Is There Such a “Thing” as Resistance?

Have you ever wondered why you “resist” doing…or not doing…something that you know would make you feel better if you undertook it?

How often have you seen other people stop and give up on a goal or dream, saying that they can’t deal with their own “resistance”?

If you’re a coach, how many times have thought your client was resisting your coaching?  

People use the word “resistance” all the time. In fact, I just talked with a woman today who told me the following (I’ve changed her name for the sake of anonymity):

Jane:  I want to write this book about how important it is for women entrepreneurs to support each other to be prosperous. But whenever I open my computer to write, I get nervous. I have some deep resistance to writing. Maybe I need to look more deeply at what has created this resistance in my past. Some motivational speakers say that our past experiences can weigh heavily on our aspirations and vision for the future. Maybe if I do some more work on the origins of my resistances, I’ll be ready to write that book.

It was a synchronistic conversation! Here I am, writing this week’s newsletter about resistance. I had the good fortune to hear her, a brilliantly creative woman, talk about the primary reason she hasn’t worked on this important book: resistance!

I have a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). For about twenty years I had the privilege to work with people as they healed past issues in order to cope successfully with their current difficulties. 

In addition to my work as a licensed clinical psychologist, I was also trained to become a psychoanalytic therapist. I studied the views of notable psychoanalysts, including the writings of Sigmund Freud. He is considered by many to be the father of psychoanalysis.

Let me take you on a journey into the possible origin of the word “resistance” in Freud’s version of psychoanalysis. This is so we can see one possible way that word came to be a central tenet of psychoanalysis. It may or may not be the truth of the matter. At the very least, it gives us an overview of how our everyday language reflects the latest scientific discoveries. 

Freud lived in exciting times. He lived during the Industrial Revolution and was present at the beginning of the “Age of Electricity.”

He had a robust psychoanalytic practice. He observed that some patients acted strangely or illogically during treatment. How to describe what he was seeing to his colleagues? He may have thought to use a metaphor rooted in the latest scientific discovery. 

It isn’t unusual to use concepts from current scientific discoveries metaphorically to create interest in various topics.  For instance, how many times have you read book titles from about 8-10 years ago that used the word “quantum?”  As in quantum leaps in wealth, quantum success, and so on? Are those titles as compelling now as they were back then?  Probably not. That’s because we have a new metaphor from science that now captures our attention: neuro!

Now, many books on the market use the word “neuro” from “neuroscience,” as in “neurological approaches to wealth, the neuroanatomy of leadership, and neuro-success.“  These will be interesting until the next scientific breakthrough, and then off we will go again!

To get back to Freud: was aware of the Electrical Age and all of the modern wonders that were created by the harnessing of electricity. Therefore, he may have said to colleagues, “This one patient I have: she always comes late, she forgets what we’re talking about from session to session. I think she’s acting as though she were an electric wire resisting the flow of electricity. Therefore, in order for people to understand what I mean, I think I’ll call it resistance.

And, voila, we have the beginning of a scientific discovery being turned into a metaphor in order to explain a more intangible phenomenon. From there, incidentally, he went on to develop no less than five major types of resistance. 

This brings us to the discussion, once again, of resistance as we erroneously use it today. You see, Freud posited that resistance was an unconscious defense, so you wouldn’t know you were doing it, to begin with!

And even without the above explanations about the possible etiology of the resistance metaphor, what if you saw the following to be true?

  • You don’t resist!  You’re really just uncomfortable!
  • You’re uncomfortable because you’re not doing what you promised you’d do.
  • As soon as you take one small, sweet step toward a goal or dream,  or keep a promise you’ve created, your discomfort will lessen.
  • If you continue to take small, sweet steps, the discomfort that you’ve been calling “resistance” will not return.
  • You don’t have to struggle. Just do what you said you would do, consistently!
  • There’s nothing wrong with you!

Finally, what if you, as a coach,  were to see the above points to be true about your clients? That they are not resisting anything? That they are just uncomfortable? Wouldn’t that bring more ease to your work with them? You wouldn’t have to help them process anything deep from their past. All that’s left for us to do is to keep going, one small step at a time. 

 As for Jane in the excerpt above, she’s made a promise to write only one paragraph each day for the next ten days. I have a hunch that her “resistance” days are over.  

How about you?  Isn’t it time you went from your “resistance” to results?

Have a great weekend!
See you next time!

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