Steve: One reader writes,
I like your blog, but it’s a little scary, since before this I had no idea how controlling I am and how many problems it causes me.
What I want now is to learn to be more aware of my controlling, to keep the idea of control at the surface of my mind and to understand how wanting to control things drives how I react and what I do and say.
Got any tips on that?
Bert: Good question.
Steve: She wants to learn how to spot monkeytraps.
Bert: Yeah. You should remind everyone what a monkeytrap is.
Steve: In the East they trap monkeys by placing fruit in a weighted jar or bottle with a narrow neck. The monkey smells the fruit, reaches in to grab it, and traps himself by refusing to let go.
A psychological monkeytrap is any situation that triggers you into compulsive controlling — i.e., into holding on when you really should be letting go.
Bert: And yes, we have tips on how to spot them.
Steve: Here’s the first:
We’re controlling whenever we need or want to change some piece of reality (instead of accepting it as it is). And we’re most likely to want to change realities that make us uncomfortable. So it makes sense that our discomfort zones are where we’re most likely to get monkeytrapped.
Bert: I, for example, can’t stand rejection. So it’s with people I think might reject me that I tend to be most controlling.
I do it in all sorts of ways: hide feelings I think might upset them, pretend to agree when I really don’t, laugh at their stupid jokes, avoid confronting behavior I dislike, try to read their minds, and so on.
Steve: Tip #2:
Stuck as in not learning, or healing, or growing — struggling with the same damn problem over and over again.
Bert: Same example. Working hard at controlling people’s reactions to me is a monkeytrap because it
(a) stops me from being myself, which
(b) prevents me from ever getting accepted as myself, which
(c) keeps me chronically scared of rejection.
In short, a dysfunctional merry-go-round.
Steve: Right. You know you’re monkeytrapped whenever you find yourself doing, over and over and over again, what doesn’t work.
And why do you?
That brings us to Tip #3:
Unhealthy controlling is driven by anxiety. We stay monkeytrapped because we’re scared to do anything else. Often even the thought of giving up control in such situations is enough to scare us silly.
Bert: Like me telling my mother-in-law her breath stinks.
Steve: Uh, yeah. Great example.
So if you want to spot where you’re compulsively controlling, look for the three clues: discomfort, stuckness, and fear.