What you resist, persists

– and how this applies to trauma recovery –

The Swiss psychologist Carl Jung famously said “What you resist not only persists, but will grow in size”. (Over time the quote was shortened to “What you resist, persists.”) But what does it really mean?

What Jung is saying is that the more you resist anything in life, the more you bring it to you. The reason you attract whatever you resist is because you are powerfully focused on it with strong feelings and emotion, and what you focus on with any emotion – be that positive or negative – you bring to you. I’ve seen this principle demonstrated in miraculous ways when people attract money, but also in the unfortunate cases when people resists dealing with the painful emotions of personal traumas.

The following quote from the book Conversations With God explains how to use the power of positive thinking to create what you wish to have:

“Think about what you want to be, do, and have. Think about it often until you are very clear about this. Then, when you are very clear, think about nothing else. Imagine no other possibilities.”

Conversations With God ~ Neal Donald Walsh

But what I would like you to understand is that if you “think often” and “about nothing else”, as the above quote says, about what you do NOT want, you are going to create that which you don’t want – hence “What you resist, persists”.

Knowing that when you hold on to thoughts about something with a lot of emotion, you are, in fact, drawing more of it to you is more than just a tool for understanding why you struggle to attract money, have a great job, or can’t find a life partner. Let’s take the example of money.

Resisting abundance

When you continually think about the fact that you don’t have enough money, you do so with a lot of emotion. Your emotional and mental energy is focused on the lack of money (thoughts with an emotional charge attached to them, act like magnets) so you will be attracting more “lack of money” and situations that support your thinking that you are poor, or don’t have enough, because “lack” is what you are focused on. Going back to Jung’s full quote, your problem of lack of money will 1) remain and 2) become a bigger problem. Expenses will increase, prices will go up, you’ll miss out on sale items, things will break and need replacing, the list of situations that supports your thinking that you “don’t have enough money” is just going to get longer. The trick is to focus your thoughts and emotions on “having money” (as opposed to “not having money”) and start pretending or visualising an abundance of money.

The same thing applies to trauma recovery.

Resisting difficult emotions

As a trauma therapist, I can tell you that the concept of “What you resist not only persists, but will grow in size” also applies when it comes to personal trauma and the symptoms of repressed trauma (including PTSD).

When a traumatic event happens, and it is so overwhelming and painful that we choose to suppress the memory and resist feeling the emotions attached to that memory, we are, in effect, saying “I don’t want to feel the pain, anger, embarrassment, fear”. Just like the person who continues to say “I don’t want to be poor” will remain poor, the emotions you don’t want will continually show up and negatively impact your overall well-being in various ways. 

Pushing down the emotions, will only cause them to push back harder.

The effects of suppressing personal trauma

When traumatic experiences are pushed down and not dealt with, they continue to affect your thoughts and emotions, leading to feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. This can result in a cycle of negative thoughts and behaviors that can be difficult to break, causing anxiety and/or depression.

Another common side effect of resisting personal trauma is that the chronic stress and anxiety caused by the suppression can lead to a weakened immune system. It can also lead to chronic pain as the body may hold onto physical tension and stress from the trauma.

Finally, suppressing personal trauma can also have an impact on your relationships with others. Trauma can affect how individuals perceive themselves and their interactions with others. If trauma is not addressed, you may have difficulty trusting others, forming meaningful relationships, and communicating effectively. This can then lead to a sense of isolation and disconnection from others, which can further exacerbate feelings of anxiety and depression.

It is clear that choosing to resist – to suppress – the personal trauma, causes it to persist and grow bigger. Just as Carl Jung said.

Getting help

If you have been suppressing personal trauma and it’s impacting your life negatively, please speak to someone. You can seek help from counsellors, trauma therapists like myself, a friend who is a good listener, or call a helpline like Lifeline (0861 322 322) or South African Depression And Anxiety Helpline (0800 567 567). Confronting the personal trauma in a safe space can help you to minimize and remove the impact of trauma, rebuild your life with a sense of joy and meaning, reframe the bad experience with a more positive outlook, and achieve a sense of wholeness and acceptance.