Thursday, May 13, 2010

Roll with Resistance

I met a man today who was resistant. Resistance frustrates me. When people resist things, especially in areas of growing and learning, I just want to push them around- make them give in, or see things how I want them to see them. This was my inclination today with this man. Then, when I began to push, I saw the pain in his eyes. He said, "I don't want to talk about it", but what he meant was, "I am afraid to talk about it, if I do, I may break down." As he left the arena, pretty much in the same manner that he came in, I worried about where his life might lead him. My eyes and thoughts then fell upon the nice moon shaped scar on Bucky's rear end. Now that is a story of resistance.

Bucky had lived a pretty isolated life for about ten years, master of his own herd. When I moved him and his friend, Buster, to his new home two years ago, it was quite a shock to his system. He and Buster were placed in an adjoining pasture to the new herd. Ceasar was the boss of this crew. Bucky, however, was not inclined to take his word for it. To make a long story short, Bucky and Ceasar had their conversations over the fence, each one telling the other that THEY were going to be in charge. The next morning we found Ceasar in the pen with Bucky and Buster, and Bucky with a nice flap of skin removed from his hind end. Ceasar had found that it was important enough to come through the fence, and tell Bucky like it really was.

I used to tell this story with the implication that Bucky just was too full of himself to back down. Today has changed my perspective on this. I was thinking of this in the same way that I deal with resistant people. I act as though it is their own dang fault if they don't get it, that they are resistant simply because they want to be. But the similarity I saw today in Bucky's story and this resistant man was this: they needed to protect something. They needed to protect something. Bucky did not know that soon he and Ceasar would be best friends. All he knew was that he needed to protect his herd, to the death, if necessary. This man's emotions were so great inside of him that he was literally afraid that if he was vulnerable and did not protect them, that it would somehow be too much for him to handle. That protective reaction is very strong. It is part of our survival DNA.

I am challenging my beliefs today about resistance. Who am I to say how important a thing is to a person? Resistance is not just a defense mechanism- sometimes, it is a life skill. Tom Dorrance talks about a horses sense of self-preservation. We can generally understand this when we think about the ongoing saga of prey animals and predators. It is easy to see what he means by the physical sense of self preservation- the need for safety, fight or flight, etc. Often horses also have problems which are the result of their sense of self-preservation in the mental sense. We see these issues in harshly trained horses who need to relearn how to trust people, or even themselves. Tom Dorrance also refers to the importance of protecting the horses sense of self-preservation in regards to his spirit. I suppose that this refers to what we might call dignity, or even self-esteem. Ego, maybe? How many times do people get blamed for their resistance because they "just have too big an ego". Whatever it is, it is a very fine line between something we can see and understand, and something we can't.

What a person protects is important to him, period. Whether that be a thought about changing, or their secret recipe for the world's best brownies. Though it may seem so illogical that a person puts so much effort into resisting something that may be so good for him, I cannot blame him. This problem is his. This resistance is his. All I can do is roll with it. My pushing harder never helps. Dang it.

I have a big horse that is teaching me a lot about rolling with resistance. Particularly recently with all the green, sweet grass, and the need for this 1,500 pound horse to wear a muzzle. You can imagine that a horse that fat would prefer that her eating not be stinted. However, since Riley and I have begun to develop a relationship, I have begun to approach muzzling in a different way than I did last year. When someone is resistant, it is difficult to see how someone or something might potentially help them. Having that relationship and communication helps. When putting Riley's muzzle on, I do not halter her, or even offer treats (though those things would certainly make it easier). What I do is ask for her cooperation and help, and be extremely pleased when I get any of it. I also try to express the intention that I want to do it with her, not to her, or even for her. Horses are very good at reading your intention. Just try putting a muzzle on a loose horse in a 28 acre pasture! People are pretty good at reading intentions too, though they tend to internalize what they see, and make up things about it, which feeds into their feelings of discomfort, distress, or pain.

The problem that I often have in dealing with resistance, whether it be in people or horses, is that I make it about me. I am trying so hard to help; I am frustrated with their lack of participation; I am offended when they treat me with disrespect. The reality is that a individual is too wrapped up in their own problems or pain to even notice or care what I think. I am not even part of the equation. Unless I push so hard against their resistance that I am just another annoying problem. Yet resistance is so hard to deal with because, like it or not, I am too wrapped up in the outcome. But just like the problem belongs to them, so does the solution. My fear is that it may take a moon shaped scar to get the point across.

Rolling with resistance has always been something that I haven't quite understood. But here is what I have determined that it involves: 1) Portraying understanding and empathy about the resistance, 2) Setting an expectation of behavior that you feel is important in an honest way, 3) Be passively persistent- wait until the individual is ready, and 4) Be there to help when they are ready! The key to me is understanding that to them, whatever it is that they are trying to do is HARD WORK. And who likes to do hard work? Really, I would probably do the same thing in their shoes....Perhaps this has been so difficult because of MY resistance to resistance!