When you want to improve your life, part of your psychology can work against you. In other words, you can have a resistance to change. This is normal. Resistance can originate in childhood and grow stronger over a lifetime. Most of us have several ways of resisting change.
Generally, resistance and self-improvement go together. Often showing up during self-improvement work as unexpected thoughts or feelings, resistance doesn’t mean you won’t or can’t change, but it can slow you down or stop you. Here is one form that resistance to self-improvement commonly takes:
- “I already know this stuff about myself.”
- “It couldn’t have been that bad.”
- “This is ridiculous!”
- “Well of course I was angry about that!”
- “My life wasn’t that important; there’s no use in thinking about it.”
What you’re doing here is talking yourself out of trying. While resistance can take less obvious forms, it can happen when your current situation is emotionally similar to an event from your childhood.
Self-awareness is the first step to change. If you notice you’re resisting change or if someone brings this to your attention, acknowledge it. If you feel comfortable, talk about or write down what happens with your thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and behavior.
Look for anything in the following list that you have noticed yourself doing when you think about emotional situations:
- losing focus
- getting drowsy
- getting bored
- becoming restless
- getting hungry
- getting angry
- going “blank”
Overcoming it is usually a choice requiring dedication, patience and sometimes professional counseling. The following suggestions are among the hundreds available in books; on the internet; in counseling and elsewhere.
1. The first step in overcoming resistance is self awareness. Knowing beforehand what you want to change, why, and what the change will accomplish then writing this down is helpful. For example:
“I don’t know why but I can’t always be affectionate with my partner. I get anxious when I try unless I have a few drinks. I want to change this because underneath, I’m very affectionate. Plus she’s hurting and we’re fighting more. I want this to stop and feel more adequate and comfortable in the relationship.”
2. Step back and look at the situation objectively and identify how you resist change and write this down. For example, do you deny the facts or suppress bad feelings with alcohol or drugs, or do you blame or criticize?
3. Consider the cost of not changing, in terms of your relationships; career; self respect and reputation.
4. Notice if you have unexpected feelings and/or behaviors when you resist changing. These “out of the blue” reactions include anxiety, anger, sadness, impulsiveness, restlessness, isolation, blushing and embarrassment, silence, fear, shame and guilt. Write these down.
5. Be curious and journal about life after change. For example:
“What would my life look and feel like if I was
• more affectionate with my partner
• less sarcastic at work
• more talkative with friends?”
6. Sharing your experience with someone you trust; talking with a licensed professional counselor; regularly writing in a journal or saying your thoughts and feelings out loud can help with your discomfort if you have it.
7. Don’t try to change something that you have no control over. Walking away from an impossible situation doesn’t mean you’re giving up.
8. Realize that making a change usually means leaving something behind, like the few good things about a bad relationship or friendly colleagues at a stale job or the comfort of routine.
Working with a therapist in individual counseling or couples therapy can help you identify the ways your resistance shows up in your life and in your relationships and what your options for change are. If it is appropriate for your particular situation, hypnotherapy can be an effective way to break through resistance to change, and is usually part of regularly scheduled counseling with a professional therapist. To find a qualified hypnotherapist in your area, contact the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis .
This article is based on my book “Building Better Relationships – A Guidebook for Men”. Please call me at 949-760-7171 or text 949-244-8572 with any questions or to schedule an appointment.