internal conflict

[ in-tur-nl kon-flikt ]


  1. psychological struggle within the mind of a literary or dramatic character, the resolution of which creates the plot's suspense:

    Hamlet's inaction is caused by internal conflict.

  2. mental struggle arising from opposing demands or impulses.

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Word History and Origins

Origin of internal conflict1

First recorded in 1580–90
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Compare Meanings

How does internal conflict compare to similar and commonly confused words? Explore the most common comparisons:

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Example Sentences

“If you’re counting harmful content towards your success, you’re just setting yourself up for internal conflict,” Allen said.

I’ve been competing for 17 years, and in that space, there’s always been internal conflict.

From Time

One long weekend may not be enough time to resolve the internal conflict unleashed by last week’s events.

From Time

Even a company like Apple can’t entirely avoid being swept up in internal conflicts over fraught issues like sexism and political views that have caused rifts and PR crises across the tech industry.

From Vox

The New York investigation began in 2019 as internal conflicts about the NRA’s spending burst dramatically into public view.

Rick has no internal conflict about what is morally right and what is wrong.

In the end, internal conflict tore apart the New Jewel Movement.

The essay is about the internal conflict and external cooperation between the first two subjects in the title.

Internal conflict; but the feeling of the necessity for maintaining his position as Czar is triumphant.

In the end this internal conflict centred about Leviathan; but in the beginning I believe that it was of an ecclesiastical nature.

At last he said with a quick sigh, as if at the close of an internal conflict, "I will lend you the money!"

It was evident that an internal conflict had him in its throes, and his intellect had not as yet come to his aid.

"That ought to be enough, I think," said the Captain, with a degree of irritation that bespoke a long internal conflict.


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More About Internal Conflict

What is an internal conflict?

Internal conflict is a struggle within a person’s mind over a problem or question. That’s why it’s called internal.

Internal conflict vs. external conflict

All stories have conflict. Conflict makes the action happen. Conflict is the challenge that moves the plot along. But, if you’ve read a novel or watched a movie, you know there are many, many different types of plots—driven by different types of conflict. The biggest types are internal conflict and external conflict.

External conflict is when a person (or group) fights with something else outside of themselves. For example, a person may have conflict with an entire society, that’s external conflict. Think of To Kill A Mockingbird: Atticus Finch is fighting against the structural racism of his entire town.

Other types of external conflict are “Person vs. Environment” (Life of Pi), “Person vs. Supernatural” (Ghostbusters), and “Person vs. Machine” (The Terminator).

However, with internal conflict, there’s only one version: “Person vs. Self.” Internal conflict is a struggle within the self, not a struggle against an outside force. The archetypal image of this conflict is a person with an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other, with the devil telling them to do the bad thing and the angel telling them to do the good thing.

Think about the movie The Emperor’s New Groove, where Kronk’s internal conflict is literally represented by tiny angel-and-devil costumed versions of himself.

What are real-life examples of internal conflict?

In the literary context, internal conflict refers to a character’s inner struggle. You might say that a particular book or movie is driven by internal conflict, meaning that the action revolves around a character’s emotional struggle within themselves.

Internal struggles of this kind are peppered throughout pop culture too, since they’re important parts of character development. The moment in the Lord of the Rings series where Frodo can’t decide whether to go to Gondor with Boromir or straight to Mordor is internal conflict. Every time Spock wrestles with the existence of his own emotions in Star Trek: The Original Series, that’s an internal conflict too. And, in the Lion King, when Nala finds Simba and tells him he must return to Pride Rock, his dilemma over whether to go back or not is internal conflict.

In everyday life, we might encounter moral or ethical dilemmas that we have trouble resolving and feel conflicted about. In these cases, we can describe this as our own internal conflict about a concept or problem.

Internal conflict can also be used more broadly to describe problems within a whole organization or nation, not just a single person. In that case, it means that the people inside the organization are fighting with each other. This is a little bit different than the literary use, but the basic connotations of “problems coming from inside, not outside” remains the same.




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