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The Fundamental Tension in all Conflict

Attachment = We desire to be more or less connected and feeling safe with another person.

Authenticity = We also desire to be more or less true to ourselves and have our inner and outer worlds in alignment.

Conflict arises when one person’s authenticity bumps up against another person's authenticity. Then the attachment and relationship is under threat. Big or small conflict, the dynamic is the same.

Then you have some choices…

Do you risk rupturing the relationship to realise your authenticity? Or:

Do you suppress your authenticity to feel secure and safe in the relationship?

Conflict avoiders can build up a tonne of suppressed authenticity because they're afraid to damage the relationship. This can lead to resenting the other person for all the self-sacrifice you’ve done. The trouble is that the other person probably has no idea of your self-sacrifice, because it’s all going on internally.

On the other end of the scale, people in conflict are busy asserting their authenticity in the world. For these guys the threat of loosing their authenticity is more scary than damaging the relationship. The trouble is that radical authenticity can be lonely. It can lead to missing out on the grounding and calming effects of being secure and safe relationships.

Healthy conflict, A.K.A relating well, is allowing each other to dance between authenticity and attachment, and respecting that we all need both.


I was first encountered this concept through Gabor Mate’s book Scattered Mind, where he explores how this tension is at the heart of a child’s maturation process. Gabor argues that adults and children with ADHD had disrupted experiences of attachment and authenticity with their primary care givers. I believe the concept holds well as a lens to explore adult workplace, relationship, and family conflicts.


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