CONFLICTS AND GUILT
- Party A desires an act will occur.
- Party A perceives that another party is likely to act in a manner that interferes with the desire.
- Party A perceives that the other party would be guilty of doing something wrong if he or she carries out the interfering act.
On this blog, when we think about describing a conflict we use the word “DIG” to remind us to look into the situation for a desire, something that interferes with the desire, and the perception of guilt.
In the above Blondie comic, it is pretty clear that Dagwood has a desire to take a nap and interfering with this is his promise to fix a doorknob. He seems to me to be struggling with whether or not to feel guilty if he doesn’t keep his promise.
Also in the comic, we see that Blondie appears to have a conflict with Dagwood. That is, she desires that the doorknob gets fixed and interfering with her desire is Dagwood’s nap. She seems to think he is guilty for not keeping his promise. Is she seeking to punish him for his guilt by not preparing his sandwich?
Today’s post focuses on the guilt condition of conflicts.
Guilt and Conflicts
Consider a different scenario, one that we all have faced from time to time. You are going to the dentist and you have a desire to experience no pain, but you perceive that the dentist will probably act in a manner that will interfere with this. Do you perceive that under this set of circumstances you are likely to be having a conflict with the dentist? Why?
The DIG Conflict Model, which uses our above definition of “conflict,” indicates that if you do not perceive that your dentist is guilty of doing something wrong, there is no conflict. If you don’t blame the dentist for the pain but accept it as a necessary part of the dental procedure, the interfering condition is experienced in a very different way than when we experience a conflict.
In the dentist situation that I just described, you would still have a desire-interference problem–how can you get through this situation as best that you can given that you desire not to experience pain, and yet you are likely to experience some pain? All conflicts have a desire-interference problem in it, but not all desire-interference problems are conflicts.
Consider, if you will, a slightly different set of circumstances then our original dentist scenario. This time you have had a dental procedure done almost painlessly by Dr. Beam. Now a new dentist, Dr. Vopee, is performing the same procedure and as he does so, you are experiencing a great deal of pain.
According to the DIG Conflict Model, how you perceive this situation is crucial in determining whether or not you are experiencing a conflict. If you are blaming Dr. Vopee for this pain, believing he is doing something wrong, you are very likely to be experiencing a conflict with him. On the other hand, if you perceive the pain as due to the fact that no two procedures are exactly alike and that the pain must be due to the difference in the procedure rather than any incompetence of Dr. Vopee, then you will NOT experience a conflict with him.
What people who are in any given situation perceive is far more important than any act by itself. It is very possible for Sally to perceive that she has a conflict with Bob when Bob has done nothing to interfere with her and has no intention of doing so in the future. This can happen, for example, if Sally’s neighbor lies to her about Bob’s actions.
Let’s explore a little more what it means when we say someone perceives that someone is guilty of doing something wrong.
Some Definitions of Guilt
According to http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/guilt there are a few definitions for “guilt.”
b : feelings of culpability especially for imagined offenses or from a sense of inadequacy : self-reproach
My Definition of Guilty
As far as I’m concerned, you are free to define “guilt” or “guilty” in any way you choose. I have a very specific reason to use the word guilty in the sense that I choose–because I want to distinguish it from a very different experience and this can get muddled if I use the word too loosely. And so, I define “guilty” as follows:
If I perceive that someone has done something wrong and I become frustrated and angry at the person and I begin to seek to punish the person, I view that person as guilty.
For example, if I make a wrong turn to go to my friend’s house and when I discover my error if I have a strong emotion of frustration that springs up in me and I cry out, “What an idiot I am for making that mistake,” I am feeling guilty that I made the mistake and the reason I am calling myself an idiot is because it is my angry effort to punish myself.
I use that specific type of definition for “guilty” because I want to distinguish it from what I view as a more mature response, which I describe as follows. I recognize that I made a wrong turn, and as I experience a strong feeling of frustration, I recognize at the same time that as long as I am a human being I’m going to make mistakes. I recognize that the strong feeling of frustration is a good thing because it leads me to focus on what I did wrong, and the emotionality helps to fix the error in long term memory, decreasing the chance that I would make the same mistake. Part of this frustration reaction leads me to focus on what I can do next time to prevent the mistake. This is a wonderful process and I welcome the experience as I would a helpful friend. When I see guilt springing up in me, I have been getting more and more skillful at transforming it into my helpful friend.
Some people think guilt occurs whenever they see that someone has done something wrong. It is not wrong to define it this way except when we are using the DIG Conflict Model. But even when we are not using the DIG Conflict Model, it will still be beneficial to keep the idea of angrily desiring punishment when someone does something wrong separate from the idea of learning from the experience of making a mistake by experiencing frustration in a friendly, non-punishing manner.
If you see that your five-year old son has made a mistake when trying to add 7 plus 3 and he came up with 9, you may see that he has done something wrong, but you might experience this as somewhat different than when you feel someone is “guilty” of doing something wrong. You may think that your son almost got the right answer, and he’s trying, and this is part of the learning process. You might not feel angry at him, nor think he deserves to be punished for his efforts. Perhaps you might gently correct him and give him a warm smile.
Now, if we look again at the illustration of guilt that appeared earlier, we can see that the husband coming home from work doesn’t look like he is responding in a friendly, gentle manner as he perceives that his wife is doing something wrong. His face looks angry about it. We can easily imagine that he is likely to make some punishing statements toward the two people who are kissing, and perhaps he might even go further by making some other punishing acts such as hitting or seeking to divorce his wife.
When thinking about conflicts, it is useful to distinguish between guilt that arouses anger and seeks to punish versus viewing someone doing something wrong without it being accompanied by anger.
Now, some of my students ask me, isn’t there a place in this world for righteous anger? Doesn’t the guy who finds his wife cheating on him have a perfect right to be angry and to seek to punish the cheats?
The DIG Conflict Model does not attempt to decide this philosophical issue for all people for all situations and for now through to the end of time. Instead, it seeks to free people who have learned when they were young a rigid pattern of responding to their perceptions that someone did something wrong. If you have learned to react to a perceived wrong in only one way–with frustration, anger and punishment, perhaps you may welcome the freedom to choose between guilt or a friendlier response.
Well, that’s my post for today. I hope you find that it offers some food for thought. Have a great week!
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.