Dynamics of Interpersonal Conflict and Finding Resolution. Or—Why That Guy Is Such An Asshole
I spend much of my time ruminating on the possible origins of who and why we are as human beings and the various dynamics that might have lead to establish everything from the size of our brains to the reasons we enjoy fried potato chips (it’s because they resemble crunchy bugs which roughly four billion people on the planet still consume). I was fortunate to recently be the target of some particularly aggressive homophobia in some of the social media groups in which I post my articles, and the experience inspired me to contemplate why we are bothered at all by people we don’t know or have any stake in engaging in any kind of interaction. In the back of my head I also hear the couples therapist my ex and I visited frequently who repeatedly shut me down in session when I would try to explain how I felt abused by him, who told me I was wrong and then would repeatedly tell me that I intellectualized feelings and insisted we all stop and just sit quietly for ten uncomfortable and expensive minutes (the content of her words were not all incorrect but the thrust of her actions were). I found out later he was cheating on me and getting high while this was going on, so on top of his outward behavior it turns out I was not in the wrong at all, but her forceful rejection of my feelings and experience still sat bitterly with me for a long time afterward. Similarly there were many instances before I had the experience of my life being upended (which more or less cured me of caring much anymore about these kinds of interactions) which were tough to endure and demanded far more of my emotional reservoirs than I cared to expend but was powerless to resolve.
The truth is that we have very little control over how we feel in many areas in our lives. In my book I frequently discuss how feelings are the results of hormone dynamics which are in turn conditioned by our health history (including mental and social health), factors which we are largely unable to control or influence for the entirety of our early growth and development and which only become marginally influenceable once we become independent, but only if we are fortunate to be exposed to experiences or information which empower us to do so. This is no more true than it is with our innate biology and the nature of instinct. Because humans have deluded ourselves that we are intelligent and superior to all other life on this planet we also believe that we do not have instinct even though we instinctually respond to urges for food, sex, sleep, yawning, singing, laughing, fighting, raping, hiding, hugging, valuing children, crave watermelon when we are pregnant, or ingest all sorts potentially harmful things in search of cures to what ails us. We don’t think we have instincts because instinct is not something that is triggered by conscious thought. If they were, they wouldn’t be instinct. It would instead be thought. Instincts are things which we just feel inclined to do. The things we do “just because.”
As well, most of my work and success has originated from one tenet which came to me while in thought one day that all the answers to the human condition originate from the time in which we became the species which we are today. This is why medicine, science, and even the Paleo diet have failed to remedy the plagues of metabolic disease which inflict the majority of Western populations, because they fail to properly consider what makes us human and why we function the way we do on a biological level. Paleo attempts this but idealizes our ancestors in ways which brings contemporary bias into their theorizing. For instance Paleo proponents insist on avoiding sugar because they also perpetuate the anthropomorphisation of sugar into a temptress or vice, without considering sugar as a chemical molecule and its context within nature. Sugar is merely a form of energy storage and the various molecules of natural sugar do not change between fruit and plant and a bag of unrefined organic sugar in your cupboard. Yes there is more of it, but then why would an abundance of metabolic fuel contribute to health problems simply because of excess? Ideas of gluttony, overeating, and indulgence in food are generally derived from centuries of moral philosophizing about things our ancestors really had no understanding of and those inherited biases inform most contemporary ideas about those subjects and have yet to truly evolve into fully rational and reasoned explorations into the underlying mechanics. It is for this reason I used an excess of unrefined sugar intake of up to four pounds a week in addition to all the other fruit, candy (organic and natural brands), meals, and snacks I was consuming to lose over sixty pounds of unwanted fat and improve and regenerate my health from a prematurely aging, cancer ridden body to one which is more and more resembling that of the young-ish man I actually am. This success came precisely because I was able to understand how our natural bodies evolved in response to the environment in which our ancestors existed and more correctly replicated those conditions as much as is possible in our modern, polluted and disjointed societies. It is from this same understanding of our human condition that I realized the reason we get gnawing, unrelenting discomfort and ceaseless rumination after interpersonal conflicts is because within the context of our evolution our very survival depended on the cohesive support and emotional enmeshment of all members of our social group. Humans cannot survive on their own, and this was much truer in pre-history when there were fewer of us in number possessed of far less technological advantages, and a threat from within our own social networks was a threat to our very survival both individually and as a species. As a social animal we depend on harmonious and cooperative behavior. When that fails entire family groups would perish and potentially the species as a whole. So we evolved instincts to be acutely concerned when we fell out of favor with other humans as an instinctual motivation to seek resolution to the situation or risk our potential demise, or at least to become aware of the development in order to thus become prepared for the challenges it might present to our survival. It is an emotional pain impulse similar the purpose of physical pain, without which we would have no motivation to prevent physical harm to ourselves and which is engineered not so much for the benefit of the individual but for the entire species.
Being an instinct of course does not mean that it is base or beneath the dignity of our experience as modern humans. Because of our more recent religious and spiritual histories we have come to regard the more human traits of being human as something to be conquered, controlled, or dismissed in misguided attempts to achieve an ideal. There is value in recognizing our true nature and understanding how special we are both as an individual and as a species, and working with our God-given characteristics rather than fight them leads to a more harmonious existence not only with other people but with ourselves as well.
In my book, Fuck Portion Control I discuss a therapy called personal inventory which is designed to help individuals process and come to terms with the things which cause us grief, frustration, and resentment in order to clear away the wreckage that impedes our growth as human beings, our ability to find worth within ourselves, and connect to the spiritual undercurrent which connects all of life. Most of us go about our daily lives trying to forget or ignore the past mistakes, confrontations, heartaches, and traumas which have affected us both temporarily and permanently. But all this does is serve to push the experiences to the back of the mind and retain the pain in different parts of our body like a person who cleans their room by pushing clothes under the bed or stuffing things in the back of the closet. It might all look clean but as soon as you need to get into a drawer or pull out a clean shirt you are suddenly confronted by the remnants of the past. The process of personal inventory works to permanently and with satisfactory resolution diagram and analyze the events of our pasts and present into parts which allow our subconscious to understand them and thus resolve the conflict which remains in our mind. Part of the problem with these experiences is that we feel a need to justify the pain which resulted in these moments both to ourselves and to other people, because on some level we all feel inadequate and unworthy of validation, but the tethering of the event to our pain also tethers justification for the actions both of ourselves and the other party, and it is this tethering which then causes the event and its associated emotional turmoil to stay in the mind and accumulate with all the other baggage. Inventorying our experiences as this therapy is laid out separates each experience into its various parts, effectively justifying our pain, recognizing the part of the offender, and enlightening us to the way we effected our own experience in a way that is truly empowering. Interpersonal conflicts which ruminate in the mind do so because our behavior is tethered with that of the other party, and it is only through this type of practice that the tethering can be effectively severed, removing the instinctual connection between the actions of another to our very sense of survival. Without this kind of practice we are doomed to instinctually file and archive the experience and all its negativity, and when the storage starts to get full we then become dissatisfied, restless, and even being to experience physical manifestations in the form of tension and health problems, especially if there are any metabolic issues as well, because we are only one person and have a limited capacity to deal with the stresses which abound in this life.
Most people don’t do the personal inventory therapy, though. It is scary to look back over the things you think you’ve put behind you. Also, the idea of inventorying your entire life history is too daunting and keeps people from making a start. Do just five things at a time. The more you work through the more you will also uncover, and you will get better at it the more you practice. This therapy is especially helpful in relieving the negative effects of harassment or aggression or the threat of it for those who are targets of such behavior. Practicing this therapy for both past events and as they come along in your present will permanently relieve you of the stress of carrying them with you. If you find the courage to do this therapy it is a tool which can relieve you within minutes of restless nights and precious time which should not be wasted on those kinds of people. It will free you to truly and effortlessly live an authentic life and open up channels of personal development and connection to the spiritual that you only thought existed in books and fairytales.