Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Love in the Time of Resistance

By Steven Pressfield | Published: April 1, 2015

There’s a certain kind of relationship that often seeks out and torments writers and artists. Maybe you’ve had one. Maybe you’ve had more than one.

Paul Newman as Cool Hand Luke

In this type of love, one of the partners has become aware of her Resistance and is taking active, courageous steps to counter it. She’s writing her novel, she’s initiating her startup, she’s turning her life in a positive direction.

Her lover admires and respects this. He’s drawn to her by her drive and her commitment. She has an energy. Good vibes radiate from her. It’s fun and exciting to be around her.

Her lover wants to be like her. He’s hoping some of her power and dedication will rub off on him. At the very least, he thinks, he’ll learn something just from watching her.

The problem is there’s a snake in the garden—an evil third party in addition to the two innocent principals.

This third party is invisible, implacable, insidious, and indefatigable.

Its name starts with an R.

Resistance is so diabolical that it can and will take over the lover’s personality as completely as if it were a brain-eating zombie or a space-pod from Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Despite himself, the lover becomes a mouthpiece for his beloved’s Resistance. He gives voice to precisely the negative self-talk and self-sabotage that the partner would be fighting on her own, even if she had no lover.

How does Resistance do this? I don’t know. But I’ve seen it too many times to doubt its power. Resistance enters the lover’s psyche and, with infallible and unerring accuracy, begins dispensing its poison. “You’re not good enough, who do you think you are daring to follow your dream, you’re too old, too young, too fat, too skinny, too gay, too straight.”

In other words, the lover is trying to sabotage his beloved. Though he was drawn to her precisely for her energy, her work ethic, her self-discipline, he now commences a campaign to destroy these very qualities.

Why does the lover participate in this body-snatching act? Is he cruel? Is he demented?

1. He’s unconscious.

He doesn’t even know he’s doing it.

2. He’s mired in his own Resistance, of which he is equally unconscious.

Mark Wahlberg in "The Fighter"

He himself has a strong and vivid creative dream, just like his lover. Her success becomes a reproach to him, even if he’s totally unaware of it. Rather than face his own failure, he turns on his lover and tries to drag her down to his level.

What makes this dynamic even more perverse is that the lover delivers his venom in camouflaged form. He pretends he is trying to help. He swears (and in truth believes) that he wants only to protect his beloved. To shield her from disappointment. “Honey, I just want you to have a backup plan. Be safe. Don’t bet everything on your acting/dancing/playwrighting career.”

Have you seen David O. Russell’s movie, The Fighter? [Screenplay by Scott Silver and Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson.] In the film, Mom (Melissa Leo), brother  (Christian Bale), and seven sisters all channel Mark Wahlberg’s own Resistance. They spout it to him 24/7, even as they claim to be—and actually are—his most ardent supporters. “You’re right to be unsure of yourself, you’ll never be as good a boxer as your brother, he’s the star in the family, you’re second banana and always will be.”

What happens when an outsider stands up to this conspiracy (as Mark’s new girlfriend Amy Adams does?) The family reacts with outrage and fury. They come together as one to discredit her and drive her out of Mark’s life.

Resistance is diabolical. It recruits allies. It body-snatches lovers and family and friends and turns them into the budding artist’s most malicious and insidious enemies.

“Quit feedin’ on me!” Paul Newman cries to his brother prisoners as Cool Hand Luke in the movie of the same name. Every other chain-gang inmate wants to hightail it into the tall timber, but Luke is the only one with the guts to actually do it. By this act he becomes the bearer of every other prisoner’s dreams. They worship him and they hate him. They pray that he’ll make good his escape and they rejoice secretly when he’s captured and brought back to the work farm.

Why? Because of their own Resistance. If Luke succeeded in getting free and staying free, his success would be an unbearable reproach to them. “He can do it. Why can’t you?”

So they want to see him fail.

This is love in the time of Resistance.

I hate to say it, but this type of envy and jealousy is a feature of democracies. DeTocqueville called our American ancestors on it in 1834. In a society where everyone is free and equal, the individual who stands out is admired and excoriated. His comrades put him up on a pedestal, then take delirious glee in tearing him down.

It’s even worse today, if you ask me, because of the web and social media and gotcha journalism. Trolling has become a blood sport. Schadenfreude is the national pastime.

Seth Godin points out that never in history has technology put so much power and so much choice in the hands of so many. That’s the garden. Resistance is the serpent.

If Mark Zuckerberg can create Facebook on a laptop in his dorm room, what’s your problem? What aren’t you a gazillionaire?

The pressure is on us. You feel it. I feel it. Even this blog is adding to that pressure. Arrrggggh!

Love still conquers all, maybe. But these days, in the time of intense and universal Resistance, you gotta keep your eyes open.

Posted in Writing Wednesdays

33 Responses to “Love in the Time of Resistance”

  1. Dennis
    April 1, 2015 at 5:10 am

    Hi Steven,

    Great article. I’ve been fighting Résistance for some time, and the hardest part was cutting off friends, family and partner. Now I’m alone, with no enemies, and back to my own Résistance, that now feeds on negative experiences and statements of others from the past. In my wildest dreams I never thought that Résistance could be that diabolical, but it is. The lowest tactic of Résistance is taking over other people’s psyche. I could write a book about how insidious (and hidden) those attacks are. Thnx for pointing this important subject out. Good job.

  2. Mary Doyle
    April 1, 2015 at 5:40 am

    I expect that everyone reading today’s post is going to be either a) expressing gratitude for the truly supportive people in their life or b) taking an uneasy look around. It’s daunting to face the reality that the spouse, partner, family member, or friend who is trying to “help you for your own good” is really a saboteur. When there is value in other areas of the relationship, Resistance has that much more power. Speaking from experience, it sometimes becomes necessary to clean house if it comes down to a choice between the relationship and your own artistic survival. Like you said, “you gotta keep your eyes open.” Thanks for this important reminder Steve!

  3. April 1, 2015 at 6:24 am

    HOW SO TRUE THIS IS!!!! – Thanks Steve for hitting the nail on the head and putting into words what I didn’t know how to say…..

  4. April 1, 2015 at 6:24 am

    Whoa! This really spoke to me. Thank you.

  5. April 1, 2015 at 6:39 am

    Great title. Thanks for the giggle.
    And the reminder.
    Thanks so much for the reminder.
    xoLInda

  6. April 1, 2015 at 6:41 am

    Steven,
    I’ve been thinking about the inverse of this, but not until I read today’s blog did it become very clear. I think you’ve touched on it in War of Art or Turning Pro–I am confident the thought is not totally my own.

    What I mean about this inverse, is that once we begin to fight Resistance (I know it is daily–for me the most accurate thermometer is my scale. I want to stay fit, but will crave sweets & junk food all day) the Universe, the Muse, Angels, God…whatever, begin to bring other Warriors into our lives.

    Over the last couple of years, I have become friends with people that the weak Brian believes is WAAAAAAY more talented, gifted, wealthy, brilliant (and on and on)–but we have hit it off famously. We are Kindred Souls. Why?

    I don’t know exactly, but something about contagiousness. I think we kind of sniff each other out. There is simply a knowing, that we’re in the same tribe of ‘doers’. Very small tribe. It is a tribe of loners.

    That is not to say that this particular group of loners do not enjoy company, but the company must be of fellow doers. I read an article by Victor Davis Hanson 7 years ago. He was writing about the ‘depression among us’, using the economic times as an analogy. He wrote, “…we all long for the unapologetic doer..”. I disagree. Like you said, we love and despise the doer in the same breath.

    Great post again.
    bsn

    • April 1, 2015 at 7:55 am

      “the company must be of fellow doers”

      Brilliant, Brian.

  7. BarbaraNH
    April 1, 2015 at 6:44 am

    Oh my, Steve!! How brilliant is this! How open-eyed and truthful! And, I don’t think I have ever seen anyone write about it so clearly and fairly and knowingly like this, although we have all felt it. Maybe even felt the snake twist within us when our partner looks set for success. Thank you so much… you are just the best!!

  8. Saly Jane Driscoll
    April 1, 2015 at 7:22 am

    Damn! You’re right!

  9. Lee
    April 1, 2015 at 7:29 am

    Thank you for this post. Reading your take on resistance in this and previous posts is helping me to change my position: I am less resistant, especially around my creative process … I have adopted as a part of rather than a part from, a necessary evil so to speak. And now I will watch “The Fighter” which I have started a couple of times and changed the channel, likely out of resistance! Cheers,

  10. April 1, 2015 at 7:32 am

    When we were all younger and just getting started in life, we were visiting at my father in law’s house, and I heard him say as he watched his daughter and fiance drive away in a new Cadillac: “Boy, they got it, and they flaunt it.” It still breaks my heart. I heard bitter. We were all the broke ones I guess, but to bemoan his kid’s success? I came to understand him to be a man that could have been/done so much more with his natural talents for so many things (photography, art, woodworking…the man built a giant flying plane by hand…) but he didn’t. I am quite sure that hurt. And he could have turned to Love as a treatment for that, but again, he didn’t.

    What we don’t do and all that we deny goes into our shadow. So there might be gold in our shadow, but it can be scary hard to shine a light and look there.

    Amazing piece today, thank you.

  11. April 1, 2015 at 7:52 am

    Truer words were never written…except in “Do The Work!”

  12. April 1, 2015 at 7:53 am

    Steve, this is really a great post.

    I once bought a very nice house. It was my third house and all the ones that came before were starter-type homes in the bad part of town. But I got a windfall and was able to afford something truly amazing. It was on a half acre in the best location and had six bedrooms, four floors, great neighborhood–you know all the stuff we like to brag about.

    When I showed my family around they only pointed out flaws. Friends seemed unimpressed. NO ONE WAS HAPPY FOR ME except my mom.

    “Too much yard!”
    “Too close to stores.”
    “Too big to clean.”

    It dawned on me at that precise moment that good things generally illicit very negative reactions from people who care about me. I have seen this repeated with every positive life change.

    I learned over time to stop looking to others to mirror my own happiness back at me. I learned that validation should be treated like weapon’s-grade plutonium. This has been helped by your great post from a few months back titled “Nobody knows nothin'”. I couldn’t have agreed more with that. This is why its important to keep your own counsel, build an inner fortress.

    Incidentally, I moved out of that house to a much smaller one. I did learn that all those trappings aren’t all that important, and the yard really was too big.

    I would love for you to write more posts about the complicated dynamics between relationships and creativity. There’s a lot to mine.

    Cheers!

    • April 1, 2015 at 10:14 am

      What’s your goal with that, Erika? Do you have a specific interest or question about relationships and Resistance, or just like reading what Steve has to say about it?

      I’m more than idly curious, and more than a little sure Steve isn’t gonna go down that path.

      • April 3, 2015 at 8:32 am

        Joe,

        So many artists have scorched earth behind them when it comes to relationships. After all, significant-o’s have to live with our ambition, our dedication, our mania. I have a feeling Steve knows something about these issues.

    • Tina Goodman
      April 1, 2015 at 3:36 pm

      Erika, I once heard a realtor say that when friends (or family) accompany a buyer to look at the homes for sale they feel obliged to tell the potential buyer about any faults they think of while going through the home. It’s a role people take on and think they are being helpful. This could be part of what motivated your family when they reacted to your new home.
      Keep your own counsel and build an inner fortress, thanks for this advice.

      • April 3, 2015 at 8:33 am

        Tina, I am glad to know that!

        Funnily enough, my smaller house was 80-years old and had a lot of issues. The day I got the key I was sick inside, wondering if I had done the right thing. It was friends that convinced me to put some work into it (well, and mom :) so I suppose I could rewrite that story in reverse with house #2.

  13. Kathleen
    April 1, 2015 at 9:00 am

    Steve, the depth you’ve gone to in this post is pretty amazing and insightful. You’ve cracked open an awareness around an old and destructive friendship that I haven’t been willing to fully acknowledge or do anything about. And, as is often the case with your posts, the timing is perfect. Thanks for sharing, and for attracting such an amazing community who responds so openly to what you write.

  14. BING
    April 1, 2015 at 9:22 am

    I was going to write something about this topic and realized it is another form of resistance. You know, bla bla bla bla bla and yes the Pressfield books have helped a lot. Its time to stop this very second and get my ass into the studio, see ya.
    I learned this from Steven.
    Love this site,
    Shalom
    Bing

  15. April 1, 2015 at 10:05 am

    I spent 23 years married to that person.

    I’ve spent the last 12 with someone who kills Resistance with her slightest glance; it cowers before her determination and unselfishness.

    Guess which relationship allowed me to write 150 songs and 12 books so far?

  16. Sonja
    April 1, 2015 at 11:25 am

    I love this, and have felt all of this, especially from snarky relatives who keep asking me, so what else do you do?

    I always appreciate these posts, Steven.

    • April 1, 2015 at 1:05 pm

      Are we related, cuz I have those too. ;-D

  17. April 1, 2015 at 11:30 am

    Great post, Steven. It reminded me of this old chinese proverb: The one who says it can’t be done should not disturb the one who is doing it.

  18. Cathy
    April 1, 2015 at 12:18 pm

    I think I’ve been the unwitting victim and victimizer in different battlefields of the resistance war.

    I don’t have a love now. Shall I shun any suitor and just get a dog? .. I just truly laughed out loud…but really…

    Is there a way to discern allies? Or, is there no true defensive plan other than beware?

  19. Kim Nathan
    April 1, 2015 at 2:56 pm

    Bingo!

  20. York
    April 1, 2015 at 8:22 pm

    How can you be so on point ALL THE TIME!
    This post is great.
    Thank you!

  21. April 2, 2015 at 11:32 am

    Steve,

    Great article, I have experienced this in the past without knowing/realizing it was happening. After this article I will keep my eyes/senses open and alert in the future.
    I even experienced it from my boss this week, I sent an email out stating I wanted to take on a project that will be quite a bit of work, and my boss came into my office and said “do you think you can get it done on time?” I know I can so it is not an issue, he is the kind of person who the easiest path on any given project. Resistance is a sneaky B&tch!

    On a side note, I am half way through Turning Pro. Fantastic book! I am in the process of turning Pro! I am no spring chicken either, 56 to be exact, I am really mad about the years I have given to resistance but I am excited about the years ahead. I am a graphic designer/artist and I cannot tell how much your books have helped me.

    Thank you so much!

  22. Mike B
    April 2, 2015 at 7:31 pm

    The thing that bothers me here is I think the response towards other people throwing Resistance at me should be very different from the response I give to my own internal self-sabotage. More tact is required with maybe a dash of empathy and some self restraint, which takes more effort. I don’t know what the answer is here, but I can see how one could slide into a mindset of Creative Militancy and I don’t think that is the right response.

    • April 4, 2015 at 6:12 pm

      Mike,
      You’re right. Well said. Empathy is hard to find when we’re maniacal.
      bsn

  23. marvin Ginsberg
    April 3, 2015 at 6:29 am

    Marvelous!

  24. April 5, 2015 at 1:12 am

    Thank you Steven – this insight came just on time to me! The snakes outside me mirrors that resistance, I want for my life to overcome in my self. Enough is enough.
    Continuously Happy Easter to all of you out there..
    Siri

  25. April 7, 2015 at 2:52 pm

    The hysterical part is even if resistance fails to co-opt your partners, it will come running back to you saying they aren’t supportive because they won’t DO enough to “help” you. I mean really. How the hell can a partner do anything to SUPPORT your work? The most magnificent, best show of support is to stand back and stay out of your way. Well resistance will try to tell you they’ve abandoned you. Little booger picker! I hate that guy.

  26. April 18, 2015 at 12:44 pm

    Oh boy is this a harsh one.

    Resistance is great at playing these games.

    What can you do – the hermit lifestyle makes resistance double down your own flaws. Embrace the family then it seems into them. Its difficult to win.

    But if it were that easy, then we would all be billionaires :-).