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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Underlying Needs in Conflictual Relationships

“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from the desires that battle within you? You want something, and when you don’t get it, you quarrel and fight. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. And when you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives...”                                        (James 4:1-3)

One of the things we'll focus on in the four Wednesday evening Conflict Management Class I'm leading at the Family Life Resource Center starting next week is that the issues we fight over in a conflict may be less important than the feelings and needs behind them.

The following five identified needs are from a handout I use based on the work of psychologist Rudolph Dreikurs (adapted from his work on underlying needs in misbehaving children!). The italicized phrases suggest how we can often tell what the underlying needs are that are really driving the conflict:

1. The Need For Recognition, Belonging

    Conflict may result from someone simply trying to gain attention, respect, love or closeness. Feeling ignored is painful, so negative interaction (through conflict) may seem better than having little or no interaction with another one really cares about. Persons operating from this need typically create feelings of annoyance in others that may drive them even further away. Creative and healthy ways of being noticed, heard and taken seriously need to be found.

2. The Need For Power, Control

    Conflict also results from a person perceiving that his or her needs to have a fair say, to be reckoned with as someone of value and worth, and to be considered a vital player in a group’s process are not being met. Persons with this need may provoke others into feeling threatened, challenged or intimidated. It is important to avoid being drawn into power struggles with such individuals (to see who can win), but to offer opportunities for shared power and control.

3. The Need For Vengeance, Ventilation of Anger
    When the first two needs are not met, the need for direct or indirect retaliation (sometimes at inappropriate targets) may begin to be in evidence. Persons with this need often cause feelings of hurt in others. It is important to resist being drawn into a revenge cycle, and to try to understand the hurt behind another person’s actions, to provide for cooling off periods, and to work at trying to resolve the underlying problems in the relationship.

4. The Need For Withdrawal, Retreat
    This tends to be the result when all of the above efforts by an individual trying to have his or her needs met seem to them to have failed. Such persons may become passive and uncommunicative, respond only in indirect, non-verbal ways, or simply avoid those with whom they are in conflict. Persons with this need tend to evoke feelings of sympathy, frustration and/or helplessness in others. Our response should not be to show pity, but to provide support, understanding and encouragement, and to help provide for healthy ways to get some needed relief from stress.

5. The Need For Challenge, Change
    Conflict may also result from simply feeling stifled, bored or in a rut in a relationship. Persons operating from this need may trigger uneasy and anxious feelings in others, especially in those who want to maintain the status quo. Our response should be to encourage reasonable risk-taking in achieving positive goals.
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