When I began working as a professional organiser I butt heads often with clients because they thought I was just going to put items in fancy storage solutions and then call it a day. I challenged them to change and this created a lot of tension between us. As I continued to develop my process I was clearer in all forms that what I do is primarily helping people create change in all areas of their life.
The way this shows up around resistance is that often people get stuck in denial and blame family members, roommates, partners for the clutter and chaos when in fact they too play a huge role in the mess. This prevents you from creating change because you do not take responsibility and you also don’t have any power over the situation. Denial definitely stems from fear and you not knowing what’s on the other side. This fear causes a sense of unsafety where the brain keeps you in protection mode and stops you from changing.
Another way that resistance shows up when in work in people’s homes is someone not being able to keep up because of their rigid way of doing things. For example, using an item only once then washing it even though there are no stains or signs that it’s dirty. Fun fact, in personality psychology someone who is rigid is the most unhappy. This is because our true nature is to adapt to our ever changing environment. The flip side of rigidity is chaos where a person doesn’t have any routines, healthy habits or structure. This can be seen when someone only get groceries when the fridge is absolutely bare, or they literally have no clothes to wear because they don’t have a chore routine.
This is an indicator of a larger underlying issue that is most likely related to trauma. The second stage of trauma recovery is denial, where the third stage is chaos and rigidity. It’s important to take some time to check in and have the courage to be honest with ourselves. This means looking at our behaviours and seeing if they stem from us adapting after traumatic events. At that time they may have served us however, it may be time to see if they are still serving us in living a healthy and balanced life.
What is resistance?
Resistance can be easily misunderstood as someone consciously giving you a hard time when you propose a change. Whether it’s work, a partner, family, or friends, everyone experiences a sense of not wanting to change. If change would be easy, myself and most other helping professions would be out of work. There are multiple theories for our unwillingness to change. I think most of us can relate that often simply the idea of change brings on a sense of unsafety and fear of the unknown.
The key element to understand is that one of the major jobs of our brain is to keep us alive. If we are alive, the brain prefers stability and routine.. These patterns and habits require less energy and effort. This doesn’t mean the brain doesn’t thrive in new and challenging situations. There is a certain level of stress that allows a person to thrive and grow. However, when it’s too much for an individual, the stress can be overwhelming and change seems terrifying. We need to understand that these responses are wired into us and perfectly normal.
Change can be seen as invigorating and something to fully embrace. Ever notice how easy it is to change when it is something really important or something you are really excited about?
Why don’t people want to change then? It requires vulnerability, admitting your part in a situation, discomfort, a sense of unknown and not feeling safe for a while. However, engaging in change as part of your daily life increases your resiliency and ability to adapt.. The more you do it, like anything, the better you get at it!
How does resistance show up?
Resistance is very closely connected with anxiety. They both induce a sense of fear and uncertainty. When we are in these states our nervous system is on high alert. This affects the 4 realms of being human: our body, emotions, thoughts, and spirit. On top of that, since we are social animals, change can potentially make or break a relationship. The feedback we get from those around us, about what perhaps needs changing, is one of the most powerful ways to learn about ourselves (if we allow it)..Let’s look at some ways of how this shows up and you will see the similarities to both anxiety and high levels of stress.
Anger, fear anxiety, self-doubt
Avoiding, withdrawing numbing
Racing thoughts, overthinking vs taking action
“I can’t do it”
“Things will never change”
“It’s not so bad”
Blaming others, overly focused and involved in other’s lives
Failed relationships or stuck in unhappy relationships
Avoid, attack or criticise
Interrupting or tuning out
Loss of purpose
Why do we resist change?
One major reason people resist change is a feeling of lack of safety. As mentioned in last month’s blog, anxiety is fear of the future and unknown. When there is a problem and what we’ve been doing hasn’t worked, it requires us to change in order to see a solution. This however means that we don’t know what’s on the other end.
When someone is lacking in confidence, sense of self and insecurity, the sense of fear and unwillingness to change will most likely be higher. Someone who struggles to change could also be someone seen as having a fixed mindset where they state that this is just how I am so deal with it. When deep down they are experiencing a deep sense of fear and uncertainty. At the end of the day we all want to feel at peace within ourselves and experience a sense of contentment most of the time. Moving towards this means being open to change and finding a way to do it where we feel supported, safe and a sense of challenge where we can grow.
Ways to Use Resistance as a place to grow
The first step to seeing resistance as a place to grow is changing your relationship to it. Resistance allows us to push up against something and when we move through that challenge we improve our sense of worth, grow and have the opportunity to learn.
Next is taking responsibility for our part in any given situation. This ownership takes you out of victim mode and into empowerment mode. By being an observer of your actions, beliefs and fears you can see how they have affected you and others. This inventory is very powerful because it allows you to step back and see what is working and what needs to change.
Sometimes this is a challenge for those you don’t see their part in a situation. A technique used often in motivational interviewing allows a person to map out.
Another approach to helping someone change is to first identify the barrier then look at how they can see the situation differently and also approach it differently. I’m a huge fan of putting things into perspective and finding new ways to engage in something. This reframe is a big part of the work I do with clients shining light on an area that seems too much and overwhelming can now be seen as something to enjoy or grow from.