Resistance

What is resistance? In therapy, we talk about this word a lot. We identify resistance. We put a number on it and call it out. And, in the end, we learn how to break it down and navigate through it. 

I thought I knew how to identify resistance, but it wasn’t until recently that I really started to understand the concept of resistance and how it truly affects our lives. The dictionary definition of resistance is “the refusal to accept or comply with something; the attempt to prevent something by action or argument.”

The last few weeks, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about those first few words, that resistance is “the refusal to accept.” An image that comes to mind is a person swimming against the current. This person wants to get past the waves that are hitting the shore so they can enjoy the peaceful open sea on the other side. They fight each surge the ocean brings, attempting to cut through each wave, in a desperate attempt to reach their goal. 

The person swimming is tired—mentally, emotionally, and physically. They might make it out past the waves; they may not. But one thing is certain, the battle they are fighting is exhausting. Of course, this is nothing more than an image. How does resistance play out in our lives? 

Maybe resistance looks like frustration. 

  • I always have to work. I never have any time for me. I’m exhausted. 

Maybe resistance is the end result of comparison. 

  • She’s a better mom than I am because she does fun crafts with her kids. I never do any crafts with my kids. I suck at the mom gig.   

Maybe resistance is the ugly feeling we have when we are arguing with our loved one. You know that surge of emotion that causes us to react during a disagreement instead of listening to their point of view?

  • You always blame me for everything! I’m so tired of this! If you would just help out more, things would be different around here.

RESISTANCE. RESISTANCE. RESISTANCE.   

If resistance can be defined as “the refusal to accept” then the opposite of resistance is—acceptance. I’ve come to realize in my personal life that I have a hard time accepting most things. I’m a natural fighter—I think most humans are. However, the more I practice mindfulness (staying with the present moment without judgment) the more I’m able to identify my own resistance. And the more I am able to identify my resistance, the more I am able to move into acceptance. So, what does acceptance looks like? 

  • I’m grateful for my job. Tonight, I’m going to take some time to meet my needs. (acceptance of situation) 

  • She is a great mom! I don’t need to do crafts with my kids to be a great mom, too.

(acceptance of self)  

  • I’m just going to listen to my partner right now and sit with this uncomfortable feeling. I’m going to find the truth in what he/she is sharing with me and validate it. (acceptance of emotions) 

Instead of fighting the waves of resistance, we can learn to move with them. Sometimes the best way past the constant barrage of waves in life is seeking the help of a friend, sometimes it is focusing on your breath, and sometimes it is concentrating on gratitude. Learning the tools to helps us navigate rough water is like using a paddle board to get to the open sea. Instead of engaging in a mental war, we can learn to let go. Resistance never serve us. It puts us in a trap. I’m going to leave you with a quote from one of my favorites. 

“Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it. Make it your friend and ally, not your enemy. This will miraculously transform your whole life.” --Eckhart Tolle.



Attachment Style: How Can I Develop A Secure Attachment?

Your ability to develop and maintain romantic relationships, business dealings, friendships, and even investments are predicted within the first 6 months of your life. In fact, there is now evidence to suggest your in-utero experiences feed into these prophetic patterns.  

Based in the observations of psychologists John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, attachment styles are believed to predict how you interact with your environment as well as yourself, and are primarily influenced by the early interactions with caregivers. Understanding attachment styles is critical in developing healthy romance, friendships, business, hobbies, etc. Failing to understand them means risking repetitive failures and stagnation throughout life.

Once an attachment style is formed, it becomes your autopilot; a fallback form of self-preservation and interaction when under stress.

Each attachment style is paired with an underlying belief around safety of self and others. These beliefs are deeply embedded, so they DO NOT like to be proven false. When they are confronted, aggression, repulsion, or anxiety commonly occur.

There are ultimately thought to be four types of attachment styles: secure, avoidant, anxious, and anxious avoidant.

Secure Attachment

“I’m okay, you’re okay”

Your caregivers were consistent, sensitive, and responsive when you were young. You learned how to self-soothe, and when you couldn’t, you knew you could always rely on your parents and seek help and safety in them.

As an adult, you are comfortable in displaying your affection and interest. Others may describe you as confident and caring. You are alright with being alone and allowing others to have time to themselves as well and you tend to be more adept at drawing boundaries and prioritizing relationships.

Avoidant Attachment

“I’m okay, you’re not okay”

You are proud in your ability to stubbornly solve problems on your own. You may even have a tendency to go solve others’ problems as well; regardless of whether they asked you to or not. Especially in relationships, emotional expression and authentic intimacy is difficult, and you complain about people getting “too close,” or “clingy.” Because of your relationship history, you always have an exit strategy; both with work and romance. Your ego is fragile so you either become dismissive or angry when challenged.

Your parents discouraged crying and neglected you as they encouraged early independence. You may now describe your childhood as “forced to grow up too quickly.” As a child you learned to suppress your desire to seek out a parent for comfort when frightened, distressed, or in pain because you knew you couldn’t rely on your caregivers. You learned to avoid or fear relationships and rely on self for safety.

Anxious Attachment

“You’re okay, I’m not okay

Your friends may say “you have a hard time letting go.” When it comes to relationships, profession, school, friendships, and life in general, you tend to hang on far too long; giving far too much of yourself to “make things work.”

Having relationships and serving others helps you forget your inner chaos and lack of trust toward yourself. Keeping an overly positive outward focus is crucial for anxious types as positivity makes people like you, and people liking you is safe.

As a child, your parents were probably not neglectful, but were more likely smothering and over-protective; helicopter parents. This prevented you from learning how to self-soothe and forced you to rely on them for stability. It’s also possible you had to earn affection by being the perfect child; a conditional sort of love.

Anxious Avoidant Attachment

“No one is okay”

You can build relationships quickly, but they tend to be brief. Within work, if you can maintain a job for long enough, it seems like others are conspiring against you, are jealous of you, or are just trying to get rid of you. Your life seems to be characterized by extremes of love and hate, and when others break ties with you, your gut reaction is to burn bridges and assassinate character.

You long for relationships, and you are terrified of them at the same time. It seems like you have an infinite list of evidence supporting your reason to fear and be ever vigilant of others.

In your childhood, you were more likely to be neglected or abused compared to the other attachment styles. This doesn’t necessarily mean your parents were cruel. They may have not been physically able to care or tend to your needs, or their attempts toward care may have been inconsistent, ineffective, or harmful.

Attachment Styles in Relationships

As mentioned previously, the underlying belief systems with attachment styles don’t like to be countered. This pattern tends to create predictable relationship dynamics.

Secure types can thrive when pairing up with secure, anxious, and avoidant types. They can offer reassurance with anxious types, and give avoidant types the space they need. When paired with a secure type, avoidant and anxious types can take on more characteristics of secure attachment. However, the opposite is also true; the secure type can become more anxious or avoidant when paired with one.

Avoidant types often will find themselves attracted to those with anxious attachment. The reasoning for this is that both subconsciously agree that one member of the relationship is okay and the other is not. Though this may be functional for a period, the chasing game of the clinging anxious type and fleeing avoidant type can result in a decay of intimacy and communication. Two avoidant or anxious types tend to not pair up as their underlying beliefs contradict one another.

Anxious avoidant types are more likely to be alone than the other attachment styles. However, anxious avoidants are prone to enter into relationships with other anxious avoidants. Though the relationship may be enduring, it is not likely to be healthy or functional. Simply put, insecurity attracts insecurity.

Secure Development

From what you’ve read thus far, it may seem like you’ve been doomed from the start. However, there are a few key concepts that can move anyone (regardless of how doomed they seem) toward a secure attachment style. These are: boundaries, mindfulness, and being wisely wrong.

It is through successful use of boundaries in your relationships that you learn safety and security. When avoidant attachment is present, it’s crucial to open up, practice vulnerability in safe relationships, and develop friendships while allowing some of those hard boundaries to flex. Those with anxious attachment must focus on developing and discovering self while creating more firm and healthy boundaries. As for anxious avoidant types, both flexible and hard boundaries are needed. Connecting with self and connecting with others is also necessary.

You may think that boundaries are all you need. The problem is that without mindfulness, you’ll never know where to draw boundaries, where to reinforce them, and where to lower them. Mindfulness is simply awareness and acceptance of the present. It allows you to recognize successes and failures within your relationships, and make changes for the future.

Socrates, the creator of Western philosophy, said that wisdom comes first through acceptance of truly knowing nothing followed by acquisition of reasoning and knowledge, and experience of inspiration. To counter faulty, outdated beliefs wreaking havoc on your life, you have to allow the possibility that your beliefs may be wrong. The avoidant needs to ask themselves “is this other person safe?” Where the anxious type needs to ask the same question about themselves “am I safe?” The anxious avoidant needs to ask “can I be safe, and can this other person be safe?”

These concepts can be practiced alone; however, they are far more likely to be effective when guided by the hand of a trained specialist. A licensed psychotherapist has training to assist you in noting where boundaries are more likely to be effectively placed or removed, they are able to train you in practicing mindfulness, and they can call you out on your unhealthy and ineffective beliefs.

- Joe Dennis, MA, CMHC

instagram @joedennis.counsels

Mindfulness

What does mindfulness really mean? It means committing to the present moment. It means fully engaging with your mind, body, and soul. It means grounding yourself in the here and now and allowing whatever is to just. be. 

When we practice mindfulness, we stay away from judgements. We observe our thoughts and notice the judgments as they come up, but we don’t attach ourselves to them. We stay curious. We notice them. We let them go. 

This week, I made a goal to start practicing mindfulness while I am driving to and from all the things. I say “practicing mindfulness” because being mindful is not a science! There are no rules or ridge ways of doing it. Here’s the only trick-invest yourself fully in whatever you are doing at the time. If you are driving, focus on driving. If you are eating, focus on the experience of eating. If you are listening to someone, be 100% all in.

After you have practiced mindfulness, ask yourself how it felt! Do you feel calmer? More connected? More engaged? More in control? Our society/culture has our brains going about a hundred different directions all at once, all the time. Do you want to slow things down and feel centered? Practice mindfulness. 🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻

5 Reasons Why Seeing a Counselor Isn’t “Weak.”

Blame it on mental health stigma and a culture that believes in “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps,” but most of us have picked up on the shame that can be associated with getting counseling or therapy. Many of my clients mention the stigma and shame they have to overcome in order to attend their first counseling session. Sometimes their families say things like, “You’re not strong enough to do it on your own,” or “Wow, something must be ‘wrong’ with you if you need therapy.” I often spend some time talking with my clients on why those comments can be ignorant and straight up wrong. Therefore, I think it’s appropriate my first blog post address this issue officially. Here are just 5 reasons why attending mental health counseling doesn’t make you weak… in fact, it makes you pretty badass!

  1. It takes courage: Courage means you do something that frightens you. It means you have strength in the face of pain or grief. I would argue that courage is the opposite of weakness. Facing our hard stuff (which is pretty much what counseling is all about) is therefore defined as a courageous act. It’s not weak.

  2. Change is hard: I propose that doing something “hard” like changing, facing uncomfortable emotions, taking responsibility… is the opposite of weak. What’s EASY is doing the same thing we always do; it can be the road of least resistance. Pretending like nothing is wrong and acting stoic can prevent authenticity and movement. What is HARD and brave is growth – working toward a goal, the discipline to feel and deal with things we want to change. Change is hard, and change is what happens in therapy. It’s not weak.

  3. Getting professional help is smart: When I hire a physical therapist for an injury, a personal trainer to support my fitness goals, or a rheumatologist to help my arthritis, I don’t encounter stigma or shame. Counseling is the mental health equivalent to many interventionists for physical health. You recognize something isn’t working and you seek professional assistance. This is a smart choice, not a weak choice. In counseling we strengthen mental health muscles and build up mental health systems. We set measurable goals and practice interventions to reach these mental health goals. It’s not weak.

  4. Valuing mental wellness is a positive investment: My clients value mental health. They value balance and improvement. I’m always a little confused why this is considered shameful or weak. For example, I value education and have invested a lot of time and money furthering my education. Similarly, mental health is something I value that requires time and money, be it via self-help books, medication, or mental health counseling. Those who seek to better their mental health are making an investment in their well-being. I think we all agree that’s not a bad thing. Mental health is a major component of overall wellbeing. It’s not weak.

  5. The proof’s in the pudding: I received this email from a recent first-time client: “I just want to say that last night after leaving our appointment, I was filled with such a light and excited feeling.  Hard to describe but it was a true happiness I haven’t felt in a long time.  I am really looking forward to your guidance and knowledge in helping me rediscover and connect with my soul.  I am ready for this journey.” If this is an outcome of counseling and people around us say counseling is weak… perhaps that’s okay. If the outcomes are joy and happiness, maybe we can just give the stigma the middle finger as we smile (like, smile big) and as we proceed forward on the high road. If you’ve been on the fence and think it might be time to improve your mental wellness, I would love to support you on that journey. I know it will be worth it! And again, it’s not weak.

Tiffany Roe, Clinical Mental Health Counselor