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Internal Conflict: A Battle of Within from Within – Types, Causes and Resolve

Internal Conflict: A Battle of Within from Within – Types, Causes and Resolve

Updated on May 27, 2022

Reviewed by Dr. Nereida Gonzalez-Berrios, MD , Certified Psychiatrist

Internal Conflict - A Battle of Within from Within – Types, Causes & Resolve

The battles that count aren’t the ones for gold Medals. The struggles within yourself – the invisible battles inside all of us – that’s where it’s at

Jesse Owens.

Invisible battles or Internal conflicts.

That’s where we are getting at.

Before we delve deeper into what is internal conflict, let us understand the meaning of conflict.

Conflict refers to a clash of interests.

So, now…

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Internal Conflict Infographic

Internal Conflict - A Battle of Within from Within – Types, Causes and Resolve
Internal Conflict – A Battle of Within from Within – Types, Causes and Resolve

Internal Conflict Definition 

Internal conflict also referred to as “cognitive dissonance”, is the experience of holding conflicting psychological beliefs or desires.

Do you ever feel you are stuck in a situation? Or, torn between two choices? That is when you know, you are dealing with some kind of Internal conflict.

Even without the core understanding of internal conflicts, most of us already struggle with internal conflicts in our daily lives. It’s strange how it’s so less talked about, yet it can cause so much damage – Angst, frustration, emotional imbalance, self-doubt, or even depression.  

Internal conflict can surface at any point in your life usually triggered by opposing beliefs, desires, impulses, or feelings. It impairs your decision-making ability and clouds your vision of seeing the “win” in the war.

For example, an alcoholic may strive not to reach for a bottle of whiskey. That person understands the need to quit drinking or how it is damaging him, but the desire to drink is intense, leading to an internal struggle.

You may also feel conflicted even in your daily choices, like, when you spot your favorite packet of chips while you have decided to maintain a healthy diet. The choice between taste or health asks you to reconsider your priorities.

Internal and External conflict (Internal vs External Conflict)

When you’re battling with something outside of you, you are experiencing an external conflict. External conflicts occur between a person and an “external” force. For example, a verbal conflict with your neighbor.

On the contrary, when you’re battling with something inside you, you are dealing with an internal conflict. For example, an act of cheating during a test is an internal conflict, where a person realizes that morally their actions are wrong but fall into the greed of performing better in exams.

A great deal of subconscious or unconscious self-damage happens when needs and wants coexist, yet conflict with each other because these internal struggles happen inside a person’s own mind.

Why Do Internal Conflicts Happen?

The very existence of two organs, i.e., head and heart as the decision-making agents give rise to internal conflict.

We are brought up in a society that is primarily driven by the brain but when the heart interferes in our daily decision-making process, it is bound to create confusion.

To obey the head, doubtlessly, is easier when compared to bringing heart and head into consensus. But our hearts convey their own unique sort of insight which is abstract and dynamic.

The best and worst part of our hearts is that it is free: it is not tied to any rules, societal norms, or even practicality which often is the root cause of the chaos in our heads.

Thus, on one side our mind regulates our life, structures it, and adds the right dose of truth, our heart feeds life to our soul. There’s no way you can follow one without the other. So, we can rightfully conclude:

A heart-defined decision will be impractical because the heart doesn’t understand the rationale. On the other hand, a mind-regulated decision will be unfulfilling because the mind doesn’t understand emotions.

So, what is the way out of this struggle?


The right balance between the heart and the mind is the only way to achieve a happy and satisfying life.

and when you fail to achieve this balance, internal conflict occurs.

In life, you often face situations where your heart says one thing, and your brain says another, but both seem equally viable and achievable.

So, which do we listen to and when? 

The answer is, we should listen to BOTH at ALL times!

Now that you know what sparks this destructive war in your head, let’s understand the forms in which it takes shape or the types of Internal Conflict.  

8 Types of Internal Conflict

The conflict in the mind is far more grave than what we have ever known. Accompanied with paradoxical questions, it often leaves the victim paralyzed.

Before we move ahead to reckon the causes, let us look into the different types of internal conflict that arises often in people’s lives. Give close thought to which ones resemble your type of conflict.

1. Moral Internal Conflict 

A situation where you are compelled to choose between two morals, each with its own good but of equal value, is called Moral Conflict.  

Often in life, we face situations where our personal ethics is torn between two choices. Both of them have an equal weight of good-bad. The fact that you can’t choose one without damaging another is called Moral Conflict.

Moral Internal Conflict Examples

1.  Suppose you value honesty and have strictly followed it all your life. Now when in a certain situation you have to lie to save another person’s life gives rise to moral conflict.

2.  For an army person who has an ailing mother, moral failure could occur when he has to choose between taking care of his mother and protecting the country during warfare. 

Socrates, the famous Greek Philosopher refutes a moral dilemma where one is to return a borrowed weapon to a friend who is not in his right mind.

According to him, in a moral dilemma, one should value protecting others from harm instead of the commitment of repaying debts.

He maintains the opinion that protecting others from harm is the norm that takes precedence.

2. Sexual Internal Conflict 

A situation where your sexual desire and sexual beliefs do not match each other is called Sexual Conflict.

All of us have some underlying beliefs about sexuality. But our desire is not always regulated by it. Thus, in cases where your desire conflicts with your sexual belief, it gives rise to sexual conflict.

Sexual conflict usually overlays with other types of internal conflict, like, moral conflict, self-image conflict, and so on.

Sexual Internal Conflict Examples

1.  A person may desire sexual intercourse before marriage but may feel it is not right due to inherent beliefs or religious reasons.

2.  You might also experience a war between your religious beliefs and sexual orientation. For instance, when a person is homosexual but the religion condemns homosexuality. 

Though sexuality is a very personal thing and should not be judged based on external factors, there are some things that are highly despised like Polygamy or Rape.

3. Religious Internal conflict

The constant battle between scientific truth and a religious belief in the mind of an individual is called Religious Conflict.

When confronted with logical or scientific realities, religious conflict may emerge inside an individual who appreciates both scientific facts and religious dogmas.

Religious conflict often occurs because it spins around faith and faiths stand upon convictions of heart and intuition, making them especially delicate.

Religious Internal Conflict Examples

1.  Scientific research predicts that “God (is) perhaps nothing more than a storm of neutrons in the human brain”. But many neurologists are not convinced enough to exchange belief in God for belief in the brain. 

2.  We are all taught that God loves all equally, yet there are so many terrible things happening to so many of us. This conflict of thought is called religious belief.

This conflict is in existence mainly because there’s a lot of discrepancy in our society between religious beliefs and truths. Either there is not enough evidence that can justify these religious theories or they are too weak in contrast to the truth.

4. Political Internal Conflict 

Situations, where your own beliefs contradict your political party’s values, are called Political Conflict.

We all follow a political party because of its views on social, societal, or economic issues. But there might be cases where your own thought differs from their driving forces.

This is when political conflict takes shape. In summary, political conflict emerges when an individual feels caught by a dilemma between their own convictions and their political party’s views.

Political Internal Conflict Examples

1.  An individual may have faith in the political agenda of the party they are representing yet battle to support the politician who is heading the same. 

2.  You may support the party in power but disagree with the taxation system or struggle with accepting the education system.

Political conflict is often undermined because of its authoritative nature. But the fact is, it can cause major stress, isolation, and internal turmoil if not dealt with adequately. Additionally, it can aggravate if the ones closest to you like your family is also of the contradicting belief.

5. Love Internal Conflict 

Situations, where you are compelled to hurt the person you love dearly for your own good, is called Love Conflict.

Love is one of the most intimidating emotions and very prone to battles in so many ways. But when this battle is in your own mind, it is called Love conflict.

Sometimes in life, you need to hurt people who you love either for your own selfish reasons or for the greater good, this damages your internal peace greatly giving rise to what is called a Love Conflict.

Love Internal Conflict Examples

1.  Parents may experience love conflict when they have to spank the child to discipline them but regret doing so.

2.  Love conflict also occurs when a person falls in love with someone their family does not approve of. 

This is often accompanied by guilt and self-loathing since the person is equally affected by your actions. While all forms of love can trigger love conflict, romantic relationships have a very convincing history of making people vulnerable.

6. Self-Image Internal Conflict

The conflict between who you believe you are and what you actually are is known as Self-Image Conflict.

All of us have an image of ourselves that is guided by both positive and negative traits. However, when a situation exposes you to your real self, which is not in tandem with your self-figure in mind – Self-Image conflict occurs.

This means this type of conflict is not regulated by external relationships or their expectations of us but our own preconceived notions of I am!

Self-Image Internal Conflict Examples

1.  You define yourself as a compassionate person but feel indifferent toward a needy person who approaches you for monetary help.

2.  A student who believes she is ethical but enjoys plagiarizing content for reviewing the literature.

The contradictory option is often very tempting which compels you to act against your values or beliefs. It might even help you discover parts of your personality that were hidden until now.  This type of conflict gives rise to self-doubt and low self-esteem.

7.   Interpersonal Internal Conflict

In a social setting, the non-alignment of your own behaviors and societal norms is called Interpersonal Conflict.

Irrespective of what part of the world you reside in, the society around you expects you to behave in one way.

However, a lot of times, this contradicts your own mindset and you feel that you are forced to follow the societal norms even when you don’t agree with them. This is known as Interpersonal Conflict.

Interpersonal Internal Conflict Examples

1.  Suppose you are an atheist by belief who dissents any religious place or ceremonies, yet is compelled to visit the temple to prevent being blasted by parents.

2.  A situation where the boss ridicules an employee but the latter maintains a straight face and says nothing to comply with the employee norms.

Interpersonal Conflict often overlaps with different sorts of internal conflict, for example, religious and love conflict; self-image, and love conflict.

It is often associated with external conflict since external factors regulate it but the fact that it occurs within your own self reclassifies it under internal conflict.  

8.  Existential Internal Conflict

When a person struggles with the meaning of life or the purpose of their existence, it is called Existential Conflict.

The “big questions” in life have been unanswered for most of us. But for some, these questions take the form of agony in their mind due to two conflicting answers. This state of confusion is known as Existential Conflict. 

Existential Internal Conflict Examples

1.  A person with partial paralysis wants to end their life but also awaits a miracle.

2.  Or when a farmer who believes that their whole life’s purpose is to harvest crops when they lose their farmlands due to cyclones and floods, falls into an internal struggle about their existence. 

It involves feelings of distress as one feels muddled up about life or the world, especially when two beliefs oppose each other. Sometimes the impact of this battle is so much that you might find yourself incapable of discriminating between right and wrong.

These examples of internal conflict often overlap each other or even change positions due to an inherent shift in the factors involved.

Now that you know the different types of internal conflicts that you are likely to suffer in your life span, most of you must be asking…

What causes these conflicts?

So, here’s your answer

Causes of Internal Conflict           

We experience internal conflict for diverse reasons. While there is no one “single cause” or origin, the several factors responsible for internal conflicts revolve around our attachment, beliefs, desires, and expectations. This can be broadly classified under 3 heads.

  • The values we inherited from our parents
  • The religious beliefs, faiths or ideologies we were compelled to believe
  • The cultural values we received from society while growing up 

Thus, we can say, the more cultural values, goals, desires, beliefs, and wants we have, the more likely we are to experience internal conflict.

But you may ask, why does internal conflict arise from our own beliefs and values?

Here’s some detailed explanation for further understanding.

1. Resistance

American Psychological Association (APA) has defined resistance as “generally, any action in opposition to, defying, or withstanding something or someone.” Resistance is classified as a defense mechanism in psychoanalytic theory.

When you recognize something you truly love or need profoundly, you automatically connect it with its fulfillment as helplessness. Resistance is a state of realizing you need something and afterward subliminally keeping yourself away from totally relishing or encountering that thing. 

Internal conflicts, at their core, are just the mismatch of your wants and needs. Resistance has a great part to play in it. It holds you back from doing things that you really want to do without even identifying the reason behind it.

While the reasons can be many like preconceived notions, profound fears, or even deep-seated negative beliefs in your mind, they all impact your mind only when it is combined with resistance.

2. Attachment

Humans are social beings; they develop an attachment to several things in their lifespan like deep-rooted beliefs, faiths, loved ones, and ideologies about self and others that give rise to various kinds of psychological struggles.

Conflicts primarily ask us to make a choice: there’s something that we need or want to do, but then there is some other, more profound, more established attachment that is keeping us from doing so.  

This attachment is like our safe haven beyond which everything seems intimidating despite it being correct. We as human beings fear the change and resist anything that does not align with this attachment.

3. Short-sightedness

What does your future look like to you? What are your long-term objectives? If you still don’t have answers to these questions, you really need to start working on them.

In the absence of a rough outline of the long-term goals in life, one is more likely to get lost and torn on the way. Goals act as a motivational drive for us to perform better and thus prevent any external influence in the mind.

However, for some people, the clarity of vision is another cause of internal conflict. This is because various thoughts and ideas keep popping on the way and to stand firm on one decision becomes difficult.

We fail to remind ourselves that we are allowed to have or want or need different things in life!

Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world.” ~Joel A. Barker

4. Inaccuracy or indecisiveness

A person’s lack of realization of their values, priorities, and what they truly need for themselves in the present can eventually lead to psychological struggle. 

On the contrary, a person who possesses greater clarity in thoughts will give you the required confidence and willingness. It enables them to effortlessly escape from internal struggles because their minds are on a mission.

To possess clarity in life requires hours of self-reflection and the courage to be honest with yourself. Beginning to make sense of your very existence makes you ambitious about life’s goals and helps you in attaining them, come what may. 

5. Ignorance

A person who is ignorant or not aware of the ‘self’ is more likely to struggle with internal conflicts than people who follow a mindful living.

When you cannot differentiate between their ideal and true self, your mind is in a constant state of confusion thus giving rise to internal conflicts. Even before understanding your wants, needs, likes, dislikes, you need to peep in yourself deeper and find out what you are inherently made of.

Although personality is dynamic and ever-changing, once you know the truth, you will have better clarity about your future course of action.

These were the top 5 underlying causes that lead to Internal conflicts in the human brain.

People suffering from these are easily recognizable because of the following behavioral patterns or character traits in their personalities.

How Does A Person Suffering from An Internal Conflict Behave?

  • Influential: Sees others’ opinions as more valuable than their own.
  • Self-doubt: Lacks confidence and the motivation to achieve high in life.
  • Indecisive:  Finds it difficult to reach one conclusion.
  • Insecurity: Doubt their own abilities and are trapped with self-loathing.
  • Cornered: Finds difficult to break away from dysfunctional relationships
  • Sensitive: Panic a lot even at a sigh of the slightest difficulty.
  • Unstable: Lack of stability and loss of direction when faced with challenges.
  • Dependent: Relies on others due to a lack of conviction in themselves.
  • Vulnerable: Experiences extreme mood swings very often.
  • Uncertainty: Are highly uncertain about their wants or desires from life.
  • Ignorant: Ignores feeling conflicted, thus, unconsciously run away from making decisions
  • Unfocused: Diverts the mind to lesser important issues to avoid the conflict.

It is not necessary that all behavioral patterns will be evident in people who feel conflicted, internally. Everyone reacts to these struggles differently. This in no way defines the gravity of the strife.

Before we move ahead, let me first introduce you to the 4 facts about Internal conflict that are often overlooked, resultantly the whole resolution falls apart.

4 Facts About Internal Conflict

These four absolutes about internal conflict are also the major reason why it is a key issue in people’s lives:

1. Internal Conflict is inevitable

The way mankind functions and perceives the environment around it, conflicts are bound to arise. When you have multiple wants but can only satisfy one need due to monetary, emotional, physical, or other constraints, your choice is sure to trigger conflict.

It is because of this reason that many times, conflict and its existence go unnoticed in our day-to-day lives.

2. Destroys the mind 

With internal conflict surfacing in various situations throughout our lives, there can be circumstances when it goes unresolved.

Unresolved internal conflict is known to cause a negative impact on the human mind and soul, leading to stress, anxiety, panic, and sleeplessness.

The solution lies in understanding the gravity of the conflict, the meaning of its existence, and the way forward to resolve it.

3. Internal Conflict Arises from belief

As we grow and face different events, our belief system also develops. Both positive and negative beliefs stem from our experiences, which is the root of conflict in our minds.

When this root grows, it does not always align with the tree of life and creates a discrepancy, which probably would not have occurred if humankind wasn’t known to be engraved with beliefs.

4. Guided by Unconscious decisions

Human beings make most of their decisions in daily life unconsciously. About 10,000 decisions every day are reached without being fully aware of the consequences.

Usually guided by needs and beliefs, you become conscious about the decisions only after it is made. Even research abides by that!

This whole agenda of unconscious decision-making is also the most challenging aspect of resolving inner conflict.

All that said and done, the question at the core still remains unanswered, and that is…

How to Resolve Internal Conflict?

When internal conflicts pit, we must attempt to resolve the psychological struggle. Often the war within can create more harm than a battle outside.

Most of your conflicts will be resolved naturally if you devoid your thoughts of the power to control you – more on that later.

Apart from that, here are several tips that can assist you in finding more clarity and help you attain the desired peace of mind.

1. Understand your intuitions

The voice that resides inside your heart, often known as intuition or gut is clear and strong, yet subtle.

On the flip side, the voice of our fearful cries is loud and emotionally driven. Once you know how to distinguish these voices, you will be able to get rid of the constant confusion in your head.  

2. Learn to align your heart and head

When what our heart and mind say are in perfect alignment, we create harmony and peace which ultimately guide us to make futuristic decisions. Never make decisions from an overwhelmed heart or disturbed mind.

3. Analyze the pros and cons

There’s an extremely ancient technique to achieve clarity, but it still works like magic. When you are struggling to reach a conclusion, get a paper and enlist all the pros and cons on either side of it.

Now take a close look, this way you will also know what is at stake and what is up for the reward.

4. Prioritize

Identify your needs and wants, and now rank them in order of priority with 1 being the highest. There will be no place for internal struggles when the head knows explicitly what it desires the most.  This also gives you a clear picture of what you are ready to sacrifice for it.

5. Let go of misleading beliefs

Beliefs that restrict your growth or peace of mind need to be abandoned in life’s trajectory instead of carrying it till the end. First, identify those harmful beliefs and then work on why you hold on to that belief.

Once you know the cause, you will be able to clearly see the root cause of the conflict in your mind and frame your future course accordingly.

6. Be honest to yourself and others

Sure, honesty brings its own package of problems, but it also brings harmony. Never be terrified of confessing the truth for peace of mind. Sometimes confronting our greatest fear bestows us with clarity and confidence in walking life’s course.

7. Choose the “lesser of two wrongs”

If you find yourself caught in a situation where you need to act upon anyone wrong, choose that act that will cause less harm to you and others. 

8. Be futuristic

Imagine yourself in situations that are confusing in your head. Wherever you see yourself happiest holding no regrets for the past, that’s your best bet. 

9. Find out the resistance

You need to introspect and identify what thoughts or beliefs are obstructing your life flow. Once you have correctly identified, train your mind to remove the obstacle. Remember, your desires and emotions are the most dangerous rival of your mind.  

10. Choose love over hate

If anytime you find yourself troubled with dilemmas where on one side there is hate and the other side has love, choose the former. Love not only gives you peace but strength to deal with situations positively.

11. Identify deep unresolved issues

People may often feel conflicted, internally, in their pathway of holistic development when there are some intense underlying problems like childhood trauma, unresolved shame, guilt, or negative self-image.

Proper identification and further addressing the issue can solve the problem of indecisiveness.

12. Eliminate stress

A stressful mind will always be confused in making a decision because it loses the strength to evaluate right and wrong. Relax your mind by taking slow and deep breaths, first and then resolve your internal conflict. 

13. Let it flow

Sometimes in life, the best way is no way. Let life take its own decisions as it flows. Don’t participate in the conflict and it will soon cease and wear off.

If these don’t work, here’s a more professional approach to addressing a conflict which if adopted properly is sure to work.

3 Step Process To Resolve Internal Conflicts

Professionals say that to heal an individual from harmful internal conflicts is a process and not an overnight task. 

So, let’s understand that –

Step 1: Become aware of the conflicts in your mind

In this process, self-awareness is the most difficult to achieve. Your mind only allows you to accept one side of the conflict, preferably the one that doesn’t contradict your usual thought process or expose you to the hidden painful memories.

But the resolution is only possible after self-awareness that will require conscious efforts or sometimes even the guidance of a therapist. Once you accept that you are dealing with an issue, you will allow yourself to further deal with it.

It is about understanding the obvious but also taking that extra step to figure out the unconscious part of the conflict so that you come to terms with the entire situation.

Step 2: Give equal chances to both the sides

Now that you have become aware of the state of the conflict, accepting the two sides of the issue, you need to slow down. Because this step requires you to sit down with these sides and listen.

Your inner conflict directly impacts you, your thought process, and your future self – It deserves its share of importance and time.

By giving equal chances, you not only listen and honor the positive aspect, which is where your comfort zone lies but you also make yourself capable of valuing the negative aspect, which pushes you beyond your usual conscious being.

When you do this, internal conflict becomes more of a story that needs a conclusion, rather than a battle that is tearing you in half.

Step 3: Intervene and Integrate your thoughts

When you have deeply in-rooted beliefs that take time to change or come to terms with, inner conflicts need intervention to be resolved. This means, focusing on your individuality and allowing it to bring forth inner harmony first.

Just like you need to know what to heal before using healing mechanisms, similarly, you need to know which card to pick before intervening. Find out what needs repair, what needs replacement, or what needs change, and take your time to make things right.

The right resolve can only occur when your belief system is error-free and you have successfully found a relevant protocol to help you in the effective judgment of the conflict.

Finally, before we wind up, let’s take a quick look at some quotes about internal conflicts – 

Closing Thoughts!

Your thoughts are powerful

Both in good and bad ways.


You are more powerful.

And it’s your choice if you want to let the thoughts take charge or instead be the master and resolve the conflicts mindfully.

As Ronald Reagan puts it,

“Peace is not the absence of conflict; it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.”

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