The Triangle of Conflict

by | Nov 25, 2016 | Emotional Literacy, Resources | 0 comments


The triangle of conflict presents graphically how our emotions, anxiety and psychological defenses interact to protect us from what we fear may be overwhelming emotional experiences.

Human emotions are big experiences that impact us deeply at an emotional-physical level. As children, without help from emotionally healthy adults, our emotional experiences can be too much for our little bodies to manage. When that is the case, we become frightened. This fear of the overwhelming intensity of our emotional experiences is anxiety. The anxiety triggers our innate ability to defend ourselves from overwhelming emotional experiences in service to our survival. Thus we develop defenses that allow us to survive the overwhelming emotional experiences by repressing the emotion. Repressing an emotion allows us to become unconscious of it, to wall it off, in essence storing it away for future processing while allowing us to go on about the business of day-to-day survival and growth. Usually the future processing takes place when we finally find a safe place with enough support to allow us to unpack the repress emotional and feel it fully without defense. In this way, overwhelming emotional experiences are a non-physical analog to physical injuries that are not so extreme as to need our immediate attention but which do require future rest for complete healing and which run the risk of becoming chronic over time if not giving proper attention for healing.