Resistance is Futile
“This is what I do for a living—help people feel what they’re feeling,” I said to my counselor with an amused grin on my very tear-stained face.
“But I tell you what," I continued, "if I could get a pill or some magic spell that would make it so I didn’t have to feel this, I totally would.”
And then we laughed together in the way you do when you’re just too tired of crying and need a break to remember that, though life can be hard, it can also be ridiculous and funny. And though it might not be what you want at all times, your life is yours, and yours alone, to live.
The mythologist Joseph Campbell said: “The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.”
A privilege, yes. But it’s not easy. Being who you requires feeling what you feel. And that, even for those of us who have consciously signed up to try to take on the privilege of being who we are, is hard. Because as you open yourself to knowing and being yourself more fully, there will be things that you don’t want to feel.
What’s important is what you do with the not wanting to feel, or what I call resistance.
Resistance is the thing that feels like numbness or static from the neck down. You know something is going on down there that you’d rather not feel, so you check out and express the resistance externally in any number of distraction tactics. Maybe yours is over-working or over-eating, or maybe engaging in Netflix marathons or zoning out on Facebook. We all have our particular flavor of distraction down to an art form.
Resistance isn't the problem, though. Resisting resistance is the problem. It does no good to try to pretend that you’re not trying to distract yourself. That’s just as useless as trying to force yourself into feeling something you aren't ready to feel.
If you don’t want to feel something, then that’s legit. So feel that. Make your resistance to what you don’t want to feel conscious. Conscious resistance, unlike unconscious resistance, unlocks stuckness.
You’re smart enough to know by this point in your life what you do to distract yourself from feeling. So the next time you catch yourself doing that thing, use it as a signal: “Oh, I just watched six hours of television. I must be trying to avoid feeling something.”
And then, rather than using that realization to try to pretend like everything is ok and get back to non-distracting activities again, or coercing yourself toward the feeling you think you’re avoiding, just let yourself sit with: “I don’t want to feel this.”
You don’t even have to know what thisis! You simply need to align yourself with what’s true for you, which is that you’re resisting, which means there’s something you don’t want to feel.
Making your resistance conscious works because it isyou feeling what you feel. Which means you’re no longer a zombie. You’re simply a person who doesn’t want to feel something. And since feeling your resistance to feeling is in itself a feeling, it means that you’re with yourself again in a real way, and often what happens then is that you actually quite easily drop into the feeling you were trying to avoid because now you feel supported enough to be with it.
Let’s say you’ve been booking your schedule full in an unconscious attempt to stay too busy to feel. You’re running around like a maniac, totally disconnected from yourself. You catch yourself at some point and think, “Gosh, I must be resisting something.” You use that as a cue to try on the phrase, “I don’t want to feel this.” As you say that to yourself you align with the truth of your resistance. Suddenly you feel a wave of fear wash over you, and you realize, “Oh…I’m scared that I just took a big leap of faith in my work and I’m going to fall flat on my face.”
With that realization you’re free to simply feel that you're scared so that your unacknowledged fear doesn’t dictate your choices. It’s the difference between running (feeling) your emotions instead of letting your unfelt emotions run you. And that, my dears, is called freedom.
One more important note on one of the most common forms of resistance that happens to be particularly undermining and tricky to spot: self-judgement.
Let’s use fear as the example again. Imagine that underneath the surface you have fear, but you don’t want to feel it. One tactic that your brain thinks is really effective to motivate you away from the fear is to tell you to buck up. “You wimp! What a scaredy cat cry baby you are! If you weren’t such a weakling and a pushover you wouldn’t feel this way.”
Oof. Some of you are probably wincing right now because this is familiar. If you are someone who has a particularly harsh inner critic that is gifted in the art of kicking your own ass, I’d encourage you to use whatever inner barrage that comes up as the same cue: “I must be resisting something.”
Then, instead of continuing to beat yourself up, try on the phrase, “I don’t want to feel this,” and see what pops up. Interrupting the stream of self-judgement to look for what you’re really feeling is the difference between being your own adversary and having your own back. And though what you’ve been resisting feeling may be quite uncomfortable to feel, I promise you it isn’t worse than the feeling of living with an internal bully. Nor will it be as debilitating to your life.