Backlash, as we were discussing, is a major impediment to healing. I believe the technical term is “pain in the ass.” Backlash causes so much bloody suffering, causes us to perpetuate our own misery, undermine our goals, mess up our relationships, underperform in our careers, neglect our health, and transmit our dysfunctions onto the next generation.
Unless, of course, we learn how to “conquer” Backlash. (I put “conquer” in quotes because you’re not really going to conquer it, I don’t think. That’s not the path. But at the beginning, that’s how it’s likely to feel. Backlash is the proverbial Bad Guy, and you’re going to want to get rid of it, one way or the other. So, like so many great movie romances, you start off trying to conquer each other….)
The Buddhists have always known about this. They call it “resistance”, and recognize that a person’s suffering is fundamentally rooted in their resistance to accepting the fundamental truths of existence, the Four Noble Truths.
Not wanting to accept emptiness and change, not wanting to accept that the suffering they experience due to emptiness and change are their own creations, not wanting to accept that there is a specific path that will take them out of that suffering, and not wanting to accept their own personal responsibility for walking that path, the individual Resists their own wellness, their own liberation and enlightenment. Thus, they suffer. And why? Because ultimately, they choose to; they remain attached to their identity and beholden to their resistance; thus they remain separate, and thus, they suffer.
(For all the noise we make about Freedom nowadays, the truth is that most of us are so existentially terrified of our own actual Freedom that we cede it instantly to practically anything that we feel we can attach to in order to give ourselves an identity and our lives some meaning. For or more on this tangential thought, read Erich Fromm!)
The consequence of resistance, as with Backlash, is to cause you to turn away from your innermost self. You know that divine spark, that essence of free will, that creative wildness, that joyful curiousity, that bubbling humour, that innate self-love that are all our birthrights? Those are what resistance causes you to turn away from.
The consequences to one’s life are devastating. It may not appear that way at first. I mean, the world is often pretty forgiving, and we are also geniuses at adaptation, so even if big portions of our personality are pretty dysfunctional, we always have strengths that we can capitalize on and centre our identity around. So, for a time, it probably won’t be all that obvious how disconnected someone is from themselves. They might not even know themselves, caught up as they are in their own narratives, opinions, defences, self-justifications, dramas, crises, goals, relationships, careers, hedonism. Heck, it MIGHT even look like they’re having a great time!
But the inner emptiness eventually must be faced. We crash, through relationship failure, career burnout, addictions spiralling, etc. In one way or another, karma catches up with us.
(If you are reading this, I’m guessing this has some relevance to you. It does to me. Otherwise, it would be kind of a dismal thing to spend so much time thinking about! hahaha….)
* * * * *
The Experience of Opening to Resistance
I have had some of the more deep and touching experiences of therapy occur when my resistance came out in a direct way. That stubborn anger, that refusal to speak, that inability to think straight, that coldness or deadness of tone, or perhaps that hot, biting, hurtful tone. Or maybe it’s tears. Maybe it’s a head bowed, sunk so far into your chest it’s like trying to suffocate in your own body, until a small voice manages to say through the shame, “I don’t care”. Or, “I don’t even want to get better.” Or “You’re full of shit. This is stupid.”
But then, if space is held for you, if it’s okay to just be there with that part of you, even if you don’t feel like saying anything for a while, or at all, this time, it’s okay. When something comes up, it’s you gifting yourself with the opportunity of accepting some part of you that really does NOT feel accepted. And so, if you can feel like it’s okay to just be there with that part of you, then you can start to finally hear what it wants to express.
Sometimes, for me, it’s been when I am having to articulate why I haven’t done certain things for myself, to move my life forward or to take care of myself in some way. In these “moments of reckoning”, when I can’t hide anymore and I’m being asked point blank, “Why?”, my awareness is sharpened to the point that I break through Resistance and face the Truth. My inner Truth.
Usually, it takes a good minute, maybe longer. Sitting in silence. Looking at the floor.
“Because I don’t deserve it.”
“You don’t deserve to have good things?”
“You don’t deserve to be healthy?”
“Would you feel that way towards, say, your son?”
“Of course not.”
“So there’s just something uniquely terrible about you that makes you uniquely unworthy?”
— And I feel angry, knowing I’ve been provoked into revealing myself. I also know I’ve backed myself into a logical corner. Yes, I can that this doesn’t make sense. Yes, I can see that all the attitudes and opinions and judgements and “things to improve” that I focus on, are not really the issue. They are just the surface, and if anything, a distraction from getting to the heart of things. Yes, I can see these things; I can see through the gossamer nothingness of my edifice of negative self-beliefs. They don’t really hang together with reality. They don’t REALLY, when you get right down to it, make any sense.
But I still feel like they do. They seem more “real” than reality.
And there, right there, that’s where you go. Go to that “you”, that part. Like Leonard Cohen sang, it’s the cracks; that’s how the light gets in.
In the moments when I hit that, bumping directly up against the embodied reality of my own Resistance, when Backlash is forced into a corner and has to get real. That’s…..whew…..it’s big-time.
(Word of caution — it is very easy to take this “too far, too fast”, and at this point in a session of encountering yourself, when you “force Backlash into a corner”, as I said, you are also at a potentially very dangerous point. Backlash has some nuclear options at its disposal, including complete dissociation. It is not at all impossible for you to finish a session, say, leave a therapist’s office, seem like a normal human walking down the street, even have a conversation with someone, but “you” are no longer there; you have fallen back to dissociated default routines; parts of you that are not your intentional, consciously-chosen, self-aware self, are in control of the ship. And if those parts have self-destructive tendencies, then as soon as you get home or are otherwise alone, you could be heading down a very dark path. So, by no means take my description above as a prescription for healing, or a generic experience. Encountering resistance and working with Backlash is highly idiosyncratic and personal.)
It’s amazing, how powerful vulnerability is, when you let yourself open to it and FEEL the shit you’ve been suppressing, probably for most of your life. You might encounter an ocean of grief. Or anger. Or a lot of things.
It’s hard, man. Like, fucking hard. An hour of therapy can, sometimes, feel like going 15 rounds with the Champ. You might be super-exhausted, or spaced out, afterwards. Or euphoric. Or strangely, almost supernaturally calm.
That’s a direct peek into the power of Resistance. It’s THAT hard to overcome it, even for a little while, its stranglehold on you is so complete. But if you can break through it even temporarily in a therapist’s office, then you can see a different possible way of being. A different self. A different You.
But then again, not different.
Oh my God!!
That’s right, you realize, in those moments, that the “You” you have been striving to be, you have been all along. It’s who you were born to be, before all the shit that happened got in the way, layering you with armour and defences and self-beliefs and all the rest of your Resistance. Before all that, there was an organismically vital entity who simply engaged with existence, seeking to learn, play, create, discover, enjoy, and grow.
And that being still exists in you, is still a central organizing force constructing who you are. Believe it or not.
A truly life-changing insight, for me, was that even one’s shitty, terrible, hateful, nasty, abusive, withdrawn, disengaged, or self-abusive parts, are actually expressions of that Inner Light too, that original self you once channelled directly, but now you have suppressed, repressed, filtered, projected, and inverted until it expresses itself as best it can, through your wounded parts and those that evolved to protect them.
But before you get to feel yourself integrating into wholeness in this way, before you get to really experience the good stuff, the true Healing, you’ve gotta get through resistance first. You just have to. There’s no getting around it. Like the recalcitrant child who stalls and grumps, not wanting to leave the playground, go to school, eat their vegetables, or wait their turn to speak, it’s just too bad, Little Buddy, you’ve gotta do it.
* * * * *
Backlash became You
It is likely going to take a crap-tonne of energy to overcome your resistance, and finally begin to get the upper hand against Backlash. Exactly how to do this, is for us to explore in future posts. But for right now, it’s critically important to understand the sheer magnitude, the power, of resistance. Because forgiving yourself and accepting the reality of your current life, is going to be a lot easier if you fully appreciate just how gargantuan your adversary has been. It’s also going to be a lot easier to get your mojo back, to feel that inner spark again, that healthy, grounded, “I am worth it” feeling that says you, just as much as any other person, deserve a place at the table.
So think, for a moment, about the magnitude of your adversary.
Think about the things you experienced. Think about the feelings you experienced.
There have been dark times. No doubt about it.
Maybe there still are.
And in the future, sooner or later, there will be. That’s just the truth.
Life is, sometimes and inevitably, hard. Brutal even. No guarantee that shit is fair, that “it all works out for the best in the end” or anything like that. Sometimes, you are a child getting abused. Sometimes, you have bombs dropping on your city. Sometimes, you are subjected to violence. Sometimes, you struggle with your health. Sometimes, with your sanity. Sometimes, these things happen to the people you love.
So yes, the adversaries you fight in your psyche, deserve to be respected for the deadly, implacable foes that they are. The psychological armour that we put on as we grow up, is there for a damn good reason. There’s going to be a point in healing when you thank yourself, you hug your own heart, for getting you here.
But in the meantime, those same adaptations, those coping strategies and survival mechanisms then became “you”. Especially if your difficult circumstances went on for a long time, or the internalization of what happened to you was deep and thorough, you will have relied upon those same adaptations ever since, practicing them to the point that they became automatic. They became you. They became your thoughts and feelings and behaviours and identity and judgements and perceptions of the world. The more thoroughly this happened, the more you likely have suffered as a result; and the more resistance you may face; and the more support you might be most helped by.
And, in a sense, the more of an opportunity you have for a true breakthrough. No, I don’t mean this lightly. When you’ve hit bottom, what else is there to remain attached to? Suffering is the clarion call to transformation.
Of course, your external resources (and perhaps, internal resources), may also never be lower than “at bottom”. Heeding that clarion call may simply be (or feel) out of reach, at just the time when you are most open to it. As many an addict knows all too painfully, sometimes even hitting bottom isn’t enough.
This is why social support is so profoundly, life-or-death important. Because from our earliest memories of monsters under the bed or scary things going bump in the night, we have needed connection with others to soothe our fears, or, in the terrible circumstances when fears cannot be soothed, to at least share the terrible experience with us. We NEED support, we NEED connection, to grow our courage, to feel worthy enough to step into the ring and fight for ourselves.
Connection to others is our mental-emotional oxygen, which then strongly influences our biological, physical reality, our health. From the time we’re babies, we need other people’s attention, validation, linguistic engagement, touch, humour, and mere presence in our lives. Not constantly, but pretty regularly. And when we go without healthy social contact, or when we live with unhealthy social contact, we really, really suffer and fall apart. Like the babies who get sick and die when deprived of touch, we likewise wither, shrink and indeed, die, as we experience a lack of supportive social connection. Social creatures ARE what we are, and when our own self-system breaks down entirely, social support becomes our life support system.
* * * * *
The Light at the End of the Tunnel
This points directly to how important it is for people to learn how to hold space. How to be nonjudgemental. How to listen. How to convey empathy, compassion, acceptance, and understanding. When people are suffering, this is some of the most powerful medicine that exists.
(And, spoiler alert, these skills I just outlined, that are useful for helping other people, are exactly the skills to practice with your own inner selves. That, right there, is Healing.)