The #1 Reason Why People Don't Change

mbg Contributor By Sheryl Paul, M.A.
mbg Contributor
Sheryl Paul, M.A., has guided thousands of people worldwide through her private practice, her best-selling books, her e-courses, and her website. She has her master's in Psychology Counseling from the Pacifica Graduate Institute, and is the author of The Wisdom of Anxiety: How Worry and Intrusive Thoughts Are Gifts to Help You Heal.

One of the most extraordinary aspects of the technological age is the access we have to every healing modality under the sun. Where in the past you might have had to travel hundreds or even thousands of miles to sit at the feet of a great master, today you only need to press a few keys and the wisdom of spiritual and psychological masters comes streaming into your living room.

Want to learn yoga? Press a button. Want to watch Thich Nhat Hanh or the Dalai Lama talk to you about meditation? Free on YouTube. Want to learn an essential road map that will help you manifest your dream life? Here you go. The information is immediate, accessible, and often free.

So with all of these gems waiting to be received — gems that can transform a life of depression and anxiety to flow and freedom — what stops people from changing?

There's one reason: resistance.

Resistance is part of the human condition. If it were easy to change, we would all be enlightened masters at this point, for we would be able to follow through on practicing the actions we know are good for us: meditation, yoga, journaling and healthy eating, to name a few.

A common statement I hear from my clients who are stuck is, "I want to want to change," meaning that they want to feel better but they don't want to do what it takes to get there — but they want to want to do what it takes to get there!

How do you get from wanting to want to change to actually wanting to change? You must first deal with the resistance.

I can sense within the first two sessions when I'm working with a client who's stuck behind a wall of resistance. There's a particular quality to the work, especially when we talk about the loving actions that need to happen in order for sustainable change to occur. For we can talk about their story until the cows come home, and while this is certainly an essential piece of the work, insight alone won't create change.

Insight + Action = Change

When it comes time to implement the necessary actions that will result in change, the resistance juts up like a block of ice. At that point, all talk about exercise, yoga, journaling, breathing, meditation, or healthy eating must cease and we must deal directly with the resistance. And that's not easy.

Why do we resist? We resist because change is scary. We resist because the small-minded, fear-based ego knows that change of any kind will result in its own death, and no one wants to die, not even aspects of our own mind.

How do I work with resistance?

The most effective approach is to meet the resistance with tremendous compassion. I hold the mindset that perhaps there's some wisdom in the resistance. Perhaps, alongside the ego's fear, there's also a self-protective mechanism that rises up in a healthy way, as if to say, "I'm not ready. I'm not ready to change. I don't have the ego structure or the support or it's not the right time."

As much misery as my client may be in, I trust that there may be other work that needs to occur first before the big changes can take place. Most often that work involves developing a strong, trusting relationship with me, perhaps the first relationship in their life with someone who sees and loves their essential nature. For the inner self knows that to jump off the cliff of change without someone holding a safe container is not only terrifying, but unbearably terrifying.

One thing we know in the field of psychotherapy is that we change in a climate of acceptance and love. It's an interesting paradox: you must accept yourself exactly as you are before you can change who you are. Love heals, and when someone feels loved and accepted by another and seen as the kind, loving person that they are, they can begin to see themselves through the same lens. And then, as if by some invisible mystery, the block of resistance may slowly start to thaw and lasting change can begin to occur.

Sheryl Paul, M.A.
Sheryl Paul, M.A.
Sheryl Paul, M.A., has guided thousands of people worldwide through her private practice, her...
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