Intrapersonal Conflict

Breaking Down Intrapersonal Conflict

Intrapersonal conflict is an internal conflict which consists in some form of goal conflict or cognitive conflict within an individual. It involves two competing desires or goals, but in this case the desires or goals are competing within the same person.

Goal conflict exists for individuals when their behavior will result in outcomes that are mutually exclusive or have compatible elements (both positive and negative outcomes).

An example of intrapersonal conflict is when one has to make an important personal decision regarding his/her work circumstances and interacts with oneself to decide on the most appropriate action.

Intrapersonal conflicts take one of several forms:

We look at the central features of each, one by one:

  1. Approach-approach conflict
    An approach-approach is a conflict in which a person is attracted to two desirable goals that both has positive outcomes but cannot pursue both. In this situation the person can only choose one.

    As a simple example, imagine choosing an item from a dessert menu and being torn between the chocolate brownie sundae and the strawberry cheesecake.

    You want only one dessert but are equally attracted to each of these items. Therefore, you have an approach-approach conflict in which you must choose between two attractive goals.
  2. Approach-avoidance conflict
    An approach-avoidance conflict is a situation in which a person is both attracted to and repelled by the same goal. In this sort of conflict, a person must decide whether to do something that had both positive and negative outcomes, for example, being offered a good job in a bad location.

    Looking also at the preceding example, you could have an approach-avoidance conflict if you were on a diet yet wanted a dessert. Imagine you really want the chocolate brownie sundae, but your diet doesn’t allow desserts. You are attracted to the dessert but repelled by the idea of sabotaging your diet.
  3. Avoidance-avoidance conflict
    An avoidance-avoidance conflict is a situation of dilemma in which a person is faced with two equally undesirable alternatives, and they both present negative outcomes. To illustrate this type of conflict, let’s change our dessert example slightly. Imagine that you are invited to your boss’s home for dinner. After dinner, strawberry cheesecake is served, but you are on a diet and trying to meet your goal of no desserts. In this situation, you have to choose between two undesirable alternatives. You can refuse the dessert, which may be perceived as rude by your boss, or you can eat the dessert and break your diet.

Of course, intrapersonal conflicts are often not as simple as any of the examples just described. Everyday we encounter multiple approach or avoidance conflicts, we often vacillate between alternatives and may have a difficult time making a choice and committing to it. In fact, any given conflict can become complex, developing a multiple levels. For example, if you know a colleague is acting unethically, you may experience interpersonal conflict with that colleague and intrapersonal conflict as you consider alternative actions to take.