The Definition of Resistance
The theory of resistance was forged long ago by Sigmund Freud to describe when a patient develops uncooperative behaviours during sessions. It occurs when an individual’s unconscious defenses of their ego are threatened by an external source. That external source often being therapy and the therapist themselves.
Resistance doesn’t just show up waving it’s red flags.
That’s why it’s called the unconscious, it’s out of our awareness. However, our subconscious, the things we are slightly aware of, knows it’s under attack. That’s when our defenses come into play. They do not want any repressed information from within the unconscious mind to come to light.
That’s why there are so many pictures showing Frued’s theory of mind through imagery of an iceberg. Honestly, I don’t think those pictures do our mind justice. I was recently watching a beloved movie kids movie where two fish go on a journey to find another fish, Finding Nemo. The two fish, Dory and Marvin, go on the hunt for Nemo and end up in the unknown depths of the ocean, it’s so dark that they are unable to see each other as they are swimming downwards right next to each other. When Marvin tries to talk to Dory she is confused, due to her short term memory loss, who is speaking to her so she asks if he’s her conscious. If you haven’t seen the movie, stop reading and I’ll wait.
Great, let’s continue.
This is actually what your unconscious is like, it’s the dark depths of the ocean where there are prehistoric beings we have never seen before. Those scary translucent squids and fish are those emotions and thoughts we’ve never allowed ourselves to have, yet they are there. They don’t make it to our consciousness as they are too terrifying for us to handle, hence the scary fish reference. So they stay out of our awareness yet still affecting parts of our lives without us noticing. We act out these emotions instead of processing them, we don’t understand them. I like to think of a child having a tantrum, they are having big feelings that they can’t put into words so they act out. As adults we do this as well, we just do it more covertly, well most of us do it covertly.
Is it Resistance or a Wrong Fit?
Am I being resistant or do I just not like my therapist?
This in itself is it’s own work, taking time to listen to yourself on what was going on, trusting your intuition and what is right for you.
I’ve experienced both, being resistant and not liking my therapist. It’s confusing as they appear similarly but come up for different reasons and feelings.
When I was resistant it was because I didn’t want to hear what my therapist had to say about the relationship or situation I was in. When I didn’t like my therapist talking to her felt pointless, it’s not like they didn’t know what they were talking about and sometimes they said helpful things but it didn’t click. Looking back maybe I was resistant to their help but not because she was making me face my unconscious but because they were not the therapist I wanted and no therapist was better than having one for me.
A way to work towards understanding whether you are experiencing resistance is to bring up how you feel about your therapist to your therapist without a filter. I don’t know about you, but I have had my filter on from day one of my life so speaking so bluntly about how I feel was hard and totally worth it. Bringing up what I did not like and what I wanted from my therapist helped me suss out whether or not I was being resistant or we were not a good fit for each other. I needed something they were unable to give me and that is okay, just like it is in any kind of relationship.
How Resistance Shows up
We go to therapy to feel better and more often than not it’s the opposite, we feel worse. Therapy brings up feelings we’ve avoided and didn’t know we had, the unconscious, and forces us to confront them. We get to face the terrible truths that have unknowingly affected possibly every aspect of our lives to some degree or another. Resistance comes up as a way to protect ourselves from these terrible truths, the translucent squid thing at the bottom of our psyche. These feelings are too much for us to handle and we don’t want to see the truth because then what would that mean for our life? How would it disrupt our life, our loved ones?
There’s another way resistance shows up, when it feels like nothing is happening in therapy, you don’t feel like any work is being done and you even feel defiant towards therapy. This is resistance, you stop talking about certain topics or anything at all. You become quiet and don’t want to talk, this is after you’ve built a relationship with your therapist, it becomes apparent something is wrong. You start coming in late and cancelling appointments, avoiding certain topics, even avoiding good topics can be resistance. For contrast, when things didn’t feel like a good fit with my therapist I would talk about what was going on in my life and my past. I didn’t find it hard to talk about anything except that I was unhappy with therapy but then we started talking about it more and more until I decided to end our work together.
It’s easy to give up when things feel hard or when you don’t feel like things are working however it’s important to discuss these feelings in therapy before deciding to leave. Of course that’s in a perfect world where you feel safe to do so. Not every therapist will be for you and it’s good to explore these thoughts and emotions with them or with yourself, self awareness is the common goal here. Resistance shows up not only in therapy but in our personal relationships. Therapy is the safe space to explore the scary depths of our psyche in order to break the patterns our ego defenses have kept us in but they won’t go quietly, they have kept you “safe” for so long they won’t go down without a fight.
If you’re interested in learning more and exploring your patterns contact me at:
Natalie Czaplicki, M.S.Ed. & M.Phil.Ed
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