I’m adding sugar when I first hear the sound. A tiny squeak, like a mouse crying. I stop to listen. The sound goes away.
I resume adding sugar. I hear the squeak again. Again I stop. Again the squeak evaporates.
“What the fuck,” I say aloud.
Do I believe in ghosts? I never thought about it before this.
I reach for the creamer. Again the mouse cries.
I look down. The tiny cry is coming from my bare feet, squeaking on the kitchen floor.
* * *
Yes, I believe in ghosts.
I don’t mean the barefoot kind. Not the “Paranormal Files” kind, either.
I mean the ones we inherit or create in our minds. The kind that haunts most of us, most of our lives.
I believe in them because I spend most of my days with haunted people.
~ Frank’s father was an angry, critical man with a keen eye for the inadequacies of others. Perfectionism is the ghost Frank inherited. It’s made him a workaholic, terrified of failure and rejection.
~ Gail’s mom was depressed and emotionally unavailable all through Gail’s childhood and adolescence. Helplessness is the ghost Gail inherited. It’s made her a career codependent, compulsively drawn to find and rescue emotionally damaged friends, lovers and strangers.
~ Hope is 16; her mom is a 38-year-old narcissist trying to recapture her youth by partying with friends each night and cheating on her husband. The ghost Hope inherited is the conviction I Am Unloveable. It’s made her a bulimic who occasionally cuts herself with razors.
~ Ian’s parents fought constantly while they were married, battled through their divorce, and continued to bicker afterwards. Fear of Conflict is that ghost Ian inherited. This family version of combat fatigue (aka PTSD) left him unable to assert himself in virtually any situation.
~ My own family never had enough money when I was growing up. Today I wrestle with a ghost I’ve named Not Enough to Go Around. It emerges to squeak in my ear whenever I fantasize about trying to make a profit, like raising fees or writing an ebook and offering it for sale.
Therapy with haunted people amounts to teaching them to better distinguish outside from inside. (This is a confusion common to all control addicts, who regularly confuse the two.) That’s because haunted people are absolutely convinced the ghosts exist outside — out there in the real world. We don’t realize that we import them into each new situation.
How to stop doing that? It varies from person to person. But the first step is always the same:
Identify the ghost as a ghost. As a belief, a prejudice, an anxiety we project onto the world.
One last thought:
The truth is, as much as they scare us, we love our ghosts.
They seem to explain something, and in a familiar way. There’s odd comfort in that. We adore our explanations.
That’s why we hold onto them so tight. That’s why it takes work to see them for what they really are, and authentic courage to let go of them.
Excuse me now. I have to go write.
* * *
~ John Milton
* * *
Actual control means the ability to dictate or transform external circumstances — make people, place and things behave as we like.
Sense of control means feeling competent, grounded, secure and calm inside — in control of one’s internal state.
Put another way: actual control describes something we achieve out in the world, while sense of control describes something we achieve in our heads.
“So what?” you ask. “Why is this distinction important?”
Because actual control and sense of control are achieved by quite different methods.
Because chasing one makes you healthy, while chasing the other makes you sick.
And because one’s a lot easier to come by than the other.
~ From What we mean when we talk about control: Outside, inside by Steve Hauptman.
* * *