My instinctual response when faced with conflict is to withdraw into myself, pull up the drawbridge and to simmer gently in the juices of my own self-righteousness. This response is partly the natural response of an introvert, but it is perhaps exacerbated by childhood experiences and the fact that I live on my own. The problem though is that it is entirely self-referential. My perspective, which includes my thoughts, feelings and experiences, is not open to scrutiny.
The obvious solution to this is to find a willing ear. But I have discovered that I need to be extremely careful about who I talk to. The temptation is to find someone who will take my side: Reassure me of the justification of my anger and the unreasonableness of the other. But this simply adds fuel to fire and does not actually cut through the opacity of my own perspective to something which may be more representative of the truth.
In the Spiritual Exercises in his rules of discernment of spirits, Ignatius writes of the importance of bringing things into the light. The enemy of our human nature thrives on secrecy, and so often simply the process of verbalising a thought which has been compelling diminishes its power. So taking my situation of conflict into conversation with another can be useful.
I have discovered several important factors. Firstly, I am most aided by those who I know care deeply for me, but who are willing to challenge my point of view, or, at the very least, to offer some thoughts on the possible perspective of the person with whom I am in conflict. Secondly, the person to whom I am talking ideally would not have any contact with the person with whom I am in conflict, or must have sufficient depth character to be able to separate my conflict from their own relationship with the person. Thirdly, I must be able to trust that the person to whom I am talking will keep the conversation confidential.
At the heart of these factors is the recognition that when such conflictual situations arise, I am not at my best. My capacity to see the other’s actions or words with generosity vanishes and inevitably the way I present my side of the story will be warped. I therefore need to limit the possibility for the spread of damage by choosing those who can actually help me discern. Those who can allow me to vent, and then help me to see the nuggets of truth in the distorted mess.