly, the girl realized something. Her heart started racing. The prince raised his eyebrow at her.
“Hmm? Is something wrong with you?” said the prince, snarling.

“Whattimeisit?” she sputtered out.

“Ten thirty,” said the king. “Little more than an hour to live, giant.”

The girl had seen the giant’s strength, and knew that if he would he would take out those who were trying to kill him. But having watched him submit, she knew that he stood no chance against these cruel men. She knew what she had to do. Straightaway, she marched towards the door. The frog hopped after her.

“Oi, where are you going, little girl?” said the prince.

“For a walk.” said the girl. The frog was glowing red hot next to her. Not daring to look back at the giant, she fled from the castle, running as fast as she could, past the curious crowds, and outside. The frog kept jumping ahead of her and sitting down.

“Stop it, you stupid frog!” she shouted. Again and again he did it and soon she was doubled over, tired from running.

The frog sat right in front of her again, and then she realized it was trying to get her to ride it. As soon as she climbed on, the frog turned in the direction of the castle, and a jet of flames shot out. She barely hung on as the frog rocketed backwards, and back towards the giant’s home.

No sooner had she got there than she launched herself down the ladder, and, on reaching the earth (the frog just jumped down), ran to the nearby town. The villagers all looked delighted to see her.

“Hey, welcome back! Where have you been? Tell us about it!”

“My friend!” she shouted, tears streaming, “My friend is in danger!”

As fast as she could, she rushed into the castle, where her father, the king, was holding court.

“My friend!” she screamed.

“Calm down, my child,” said the king, rushing to her side, “What’s wrong?”

She calmed down as tears continued to roll down her cheeks.

“I’ve seen something horrible,” she said. “In a city in the clouds the king there is going to kill a kind old giant who protected me and gave me shelter. He’s done nothing wrong, either.”

The king, silent, looked to his warriors, who were leaning against the wall, listening.

“Tell us where to go.” said one.

The princess took a moment, looking between the king and the warriors, then, turned and rushed out the door, only to find it blocked by the frog.

“What’s that?” said the king.

The princess jumped on and, looking over her shoulder, shouted, “Follow me! And clear a path!” Then the frog blew a jet of fire, and the next instant was in the town square.

“Fetch your horses,” said the king. “I think that speed is required here.”

Soon, the princess and all the king’s warriors, who numbered a thousand strong, were ascending the ladder. The frog met them at the top, bursting through the hole in the clouds with a single hop. The girl looked desperately up at the sun and saw it was almost at its peak. She, not thinking to wait, hopped on the frog and blasted towards the castle far ahead of the fighters.

The frog and the princess arrived at the castle gate. It was before noon. Instead of waiting for the twelve tiny men to open the door, she let the frog burst it open. She staggered in.

“Where is he??” she screamed. The king, who was eating lunch, sneered at her.

“I couldn’t be bothered to have my lunch interrupted with an execution, so I went ahead and had it done early. See there? His head is on a pole, as promised.”

The princess stared in horror at the sight. The sad eye of the giant looked back at her.

She couldn’t bear it any longer. The princess balled up her dress and screamed. The king looked up, horrified.

It wasn’t an ordinary scream. The pitch was higher, more intense than that. The air itself began to shake.

Then, the windows burst. A red glow could be seen out the window. The girl walked outside, screaming, tears falling from her eyes, as fire fell from the sky. It hit the white castle with such force that it cracked in two, then, waves upon waves of fire hitting it, crumbled to the ground.

The cruel king and all his court were buried with it, but the giant’s head stood on a pole above the debris. The townspeople and the warriors who had just arrived all stood dumbfounded.

Just then, the girl spotted a small gold ring on the ground. She calmed down for a moment, picked it up, put it on, and began to hear a voice. She turned around and saw the giant’s head talking. The ash in the air and everything else, however, was frozen in time.

“What’s going on here?” said the giant. “You did all this?”

“I don’t know…” said the girl. “I didn’t mean to. I’m scared. Are you… still alive?”

“As alive as I’ll ever be. If you can bear it, take my head to my body.”

The girl, weak as she was, couldn’t lift the pole out of the ground. So she took the ring off and called some of the warriors to her. Leaving the giant, she went over to the large mound of debris where the giant’s body was, and dug it out as if in a daze. The warriors helped her, but said nothing. Soon they sat the body up and removed the pole from the giant’s head as the princess requested. They placed the head on the body and nothing happened, so she put on the ring again.

“Isn’t this what I needed to do?” she asked.

“It’s kind of difficult to reattach so quickly, you know?” said the giant. “But I think now I can do it.” And just like that the head was reattached to the body.

“But everything else is stopped…”

“It’s ok now,” the giant assured her.

So she took it off. No sooner had she done so than the giant’s body lifted up in the air, limp, then touched slowly down to earth again. He started breathing slowly. The frog, who had been standing nearby, jumped towards his master with a hopeful look in his eyes.

“Well, I guess I’ll have to make due with one eye from now on. Don’t suppose I could find it.

The girl was so excited, with a huge smile on her face, that she barely noticed when an eyeball shot out of the rubble and into the giant’s eye socket.

“What – of all the – that…” he looked around, surveying all who were looking at him. “Who are you?” he said to the warriors.

“I profess I have never seen anything like this in all my days,” said the lead warrior. “We were called here by the princess to stop your execution.”

“Yes, I thought you might.” he looked over at the girl, who was still staring at him, now with a look of disbelief. “Thank you.” he said with a smile.

“I’m so sorry!” she cried out, hugging his foot. “I’m sorry I wasn’t fast enough!”

“That’s no matter,” he said gently. The princess smiled.

The giant, along with his frog, returned to his cabin-without-walls, even though the princess tried to convince him to move to her city – for the giant was content to live at his home. However, from that day forward, the giant was welcomed in the princess’ town, and he was often consulted by the king. The princess, too, visited the giant whenever she could, climbing the ladder, probably to this day, to visit the giant where he resided. And the two of them kept the secret of the princess’s voice, and the power of the golden ring, hidden from the rest of the world.



Conflict Needed for Peace

It seems that conflict is necessary for peace. How does that make sense? Because with the willingness to engage in conflict you can face down those things within and without that disrupt peace. To not do so is to let yourself be enslaved and manipulated by these threats to peace, such as anger, hatred, and so on. All they have to argue is “you betta be peaceful!” and you’ll shut down? Arguing, conflicting with others is part of respecting yourself – as long as it’s not arbitrary, as long as you don’t intend to stir up unnecessary trouble. Conflict is best engaged in with the intent to resolve conflict that was already there – perhaps under the surface. It’s like potential energy in physics, like with a loaded spring. That spring wants to boing, don’t let it stew. Call out the anger and resentment and the desire to control hovering under the surface of those around you, and you’ll be respecting yourself and becoming more free.

That doesn’t mean you need to fear peace, either. Just stay in tune with your ability to sense that something’s wrong – like when you’re starting to feel annoyed inside. At that point, just try to get to the root of the conflict, by challenging whatever needs to be challenged, within or outside of you. The truth will come out in the conflict, and you might find in others, or yourself, false beliefs that you’ve been relying on, but which cause unnecessary conflict, destroying peace.

Fear List

Since I found out a lack of calmness is usually due to fear, I set about today making a list of every fear-based thought that popped into my head, no matter how small. After maybe two hours or so I already have 32! Surprisingly I felt more calm just doing this, as it allowed me to get on paper things jumping around nervously inside my head. Sort of like a todo list. I don’t know how I’ll handle these yet, but I’m beginning to see some themes, such as fears about my character turning bad, about doing unnecessary things, about making mistakes that will come back to haunt me, about unknowns that could possibly cause me harm if I remain in the dark, about how much I really know vs. what I just think I know. These come out as silly things, like: “That I will get serious again.” or “That singing a song will get it stuck in my head.” or even one fear about how if not getting on a scary theme park ride in my dream last night will come back to haunt me. Just got one more – “Should I post this?” lol. “Is that really what I’m afraid of?” “If I post it now, will it be just for the sake of appearances?” 😐 “Am I missing anything?” Ok I think I’m good now. “Am I?”