Honor the Resistance

Stuck in a rut

I recently had a session with a client who was feeling stuck between the parts of her that want to live boldly and confidently and the parts of her that want to stay in the background and not take chances. For this client, the fearful parts seem to be holding her back and interfering with her goals. She wanted to know how to push past the fearful parts in order to feel more confident and assertive.

Imagine her surprise when I asked her to flip the script and, instead of trying to squash, quiet, or override those fearful parts, to try being curious about them. To try to hear those parts out and honor their concerns rather than muzzling them. To place just as much value on the fearful parts as on the self-confident, bold parts.

Whaaaaat?! What is this madness?

We have a saying in therapy to “roll with the resistance,” meaning that we are encouraged not to fight clients when they are not ready, willing, or able to do a piece of work. We can also apply this concept to our inner world, where some parts may resist making changes or moving in a new direction in life, even though other parts want those changes.

I think we need to take it a step farther, and honor our resistance.

Resistance has value

Why is this important? Why do we need to honor and give a voice to the parts of us that don’t want to change? Isn’t change why we’re here?

Well….yes and no. Therapy is about healing and creating a life that works for you – ALL of you. That includes your resistant, fearful, or hesitant parts. They matter just as much as the easier-to-like enthusiasts that want to change everything yesterday.

Your fearful, hesitant, resistant parts have good reasons to resist change. Change represents both the unknown and the unfortunately known. Change upsets the routine that your parts are familiar with, and anything could happen. The unknown future is open-ended, and these parts often fear what they can’t fully prepare for. How will they keep you safe if they don’t know what to anticipate?

Your fearful parts also tend to have a long memory. They can show you an itemized, minutely detailed list of every time you’ve tried and failed, been disappointed, made a mistake, or felt foolish when you tried to do something.They remember in exquisite, agonizing detail the feelings of shame, the red face, the queasy stomach, the scorn or silence of everyone who witnessed your failure. These resistant parts of you often don’t want you to ever feel that way again – and if reminding you of those past experiences will convince you not to risk re-experiencing them, it’s an effective strategy.

Changing your perspective lets you see more

If you can shift your perspective and see these fearful, hesitant, resistant parts as protectors instead of prison guards, does that change how you feel toward them? Does it engender feelings of understanding, compassion, or even a little appreciation? Or does it bring up other parts that are angry, scolding, or disgusted with the fearful ones? Those parts are deserving of a voice as well. All parts are welcome.

All parts are welcome.

One more time: All parts are welcome.

This is a major shift in thinking for many of us, but it can be a wonderful way to change the dynamic between you and your inner critic, worrywart, or naysayer.  This week, instead of trying to shove resistant parts in the back or talk them out of doing what they do, try an experiment.

See what happens if you can listen to them, recognize that they speak from experience, and acknowledge the good intentions they hold. Build a relationship with them.

You can still desire and create change, but see how it feels to do so with love for the parts that fear that, rather than anger. And then let me know how it goes!


Photo by Kyle Broad