It takes a lot of courage to move on. We don’t want to. We are not interested in cutting slack to those who have hurt us - and they have hurt us. Maybe unintentionally, but they should have known better, we think.
There’s a concept in psychology called resistance. Resistance comes in many forms, one of which is the aversion to feeling better. We don’t want to feel better; we want to feel sad, hurt, and angry.
A study was conducted demonstrating that “facial action influences the perception of emotional faces and biological motion stimuli.” Simply put, smiling makes you happy, frowning makes you sad. According to the journal Experimental Psychology, a smile - even a fake smile - can have a positive impact on your mood.
The truth is, we don’t need Experimental Psychology to teach us this; we’ve heard the idea before. We’ve been taught this concept countless times, which begs the question: How many people have you seen smile to get out of a bad mood? No one uses this simple trick to improve their mood. Why not?! Shouldn’t we see people walking around with oversized smiles on their faces, trying to rid themselves of chronic grumpiness?
Obviously, people would rather wallow in their misery than improve their frame of mind. When people walk into my office, their goals and my goals are quite different. Clients want me to change their situation. I can’t do that. As a therapist, the most important question I want to explore is why you don’t want to feel better. I can’t ask this question right out, as people’s defenses are flammable, ready to erupt at a moment’s notice. We have to subtly explore patterns of behavior, communication styles, and interpersonal relationships to expose the truth.
So why? Why don’t we want to feel better?
Unfortunately, it depends. There is no universal answer to this question, but there is a superficial answer that will get us part of the way there.
Just this week I was driving on the Van Wyck, when a red Chevy cut in front of me. I was pretty frustrated and apparently followed the car closer than was appreciated because the driver short-stopped, screeching to a stop in front of me as a warning.
In an instant, my heart was on fire, burning with anger. I had to do something.
“He can’t get away with this. I’m going to roll down my window and say something to him…or her. Hmm, didn’t think of that, not sure I’d feel as comfortable rolling down my window to intimidate a woman. Or maybe it’s a 6’4 he; that wouldn’t be good either. Or what if he’s a gang member? Or has a gun? Either way I’m wearing a suit, running late to a session, and put on a few pounds since marriage - all reasons not to get into fisticuffs.” Before I’d finalized my plan for retaliation, the Chevy sped off towards the Grand Central, leaving me to mull over my thought process until exit 11.
I was fuming. I tried to calm down, but couldn’t.
“Relax, Nissan, he’s gone. He’s a nincompoop and doesn’t deserve your attention.”
“Yea, but how can I let him get away with this?”
As I processed that sentence, I observed my resistance to feeling better. There is justice in feeling angry. I had somehow decided that feeling angry at the nincompoop was exacting justice.
Was it though? He was still on the Grand Central, had probably short-stopped in front of some other chump, and thinks quite highly of his driving abilities. I, on the other hand, was a mess. Livid, distracted, and oblivious to the Odyssey that stopped as the light on Park Drive East turned red. I slammed on my brakes just in time.
“Nincompoop’s fault,” I thought.
In psychology, we call this “justice” magical thinking. Magical thinking is a concept that can be found at the root of many day-to-day struggles we experience. It presumes a causal link between one’s inner, personal experience and the external physical world. This means we engage in self-destructive thought processes, thinking that they are protecting us, when in fact they are doing the opposite.
We get angry to exact justice, but only hurt ourselves in the process.
We feel anxious to protect from disaster, but anxiety wreaks havoc that surpasses our initial worry or fear.
This is often the key to understanding our resistance. There is a flawed thought process, a “cognitive distortion,” dictating how we feel. If we seek out the miscalculation, the results can be significant.
If we want to enjoy our lives, have fulfilling relationships, and bring up healthy children, we must expose our resistance. The place to start is with a little introspection.
Why don’t we want to accept our children’s challenges at school? What are we afraid of? Is the way we protect them from their futures causing more damage than the future we’re afraid of?
Why do we struggle to embrace our spouse’s personalities, shortcomings and all? What are we frightened of? Are we holding on to the fallacy that not accepting them as they are will somehow change them? This seems counterproductive, as people are known to thrive in environments where they are accepted, loved, and held in positive regard.
Why are we slow to forgive, adamant to remain with our feet firmly planted in the mud? We don’t win by holding a grudge. We feel the pain of strife and conflict, even when we are the ones holding it in place. Do we think we are winning? Are we teaching a lesson to the offender? No! There are zero lessons taught during machlokes. Everyone loses, yet everyone engages.
It’s wild to consider, but we think we are acting in our best interests, and are doing just the opposite.
Let us take stock of our inner thought process, dig deeper to understand ourselves further, and use what we learn to improve our lives, and the lives of those around us.