Dark

There’s a Sufi story about a man who insists on searching for his house key under a street lamp even though he lost it in the house. “It’s light out here,” he explains.  “It’s dark in the house.”

I meet people like him occasionally.  They’re clients not ready for therapy, because they’re afraid to go into the dark.

The dark is where you keep buried feelings, painful memories, shameful secrets, dubious motives, embarrassing wishes, and whatever else you prefer not to look at.

It’s also where much of The Real You lives.

I believe in psychotherapy.  I’ve seen it save lives.  But successful therapy takes more than a good shrink. It also requires a good client.

And a good client is one willing to peek into the dark.


Wanted

 

WANTED w text 3 fixed

   ***

Criminal history of this suspect

   available for review here.


Bullies

Not all bullies are found on playgrounds and in school hallways.

You find many in board rooms, classrooms, bedrooms and kitchens.

Bullies are weak people who seek out weaker people so they can feel strong by comparison.

They’re also cowards who hide their fear by finding victims too scared to resist them.

Bosses bully.  Parents bully.  Spouses bully.  So do friends.  So do siblings.

Some people are even bullied by their children.

It’s a rare person who hasn’t felt bullied somewhere by someone.

The first step to ending bullying is to call it by its proper name (X is just a bully.)

The second step is to resist it, despite your own fears and sense of weakness.  Push back.  Make yourself harder to bully.

Do that well enough, and usually no third step is necessary.

 

 

 


Envelope

Submitted to The Practice Corner:
I’m a teacher, and it’s our first day back, and there’s a blue envelope in my mailbox.  I know what it is.  We each get one.  It contains a sort of report card, an evaluation of my teaching last year, boiled down to a rating number I never really understand.  Each year I watch my colleagues take their envelopes and scurry off to their classrooms to open them in private, emerging with lips pressed together and a sort of scared grayness in their faces.  It’s what I’ve always done too.  Great way to start off the school year.
Beside me a colleague murmurs, “Open yours yet?”
“No,” I say, “and I’m not going to.”
“You’re not?”
“No,” I say.  “Why ruin the first day?”
I take the envelope to my classroom and store it in a desk drawer.  I’ll read it eventually.  But I’m serious about teaching.  I spent the whole summer thinking about last year.  I know what I want to do differently, and what I want to do better.  I’m serious about teaching, and I don’t need a blue envelope to scare me into more seriousness.
I feel oddly liberated.
I remember what A.S. Neil wrote in Summerhill: “The absence of fear is the finest thing that can happen to a child.”  Not such a bad thing for teachers, either.
~ Shared by A.P.  (8/29/14)

*

The Practice Corner is an occasional series of true (but cleverly disguised) stories told by readers working actively to free themselves from compulsive controlling. Read more here.

Meatballs

Recently a client realized in therapy that she stays in her bad marriage because she believes she has no right to be happy.

Her alcoholic mom taught him to believe that.  Mom’s long dead, but her teaching survives.

This poisonous belief is what shrinks call an introject.

Most people know what projection is.  It’s that defense mechanism where I confuse a thought in my head (I’m so fat) and with a thought in yours (Boy, is he fat).

Introjection reverses this process.  When I introject I take a thought from your head (often with your assistance) and absorb it into mine.

This happens all the time to kids.  Say you grow up with a parent who tells you every day that you’re stupid.  Eventually you end up agreeing with them.  Doesn’t matter how smart you are in reality.  You’ll introject your parent’s belief and become convinced that you are, in fact, stupid.

I think of an introject as a kind of poison meatball, one you swallow but never fully digest.  You can’t digest it because it’s not your belief, it’s someone else’s.  So it just sits there inside you, never breaking down or going away, just sending out waves of confusion and emotional nausea.

In some cases, for a lifetime.

 


Intelligence

Twenty years of doing therapy have taught me

~ to define “intelligence” as the ability to learn, and

~ that the biggest obstacle to learning is defensiveness.

Psychological defenses are rooted in our need to manage anxiety, minimize discomfort, heal old trauma, and protect how we and others see us.

Those are the main reasons we avoid, act out, deny, displace, minimize, project, repress, rationalize, compartmentalize, intellectualize, compensate and transfer.

Defensiveness also involves an anxious reinterpretation of reality (She hates me, I just know it) that we hope will protect us from danger.

Defenses are essential. Without them we’d go crazy.

But to the extent that they tend to distort reality…

They sure interfere with our being intelligent.

 

 

 


Argument

Struggling partners and divorcing spouses often find themselves caught up in what I call The Argument.

It’s an obsessive internal monologue — like a summation before imaginary jurors — that reviews everything that went wrong in the relationship.

It typically repeats the same painful questions (Where’d I go wrong?  Where did my partner?  Who’s the villain here? Who’s the victim?) and plays out alternative scenarios (What if x hadn’t happened?  If I had said or done this instead?) endlessly.

On the surface it’s an attempt to make sense of things.  Unconsciously it can be a way of assigning blame, self-punishing, or postponing grief over the death of the relationship.

For some people The Argument continues for years. However long it lasts, it makes moving on virtually impossible.

That’s because real closure and healing require you to

~ move beyond black/white, good guy/bad guy thinking to understanding cause and effect;

~ move beyond blaming to acceptance and to compassion, not just for the other person’s mistakes but for your own;

~ if the relationship has ended, mourn the loss of both the actual relationship and the dream of what you hoped it would become.


Grades

Occasionally I meet a parent who is panicked because their kid’s getting bad grades in school.  I tell them,

Grades are mostly bullshit.

They don’t measure real knowledge or intelligence or understanding or creativity or anything people really need to be successful.  They don’t measure honesty or courage or kindness or compassion or self-awareness or whether a kid knows the difference between right and wrong or what’s important and what’s not.  More often they measure memory (short-term at that), obedience, conformity, fear of failure, need for approval, or the results of parental coercion.  Thus academic success is not the predictor of success in adult life everyone pretends it is. Einstein, Edison, Newton, Churchill and Steven Speilberg were all bad students. So try not to stress over Johnny’s C in Social Studies. Because grades are mostly bullshit.


Layer cake

cake 2Not only is control problematic, it’s a layer-cake problem  — several kinds of problem wrapped into one.

It’s a psychological problem, since the idea of control is built into human consciousness and saturates all of our thought processes.

It’s an emotional problem, since wanting it – even craving it, and seeking it compulsively – resides at the center of our emotional lives.

It’s an interpersonal problem, since we can’t seem to stop trying to control each other or resisting whenever someone tries to control us.

It’s a spiritual problem, because control (trying to edit reality according to our preferences) is what we turn to when faith fails us.

And it’s an existential problem, because the struggle for control — or alternatively, not to control — is an inescapable part of the life, hopes, and suffering of every human being.


Backhand

Once in a while I publish something here that pisses someone off.

That happened recently, when three different people indicated they thought I had written a post about them.

As much as I hate upsetting anyone, I sort of like when this happens.

I take it as confirmation that I’ve identified some idea or pattern or symptom or need or problem or solution to which readers can relate.  You know, something real.  It’s a sort of backhanded validation.

So if I offend anyone, I apologize in advance.

And thanks for the compliment.

 


Unconscious

Why do I always pick the wrong person to be with?  

Why do we have the same fight over and over? 

Why can’t I remember to take my medicine?  I keep meaning to, and then I forget.

“Unconscious” means we don’t know why we do what we do.

The unconscious is a real part of us, and constantly operating.

It handles stuff — feelings, needs, conflicts — we’re scared to look at directly. So we push them down out of sight and the unconscious deals with them in its own way.

Unconscious behavior can be confusing and cause problems.  But it’s usually an attempt to solve another problem we’d rather not face.

We all do this.  We’re all unconscious much of the time.  We can’t help it.  It’s part of our hard wiring.

People who deny their unconscious are like drivers who, when they get into traffic, close their eyes and hope for the best.

 

 

 

 


Bonsai people

There’s a reason shrinks talk so much about childhood.

It’s because we’re all bonsai people.

You sculpt a bonsai by wrapping wire around the tender trunk and branches of a sapling, then bending it into aesthetically pleasing directions.

In our case, the wire that bends and shapes us is childhood experience.

Unmet needs.  Unexpressed feelings. Unresolved conflicts.  Unhealed wounds.

Even when the visible wire is removed — decades pass, parents die, kids get big — its effects remain, for good or ill.

The child is father to the man.  

The sins of the fathers are visited upon the children.

We’re all bonsai people.


Off center

Occasionally a client will find herself (it’s usually a woman, but not always) in a bad marriage she can neither repair nor escape.

In such cases I suggest she move the marriage off center.  This means

Make it small.  Reduce its importance. Stop seeing it as the center of your emotional life or the definer of your worth as a person. Demote it to the status of Evil Necessity — just as you would with an annoying boss you tolerate in order to keep doing a job you love.  Then set about balancing it with meaningful work and loving friendships and interests that feed you and bring out the best of who you are.  As much as you can, take steps to get your emotional and spiritual needs met outside this marriage. That will make it even smaller and move it further away from your emotional center.      

 

 


Wayned

Like women (see Tranced), men are socially programmed for relationship failure.

Be consistently strong, brave, confident, independent, stoic and self-sacrificing, they’re taught. Never show weakness, fear, self-doubt, confusion, sadness or need.  

In other words: Thou shalt be John Wayne.

It’s an impossible standard, of course (even John Wayne wasn’t John Wayne), but most men accept it, internalize it and feel like failures when they can’t measure up.

Result 1:  Wayned men carry secret feelings of inadequacy and guilt.

Result 2:  The pain these feelings cause makes them chronically angry.

Result 3:  Often they bring this anger to their relationships with women, whom they blame for “making” them feel this way.

Result 4:  Wayned men and Tranced women often combine to create split-level relationships.

Result 5:  Then they teach their sons and daughters to do the same.


Punishment

 control box 3

The punishment for an addiction is the addiction itself.

Sure, addiction has other painful consequences.

But the worst part is living the life of an addict, one of compulsion and fear.

This is especially true for control addicts, who find themselves constantly scanning for — and constantly finding — triggers for their addiction.

For when you believe you need control in order to feel safe and/or happy…

and life insists on remaining uncontrollable…

…life itself turns into one big continuous trigger.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,715 other followers

%d bloggers like this: