Why does what we resist persist?

Recently I’ve been taking stock of what I believe in. I want to get crystal clear on what I know to be true and what I stand for. I’m trying to get underneath the assumptions to look at where these understandings evolved from, both in my own life and in a larger cultural context. And I’m looking to understand whether these beliefs serve me and whether I still want to hold onto them.

A belief that has made more and more sense to me as I go through this healing journey that I’m on is, “What we resist persists.” The more I try to struggle away from being unwell, the more my body is manifesting illness.

This is an idea that comes up again and again is spiritual texts and self-help books. I’d had it explained to me many times in relation to the Law of Attraction: the Universe is waiting to fulfill our desires but it doesn’t hear negatives. So if I keep saying, “I don’t want to be sick. I don’t want to sick. I don't want to be sick,” all the Universe hears is “sick” and that’s what it brings me.

What I wasn’t understanding was, with my focus on being well, why wasn’t the Universe hearing that? Why wasn’t it bringing me wellness?

Reading Body Calm by Sandy Newbigging put this into perspective for me. His book teaches a self-healing meditation technique (which is radically changing my life - I highly recommend it!) One of the main principals this technique is based on is that stress is not the ultimate cause of disease, as is often touted, because stress is ultimately caused by internal conflict.

We experience conflict when we’re simultaneously resisting something and attached to something else. For example, I’m resisting being ill and attached to being healthy. This conflict doesn’t allow for the inner peace and harmony required for self-healing and wellness.

This was an interesting perspective change for me because I realized that my attachment to wellness was really another way of resisting illness; they were two sides of the same coin. Until I healed that internal conflict (Sandy outlines some really simple but powerful strategies for doing this in his book), all of my focus on health was still another form of resistance. Instead, I’ve been shifting my focus towards inner harmony.

But maybe you’re sitting there and thinking there that the belief “What we resist persists” still seems a little out there and woo-woo. But when I dug even further, I found that this idea didn’t originate in the new age community at all. In fact, it was an integral part of the the work of famous psychotherapist Viktor Frankl.

From this psychological perspective, whatever we give our attention to we give our energy to and this supports its continuation. For example, studies have shown that when people who stutter try to control their stutter, they inevitably stutter more and with increased intensity. But if they focus on trying to stutter, they actually stutter less.

This passage from Are We There Yet?: A Guide to Living and Death by Dennis D. Hunt explains it really well:


"When we are opposed to something or try to stop ourselves doing something that we do not want to continue - like overeating, or smoking - whatever we are seeking to resist invariably will persist because of the energy we give to it through out increased attention to it. ... Imagine that you are facing someone and trying to push them over. Likewise they are resisting and trying to push you over. Think what would happen if either of you suddenly stopped pushing, without warning, and stepped to one side. The other person would be impelled forward by their own impetus and most likely fall flat on their face. So to remove energy from something will lead to it collapsing. Literally - to oppose is to support. It is on the basis of this principle that the throws, performed so effortlessly in the sport of Judo are based. Judo experts learn to turn their opponents' energy against them, thus minimising the amount of energy that they need to emply to achieve their aims."


It helped me to understand my belief that “What we resist persists,” in terms of anecdotal experiences from my own life, metaphysical laws, and the more concrete laws of physics. Of course some beliefs may need to be held based on blind faith alone, but breaking things down in this way really helped me look at how resistance was impacting my own life.

In his book, Dennis Hunt explains that a more effective means of quitting smoking than abstinence might be forcing yourself to smoke even when you aren’t craving one until you have a negative reaction to cigarettes. Similarly, in my interview with Carolyn Elliott she explained that she needed to celebrate and embrace her poverty before she could create abundance. In both cases I think these are examples of eliminating the internal conflict that Sandy talks about.

In your own life it can be really helpful to look at what you’re currently resisting and what you’re attached to (whether that’s certain behaviours, outcomes, or even people). Then look at how you can create harmony and heal the conflict by creating peace with (and even celebrating!) exactly how things are right now, in this moment.

Because otherwise, you’re just going to get more of the same anyway.