How Resisting Causes More Pain: Accept and Help Yourself Heal

Arms Wide Open

“Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it.” ~Eckhart Tolle

My partner, Ruth, and I were not happy.

The inside of her mouth was covered in sores, she couldn’t swallow well, and she was exhausted. The chemotherapy was ravaging her body. Something had to be done.

When her oncologist, Dr. Patel, came into the room, he perched on his little rolling stool and looked up at her Ruth where she sat on the exam table with her legs dangling.

She railed against the chemotherapy and what it was doing to her. I seconded her sentiments silently with frequent nods and frowns.

After some time, Ruth finished her diatribe and crossed her arms, daring Dr. Patel to fix this invasion into the very lifeline of her system.

His expression had never changed during her speech. He looked at her intently, listening carefully, but his eyes were soft with care and concern. Now those eyes looked deeply into hers.

“Ruth, don’t resist. Don’t resist the chemotherapy. Allow each drop to enter your body in a healing way and do its work. Resistance does not help you; it only saps your energy. In your treatment, in your work, in all places in your life—don’t resist. Go with whatever comes rather than struggling against it.”

Ruth and I looked at each other and then back at Dr. Patel.

Don’t resist?

Hadn’t we been told to fight this cancer? Weren’t we encouraged to imagine little SWAT teams inside her body waging an assault on her wayward cells? Now this little Hindu doctor with the kind eyes and mischievous smile was telling us not to resist?

I had never, even for a moment, thought about this concept. Oh, I knew about “letting go” because I’m a therapist, after all, and we know about these things.

But it had not crossed my mind to do anything except fight this illness that was threatening my beloved Ruth and the treatment that was making her miserable.

Now, as if in a movie where everything suddenly goes into slow motion, the moment after Dr. Patel finished speaking, my thinking began to expand.

I could see how this gentle “don’t resist” directive could benefit us during Ruth’s journey with cancer, but it could also benefit me as I struggled with my own demons of insecurity and self-doubt.

And at work where I let small problems affect me in a big way.

And with my family when I grew impatient with them and . . . the ramifications of this little idea were enormous.

I looked over at Ruth and could see the moment she got it, too. Her head cocked slightly to the side and her body relaxed. A slight smile replaced her angry countenance of the moment before.

“Yes, yes, I think I see what you mean,” she said quietly, as though part of her was still chewing on the concept.

Later, as we drove home, we talked about it.

“When I think about it, it makes perfect sense!” Ruth said with excitement in her voice.

“I keep resisting things as they come up and I don’t have to do that. I can go with the flow instead. Maybe this cancer thing has something to teach us, Pwum,” she said, using the familiar, funny little nickname we had for each other.

Now as we drove home from the cancer center, I could see how the simple phrase, “Don’t resist” was going to form a strong foundation for us.

“This is going to be really important for us, Pwum,” I mused.

“I think this just might change our lives.”

Letting Disassembly Happen

It did change our lives.

When cancer first made its shattering appearance, we tried very hard to hold everything together, to keep the pieces of our lives in place.

But now, with Dr. Patel’s simple advice, we let a kind of disassembly happen. Instead of being frightened of her treatment, we approached it with curiosity.

Rather than fighting and flailing about the side effects, including the loss of her spectacular silver hair, Ruth engaged her greatest weapon of non-resistance: her humor.

Besides resting at home and tending to our herd of cats, Ruth loved to get out and socialize. She attended a potluck at my workplace and was inundated by my staff members who knew her and loved her.

How was she feeling? What could they do to help?

One of my new employees who hadn’t met Ruth before introduced herself. And then, feeling a little awkward about discussing cancer, she asked hurriedly, “How are you? What are you doing?”

Ruth smiled and shrugged her shoulders, “Oh, well, you know. It’s just me and six cats sitting at home shedding.”

Learning to Not Resist

So how do you develop a practice of non-resistance? Here are some ideas to get you started.

1. Notice when you’re resisting.

If Ruth and I had been more aware of resisting before Dr. Patel pointed it out to us, we would have noticed the following signs of resistance:

  • Anger
  • Frustration
  • Feelings of tension in the body
  • The insistence that things around us must change

What are your own symptoms of resistance?

Look for physical sensations such as:

  • Tightness in the stomach, chest, or shoulders
  • Shallow breathing
  • Clenching your fists
  • Headaches and/or stomach aches

Notice these kinds of thoughts:

  • “This should not be happening to me.”
  • “This is unfair.”
  • “I hate this so much, it has to stop.”
  • “Life isn’t supposed to be like this.”

Become aware of behaviors like these:

  • Avoiding the source of your discomfort
  • Lashing out at others in anger
  • Becoming easily frustrated
  • Isolating or avoiding talking about what’s bothering you
  • Talking constantly about what’s bothering you

2. Allow some disassembly.

We are made up of a wonderful compilation of thoughts, feelings, experiences, and beliefs about ourselves and the world.

However, sometimes we cling so hard to this compilation that it’s hard for us to do something different when we need to make a change.

You’ve seen the phrase “some assembly required” on toys and furniture boxes.

Now adopt for yourself the expression, “Some disassembly required.”

Be open to letting yourself fall apart a bit.

You don’t have to stay disassembled forever, but as you put yourself back together, try some new ways of being, feeling, and thinking.

Try going with the flow of events in your life rather than against them.

3. Use a variety of coping skills that are non-resisting.

As I mentioned above, Ruth employed her very dry, quick sense of humor whenever she could to help her go where cancer brought her rather than struggling to get to another place.

Look for coping skills that are helpful to you and non-resisting as well such as:

  • Humor, including several daily rounds of gut-busting laughter
  • Mindfulness
  • Meditation, especially self-compassion and loving-kindness meditations
  • Surrounding yourself with loving friends who understand and support you on your path of non-resistance
  • Committing acts of kindness for other people
  • Noting what you are grateful for at least once a week
  • Savoring the everyday, tiny moments of grace in your life

I wish you much disassembly and non-resistance as you go about the journey of your days.

Photo by Repoort

About Bobbi Emel

Psychotherapist Bobbi Emel specializes in helping people face life’s significant challenges and regain their resiliency. Download her free ebook, “Bounce Back! 5 keys to survive and thrive through life’s ups and downs.” You can find her blog at and follow her on Facebook ( and Twitter (@BobbiEmel.).

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  • Amylou

    thankyou for yr post and reminders, I am currently obsessing over yet another cold, and so desparately want to heal and be well- ive tried lots of things but am sensing I need to let go but it seems so hard! I understand letting go of resistence logically but actually doing it seems elusive for a recovering perfectionist like myself 🙂

  • Foodie

    Food sensitivites that I tend to think are just a ‘figment’ and I should be able to eat anything I want. This article is another opportunity for me to do a reality check and adjust my diet accordingly. I just more steps forward between each step back.

  • Melinda Gonzalez

    Awesome article, and something I am learning to do now. I have spent my whole life resisting bad things, and all it does is make you miss opportunities for learning and growth.

    For some reason, us humans learn best through pain. We just get too comfortable otherwise, and don’t evolve. It is through the pain that we learn, grow, and mature. Knowing this, I can pretty much handle anything. I know whatever is happening at the moment is EXACTLY what I need.

    Looking back over my life, the hardest times became the catalyst for the biggest changes in my life. It was only by going through the pain, not resisting, that I was able to see the benefit of what I was going through.

    The universe gives us exactly what we need when we need it.

  • lv2terp

    This is a wonderful and inspiring post! Thank you for sharing your experience, and tips! I love what the Dr. said to Ruth that day, brilliant and wonderful that happened! 🙂 Wonderful, thank you!!!

  • Great article. I particularly like the first and second tips in learning to not resist. You have to be able to recognize you are resisting, and feel your situation, before you are able to accept it and learn to live with it in a healthy manner.

  • Sumitha

    Another beautifully written post, Bobbi! I am sorry for your pain and loss…

    Love the “some disassembly required” idea! I remember the time when my grand father passed away. I was still a young girl. My mom was distraught and one of her aunts told her to go ahead and cry. It sounded strange to me, because we were raised to “be brave” and “not cry”. I think my mom did let herself fall apart, because after a day or so we were all sitting down and sharing funny stories of my grand father and laughing… celebrating his life, instead of mourning his death. Some disassembly and reassembly was definitely required to be able to do that!

  • It makes sense…when you resist, you’re pushing back and focusing on what you don’t want, when instead if you let go you can turn your attention to what you do want. I hope all is well and Ruth has recovered/is well on the way.

  • Yes, you are right about being able to focus on what you really want when you stop resisting! I appreciate your kind thoughts about Ruth. She died four years after being diagnosed with metastatic cancer. We had a wonderful journey that you can read about here and there on my blog, Bounce.

  • Sumitha, how wonderful that your mom was encouraged to cry. Gosh, I wish more people would do that! Disassembly can be painful and refreshing at the same time!

  • Glad you liked the article, Jorge!

  • I know – who would have thought such spiritual wisdom would come from an oncologist? Lucky us! Thanks for your kind words.

  • Thanks for sharing your story and insights, Melinda. I had a wise friend who, when also going through a cancery journey, always said in a peaceful way, “Everything is right on schedule!” I love that.

  • Yes, perfectionism and resistance are natural enemies, aren’t they, Amylou? 😉

  • Tam

    Thank you. This a wonderfully written post. Who would have thought resisting causes more grief than going with the flow. I really wasn’t aware that I am actually resisting when I am feeling angry and upset about matters I feel should just automatically go my way. I truly appreciate the wisdom you have shard through such a personal journey. Once again thank you.

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  • kavin paker

    You deserve the very best of everything, and I wish that for you, wholeheartedly.
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  • kavin paker

    I found it really touching as well. As a recovering perfectionist, I
    know that pressure all too well–and what a relief it is to let it go!
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  • kavin paker

    Not to mention that this was beautifully written. Simple, direct but very thoughtful piece. Ian Filippini Santa

  • kavin paker

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  • Alberto

    I’m a bit late, I guess, but thanks from my side too. Most comments on this topic tell us to “not resist”, assuming that “not resisting” is so easy that it requires no further elaboration. But it does, because while “not resisting” may in the end really be simple, it goes against the grain of what we’ve learned. Your contribution fills this gap, in a way that I think I can go ahead and follow it.

  • Santa-san

    “Stop resisting, and just let life kick you around”