Resisting to Change (Part 2 of 4)
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 this 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 get out of a rut and do things differently. To conform is to be resistant to change. To be a contrarian is to start down the road to change.
When you seek counseling, you 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 name Sam 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.
Let’s go deeper to possibly describe what is depressing Sam. As a child, let’s say he grew up with a father who was a rageoholic, or an alcoholic, or a control freak. Growing up, Sam experienced a father who hurt him through a variety of painful experiences. Because there was no one to talk to and process his painful feelings, Sam had to figure out how to cope and survive these painful disappointments. As a child, he probably tried to gain his father’s approval by thinking of ways to help his dad or please his dad but this did not work. Sam probably excused his father’s abuse and neglect by trying to resolve it with a wish and the illusion that maybe someday his father will change, be good, and meet his needs.
For example, let’s say his father said to Sam, ‘let’s go fishing Saturday morning.’ But then Saturday comes, and his father fails to deliver on his promise or his announcement, Sam excuses his father’s failure with the false hope that maybe next time, his father will deliver. This false hope results in Sam trying to view his father as good, while minimizing his painful disappointment. The son has false hope that maybe, if he is good enough, or maybe if his father can be good, or maybe somehow, someday, someway if he can get it right, his father will respond and give to Sam the love, care, and attention he needs.
So now we fast forward to Sam sitting by his stereo in the dark day after day resistant to turning on some good music to help him feel better. This resistance has been created by a number of things, but one of the main contributions is his failure to grieve the loss of what has happened to him in the past. In other words, because Sam had this disappointing father who was unable to love him in the way that he needed, he now has to face the painful reality of dealing with current disappointing situations in his life and his resistance to process them. Sam had a bad parent and he had this illusion that maybe he could change his father, and now his illusion and distortion serves to protect him from the painful reality of life as it really is.
So, we always have to remember that resistance and change go hand in hand. Resistance is both internal and external. Internal resistance has to do with our distortions and external resistance is about other people in our life that have hurt or disappointed us, with our illusion that they have to change for us. So, in looking at Sam, who is depressed, his external illusion is about someone else in his life who will not change according to his way, and his internal distortion about himself regarding his perceptions that he has to change and his resistance to do this. Both his illusion about others and his distortion about himself contribute to his resistance, and this fuels his difficulty to grieve and to change.
To grieve and to change means to give something up. This really means to give up the painful wish, false hope, and illusion that someone in Sam’s life has to change in order for him to be better. As a child, Sam had a false wish his father would stop drinking, stop being angry, and stop being so controlling. He also had a false wish that somehow he could change his dad, and if he was good enough, his father would come through and take him fishing. But because Sam never grieved this as a little boy, he now takes his painful reality and carries it with him into his adult life. He now has a girlfriend, a boss, and friends, but they disappoint him. He now is stuck in having to face the reality that currently people are going to hurt him, just like his dad did as a little boy, and Sam has to overcome his illusion that others have to change for him to get better.
To grieve this illusion means to accept the fact that as a little boy, Sam was powerless to do anything to make his father change, and now, he is powerless to change his girlfriend, his boss or his friends. In the past, he tried to be good to change his father, who was bad, thinking his goodness will change his father’s badness. And now, he has to grieve the fact that in his current relationships, his efforts to change someone has failed, and he has to overcome his resistance and confront the reality of how people really are. Sam has to face the painful reality of his past that there was nothing he could do to change his dad, and now currently, there is nothing he can do to change anyone else. It means for him to grieve this loss that someone from his past did not change, according to how he exactly wanted it, and how he now needs to grieve the loss, that his current relationships with people will probably never be exactly as he want them to be.
So genuine grief means being able to sit with the pain of it all, the outrage, the hurt, the despair, the sense of betrayal, the lack of love and acceptance, and the woundedness of our past and accept the ultimate powerlessness in the face of all this past pain by learning to overcome our resistance to wait and wait for someone else to change, and face the current reality that someone in our life probably will not change according to how we want it. When we currently hold on to our illusion that somehow someone has to change for us, we then are holding onto an entitled wish. This entitled wish is a false hope that someone should change for us and take care of our pain from the past, that we have not worked through, and also asking our current relationships to heal us according to our entitled way.
It is as if we all have this illusion, entitled wish, and fantasy that I can’t change, my parent could not change, therefore you should change according to my way, and you should change because I am good and worthy of this. In other words, as long as we cling to our illusion that someone had to change from our past, and the current distortion that someone can change for us, then we hold onto this future entitled wish that someone should change for us, according to our way and goodness.
As long as we expect the responsibility for change lies within others (and not within ourselves), then all of us will remain stuck and resistant to change due to our bitter disappointment, angry dissatisfaction, and painful defeat that others will not change according to our ways. Refusing to grieve will keep all of us stuck due to our failure to grieve this entitled wish and let go and face the pain of how life really is. If we hold onto the illusion that someday, our prince or princess will be all good and perfect for us, we hold onto the wish that someone will rescue us and take care of us. But this will never happen, so that only leaves us to change and take control of our own lives. Are you willing to do this?
Phil Kiehl, LMFT, M.Div.
P.S. I’d love to hear your thoughts about this subject. Share your comments and share this article with others. Thanks.