Transformative Conflict 

Embracing the process of
Rupture and Repair

Few of us grew up in families, homes or schools where conflict was navigated in healthy ways. So not only did we not get taught these skills, but many of us also learned to fear and avoid conflict.

As a coping strategy, very often conflict remains subterranean in our relationships and groups. This can be more destructive than when it is out in the open because there is little opportunity for it to be transformed. Resentment, hurt and anger tend to simply fester and get bigger and bigger and then eventually burst out in reaction to something relatively small and insignificant. When conflict gets to this point it is much harder to relate with it in transformative ways.

Most of us have not been resourced to navigate conflict in regenerative ways and therefore fall into one of two camps - we either avoid conflict like the plague or we are like a moth to a flame, burning bridges wherever we go. The former results from our nervous system being conditioned to go into its ‘flight’, ‘faint’, ‘fawn’, ‘figure it out’ or ‘freeze’ mode; the latter from our nervous system going into its ‘fight’ mode. All of these states are normal stress responses - the trouble comes when we get stuck in them and aren’t able to healthily hang out in the parasympathetic part of our nervous system where ‘rest and digest’ happens and our social engagement system resides. To be healthy - both physically and emotionally- our nervous systems need to be able to flow easefully between the sympathetic/activation and parasympathetic/connection modes.

Photo: Steven Joel for Unsplash

Healthy relationships move through periods of disconnection and connection that we call rupture and repair. Studies show, it is not the fact that rupture occurs, but that repair hasn’t occurred, that causes trauma responses of activation or being “stuck” in these fight or flight/ faint/ fawn/ figure it out/ freeze responses. This stuckness leads to us being disconnected from ourselves and others and from our capacity for empathy and attunement. This then means we are in survival mode and no longer able to consider the needs of other people. For some, this might be a ‘people pleasing’ (fawning) strategy, for others it may be going into intellectual combat and for others still it may be disappearing by going quiet and not getting involved. Usually, we revert to the protective strategies we developed at a young age to cope with and avoid the pain of conflict as it played out in our families.  

The process of rupture and repair requires us to be in healthy embodied relationship with the full spectrum of our emotional responses - our fear and vulnerability right through to our rage and hatred. Without this, these emotions build up within our pain body and then leak or explode out in impactful ways that ultimately erode trust and undermine collaboration.

The Rupture and Repair process also requires us to be aware of how the victim-persecutor-rescuer dynamic of the ‘drama triangle’ plays out in our psyche - and to be able to take responsibility, and experience and express remorse, for how this may have impacted others. It requires us to be willing to do the inner wound and shadow work needed to change these culturally conditioned behavioural and relational patterns so that we start to co-liberate from the power-over model of relating that our patriarchal culture has conditioned us into.

The Rupture and Repair process also requires us to be aware of how the victim-persecutor-rescuer dynamic of the ‘drama triangle’ plays out in our psyche - and to be able to take responsibility, and experience and express remorse, for how this may have impacted others. It requires us to be willing to do the inner wound and shadow work needed to change these culturally conditioned behavioural and relational patterns so that we start to co-liberate from the power-over model of relating that our patriarchal culture has conditioned us into.

When conflict starts to show up in our relationships and groups it is actually a healthy sign. It means there is enough safety in people’s nervous systems, and the group culture that binds them, for them to feel like they can risk some rupture in the relationship. This is often not a conscious decision we make, rather an unconscious acting out through projection onto others or impulsive expression of our anger and hurt. When we practice rupture and repair through an interweave of radical self-responsibility and regenerative feedback, then conflict can be transformative, cultivating more trust and resilience in the system and nourishing collaboration. Which is to say, we start to trust that when rupture happens, we are all willing and able to do the regenerative work of repair, and therefore we do not avoid conflict anymore. 

At Starter Culture we have  an agreed Rupture and Repair process to support us when conflict arises. We also have regular ‘hearth tending’ sessions where we grow our shared ground to navigate conflict more transformatively together. It is not always comfortable but it is real and true and is resulting in a beautiful and rewarding deepening of our relationships and our capacity to meaningfully collaborate across our differences - and compost power-over culture within ourselves and our Starter Culture collective.

Coming Back Down to Earth - a freely available online conflict transformation summit with loads of discussions about and resources around transformative conflict: 

We are striving for a world in which conflicts are seen as something natural and human, a disruptive space of possibilities. We believe that individuals and societies are able to overcome conflicts about our identities, relationships or structures if we nurture ways of seeing and being with conflicts that do not resort to violence and disconnection. When enough people have the understanding and abilities to commit to holding space for conflicts to manifest their underlying essence, we will see a growing movement towards more healthy and regenerative cultures.