Soulwork Solutions: Coaching & Resistance
Coaching Resistant Clients © Martyn Carruthers

Have you ever been in a shop with a salesman who
tried to sell you things that you did not want?
Perhaps you were polite at first, but repeated
sales ploys irritated you until you were angry.

The salesman told his buddies about your terrible resistance.

Resistance is Communication

We have a primitive defense mechanism that forgets facts or
dismisses theories that cause stress. It’s often called denial.

Some people won’t do what you want them to do. It could be students, employees or your partner. Some people will not follow your suggestions – even when you are sure that your suggestions are excellent. You may call these people overly passive, passive-aggressive, aggressive … or resistant.

If you find yourself discouraged by such people, you can ponder which is better: people who do everything you say, or people who consider and evaluate your ideas.

Although most helping professionals can recognize resistant clients; they may forget their own resistances and assume that all the issues are on the clients’ side. They’re not of course – resistance only exists in relationships – resistance is a dance.

How do you respond to resistance? Can you remain calm, deal with it and move on? Most definitions of psychological resistance are based in Freud’s theories in which resistance is a client’s efforts to repress anxiety or to fight someone’s influence.

I disagree. Resistance means that people are objecting to something – perhaps to their unmet needs or to my communication style. Resistance determines the steps and duration of our sessions … and how rapidly problems are solved.

While the most common resistance patterns are shown by people who delay getting help and who delay resolving their problems, I more often see lasting results with more resistant people, and shorter-term results with more compliant people.

Goals: Who, Where, When and with Whom

While few people seem to know exactly what they want – most people have some sense of goal direction, even if they focus on defining what they don’t want.

Goals and blocks can be better defined around specific people, places, events and times. Sometimes these are obvious – e.g. a present partner, a future colleague; or a past boss. Usually; the more clarity – the less resistance.

For example, a client has a goal, “I don’t want to feel nervous”. After goalwork this could be, “I want to feel relaxed when I discuss my salary with my boss next Monday.”

Solutions can be Scary

Some people fear dentists more than their pain! Some people are more scared of possible solutions than they are of their problems! So I often focus on their fears and then the goal direction.

One man told me how much he hated his job and how badly he wanted to leave, but he was too scared because he depended on the income and the job market was tough. So we changed focus from whether he should leave to what he would enjoy doing instead and how to prepare for that.

A woman described her medical symptoms, which her doctor thought were psychosomatic. Her disease seemed to be a solution to her relationship chaos – betraying her husband, abandoning her children, abusing her siblings … and more. I asked her if she would like to clarify and resolve those relationship issues, and she said, “No – I would rather die“.

Be Naive

The greater the resistance, the more likely that a person is stuck on limited solutions. As you become aware of other solutions, you may talk more authoritatively about the problem. Yet the more authoritatively you talk, the more you give your client something to resist. Being too confident about your solutions may encourage resistance. (Signs of this include people saying “Yes-No” and “Yes, but …” answers to your suggestions.)

Show Empathy

People rarely change because of logic; people change for emotional reasons. Yet, because emotions can be uncomfortable, clients may block their awareness of their emotions. Psychologists call this repression.

For example, someone says that he or she wants to quit smoking – this may not be because of a future risk of cancer, heart attacks, etc – he or she wants to quit when these issues directly affect them now – which may be too late.

Take Tiny Steps

Resistance can follow poor timing. Explanations, before a client is ready to listen to them, may be too confronting. Slow down, back up, and take smaller steps.

How can we move people tiny steps toward resolving their problem? We do not “push” people – if we slow down a little, people often “pull” us toward their own solutions. Then complex goals becomes much more manageable.

Consider a parent whose child has just died. Accepting that loss may not be possible right now, so we may ask that person how they might honor their lost child. In this way, the emotions about the loss may gradually become more accessible for assimilation.

Resistance is part of human relationships

Have you ever wanted to be nice – but you argued? Have you felt like you were trying to convince someone to do something – and felt drained afterwards? If you feel insecure, incompetent or stressed and people sense this, their resistance may increase further! Why should they trust you if you cannot manage your own emotions?

Do you associate resistance with stupidity, ignorance or defiance? If you label people like this, you may be more stuck than they are!

Benefits of Resistance

Resistance is a natural part of problem solving and understanding resistance can reduce your stress. If you deal with resistance before you encounter it, you are less likely to fight your clients. Resistance is useful for

  1. indicating underlying conflicts
  2. providing a sense of being right
  3. providing stability in social systems
  4. providing predictability, security and comfort

Examples of Resistance

Chronic fear. Do you fear change?

Bonds. Do you defend your limiting beliefs?

Fear of failure. Do you want to be seen as perfect?

Identification. Are you chronically angry, anxious or sad?

Manipulation. Do you manipulate someone by not changing?

Exhaustion. Do you lack energy or motivation to do the work?

Shame. Do you feel guilt or shame for not resolving your issues?

Mentor damage. Do you resist change because you were told to?

Dependence. Do you pretend to have problems to maintain a relationship?

Transference. Do you distrust people who remind you of past disappointments?

Few resistant people want to change …
they just want other people to change!

Are you ready to solve your emotional issues and relationship problems?

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