Therapy can be hard work. Remember me talking some about that before? Sometimes you hit a point in therapy that your brain resists the work. Last week we talked about defense mechanisms, mostly focusing on shame, but now I want to talk more about the defense of avoidance/resistance. It would be one thing if that defense would just show up in the open as the thought, “I don’t think I want to dig any deeper. This is hard work. I think I’ll go back to how things were before we started looking at my issues.” And maybe sometimes we get that explicit thought. But usually……it sounds more like, “I don’t think therapy is working,” or, “I’m tired of going to therapy,” or, “Maybe I should take a break from counseling,” or, “My therapist is starting to get on my nerves, all she ever does is nod her head and look at me.” And maybe the thought is, “I’m not feeling very good this week.” But then you miss a week and decide not to go back. It can look a lot of different ways, and it can be so tricky, because you don’t realize it is resistance and avoidance.
Quick disclaimer–it IS important to find the right fit when it comes to therapy and sometimes you legitimately need to take a break from counseling. Just be open to the idea that it COULD be resistance.
On my side of the couch, I have a hard time knowing when resistance is bubbling up in a client. I have to rely on them to tell me. And very often, they don’t realize it either. So at some point, I try to explain this concept and offer up this metaphor. The resistance is a dragon. I even sometimes give them a small dragon like these:
I have them pick one and name it. They get to keep it and take it home as a reminder of their resistance. Become friends with it. When the dragon shows up and breathes fire and tries to scare you, you might consider that you are getting really close to the cave. One of my favorite all time quotes:
“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure that you seek.” –Joseph Campbell
You are getting to the meat or the juice of your issue….if you can, press on. Lean into it. Pet that dragon on the head and tell him or her that it’s going to be okay. So often in therapy, we are going into a scary cave…..know that the treasure is in there.