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SALT LAKE CITY — Have you ever had the experience where you are going about your day, trying to make a decision about something and suddenly it seems as though there is a war raging in your head?
I don't know a single person who has not had the experience of this internal battle. This is the "part of me wants this but part of me also wants that" phenomenon we all experience. For some, this happens more frequently than for others, particularly if you tend to be an overthinker. Internal conflict is normal. But when you don't know what to do with the conflict or if it goes on for too long, life can feel pretty miserable.
Casualties of the internal battle
Internal conflict causes major stress. This probably doesn't come as a surprise to you as there has been a lot of information put out there about the negative effects of stress. Because of this added stress (on top of the stress you likely already experience), you can end up having additional problems with the following:
- Feeling inadequate because you feel you can't make a decision
- Feeling overwhelmed with conflicting emotions
- Racing thoughts
- Difficulty sleeping
- Feeling depressed and frozen because you don't know what to do or how to handle a situation
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling pulled in two or more different directions
- Having a part of yourself that is highly critical of your inability to solve a problem or conflict
This list is not exhaustive, but gives you a pretty good idea of some of the most common experiences we have when there is an inner war raging on.
Unfortunately, the problems of major internal conflict are not secluded to the inside. When you are under such internal pressure, it is bound to start impacting your life and loved ones.
For example, if you having major internal struggle, you may not be sleeping well. You are then tired during the day, which impacts your performance at work. You may also be distracted by the chattering in your head and become inattentive to the people in your life, which causes problems in your romantic and familial relationships. The external problems resulting from the internal fight can add fuel to the fire and make the stress worse, which makes the battle rage that much hotter. It becomes a miserable cycle for all involved.
Luckily, this is not a lost cause and there are solutions available to neutralize and resolve these internal struggles.
1. Call a truce
Before anything can happen, a truce must be called. This means that whatever the predicament is, it needs to be set aside for a period of time in order to work on calming the brain and body. Imagine actually setting the conflict aside as a first step. You can imagine putting it in some sort of container or just imagine it going somewhere besides your brain and body for a while.
Next, try taking a few deep breaths and push your feet into the floor. This is very grounding and brings your attention to the immediate moment. Then do something that brings you enjoyment. This can really be anything: listening to music, exercising, watching a movie or TV show you enjoy, cooking or baking, surfing the Web, etc. The possibilities are endless. Take as much time as you need and check in with yourself from time to time to assess how you are feeling. Once you feel calmer and more present, you will be ready to go to the next step.
2. Sign the treaty and end the war
Typically, when someone's inner conflict is so intense that it is causing problems, there are two or more polarized opinions in one brain. The healthiest way to end interior warfare is to find some sort of middle ground.
Once you have called the truce, step back and focus on one side of the dilemma at a time to prevent feeling overwhelmed. Validate yourself and each desire, urge and thought in your brain about the problem. Also, appreciate the complexity of your brain. After all, it is pretty amazing that the human brain is able to hold multiple solutions and opinions at the same time.
Once you have looked at all sides of the dilemma, you can find out if there is some sort of compromise that can be made. If not, you may be able to more clearly see that one solution will work better in your particular situation.
3. Call in reinforcements
If you go through the above steps and find that you are not able to come to a conclusion or decision, having a third party step in as a sounding board can be quite helpful. Sometimes just talking through the quandary out loud can be enough to find a solution.
Find a loved one who is wise and who can be neutral and nonjudgmental about your dilemma. If you can't come to a conclusion by talking through the conflict out loud, sometimes a neutral opinion can help you to see alternative options and solutions to a predicament.
Anastasia Pollock, MA, LCMHC, is clinical director at Life Stone Counseling Centers. She is certified in EMDR through EMDRIA. Learn more about her by visiting lifestonecenter.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.