Tymofieva М.P. Basic conceptions of intrapersonal conflict. Theoretical and methodological research

Выпуск журнала: 

УДК 159.964.21:316.47.4



Tymofieva М.P.

The article analyses conceptions of intrapersonal conflict (IPC), identifies psychological characteristics of their manifestation and impact on an individual’s psychological health and professional development. The author reveals and analyses the psychoanalytic school’s views on the nature of IPC in. understanding the causes of inconsistencies between a person’s internal and external worlds we can both predict the occurrence of stress and crisis and prevent numerous conflicts.

Keywords: intrapersonal conflict, reflection, crises, Self-concept, motivation.




Тимофеева М.Ф.

В статье проанализированы концепции внутриличностного конфликта, выявлены психологические особенности их проявления и влияния на психологическое здоровье и профессиональное становление личности. Раскрыты и проанализированы взгляды на природу внутриличностного конфликта в психоаналитической школе. Понимая причины возникновения несогласованности внутреннего и внешнего мира человека, можно будет не только прогнозировать возникновение стрессовых и кризисных ситуаций, но и предотвращать конфликты, которые переполняют нашу жизнь.

Ключевые слова: внутриличностный конфликт, рефлексия, кризисные ситуации, Я-концепция, мотивация.


The topicality of the present research stems from the need to understand psychological changes in personal development and the emergence of psychological problems in students. Nonconformities of an individual’s internal expectations and external capabilities, conflicts and incompatibility between the components of “Self-concept”, problems of self-expression in society, complexity of professional development, identity formation in adolescence specified the choice of our study.

Knowing the causes of intrapersonal conflicts (hereafter IPC) and their solution is an important condition of young people’s mental and psychological health, development of professional competence, rapport and healthy competition.

The purpose of the study is to analyse theoretical and methodological concepts of IPC, to study of basic concepts of IPC, identifying psychological peculiarities of their manifestation and impact on psychological health and professional development.

Psychological health largely depends on a person’s state of mind, balance of emotions and feelings, timely resolved internal contradictions, overcoming emotional conflicts, formation of harmonious relations in a group. 

S. Freud was the first to understand mental health. He believed that many mental disorders are the result of intrapersonal conflicts that worry even healthy people. L. Diomina, I. Ralnikova are confident that mental health is associated with personal characteristics, integrating all aspects of a person’s inner world and the ways of their external manifestations into a single unit [3, p. 35-42].

Intrapersonal conflict is one of the most difficult psychological conflicts that prevail in a person’s inner world. Various individual experiences of ambiguity, inability to solve a particular problem, complexity and contradictions of their inner world, awareness of variability of their desires, aspirations and ambitions, often impossibility of their implementation, vibrations, doubt, fighting of motives –all this is the field of IPC.

IPC can be described as a very negative feeling, which is caused by the struggle of structures in the internal world that is continuous and reflects the relationships with the social environment that are antagonistic and delay decision-making [2, p. 317]. 

Theoretical and methodological analysis for understanding the psychological essence and nature of intrapersonal conflicts in the national psychology research were made by K. Abulkhanova-Slavska, L. Bozovych, F. Vasyliuk, G. Kostyuk, A. Leontyev, S. Muddy, V. M'yasyschev, B. Merlin, O. Rank, S. Rubinstein, V. Stolin, T. Tytarenko, A. Fayzullayev and others.

Poets and philosophers of all times have known that the victim of mental disorder is never a quiet, even-tempered person, but a person that is “torn apart” by internal conflicts or inclined to their appearance. According to K. Horney, internal conflicts are describing more a neurotic personality than a healthy one, at least in a normally developed personality there are more resources to address emerging internal conflicts than in a neurotic one, as they can realize these conflicts and work with them.

At the heart of the internal conflict there are compulsive trains that are specifically neurotic. They are generated by feelings of isolation, helplessness, fear, hostility and confrontation and represent the ways of opposition to the world against the content of these feelings. They are aimed primarily not at satisfaction but at achieving safety, their compulsive nature is caused by anxiety [9, p. 6-10].

Psychoanalytic direction focuses on its bio-psychological interpretation. S. Freud believed that a person was a conflict by nature. Since human birth two contradictory instincts that determine a person’s behaviour have been fighting. These instincts are: Eros (sexual instinct, the instinct of self-preservation and life) and Thanatos (death instinct, aggression, destruction and wrecking). IPC is the result of the eternal struggle between Eros and Thanatos. This struggle, according to S. Freud, is in ambivalence of human feelings, their inconsistency.

Psychoanalysis, opposing man and society, postulates the fundamental resolving of a personality‘s internal conflicts. S. Freud predicted that the true motives – those that were neurosis – always were unconscious. The behaviour in this conflict has always been defined by them. In case of their acute displacement occurs an intrapersonal conflict, and if it is painful coursing – a neurosis.

Ambivalence of feelings is exacerbated by contradictions of social life and comes to the state of conflict that manifests itself in a neurosis. Feelings of inferiority and desire to overcome it, the desire for power and authority [1], for the behaviourists is a confrontation of alternative behaviours.

In humanistic and existential psychology conflict arises primarily between important values and needs, on which meaning of human life is based, between a person’s Self-concept of and experiences [7, с. 89] between aspirations to self-actualization and the actual result [6, с. 225, 231-234]. In field theory “powers of different sizes” are conflicting, affecting the personality, in cognitive psychology – personality constructs, knowledge, images [8].

Depending on which side of the inner world is affected by the inner conflict, psychologists of different schools and areas separated main types of intrapersonal conflicts.

1. Motivational conflict – a conflict of needs and intentions, often psychological needs. Such conflicts cannot have a clearly defined business or industrial base. People’s mutual tug of, mutual repulsion, belonging to the respective reference range (a significant person or a group of people), a sense of prestige, esteem, status and so on is traced in them.

2. Moral conflict – is a conflicting clash of moral principles in individual or social consciousness when a person has to choose what is not acceptable for them. The peculiarity of moral conflict is that in certain situations the choice of action that is based on certain moral rules leads to violation of other rules. The difficulty is not that a person cannot know the appropriate moral standards, and cannot make the right choice, and not because they do not comply with certain requirements of morality, but in the clash of these conflicting requirements. The moral conflict is determined by the struggle of individual moral values, norms and regulations that a person finds unconditional. 

3. Conflict of an unfulfilled desire or an inferiority complex – a combination of negatively stained perceptions of one’s physical and mental inferiority to other people, this is a clash between desire and reality. The complex forms in childhood under the influence of parental attitudes, as a result of errors, failures, defeats. In puberty (teenage) when the mechanisms of self-establishing are the key in behaviour, this complex is finally formed, and takes a form of behaviour. This complex arises between the desire “want to be like them” and the inability to implement [5, p. 59-68]. Internal conflicts with sexual pathologies also belong to this type.

As a compensation for an inferiority complex, a person tends to a constant advantage over others and is strongly focused on those moments that can emphasize this advantage. If to analyse the actions of the people whose behaviour is managed by an inferiority complex, we can note their lack of self-confidence, increased anxiety and vulnerability. Such people tend to see the intrigue and ridicule, where they do not occur; they are also vulnerable and mistrustful.

The deepest emotion on which this complex is based is fear. In fact fear is one of the first feelings in early life. A baby, that does not get food in time, thinks that it will die of hunger, its behaviour is driven by fear, forcing to scream and cry. The child is growing, and during growth there are moments of weakness, insecurity, helplessness, there may be situations due to which the child is disappointed in their abilities and forms the image of their inferiority. If parental adjustment or one received in the course of education, support this inferiority and inadequacy, the complex becomes part of behaviour and persecutes the person during the whole life.

If to consider such a quality of fear as generalization (that is, its growth and inclusiveness), self-doubt enters into all areas of life, a sense of intellectual inferiority appears. At a subconscious level, a person constantly compares themselves with others and concludes that they are worse than others’; that they have less knowledge, experience, a worse situation and more.

An inferiority complex can form other complexes. For example, a complex of “ugly duckling”, which is particularly evident during puberty and later in life, can turn into a permanent dissatisfaction with appearance and figure. These people strive to achieve the “ideal”, would torture oneself by diets, may turn to plastic surgery, also on the background of this complex can develop bulimia nervosa and anorexia.

The complex of “loser” occurs when a person forms a stable picture of happiness, all the initiatives they will throw, that is, halfway, confident in their failure.

The complex of “poor” is a feeling of inferiority will prevent people to get decent pay for their work; they will compare themselves with other professionals in the same field and observe the fact that they have more skills or knowledge.

The complex of “sufferer” or “victim” takes place when a person begins to enjoy their inferiority, their behaviour is built so as to emphasize their inferiority, inadequacy, failure and bad luck.

There is a flip side, when the inferiority complex forms a complex of “superiority” when all human behavioural aspects of a person are intended to emphasize their superiority over others. The person seeks to reach the heights, both in material terms and in terms of career advancement. All efforts will be directed only to receive a new proof of their superiority.

1. Role conflict. Psychological roles played by an individual in various life situations are not always complement to each other. Role functioning of a personality is so complicated, that there are no contradictions. Situations in which there are conflicts of role are numerous. They can be classified according to the described parameters underlying the classification according to the problematic degree, complexity, context in which they occur. The main types of situations in which there is a role conflict are: rejection of the role behaviour of others; rejection of one’s own role behaviour by others; inability to satisfy simultaneously the expectations of different people; inability to fulfil a role that does not meet one’s own self-concept; incompatibility of different roles; insufficient resources to perform any role (role overload).

2. Adaptation conflict. In the broad sense it is a conflict that grew out of an imbalance between the subject and the surrounding environment, and in the narrow sense it is one that occurs in violation of the process of social or professional adaptation. This conflict is between the requirements that are put forward to face the reality and possibilities of the individual (occupational, physical and psychological).

3. Conflict of inadequate self-esteem. It is based on the differences between self-esteem, personal demand and real existing state of affairs – low or high self-esteem and low or high level of requirements.

4. The neurotic conflict. This is the result of IPC that for a long period passes in the middle of the person’s mental world; high tension, confrontation between internal forces and motives characterize it.

Neurotic conflicts can be associated with the same general problems that are difficult to resolve for a normal person. But conflicts are so different in content and display that the question has arisen whether it is permissible to use the same term to designate them. K. Horney says that it is permissible providing awareness of their differences from one another.

What are the characteristic features of neurotic conflicts?

1. Absolute incompatibility of factors included in the conflict. For example, the requirement of respect tends to cause adherence and obedience.

2. The conflict in general remains unconscious. Its operating factors are conflicting with each other; tendencies are not recognized and are deeply driven appetencies.

3. These trends are compulsive in nature.

The fundamental difference between normal and neurotic conflicts is determined that the discrepancy of conflicting appetencies for a normal person is much less significant than for a neurotic one. The choices that have to do a normal person, is limited by two actions, each of which is quite affordable to sufficiently integrated personality. The selection process of a neurotic personality is difficult because there are a lot of fears, doubts and contradictions. A normal conflict can be fully realized. A neurotic conflict in all its essential elements is always unconscious. Even when normal people are not aware of their conflict, they may relatively easy achieve something, while appetencies that generate neurotic conflict are deeply driven and can be found only in overcoming significant resistance by a neurotic person.

These characteristics explain the severity of neurotic conflicts. These conflicts not only make a person helpless, but also have great ruinous power, destructive for a neurotic [9, p. 6-10]. Types, scope, intensity of conflicts are mostly determined by the civilization in which we live. If a civilization is stable and traditions are persistent, the variety of available to us elections is limited and the ranges of possible conflicts between individuals are narrow.

Since conflicts often relate to beliefs, religion or moral values, their recognition implies that we have developed our own system of values. A just borrowed belief is not part of our self or has sufficient force to cause conflicts or serve as a leading criterion for decision-making. Such beliefs, if they exerted influence, can be easily replaced by others. If we just grow in our environment values, the conflicts that are important to us do not arise.

In the case where we admit the existence of a conflict as such, we must be able and willing to abandon one of the conflicting beliefs. However, the ability to clear and conscious failure is very rare, because our feelings and beliefs are related to each other, and perhaps because in their analysis, most people do not feel secure and happy enough to refuse from something.

Given the knowledge of the causes, mechanisms and consequences of internal conflicts they can be avoided or weakened in the beginning. It is therefore important to know the consequences of the IPC, which can be positive or negative. They may appear in a constructive (productive) and destructive (destructive for the individual) directions.

 A constructive overcoming of the conflict is a way to harmonize the individual. It is characterized by maximum development of the conflicting parties and the development of personality at a minimum cost of the individual. Such situations with constructive consequences are:

– the internal conflict facilitates the transition to a new level of functioning in the early stages of development;

– the optimal IPC is the best moral foundation of human development;

– there is awareness of ourselves as individuals according to resolving internal conflicts provided various combat of stereotypes in human life;

– positively resolved conflicts temper character, creating stability, determination, independence and positive orientation of the individual;

– the IPC promotes an adequate self-esteem, which is further manifested through self-knowledge and self-realization.

Destructive consequences are considered as those which lead to prolonged mental disorders that contribute to the development of neurotic reactions and become the basis for crises. In perspective of destructive consequences of the IPC we consider situations where:

– a protracted internal conflict reduces the effectiveness of activities;

– constant reflection and doubt weaken personal qualities, distorting the person’s creativity, reduce activity, immerse in a permanent split;

– lasting internal conflicts retard the personality’s development. According to L. Bogovich, such a person looks uncertain, not restrained in their behaviour, cannot deliberately reach their goals, and therefore, they will be psychologically immature;

– frequent intrapersonal conflicts can cause the person to lose self-confidence, they will form a stable complex of inferiority and loss of meaning in life;

– relationships at work are violated, in the family, there are intrapersonal conflicts;

– the person becomes aggressive, anxious, often depressed and has nervous disorders [4].

According to our theoretical and methodological research, the following conclusions can be made: internal conflicts are the impetus for a personality’s development and are an essential aspect of human life; an internal personal conflict is a confrontation of alternative behavioural reactions, contradiction in values, morals, and self-concept. They can be realized by a person or not realized (have hidden deep character).

Understanding the causes of misalignment of a person’s internal and external world, we can not only predict the occurrence of stress and crisis, but also prevent numerous conflicts. Knowledge of causes provides opportunities to make correction programs to solve or mitigate conflict.

With the constructive resolution of internal conflicts they contribute to the successful identification and professional development. As a result of productive overcome of IPC professional competence increases; new skills and abilities form; adequate value-motivational system develops; “psychological immune system” (emotional restraint) grows; consciousness and skills for reflection emerge.



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Data about the author: 

Tymofiyeva Maryna Pylypivna – Candidate of Psychological Sciences, Associate Professor of Psychology and Philosophy Department, Bukovinian State Medical University (Chernivtsi, Ukraine).

Сведения об авторе:

Тимофеева Марина Филипповна – кандидат психологических наук, доцент кафедры психологии и философии Буковинского государственного медицинского университета (Черновцы, Украина).

E-mail: timofieva.marina@bsmu.edu.ua.