Navigating Resistance: Finding Comfort Through Discomfort
Dealing with discomfort can be, well…uncomfortable. We avoid putting ourselves in vulnerable situations for protection out of instinct. While resistance can lie within a depressive spiral, you don’t have to have had experienced depression in the past to know resistance, it’s a universal daily experience for all of us. There are two kinds of resistance we’re exposed to – the first being external resistance, which can arise from our environment, our social and family support structures, as well as the modern marketplace of goods and services that attempts to sell us products that keep us trapped in unhealthy lifestyle choices. The second, internal resistance, stems from our own emotions, judgments, and thoughts – feelings of shame, guilt, insecurity, fear, or inadequacy which cause us to feel hesitant to the idea of even taking the first step to creating change. So we tend to stay put. Stuck in habitual ways of thinking, moving, and acting. Comfortable perhaps, but not necessarily fulfilled. So how do we deal with resistance without feeling so…bluhh?
It’s important to become aware of how we normally react to discomfort so that we can better understand the inner workings of ourselves, and yes – this realization of our negative patterns can be uncomfortable to sit with, but try to remember it’s the first step in working towards healthy, long term change. When faced with resistance, many people tend to block out the reality of what is actually happening – distracting ourselves with other tasks, overworking, repressing emotions, or by self-medicating (overeating, oversleeping, substance abuse, etc.) Alternatively, discomfort and the resistance to change can cause us to feel like we’re “drowning;” overwhelmed with our situation, lost in the discomfort and in its fears and judgments. This sense of drowning can cause us to feel hopeless, out of control of our lives – stuck. If we continually rely on either of these methods to deal with resistance, we usually makes things much worse than they already are, with discomfort reappearing tenfold.
The fact is, resistance is relentless. It’s a deeply ingrained wiring that we all have to move away from what the brain anticipates to be uncomfortable and stay with what’s comfortable. We are human, and as such, creatures of habit. Not only is this tendency to avoid hardwired into many of us, but we’ve practiced it so often that we’ve been conditioned to avoid discomfort and it can be our default method of working. The brain can have such a lock on us, that sometimes we’re not even aware of our unconscious tendencies.
However there is a silver lining. Just because we’ve been conditioned to react/act a certain way, doesn’t mean we’re completely doomed. We have the ability to find middle ground, a place where we are neither pushing away difficult emotions or situations, but also not allowing ourselves to be consumed by them. We as humans have the incredible ability to actually mold how our brains work and react to discomfort through neuroplasticity. With every repetition of a thought or emotion, we reinforce a neural pathway - and with each new thought, we begin to create a new way of being. These small changes, frequently repeated, lead to changes in how our brains work. Neuroplasticity is the 'muscle building' part of the brain; the things we do often we become stronger at, and what we don’t use fades away. That is the physical basis of why making a thought or action over and over again increases its power. Over time, it becomes automatic; a part of us. We literally become what we think and do.
So when dealing with discomfort and resistance, one thing we want to do is intentionally practice and repeat shifting our less than ideal habitual patterns of thinking and doing into more positive, realistic ways of thinking. Begin by noticing if you tend to confuse thoughts with emotion. For example, when you say, “I feel that…” you’re probably about to describe a thought or judgement rather than an emotion. If you say, “I feel like my life is out of control,” begin to realize that “out of control” is a thought, not a feeling. You may be confusing the emotions of anxiety and confusion with the thought of having no control over your life. When you realize these emotions begin to physically manifest in the body (tension in the chest, shoulders, clenched jaw) you can use the physical sensations as a signal of your emotional state and a reminder to turn your awareness to differentiating between thought and emotion. One final example to consider is the statement “I am dumb.” Again, the thought may be that I’m dumb, but the emotion would be something like shame, sadness, or fear. The more aware we are of these automatic thinking patterns, the easier it is to consciously create change by allowing our uncomfortable emotions a space to manifest, but then also allowing a space for them to be released.
We don’t always need to be happy. We will never be perfect. We are human. We are bound to feel vulnerable, insecure, frustrated, sad, and angry. Rather than resisting those uncomfortable emotions to try to maintain that idea of “perfection,” what would happen if we started to embrace all the raw facets of the reality of our being? When you give yourself the space to manifest whatever it is that you’re experiencing, unfiltered, unapologetically – you might just find that you’re able to let go of those negative judgments, emotions, and ways of thinking that have been keeping you from nurturing and expanding on your truest, most authentic self.
Resistance is always going to be around us – internally & externally. But learning to sit with discomfort and even embrace it, may allow you to begin to shift your mindset as you realize the opportunity discomfort provides us a space to foster growth, resiliency, and strength throughout both body and mind. Still a little uncomfortable with the idea of being uncomfortable? I don’t blame you. In fact, I encourage you to begin to embrace your vulnerability safely as we work with resistance in the body during our Monthly Tuneup, a two-hour session held the third Sunday of every month, where we utilize therapy balls, self-myofascial release, and gentle yoga to begin to release some of that long-held resistance to create a space that feels good in your physical body to live. All you need is your mat, a water bottle, snug clothing, and an open mind to realize that you are not imprisoned by your resistance.
By Sarah Lindquist