Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Resistance and Self-Loathing

By Steven Pressfield | Published: November 6, 2013

Hang on while I make the case that self-loathing is a good thing. I don’t mean only within the comedic-material sphere, within which self-loathing has been mined for years by Woody Allen, Howard Stern, Richard Lewis, and the godfather of them all, Philip Roth in Portnoy’s Complaint.

Rodney Dangerfield ain't the only one who don't get no respect

What exactly is self-loathing? It appears almost always as that nasty, brutal voice in our heads. “You’re a loser, you’re a bum, a worthless waste of oxygen. Look at you. Do you imagine that someone like you could produce something original, something of quality, something that anyone else would care about? What ideas do you have that haven’t been done a thousand times before—and better than you could every dream of doing them?”

Does this sound familiar? It is, of course, the voice of Resistance.

But self-loathing adds a tweak to Resistance. It brings in a personal dimension. It informs us that we as individuals, specifically our external physical characteristics—our weight, our looks, our color, our ethnic background, our sexual preference blah blah etc. are bad news, repulsive, corrupt, despised, worthless.  Self-loathing attacks our character. “You have no self-discipline, no self-respect.” Self-loathing is so smart it even indicts us for our own self-loathing. “The fact you’re thinking this at all is proof of what a loser you are!”

Here’s the mistake we make when we listen to the voice of self-loathing:

We misperceive a force that is universal and impersonal and instead see it as individual and personal.

That voice in our heads is not us. It is Resistance.

Those thoughts are not our thoughts. They are Resistance.

Resistance is an impartial force of nature, like gravity and the laws of thermodynamics. Resistance is clever. It knows if it personalizes its manifestations, it can deceive us and slip past our defenses. It’s like the software that enables direct-mail marketers to send us letter and e-mails addressed, “Dear Susie.” It’s bullshit. Resistance doesn’t know who we are and it doesn’t care.

I get hundreds of e-mails from people who have read The War of Art and Turning Pro and who tell me, often in heartbreaking detail, of their own sometimes-decades-long struggles with Resistance. Trust me, the voice is their heads is the same one I have in mine and you have in yours. Everyone has that same voice—and it is laying the exact same bad trip on all of us.

Though it seems ultra-personal, the voice of self-loathing is in fact universal. It is impersonal.

Now to the good news about self-loathing.

Self-loathing, we have said, is a form of Resistance. The apparition of Resistance is by definition a good sign, because Resistance never appears except when preceded by a Dream. By “dream” I mean a creative vision of something original and worthy that you or I might do or produce—a movie, a painting, a new business, a charitable venture, an act of personal or political integrity and generosity.

The dream arises in our psyche (even if we deny it, even if we fail to or refuse to recognize it) like a tree ascending into the sunshine. Simultaneously the dream’s shadow appears—i.e., Resistance—just as a physical tree casts a physical shadow.

That’s a law of nature.

Where there is a Dream, there is Resistance.

Thus: where we encounter Resistance, somewhere nearby is a Dream.

But let’s get back to self-loathing for a moment. What are the origins of this phenomenon? Psychologists sometimes locate them in early abuse, verbal and otherwise, from parents, teachers, older siblings, rivals on the playground. These individuals often tell us we’re ugly, stupid, etc. Other sources of self-loathing are engines of socialization like school and the church. “Sit in the corner, shut up, don’t listen to your heart, listen to what we tell you.”

There’s probably some validity to these ideas. No doubt you and I have internalized negative tapes that people in our past have thrown at us—and no doubt our inner recorders play them back and we identify it as self-loathing.

It’s not. It’s Resistance. It’s Resistance recruiting those inhering voices to keep us from doing our work.

So the next time you hear that self-loathing voice in your head, remember two things:

One, that voice is not you. It’s not your thoughts. It’s Resistance.

And two, it’s a good sign because it tells you there is a powerful, original Dream close by.

The answer? Identify that dream and act to bring it into realization.

Here’s the final tricky part. Even when we recognize the voice of self-loathing as false, our challenge-to-work doesn’t get any easier. Resistance doesn’t go away. Self-sabotage does not disappear. We still have to face them and we still have to overcome them.

What we have done, however, is to strip off their masks and to see the positive beneath them.

All we have to do now is sit down and do our work.

Posted in Writing Wednesdays

44 Responses to “Resistance and Self-Loathing”

  1. Mary
    November 6, 2013 at 4:40 am

    Self-loathing isn’t just profitable for the likes of Woody Allen and the late King of the Self Loathers Rodney Dangerfield (thanks for including his photo – how I miss that man!); it fuels much of the mental health industry and, by extension, the pharmaceutical companies that manufacture psychotropic drugs. If psychiatrists and therapists would start asking their patients/clients “What work is it you are supposed to be doing but aren’t? What dream have you put on the shelf?” a lot of therapy would be cut short and fewer prescriptions would be written for antidepressants.

    • Cheryle
      November 6, 2013 at 10:57 am

      Amen Mary! I was caught up in that mental illness nightmare, I was told I was depressed and ended up being over medicated. I lost 10 years of my life! I also lost opportunities to dream, and to dream BIG but I am slowly finding my way.

  2. November 6, 2013 at 4:52 am

    Outstanding.

    These words crystallize it:

    “Here’s the mistake we make when we listen to the voice of self-loathing:

    We misperceive a force that is universal and impersonal and instead see it as individual and personal.

    That voice in our heads is not us. It is Resistance.

    Those thoughts are not our thoughts. They are Resistance.”

    This blog also seems to suggest that the magnitude of Resistance is in direct proportion to the size of our dream.

    Great stuff, Steven.

    Thanks.

  3. November 6, 2013 at 6:19 am

    Absolute truth and another great wednesday article.

    I loved it when Steve says that – “… that voice is not you. It’s not your thoughts. It’s Resistance.” We often spend our whole life identifying resistance with our self. Resistance is universal and common whether you are a Bond or an Oz or a sleeping beauty.

    This article is also a most accurate summary that any one can write to Steve’s book – The War of Art and Turning Pro – and wait a minute – its Steve again who wrote it!

  4. November 6, 2013 at 6:35 am

    The weight loss, cosmetic, and plastic surgery industries really thrive on this one, especially for women!

  5. November 6, 2013 at 6:37 am

    Steve, you often amaze me with your keen ability to get to the heart of matters that so clearly communicates universal truths. While others could go on and on, you look the devil/angel in the eye–and spit. Keep the fire burning, for its light is bright and, as you well understand, people need it to help lead them from the dark. When I was in my darkest hour, down and out in LA trying to get produced a movie about a man who walked the 900 mile route of the Cherokee Trail of Tears to honor his ancestors and better inform the world of the 4,000 that died on the forced removal in 1838, I found little light except to return to my family in the Old Cherokee Nation of north Alabama, where the great Sequoyah–against all odds–invented the Cherokee writing system. Empowered by the love of my parents and the surrounding history and mountains, I decided I was ready to die for what I believed in. I sold all I owned and took a bus to Oklahoma, end of the Trail of Tears. I started walking the Trail in reverse back home. Yes, Steve, you’ve heard my story more than once here. I post it again with true hope that it will inspire others. I completed the long walk, wrote the book in six months, sold at auction to Random House within two weeks, and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Read by more than 500,000 now, it has become a Native American classic. When I first started walking the Trail, a pack on my back, I was perhaps viewed by others as a wandering bum. Know what? I’m still a wandering bum, a writer, and loving almost every step along the way as I embrace the universal Resistance, my bones sometimes creaking now under the heavy weight.

    • Cheryle
      November 6, 2013 at 11:02 am

      Awesome Jerry! I wish I could take a wonderful, thought provoking, wisdom learning walk like that. I wouldn’t care if I were called a walking bum either. What courage you have.

      • ByHIsGrace
        November 6, 2013 at 4:47 pm

        Jerry, I have not read your story here…so I’m glad you shared it it again. Wow…all the truths in Steven’s Blog…all the truths in the comments…I love this sentence:

        Resistance doesn’t know who we are and it doesn’t care.

        and:

        One, that voice is not you. It’s not your thoughts. It’s Resistance.

        And two, it’s a good sign because it tells you there is a powerful, original Dream close by.

        Someone asked me recently,how I found you, Steven Your BLog…and the funny thing i, the day before he asked, that question popped into my head…and I don’t recall how, or who introduced you to me…all I know is, I’m so very happy to ‘know’ you, and your work.

  6. November 6, 2013 at 6:44 am

    Beautiful. Thought provoking:

    “You have no self-discipline, no self-respect.” Self-loathing is so smart it even indicts us for our own self-loathing. “The fact you’re thinking this at all is proof of what a loser you are!”

    Reminiscent of when Alan Watts turned a camera in the studio to shoot the monitor it was outputting to…it is battle for self-control I think I’ll listen to an audiobook I purchased again:
    Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm
    Book by Thich Nhat Hanh
    Maybe Writing Wednesdays could be subtitled: “The Zen of Writing”.
    Is that taken? Probably.
    It’s everywhere in art and life. Is that redundant?

    “There’s someone in my head, but it’s not me” Roger Waters

    ” It was against himself that, innocent and noble as he was, he directed during his whole life the whole wealth of his fancy, the whole of his thought; and in so far as he let loose upon himself every barbed criticism, every anger and hate he could command…” Steppenwolf
    Currently reading Noah Lukeman’s First five pages and a Dash of Style.. I need to learn the nuts and bolts of writing and transcend resistance at the same time?
    This writing stuff is hard work! I can now see my work wouldn’t get read further than the first sentence.
    Stay in school kids and thanks Steve :)

  7. November 6, 2013 at 6:49 am

    I guess not reading carefully before posting is carelessness. Lukeman would’ve trashed that post pronto.

  8. November 6, 2013 at 7:09 am

    Martin Seligman would be proud of this. Impersonal and universal. Doesn’t make problems go away, it just takes away their power over us.

    Learned optimism vs. Resistance. Good stuff.

    • Basilis
      November 7, 2013 at 3:58 am

      Yep!

  9. Lee
    November 6, 2013 at 7:10 am

    When the student is ready the teacher will come … THANK YOU … this is exactly what I ready to read and know as a core truth.
    This is the first post after signing up for it I`ve received.
    And I`d add this quote I just found this morning as well … although paradoxical (like life) the quote makes more resonant sense to me than a push through it attitude I grew up with.
    It is by Jiddu Krishnamurti:
    We depend on experiences, on challenges, to keep us awake. If there were no conflicts within ourselves, no changes, no disturbances, we would all be fast asleep. So challenges are necessary for most of us; we think that without them our minds will become stupid and heavy, and therefore we depend on a challenge, an experience, to give us more excitement, more intensity, to make our minds sharper. But in fact this dependence on challenges and experiences to keep us awake, only makes our minds duller.

    • November 6, 2013 at 7:20 am

      I love Krishnumurti. I have trouble reconciling that quote with the world we live in: material. Maybe he meant, don’t go looking for trouble, there is plenty enough without looking for more?
      “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.”
      ― Helen Keller, The Open Door
      “If you aren’t in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?”
      ― T.S. Eliot
      “Difficulties strengthen the mind, as labor does the body.”
      ― Lucius Annaeus Seneca

      • November 6, 2013 at 7:28 am

        The whole Helen Keller quote:
        “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”
        ― Helen Keller, The Open Door

        • Lee
          November 6, 2013 at 7:52 am

          This Helen Keller quote is a favorite because of its empowering, unsentimental truth. For me, this post and quote highlight that resistance is a natural phenomena and has a evolutionary, positive purpose, the holding tension of opposites (ref. Jungian Analyst Marion Woodman), suffering about doesn’t. And I’ve spent many years in that sticky, claustrophobia. When you’re mind is clear enough, you have other choices … the path or price is doing the work, the practice, you need to do to get there, here, now.

      • November 6, 2013 at 7:40 am

        I apologize. It just occurred to me that I probably took your usage of the Krishnumurti quote the wrong way, something I excel at!
        Were you comparing resistance to how one might make his own resistance to make his life seem less boring?
        That rings very true for me. Thanks.

        • Lee
          November 6, 2013 at 8:01 am

          Hey, yes, I just meant that this post helped me to know that resistance serves a creative and evolutionary purpose and cycle … both when you’re in it and not … and surrender, let go because both are inevitable. Make sense?

          • November 6, 2013 at 8:33 am

            Definitely makes sense to me.
            I like: ” evolutionary, positive purpose, the holding tension of opposites”
            It’s in the black and white Tao symbol, it’s it Music: the tension from the tonic and joy of returning (home) at the end and in simple expressions like, “Well sonny, ya gotta take the bitter with the sweet.”
            :)

          • November 6, 2013 at 9:50 am

            Like meditation teachers say about meditating. Don’t fight thoughts, just recognize them. Something like that. I can’t meditate for shit, but it’s on the list!
            Hey Lee, are you a guy or girl? I might be in love. :)

          • Lee
            November 7, 2013 at 4:09 am

            John, I’m flattered, a woman and old. When I was young, I wasn’t nearly this ‘smart’ 😉 Take care.

          • November 7, 2013 at 6:54 am

            You’re only as old as you feel, times doctor bills divided by pi squared.
            I’m 59 and wish I was older so I could get S.S., stay home and write!
            I hope Steve doesn’t get pissed I’m cavorting on his website.
            He may charge me a monthly fee. SteveMatch.com
            I’ll be good!
            It’s always attractive to meet people who have similar interests. :)

  10. November 6, 2013 at 7:43 am

    Oh Hell no! I think Steven needs to add psychic to his resume. I had a really painful run in with Mr. Resistance yesterday and the timing of this post couldn’t be more perfect. It gives me some reassurance that I’m on the right track. Thank you!!!!

  11. November 6, 2013 at 8:02 am

    Steven,

    Thank you. This is timely for me. I can’t seem to hear it enough, actually. I feel stuck.

    And terrified. The temptation to tap out of my dreams and let myself off the hook of going for any kind of greatness is overwhelming. Success feels impossible. Pursuing my dreams feels irresponsible and foolish. I often want to give up.

    And I am NOT doing my work, at least not as much as II could be, and im often not even sure what work I’m supposed to be doing.

    But I have taken some big, courageous steps in the direction of my dreams lately. I’ve been doing the best to follow the next opportunity presented to me, even when I’m scared to death ( which is always)

    Perhaps this is why I’m getting hit so hard?

    Anyway, I appreciate the work you do. I appreciate your encouragement, and willingness to share yourself with us.

    Thank you, Steven!

    -Colleen

  12. November 6, 2013 at 8:10 am

    Hello Steven,

    I just got back to sea level from the mountaintop experience of Michael Hyatt’s Platform Conference.

    My dreams were renewed and tears shed.

    But the post conference fatigue is a fertile ground for resistance to grow it’s vines to pull me to earth.

    Thanks for the warning for self-doubt and self-loathing as I try to put my action steps into reality.

    Paul

  13. November 6, 2013 at 8:20 am

    How timely! Well I guess there is no shutting those voices up, only proving them wrong. Thanks so much for this, golden. YES “Identify that dream and act to bring it into realization”. Forget about those nay sayers and stop self sabotaging. Do the work!

  14. Holly
    November 6, 2013 at 9:20 am

    Oh, geez. Your newsletter arrived when I needed it most. I was personalizing Resistance all over the damn place. Thank you, Steven.

  15. November 6, 2013 at 9:27 am

    Great post Steve. I think too often we assume our tortured thinking is part of the creative process!

  16. November 6, 2013 at 10:57 am

    Thanks for this post. It is so reassuring to know for sure that Resistance is a liar and not me at all. This gives me fortitude to keep pushing. Slay the dragons. Follow the muses. Live the dreams. Thanks again.

  17. Cheryle
    November 6, 2013 at 11:08 am

    Thank you Steve for the big reminder that I need to dig deep, be present, and do the work!

  18. November 6, 2013 at 11:34 am

    I look forward to Writing Wednesdays. I always come away with some extra ‘starch and inspiration. ‘

  19. avalon medina
    November 6, 2013 at 11:39 am

    Steve, good job. You identify “good and bad” and their mere-shadowness relationship here, the deception factor. And it’s clearly written and with authority. The other responses show that you are being heard. Also that you have a lot of “devotees” (and I don’t mean to misuse the word!).

    A couple of lines to repeat:

    1) These thoughts are not our thoughts. They are Resistance.

    2) We still have to overcome them. [After “we still have to face them and”]

    Comments: You’re very close, keep looking at it. For the sake of your readers and devotees. You’re right, it’s All False. Re (1), these thoughts ARE our thoughts, because we are our thought(s), and that’s all. Resistance is one concept among many that can be interpreted from any, ANY angle. You interpreted it very well. Go deeper into it. Re (2), “Overcoming” (a concept) must be accomplished by overcoming thought, which means to overcome oneself. Is that like raising the dead or what? And “overcoming” is an act of effort of some kind, as is “work” if understood as such. In looking over that, you of all people are going to see that effort is not the best extension of raw energy. Ultimately, present intentions may totally be altered. (I know, passive voice, please ignore that small issue.)

    Thanks for the post.

    • avalon medina
      November 6, 2013 at 2:03 pm

      And please feel free to completely ignore the previous comments. It’s merely what I felt like writing to you in response to your post.

      It sounds like I’m “telling” you something, like “you need to know this.” hahahaa Quite rude, if I do say so myself.

      Perhaps I should just say, “thanks, what you wrote makes me aware that I need to go deeper into it than this.” It’s just me, so Thank You.

  20. November 6, 2013 at 12:19 pm

    Oh, yes, that voice does sound familiar 😀

    It’s one great article! I enjoyed it very much! I loved these words particularly: “Though it seems ultra-personal, the voice of self-loathing is in fact universal. It is impersonal.”; “The dream arises in our psyche (even if we deny it, even if we fail to or refuse to recognize it) like a tree ascending into the sunshine. Simultaneously the dream’s shadow appears—i.e., Resistance—just as a physical tree casts a physical shadow.

    That’s a law of nature.

    Where there is a Dream, there is Resistance.”

    It’s amazing how we do our best at putting ourselves off. When we find out how to use the same diligence in doing the work, we will have found our Mecca. :) thinking that we fear and blame everything and everybody around us for not doing the work, when the biggest enemy is inside us!

  21. November 6, 2013 at 12:26 pm

    I never seem to tire of being reminded that resistance/self-loathing are just part of the journey…not personal…not my fault…

    AND that the work still has to be done!

    Thank you!

  22. November 6, 2013 at 12:50 pm

    Self loathing is the voice of the ego-mind/ordinary mind. It is wired for self-doubt and fear. It’s purpose it to keep ourselves safe (more from prey in primitive times). You can always recognize the voice of ego because you body contracts/closes in some way.

    The relief from that voice arises in the higher mind also called Big Mind, intuition and I like the term soul’s voice.

    When the ego smacks us up the side of the head and tries to knock us off course, we can identified it and tune to the soul’s voice for inspiration and guidance.

    When I am attuned to my higher mind, resistance becomes futile Captain Picard.

  23. Rick
    November 6, 2013 at 1:55 pm

    I used to come here for the very well written -brilliant at times posts,by both you and Shawn. And I know it’s a business and yada, yada, yada…
    Loved the book, Gates of Fire. Will never forget it and if you would, please get back to writing the posts of…not too long ago.
    Writers are needy, don’t feed into that to make a buck. Instead, inspire writers. You’re you’re good at.
    Thanks.

  24. Marian Knowles
    November 6, 2013 at 2:38 pm

    Great post, thank you! You saved the best medicinal dose of reality for last: “All we have to do now is sit down and do our work.”

  25. November 6, 2013 at 3:20 pm

    Great article Steve. I was thinking you should compile these into a new book about resistance.

    • gs
      November 6, 2013 at 4:32 pm

      Indeed, Dave. Back when Steven posted 3 Things I Learned from Oprah, I commented (September 25, 2013 at 10:07 am) that there was more to say about Resistance.

  26. Delores N.
    November 6, 2013 at 10:38 pm

    Thank you I was blown away again on the way you explain what has been holding me for so long.
    It is so clear that it is Resistance.
    it is a daily struggle for me, but I have taken more
    steps in finishing my book: My Life, My loves. My losses. I’m learning how to tweet and get involved in
    the social media. this is all new to me because I am mostly a private person also socially awkward and highly sensitive.
    I have known for a long time that i do express myself better through writing.
    Thank you again. I will be in touch.

  27. November 7, 2013 at 6:18 am

    May I quote you?

    “I will bet my life that … Jackson Browne and every other artist working like they did woke up each morning feeling the fear, dread, aversion, angst, laziness we all feel, and that their brains, just like ours, started immediately conjuring excuses and self-justifications for why they should screw off for this day and not do their work.

    But they didn’t listen.

    They got up, hit themselves with whatever self-talk they needed, and sat down at the piano.”

    I have a very lovely friend who also suffers from “task avoidance.” She was told decades ago by her mother that she should clean just one tile on the kitchen floor. That’s it. Just one tile. Anyone can clean just one tile.

    And, before she knew it, the kitchen floor was clean.

  28. November 7, 2013 at 11:52 am

    Mr. Pressfield I am a huge fan and love your explanation of resistance. I refer to it often on my blog. This is a great reminder to see self loathing for what it is and that taking action can help overcome these attacks. Thank you for all you do.

    • Delores N.
      November 15, 2013 at 7:12 pm

      Hi Good day at Durant Library on Sunset Blvd.
      Book workshop with Author Jill Schary@Jill S. Robinson. #MyBook