Family conflicts emerge as soon as three people gather for a common purpose. This is because “three” creates a triangle, considered to be the most stable geometric form in both social and physical worlds. This makes staying conscious and clear in a family system challenging, as members’ unrecognized and unhealed developmental trauma will unconsciously trigger conflict.
Conflict & Developmental Trauma
The success of family or three-way relationships depends on the degree to which each person has identified and healed their developmental traumas. This helps them avoid Drama Triangle dynamics, which means that they are more likely to get their developmental needs met in direct ways.
In family settings, conflict becomes more common, particularly when there are toddler-aged children. Toddlers who are in the midst of their inner struggle to become emotionally separate will absolutely trigger conflict. Their black-and-white/all-or-nothing thinking can be very frustrating. One minute they want something NOW and the next minute they don’t want it at all.
Family conflicts get really complex because they often involve multiple and simultaneous interacting sets of realities. The first is happening inside the child,and the second between the child and parents. There is also another reality happening inside the parents and between them and the child. NO WONDER family conflict are difficult to sort out!
Parents who haven’t completed their own separation process can get sucked into the Terrible Two drama in a flash. Tempers flare, parents yell (sometime hit) and conflict erupts. At these moments, the conflict seems complicated and even hopeless. This is because there are TWO different sets of reality happening at the same time.
Family Patterns & Conflict
Parents can be expected to replay their own developmental trauma through each stage of their child’s development, particularly during the counter-dependent stage of development. Each parent may also regress during family conflicts, especially when the other parent or caregiver is in conflict with the child.
The family structure becomes a web of interlocking dramas that involve post-traumatic stress. The boundaries between the parents’ experiences of the past and their experiences in the present become blurred. Similar to a post-traumatic flashback experience, the past feels as though it is happening in the present. Parents experience exaggerated feeling states that relate more to their own past than the present.
For example, when the mother is in conflict with the child, the father may identify with the child as the Victim and perceive the mother as the Persecutor. The father’s symbiotic identification with the child triggers his Rescuer behavior and activates Drama Triangle dynamics between the two parents and the child.
It’s Complicated But NORMAL!
If this all sounds complicated and convoluted, it’s because it IS! Even trained professionals find themselves feeling shaking and confused when they are trying to sort out these kinds of family conflicts.
What we’ve found effective is drawing out diagrams such as the Drama Triangle that illustrate the relational dynamics. This helps build “internal maps” in people’s minds so that they can track what is happening both inside themselves and between them and other family members. Relational diagrams also help people see other options and choices for getting their needs met when they are in the throes of conflict.