Fear vs. Resistance. The Vortex.

I have often seen the words fear and resistance being used interchangeably. I don’t believe they are one and the same thing. Often we use words that are slight variations of each other for nuance, but I don’t think this is the case either with these two. I think the distinction is as follows:

Fear is the pure experience of danger, of a perceived threat. It is an emotional response as well as the sensations that accompany it.

Resistance on the other hand has an element of reluctance within it, reluctance towards what is being experienced. In resistance, the will is at least partially opposed to the experience. It isn’t fully convinced about the necessity of a course of action, but goes along with it.

Perhaps the connection between the two is that resistance can create fear and fear can create resistance, but I don’t believe they are one and the same thing. Because one can experience fear and not experience resistance, which is what perhaps courage is, the key element here being the willingness to experience.

A good visual for this is climbing stairs in order to reach the top. Resistance either isn’t convinced that it wants what is at the top, that it is worth it, that it is right or it wants it but isn’t willing to climb the stairs to claim it.

Resistance and fear can create a very nightmarish vicious circle, which I sometimes refer to as the vortex. It pulls you in and you feel like you can’t escape it, feeling like you have no control and being sucked deeper and deeper into it.

For the purposes of illustration, imagine that one finds themselves in a circumstance where their sense of safety is destabilized. This is something that has happened to me. I had a few experiences after which the trust that I was safe and supported in the world vanished. This was not something that was objectively true, but an inner perception.

Now imagine that at the same time, this situation cannot be left due to resistance. You can see how this situation may appear like captivity, like a deadlock… The person tries to leave, finds themselves unable to, panics, tries again, then repeats. This response inevitably leads to a sense of helplessness and despair.

The trauma-induced fear presses upon the will to take action, perceiving itself to be unsafe, but the will is blocked, so the person is caught in an endless cycle of fear and resistance which can destabilize the person significantly.

Now, once again imagine that a miracle opportunity presents itself, almost like the rescue one was longing for. The person may get well excited in the beginning and engage with it, but watch what happens when the moment of choice comes along. Should be easy to say yes to this opportunity, right?

Ha, not quite. If the opportunity isn’t a clear soul calling that neutralizes all resistance, the person will feel resistance to it. One may wait for the occasion to follow their bliss and that may never come along. As for the alternative, going forward in resistance is painful. That would be much like putting your car in reverse while going forward, or another visual, like an upset child who has to do something he doesn’t want to do, messing everything up or doing everything halfheartedly or partially, with no sense of commitment or responsibility towards the goal he is meant to fulfill.

At the other pole, you have the fear of landing back into the same scary situation one was trying to escape from. So on one end you have the fear of being trapped pressing upon the will to take action, while on the other you have the resistance to the much wanted change pulling it in the opposite direction. Which causes the will to short-circuit, to paralyze. The will is torn apart and cannot take action.

Outwardly it may look like the person has difficulty deciding, like they can’t make up their mind about what to do, as though every perspective was equal and no motivation carries more weight than another. The mind tries to make sense of it objectively, but the true discussion, the true pros and cons are happening at an irrational and unconscious level. The mind cannot solve this problem because the external is not a strong enough motivator for change, but the unconscious makes it seem so.

Blue Water Swirling in a Whirlpool

Since to the person in question it seems that this is a matter of life and death, it is more convenient, or so it seems, to hype one’s self up about the change, to push themselves into the change that appears to them like salvation. That’s applying pressure from above, forcing one’s self into action despite partial reluctance, only to find one’s self unable to carry the choice to its natural conclusion.

You see, you can’t win this game, not within this framework. Perhaps the only way out is through, gotta feel that baseline in order to neutralize it… I don’t know another way… well, a way that doesn’t take great risk. But for a more balanced or incremental approach, I suppose that the only way is to relax where you are, like that spiritual advice I heard, thus making the struggle irrelevant. Finding that safety and stability right there. Because the part that wants to run away thinks that the only way it can have it is for it to be given from an external factor. So in the pursuit of freedom, the person ends up feeling less and less free.

Seek freedom and become captive of your desires. Seek discipline and find your liberty.

– Frank Herbert

There are a few aspects to this that I want to mention. I think this is tightly linked to depression and anxiety. I have a theory that depression comes when one feels powerless to achieve what one believes is important to them, while anxiety happens when one feels resistance towards their experience but still feels a sense of possibility. The reason I am mentioning depression is that it seems to me that depression takes away the concern about one’s survival needs and that means it becomes difficult to find inner motivations to act towards purposes pertaining to survival. That’s why external motivations become important, for one cannot find within themselves the will to pay the price for the purpose of survival only, not seeing beyond this any possibility of fulfillment. It is a painful situation to say the least.

The trick is that because one is so distracted by trying to escape, one misses the opportunity to find fulfillment through other channels. Because one does not accept their situation, they are living in fear and resistance. Whereas, if one accepted their limitations, temporary limitations, one could engage with other people, find joyful experiences that can enrich and support their life and arrive at an entirely new baseline of safety. Basically what one was trying to achieve trying to escape – safety and freedom, the safety to explore, a safe haven – paradoxically comes by accepting the situation itself and taking steps towards self-responsibility.

At least that’s my theory, since I haven’t seen the end of this. I have to admit, I resisted till the end. But hey, negative experience is experience too.

So there you have it, a proposition of a way out that is really no way out at all, it’s more like a reorientation of attention. And then perhaps it would become apparent that it was you who were spinning the vortex all along.

The Purpose of Negative Emotions

This seems to be a recurring theme for me, so I thought I’d put together a few things I have noticed in regards to integrating negative emotions.

If expressing negative emotions as a child seemed to generate negative consequences or negative reactions in the child’s caretakers, the child may choose to suppress his full expression and instead adopt the conclusion that only positive regard for things is acceptable. The child believes that feeling negative emotions themselves is bad, so he learns to defend himself from them by suppression or denial. What the child doesn’t know is that his ability to say no to things is part of his self-expression, his boundaries, his active principle in the world.

Since being loved is a survival need, the child feels that he cannot enforce his boundaries, because he has to be permitted to, so the child learns other means of getting his needs met: evasion, manipulation, isolation. His mechanism of exploration becomes one of adaptation instead of active engagement with his environment, so instead of developing his selfhood and taking action towards getting his needs met upon growing up, he learns to develop reactively to his environment.

The inability to say no transfers into attitudes towards giving and receiving too. If the child felt that he was not allowed to say no in order to claim his selfhood, the word yes begins to feel like self-sacrifice, while the word no feels like guilt and rebellion.

Later in life, the adult may find himself paralyzed or confused about his life. His actions may seem to lead nowhere and life may take an air of senselessness or meaninglessness. Apathy, laziness, depression, helplessness or hopelessness can arise as a sign of unfelt/unexpressed negative feelings, the thought behind these experiences being “I can’t” which is an indication of a paralyzed willpower.

Unfelt/unexpressed anger/fear/pain in particular causes the flow of energy within one’s self to stagnate. If you look into anger, you will see that it is a sign that one’s willpower, voice, self-expression or rights have been obstructed. Therefore, anger in itself is not bad, it is a side effect of something else, a side effect of denied self-expression. Its message is “I have the right to be here. Exactly as I am.”

Anger has its purpose, it is a call for taking back your power. If it is felt and expressed in a healthy way, it is a very positive force. It becomes destructive only when it is displaced or projected upon the external world by blaming, complaining, victimizing, punishing. In its healthy manifestation (felt, understood and expressed) it reveals itself as the force behind healthy boundaries, willpower, integrity, determination, purpose, healthy self-assertion, self-expression. It reveals itself as the same force behind your agency, your active principle in the world. In its negative manifestation (unfelt, projected upon the external world and acted upon) it turns into resentment, apathy, laziness, victimization, rebellion, resistance, misuse of power and control.

“There is an intimate connection between the problem of laziness and feelings that have not been fully experienced. Do not look at laziness as an attitude to be given up at will, if only the person would finally come around to being reasonable and constructive. This is not a moralistic issue at all. Laziness is a manifestation of apathy, stagnation and paralysis, a result of stagnant energy in the soul substance. Stagnant soul substance is the result of feelings that have not been fully experienced or expressed, and therefore their significance and true origin have not been totally understood. When feelings are not thus experienced, understood and expressed, they accumulate and stop the flow of the life force.”

– Eva Pierrakos

Anger seems to be widely regarded as a negative thing, but that is solely if you judge by appearences, if you think of it as a cause, instead of as the effect of something else. But just like in medicine, the symptoms are not the problem. The cause lies in misperception coupled with suppressed emotions. We often suppress negative emotions precisely because we believe them to be bad or believe ourselves to be bad if we experience them. And this is where shoulds come into play.

It is true, some people seem to have the good qualities of patience, levity, joy, but that is not because they suppress their negative emotions, it is because they have understood its message, understood their early experiences and come to a higher understanding.

An example that comes to mind to exemplify this is that when we think of inner peace, we may imagine a Buddhist monk, unshakable and unflinching in the face of the ups and downs of life. Being used to judge solely by results, we do not pause to wonder what sort of life experiences bring forth the lessons necessary to cause such a shift in perspective so that no matter what comes your way you can maintain your peace. Instead, we observe the attitude, the posture, the philosophy, the words , the mannerisms and we try to adopt them ourselves.

We may even understand it at an intellectual level, but what is not immediately apparent are the roots these ideas have grown in the minds of those who experienced what those ideals were or were not, the associations with painful and memorable moments, the trials and errors and the deep understanding they provide. We only see the surface and often it is the surface we try to imitate.

“When feelings are not experienced in their full intensity, the inner life flow must become stagnant. People will find themselves inexplicably paralyzed. Their actions will become ineffectual; life will seem to obstruct all their goals and desires. They find closed doors to realizing their talents, their needs, their selves. So-called laziness may be one manifestation of this paralysis. A lack of creativity or a feeling of general despair may be another. In this latter instance, people may often use a current event or difficulty to explain away their inner state. The truth is that a sense of futility and confusion about life and your role in it must envelop you when you resist living through the feelings you harbor; you go on harboring them because you delude yourself that avoiding the feelings will hurt you less than exposing them. There are many other manifestations. The inability to feel pleasure or to fully experience life is one of the most widespread general effects. However, there is no other way to become fully alive than to keep experiencing your real feelings.”

– Eva Pierrakos

The paradox is that experiencing negative emotions is a positive experience because it is based in reality. Any attempt to run from negative emotions is an expression of that negative emotion. Take envy for instance. Have you ever tried not to be envious of someone? It is my experience that doing so makes everything I say feel uncomfortable, forced or dishonest. Whereas if I am honest, not only do I feel at ease because I am no longer opposing myself, but my self esteem grows because I am showing myself that I can accept myself as I am.

When negativity is acknowledged, accepted, felt and expressed, three things happen:

1. You lose fear of other people because you know that it is your unwillingness to give or to love that is causing the conflict and not the apparent unfairness of the demands of others.

2. The other person loses guilt about being bad for being the persecutor since you express your own part in the conflict.

3. Your boundaries become stronger because negativity is a defense from pain. When your boundaries are stronger, your sense of safety increases and so does your willingness to love and give. You can’t have one without the other.

Therefore, the first step in losing fear of others is in finding, acknowledging, accepting and expressing the negativity you find in yourself. In seeking in this direction, it is important to make the following distinctions:

1. Acknowledging is different than accepting. Acknowledging is admitting to one’s self that the negativity is present within you. Accepting means having no resistance to it being there, not fighting against it or judging it and especially not trying to suppress it.

2. Expressing negativity isn’t acting upon it. It is being truthful to others about our own part in a conflict, being honest about how one really feels.