Daily InspirationBecome open hearted and willing to learn and choose to be with those who are also open. When two or more are gathered with a willingness to learn about love, there is the deep joyousness of connection. By Dr. Margaret Paul
Trapped in ResistanceBy Dr. Margaret Paul
December 31, 2006
Motivation gets stunted when resistance take over. Anxiety and stress over being controlled inhibit motivation. This article is about being trapped in the Resistance Syndrome, and how to move out of it.
Gregory was raised by a mother who tried to program his every thought. There were rules for everything, from the right way to speak to her to the right way to hold a pencil. The moment Gregory did not do things her way, his mother withdrew her love, becoming a block of ice. Because Gregory's father was not around much, his mother was all he had. He needed her to survive. So Gregory capitulated. He gave himself up in order to get her love. He did everything her way. He allowed her to control him, to take over his life until almost nothing of the real Gregory was left.
But a tiny part of him refused to give in. It found little ways to resist, to keep him safe from being completely consumed. One of these was dawdling. Not only would Gregory dawdle, but when he finally did what his mother wanted, he did it badly, always making some mistake that drove her crazy.
Now, as an adult, Gregory finds himself procrastinating, even over things he wants to do, such as connecting with God. This is especially difficult since Gregory is a minister. The moment Gregory knows God's will for him, he finds himself procrastinating. He puts off acting on God's will. He just doesn't get around to it. He dawdles. When he does get around to acting on it, he makes mistakes. And because Gregory doesn't understand why he procrastinates and makes so many mistakes, he can't change his behavior. He is stuck.
Gregory is stuck because of having suffered from spiritual abuse. Spiritual abuse is not just the result of harsh religious training. I define spiritual abuse as any form of treatment, whether it is physical, emotional, or sexual, that causes a disconnection with God. When we are small, our parents are God to us. As we grow up, many of us project onto God our experience of our parents. If our parents were too busy for us, then we may think God is too busy. If our parents were judgmental, then perhaps we believe that God is judgmental. If our parents were controlling, then we may think that God is also controlling. Therefore, anything other than unconditional love from our parents may have eventually resulted in a disconnection from God. As a result of Gregory's controlling mother, he unconsciously finds himself resistant to God.
Whenever God speaks to him, Gregory (and his wounded little inner self, who is really running the show) hears his mother's voice, and he automatically resists. His mother's need to dominate him - which came from her own unhealed spiritual abuse - left Gregory with a terror of being consumed by anything or anyone, including God. His resistance is so pervasive, in fact, that he even resists his own good intentions for himself.
The old power struggle between little Gregory and his mother is now being reenacted inside the adult Gregory. The part of him that wants to stay safe from control struggles with the part of him that wants to open to God's love and get things done well and on time. Until Gregory becomes aware of this battle, his resistance will keep winning.
The Resistance Syndrome
People who resist learned early on that resisting was the only way to maintain their integrity in the face of invasive, controlling parents or other caregivers. This may have been true when they were children, but it's not true now. In fact, when you are driven to resist out of fear of being controlled, you are not free to make your own choices. You are not even free to do the things you know are best for you. Paradoxically, you are actually controlled by your resistance. What used to safeguard your integrity now cheats you out of your personal freedom and sabotages your ability to grow and change.
The problem goes even further. As we saw with Gregory, people who had to resist controlling parents often transfer this resistance to their relationship with God. They then find it impossible to surrender to God - and God's love - for fear of being controlled and consumed by God the way they were by their parents. They believe on the deepest level that they would have to give up themselves to be loved by God.
I discovered this pattern while working with clients who seemed to be stuck in their healing process. I call it the Resistance Syndrome. It occurs when your fear of being controlled is so great that resistance becomes your identity, your essential way of interacting with the world. You may not even be aware of your resistance, but on some level you believe you must have it to live.
The Resistance Syndrome is often why people get stuck in their recovery, why their healing seems to go just so far and no further. It is a key reason why people have not been able to open to God and experience God's love firsthand. In my experience, the simple act of recognizing the Resistance Syndrome at work in our lives and choosing not to continue it is like taking an express train to emotional and spiritual well-being.
Symptoms of the Resistance Syndrome
There are six symptoms of the Resistance Syndrome. Most people who are caught up in this syndrome will identify with at least three of them.
1. Being stuck: No matter how much therapy you have, how many different healing processes you try, how many self-help books you read or how many workshops you attend, you don't feel better. Nothing is working. You are stuck in your unhappiness, your relationships, your work, and you often feel alone and misunderstood.
2. Having had controlling parents: One or both of your parents were controlling - invasive, overprotective, engulfing, consuming, physically or sexually abusive, shaming or critical.
3. Wanting to change but not taking meaningful action: You seem to have the best of intentions to really take care of yourself in new ways. You decide on some new actions you'll take, but somehow you never seem to carry them out for more than a few days or a few weeks at the most.
4. Denying your real motivation: You say you want to change - to become loving, successful, happy, responsible, spiritually connected, slender, sober, healthy, on time, organized and so on, yet it never happens. You are in denial about the fact that you have a more important goal, which is not to be controlled by anyone or anything, not even by your own good intentions.
5. Resenting the goal: While you say you want to be loving, successful, responsible, healthy, organized and so on, you resent the very thing you say you want.
6. Getting satisfaction out of others' frustration with you: When people react negatively to your lack of action or your obstinate behavior, you feel gratified, like a rebellious adolescent who is winning the power struggle with his or her parents. You might even feel a gloating satisfaction when your therapist is not able to help you get "unstuck." You might feel this same satisfaction with regard to God, who also cannot get past your resistance.
Addiction to Resistance
Why is having control over not being controlled so important to us? How did resistance become so much more important than loving in our lives? If your parents were extremely invasive and consuming in their attempts to control you, you might have felt overwhelmingly helpless, alone and lonely. These are almost intolerable feelings, especially for a child. (In fact, the purpose of all addictions is to avoid these feelings.) So you came up with little ways - or sometimes big ways - to resist your parents, to assert your power, to hang on to some tiny part of yourself. Over time, this resistance came to be the only thing that made you feel safe. You became addicted to it. Resisting became part of your identity.
As we saw in Gregory's case, the Resistance Syndrome can sabotage your relationship to others, to yourself, and to God.
Resisting others through withdrawal, silence, procrastination, lateness, forgetting, or doing things poorly can certainly affect relationships at home and work. The Resistance Syndrome makes us resist even ourselves. Anytime you try to exert power over yourself with rigid rules, internal criticism and decisions that ignore your feelings, you are trying to have control over yourself. This sets off a power struggle between the authoritarian part of you that wants control and the permissive, indulgent part that resists being controlled with all its might. Paradoxically, the goal of both parts is to keep you safe. But it's a goal you can never reach without giving up the very strategy you think is protecting you.
For resistant people, the answer to the question, "Do I have to give up me to be loved by God?" is a resounding "Yes!" The thought of surrendering to God and being controlled by some outside force is terrifying to them. It triggers all their old fears of engulfment. This presents a terrible dilemma: You cannot know who you really are, the love that is your very essence, without a connection with God; yet in connecting to God you fear losing your own essence. You might feel you have to let God control and consume you in order to win God's love, and that God will reject you if you don't do it right.
If your parents didn't bring through Divine Love to you, the only way to know your own light and lovability is by receiving that information from God. Yet you cannot connect with God when you are resisting being controlled by God! And without a spiritual connection, you have no consistent source of safety and love in your life. So you must protect yourself. And that means resisting all forms of control. Which means you can't connect with God.
Is this really a vicious circle? Or is there a way out?
The Freedom to Choose Differently
There are three things you can do to break the cycle of resistance that prevents you from having a firsthand experience of God's love and wisdom:
1. Notice that resistance is a choice and notice yourself making that choice.
2. Notice the consequences of that choice.
3. Make a new choice that becoming a loving human being with yourself and others is more important than whether or not you are being controlled (or from someone's thinking they control you). In other words, you actually need to be willing to be controlled without putting up your wall of resistance. This does not mean, however, that you will be controlled.
That's the paradox of giving up the Resistance Syndrome: When being a loving human being is more important to you than resisting being controlled, you don't ever get controlled. That's because when you choose to be loving, you learn to set healthy, loving limits against being invaded, consumed and controlled by others.
True safety and freedom result from developing a spiritually connected, loving adult self, who is able to make loving choices for you, set loving limits with others and freely give to others without feeling a loss of self. Practicing Inner Bonding heals the fears and false beliefs of the wounded part of us, and develops a spiritually connected loving adult self. When you learn how to allow yourself to be guided by God instead of your resistance-prone, wounded self, you will discover your personal power and true integrity.
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