August 13, 2015


When we are in conflict with another person, or even moving in that direction, most of us have a tendency to begin to find fault with that person. We might say to ourselves or to others that he or she is “getting on our nerves.” The next step is for us to find negative motives in the other person’s behavior. Then avoidance kicks in. We may stay away from that person or show the emotions we are feeling in various unpleasant ways. We might actually begin to view him or her as a “pain in the neck.”

This sort of pain does not call for a chiropractor because it’s not physical. And it’s not limited to individuals. We may come to regard an organization or even another country in much the same way. But why the neck? It’s an idiom, of course, a more polite way of saying “pain in the kiester,” a German –based expression for pain in one’s nether regions. But pain in the neck suggests that the head is also involved. It’s hard to hold up one’s head confidently when carrying the burden of conflict.

The source of the pain, which we attribute to another person who has annoyed us or hurt us in some way, may actually be oneself. Asking some hard questions might in fact help to relieve that pain in the neck. What did the other person do or say that led you to think of him/her as a pain in the neck? Can you describe in more detail what that pain feels like? How is this pain different from a physical pain? Can it be healed, by retracing the emotional steps that brought you to this point?

If a physical pain is severe, we would take steps to mend it: making an appointment to see a doctor or picking up a prescription for medication. Likewise, if a conflict does not resolve itself with time or thoughtful reflection, then it’s probably time to seek outside help. Mediation is a simple, low-cost approach to solving conflicts that will result in a win-win solution. If you call the MSAC help line, you will be connected with an intake coordinator who can listen to your problem and offer to set up a mediation session with that person who is such a pain in the neck.

Of course some people would rather continue in a cycle of pain rather than doing something about it. Maybe it gives them something to complain about. Bad-mouthing another person allows them the satisfaction of feeling superior. But that’s a cheap fix, at best. If your “pain” is someone who lives nearby or shares your workplace, it’s far better to sit down and talk over the issues that get in the way of a normal relationship. However, few of us can do that without the help of an impartial third party who will keep us on track and stop us from interrupting each other.

For assistance with a pain in the neck, call 717-334-7312 or e-mail MSAC at mediationac@yahoo.com. More information about mediation is available on our website.

Janet M Powers is MSAC Presiding Officer and Professor Emerita at Gettysburg College.