Resistance is a common response to change. We all feel some ambivalence towards change.
Basically, resistance is trying to avoid uncomfortable feelings that don’t go away. It’s a little bit like knowing the truth, pretending we don’t but eventually acceding to it. It’s a time-delaying tactic until we are ready. A self-protecting, avoidant, coping strategy. And it’s entirely natural and normal.
There is nothing wrong with anyone being resistant in the same way as there is nothing wrong with feeling fear.
When we are resistant we are unconsciously avoiding the painful, challenging thing we don’t want to face, rather than focusing on finding a way to come to terms and accept it. Even though we want to grow and can’t avoid growing, we try and avoid what we need to go through. Paradoxically, the more we tell ourselves we don’t like something the more it seems to stay with us. Carl Jung said: “what you resist not only persists, but will grow in size.”
Resistance is an energy tied up in holding, not feeling able to go with or give in. It’s a push-pull energy in relationship to something; an idea, a challenge; between one part of us and another. It’s responsive, oppositional: pulling or pushing back. It’s retreating, refusing or reinforcing. It creates a moving edge that traps us in stasis, contraction.
Often I see clients caught between both the internal and external resistance which arises through change and this creates an amplified sense of stuckness. We are conscious of wanting something, reason against it, reason for it, at the same time feeling unable to follow through and then feel frustrated with the sense that the only thing that is holding us back from what we want is our own resistance to doing it.
Resistance can show up in different ways. We can be in resistance to what we feel inside ourselves; internal state. In the body, it may feel like a contraction, a tightness, a tension which can create a kind of internal stiffness. This is where it feels like an emotional block.
We are holding off.
We can be resistant towards current or future situations outside ourselves which we are avoiding confronting or dealing with. Here our mind set can create further drama to reason as we complain and justify away. We may feel angry and resentful. So we then feel the discomfort that comes from trying not to experience the pain we are trying to avoid.
We are holding forth.
Stretch goals; things we want to achieve outside our comfort zone, will often create an internal conflict. Part of us want to grow, other parts are concerned that we do grow and fear what may happen (for example through a new relationship). All of us is not behind the thing we want. Part of us is dragging its feet, meaning we are not feeling ready or able to connect freely to what we want. David Drake, narrative coach, talks about it being a process about birth and death. What is it we need to die and what is we need to give life to within ourselves?
We are holding back.
We may have made survival decisions in our early development to be rebellious or fight back if we feel we are being controlled, which can make us prone to resistant behaviour. We are all resistant to other people trying to get us to do things we don’t want to do. We can be passive aggressive, or not follow through on things in order to give ourselves a sense of control. We have our means to be tricksy but although they may have served us, the default doesn’t always.
Resistance serves a function in maintaining learned patterns of being or protecting ourself. Automatic responses in the nervous system where we instantaneously go into fight, flight and freeze in response to perceived threat, fear and anxiety can become rigid. When our nervous system is full, stressed, we are under resourced and have little internal space to explore movement or change. In other words our system is in contraction. When we can’t move forward this can create feelings of shame or being out of control.
We are protected but we need gentle attention and our resistance is showing us that we are partly closed down. We may experience a thinking block where we can’t seem to think our way in or out of it.
We can’t think our way into change, we need to feel ready.
We need to respect our resistance, not resist it.
In exploring how to work with resistance, imagine a baking dish with a stubborn stain. Scrubbing does little more than flake away the edges. Yet if we leave the dish to soak in warm water and stop working against the stain, it gradually softens. Like so many emotional states, we need to meet it, go into it, allow it, in order for it to start to dissolve. Slowly, deciding our own pace of adaptation and what we can handle. What attention does it need? What does it have to tell us? How is resistance supporting us? Not; how can we get rid of it.
To free ourselves from any internal battle we need to explore. What we don’t want to do is resist our self. Go with the process, not push against it. We need to feel safe in order to let go of resistance. Being kind to ourself about feeling resistance is part of creating this safety. Understanding will reduce internal tension.
We need to hold something before we can let it go.
In order to resolve resistance we need to accept what we are trying not to. Acknowledge and accept before we can release, let go and grow. Firstly, our experience of the resistance. Second, our current capacity. Thirdly, the feelings, often fear, that we are trying to avoid.
We can also focus on what we want, rather than resisting what we don’t. Oscar Wilde said “I can resist everything except temptation”.
A little bit at a time, but the only way out is to go through the difficult thing.
That’s moving forwards. That’s change.