You may have noticed in yourself or others that people sometimes avoid what is best for them or what they're asked to do. For example, a teen's parents may offer to get them tutoring for their studies. They may know that tutoring would help them but resist the idea due to being asked. Resistance can also occur in therapy. Because this response is common, it may be helpful to understand resistance psychology to recognize it when it happens to you.
The higher your emotional intelligence, the more likely you might be to experience awareness of resistance. Resistance in psychology refers to any opposition to the therapeutic process or mental healing.
Freud's View Of Resistance
While working with his clients, Sigmund Freud developed the theory of resistance. He saw that people in psychoanalysis often avoided the essential subjects for their healing. They dismissed any topic that came too close to memories or uncomfortable emotions.
Freud theorized that resistance was a sign of some past trauma hidden in the subconscious that needed to be revealed and addressed in the present. In Freud's view, this catharsis would allow the person to experience emotional healing and find more significant control over their behavior.
Resistance In Modern Psychology
In some cases, resistance in psychology refers to resistance while in therapy. When the therapist offers solutions, the client may resist considering them. Resistance to talk therapy can keep someone from tackling their challenges directly, as they use their therapy sessions to talk only or primarily about what is comfortable for them.
Types Of Resistance
Resistance often appears as oppositional behavior that keeps you from reaching your highest potential. Resistance can take many forms in therapy or everyday life, including the following.
Having Memory Lapses
When someone resists addressing their challenges, they may feel or feign forgetfulness. If they're in therapy, they may forget about appointments intentionally or unintentionally. If they begin talking about a complex subject, they may stop when they get to the most challenging aspect, stating they can't remember what happened next. These are often not deliberate attempts at dishonesty but subconscious avoidance.
At times, if a therapist gets too close to any subject a client doesn't want to discuss, the client may feel angry and lash out at the therapist. Their anger can sidetrack the conversation, making it difficult to return to a crucial point in the therapeutic process. If the resistance is strong, this anger may appear whenever the subject comes up. This response could also occur in everyday life. For instance, an individual may get angry if a specific subject is mentioned or a loved one offers to support them.
People may feel distressed when thinking of their past. They often know that a part of their therapy is dealing with old memories. Without realizing it, they may change the facts to present a more acceptable picture of past events, trying to convince themselves more than the therapist.
Recalling Facts Without The Impact
In some cases, people do remember the facts of past trauma. They may be able to recall some essential events from their past. However, they may not recall the way an event impacted them. Instead, they may remain stoic, not displaying any behavior showing that the event was challenging for them. Even though the event may have been so traumatic that it changed their life, they may tell the story as if it were a news report about something that happened to a stranger.
If your therapist asks you a question and you feel under attack, you might be experiencing resistance. You may argue your case, citing reasons or excuses for your behavior. However, your therapist might not have accused you of anything or meant harm in their question. Defensiveness can indicate past patterns of others labeling you or forcing you to be accountable for something you didn't do. It can also signal the ego subconsciously trying to safeguard itself.
Distrusting The Therapist
Some individuals may distrust their therapists after the therapy reaches a critical point. They may have initially felt comfortable with their therapist but began to resist the process when it became difficult.
Confusion is another way to resist therapy. Resistance often happens unconsciously. As such, when the process becomes too difficult, your mind may become cloudy and confused. This confusion can be difficult to overcome. In these cases, it may be beneficial to stick with therapy and ask your therapist to guide you as you continue.
Some people resist therapy by becoming dependent on their therapist. Instead of facing their problems directly, they may leave all the decisions to the therapist. They may have difficulty waiting for their next appointment, contacting their therapist between appointments, and getting instructions on how to live their daily lives.
As their dependence grows, it can become challenging to have self-control. The uncomfortable feelings are set aside while the therapy focuses first on breaking the dependent behaviors.
Some people behave as if they're bored in therapy, so they look for excitement in their daily lives to relieve their boredom. They may tell their therapist dramatic or exciting stories to see their reaction. They may yawn or stare blankly during sessions, not engaging in therapy at all. This feeling of boredom can be a cover for intense feelings that are difficult to accept or deal with.
Resistance and transference in psychology may co-occur. The transference definition is "the transfer of uncomfortable feelings from one person to another." In therapy, clients often transfer their feelings about a person who hurt them in the past to their therapist. This type of transference can happen when they trust their therapist.
You can also experience transference when you put your positive feelings about a loved one onto your therapist. For example, someone who has lost a beloved sister may transfer their feelings of trust to the therapist. This process can be helpful because the person feels comfortable discussing their feelings. However, it may be unhealthy if they believe their therapist is a replacement for their sister or must offer the same type of closeness as a family member or friend.
Transference can be unhealthy when a client takes anger toward someone else or a situation in their life and takes it out on their therapist. In addition, if a client starts to form romantic feelings for a therapist due to their similarity to someone they love or the professional connection they've formed, the therapist may have to end the therapeutic relationship to avoid an ethical impasse.
Drawbacks Of Resistance During Therapy
Resistance is natural. Many people experience resistance in everyday life. However, when resistance happens in therapy, it can have some negative consequences, including the following.
A Lengthened Process
Resistance can cause therapy to last longer if progress is not being made. Therapy may still be successful. However, if you're resistant in therapy, ask your therapist if they can guide you toward understanding your resistance so you can move forward productively.
The Potential Ending Of Therapy
Extreme resistance may result at the end of therapy or back-and-forth usage of therapeutic services. You may drop out due to discomfort or tell yourself you're not ready. In addition, your therapist might end services if they feel unsafe or an ethical concern arises. Unhealthy transference can also create a rift in the therapeutic relationship that is difficult to heal. If you strongly resist therapy, you might look for a new therapist or take a break to examine your behavior.
Is It Possible To Avoid Resistance?
Many people experience resistance, so you may wonder if you can resist it. If resistance occurs subconsciously, it can be essential to notice it after the fact and note why it occurred. You can also address it in therapy with your therapist.
Self-awareness may be one of the keys to avoiding unhealthy resistance. If you're diligent in discovering your resistant behaviors, write them down and list a few behaviors you can start partaking in to reduce the chances of this behavior.
If you recognize you resist receiving help, consider taking control of this feeling and reaching out to a therapist. Letting yourself know that resistance doesn't control you may reduce its strength. In addition, talking to a counselor may be the first step to combating counterproductive behavior in relationships.
If you would like to pursue therapy but don't know how to fit it into your life due to barriers like finances or location, platforms like BetterHelp are also available. Studies have found that online therapy can be as effective as in-person therapy. One study found that 71% of participants found it as effective or more effective than face-to-face options and that 100% found it more convenient.
Through an online platform, you can be matched with a therapist best suited to your needs and make appointments via video, phone, or live chat sessions. Some platforms also offer around-the-clock messaging with your therapist so you can reach out when needed to ask for advice based on resistance.
What is resistance in psychology?
Resistance in psychology or realistic resistance refers to a set of thoughts or behaviors that oppose and potentially impede the therapeutic process. In the case of realistic resistance, a client may take conscious and deliberate actions to oppose therapeutic initiatives, while other forms of resistance may be subconscious or take place internally. A client’s conscious efforts to be resistant may be explained by a number of causes, including disagreeing with the therapeutic approach their therapist is utilizing, believing they aren’t being treated fairly, or feeling that they aren’t ready to engage in therapy.
What is an example of resistant behavior?
While resistant behavior can manifest in different ways for each individual, there are a few common signs that a person may be actively engaging in resistance. These behaviors may include the following.
- Denial of a problem
- Rationalization of responsibility
- Rejection of a therapist’s advice
- Distrust of a mental healthcare professional
- Lying or exaggeration
- Intentionally sabotaging the therapeutic process
- Disrespecting a therapist
Typically, therapists deal with resistant behavior frequently enough to know how to handle the situation. However, some mental health professionals may not be willing to work with a resistant client.
Where does resistance come from?
In some cases, resistance can come from a sense of shame or guilt about certain subjects. If a person is not able to face their own thoughts or behaviors, they may sabotage their therapy sessions or deny the existence of their challenges altogether. This shame or denial can make it difficult for a therapist to effectively treat their patients and may lead to more negative therapeutic outcomes.
Other times, resistance may come from a lack of connection between a therapist and a patient. If a person does not feel comfortable with their therapist or a strong therapeutic alliance has not been formed, they may not be willing to discuss sensitive subjects. As a result, individuals may resist until they begin to form a bond with their therapist.
How do you deal with a resistant person?
While resistance may occur in therapy sessions, it is also a trait that can have a negative effect on interpersonal relationships. If you are dealing with a resistant person in your life, there are a few resolution methods that you may want to try.
- Clearly Explain Your Needs: In some cases, resistance may occur because a person doesn’t understand the situation or what you want. By communicating openly and honestly with the other person, you may be able to create a connection that negates the need for further resistance.
- Use “I” Statements: “I” statements can be an effective tool for avoiding the defensiveness associated with accusing someone of a specific behavior or action. This can be accomplished by telling someone your thoughts or feelings instead of informing them of their own behavior. For example, “I felt nervous when you were late to the party” instead of “You are always late, and it’s annoying.”
- Avoid Getting Emotional: While talking with a resistant person can be frustrating, it can be important to avoid getting emotional. When emotions are running high, it can be difficult to clearly discuss a subject, which may lead to further interpersonal challenges.
What are the types of behavioral resistance?
While the types of behavioral resistance can vary depending on its setting, in therapy and counseling psychology, this kind of behavior commonly presents client resistance. This type of resistance manifests as a client impeding the therapeutic process in order to avoid discussing specific subjects or because they do not see the value in therapy altogether. Client resistance may take the form of insulting a therapist, lying, attempting to sabotage therapy sessions, or failing to show up for sessions. Many therapists deal with this type of behavior, and while some may be patient and willing to work with a client, others may not be.
How do you overcome psychological resistance?
If your psychological resistance is rooted in a fear of change, there are several ways you may be able to overcome resistance and its associated feelings.
- Identify The Source of Your Fear: Resistance to change can be rooted in many aspects of life, including a desire for safety, uncertainty about potential consequences, and a questioning of one's own abilities. By identifying why you are resistant to change, you may better be able to come up with a viable solution.
- Take It Slow: Change can be a stressful process, and resistance may be a subconscious way for your mind to tell you that everything is happening too fast. By taking on changes incrementally, you may be able to better adjust and stick with the changes happening in your life.
- Consider The Potential Benefits: While change may be uncomfortable, it can also have considerable upside. List out the benefits that a specific change may make in your life and refer to it when you are feeling resistant or overwhelmed.
Why do people resist change in psychology?
There are a variety of reasons someone may want to resist change. The reasons for this subconscious or deliberate opposition may vary based on their cultural background, past experiences, religious beliefs, and numerous other factors. Some may fear the change process itself, as it may reduce the amount of control they currently have in their lives. Others may be worried about the unknown consequences of change, choosing instead to stay in their current comfortable state. In other cases, a person may be afraid to change and try something new because they may fail. In addition, it's possible for a person to lack the conscious awareness that they have a fear of change at all, which could make finding solutions more challenging.
What causes resistance in the mind?
One of the most common reasons for realistic resistance or psychological resistance is shame. If a person is ashamed of their thoughts or behaviors, or believes they are experiencing a disorder that carries a significant stigma, they may not discuss valuable information with their therapist. A client’s feelings may also be hurt by the discussion of certain topics, which may further entrench them in resistant behavior. This resistance can take multiple forms, including denial, lying, avoiding specific topics by changing the subject, insulting or disrespecting their mental health professional, or choosing to reject their therapist’s advice with little consideration.
Is resistance a defense mechanism?
While the word “resistance” and the phrase “defense mechanism” typically refer to two separate concepts, research suggests that these functions can frequently overlap. This means that, in some cases, psychological resistance may act as a defense mechanism. A client’s resistance to the process of therapy may occur for a number of reasons, including the following.
- A desire to hide shameful feelings or motives
- A fear of change
- An inability to trust one’s therapist
- A dislike of the therapeutic initiatives being used
- A desire for independence or to “handle the problem” by oneself
This resistance may take various forms, including (but not limited to) failing to show up for appointments, disregarding or half-heartedly completing homework assignments, interrupting or disrespecting a therapist during sessions, or intentionally lying to hide information. While it may be a therapist's responsibility to maintain client engagement or create a comfortable environment, handling resistance may not be a task that therapists are willing to address.
What does it mean to be emotionally resistant?
Emotional resistance is a behavior designed to hide one’s feelings or avoid addressing one’s emotions, often to defend oneself from perceived or actual harm. In some cases, we may feel guilty about our emotions or believe that no one will understand what we are going to do. As a result, an emotionally resistant person may “put up walls” to avoid revealing what they are going to do. While this may seem like a protective measure, being emotionally resistant during an activity like therapy may make it more difficult to benefit from the process. As such, overcoming resistance may be necessary for therapy to be effective.
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