New Year Solutions

Monday will bring a New Year in and probably give rise to some individuals making New Year resolutions.  There will be a fervent determination to ‘beat the flab’, ‘give up the fags’, ‘keep the cool’, ‘balance my lifestyle’, ‘keep fit’ and so on.  Such resolutions don’t tend to last beyond the first week, if not day, of the New Year.

A wiser way to look at the whole issue of New Year ‘resolutions’ is to hyphenate the word, re-solutions and to begin the process of resolving the conflicts that exist in your life.  These conflicts may be inner, interpersonal, occupational.  Whatever the type, all conflict has the creative purpose of either deepening relationship with self or with others.  Conflict is not an enemy, it is an ally that invites you to come into a sense of your own wholeness, no matter what the particular conflict situation.  When individuals view conflict as ‘bad’, then they may attempt to bury it, ignore it, blame it on somebody else or on family of origin or the world, hope that time will heal matters or deny its existence.  On the matter of time, time never changes anything; it is only actions that resolve conflicts.  None of the above more commonly listed responses to conflict will bring about the desired changes that the particular conflict is crying out for; indeed, the unresolved issues will only fester like an untreated wound.  We are open to accepting that physical pain is a creative bodily force that signals some need for physical healing, but emotional, social and occupational pain are equally powerful signals that psycho-social resolution is required.

The first step in resolving conflict is the acceptance of the conflict and the commitment to the opportunities it presents for healing and growing.  At this point, it is helpful to believe in your ability to problem-solve and to take heart in the words of Henry Ford that ‘for every problem there is an infinity of solutions.’  Another famous quote by him is ‘don’t find fault, find a remedy.’

The second step in conflict resolution is to begin to identify the signs and sources of the conflict.  The signs of conflict are multiple and differ from individual to individual.  However, these signs can be usefully categorised as:

  • physical signs
  • emotional signs
  • intellectual signs
  • behavioural signs
  • social signs
  • sexual signs
  • spiritual signs

Examples of physical signs of conflict are recurring headaches, enduring back-pain, insomnia, anorexia nervosa, bulimia, persistent fatigue, abdominal pain, hypertension, stomach ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, colitis.  Typical emotional signs are emotional coldness, jealousy, isolation, guilt, depression, irritability, emotional outbursts.  Intellectual or cognitive signs are worrying all the time, ‘living in your head’, ‘obsessional thinking’, ‘living in the future’, ‘living in the past’, depressive thinking, self-depreciating thinking, aggressive thought patterns.  Behavioural signs may take the form of verbal aggression, avoidance of responsibilities, manipulation, silent treatment, blaming, cynicism, taking to the bed, addiction to alcohol or drugs.  The more common social signs are shyness, social isolation, loneliness, social phobias of meeting people, over-talkativeness, non-assertiveness, non-listening.  Sexual signs of conflict may manifest in little or no sexual contact between a couple, dislike of one’s own body, hating sex, premature ejaculation, vaginismus, being non-orgasmic.  Spiritual conflicts may be evident in loss of religious belief, anger at God, torment over the meaninglessness of human life, an addiction to religion.

The third step in resolving the specific area or areas of conflict you have identified is to get behind the symptoms and discover that it is what lies hidden or, more accurately, what aspects of self have been repressed, that needs to be revealed.  For example, when you find yourself emotionless in your relationship with your partner, it would appear that the expression of love and other intimacies have been repressed due to being interrupted by a parent, teacher or peers at some earlier time in your life.  In order to lift the repression, it is important that you now find the safety within self and the support from others who can be expressive of feelings.  Start with someone you feel safest with and gradually increase the risk-taking to others.  Remember, when you don’t deal with your repressions, then your defensive behaviours interrupt the expressiveness of others, particularly children.

A common conflict is the experience of being bullied in the workplace.  Whilst the defensive behaviour of bullying needs to be challenged, a more serious challenge for the person who is at the receiving end of the bullying is to question: ‘what in me is causing me to put up with this bullying?’  Work and management needs to be always worthy of your dignity and asserting that truth is a responsibility that many people need to take up.  When you consider that over forty per cent of managers believe that the way to manage is to bully, there must be many individuals out there who need to stand up for themselves and be counted.  Again, find the support that enables you to take action for yourself.  Seek help when you feel ‘stuck’. 

Wishing you a constructive year of re-solving conflicts.

Dr. Tony Humphreys is a clinical psychologist and author of The Power of ‘Negative’ Thinking.