[Part of a series, this essay continues our exploration of Healing America’s Narratives: The Feminine, the Masculine, & Our Collective National Shadow. Now available.]
While we did not explicitly explore resistance in Healing America’s Narratives, it is implicitly present in every chapter of the book — always there any time we bump up against something that challenges our current view or way of doing things. Europeans resisted embracing Africans as equals and instead enslaved them; Europeans resisted embracing the indigenous peoples of what are now known as the Americas and instead lied to them, took their land, and tried to force them to abandon their cultures. Men have resisted embracing women as equals for millennia. You get the idea. There are many more examples, but resistance can lead to good as well.
In my training as a coach with Integral Coaching Canada, we got intimate with resistance in our own lives so we might better work with it when it showed up in a coaching (or any other) relationship. In coaching, both the client and the coach are apt to resist something. Kevin Snorf — a mentor, colleague, and friend — is steadfast in his belief that resistance is necessary for, and is in fact a first step in, progress or development. What follows arises in large part from what I continue to learn from him.
In coaching, we find resistance when coaching is not the appropriate modality for the client (this rarely happens, and when it does, it tends to become evident in consultation — before formal coaching begins). Once coaching begins, resistance may arise for various reasons. Here are three, listed in order from least to most common:
- The scale of the coaching is not appropriate for the client (usually this means the coach has miscalculated at some level or is projecting something onto the client).
- The client doesn’t understand or is not convinced of the value of a particular request or practice (usually because the coach has not conveyed the purpose, meaning, or “why” adequately).
- The client’s current view or “way of being” in the world — how and who the client is at the onset of the coaching — opposes any change to the status quo (changing the status quo in some way is the goal of most coaching, and resistance to change is an expected and “normal” part of the process).
So, translated from the specifics of a coaching relationship and into our ongoing attempt to recognize, own, and integrate Shadow in order to heal an individual or collective narrative, resistance might arise based on:
- Scale: The depth of the denial and projection (Shadow) and the complexity of the healing that is warranted feel overwhelming, so it’s hard to know how and where to start, and resistance to both the Shadow work and the healing arises. When this happens, finding one accessible, simple step is essential. You can’t eat that entire meal in one bite. Start somewhere, chew thoroughly, swallow and repeat. Monitor your serving size, clean your plate, and don’t overeat.
- Lack of understand, purpose, or “why”: In our lives (outside the coaching relationship), this one will usually prevent progress. It can stop us cold. In the absence of an understanding of why we might benefit from Shadow work and healing our narratives — without a sense of purpose — the status quo will feel all right, or at least better than trying to change. Communities of practice, professionals, family, or good friends might help us here. (In future essays, we’ll address the importance of practice).
- The current way or view is getting in the way: We tend to enjoy and welcome what is comfortable, habitual, or familiar. By definition, growth and development move us beyond habit and familiarity, and inevitably involve some discomfort. When it comes to a more flexible body, our muscles initially resist the stretch beyond what’s comfortable; one way toward a stronger body is literally called resistance training — push or pull against the weight. Our minds tend to resist the unfamiliar, and the unfamiliar is how we learn, grow, and develop.
So, if you’re bumping into resistance, don’t fall in love with or attempt to exile it. Rather, pay attention. There’s a message in there somewhere. To paraphrase Rumi in “The Guest House,” be grateful for every unexpected visitor.
More on resistance: Joanne Hunt, “Coaching: The Dance of Change and Resistance. Joanne founded Integral Coaching Canada with Laura Divine (1954–2022). Kevin Snorf and I were both fortunate to have them as teachers. https://www.integralcoachingcanada.com/sites/default/files/pdf/danceofchange.pdf