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INTRAPERSONAL CONFLICTS AND CHARLIE BROWN: ADVANCE LESSON

A few weeks ago I published a post titled CONFLICTS WITH OURSELVES: LESSONS FROM CHARLIE BROWN.  Today, let’s quickly review the ideas presented there, and then move on to discuss a few more.

Review

When one person has a conflict with another person, we call this an interpersonal conflict.  An intrapersonal conflict occurs when a person has a conflict with himself or herself.

When we describe a conflict using the DIG Conflict Model, the letters of the word, “DIG,” helps to remind us to first dig to find the DESIRE, then something that INTERFERES with the desire, and finally, the GUILT.  Earlier, we looked at the following example of an intrapersonal conflict:

Charlie13

When we looked earlier at this example, I provided the following tentative description of Charlie Brown’s intrapersonal conflict:

Charlie Brown seems to desire that he not yell at his baby sister, but the fact that he did has led him to perceive that, interfering with his desire, he is likely to continue his yelling at his sister.  He appears to feel guilty for his actions by saying he feels terrible and hates himself.

It would be simpler to describe this conflict by saying:

Charlie Brown desired that he not yell at his baby sister, but he interfered with his desire by yelling at her.  He felt guilty about it.

In this simpler description, we still have all of the three conditions for a conflict–that is, the desire, the interfering act and the guilt.  But they all took place in the past.  To become an expert at dealing with conflicts, we must learn to describe an existing conflict as something relevant to the future.  This skill will help us to prevent similar conflicts from recurring over and over again.

Okay, so there’s our summary in what was presented the last time we discussed intrapersonal conflicts.  Let’s now move on to some more advanced ideas.

Advanced Lesson

Whenever we have a conflict with ourselves, we oftentimes present to ourselves some negative criticism.  In the above three panels of the Charlie Brown comic, Charlie Brown indicates he has evaluated how he treated his sister and he makes it clear that he doesn’t like what he did.  When we evaluate something and state we don’t like what we evaluated, we have provided negative criticism.

In an earlier blog, we looked at providing negative criticism during interpersonal conflicts.  We saw that according to the DIG Conflict Model, there are five levels of maturity when it comes to providing negative criticism (see blog post titled, PROVIDING NEGATIVE CRITICISM:  FIVE LEVELS OF MATURITY).  Level 1 is viewed as the most immature level, and level 2 is viewed as a bit more mature, and so on.  Readers of this blog were encouraged to familiarize themselves with the five levels, and then to use them in the following way:

First, they learn to recognize that they are getting ready to provide somebody criticism.

male criticism

Then they pause to think about how they are likely to provide the criticism.

Jack criticism 2

Then, before they provide the negative criticism, they decide what level of maturity the criticism they are likely to give is at.  If it is below level 4, they try to change the criticism so that it matches level 4, or even level 5.

In this example, the man is the employer of the woman who wrote a report.  After looking it over, he sees he is likely to provide criticism in a style that would best match level 2, which states:

2.  This level requires displaying one or both of the following:

  • The criticizer does not explain what the offending behavior is, but instead expresses displeasure with glares, insults, shouting, silence, or threats that do not involve bodily harm.
  • Threatens bodily harm regardless of what else is said.

Now, I understand that some of you might feel that the employer deserves a higher rating because he does explain what the offending behavior is when he says the report is stupid.  But this just indicates in some vague way that he doesn’t like the report using the insulting word, “stupid.”  In my opinion, his comment is not an adequate description of what he doesn’t like about the report to warrant a more mature rating.

Seeing that this type of criticism is a bit immature, the man’s job in this example would then be to try to come up with a form of criticism that matches one of the more mature levels.  One of the more mature levels is level 4:

4.   The criticizer states the criticism without bodily attacks, damaging property, glares, insults, threats, or shouts, and with enough details so that the criticized person, if he or she wills, can improve the behavior, idea, or appearance.  If the person receiving the criticism becomes defensive or angry, the criticizer empathizes without returning glares, insults, threats, or shouts.

In this example, by pausing and thinking about level 4, the man asks himself to describe his criticism in a clearer, more precise way than shouting “The report is stupid!”  To help him to clarify his thoughts, he uses the word “DIG.”  Thus, he says to himself that “I desire that in the future this woman who wrote this report will follow the directions that I give her and interfering with this desire is the fact that in this report she did not do so.  I think she is guilty of ignoring my directions.”

Having slowed down so he can think about this, the man now decides that the best way to provide the criticism to the woman is to wait until he has managed to calm himself down enough so he can speak to her using a respectful tone of voice and without any insulting words.  Then he will go over the first direction he had given to her and ask her to describe how she might have written the report so that he would have seen that the report writer is following his direction.  If she is not sure how to respond, he could then explain more thoroughly what he wants when she attempts to follow this direction.  After clarifying the first direction, he could go over in a similar way his second direction, and so forth.

Now, I don’t mean to suggest that this is the only resolution to this employer’s conflict.  For example, he could instead assign the best report writer in his company to mentor this employer.  The mentor would review each of her reports before she hands them in, show her copies of high quality reports, and so on.   The point is that this employer can improve the quality of his criticism by pausing before providing the criticism, thinking about how he is preparing to provide the criticism, comparing it to the five levels of providing negative criticism, and then seeking a way to change the criticism to something that matches a more mature level.

With intrapersonal conflicts we carry out a similar plan as we do with interpersonal conflicts.

Let’s return to our Charlie Brown example:

Charlie13

Here we see that even before first recognizing he is about to provide himself negative criticism, he has already done so.  That’s not the end of the world.  Many old habits are not easy to change quickly, and if you find yourself slipping into past styles of dealing with conflicts, you need not beat yourself up over this.  There are better ways to helpfully carry on.

In our Charlie Brown example, even after having already provided negative criticism, he can still go through the steps we discussed for dealing with interpersonal conflicts.  That is, he can first look at how he did criticize himself and then compare it to the five levels of providing criticism.  Then, he can pick out which of the five levels best matches his response.

In my judgement, Charlie Brown’s response falls somewhere between level 2 and level 3.

Level 2 states:

2.  This level requires displaying one or both of the following:

  • The criticizer does not explain what the offending behavior is, but instead expresses displeasure with glares, insults, shouting, silence, or threats that do not involve bodily harm.
  • Threatens bodily harm regardless of what else is said.

Charlie Brown, in this example does state what the offending behavior is.  That is, he says, “I shouldn’t have yelled at her, she is only a baby.”  But to match level 3 his response would have to look like this:

3.  The criticizer clearly states the criticism with enough detail so the criticized person, if he or she wills, can improve the behavior, idea, or appearance, but couples it with glares, insults, shouts, or threats that are not about bodily harm.

Charlie Brown’s criticism of himself, in my opinion, is not quite clear enough to fully match level three.  The fact that he repeatedly says he hates himself seems to be an example of insulting himself so that part of his criticism matches both level 2 and 3.

Once Charlie Brown figures out about what level his response had been, he could then see if he could come up with a response that better matches a more mature response, perhaps level 4, or even level 5.

Attempting to describe interpersonal conflicts using the letters in the word “DIG” can be helpful for coming up with a more mature response.  Similarly, attempting to describe intrapersonal conflicts using the letters in the word “DIG” can be helpful for coming up with a more mature response.  What would that look like?  Here’s one way Charlie Brown can do this:

He tells himself,

I desire that I not yell at my baby sister, but the fact that I did has led me to guess that, interfering with my desire, I’m likely to continue yelling at her.  I feel guilty for my actions.

Notice that there are no insults in this statement.  This statement is an important step toward coming up with negative criticism that matches a level 4 or 5 response.  Charlie Brown still must go on from here to come up with a plan that can help him to become less likely to yell at his baby sister.  Next week we will begin to look at some plans to help him do just that.

Practice

For those of you who truly want to become a master at dealing with intrapersonal conflicts, I recommend that you now take the time to either print out the five levels of providing negative criticism (see PROVIDING NEGATIVE CRITICISM:  FIVE LEVELS OF MATURITY) or if you don’t have a printer, write them out in any way you can.  Then, tape them to your refrigerator door.  This week, each time you see them, try to recall some time that you provided negative criticism to yourself.  Try to recall just what you said to yourself.  Then, try to see what level best matched what you said to yourself, and if it is less than a 4 or 5 level, try to create a response that would match a higher level response.  With this type of practice, you will soon see some real progress in your skills to deal effectively with intrapersonal conflicts.

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Some people will enjoy reading this blog by beginning with the first post and then moving forward to the next more recent one; then to the next one; and so on. This permits readers to catch up on some ideas that were presented earlier and to move through all of the ideas in a systematic fashion to develop their emotional and social intelligence. To begin at the very first post you can click HERE.

ELEMENTARY SCHOOL SHOOTING: A TIME TO GRIEVE
DEALING WITH CRITICISM BY DIGGING DEEPER

About the Author

Jeffrey Rubin grew up in Brooklyn, received his PhD from the University of Minnesota and has taught conflict resolution there as well as at a psychiatric clinic, a correctional facility and a number of public schools. He has published articles on anger and conflict resolution and has authored three novels.

4 Comments

  1. Dr. Rubin: Thanks for your thoughtprovoking analysis. However, I wish to disagree regarding the desire you recognized in Charlie Brown. I do not think Charlie’s desire was “not to yell at” his sister. I believe our desires are positive, and not negative. So, in wanting not to yell at his sister, we can discern the true desire of Charlie–to love his sister. Perhaps looking still deeper, we might find a desire to be loved and respected by his sister. So, I would say his desire is either wanting to be loving and caring towards his sister; or, more psychodynamically (and truthfully) speaking, wanting to be loved and cared by his sister.

    What do you think?

    ~ Dr. Paulson.

  2. Hi, Dr. Paulson. I like the way you are thinking about this. Yes, a real boy in this type of situation probably would find that his desire to be loved is important to consider if he hopes to wisely resolve his conflict.

    When I teach people to resolve conflicts, as you know by now, I first encourage them to think of the word ” DIG.” This is designed to help them to briefly describe a conflict in a helpful way. The “D” in the word “DIG,” reminds us to dig to find a desire, the “I,” the interference, and the “G,” the guilt. Now, once my students get practice doing this, I then teach them to use the word dig to remind them to dig a little deeper to find other desires that may be important to consider. I give my students two types of tools to dig, two types of shovels to dig, if you will. The first shovel is look for the desire to be liked or loved. This seems to be the tool you used to frame your comment. The other tool is look for the desire to be free to make one’s own decision. When people criticize us, it suggests that they desire that we make some change. Oftentimes, a criticism is provided not simply as a suggestion, but the criticizer soon begins to put pressure on us to change even against our will. We may, therefore, become defensive as we begin to desire to make our own life decisions without outside pressure.

    I discussed both of these tools (looking for the desire to be loved and looking for the desire to avoid interference with freedom) more thoroughly in my blog post titled, “WHY IS CRITICISM SO HARD TO BEAR?“(See: drjeffreyrubin.wordpress.com/2010/04/29/why-is-criticism-so-hard-to-bear.) It has been more than eight months since I brought this issue up to my readers–far too long. Thanks for bringing it up once again.

    Perhaps there is one point, Dr. Paulson, on which we disagree. You appear to be suggesting that in the type of situation that Charlie Brown finds himself in, there is only one true desire. To you, the desire that he not yell at his sister is not a true desire. It is, to you, either to love his sister OR be loved and respected by her. In my view, it is worthwhile considering all three desires, and all three may truly exist. A person can have more than one desire in any one situation. Last night I desired to have a healthy meal AND, at the same time, I desired that my meal not cost me an arm and a leg.

    My best, Jeff

  3. Hey there. Another great post, Dr. Rubin. I really believe that reading about how to handle criticism and conflicts with ourselves and others is very important in helping us become cognizant of when we are entering into a conflict so that we we can begin to think about what would be the best course of action before just acting based on our old habits.

    I’m a practitioner of a mind/body practice called the Alexander Technique that helps us to act in present and conscientious ways free from old habitual tension patterns. A fundamental part of the technique is is to practice learning to pause and think before we take action. So often our habitual tendency is to just act without giving thought to the best way to carry out an action, especially if we are emotionally invested in that action (such as in a conflict situation you speak about dr. rubin). Little by little, if we set our intentions upon thinking before acting, we can train ourselves to be far more conscious beings. Once we get the hang of it, we can become far more lucid and we become freed from old habitual tension patterns that make us act in callous or immature ways. Instead, we can turn over a new leaf, more in control of our actions than ever before. Practice makes perfect. And patience with yourself as you learn to think before acting is key. “If first you don’t succeed, try try again!”

  4. Hi JSR,
    Although I don’t know enough about this Alexander Technique to say for sure, from your description it sure sounds like there are some similarities between it and the DIG Conflict Model. I very much agree that it is important to practice learning to pause and think before we take action.
    My Best,
    Jeff

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