Greetings and welcome to my post. The purpose of this post is to engage in conversation about how all of us do relationships. I believe that we are created for relationships and what gives us the most meaning in our lives is the significant relationships we have with people. When we have positive, growing, and happy relationships, then our lives become more meaningful. But the opposite can also happen when we have conflict, hate, and hurt in our most important relationships. Then life can become very stressful and depressing.

In my work as a therapist, one of the biggest challenges I have with clients is this issue called resistance. The challenge is to answer the question: Am I a conformist or am I a contrarian? To conform is to continue to do the same thing over and over again concluding that this is the pattern I am suppose to participate in. Just keep on doing the same thing. But a contrarian decides and concludes that they do want to do things different and want to get out of a rut and do things differently. To conform is to be resistant. To be a contrarian is to start down the road to change.

Seeking counseling can began the process of change. But inwardly there is a resistance to change. We want to change and get out of just doing the conforming patterns that are familiar. But inside we resist this change and we allow all sorts of issues to prevent us to change. Consider the following example. Every day after work, a very depressed young man sits in the dark in his living room hour after hour, doing nothing, his mind blank. By his side is his stereo and a magnificent collection of his favorite rock and pop music. The flick of a switch and he would feel better. Yet day after day and night after night, overwhelmed by his depression and despair with life, he just sits never once touching that switch. He could feel better by saying yes to the switch; yet he says no and does nothing and remains stuck.

This young man is in conflict. The pattern of his life is to remain conforming to what is familiar: just sitting and doing nothing. The challenge is to change and be a contrarian and do something different. Instead he resists this change of pattern and remains in conflict. He could feel better if he turns on the music but he resists doing this. Within this man is a tension between what he could let himself do and what he finds himself doing instead.

We all can relate to this young man. In general, we all can identify that we all do want and at the same time don’t want to get better. We all do and don’t want to get on with our lives. At times, we get overwhelmed with the choices before us, and we get conflicted about them, and instead of embracing and becoming a contrarian, we regress, conform, and return to that which is familiar. Like this man, we all want to change and feel better, but our resistance to change only leads to few changing.

For example, can you identify with some of these conflicts and resistances: You find yourself feeling sad, but you do not let yourself cry; you find yourself angry, but you are determined to stay in control and not express your anger; you find that you are upset and hurt about something, but you try not to let it show and keep it to yourself; you find yourself frightened and fearful over a situation or a relationship conflict, but you pretend that you are not and tell yourself you are fine.

In each of the above conflicts, you can recognize how in each situation you experience some affect or feeling that makes you feel anxious or uncomfortable. This uncomfortable feeling, which happens all the time to us, causes us to not like these feelings and so we defend by trying to deny their existence or falsely conclude, we are fine. Whatever or however this resistance may be, all forms of resistance is defending and denying oneself the anxiety-provoking or painful affect of these anxious or uncomfortable feelings. The end result is that we remain neurotic due to not wanting to experience these uncomfortable feelings and we find or use some type of defense or resistance to oppose these feelings. It is like a war is going on inside of us, and we will vote for that which is most comfortable and resist that which is most uncomfortable. And so we sit in the dark, refusing to turn on the switch, and remain stuck.

Let’s use the example of responsibility to responsibility. For example, all of us know that it is up to us to take responsibility for our lives, and we all know in our head this is a good idea. But then the reality of not taking responsibility only leads to resistance. So we all know that it is up to us to take responsibility for our lives and the healthy choice to want to get better. Unfortunately, we can all identify with blame waiting for the other person to change first and really having the belief and conviction that it really is not my responsibility to change. As a result, there is always a tension within all of us between the desire to change and take responsibility for our lives and the resistance to change by blaming others due to not wanting to let go of old ways of doing things.

Going deeper, consider some of the following conflicts: A person would like to do well on a test or examination but can’t make himself study and resists studying; the person knows they are angry with their spouse and wants to express their anger or uncomfortable feeling but the spouse resists and conforms by concluding they are not yet ready to do this—so they resist and wait; a person knows they have been affected and remain hurt and sad over the affects of an abusive parent or family upbringing, but this person remains resistant to want to deal with this pain and hurt and so they resist; a person wants to succeed in life and feel financially secure but remains resistant to this idea concluding they are not entirely sure they deserve to make it or can have this success; a person knows that they must feel sad about the death of their mom or dad but can’t seem to let themselves really feel this sadness.

Ultimately then, resistance has to do with all the ways we defend against changing. Anything we do to protect ourselves against the realities and experiences of our anxiety and/or pain fuels our resistance. We defend against our realities. And thus, we remain stuck and in conflict. When we deny and protect our pain and our anxiety against that which we all know would be good for us to do only speak to the power of our resistance. We protect that which is conforming and familiar and we resist that which is contrarian and changing. So we remain stuck and in conflict and not flip the switch to change and make the changes that heal to a happier life.

Phil Kiehl, LMFT, M.Div.
Licensed Therapist

P.S. I’d love to hear your thoughts about this subject. Share your comments and share this article with others. Thanks.