Tag Archives: resistance

Resistance as a Protective Mechanism – Part 1

modern artWhen we were young, many of us learned that certain emotions are bad or wrong to feel or express. For instance, if we expressed naturally arising emotions such as frustration, fear, or sadness, perhaps our parents believed those emotions are harmful and so attempted to squelch their expression. Similarly, if we expressed joy, excitement, or exuberance, believe it or not, sometimes our parents can believe those emotions are also wrong to express in excess, and so they will teach us (in a variety of creative ways) that the expression of those energies is not acceptable.

As young children, we depend upon our caregivers for survival. This means that our basic autonomic survival mechanisms will engage when our caregivers strongly disapprove of something we are doing or expressing, and we’ll begin to mold ourselves in whatever ways are necessary to meet their expectations and demands. If our caregivers clearly do not want us to feel or express certain emotions, we will begin to resist or repress those emotions whenever they arise in us. This resistance/repression is actually an internal protective mechanism formed to keep us safe—that is, safely away from feeling or expressing the emotions we aren’t allowed to feel, given our circumstances. This protective mechanism becomes ingrained and autonomic; that is, it will be triggered automatically whenever these “dangerous” emotions begin to arise in us, effectively keeping us away from feeling or expressing them. The amazing thing is all this happens without our conscious minds needing to do anything!

freeimages.co.uk medical imagesIt turns out that it takes quite a bit of energy to repress natural emotion, and we experience this resistance as various kinds of suffering. The suffering can take the form of anxiety, rage, depression, shame, blame, self-reproach, fear, restlessness, and any other multitude of unpleasant (or downright awful) experiences. The confusion here is that we often label these experiences as “emotions.” But these forms of suffering are NOT true emotions. Quite the opposite is the case. These states are instead the inner experience of the repression of natural emotion. The suffering itself actually forms the protective mechanism we have developed to keep us away from feeling the underlying emotion. (I should note here as well that these states don’t just protect us from feeling unwanted emotion, but they can also protect us from feeling the overwhelming energy and sensations associated with unintegrated trauma. I’ll be discussing that topic in Part 2 of this post.)

So, what is important about this distinction between emotion and states of suffering? Well, if you have been around the block in the self-help world, I’m sure you’ve heard by now how important it is to “feel your emotions.” But, the problem is if you think that the rage, the anxiety, the shame, the depression, the restlessness, etc., are the emotions everyone is telling you you’re supposed to be feeling, you might be wondering when the healing is going to start because you still feel like crap even though you keep feeling all these “emotions.” After all, you are feeling these things… over and over again… so shouldn’t you be healing by now?

The issue here is that you are not actually feeling the energy (the emotion) that you have repressed. Rather, what is happening is your protective mechanism is being triggered. The rage, the shame, the anxiety, the depression… none of these are the underlying emotion. You are experiencing what it feels like to resist and repress the emotion, and it hurts—a lot.

The natural energy (the true emotion), when actually experienced and allowed to move in a way that is not overwhelming, feels nothing at all like these forms of suffering. In fact, when I started to feel authentic emotion, it was hard for me to even label it because it was so different than what I had been experiencing (depression) for so many years. A dandelion 3real emotion, when felt fully, rises in me like a wave, crests, and then naturally dissipates. It is simply an energy wave with a certain “flavor” that moves through me. It is powerful, yes, but it does not continually spin and never resolve. Actually, in my experience, it feels good to feel real emotion, no matter what flavor that emotion might take.

It is actually very easy to distinguish between states of suffering and the movement of real emotion. States of suffering such as I described above (rage, shame, anxiety, depression, etc.) will come in repeating patterns. The feelings will be triggered and arise over and over again, with no real resolution, no matter how much they are “felt.” There will be patterned thoughts, beliefs, and physiological/physical changes that arise at the same time. Also, the states will probably escalate over time because it takes more and more energy to repress more and more emotion, thus greater suffering is present in the resistance and repression. In contrast, a real emotion is a one-time deal. It will move through like a wave, and it will do so rather quickly. That doesn’t mean a similar emotion won’t arise again, but it won’t feel like it’s the same thing happening over and over again with no resolution or progress.

Because these states of suffering become repeating patterns that get more intense over time, they are often labeled as mental illnesses such as anxiety disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, etc. Eventually, the suffering can also become a significant contributor to physical diseases and disorders, such as autoimmune conditions, chronic pain, chronic fatigue, inflammatory conditions, and more.

Perhaps by now you can see how these states of suffering distract us away from experiencing the underlying emotion because we become focused on the suffering itself. Our attention turns toward trying to get rid of the suffering. We take drugs to treat the depression and anxiety and chronic pain. We read self-help books to try to fix our “destructive belief systems.” But because we unconsciously believe that the underlying emotions are wrong or dangerous to feel, our suffering—which is the protective mechanism itself—is actually designed to distract us away from feeling the original emotion. That’s its job! Essentially, we become hypnotized by our own suffering. As you can see, our protective mechanisms are very effective at keeping us away from the emotions we aren’t supposed to feel.

The rubber meets the road in our healing journey when we finally turn toward those aspects of ourselves that are suffering and meet them in a different way. The rage, the anxiety, the shame, the depression… when these protective mechanisms are met with curiosity rather than animosity, we begin to realize how they served us in the past and continue to serve us even today. At the same time, we can also see clearly the ways in which these protective mechanisms no longer serve us, and in fact hurt us and hurt others in deep and profound ways. It is when we are able hold both of these truths in our hearts that something else—another option—becomes possible. Through this process, the protective mechanisms can begin to let go, and when they do, the energy that is underneath them will come to the surface to be felt and integrated. I have found this to be the crux of healing this kind of core wound.

turtleIn Part 2 of this post, I’ll be discussing this same topic in a more nuanced way as it relates to trauma. To say that suppressing emotion is how and why we form these protective mechanisms is actually incomplete and bit simplistic. With trauma, the sensations and feelings we experience are literally overwhelming—so overwhelming that we are unable to integrate and process them at the time of the experience. Our system then isolates that unintegrated energy (so that we can continue to function) and forms protective mechanisms to keep us away from re-experiencing the overwhelm. I’ll be exploring this in more depth in Part 2. Stay tuned!

With love,

Suffering: It’s All Smoke & Mirrors – Part 1

RoosterKauai has lots of chickens.  Lots.  They’re everywhere.  The roosters like to crow.  It’s their job, and they do it well.  They do it all day long.  I’m not even sure how much they sleep because they even do it at 1 a.m.  It’s apparently a very important job.  Now, let’s just pretend one night I’m happily sleeping away, dreaming of angels and whatnot, and a rooster crows right outside my window at 3 a.m.  It is a piercing, startling sound.  How am I supposed to sleep now?  Intense irritation arises inside of me.  Why won’t that damn chicken just shut up?  He crows again.  And again.  And again.  He’s still right outside my window.  I am so angry now I decide to take matters into my own hands.  I run out the door, screaming and waving my arms like a mad woman, and chase the horrible little bird far away from my window.  Now I feel a little better.  That rooster sure got what was coming to him!

Let’s look at what just happened here.  What happened is pretty much a lot of nothing, except for suffering on my part and a startled chicken wondering about that crazy lady.  In my case, my suffering took the form of anger and irritation.  Let’s examine the very beginning of this incident.  What caused my irritation to arise?  Was it the chicken?  No, not really.  What caused my irritation to arise was an unconscious resistance to what was happening in that moment: a chicken was crowing for about one second outside my window.  Big deal.  But to me in that moment, it was a big deal, wasn’t it?  My reaction was automatic and unconscious, meaning I didn’t think it out like this: “Oh, a chicken just crowed, and it was loud.  I don’t like loud, piercing sounds.  I think I’ll get pissed now.”  No, I just got pissed automatically.  What was happening is some unconscious part of me thought it was not at all okay for a chicken to be crowing at 3 a.m. right outside my window.  That part of me then produced irritation in order to affect my behavior, in order to motivate me to do something about what I thought was the problem (the chicken).  Now, it felt like I had some measure of control over the situation. After all, I chased the chicken away, didn’t I?  Peace and quiet abounded (until the next chicken comes along, which is within the next minute or so).

But what if the irritation never arose in the first place?  What if I were perfectly happy with a rooster crowing right outside my window at 3 a.m.?  Then I wouldn’t have suffered at all, Eyeand neither would’ve the chicken I scared to death with my crazy arm waving, 3 a.m. madness.  There would have been no “problem” then, would there?  There would have just been a rooster crowing, and a happy woman in bed enjoying the rooster crowing.  What caused the problem was my unconscious resistance to what was happening.  In this case, that resistance (=suffering) took the form of irritation.  Do you see what that means?  It means I created the problem.  The rooster had nothing to do with it.

When you think of it like that, it becomes clear that the real problem — the suffering itself — is DCF 1.0phantom-like or not quite real.  I mean, it was real for me in that I suffered: I felt irritated, ran outside like a crazy woman, and scared a chicken.  But really what happened is I created a problem inside of myself (suffering) by resisting what was happening, scared a rooster who was just doing his duty as a rooster, and then finally came back to planet earth feeling quite accomplished because I had figured out a clever way to get rid of the problem… yup, the problem I just created myself.  It’s a whole bunch of hand-waving (literally) and quite exciting, but wouldn’t it have been nicer to just enjoy the rooster and go back to sleep?  No problem created.  No suffering created.  Happy me, happy rooster.

This is true for more than just irritation arising when a rooster crows.  This happens all the time.  Unconscious resistance arises whenever something happens in the world that we have learned to define as something that shouldn’t be happening.  It arises when whatever is happening doesn’t fit our concept of how things should be.  The range of this resistance is enormous… it goes all the way from slight disgust, such as when my hubby drools on my pillow yet again, to feeling horrified at the slaughter of millions in mass genocide.  In all cases, the problem for me is arising inside of myself — that is, I am creating my own suffering by resisting reality.  The reality is, for example, my hubby just drooled on my pillow and there is mass genocide taking place.  If I don’t think those things should be happening, resistance (=suffering) arises within me in various forms such as anger, sadness, despair, horror, etc.  A problem is created inside of me, and I suffer.  I’m not doing it consciously, but I am doing it.  The truth is, I would not suffer if I didn’t resist reality.

What most of us are doing is going around doing all sorts of things to try to get rid of “problems” we created inside ourselves.  We think that our horror and worry aBlue smokend disgust that arises when we witness something like mass genocide is actually caused by that circumstance, but that’s not true.  Those feelings arise due to our own resistance — due to the fact that we learned somewhere along the line that mass genocide shouldn’t happen (as an example).  We mistake those feelings as being caused by the outside circumstances, and so we do not know that when we take action to “help,” we are doing so primarily to relieve the discomfort — the suffering — inside of ourselves that we ourselves created.  It’s just like the chicken.  It’s an illusion — not quite a real problem — although it’s real to us in our suffering.  But it wouldn’t be real if we never resisted in the first place.  I’m not saying that mass genocide isn’t real or that we should simply put our feet up and let it happen.  I’m saying the problem inside of us would not be there if we didn’t resist.  We ourselves would not be suffering.

A couple questions might come to mind after pondering this:

  1. Where would my motivation to act in the world come from if I wasn’t motivated by a feeling that something should not be as it is? Why would I take action to change anything if I accept everything as it is? Sure, I’d be happy as a clam, but what about all those people out there being slaughtered in wars or otherwise enmeshed in horrific circumstances? Why would I care about doing anything to help them? Or on a more personal level, what if I have pain or disease in my body? Why would I want to do anything about that — to try to heal — if I just accepted it as it is?
  2. Okay. I can see how I am the one creating my own suffering. But how do I change my unconscious, automatic responses, the key words here being “unconscious” and “automatic”?

Good questions!  Stay tuned for Part 2 for my thoughts on this.  In the meantime, maybe the answers will come of their own accord as you watch yourself and notice what’s happening.Have fun noticing!

Aloha & peace,