“Now I’ve Got You, You Son Of A Bitch:” How to navigate unhealthy power dynamics in relationships and organizations.

Conflict is a necessity. Without it, we don’t grow and change. In the absence of conflict ideas stagnate and people sink into the status quo of mediocrity. Conflict can be healthy or unhealthy. Healthy conflict brings about growth, change, and fresh ideas in the efforts taken to resolve it. Unhealthy conflict, on the other hand becomes little more than a power struggle with both parties becoming more emotionally tied to beating the other party into submission and winning rather than the mutual resolution of the conflict. The outcome of this is the accomplishment of very little beyond the increase in the polar divide between the parties. It ultimately creates the very dynamic that we are seeing in society, politics, and in some religious circles today. In the 1960’s a psychiatrist by the name of Eric Berne developed a new psychodynamic model he called “Transactional Analysis.” In this model, Berne takes Freud’s traditional model of personality and makes it a bit more useful. He observed and documented certain “games people play” in their day to day lives in order to have a sense of control or get their emotional needs met. Berne believed that in our day to day interactions with others that we engaged in various interpersonal “games” that are based upon what he called ego states. The three ego states that he identified are the “child,” the “adult,” and the “critical parent.” Whatever ego state you are operating out of can be seen in how you are interacting with those around you. The goal is adult to adult communication. This is communication that is direct and is the result of an established mutual respect that both parties have for one another. However, conflict arises when there are crossed transactions. For example, when a power struggle goes on between two people the crossed transaction that exists is usually one person operating out of the critical parent ego state trying to subjugate another person who is being pushed into the child ego state. This perfectly describes the game that Berne calls “NIGYYSOB.” This is the shortened form of “Now I’ve got you, you son of a bitch.” In this game, a person in that critical parent ego state finds something that another has done wrong and not only brings it to their attention, but emotionally bludgeons them with it. The goal is not simply to bring up the fault, but to subjugate, belittle, and destroy a person expressing dominance in the interaction. This game is played every day in society and more and more in political and religious institutions everywhere. Both sides fight back and forth. When one side makes a mistake the other side capitalizes on browbeating them with that mistake rather than seeking to find a resolution. Blame becomes the norm. I will admite, Berne’s critical parent ego state can be an intoxicating place to be. From it’s vantage point, one has the “moral high ground,” and from there it is easy to lob grenades of blame and ridicule at one’s enemies. However, this oppression and subjugation can only last so long until in flip flops and the other groups finds a flaw and assumes the role of the “critical parent” blasting the other group for their flaws creating a constant cycle of upheaval, blame, and caustic conflict. There is a solution to this though. It requires humility and a concern with the outcomes of things rather than investment in the conflict itself. When a person finds their self in the child ego state being attacked or belittled by someone in the critical parent ego state, they can choose to shift and interact from the adult ego state. The adult ego state has no interest in winning the conflict, but is interested in the best mutual outcome as a result of the conflict. A person can shift to the adult ego state by acknowledging fault if there was any and lay out plans to improve moving forward. They do not allow themselves to be affected by the other party belittling them. By focusing on the issue at hand rather than the emotions surrounding the conflict, they invite the other party to move to their adult ego state as well to solve the conflict in a healthy way. However, some are unable to do this and stay in the critical parent role. Eventually, though, when they do not get push back or response to their actions they will lose interest in the conflict and move onto someone else who will spar back with them. No one is perfect and no one gets things right all of the time. We all desire grace when we are wrong and a chance to grow and change as a result of our mistakes. Only by operating from the adult ego state can we give ourselves grace by allowing for imperfections, but we can also extend that grace to others and allow for change within them as we work towards mutually beneficial solutions rather than polarizing and destroying one another. So, while this task seems insurmountable with all the conflict going on in the world, I would encourage you to start with yourself. Rather than framing conflict from a desire or emotional need to win, frame the differences as an opportunity for two parties to come together to discuss and air their disagreements while also moving toward some mutual solutions based on resolving the conflict in a healthy way. As with all things in society, the change begins with us. It begins with shifting our attitudes, values, and assumptions about conflict and it begins with a sense of vulnerability and humility rooted in the ultimate realization that we need one another.-

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