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Resolving Complex Conflict
Transcribed by Ana Pejcinova, PhD
Structure of Chronic Conflict
presented a seminar on resolving identity loss in Warsaw, Poland in 1997. During a demonstration, Martyn coached a person with
conflict to identify a congruent life goal. The underlying conflicts had a
- This demonstration was part of a seminar on
Resolving Complex Conflict.
- The audience were therapists, systemic coach students and
- This transcript is part of a larger strategy and is not a complete
- Martyn explored and exposed a common structure
of complex conflict.
Question from class: How do you think that this complex
conflict structure emerges so predictably?
Martyn: Imagine you are a young child about three years old. Imagine
that you have two parents
who are in conflict with each other. You are about this big [points to knee
level] between two giants. Imagine that you have these godlike beings
on each side of you, and that you rely on them for your life. How does that feel?
Student: Vulnerable. Dependent.
Martyn: Imagine that your parents are fighting with each other, and
using you as a part of their fight ... imagine that they both
want your allegiance, and that they criticize each other in front of
you. Imagine that they each want your loyalty ... perhaps to irritate
or score points with each other. How might that feel?
Student: Scared ... no I would be terrified. I feel sick and disoriented
when I think about it, and I suddenly remember times when my parents would fight
over stupid things, like which programs I should watch on TV ... which
were best for me. They could get really upset about what I watched.
Martyn: And if this fight over TV programs continued into other
parts of your family life ... how might that have been for you?
Student: I would have nowhere to run. I would feel disoriented ... I
feel sure that I would get sick. But they both wanted me to be happy ...
no ... they both wanted me to be grateful for their making me happy. But they
wanted me to show my gratitude in different ways ... my mother wanted hugs
and my father wanted me to be stronger. That meant to not show emotions.
I'm sure that I felt sick when they did this.
Martyn: Thanks. [To class] Many children in such situations feel sick. It's common. And such children often
cope by creating two masks for themselves: one for
each parent. Imagine you are a young child and, if you can put on a mother mask
or a father mask, it is like magic, the
giants relax and may even stop fighting. And you soon have two extra
personalities for times of need ... or for survival.
Now you can live, now you can be healthy, partly because of your excellence
in mask-making. You have created an effective strategy for growing up with
immature parents. If, as a child in this situation, you don't create such masks,
you might be in deep psychological trouble. Creating and using those masks
helped you cope with being a young child of parents who didn't solve their own
conflicts - although at the high price of carrying your parents' conflicts
into your everyday adult life.
So, two masks - but who are you really? A horrible answer may be, "Who cares?"
If you are a child between two giants and you must create two masks or
personalities to stay well or to stay sane, you may decide that there is
something wrong with you. Your masks are accepted and loved - the real you
is ignored! The next step is often to hide your
real self ... perhaps for years ... perhaps for decades.
For example, a male child may try to be a
Mother's Little Prince with Mother and a
Daddy's Tough Boy with Father. Then, both
parents may relax. But both masks were created by and are compensation for
a real child who cannot express himself safely. This mask-making may bring
peace for a few years. Girl children may develop a similar
pair of masks for
Daddy's Princess and Mother's Helper.
By about age 7, one part (or side or mask)
may split - to compensate for (or attempt to supply) missing qualities from the
real self. which is now hidden. A key question for the young child (under age 6) seems
to be "Who am I?", and a key question in the second conflict
(older than age 7) is often "What is important?" This is now a 5-part
conflict. The real self (part 1) is hidden or lost, with two compensation
personalities (parts 2 and 3), and at around age 7, two more compensation parts
emerge (parts 4 and 5).
During puberty, most people become biologically
available for partnership. Until this age, conflicts about partnership are
latent. During adolescence, one of the compensation parts may split again to
further compensate for the missing "inner core" or "real self"
This seems to create parts 6 and 7 - usually a conflict about "How
should I behave?"
My emotions were like garbage in an endless
dump. I was surrounded by junk and rubbish.
You encouraged me to search through
it ... I found an abandoned baby ...
it seemed nearly dead
... it was me, of course, part of me that I lost years ago.
Integrating this lost part of me gave me qualities that I
never knew I had. Indiana
A primary conflict is usually, "Who am I?",
a second conflict is usually about "What is important?"
and a third is usually about "How should I behave?"
manifests as boom-bust cycles in his businesses and as a conflict about
smoking. More severe cases can include people diagnosed with cyclothymia
or bipolar disorder, who try to manage their
conflicts and emotional swings with medication.
A Behavioral Conflict based on a Values
Conflict based on an Identity Conflict. And under
it all is a Lost Identity - the hidden or forgotten mask-maker - a
We can help people find and recover their
Note that the diagnostic features of identity conflict
differ from identification with a victim in
that the behavior, values and expressed personality swing back and forth between
two poles - rather than endless irritation and suspicion. In
passive aggression, for example, the two
poles are generally childish anger and childish anxiety. In bipolar disorder
the two poles may be hyperactive and depressed.
When I told you of my conflict, you said that you hope I
don't abandon my dreams. Then it hit me. I don't want to
abandon my dreams - I want to make them happen. New York
For example a person may sometimes be super-responsible, and
at other times very irresponsible - this may mirror the
parents' behavior when that person was a child.
Common consequences include feeling forced to make decisions
but feeling afraid to make those decisions. I have seen many such conflicts show
up as limiting beliefs about and allegiance to both parents.
Since I can remember, part of me wanted to
live in town and hated the country ... and part of me wanted to live in a
village and hated towns. You asked me about my parents desires
when I was young. Yes - my father always wanted to be in the country and my
mother always wanted to be in a city. I never realized that I had taken their conflict into my life!
Identity conflict differs from
ADD or ADHD, although some children show
signs of ADD after losing access to (or hiding) their core identity. People with
symptoms of ADD may be easily distracted, yet express the same emotions and
personality while distracted. This pattern can continue into adult
life ... we often help people resolve such conflicts.
Complex Conflict - Transcript .
Resource Recovery - Transcript
Do you want to manage inner
conflict and end self-sabotage?
Online Life Coaching for Inner Conflict
I thought you were just
another therapist - but you were not just. Not even. Not only.
Plagiarism is theft. Copyright © Martyn Carruthers
All rights reserved. Transcribed by Dr Ana Pejcinova