Resistance–we hear about it everywhere. It permeates our society, continuously topping the charts for Favorite Subject of Discussion among personal growth enthusiasts, and unsurprisingly so. Resistance can be hard to recognize. It takes on so many faces, we often struggle to distinguish it from our personality, our identity, or simply put, from being who we are.
I love this description of Resistance by Steven Pressfield, who’s known for his wildly popular and some of my personal favorite books, The War of Art and Do The Work:
“Resistance is an impartial force of nature, like gravity and the laws of thermodynamics. Resistance is clever. It knows if it personalizes its manifestations, it can deceive us and slip past our defenses. It’s like the software that enables direct-mail marketers to send us letter and e-mails addressed, “Dear Susie.” It’s bullshit. Resistance doesn’t know who we are and it doesn’t care.”
Expanding our awareness of Resistance and its favorite ways to camouflage itself can really help us learn how to recognize and move passed it.
As Henry Ford famously said:
“Whether you think you can or you think can’t, you’re right.”
I know this term gets thrown around a lot, and in some cases it is truly damaging to the actual victims of violence, but in essence, this is a form of victim mentality. We can surrender our lives to all sorts of subconscious beliefs about ourselves, and either think we capable of forging our own path or remain at a mercy of our circumstances and remain a victim to them.
Indeed, the dis-empowering beliefs about ourselves developed in our early childhood are extremely hard to shake. We tell ourselves: ”It’s just who I am. I don’t deserve it. My parents messed me up.” The trap is in over-identifying with the familiar feelings of what we call the Self.
Our experience of self, in all actuality, is an illusion. A phantom of our imagination spewed by years of accumulated perceptions and conditioning. To make sense of it all, we develop mental forms giving meaning to those experiences that turn into stories we use to argue for our limitations.
This subconscious programing is what defines and drives how we respond to the world around us, and the reason why we keep ourselves stuck in the old patterns that no longer serve us.
Remember the Pavlov’s dogs? We are those dogs, just with an infinitely more sophisticated bell system.
This is a form of projection, also known as making yourself feel better about yourself. Our need for criticism is usually a sign of the internal aversive judgements towards ourselves. If we were fully accepting of ourselves, we would begin to see the pain and the trauma behind the “bad” things others people do. We begin to see that people’s behavior is not merely determined by the moral quality of their character so our need for criticism begins to fade.
Sam Harris described this phenomenon beautifully in his book titled, Free Will, in which he dismantles the prevalent belief in our complete and uncompromisable agency over our own actions:
“How can we be “free” as conscious agents if everything that we consciously intend is caused by events in our brain that we do not intend and of which we are entirely unaware? We can’t.”
In this quick read, Harris makes a compelling case for why we need to shift this paradigm in our society. The book dives deep into various implications, including how we define morality as a result of this distorted view of reality we collectively subscribe to.
Oh, the self-righteousness we readily exercise pointing fingers at those with “questionable moral choices”. As if everyone’s constantly plotting their sinister schemes to take advantage of us. It’s a slippery slope to the victimhood, and it’s not easy to resist the temptation of assigning blame, myself no exception.
Notice, we often find it easier to love our pets as opposed to our own parents or children. Ever wonder why? Perhaps because loving our kids unconditionally is a lot more challenging. It implies us radically accepting them regardless of whether we like or agree with their worldview or their life choices. My dog, on the other hand, can never do anything wrong. He also loves me fully without any criticism or conditions, even when he gets annoyed and gives me the silent treatment for not playing with him enough.
This one is much more deceiving the moment it arises and therefore harder to disarm. It whispers in your ear: “Come on, you are tired, you deserve another hour of sleep!” Or my personal favorite: “There is no harm in a couple of drinks! Just have another ____” (insert your favorite alcoholic beverage). Man, this guy sounds like he genuinely cares about my well-being!
All of a sudden, you’ve reached that nice state commonly known as “F$#*k it!”, effectively proving your Free Will is just an imaginary friend. Thank you very much, Sam Harris!
In reality, this “friend” sounds like a self-righteous asshole we secretly despise. The only reason we keep him around is because he helps us cope with feeling bad about yet another streak of poor life choices. “We’ll pick it right up tomorrow, bright and early”, he says. “Just watch another episode!”
Next thing you know, it’s 4 AM in the morning, and you binged through half a season of Stranger Things. (Sooooo gooooooood, though!) I guess that important project’s gonna have to wait another day…
We do all those things to ourselves, and then try to sooth the self-loathing by indulging in the very numbing routines that got us into that trance of unworthiness in the first place, so we get stuck in this vicious cycle.
So what can we do to stop being a prisoner to our own Pavlovian responses?
Learning to recognize these patterns of behavior is a powerful skill. Yes, those things are deeply entrenched in us by years of conditioning. And yes, it is exceedingly hard to catch yourself in the moment when we’re habitually distracted. The irony of this interconnected age we live in, we are disconnected from the underlying mental blocks and from ourselves, but we have the power to change.
The best antidote to being reactive to triggers of our self-sabotaging behaviors is being more mindful and pausing when we become aware of the camouflaged patterns of Resistance. We can really make a huge positive impact on our lives and the lives of people around us by simply exposing them for what they are.
By refocusing our attention away from those destructive patterns we starve them of the energy that keeps them alive. That’s why developing the habit of focusing on what we want and on things that elevate us emotionally will eventually rewire our brain and become a new norm of operating out of an empowered state.
About the author:
I’m Sasha Mirzoyan. I create as well as teach art at the University of Arkansas, write on subjects of psychology, creativity, mindfulness and life, and coach fellow creatives.
Enjoyed the read? Find more of my work here.