The Problem with “What You Resist, Persists”

Dr. Patricia Celan
4 min readApr 16, 2024

Dedicated to DP.

[TW: abuse, SA, r*pe]

“What you resist, persists” is a popular aphorism, attributed to Carl Jung, that suggests when people actively avoid or fight against their problems, those problems become more entrenched in their lives. Similarly, Eckhart Tolle said, “It may look as if the situation is creating the suffering, but ultimately this is not so — your resistance is.”

When psychiatrists and spiritual leaders utilize these quotes, they are raising very good points and valuable insights about how denial or avoidance can perpetuate issues. We could all be much happier if we embraced the present moment for all it has to offer, rather than resisting. Sometimes we resist things that would be good for us, like new experiences that might actually make our lives better. Letting go of unnecessary resistance can open our eyes to new joys!

Yet the idea of releasing resistance is primarily beneficial for those who lead privileged lives and whose problems are relatively mild in nature, perhaps even related to simple and unnecessary willfulness. For others, utilizing these quotes to push the concept of ceasing resistance is problematic in several ways.

Oversimplification of Complex Issues

One major issue with the idea of releasing resistance is its oversimplification of complex psychological and life challenges. Many personal struggles, such as trauma, mental health disorders, and difficult life circumstances, cannot be easily resolved by simply accepting them. By implying that issues only persist due to resistance, this neglects the multifaceted nature of these problems. Complex personal challenges often require multifactorial approaches, including therapy, medication, workplace changes, and enhanced support systems.

Misinterpretation and Blame

The statement can also be misinterpreted to blame individuals for their struggles, suggesting that their problems persist because they are resisting them. This perspective can lead to self-blame and further exacerbate feelings of inadequacy or guilt. It fails to account for the fact that some challenges persist due to factors beyond an individual’s control, such as genetic predisposition, societal pressures, or systemic issues. Consider, for example, the high levels of discrimination in the world for all sorts of differences, from autism to belief systems. Do you want to live in a world where we don’t resist discrimination, but let powerful systems bully the common people as if their human rights mean nothing?

Potential Psychological Harm

Encouraging people to accept their problems without offering actionable solutions can be psychologically harmful. Acceptance is important, but it should be coupled with strategies for change and improvement. When individuals interpret the saying as a directive to simply accept their struggles without addressing the root problem, it may lead to feelings of helplessness or resignation. In extreme cases, it could prevent people from seeking necessary help or taking appropriate action to improve their situations. Should an abused woman accept the abuse and become another case of battered woman syndrome and learned helplessness? Or should she resist being abused and take the empowered path of leaving her abuser?

Neglect of Necessary Resistance

While resistance can sometimes impede progress, it is also a natural and necessary response to injustice, oppression, and harmful situations. In many cases, resisting a problem is crucial for enacting change and standing up for oneself or others. The statement “What you resist, persists” can inadvertently discourage healthy forms of resistance, such as advocating for social justice or setting boundaries in relationships.

A sexual assault survivor knows how important resistance feels in the moment of deep suffering, and the fact that quotes like “What you resist, persists” can trigger memories of rapists saying, “Stop fighting.” Similarly, messaging like, “It may look as if the situation is creating the suffering, but ultimately this is not so — your resistance is” can trigger memories of bystanders telling the victim, “If you don’t want to be raped, just decide you want it.” Whenever someone wants to share quotes about resistance, they ought to be very aware of their audience, lest they send an offensive message while triggering painful memories. Where resistance is a way to protect boundaries, resistance is not futile as the villains may want you to believe — resistance is a necessary human right.

Overemphasis on Acceptance

Although acceptance can be an essential part of the healing process, overemphasizing it can lead to passivity and resignation. The statement might suggest that individuals should passively accept their circumstances, which can prevent them from taking proactive steps to improve their lives. We live in a world where real problems confront us every day, in all sorts of ways. Where would we be as a society if we surrendered to all of it? How could we progress? Notably, acceptance and change are not mutually exclusive; individuals can accept their present situations while still striving for progress and growth.


The statement “What you resist, persists” can sometimes be a powerful reminder that resistance is a problem when it is used as avoidance; letting go of that type of resistance can enhance wellbeing.

But this, and similar quotes about resistance, can be deeply inappropriate and ought not be used at all in cases where they can serve to oversimplify problems, blame individuals, cause psychological harm or trigger trauma survivors, and promote passive acceptance of unacceptable situations that need to change. Resistance can sometimes be necessary in the sense of boundaries and social justice. All human beings need to be empowered to resist at times, depending on the situation.

Sometimes a more appropriate quote about resistance is not about letting go, even though there is a time and a place for that, but about the necessity of resistance. “When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty.” Because that is the way we progress as a society: Resist injustices. Advocate. Break the wheel.