Choices that Define Us

This time we will shift the focus to another fundamental type of conflict. There is only one person in the world who can have a bigger impact on us than anybody else, one person who makes things complicated and who struggles to arrive at the best decisions and choices, and that person is ourselves. Intrapersonal conflicts may be even more harmful and difficult to resolve than interpersonal ones. And in this article we’ll try to learn more about it.

The Choice that Defines us: An intrapersonal Conflict

An intrapersonal conflict is a form of arguing with yourself. It’s a tangle of your own thoughts, values, interests, positions, beliefs, and so on.

It doesn’t really matter how serious the issue is: you can be incapable of choosing a pair of jeans or thinking about your future because you don’t have enough time to work and go to university.

While this is bothering you, it is important. Don’t let anyone tell you: «Your problems are nothing, I am the one who has real troubles in my life».

Let’s start with the fact that some – but by no means all – scientists believe that intrapersonal conflicts do not actually exist. Why so? Technically, there’s a vital missing person in the concept, which is the second person in the conflict; and this, it is sometimes argued, prevents our talking about the interaction between the parties in the conflict.

However, I’m pretty sure that those who have ever had the feeling of «having a war in their own minds» would never share this point of view.

Choices that Define Us
Choices that Define Us

The Role Conflict

The first type of intrapersonal conflict is a «role conflict». Social psychologists say this occurs when there are incompatible demands placed upon a person such that compliance with both would be difficult.

It means that each of us embodies a complex set of many different roles. We are sons and daughters, husbands and wives, employees and employers, friends, students, and so on.

And sometimes we have to make choices because there will always be a few roles that cannot simultaneously come together with the situation at hand. The most common example of this case is found in professional ethics.

If you are a paparazzi, you have to decide whether you want to do your job well or be a polite person who cannot spread rumors about other people’s private lives.

Or imagine that you’re a successful advertising manager, and you’re asked to make a promo for a bank that has a high-interest rate, pretending that the financing it offers is attractive. The bank promises to pay you well, of course.

You know that everything about this bank is legal. But its terms will certainly ruin the lives of those who obtain credit there. What would, or should you, do?

Writers and film makers love to make a role conflict at the center of a plot. For example, F. Scott Fitzgerald in his novel Tender is the Night shows us a portrait of an ambitious and very talented psychiatrist, Dick Diver, who falls in love with his patient.

Who is he, actually? Is he an extremely good doctor or just a man with feelings and demands? We all know that medical ethics strictly prohibit doctors from having affairs with their patients. And Dick disapproves of this himself. But his heart has its own imperative, and it’s completely different from ‘the right’ one. But the question is how to make the choices that define us?

Have you seen Christopher Nolan’s The Inception, by the way? If you have, you must remember Dominick Cobb, who felt so guilty for his wife’s death that he unconsciously endangered his team.

He couldn’t be a widower and a professional at the same time, so there was a real struggle in his own mind.

Our real lives are filled with role conflicts as well. Do you know how many times you have had to choose between spending your time with friends or with family? Do you remember feelings of unfairness when you’re literally stuck between the roles of a trustworthy friend and a perfect date? If you answered ‘yes’ to at least to one of these questions, then take a brief look at the example below.

Blair is in trouble. Her boyfriend wants to introduce her to his family and has asked her to join him at his sister’s wedding this Saturday. Blair’s best friend, Vanessa, will celebrate her birthday exactly the same day. Blair is totally confused. Her relationship with Dan means a lot to her. However, she has never been sympathetic to those who forget about friends and relatives as soon as they find love. Blair thinks about joining Vanessa and then taking a taxi to the wedding, but that’s impossible: the locations are too far from one another, so she would miss the wedding while ruining her friend’s party by spending only an hour or so with her.

Here’s one more case before we begin serious analysis. Jenny’s mother wants her to study law because she thinks it can provide her daughter with a stable future. Jenny is a talented designer, and she wants to study the history of fashion. What is the choice that will lead her forward? Being a dutiful daughter, or following her own dreams in the world of couture?

Well, we don’t always encounter this kind of conflict between roles. Sometimes there’s a battle within the same role. Let me show you how it works. Alice knows for sure that a teacher has to be kind, understanding, and loyal. As she starts to teach kids for the first time, however, she sees that her job also requires her to ask pupils to maintain discipline. That doesn’t completely match her belief about being nice all the time. How can she be an excellent teacher now?

Some people think that we are what we do. I believe that we are what we choose. Our thoughtful choices and off-the-cuff decisions define us, telling everyone around, including ourselves, what kind of people we really are.

Unfortunately (or luckily, that depends on how you see it), there’s no algorithm that guarantees to make the right choice between your roles.

The only way you can solve an intrapersonal conflict is to agree with your conscience, keeping in mind both law and morality. Whatever you choose, you have to remember that saving relationships is hard work, and there are no desperate situations.

If you miss your friend’s birthday, give her all your attention later. If you can’t make your boyfriend’s relative’s wedding, ask them to join you for brunch because you do actually want to meet them.

In the next article, you’ll find out more about other types of intrapersonal conflict, its main features, and pitfalls. I really hope this will help you to examine yourself better, discovering some new traits in your character, and to find the best choices that define us.

Photos: Shutterstock

Two Values, One Choice: How to Solve a Cognitive Conflict

Support us!

All your donations will be used to pay the magazine’s journalists and to support the ongoing costs of maintaining the site.


paypal smart payment button for simple membership

Share this post

Interested in co-operating with us?

We are open to co-operation from writers and businesses alike. You can reach us on our email at and we will get back to you as quick as we can.

Where to next?

The Importance of Student Government in Education

Student government refers to a student-led organization within a school or university that is responsible for representing the interests, concerns, and needs of the student body to school administration and…

The Cuban Embargo is SO Last Century

In February 1962, President John F. Kennedy proclaimed an embargo on trade between the United States and Cuba. What is this embargo, and what is the current status of said…