Conflict is a story


Conflict is a story. It’s a story you tell yourself about what happened, how it happened, and why it happened. It’s a story you tell others as a way to seek comfort or understanding.

In most cases involving conflict, it’s a story you repeat. You think about it in the shower. You talk about it with a best friend. You ponder it on your lunchtime run.

As you tell yourself this story over and over, themes emerge. Certain words, actions, or events stand out. These themes shape the conclusions you draw, what you do to soothe yourself, and what you do next in the situation or relationship.

The more you tell yourself the story, or narrative, of the conflict, the more you believe it. It begins to feel right as a way to explain the events. It is the truth.

Except it’s not.

It feels like the truth of the matter because repetition of a message increases its persuasiveness, something not lost on politicians and marketing firms. It feels like the truth because repetition creates a neural pathway in your brain, a mental shortcut similar to the way a dirt path appears on a campus quad when students travel the same shortcut over the grass again and again.

It’s your truth, yes. It’s your story, yes. But it’s not the story of the conflict.

And perhaps most importantly: As with any story, you can rewrite it.

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  1. says

    Neuroscience is teaching us so much about our conflict responses. If we can only stop to think about how we think, we can literally re-map our brain through forging new neuro-pathways. The amazing thing is how quickly we will resort to the old pathways without thinking as well. It takes practice to move beyond our conflict wiring. Great post

    • says

      It's so exciting, isn't it? Fifty years ago they though the brain was rigid and fully formed in adulthood. Now we know how much plasticity our brains have — what possibility that creates! I like your term "conflict wiring," Larry.

  2. says

    Boy, ain't this the truth in so many ways? We tell ourselves so many explanations and justifications. I have a friend

    who says his mind is a very scary place to go to unaccompanied. I love that.

    Thanks, Tammy.