Parents want their adult children to embrace the freedom of adulthood and spread their wings to pursue independence and their life’s purpose. Enter reality: there can be many bumps along the road to adulthood and living an independent life. When you add serious mental illness or addiction to the mix, the growth and change your family is called upon to undergo can be intimidating, overwhelming, confusing, and create all kinds of feelings and reactions. It can also be hugely transformative.
The myth of resistance
When we encounter stubbornness, defiance, or opposition in another person we typically say, “The other person is resisting”. However, psychologist Clifton Mitchell, Ph.D. has written that there is little benefit from seeing resistance in this way.
When we place a negative label on our adult children, we then move into a position of being stuck with them. In order to avoid this stuck position and its attenuating complexities, Mitchell suggests we consider other perspectives:
- Resistance is a reflection of the developmental level of your family member.
- Resistance is a signal that your family member is dealing with a very important issue.
Don’t label; instead focus on solutions
Mitchell suggests not labeling someone else as resistant. Instead, eliminate it as a concept. No matter how much reluctance or defiance is displayed, see it as important information regarding how your family member is dealing with change. Mitchell says that resistance is not the opposite of cooperation, but in fact they are two sides of the same coin. A lot of how we perceive resistance is how we, ourselves, react to it.
Are you contributing to a resistant dynamic?
Read through the following statements. Consider how resistance is not something that resides within your family member, but originates in the interactions between you:
- Resistance occurs when one family member fails to recognize that everyone is ambivalent about change
- Resistance sometimes occurs when a family member wants more for their family member than they want for themself. In this sense, resistance can be a values-clash between family members.
- Resistance is a result of one family member being too focused on their own agenda.
- Resistance = family expectations
- Resistance occurs when a family member starts trying to solve another family members problems for them
- Resistance occurs when a family member is going too fast
- Resistance occurs when a family member does not know what to do
- Resistance occurs when one family member fails to cooperate with another family member
- Whenever you feel your family member is being resistant, you must also be resisting their position.
How did we get here? Two kinds of resistance
It is important for us to know there are two types of resistance we might encounter when supporting a family member through any mental health crisis:
- Resistance from an internal struggle or growth edge our family member is encountering
- Resistance that results from our own misstep as a family member in our interactions with the family member we are supporting
It’s a hard thing to acknowledge as caregivers (because we’re so closely tied to the care and nurturing of our family members) that we cannot change our children or family members. We can only change the ways we interact with them. Our adult children change and grow when they decide to do so.
How to find a path forward
So how do you break the cycle of you and your family member getting into a battle of wills?
The first step is to bring yourself mindfully to each interaction with your family member. Make this a commitment. Also, ponder the 9 points listed above. Figure out when resistance is coming from you or from an internal struggle within your family member. These are subtle, but powerful touch-points for their social and emotional growth. Often this process requires you to slow down a lot, and take the time to examine, deeply, your knee-jerk reactions in emotional situations.
These 9 points that Mitchell outlines can serve as the roadmap to the path forward. When we focus on our relationship with our family members and with ourselves, we empower ourselves to make the needed adjustments.