“In every moment of every day, resistance is there, waiting to pounce. The hardest war to win is one you don’t even realize you are fighting, and the hardest enemy to defeat is the one you don’t even know exists. Every day you are at war with resistance. Make no mistake, resistance is your enemy. It will not quietly go away and leave you alone. You have to slay it like a dragon, and you have to slay it anew each day.” Matthew Kelly
Resistance is defined by The Oxford English dictionary as the
“refusal to accept or comply with something; the attempt to prevent something by action or argument” or in psychiatry as: “Opposition to attempt to bring repressed thoughts or feelings into consciousness” (Dictionary. com, 2019a)
We all experience resistance in some form every day, even over the things we know are enjoyable or good for us. To resist is natural; we are hardwired to resist change; our brain’s amygdala interprets change as a threat to the body and releases hormones for fear, fight, or flight. Sometimes though we have to accept things (like circumstances that we cannot change because we have no control over them, and aspects of old age/diseases)
When we refuse to accept a situation and exert our energy complaining, our continued resistance makes us unhappy and stressed and has no positive gain on the actual situation. By arguing or wishing something to be different than it is you are simply wasting your time and energy because
“When I argue with reality, I lose. But, only 100 percent of the time.”
When we recognise that sometimes things are out of our control, it is the beginning of acceptance, reduction of stress, regaining energy and re-finding our inner peace.
“The intensity of the pain depends on the degree of resistance to the present moment”. Eckhart Tolle
All of our suffering is caused by a resistance to the reality of what we are actually experiencing in everyday life and the feeling that things “should” be different.
“Resistance is a result of our mind being attached to having things a certain way rather than the way they actually are. It is a mental habit of the ego that we need to become aware of in order to see the consequences. Only then can we see into our thought system and realize that nothing could be more of a waste of time than to resist and complain about what already is.” Lee L Jampolsky
Acceptance is the opposite to resistance and is the key to intrinsic freedom. Acceptance is letting things flow like clouds or water; taking or receiving what is offered, without protest or reaction.
“We cannot change anything until we accept it.” Carl Jung
Every day, we make numerous choices consciously or subconsciously about how to respond or react, about what we do or don’t do, say or don’t say, ignore or challenge, reject or embrace, hold on to or let go etc. Whatever choices we make have echoes in our mind, body and spirit and create our reality.
When we resist things we can go into a downwards spiral and experience a wide range of unpleasant physical symptoms and emotions; we become stressed, anxious, have sleep difficulties, headaches, experience pain in areas of our body and become generally irritable and increasingly angry and frustrated. Often we don’t listen to our bodies and recount our frustrations to others, letting more and more people know that we are fed up or angry insisting that things should be different, things ought to change. We become simply unable to see that in order for things to change, it is us that needs to change; we need to reframe our perspective. Resistance doesn’t change reality it just makes life harder by depleting our energy and making us unwell.
“Stress happens when your mind resists what is...The only problem in your life is your mind's resistance to life as it unfolds”. Dan Millman
Resistance can take many forms as we try to avoid painful emotions, thought patterns or accept our reality. We use just as many strategies to avoid acceptance or change e.g. addictive or numbing behaviours (drink, food) self-medication or crusades which although might vent some spleen will still not actually change the scenario before you. All of these forms of resistance add more fuel to the fire and compound our problems bringing us more pain by giving stress increasing control over us and our responses. The more we resist, the stronger and the more difficult it becomes to manage.
When we resist something, by holding on to what we want to be true or to happen, rather than embrace the reality of what actually is happening, the potential opportunities of the present moment are being missed.
"Sometimes the best thing you can do is not think, not wonder, not imagine, not obsess. Just breathe and have faith that everything will work out for the best". Unknown
There are endless situations that can result in resistance which can be painful or difficult to accept and get through but there is no movement or growth in being stuck. Instead it is essential to spend some time processing and accepting the change or perceived loss, and look at the opportunities we have that this scenario offers us for new ways of thinking.
“Acceptance of what has happened is the first step to overcoming the consequences of any misfortune” George Orwell
We all tend to resist stress, rather than accepting a stressful situation and either using practices like defusion and mindfulness, or really taking the time to examine what and why it is triggering us. When we have acceptance, we begin to see a situation as it is by avoiding the tricks that our mind plays on us to justify our resentment, avoid discomfort or facing our fears and we become more attuned with our observing self.
“What is necessary to change a person is to change his awareness of himself.” Abraham Maslow
There are many acronyms for fear but one used in ACT to explain resistance and acceptance is :
F = Fusion
E = Excessive goals
A = Avoidance of discomfort
R = Remoteness from values
The antidote to fear is to have courage or ‘dare’
D = Defusion
A = Acceptance of discomfort
R = Realistic goals
E = Embracing values
“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear”.
If your attention is engaged in resisting stressful facts about your current reality, making assumptions, complaining that a situation ought to be different, or shouldn’t happen, then you are not allowing yourself to be fully present and able to gather and take on board additional constructive information that may help you or prepare you for your actual future.
“Resistance to change is always the biggest obstacle”. Chris Paine
Through acceptance, we forgive and release the struggle to change that, that cannot be changed, and leave ourselves free to embrace the moment, be open to new opportunities and move from victimhood to freedom.
Acceptance is also about being vulnerable; and through vulnerability we strengthen our human connections. When we switch from resistance to acceptance, we develop a greater sense of resilience to the vicissitudes of life by choosing peace and to be honest with ourselves. When we acknowledge our fragility and fallibility as human beings and allow ourselves to be vulnerable and have humility, we acknowledge that everything we are encountering is part of the full human experience
“During difficult times, an important resiliency step is being able to express your feelings in healthy ways. You can’t make feelings go away, but you can move through them.” Al Siebert
By re-examining our values we can work to reframe our perspectives and question our beliefs about the things that are causing us to struggle. We will then be in a better position to define our intentional responses and move through resistance towards acceptance. By focusing on the things that are within our control, doing the best we can with the opportunities we have and recognising that we’re learning something from the current experience we move from fixed to growth mindset.
Noticing resistance is the first step to change, to become mindful and change our perspectives whether they are patterning, conditioning, or underlying beliefs from childhood or complex situations like illness or death. Approaching situations mindfully develops our psychological flexibility by allowing us to be present, open and then to intentional respond with effective action or acceptance.
Resistance does have a helpful filtering function for us but it stops being useful if we carry it too far and instead the wall of ingrained habits we create prevents us from seeing whether our resistance is valid and helpful or just obstructive.
“Managing negative emotions is more about embracing the fact that we are feeling them, determining why we are feeling this way, and allowing ourselves to receive the messages that they are sending us before we release them and move forward.” Elizabeth Scott
Resistance shows up in a multitude of forms from a subtle nagging feeling to something louder like an earworm that you can’t get rid of or a stuck record. If we can learn to be present with our emotions rather than trying to escape or change them, then we have an opportunity for growth and to develop psychological flexibility and resilience and increase our capacity to extend our boundaries and building tolerance and acceptance.
“The strongest oak of the forest is not the one that is protected from the storm and hidden from the sun. It’s the one that stands in the open where it is compelled to struggle for its existence against the winds and rains and the scorching sun.” Napoleon Hill
Reframing resistance and allowing acceptance, doesn’t mean condoning; it just means that you are freeing yourself from a losing battle and positioning yourself to be open to new perspectives and opportunities..
“Actively thinking about paradoxes increases one’s ability to tolerate ambiguity and decreases the anxiety associated with uncertainty. Increased tolerance of ambiguity is another hallmark of mindfulness” Carson and Langer (2006)
Some questions to think about/or discuss below:
Is there something currently causing resistance in your life?
Do you see it affecting you in other areas?
How do you envision this situation in e.g. 1 month, 3 months, 6 months etc if there is no change?
How does this align with your values and beliefs?
What fears, concerns, or objections come up when you think about letting go? How do you envision the situation e.g. 1 month, 3 months, 6 months etc if you accept the situation?
If you want to reflect more on this subject, here are some links to get you started:
“Life is not a matter of holding good cards, but of playing a poor hand well.” Robert Louis Stevenson