Welcome to this month’s post, where we are about to get reeeaaaal real about if YOU are the problem in your own life. Seriously, this is important, so stick with me.
Oftentimes we find ourselves feeling stuck, hopeless & in a rut. We are doing ALL the right things - going to therapy, using our skills, accurately taking our meds, utilizing boundaries… and we still. don't. feel. better! Welp, I’m here to help you take a good hard look at yourself. Sometimes, we become our own biggest barrier, and this could be for many reasons: it seems too painful to move in that direction, we are afraid of change, it is uncomfortable to admit we have power because power often results in judgement, etc.. However, if you have ever been in therapy, you know that as clients we spend A LOT of time, energy and quite frankly, MONEY on this self-investment, and we want to be damn sure we are utilizing our time and resources wisely.
To start off, I want to make it clear that I am not here to beat up on anybody who has become their own biggest barrier, because honestly, we’ve ALL done it at some point or another. Usually when we are resisting recovery, it’s because we feel incapable of managing what is about to come next. The unknown feels big and scary and we don’t know if we are quite strong enough to make it through, so instead we will just stay right here. In other words, your resistance is functioning in a protector role; it wants to keep you safe! However, sometimes stagnant is not safe. Quite the opposite actually, it can often be damaging… this damage may just be a little slower and therefore less noticeable over time. Just because our actions are functioning as protectors, does not mean they are appropriate or healthy. We owe it to ourselves to take a good, hard look at what behaviors are positively impacting us versus harming us, and to choose only those that serve us well.
So, now that we know everyone resists and that resistance often is a safety shield, how do we figure out if we are engaging in this type of behavior? I’m not gonna sugar coat it for you, it is VERY difficult to recognize resistance when you aren’t looking for it, because like I said, your brain views resistance as protection, not as problematic. So, that is where I come in! I have compiled this list of 10 ways you can recognize if you are resisting recovery, which is step one of being able to move forward.
You consistently cancel, no show or reschedule sessions: this one is pretty self-explanatory; not committing to consistent sessions is going to create a barrier. Then we have to discuss why you missed the last session, review rules, and catch up from a longer lapse of time than expected… Don’t get me wrong, we KNOW things come up and sessions have to be adjusted. But if this is a consistent thing, it is probably avoidance.
You ignore or argue with your therapists’ suggestions: you either have reasons why their suggestions won’t work, say you’ve “already tried that”, or simply just say you’ll do it, and don’t. If your therapist is continually giving you the same suggestion, it is probably because you haven’t really, fully completed that suggestion yet… Don’t get me wrong, we KNOW not every suggestion will work for you. But you aren’t going to get us to agree that this suggestion isn’t working unless you’ve fully tried.
You say the words “I don’t know”... A LOT… without follow-up: many clients in therapy are opening their eyes to outside perspectives and insights they actually didn’t know before… DON’T GET ME WRONG, we KNOW a lot of stuff you hear in therapy is going to take a moment to process. But if you consistently find yourself saying “I don’t know” to the majority of questions your therapist asks you, and then don’t take the time to formulate a response… you are likely resisting something that, deep down, you do know.
Every session has a different topic: there is always some new, present day drama to discuss and solve before you can do anything else!! Don’t get me wrong… daily stressors are important to process, but what you might not realize is that these stressors will likely decrease once you commit to doing the hard work that is creating these smaller stressors.. you know, the hard work that you are avoiding. Therapy needs to have a goal, focus & flow from session to session. Otherwise, you might as well just call your BFF.
You don’t do your homework: similar to canceling sessions, this one is pretty self-explanatory. If you aren’t doing your homework, we have to spend time in session completing it instead of only reviewing it and moving forward. This takes up valuable time, and keeps you stuck on the same topic for longer than necessary.
You easily leap to anger and defensiveness: I’m not suuuure if you’ve noticed this pattern in YOUR life, but I know that in my life, anger is a front. If I’m angry, I get curious first. Am I really angry? Or am I covering up a more “uncomfortable” emotion. Like fear, or shame, or disappointment. Anger is a good place to start, but if you stay in anger and jump to defensiveness, you are not letting your guard down; you are not being vulnerable. You’ve got to be both of those things in a therapy room for it to be effective. YES it takes some time. And it takes a little pushing from your therapist too. We aren’t here to hurt your feelings or make you the bad guy, but we are here to keep you accountable for your life and the role you play in it.
You ignore or belittle the progress you ARE making: any progress you are making either isn’t enough, was the result of luck, or has created another problem entirely. This avoidance of honoring your progress indicates to me that you fear completing the process. You might think, “If I improve, then I don’t come here every week... which means I don’t have someone to talk to and I have to start doing big scary life stuff that I am not ready for.” Welp, I’m here to tell you that despite every stereotypical belief about therapists out there, WE DON’T EXPECT OR EVEN WANT YOU TO STAY IN THERAPY FOREVER. Our ultimate goal is to get you back out into your life. We aren’t going to up and cut you off, you can always have check-in sessions whenever you need. We will help you through the transition; you can do this!
Your sessions are centered around blame: you hyperfocus on someone else as the problem, which takes your power away and makes you appear helpless, insinuating change is impossible without that person changing first. This also goes hand in hand with hyperfocus on all the other external barriers you are facing… “well, it doesn’t even matter if I change because x, y & z will still be a problem”
Laughing or joking around: humor is definitely a necessary tool in therapy settings, but when you try to make light of a serious, heavy situation, you are likely avoiding feeling or going deeper. This could be distraction or funny anecdotes, but the one I see the most both in and out of my office is self-deprecating jokes. Playing the jester is a coat of armor that says, “Hey, I’m lighthearted! You can’t hurt my feelings! I don’t get sad or mad, I’m a happy fella!”. Well, we’ve got to peel back the layers of that armor and get underneath if we are going to make any positive progress y’all. I know it isn’t as “fun”, but are your jokes really that fun? Or are you frantically spewing out whatever comes to mind to try and regulate your emotions? I’ll let you in on a little secret: that doesn’t work. Pushing away emotions is not the same as regulating them.
Intentionally distracting your therapist: wanting to do a quick update about the good things that have happened since you last met or give an update on an old situation is one thing, but when 20+ of your 50 minute session is spent on you telling me about how you went to three different Targets before you found the right brand and size of TV and the store clerks were SO MEAN... you are distracting from something you don’t want to get into. And lemme tell ya… you ain’t fooling me y’all.
BONUS - Everything you discuss with your therapist goes in one ear, and out the other the second you leave the office: if you don’t think about your therapy session at any other point in your week except for the 50 minutes you are in your therapy session… you’re not doing all you can be doing. Therapy is like school, or trainings, or church, or wherever else you LEARN THINGS. They can’t just be talked about, they have to be applied. And in this scenario, the environment for your application is EVERY DAY LIFE. Yes, you need a break from therapy. Yes, some specific forms of therapy like trauma processing are meant to be “left in the office”, but there are plenty of ways to spend 30 minutes or so every day or every other day practicing what you are learning. It’s truly the only way this process is going to work.
Now that we know what to look out for, what can we do about these resistance behaviors? Well, there is a lot we can do! That’s the great news; there are a lot of ways to remove yourself as your own biggest barrier. The “bad” news is that the solutions are quite situationally dependent upon which of those 11 things you are engaging in, so I cannot possibly hit on them all in this one blog post. My best suggestion for you is to reach out for help, try your very best to be vulnerable, and above all else, trust your therapist! Sometimes we get defensive when these behaviors are brought to our attention. It might feel like an attack, or perhaps like our therapist is just in a bad mood and is fed up with our sh*t so they are using OUR session time just to lay into us. I’m here to tell you that if your therapist is trustworthy and you allow that trust to seep into your relationship, then you WILL buy into the truth that they care about you deeply. If you have that trust and understanding, then you KNOW that any criticism they give is simply to provide an outside perspective and help you improve.
Something to take note of about this list, is that it pertains particularly to people who are already engaged in therapy. If you are not in therapy, and therefore feel like this list does not apply to you… well, you’re wrong. I watch each and every one of these behaviors occur both in my office and in my personal life. The resistance is real y’all! ALSO, if you’re not in therapy, my question to you is this: Why?? Is your life going that well? If so, Kudos to you! If not… I challenge you to look at that as a resistance in itself. What barriers are you sitting on (money, time, motivation…) that are keeping you out of therapy, and how can you get yourself there? At this point, you might be thinking that I'm doing a lot of chirping, but here's the thing. I know all of this stuff is resistance because, yes, I watch my clients do it. But first and foremost, I HAVE DONE IT MYSELF. And I have learned that NONE of these things serve me well over time. There is a place and space for resistance until our window of tolerance has widened, but it is not okay to stay stuck forever. Take it from me, you lose yourself; you lose your why. And I don't want that to happen to you.
All & all, how you spend your precious session time is your own choice. How you move towards recovery throughout your life is your choice. The phrase, “you get out of it what you put into it”, is 100% accurate here. We KNOW that this process takes time. It is why we don’t bring you in the office and say “Okay, we have ten sessions and ten sessions only. You better tell me everything you can RIGHT NOW and don’t stop talking for the next 50 minutes.” No. We tell you this is a long process. We tell you we are going to walk with you through it. And when we say that, we mean it. Through good, bad, hard, easy… all of it. We are here for you. And if during that process you are resisting recovery for WHATEVER reason, it is our job to call you out on it. And honey, WE WILL. So here is your warning. Check this list and recognize your patterns before you are blindsided by them in therapy. We are a great tool, but you can be too with a little self-awareness and motivation to change. If you are at a total loss as to how to remove some of these false protectors from your life, I URGE you to be open to feedback and willing to attempt suggested solutions. Soon enough, with some practice and patience, you will see that fear of change is a normal part of life, and your support system WILL help you through it! You don’t need to stay stuck to be important or safe. Holding onto your issues does not make you more valid or more worthy. The right people will not forget about you or leave you behind. You can heal into recovery and still live a full, balanced life. Yes, it is a change. No, it won’t be easy. But I promise, it’ll be more than worth it.