How to love family despite conflict

Posted by Aspen
11 April 2018 | Family, Relationships


There’s one thing we know for certain about them.

We certainly don’t choose them. For some, family is more interwoven and connected than a DNA strand, and for others, their families dynamic makes Russia and America look like best friends.

However regardless of where we sit with our families, there is one thing we can guarantee: conflict. What conflict means and look likes varies from person to person, but it is an important aspect in our relationships. It provides opportunities for growth, reflection and even times, hurt. When thinking of conflict and family, one of the first questions that come to mind is “how do we have conflict that is nice for everyone?”

I think there’s a deeper question we’re wanting answered here. How do we go through conflict (particularly with those closest to us like family) in a way that leaves the other person and ourselves feeling valued and respected?

In order to pinpoint how we make others feel valued it’s important to notice firstly, how we do. From as far back as the 4th century Enneagram has been used to give language to motivation, values and beliefs. At face value it can seem a little overwhelming and feel ‘far too accurate’. Fortunately, like all good thing, after delving into it, the tool can help give good clarity and language into why we react in the ways we do.

Similar to other personality types there are ‘types’ listed from 1-9. The easiest way to narrow down what type you might be, it’s worth taking the free test quickly here

The difference in types and their beliefs:

Thinking of the members of our families (and whatever that looks like for you), consider what type you are and what type other members might be. Interestingly enough, the element that makes the Enneagram different to other personality tests is the shifts that can happen when we feel ‘stressed’ and are ‘growing. You can read more about these shifts here.

How conflict can arise

To give a tangible example of how conflict might arise based on feeling devalued, we’ll use a 4 (the Individualist). When stressed they shift to a 2 (the Helper). This looks like people-pleasing, having few/no boundaries, and as a result, the 4 can be left to feel insignificant and like they have no personal identity. However, when a 4 grows, they become more like the 1 (the Reformer); consistent, seek routine and maintain good boundaries.

Now take a type 2 (the Helper). When they are growing they are more like a 4 (the Individualist), tapping into their creative side, value themselves and hold good boundaries in their interpersonal relationships. However, when stressed a 2, shifts to an 8 (the Challenger) which can result in the 2 becoming manipulative, verbally demanding and passive-aggressive.

Now come back and pair the two together. In a healthy space, they can get along well. However, if either feels stressed, it can lead to conflict. Say the 2 feels devalued (like they are not needed) they then react like an unhealthy 8; short, sharp, direct and, at times, in a manipulative manner. If the 4 is stressed by this conflict and slips into the space of a 2, they will often forego their own needs; people-pleasing and becoming emotional to minimise the feeling of conflict. Once the conflict appears to be over, the 2 may feel better (like they have resolved it), however, a 4, in not honestly voicing their own needs, can easily harbour hurt feelings and internalise them strongly, commonly leading to harsh negative self-talk and lowered self-esteem in the 4. As you can imagine, the likelihood of a 4 wanting to continue that relationship is probably slim.

Looking at this simple dynamic, we can see how impactful a small interaction can be. High chances are neither party realised what they were doing, until both felt hurt and reacted. If you’re interested in reading more about how different types react with one another, there’s a great article here with all the juicy info.

It’s important to recognise that when we leave conflict unresolved it widens the gap and creates distance, however, the beauty is that distance doesn’t have to be permanent. More often than not, we’re all nervous when it comes to conflict. Yet one thing we can guarantee is, in taking the time, energy and work that is involved in getting to know someone, and really know them (like asking what their Enneagram type is, rather than assuming) it gives us tools to begin to build a bridge over those gaps, and provide us with solid foundations to build relationships out of a place of respect and honour.

There’s no denying families are dynamic and can leave us feeling uncertain, but be encouraged, there is no such thing as the perfect family. No ritual, habit or societal ‘norm’ constitutes to being ‘perfect’. So rather than seeing the quirks and broken places of our families as a negative, let’s look at them with new, fresh eyes and ask the more fulfilling question: who is this person in front of me, and how do I get to know them better so I can simply show and love them, in a way that communicates value to them personally.

If you’re wanting some more great Enneagram resources (looking at you type 5’s 😉 ) these are some goodies:

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