And how you’ll know you’re making progress.
July 25, 2021
As Byron Katie, philosopher and author of Loving What Is says: “If you argue with reality, you will only lose 100 percent of the time.”
Life hands you something you don’t want or doesn’t give you something you do want. It’s human to resist that. And that pretty much sums up the story of my life — every time I resist ‘what is,’ I’m arguing with reality. And I lose every time.
Sure, I have periods of getting what I want, but more often than not, it’s the other way around. The ‘easy, no problems, I have everything I need’ moments of my life are few and far between compared to the challenging moments. But I no longer see that as a problem.
When life disappoints, I’ve learned I have two choices: 1) resist what life does or doesn’t offer, or 2) learn from everything that shows up, one classroom after another.
That’s not to say we won’t have feelings when we don’t get what we want. We automatically default to resistance when life hands us something unappealing. That’s not the problem. The problem is not seeing the resistance.
When we resist something — refuse to accept it or comply with it, or overtly attempt to prevent it from happening — we expend energy and give it lots of attention. Resistance can be all-consuming to the point that we neglect other aspects of our lives. Anything to which we give a lot of negative attention, will grow.
Put another way, if you’re resisting it, you’re chaining yourself to it.
To be clear, I’m not talking about dangerous situations that require immediate action and don’t offer the space for lengthy self-observation.
I’m exploring the resistance that shows up any time we get what we don’t want or don’t get what we do want. When our wants are thwarted.
Three ways resistance can show up:
Complaining as a form of resistance can be overt or covert. Overt complaining is easy to spot. It’s direct. It can be internal self-talk or external conversations with others. ‘I don’t like this or that, or you, or them. It or they need to change.’
Overt complaining is what partners do when they try to change each other. Any time I feel irritated and have the thought “I think he should…” I know I’ve moved into resistance of who my partner is. If I voice that thought, there’s probably no better way to ensure that we won’t grow and change together. I can’t think of a time I’ve responded well to someone telling me there’s something wrong with me.
But covert, dressed-up complaining is tricky. We don’t like to think of ourselves as complainers, so we sugarcoat our complaints.
Without ever saying a word, we can complain by supporting someone else’s complaining. By simply nodding our heads or changing our facial expressions to indicate our agreement, we’re complaining right along with them. Anyone who reflexively ’supports’ the speaker becomes part of the problem.
Correcting other people for their own good without being asked for feedback is complaining.
Ever catch yourself complaining about someone else’s complaining? That’s you complaining.
Doing things for others and then acting like a martyr because you’re not appreciated is not only complaining—it can also be a lifestyle.
And finally, dressing your complaints up with compassion is a fascinating way to complain. I’ve listened to criticisms dripping with honey that make me think I’m sitting with the next candidate for sainthood.
Resistance can also show up as denial, a defense mechanism that involves ignoring the reality of a situation to avoid anxiety or other uncomfortable feelings.
For example, my dad was responsible for managing the family’s finances. But his need to give us everything he thought we should have meant his spending was out of control. He convinced himself we deserved a vacation when he couldn’t pay the rent. His typical response was, “Don’t make this a big deal. I get paid next week. It’ll all be fine.” But his denial of reality put the family in the same desperate situation again and again. As you might guess, as an adult I became uber financially responsible.
Avoidance means we see something we don’t like, and we choose to do nothing about it, hoping that time will take care of it. Sometimes that can work. But if nothing changes in our behavior or the situation doesn’t improve, we’re probably dealing with resistance.
Every day in the news, we’re presented with examples of folks who choose not to blow the whistle on dangerous situations — like the unstable construction in Florida or the deteriorating water system in Detroit — because there may be negative repercussions personally or simply extra work. Instead, people convince themselves that the problem isn’t really that bad or isn’t their problem.
HOW YOU’LL KNOW YOU’RE MAKING PROGRESS
You’ll no longer have hidden complaints or be lamenting that life has handed you a raw deal.
You’ll be using your awareness of resistance as a tool to bring your attention back to yourself and make decisions that move you forward.
You will focus on what you can do instead of on what others aren’t doing.
And most importantly, you’ll increase your sense of self-efficacy and self-confidence because you’ll be taking responsibility for living your life fully instead of wasting time resisting what is.