In a word: resistance.
The part of us that wants to change is, almost always, counterbalanced by the part of us that wants to keep things the same.
Why would we do this to ourselves, you ask. Why do we have such a difficult time acting on our healthy desires to break bad habits, get into a healthier relationship, have more friends or any of the other goals we might have set for ourselves? And it isn’t just that we have a hard time following through on making changes, it’s that a part of us actively resists our efforts to change.
I see resistance as important adaptations to an earlier time and place. If unhealthy habits of eating too much or drinking too much kept us from feeling painful emotions in the past we will continue to use that strategy. If our early experiences of relationships are that people can’t be trusted and will abandon us, then we will continue to avoid close contact with others. We protect ourselves from that which was so painful and traumatic in the past. Even when this protection comes at a great cost. And even when our environment changes and it might seem safe to give up old habits and patterns, they will tend to persist because they are familiar. Resistance, therefore, plays an important role in our lives and lingers even when no longer needed.
How to deal with resistance then? Because resistance is such an important adaptation to the past, we need to give it a voice and acknowledge it. In our personal growth work we need to understand the parts of us that resist change, not just push through and try to force ourselves to change. In my view, we need to fully explore and understand why we might act contrary to our goals and healthy desires.
Often, resistance operates on an unconscious level – we’re not fully aware of it. We all know, or can identify with, the person who asks, “Why do I keep dating jerks?” Consciously, they may have a healthy wish for a caring, loving, reciprocal relationship, yet unconsciously, they may enact old patterns and end up in unloving and one-sided relationships. Exploring the part which is resistant to a healthy relationship will make it conscious. And once we are aware of something we have more freedom in how to act. We can begin to notice when familiar patterns emerge and make a conscious choice to act differently.
This process takes time. Often a lot of time and effort. This is why therapy is not a quick fix. It takes a commitment to exploration of our internal experiences so we become aware of the many different parts of us: change, resistance, fear. By fully delving into and understanding the value of these internal states we can begin to shift our relationship with ourselves and with others.
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