Many people who come to me for group therapy say that they have
problems dealing effectively with anger and/or conflict. This is
a barrier to intimacy in their lives, because it prevents them from
communicating in an open, healthy way about things that are bothering
Problems with conflict are often a result of how anger and conflict
were dealt with in people’s families growing up. In some families,
there is a lot of conflict and inappropriate anger that can be terrifying.
Children growing up in these homes may learn to withdraw in response
to conflict. In other cases, angry behavior may be copied by the
children, causing them to have problems in their relationships with
both peers and authority figures. In other families, anger is never
expressed, even when it would be appropriate, and a person is left
not knowing how to deal with angry feelings. So people may have
only three reactions in the face of anger and conflict: withdraw,
attack, or avoid. All of these ineffective learned reactions can
be worked on and resolved in group therapy.
In a group conflict sometime arises between two or more members.
These situations can be most helpful. First of all, the members
who are observing the conflict have an opportunity to see people
work it through. The members involved in the conflict have an opportunity
to test out new ways of handling it in a safe environment. Other
group members may offer alternative solutions to the conflict and
help those involved to deal with it in the most productive way.
I welcome conflict in my groups. Everyone learns from the interaction
and everyone is a winner because they learn that conflict and anger
need not be frightening or overwhelming. People learn where their
own reactions are coming from and how to handle them more easily.
A group is a “ workshop for life” where people learn
new tools to apply in their other relationships.
By Deborah Cole,