We all have our go-to ways of avoiding the discomfort or distress we’re feeling. Rather than carrying on while we’re feeling uncomfortable, we develop patterns of resisting those uncomfortable feelings. Many of our justified solutions to distress and discomfort end up becoming newfound problems.
In Just Do Nothing, I list 11 Resistance Behavior Types. I’ve created these types to help you identify the ways in which you may avoid distress. Read through them to see if anything strikes you as familiar. And, if you see yourself in all 11, have no fear, I do too! Depending on the situation, we may use different ones and there’s a lot of crossover between them. The goal is to get better at noticing when we’re resisting distress and respond differently.
Avoiders and People-Pleasers
These are people who want to avoid, distract or leave early when confronted with distress or discomfort. Or, they’ll go but with lots of safety behaviors “just in case” or “to be safe.” This resistance behavior can also show up through people-pleasing. When the heat is on, avoiders and people-pleasers avoid.
If you have trouble making decisions, question yourself, or always like to get second (through millionth) opinions “just to be sure,” you may be a crowdsourcer/reassurance-seeker.
Comfort Zoners are stuck in their, well, comfort zone. There’s little or not enough discomfort to initiate change. People in this category avoid distress by staying stuck.
Do you shut down by self-medicating or otherwise numbing out? That could involve booze, shopping, substances, food, porn, exercise, not eating, sleeping, shopping, working, watching TV, or scrolling social media. If so, you may be a numb-outer.
Dumbo’s Feather Holders
Where are my mantra, weighted blanket, crystals, oils, supplement lovers? I have nothing against any of these mechanisms, and I’ve dabbled in all of them myself when trying to get rid of a feeling. It’s when we make the false connection that these items are responsible for calming our anxiety or distress. Just as Dumbo didn’t think he could fly without his feather, one could start believing she can’t go places or do things without her safe objects.
Instead of feeling the distress or discomfort of getting started, it can be easier (in the short term) to organize your shit for the hundredth time or wait until you’re more inspired or your space is perfect. If your excuses are endless, you know what I’m talking about.
At the first sign of discomfort or distress, do you turn to your favorite podcaster, influencer, writer, guru, or fitness instructor to try to get rid of the feeling (or “negativity”)? While there’s nothing wrong with getting hyped up, if you don’t translate that momentum into actionable steps, you’re still left ill-equipped to handle life’s challenges.
Good Vibes Only/No Negativity Folks
All positivity, all the time.
I’m all for feeling good, but there’s an implicit belief that “feeling bad” should be controlled, managed, and “fixed” right away. When you start to struggle, you work harder to suppress your feelings — until they implode or explode.
I’m sure you know someone who tries to optimize every aspect of their life. Or maybe you do? It’s through this optimization that you try to avoid ever being uncomfortable or distressed.
Micromanagers (Controlling Behaviors)
I’m not talking about the kinds of controlling behaviors we see in abusive relationships. I’m talking about behaviors like micromanaging partners, kids, employees, and your own image to try and reduce any chance of something going wrong. A metaphor I often use with my clients to describe this resistance behavior category is the realtor who tries to sell you a beautiful home but only lets people into one room.
If your reality is difficult, and you’re feeling a lot of pain, you may find it appealing to start daydreaming about a time when life was easier or an idealized situation you wish you were living. If this happens once, it’s not a big deal, but it becomes a coping mechanism for a lot of people when faced with a challenge.
Why We Want to Build Distress Tolerance
In the short term, these resisting behaviors work. In the longer term, however, they can become a problem. Because they provide momentary relief (the principle of negative reinforcement), we use them. The more you do something, the more reliant you may become on it, which comes with consequences.
Rather than resist our unpleasant feelings, we want to experience them. You ride them out, allowing them to be there without trying to make them go away. Let them be. Doing so lets you practice responding to distress differently, building your tolerance of it. That’s when you start to change and move toward what you really want.
To read more, check out Just Do Nothing: A Paradoxical Guide to Getting Out of Your Way. Available at your favorite bookseller, including Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Bookshop.