Inner conflicts in adolescence

General Information

Keywords: personality, inner conflict, crisis, neurotic development, adolescence, new psychological formations, feeling of adultness, trust, needs, ambivalence, self-concept, psychosexual development

Journal rubric: Discussions and Discourses

For citation: Novgorodtseva A.P. Inner conflicts in adolescence. Kul'turno-istoricheskaya psikhologiya = Cultural-Historical Psychology, 2006. Vol. 2, no. 5 (In Russ., аbstr. in Engl.)

A Part of Article

In this article the problem of development of inner-personal conflicts at teenage age which are not realized neither by teenagers, nor by adults which are significant for them and therefore creates the ground for development of deep crisis emotional experiences and, as the consequence, the deformed neurotic development of the person. The author opposes the ratified passive position in psychology concerning the critical periods in person’s development.

The author ‘s point is that personal new formations in each subsequent age period, leveling a social situation of development of the previous age, should not necessarily become the reason for neurotic development of the person.

In modern psychology the representation about inevitability of age crises was thoroughly enough ratified. Psychologists even created the special concept “normative crisis”, that, in our opinion, is disputable. To be reconciled with inevitable difficulty of teenage age is a norm for today. Nevertheless, the unresolved internal conflicts at the teenage age, turned in “neurotic stratifications“, considerably complicate ability to live of the person during all subsequent life.

Internal conflicts is a sphere of problems in person’s development, caused either by the struggle of opposite needs, values, interests, inclinations, points of view, etc., or by frustration of personal significant needs. The author considers as the personality the person’s system of relationship with himself, with other people and with environment as a whole. Personality’s development, from the point of view of cultural — historical theory, represents the process of interiorization of content of “the social situation of development”, that is mediated by individual features of the person. The process of interiorization in ontogenesis represents mutually conditioned activity of subjects in relation to each other where it is impossible to carry out the “border” or “line” between their activity, in particular, — between activity of the child and the adult.

The concept “ the internal conflict “ is closely connected with such inner personal conditions, as crisis and neurosis. Psychological crisis develops in conditions of the long internal conflict. Neurosis or a neurotic condition is the unrealized protective reaction of the person to proceeding psychological crisis. (V.N. Mjasishchev, 1995; A.A. Aleksandrov, 1997; A.I. Zaharov, 1988; K. Horni, 1995; F. Perlz, 2001 etc.).

The analysis of various theoretical approaches for understanding of the reasons of occurrence and dynamics of display of internal conflicts indicates, that only supporters of orthodox psychoanalysis believe in inevitability of basic conflict, impossibility of its settlement and, as consequence, in inevitability of neurotic development of the person. But already representatives of neo-psychoanalysis, namely, K. Horni, are convinced of potential opportunities of the person to change productively during all life and to overcome crisis and neurotic conditions. K. Jung’s analytical psychology, the psychological theory of a field of K. Levin, gestalt-psychology in F. Perlz works, the theory of cognitive dissonance of L. Festinger, the humanistic theory of person’s development of K. Rodgers, A. Maslow, R. May, addressing to a problem of internal conflicts, show different sides of display of internal conflicts. But they converge in some points: when they 1) emphasize a role of parent-children’s relationship in development of conflicts in the various periods of becoming of the person, and 2) give crucial importance to development of psychologically mature person in overcoming conflicts. The problem of criteria of personal maturity and ways of its achievement is extremely actual for modern psychology and requires for separate consideration.

In Russian psychology the theory of internal conflicts of V.N. Mjasishhev deserves the special attention. Substantive points of his theory are the following: 1) absence of direct connection between neurotic development and constitutional features of the person, consideration of congenital factors as only ones of conditions in a number of others. The second position is an absence of a direct connection between strong affective conditions, shocks, losses and development of the internal conflict. V.N. Mjasishchev allocates the greatest role in development of internal conflicts to those relations and connections with the reality that developed during life experience, in mutual relations with relatives, a significant environment which forms attitudes and reactions of the child to the phenomena of the reality. The role of adverse relations in the critical phases of person’s development when he/she is most sensitive to external influences is especially emphasized. The internal conflict arises in a situation of frustration of personal needs or unproductive way of their satisfaction for the person (V.N. Mjasishchev, 1995).

There is a known polemic around of a question on inevitability of age crises (L.S.Vygotsky, 1984; A.N. Leont’ev, 1975; D.B. El’konin, 1997, 2004; K.N. Polivanova, 2000 etc.). The psychologies, counting these crises as inevitable, are guided by position, that if there is such a reason as personal new formations so the crisis is inevitable.

We proceed from presupposition that new formations of person are shown in development of his/her new needs. If these needs are satisfied adequately for personal development neither internal conflicts, nor crises, especially neuroses cannot arise. It is necessary to separate personal new formations from crises and not to make an indissoluble tandem of them.

In a question on an origin of new formations and needs of personal development that are appropriate to them, we adhere to positions of cultural — historical psychology and the psychological theory of activity. Personal new formations and, accordingly, needs of personal development are set by a way of life of the society itself, its cultural — psychological level and are shown through individual’s “a social situation of development”. As the main new formations in teenage age psychologists consider 1) development of consciousness at a level of self-consciousness, 2) development of conceptual thinking and 3) development of maturity feeling.

The self-consciousness is shown at teenagers by opening of the private world which during the process of maturation become more and more filled, and realized by the teenager as something especial, unlike others.

The conceptual thinking enables to analyze, to generalize, to build conclusions, to see distinctions between the phenomena. Only due to conceptual thinking the allocation of the private world, comprehension of its features and separation from the world of other people become possible.

“The Feeling of Maturity“, is frequently defined as the aspiration of teenagers to imitate adult people and is expressed in aspiration to look and behave in an adult way. The author objects to this treatment. Experience of consulting practice gives the basis to consider “feeling of maturity“ in teenagers, as the complex emotional experience that consists of several feelings that are new to him. The main of them is a development of the critical attitude to the world of adults, and, as consequence, development of anxiety and depression due to disappointment in the adult world and in perfection of the world itself. There is a feeling of dispassionateness from close adults that further, at an adverse situation of development is transformed to opposition of to all adult world and to the world as a whole, including teenager him/herself.

“Feeling of Maturity “as the disappointment in perfection of the world, gives rise to one of essential internal conflicts of teenage age: the conflict of trust to the world, as collision of need to trust to the world of adults, and, at the same time, of attitudes to mistrust to it.

Comprehension of a private world that opens to teenager, opening of individual distinctions between people, gives rise at teenagers to the important need for his personal development: need for a distance and independence of associates and, first of all, — from adults. In this case teenagers experience the second internal conflict — the conflict of inconsistent needs when two opposite needs which are necessary for development of the person: need for a distance and independence and the same powerful need, but of opposite orientation — need for dependence and support. The acuteness of the conflict exists because teenagers do not realize this contradiction. Both these needs exist simultaneously and demand from significant adult their simultaneous satisfaction. Unfortunately, adults more often try to solve this conflict in the unilateral way: to satisfy one, or another need, leaving, thus, the conflict unresolved.

Conflicts of “Self-concept” are shown as a minimum in three directions: in reconstruction of “Self-image”; in the conflict of “self-estimation” and “self-attitude” and in the contradiction between real and ideal “Self-concepts”.

All teenagers experience the internal conflict of Self-image that arises as a result of sharp change of appearance, to some extent. If it is not possible to the teenager, by virtue of different circumstances to accept the new appearance crisis can be developed in a neurosis of non-acceptance of the appearance. The unresolved internal conflict of Self-image, can prove in the subsequent adult life through difficulties in dialogue with an opposite sex, disharmony in sexual relations, in difficulties of acceptance of the varying appearance in the subsequent age periods of life and so on.

The conflict of the self-attitude, as a matter of fact, is the conflict between the rational (realized) and emotional (not realized) self-attitude. The inadequate self-estimation is a protective reaction to the internal conflict caused by collision of desire of a positive self-estimation with the not realized negative emotional self-attitude. The conflict between real and ideal Self-concepts in teenagers and at youth age does not cause deep internal experiences as before young people the prospect of the further development only comes off (C. Rogers, 1994, E. Berns, 1986).

The main reference point in prophylaxis and correction of the conflict connected to development of the Self-concept at teenagers is the open action of the adult based on the unconditional emotional — positive attitude to the teenager in a combination with absence of estimation, but at the same time, adequate reaction to his behavior.

The conflict in development of psychosexual function. In the recent past the development of psychosexual function was given to the spontaneous becoming but in modern psychology the same value to its development is attached, as to other major mental functions: to perception, attention, memory, thinking etc. The most essential internal conflict marked by many psychologists, beginning from E. Shpranger’s works, is shown in opposition of spiritual and physiological in mutual relation of sexes that is shown in the conflict of inclinations: a spiritual inclination — to one person, physiological (sexual) — to other person. Having fixed in teenage age, the duality of inclinations as neurotic stratification remains during all subsequent life. Negative influences of neurotic development of psychosexual function then are shown in inner-personal conflicts, in problems of matrimonial relations and in transferring of negative “scripts” to upbringing of children.

The main strategy in the resolving of internal conflicts is orientation to integration of opposite tendencies in development of the teenager’s person (A.I. Krasilo). Now in daily practice the unilateral approach when adults, unintentionally provoke the teenager to development of one tendency, unfortunately, prevails. Thus they create conditions for development of crises and neurotic protective reactions.

The solving of internal conflicts of the person of teenagers demands: 1) to not leave difficulty in dialogue with the teenager on “self-solution”; 2) during training process adults (parents and teachers) should take the responsibility on themselves for adequate satisfaction of personally significant needs of the teenager; 3) the adult should raise the psychological competence of laws of personal development in ontogenesis; 4) it is necessary for adult to be able to react not to the external, behavioral displays which are frequently not reflecting true problems, but on deeply internal motives of their behavior usually not realized by teenagers; 5) during dialogue with the teenager it is necessary to allocate needs of personal development which have not found satisfaction and provoke internal conflicts; 6) it is necessary for adult to study to build the adequate mutual relation capable to satisfy productively needs of personal development of children and teenagers; 7) It is necessary to create a wide network of psychological service for adults with the purpose of the decision of their internal problems and increase of competence of dialogue with children and teenagers.

Information About the Authors

Alexandra P. Novgorodtseva, PhD in Psychology, Professor, Department of Differential Psychology, Faculty of Clinical and Special Psychology, Moscow State University of Psychology & Education, Moscow, Russia, e-mail:



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