Defensiveness and Resistance
By: Javan
December 1, 2013

The resistance to acknowledge childhood and family of origin issues is common. What you learn and tell yourself about your life experiences in your childhood is crucial to understanding and recognizing the obstacles in your marriage. These are defenses that have been honed, sharpened, well built, and have been contributing to causing pain in your life. Unfortunately, the resistance to look at these issues causes a blind spot. This creates a dangerous denial.

What is resistance? Resistance is not always clear or obvious. Resistance can look like anger, hurt feelings, defensiveness, push back, etc. Resistance is the defense mechanism that responds to a topic in therapy that says, “I don’t want to look at this topic.” “I don’t want to be mad at anyone.” “I don’t want to be blamed for that.” Then a string of rationalizations or avoidance may occur. Why can we not talk about this? What is difficult about talking about it? Clients sometimes say, “We can’t talk about that, that’s too painful.” “I need to stop therapy because it’s going in a certain direction.” “I’m not ready.”

Managing client resistance in therapy is key to helping people see their challenges. When resistance isn’t managed well, key elements of the therapy process can be missed, leaving holes in the client’s understanding of themselves. Becoming a reactive therapist will throw therapy off. Taking a client’s defense mechanism personally is going down the proverbial  “rabbit hole.” Resistance is indicative of unhealthy intimacy issues. For instance, what is difficult to talk about in therapy is also not being talked about at home or addressed interpersonally. Denial of personal responsibility causes marital turmoil. The natural tendency to be unable to communicate about deeper issues shows up in the therapy office.

Being a good therapist means being able to manage such defenses, holding clients responsible for their reactions, and pointing out the pain and discomfort around a topic. If resistance is not managed well, the defense mechanism can be misunderstood, taken personally by either partner in the relationship and even by the therapist. Understanding that a client has triggers, fears, and defense mechanisms that have been developed for good reason is crucial to good therapy. Resistance is part of growing up so survival is possible. However, as adults, these defense mechanisms no longer serve the same purpose; becoming points of contention in intimate relationships. These fear based reactions are designed in childhood and young adulthood against pain. It is in the resistance we learn most about our clients and how they respond in relationships. Acknowledging how resistance blocks recovery and working towards unfolding those defense mechanisms is good therapy. Peace