How often is it that we see people in our extended families and our community that believe that their family gets along just fine and doesn't have any problems, only to find that screaming, yelling, name calling, and physical aggressiveness is almost the norm?
There almost seems to be a denial that there is a deeper issue, and because of this, the conflict continues and people believe that destructive behaviors are acceptable. Whether it is sibling rivalries, parents behaving badly, physically or verbally abusive behaviors, and/or conflicts between extended family members, these patterns of conflicts often endure from generation to generation. What are the factors that start these conflicts and continue them across time?
The Power Trip
The underlying issue that drives all conflicts is power in the way we are taught to look at power. It's that simple. In our world we are often taught that there are different levels of power that people have, and we are either supposed to find where we fit in or advance our position by undermining, controlling, or manipulating other people's power. This is no different in our families. After all, this is where we are first taught this. We often grow to feel that our parents to manipulate our feelings of power through threats, punishments, and painful words, and it is from these behaviors that we develop a mistrust of our parents and then the world. The unfortunate result is that we believe that we have to be the ones to protect our own power, often at any cost. These challenges to our power are often played out in the conflicts in our families and extend.
In my years of experience in working with families, I find that most families with problematic conflict either have parents that 1. Are manipulative and try to push the buttons of their children with threats, empty promises, or gifts; 2. Are directly controlling and try to force their kids to do things that breed resentment and conflict; 3. Are inconsistent and send mixed messages to their kids without consistent guidance or support letting their kids try to establish dominance among themselves and against their parents; and/or 4. Have unwittingly or purposely pit their kids against each other, regardless of their motivation.
In almost all these situations, the parents are either blind to the way they're approaching these issues and/or are unable or unwilling to admit that they do these things even when confronted. When your children feel that you as a parent are looking out more for yourself than them, they stop trusting you. Where there is no trust, there is no sense of safety or security. When people do not feel safe, they live with a feeling of fear and often feel that they need to take matters into their own hands. Therefore, they will either challenge you and/or others for power and control or will surrender their wants and needs to others and let themselves be controlled.
The emotion that underlies our drive for power in our world is fear. If we feel that we are in a position of powerlessness, we fear others have more power than us to harm us or control us. If we feel that we are in a position of power, we fear that the people "below us" either want to take it or we are responsible for them and the risks of failure are increased. Keep in mind that although we may live with his underlying fear, we don't want to show that to others because we are taught to look good and/or strong and/or right that we can win (we hide our feelings or perceptions of feeling bad, wrong and/or weak).
If you look at most family conflicts they often continue because one and/or both people are looking to try to prove that they are better, stronger, more correct in a belief or attitude than the other person. Kids are often competing for love and acceptance from their parents, and parents may indirectly encourage these conflicts while wanting to push their kids to be better.