Lie. Or at least withhold the truth. Disguise your thoughts. Hide your feelings. Never say No. Read people carefully, anticipate their reactions, then give them only what they want or can tolerate. Stay in hiding. Do this until it becomes a habit, your automatic and unconscious default position. Until no one, even those of us who want to, can spot the real you. Then sit back and bask in useless safety.
The Third Law of Control is Behind all controlling is the wish to control feelings. We assume more control will make us feel better, and that enough control means happiness. Neither assumption is true. Reality resists all attempts to control it, and reality always wins in the end. So fighting reality is tactically unwise. But most of us take a lifetime to discover that, and some of us never do.
Unsolicited advice isn’t helpful, it’s disrespectful. Constant criticism isn’t teaching, it’s disempowering. Gratuitous commentary on another’s problems isn’t friendly, it’s annoying.
I mean, who asked you?
Caretaking isn’t nurturance, it’s manipulation. Enabling isn’t support, it’s exacerbation. People-pleasing isn’t “nice,” it’s frightened. Codependency isn’t love, it’s addiction.
Healthy control is functional because it helps us get our needs met. Unhealthy control — dyscontrol – is dysfunctional because it makes getting our needs met impossible. The big challenge facing recovering control addicts is learning to tell one from the other.
The Second Law of Control is Our addiction to control causes most (maybe all) of our emotional problems. Anxiety, depression, addictions, bad relationships, broken communication — all deeply rooted in attempts to control what either can’t or shouldn’t be controlled.
Addiction is an attempt to control feelings, to change them or make them go away. So the wish for control is the mother of all addictions. And every addiction is an addiction to control.
Everybody’s addicted to something. Tell me you’re not and I’ll just assume you’re lying to yourself about it.
The First Law of Control is We are all addicted to controlling. We control constantly, compulsively, unconsciously, and even when doing it hurts us or people we care about. Which is exactly what it means to be addicted to anything.
I can’t help but like someone who’s brave or honest (which amount to the same thing). I can’t help being bored by someone who’s neither.
I’m two days into vacation, and it’s not going well.
When I try to rest I feel guilty. I’m at home, and I look around and see all the shit that needs to be done.
Then I try doing some of it and end up feeling angry. I mean, I’m supposed to be on vacation.
All of which reminds me of the Zen proverb:
Now, I know this. I know that when you’re not paying full attention you feel fragmented. That when you’re not where you are, you’re nowhere.
But knowing doesn’t help. Because I’m also like most people. I spent my life detached from reality, dwelling not in the moment but in tomorrow (What do I have to do? And when?) or yesterday (What did I forget?).
Like most people, I spend my life wobbling.
So hard to get in touch with here/now. To stop doing and just be.
I just installed a mindfulness bell on my computer which rings periodically to remind me to visit here/now.
Every time I hear it I get annoyed. (Monkey mind hates to be told to shut up.)
But then I stop what I’m doing, close my eyes, breathe in and out three times.
And for just a moment I enter the room I’m already in. I feel my body, and the air around it, and hear the sounds in that air, and I settle down a little bit, and feel a little less fragmented.
For just a moment, I’m unwobbly.
One reader responded to Twelve Truisms by asking me to explain #8: When deciding what you truly need, trust the body more than the mind.
I wrote back,
The body is where feelings live.
And the function of feelings is to inform us about what we’re experiencing.
By “feelings” I mean both physical sensations (hunger, fatigue, pain) and emotional reactions (mad, sad, glad, scared).
Attending to these cues is essential to physical and emotional health — to knowing what we need and taking effective steps towards getting it.
Yet each of us is trained to ignore these essential messages on a regular basis.
Don’t pee in your pants, find a toilet. Don’t eat that, it’s not dinner time. Big boys don’t cry. Don’t take that tone with me, young lady. Stop giggling, you’ll disturb people. You can’t nap now, the workday’s not over. Never let them see you sweat.
This is called socialization, and our living together with other people makes much of it unavoidable.
But if we become overadapted – get too good at obeying social cues, and regularly ignore messages from our animal bodies – we end up needy, sick and cut off from ourselves.
Or as John Conger writes, “Many of us have lived like renters in a small room of a house we consider barely habitable. Disembodied, we have dangerously compromised the fabric of nature that supports us.”
So any effective therapy must teach people to listen to their bodies, and base more of their choices on what they hear.
Over time every therapist develops a set of working assumptions that he or she brings to each new case.
Here are some of mine:
1. It is healthier to express feelings than to hide them.
2. Unexpressed feelings lie at the root of all emotional problems.
3. Secrets make us sick.
4. Problems in current relationships tend to echo problems in past relationships.
5. What we don’t get from our parents we will seek from our partners.
6. Being deprived in childhood of attention, acceptance, approval or affection leaves us chronically hungry for the same thing as adults.
7. When trying to understand some feeling or behavior, look for the underlying unmet need.
8. When deciding what you truly need, trust the body more than the mind.
9. There is no such thing as a totally grown-up human being.
10. The greater your need to control things in your life, the less in-control you’re likely to feel.
11. The more you try to control other people, the more you force them to control you back.
12. The price of more control in one part of your life is less control in another.
Recently I posted this observation:
And one reader wrote back, “Please say more about this.”
Okay. Here’s a metaphor drawn from my work with victims (the self-defined kind) and blamers:
Think of responsibility as a circle you draw around yourself.
Everything inside the circle belongs to you. Everything outside doesn’t.
By “everything” I mean both bad stuff – problems, demands, risks – and good stuff – solutions, rewards, opportunities.
Some people draw a small circle as a way of avoiding the bad stuff.
It’s their way of telling themselves “Not my fault” or “Not my job.”
They believe the small circle will protect them.
But it’s actually a trap.
Because you can’t solve problems that aren’t yours to solve. So the small circle makes you feel helpless.
And the more demands you avoid, the less capable you become. So the small circle is weakening.
And the more risks you avoid, the fewer opportunities life offers. So the small circle leaves you feeling deprived.
So instead of safe on a cozy island of invulnerability, small-circle folks find themselves afloat in a sea of helplessness, weakness and unmet needs.