Resistance. It builds physical strength when you push against it. It puts you in the driving seat when you hold your boundaries and resist your date’s heavy-handed overtures. And if you resist that second scoop of salted caramel ice cream, you stand a better chance of fitting into last summer’s beachwear and touching your toes when you execute a forward bend. Resistance can be beneficial to our health and wellbeing.
But not always. There’s the sort of resistance that drives us into looking for mind-numbing displacement activities rather than put up a kitchen shelf or achieve a project deadline. Most of us can relate to putting things off until whenever – and later chiding ourselves for what we think of as our incipient laziness.
What do we do about it? On face value, employing a motivational life coach to tell you to ‘Just do it’ will probably be helpful: s/he’s on your side, right? Or reading an inspirational self-help book? However, the effects of having an ally to motivate you often speedily evaporate like condensation on a mirror. Much of the self-help industry cashes in on our need for a constant stream of reassurance – that we can go the extra mile and push through the ‘wall of resistance’. We are encouraged to employ our willpower as a superweapon to smash that wall down. If our resistance is stronger than our will, we are going to need a life coach or extra workshop or self-help book to bolster up our will to “get the job done’.
However, when our life coach is not around and the latest self-help book has been consigned to its fate of gathering dust on the bookshelf, our willpower fizzles and resistance springs back with renewed strength. Result: we think we are not powerful / strong / committed enough.
And we feel ashamed.
This kind of shame, the sort that arises out of some belief that we are inadequate, is highly toxic and lends itself towards victimhood and despondency. It’s the kind of shame that makes most of us give up and numb out on half a bottle of Merlot, telling ourselves that we’ll get with the program tomorrow. Only we usually don’t.
So if the ‘just-do-it’ approach does not help us overcome our resistance in the long term, what actually does work for us, so that we may change?
If we want to successfully deal with our resistance, we need to understand what actually happens when we resist. This entails realising that the inner landscape of our mind is less like a sole traveller on life’s highway and more like a carnival parade truck full of sub-personalities who each strive to be the focus of attention and frequently quarrel amongst themselves.
Three scenarios that make for unhelpful resistance.
This message is often not registered in our conscious mind, so as functioning adults, we do not respond to it. Instead, the message is dealt with by another one of our sub-personalities, the four- or seven- or ten-year old self who was the recipient of the original message. We will call him our Child. Child doesn’t want to take out the trash, start the project or whatever. But Child is not powerful enough to overthrow Dictator by reason or force: too young, too small. So Child resorts to passive-aggression, folds his little arms in front of his chest, smiles and digs his heels in. Shaln’t. Shall not.
There’s a lot of power in this internal Shaln’t. When we were growing up, maybe we got coerced or seduced into taking out the trash but in the garden party of your inner landscape of the here and now, Dictator has no real way of coercing Child into doing the task: the psyche is immaterial, so it’s not like he can grab Child by the lapels and issue viable threats. So the power is with the Child. And the more the Dictator yells, the more Child stands there grinning, feet planted, defiant. Shaln’t.
We rarely if ever consciously register this scenario, but what happens is that the Child energy infects the functioning adult like yoghurt in a barrel of milk. We become filled with Shaln’t energy. The result surfaces as resistance to our project so that the days slip by in a fugue of displacement activities or rationalisations with nothing getting done. A few vodkas or box-set binge tends to magic Dictator into temporary oblivion whilst gratifying the Child with a hassle-free dopamine buzz. Then maybe it’s Thursday afternoon with the project not yet started and the adult self regains control and burns the midnight oil in an effort to get the job done. During which time Dictator reappears and chimes in with a few renditions of I told you so, you should have listened to me. Which makes work a slow drudge: scuba diving in quicksand
This is why having an external source of motivation such as a life coach or transformational workshop doesn’t work long-term if your process is passively aggressive. However well-intentioned your coach is, s/he seems to be siding with your Dictator against you. You may play along with this because Dictator + Coach = powerful entity who must be obeyed. When left to your own devices, it’s just the Dictator minus Coach and now the Child knows exactly what to do. Or not to do.
Child here may respond willingly to Just Do It as an alternative to staying safe, or adopt personal growth as a New Age religion in cosplay with New Me evangelism keeping me in the congregation and shadow condemnation of the unproselytized. But that’s another story.
Passive Aggression, Deficiency Myth Programming and Stay In The Comfort Zone are processes usually enacted outside of conscious awareness so that you may frequently experience resistance as a form of lethargy. The reason for this is that, under the hood, there’s a lot of stored emotion – anger and fear – which is being repressed, and it takes up a lot of energy to keep that stuff down. If you want to work with resistance with integrity, then you need to befriend it, rather than see it as a wall which can be smashed down with enough weaponised willpower.
A three-stage program to deal with resistance.
Here, briefly, is a three stage program for dealing with resistance (the stages differ for every individual according to type – which is a shameless advert for working with me personally!).
- Listen to your process. Next time you encounter resistance, step back, take a few deep breaths and soften your body. Listen carefully for that resistance to surface. It will do so as an interior monologue of messages (usually though not always the Dictator) and accompanying physical sensations (usually but not always the Child). Get a sense of how both of these work in tandem.
- Work with Dictator. Listen to the messages your Inner Dictator is giving you and allow yourself to witness them rather than get diverted by emotional reactivity. Do these messages remind you of anything you experienced in childhood? How valid are these messages in terms of what they are saying about you? Investigating Dictator will work to disembed you from his critical voice, question the legitimacy of his messages and disempower the strength of his voice.
- Work with Child. Pay attention to your somatic sensations when you resist. Don’t try to judge them. Work to strip the Dictator / Child narrative from these sensations. When you have done so, continue to focus on the body’s ‘raw sensations’: bring them close to you with ‘bare attention’. As you do so, you will begin to ‘digest’ the experience. The emotional energy will diffuse into your body, lending you more vitality.
With practice, this process should leave you feeling energised and motivated, as the energy which worked against you now works for you, and the old messages concerning yourself and your place in the world have been rendered redundant. Digesting experience is a Classical Tantrik technique taught by Hareesh Wallis, founder of Tantrika Institute.
I wish you well on your journey. Life is your retreat. Enjoy!