[Opinion] Understanding Depression from the Prism of Intrapersonal Conflict


It was the German philosopher and polymath, Karl Marx, who speculated in Communist Manifesto that “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle”. His position was perhaps, borne of a peculiar reality – the dominance of interpersonal and intergroup conflicts, as against intrapersonal conflicts. The struggle was between freemen and slaves, patricians and plebeians, lords and serfs and holistically, the oppressor and the oppressed.

In recent time, there has been a distorted paradigm from the Marxian reality – a burgeoning rate of intrapersonal conflict which has been dreadfully christened, depression – the harbinger of suicide.

I dare not assume or argue that suicide is a recent phenomenon; of course it is primeval and has attracted the interest of sociologists as Emile Durkheim, who in his 1895 treatise, Suicide, argued of it to be a social problem instigated by some egoistic, altruistic and anomic dispositions. Sigmund Freud et al had also offered a psychological perspective while philosophers such as Immanuel Kant and David Hume had argued against and for its correctitude, respectively.

Until the emergence of peace studies, psychopathologists had successfully colonised discourses in depression and had reduced it to the realm of psychoanalysis which further demonised it in the purview of health challenge that requires a complex intervention to remedy.

Albeit the peace studies savant, Johan Galtung, had analogised conflict analysis in the context of health studies where a conflict situation is to be diagnosed, prognosticated and remedied with therapeutics, peace studies does not conceive of depression as a malady which is sui generis nor that which emerges ex nihilo but a peak or crisis stage of levels of intrapersonal conflicts between the tripartite entities (body, spirit and soul) of an individual.

Such conflicts could originate from basic issues as dual or multiple competing choices on what to wear, modus operandi for chores, scale of preference, etc, to more complex concerns as feeling of absolute or relative deprivation, self-actualisation, ego, failed expectation, fear, anxiety, love, hatred, frustration, etc.

Consequently, whenever a man is faced with multiple choices, he experiences an intrapersonal conflict. When such choices are predicated on issues of utmost or emotional concerns, there is a serious conflict as regard the best possible option to clinch. As this conflict persists, the rift accumulates with flashes of extreme alternatives.

By so doing, reality is blurred with the conflict progressing to the crisis stage where the individual sees her/himself in a dilemma and can barely predict the outcome or next line of action (depression). At this stage, violence might be considered by the individual as an alternative which could manifest as bodily harm or suicide – all in an attempt to relieve the body of the conflict within.

How then can an individual foreclose or take preemptive steps against the escalation of intrapersonal conflict? When confronted with multiple choices, one must intra-mediate and make swift decision to avoid stalemate or impasse and be proud to embrace the repercussions of such choice.

Depending on context and source of intrapersonal conflict, decision could assume the form of avoidance or denial, strategically suspending such thoughts until the situation is mature for it, confronting and resolving the conflict at the least possible time, or perhaps, indulging a third-party and better still, striking a balance between opposing drives through concession.

If, unfortunately, an intrapersonal conflict escalates, the individual could manage it through the act of conflict transformation. S/he could transform the depression to a source of energy or driving force for self-actualisation. For if we are to go by George Simpson’s observation that “suicide is most often a form of ‘displacement’; that is the desire to kill someone who has thwarted the individual is turned back on the individual himself”, then an individual can prove a better point by resolving the conflict within, staying alive and engaging the source of her/his depression to a halt? By so doing, the individual’s ego is better romanced and the frustration channelled to the apposite source.

Conflict is inevitable and is meant to be resolved. You can always work yourself out of intrapersonal conflict than work it into an untimely sepulcher. Suicide is less of resolution mechanism but a ‘displacement’ which forms a vicious circle of encumbrances.

May we never die until we die!

Charles E. Ekpo is of the Peace & Conflict Studies Programme, Institute for Peace and Strategic Studies, University of Ibadan, Nigeria. He’s the Coordinator of the History4NationBuilding Initiative. He’s published in both domestic and international journals and can be reached via (Email) cekpo34@yahoo.com


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