Managing Emotional Resistance

I’m trying to figure out why I get stuck in thought, stuck in emotion, stuck facing the challenge of asking for help when it’s obvious to everyone else that I need it. The obvious answer is internal resistance, but why is it there?

I’m sure at a basic level, resistance keeps us safe. The first woman to summit Everest, Hilaree Nelson of the U.S., died the other day after skiing off a Himalayan peak. The challenges she chose were rife with risks, so for many people I’m sure it’s amazing she survived as long as she did. The resistance I feel when it comes to mountain climbing is so great I stay on the couch and watch others do it via Netflix.

That’s a bit extreme. Closer to home, I may resist doing the laundry. I usually overcome it by realizing I need clean clothes for work tomorrow. A machine does the work, after all. It’s not like the old days when they used a scrub board and raw hand strength to wring clothes out. Many writers feel resistance to sitting down and putting words onto a page or screen. They call it writers block. I feel no such resistance to writing this blog, my challenge is more, “What can I write that will mean something to someone else?”

I’m again enrolled in Irene Lyon’s online course, Smart Body, Smart Mind. I took the course a few years ago and had amazing success resolving some mind-body sticking points. Anyone who takes the course once can take it over and over as an alumni. The thought behind the repetition is that rewiring the brain takes time, and while you may not be ready for one aspect right now, you may be ready to tackle it down the road.

One thing mentioned in the SBSM introduction was the caution to not pushing yourself if things get too uncomfortable, but to be prepared for things to get a little uncomfortable. When is resistance is healthy as opposed to unhealthy?

Take my current plumbing nightmare. I removed the garburator and now need the kitchen drain system rebuilt. I have all the pieces and parts from Home Depot. I just feel intense resistance tackling it myself. Is that resistance something I am okay with, or should I take a hacksaw to the existing plumbing and just rebuild it as best I can? My mind goes to the risk of leakage. My hands are not as strong as I would like, and I think leaks from the basket system in the sink are entirely possible. I won’t hire a professional plumber because they refuse to use a client’s already-bought supplies. So I need to find a local handyman who will help me out. I’m happy with my thought process here.

I think back to childhood and wonder how unspoken rules led to my employing resistance on a daily basis. On the home maintenance front, my dad tackled everything himself. He’d use resources like “the guys at work” to fill in gaps of knowledge. He’d use persistence trying one thing, then another. I remember his pride when he actually fixed something himself. When I’d call him from town because I couldn’t start the car, he’s walk me through the steps…”Is there a spark from the spark plugs? Can you smell gas in the carburetor? Have you tried flooring the accelerator as you start it to override the automatic choke?”

Still, Dad knew when to call in a pro. He hired a carpenter named Reg to renovate the second floor. He called in a neighbour who was in engineer to run hot-water heating through the house.

So I guess the tendency to analyze these kinds of problems comes naturally. I won’t need to repeat the drain plumbing, so why not lean on someone who knows the process well?

I sometimes deal with resistance by breaking down the problem into smaller chunks, and then, often, it seems doable. I don’t get overwhelmed. Overwhelm is paralyzing.

Like many of his generation, Dad got stuck emotionally. How do you navigate a marriage or raise kids when anger, sadness, frustration and grief are pent up inside? Dad would get emotionally and physically paralyzed. He’d sit in the gloom of the unlit living room, unaware of a kid in the doorway. The effect of his depression washed over Mom. Her resistance to engage with those emotions took the form of migraine headaches, and she’d retreat to bed with the covers over her head.

I and my siblings grew up with unspoken truths. It’s not okay to cry or rage. Worrying is good. Never engage in conflict, inside or outside the home. Be loyal to outsiders, but not to each other. Take few chances. Never let people see your emotions. You shouldn’t express joy because sorrow will follow. Love should be unspoken, and is best expressed through food.

Again, our parents raised us the way they were raised. It’s not their fault. They did their best, but were bereft of tools.

Yeah. No wonder I’m a little fucked up. All that resistance to what we know now as healthy behaviour takes a toll. The good news is our unnatural upbringings can be overcome. The body wants to heal, and can do so if we give it space and compassion. I realize my head gets full of shoulds and shouldn’ts I can hear my body talking to me. The wetness in the corner of my eyes are tears, often springing up when someone else is crying. These automatic responses are the naturally occurring ones. Suppressing them just gets us stuck, emotionally constipated.

I heard a podcast once on resistance to writing and overcoming writers’ block. I think it was at the point in my memoir where my mom died — a difficult event to relive through various drafts. The point made in the podcast was that the greater the resistance you feel about a piece of writing, the greater the need there is for you to write it. It’s essential to overcome this kind of resistance, and it was essential for me to relive my mother’s death through 12 drafts.

In the end, the resistance was replaced by memories of my mom urging me to write. Keep going, I’d hear her say. The hardest bits to write will mean the most.

Push through the resistance.

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