It happens to everyone at some point in their healing process. Things are going great; you’re willing to excavate into your pain, and you’ve already seen some gains.
And then whoa: one session takes you deep into your pain and you suddenly feel like you slammed into a wall.
NOPE! No. Uh-uh. Not going there.
You, my friend, are encountering resistance.
What is resistance?
First, let’s talk about how resistance feels. Most people know the feeling, not the terminology.
Resistance is a sense of:
- Being stuck
- “I know I should go there, but I don’t know what to do to get from here to there.”
- Feeling physically pulled backward/away or of your skin crawling
- The door or window slamming shut
- “I’m not open to this.”
- Sudden body rigidity/tension, nausea, headache, body pain, sleepiness, twitching, itching
- Avoiding eye contact
- Suddenly remembering a list or errand you shouldn’t forget
- Feeling like you need to leave immediately
- Confusion, losing your train of thought or place in a story
Healing is a journey of coming back to yourself. It is finding lost pieces of you and reuniting them. The disconnection or pain is often not from the wound itself but the beliefs and feelings that formed around the wound.
Resistance, then, is the feeling that arises to show us where our disconnected areas are.
It is a strong message: “STOP. There is more to be explored here.”
Why do we feel resistance?
Pulling from my own healing, as well as experiences with others, I’ve learned there are many reasons for resistance to rise:
- You have an imagined outcome in mind if you do explore that trauma. You anticipate that you will re-feel the pain of the original trauma, and more.
- There is an underlying belief about this pain (ex. I don’t feel safe, I don’t feel supported, she might judge me, I feel ashamed, I shouldn’t feel this way).
- There is a secondary wound layered over this one (ex. The feeling of being rejected by a parent is laying on top of the actual abuse, and you fear further rejection if you talk about the abuse).
- You don’t know what will happen. No one likes to walk into the unknown.
- Something needs to be done or felt first (ex. grieving, remembering, saying goodbye).
- You are tired. You know you don’t have the energy to explore that issue currently. Sudden fatigue, however, can simply be a sign of this resistance process. You can explore more deeply what that fatigue is telling you.
- You don’t yet feel comfortable in the relationship with your support person—and that’s okay.
- You are new to the process of healing and allowing yourself to feel. It takes time to build comfort and not be overwhelmed with how strong emotions feel in your body.
- You have a legitimate, concrete question about what’s happening before you can proceed with exploring this wound.
- You are protecting yourself, often because you have had to take care of/deny your own needs to stay safe and take care of yourself through your life. Being alone feels safer.
- You have “tried” to heal this before and couldn’t work through it. “It’s just going to be the same thing again.”
- You’ve been told you “should” explore this issue, but you don’t want to. (This is a wonderful sign that you ARE in your healing process because you recognize that being told you “should” do something does not sit well with you).
- You have anxiety because you have been rejected or shut down in the past when you tried to talk about your experiences.
- You are worried about being vulnerable or falling apart in front of someone.
- You feel shame for your trauma.
How do we work through resistance?
Here is the most beautiful secret of resistance in healing:
Your resistance illuminates the path to healing. When you explore it, you discover your own path to ease in your body.
So how can this feeling of “no” be transformed into ease?
First, identify the feeling: “I am feeling resistance.”
Know that we often project an imagined outcome to exploring trauma, but we benefit from reminding ourselves that it is still only our imagination. The only way to know what will happen, is to let it happen by exploring it.
Then accept your resistance. Befriend it. Treat it as a gift. In mind-body healing, integrity of self promotes ease in the body—that is, honouring the truth of your feelings. If your body presents resistance, that is what it wants you to notice and where the greatest amount of energy (and potential for healing) lies.
Offer nonjudgmental compassion, or find someone to extend it to you. Breathe in deeply and think, “It is okay to feel this feeling. Feelings are not good or bad. This feeling is telling me something.” Be curious and open to what the resistance needs in order to share its message with you.
Ask your body what it needs the most in this moment. Breathe into the feelings with as much compassion as you can, and see: What is your body asking for?
Some answers might be: Rest. Play. For you to pay attention. Food. A hug. Some time. Some support. Nature. Creative or physical expression.
As you begin to give it what it wants, you will reconnect more deeply with yourself, providing the safe foundation necessary for deeper healing.
Resistance feels like being stuck in your healing process: you were making progress and now your body says “no.” Instead of feeling frustrated, you can know that your body is showing you an important clue to your healing. You are in charge, and you get to navigate the path to your own healing in a safe way by identifying what your resistance is saying to you.
Listen, and explore. You will always feel better for it.