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Anatomoy Of A Conflict

The following section explains a theory I’ve developed over the last two decades. If we can view conflict as neither good or bad, but as a chance for growth and an opportunity to learn, then we can separate ourselves from it. The goal is to be able to stand back and observe what is happening dispassionately. However, in order to do that, you have to pretend you’re watching a video, and see yourself objectively. When people describe their problems, they very often present their view of it, which, in many cases, is not the real problem.

In doing your own assessment of the anatomy of a conflict, or a break down of it, if you will, see the PRESENTING problem and the REAL problem. The following responses have come from those who have participated in conflict resolution workshops. Both genders and various ethnic backgrounds are represented here. Their scenarios were based on real situations they faced. You might notice one that looks familiar to you.

The Conflict

Presenting Problem
Real Problem
A doctor’s professional practices The real issue was a violation of my privacy Not asking for the respect due me as an adult and a patient because of a power/control

mindset. (Doctors are human beings who are not perfect)

Being told what to do in a meeting I had to attend
Feeling controlled Not being able to ask for what I need and being able to decide for myself what is best

for me.

A child custody battle No cooperation for the best interests and well being of the child. A lack of maturity in one or both parties. They don’t consciously choose to practice

healthy behavior. Counseling recommended.

An old girlfriend called and my current girlfriend went ballistic. She went into a rage

and I responded in kind.

Her jealousy, control, and obsessiveness. She wasn’t getting what she wanted. The current girlfriend did not know how to ask for what she needed to be able to discuss

what was bothering her in an adult fashion. Also, the boyfriend would have to have

reassured her that there was no conflict of interest and be able to respond more maturely

without mimicking her behavior. All it takes is one person to respond differently to change

a negative situation.

The Conflict

Presenting Problem
Real Problem
My daughter’s response when I told her I was unhappy with her behavior in failing to keep agreements and her unwillingness to communicate.

Her lack of respect for me and disregard of my feelings. Lack of her acknowledging her own behavior and not wanting to accept the consequences The mother needs to express exactly what she finds intolerable and unacceptable about the daughter’s behavior. The daughter needs to be able to express her feelings in response. The parent (s) need to give the daughter the option of deciding her own consequences should she choose to violate the parent’s wishes. In that way, the parent empowers the child to learn to take responsibility for her own choices.

My former finance and I disagreed over the way she aired confidential matters with strangers.
I felt she was being disloyal and not communicating with me to reach a harmonious, understanding agreement.

I would have had to express what I felt uncomfortable about, and ask for what I needed to be specific in why I felt insecure with her behavior. Then I would give her the chance to respond to what I said, even if she disagreed with me.

I was unable to remain calm with someone who was arrogant, aggressive and hostile.

Not being able to resolve a problem the way he thought it should be solved because he felt the behavior was warranted.

Not defining my boundaries by letting him know that I would not speak with him as long as he was arrogant and hostile. Set ground rules for the future that if anyone gets verbally abusive, we can postpone talking about the problem until both calm down.

The Conflict

Presenting Problem
Real Problem
My husband starts projects and never finishes them.

My wanting him to change.

I need to accept his behavior knowing I can’t change him. Even if I express my feelings about the frustration I experience, I have to take responsibility for whatever this behavior reminds me of. If I can’t accept it, I have to look at other options should he choose not to change.

My brother accused me of not wanting to take care of his dog. If I say “no” to my brother, he forgets the things that were done for him.
I wanted my brother to listen to what I was saying and not jump to conclusions.

Being able to reframe back to my brother what I hear him saying and have him tell me if that is correct. We can agree to disagree. I don’t have to make him feel guilty about what I did for him; I need to state my feelings and what I will and won’t accept as my responsibility.

It is obvious from the above examples that what some people consider serious conflicts might be questionable to others. In any event, your perception determines the lens through which you view your experiences. Healthy behavior comes about by learning how to RESPOND to those situations that you find uncomfortable versus REACTING.


If you are the type of person who sees life as a changeless experience, in all probability you will have more conflict than others. One of the only things we can be certain of in life is CHANGE. Knowing how to handle the changes that we either elect to make, or those that just seem to happen to us, is what this manual is about. We need to find different ways to react to change. One way to do this might happen by beginning to observe what happens around you. For example, every time you experience conflict, try to see it as part of a much larger picture; one that includes not only you, but everyone else affected. Every action always causes a reaction. For every cause, there is an effect. How do you react? As you have seen in the above model, the Anatomy of a Conflict demonstrates varying degrees of responses according to one’s awareness.

Stumbling blocks can help us grow if we allow ourselves to climb over them or move out of their way. Some of you may be saying, “But, I don’t want to grow…I want everything to stay as it is or was!” We know that wishing doesn’t make it so, nor can we return to a former way of life. As much as we might want to, we realize that there would always be this gnawing in our psyches wondering what might have been different had we had the courage to find out. The origins of old behavior has its roots in the past. In order to recreate unsatisfactory behavior, you have to be willing to change it. Old behavior is what we were taught and used in order to survive. This is not to say that our origins are bad; what it implies is that what we learned didn’t necessarily work. As a matter of fact, many of our survival tactics are highly dysfunctional.

Consider if you will, the rampant addictions we are confronted with today. Not only do we have gambling out-of-control, as in the simple sport of bingo, which has now become a million-dollar industry by elderly people who are bored and spend their social security checks at the bingo hall. In addition, the amount of people who suffer from credit card spending has now resulted in uncontrolled bankruptcy. However, it is not just individuals who are out of control with their spending, but the very banks, which issue the credit cards, which keeps the system in place. We see the same problem in governments who don’t have enough money allotted in their budgets, yet somehow manage to give or lend billions of dollars to other countries. I firmly believe that we should all help each other, but not at the expense of making the same mistakes over and over again. Consider the further suffering of addiction-led behavior by those who overuse pornography and fear an intimate relationship because they never learned how to have one. These are just a few examples how humans medicate their pain. To personalize this, try and reflect on your own life.

When you were a child, how were you influenced by those around you? How did you and your family view life? Were you taught to adapt to change or fear it? Do you currently see the glass half empty or half full? If you view the glass as half full, how does this perception influence your current way of thinking? Not being able to see the glass as half full indicates not being able to see the full potential or entire picture. Here’s a perfect example. Holographic photography known as holography, demonstrates the principle of being able to see an entire picture no matter how small the portion of film is. You’re able to view the entire photograph through a special infrared light, even if you don’t have the whole film. What this suggests is that you can see the picture in its entirety,

Similarly, the ability to have a vision of the whole picture of whatever plagues you helps you realize that many choices are available. Your vision is not limited to what is in front of you, however it is open to the larger context of which the problem is only a small part. Next, by knowing how to negotiate your needs, you won’t have to continue to feel stifled or shut down. Your life can be much simpler when you know what to ask for. Most people were taught to shut down emotionally, especially in cultures that practiced caste systems or other forms of oppression. Consider even the age-old saying “Children should be seen and not heard.” Now we have come to understand that little children have rights, the same as the elderly. This was not known nor even considered to be an acceptable way of thinking until the whole issue of abuse was brought out. Many people in the western world are now being taught, not only in grade school, but all the way into college, even through continuing education courses, the importance of learning assertive behavior.

Assertiveness is not aggression. There’s a big difference – aggression is usually associated with acting hostile and/or violent. This behavior can include verbal thrashing in elevated voice tones, property damage, psychologically threatening someone, and of course, physical battering, not to mention the overall negative, toxic effect these emotions render on our physical being. Then we wonder why we get sick! An assertive person will remove themselves out of harms way as soon as they sense that the other person is out of control. Furthermore, an assertive person has no problem defining their own boundaries.


Dr. Deri Joy Ronis

Deri Joy Ronis has been providing innovative seminars, talks and workshops for over two decades. Her pioneering work in Conflict Resolution and Peace Psychology has been presented to individuals from all walks of life. They are found in educational organizations, psychological associations, corporations ranging from the service industry to hospitality,… MORE >

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