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  • SuePattonThoele

Resistance Magnifies Pain

That the yielding conquers the resistant and

the soft conquers the hard is a fact known

by all persons, yet utilized by none.

lao tzu

Natural childbirth classes teach mothers-to-be that the pain of childbirth is greater when you resist it and grow tense with fear. They tell you to “breathe into the pain,” not because deep breathing decreases the pain, but because relaxation increases your ability to accept pain.

In my bereavement groups I meet many people who try to resist their pain. I encourage them to turn toward it, relax into the experience of pain, give themselves permission to feel it

and act on it. This frequently amazes them because most have been taught the stiff-upper-lip approach to both physical and emotional pain.

Resistance magnifies pain. The more we resist difficult people, concepts, or circumstances, the more we draw to us exactly what we’re trying to resist. Perhaps that’s what Jesus meant when he spoke of turning the other cheek. Resistance causes tension. Tension creates tightness, stiffness, and inflexibility. And being stiff, tight, and inflexible makes us vulnerable. In a windstorm, the heavy oak tree resists and the willow yields. The willow, which allows the wind to whip through its branches, clearly has the better chance of surviving.

Remember this formula:

resistance ➝ tension ➝ inflexibility ➝ vulnerability

When you feel the first sign of resistance tension, become aware of who or what you’re resisting. What circumstances, memories, attitudes, or relationships are threatening you with pain? Are you magnifying the pain by resisting it?

Acknowledge what you discover about your patterns of resistance. Then accept that a source of pain exists and you are feeling resistant toward it. Finally, choose to let the pain be present and to act appropriately. Resistance is habitual reaction, not free choice. Freedom is created by your ability to choose how you want to act and react.

Resistance can also signal the presence of a power struggle: a desire to be right, to prove a point, to be in control. The only way to win a power struggle is to give it up. Resistance to other people’s opinions and feelings is just as useless as resistance to our own. Our pain or discomfort is magnified in direct proportion to our resistance. When loved ones are cranky and we think they shouldn’t be and we resist their mood, we’ll feel worse and very likely provoke them further. However, we don’t have to stick around and bear the brunt of their mood. Only they can change it, so resistance is futile.

Sylvia hated her husband’s constant put-downs about her weight and the fact that he rarely told her he loved her. She entered into the spirit of the power struggle, pointing out every

small action and comment that proved that he was wrong and unloving. In her resistant mood, she couldn’t see or absorb any of the loving things he did do. They became like two boxers, jabbing the air in their respective corners in anticipation of the next round. Both were in pain.

As she became aware of the destructive path they were taking, Sylvia gradually stopped resisting. She didn’t give up her rights, but she quit nagging and judging her husband. She became more flexible and was able to express her real feelings instead of lashing out in revenge. She stated her wants and needs, but not in an accusing, critical way. When he couldn’t give her what she needed, she became creative at filling her own needs. She stopped resisting him and chose instead to make a better life for herself, not out of resentment toward him but out of love for herself.

As Sylvia gained independence, she began to feel less like her husband’s victim and more able to reach out to him with love. He’d been resisting her demands for love and affection, but as she demanded less, he felt more like giving.

Excerpted from The Courage to Be Yourself by Sue Patton Thoele. Available on Mango and Amazon.

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