I start with an example that I will use frequently in the following sections: a couple just got married. They are deeply in love, but at a party the husband sees his wife talking to one of her exes in a way that he does not like. He gets very troubled.
Every human has the wish to live in peace in his environment. This is called homeostasis. In a conflict the environment is no longer seen as safe. Then the perturbations are perceived and seen as threats. The husband sees his wife talking in a way that triggers in him the belief that she is cheating him, but it could also cause fear of loss, or anger at her ex. The system (the husband) apparently cannot compensate for the perturbation of seeing the woman he is in love with, cheerfully chatting with an ex, and thus he enters into an internal conflict. This results in a dissonance in himself. By this I mean the first vague feeling that something is not right, of threat, internal unrest and tension, but this may expand into something bigger. The perturbation is seen in his system as a threat, and it is thus obviously something that his structure has not (yet) learned to compensate for. In his structure knowledge (cognition) is not available to compensate for the threat. The husband does in reality not even know if his wife is cheating him. It may be true, or it may be nonsense. In other words, the individual in conflict has not learned to respond to the perturbations and does not respond in an adequate manner (that is to live in peace). This happens because his current structure determines the possible ways of responding, and his first response to feel threatened is the result of his current structure. Only when he has learned to compensate for the perturbation, it is possible to resolve the conflict. In this way the conflict is challenging him to develop new repertoire in his thinking and conduct, and in this way the conflict is a learning process! It’s a learning process under high pressure, because the individual is confronted with an unsafe environment, which threatens the conservation of adaptation and structural coupling that he has with this environment. In this situation, the basic biological hardwired, so what we call instinctive, behaviour comes up, for example, the fight or flight response. Everyone knows and has experienced in a very stressful situation, that the body seems to take over, sometimes with embarrassing results.
Because the structure determines the possible reactions, it should be clear that a conflict is not determined by what is generally regarded as the “facts”, the matter over which the parties seem to be fighting. We all know that, because “facts” are for one person a reason to shrug his shoulders, and can be a real casus belli for another. This is well known, but to draw the right conclusions proves to be extremely difficult. In the example it is the husband who does not look at himself to investigate why he thinks what he thinks. He exports the “why” and projects that.