To the adult son so desperate for his father’s love and approval that he bites his tongue whenever Dad launches into a racist political harrangue.
To the boyfriend whose fiance makes all the couples’ decisions unilaterally but who doesn’t complain for fear she’ll break their engagement.
To the therapist whose need for clients to like her is so great that she regularly extends their therapy hour, reduces her fee, comes in on weekends, and takes crisis calls at all hours of the night.
Maybe you’ve lived those versions.
Regression to the most vulnerable emotional state you know.
The way we were treated as small children is the way we treat ourselves the rest of our life.
~ Alice Miller
Dear friends and fellow monkeys,
I’m inviting you to share your responses to an upcoming series of blog posts.
The posts will be about adult children*, which is the subject of a book I’m writing.
The premises of this book are that
1. Every human being carries a child inside them.
2. Every inner child gets wounded.
3. People who bring these wounds into adulthood are what we call adult children.
4. We are all adult children.
5. This means we all carry three kinds of wounds:
~ disorders of identity (confusion about who we are),
~ disorders of feeling (confusion about how to handle our emotional lives), and
~ disorders of relationship (confusion about how to deal with other people).
6. We can heal these wounds by relearning how to be healthy human beings.
Of course, none of these ideas is particularly new. There’s been a stream of books about inner kids and adult children and emotional healing since the 1970s, many of them excellent.
But mine (working title: Monkeytraps for Adult Children) will be the first to organize these ideas around the theme of this blog and of all my books: control addiction.
In the coming weeks, I’ll explore them in posts that will eventually become book chapters.
How can you help?
Give me feedback.
People who work with me or read my first book know what I mean by feedback. It’s a communication skill I teach in group therapy.
It’s not just offering opinions, criticism, judgment, diagnosis or advice.
Instead it’s an attempt to go inside yourself and answer questions like
How do I relate to what I just read?
What memories came up while I was reading it?
What was I feeling?
What am I feeling right now?
That’s right. An emotional response, not an intellectual one.
What’s in it for you?
Several things, I hope.
Giving feedback can help us identify our own unfinished business and unhealed wounds.
It may even bring long-buried issues and needs into awareness.
It can also help us to identify and express feelings which, if left unaddressed, might cause anxiety, depression or other problems.
Hearing feedback can help reduce a sense of isolation, guilt and shame by illuminating our commonality with others.
Then too, I’d hope anyone who shares feedback here would derive satisfaction from knowing they contributed to a book whose aim is to help people heal emotional wounds just like theirs.
I’ll publish the first post shortly.
Please consider joining the conversation.
You can share feedback publicly or privately.
Public feedback can simply be posted in the Comments section following each blog post.
Private feedback can be sent to me at email@example.com.
*What’s an adult child? See “Inner kids and adult children.”
She ended the relationship six weeks ago and has been struggling ever since.
Doubt, self-blame, anxiety and depression are the signs of the struggle.
This is not the first time she’s gone through this.
Not the first time for me, either.
Most of my clients are women, and many of them react in just this way when an important relationship fails.
For some the reaction lasts for months.
For others, years.
It’s my job to help them transform that reaction into a healthier, more self-loving one.
So I expect that the email I sent her is one I’ll will save and use again and again.
It’s about how her Inner Kid experiences relationship problems.
Here it is:
Not sure this will help, but here’s something to consider while battling your demons:
(1) Until it finally heals — that is, develops a clear and realistic perception of itself — every inner Kid operates out of a distorted perspective which may be thought of as an inherited bias.
(2) The Kid inherits this perspective mainly from its parents, which it absorbs and accepts as The Truth — however distorted it may actually be — on the unconscious level.
(3) It then sets out to confirm this perspective by gathering evidence in support of it.
For example, say the parents tell the kid she’s “stupid.” The kid will then go through life noticing all the stupid things she’s said or done or thought and adding them to the pile of evidence.
Evidence that she is not stupid will be discounted or ignored.
Think of this as building a case against yourself in the courtroom of your mind.
(4) The payoff for this seemingly self-defeating behavior?
There are two, both unconscious.
Building the case against myself
(a) reduces my confusion. (I don’t have to figure out what I really am — I have all this evidence that I’m stupid — case closed);
(b) allows me to stay attached to my parents. (Whereas, if I come to see them as unreliable or rejecting or pathological, I may be left feeling abandoned and entirely on my own).
I suggest that the above explains what you have been doing since your breakup.
The bias you inherited is a view of yourself as flawed, inadequate and unloveable.
You are using (even distorting) the “evidence” of your failed relationship in support of this biased view.
You have been doing this your whole life, so it feels true and normal.
It’s actually distorted and self-destructive.
The people who care about you recognize this. That’s why our feedback about your relationship is so different from the feedback you’ve been giving yourself.
But until now our view has lost in court to the inherited bias — i.e., to your imaginary need for parents you have, in fact, outgrown.
Grow up psychologically.
Which means develop — with the aid of people whose opinions you trust — a more realistic and compassionate view of yourself than you inherited.
(PS: The technical name for inherited bias is introjection. For a further description, see “Identity and introjection” on the Psychology Today website.)
“So what the hell is codependency?” asks a man in the back row.
He’s wearing a brown corduroy jacket and he sounds annoyed.
I’m not sure how to answer. I’m in over my head here.
I’m a new social worker, six months out of grad school, working for a clinic on the east end of Long Island. My new boss has decided I should run the weekly Family Education Series, basically a crash course in alcoholism and how it screws up families. And tonight the topic is codependency.
I know my subject well enough. I’ve worked as an alcoholism counselor. I’ve treated hundreds of codependents. I can diagnose one in the first five minutes of a conversation.
But when it came time to prepare this talk I found I couldn’t define the word.
At work we talk about codependency all the time without ever stopping to explain what we meant. And when I looked into my half-dozen books on the subject I found each defining it in a different way. One was:
A specific condition characterized by preoccupation and extreme dependence on another person, activity, group, idea, or substance. 
An emotional, psychological, and behavioral condition that develops as a result of an individual’s prolonged exposure to, and practice of, a set of oppressive rules. 
A multidimensional (physical, mental, emotional and spiritual) condition manifested by any suffering and dysfunction that is associated with or due to focusing on the needs and behavior of others. 
A recognizable pattern of personality traits, predictably found within most members of chemically dependent families, which are capable of creating sufficient dysfunction to warrant the diagnosis of Mixed Personality Disorder as outlined in DSM-III ,
which sent me off to yet another book to learn what the hell that meant.
Finally I came to codependency maven Melody Beattie, who explained that a codependent is simply
a person who has let another person’s behavior affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person’s behavior. 
A fine definition. Until you notice it describes just about everyone.
Having no idea which definition to offer my workshop, I cleverly decided to present them all.
So here I am, having just done that. I’ve distributed a handout with the five definitions on it, and read them aloud, and am now looking at a roomful of blank faces.
“So what the hell is codependency?” asks Corduroy.
I giggle too. (Inside I’m thinking Shoot me now.)
Then something happens.
Something clicks in some back room of my head.
And I relax, and I hear myself answer,
“Addiction to control.”
I have surprised myself. I’ve never thought of it this way before.
But Corduroy starts asking questions, and I find answers bubbling out of me, and suddenly it’s all making a new sort of sense.
I tell him I see codependents as traumatized people, convinced their survival depends on controlling “their” alcoholic’s illness. So they do things like hide booze and avoid dad at certain times of the day and lie to his boss about why he missed work or to the neighbors about why he fell asleep in the driveway. And from all these experiences they come to see control as a way of coping generally, and set about applying it to everything and everyone in their lives, to the point where it makes them sick.
“Sick how?” Corduroy frowns.
Anxious and depressed, I tell him. But also worried and tense and irritable, and unable to relax or have fun, or identify and express feelings, or trust anyone, or like themselves. Also self-medicating with food or work or rescuing other people or whatever else they can think of.
And now Corduroy is nodding thoughtfully, and so are others in the room.
And I know I’m onto something.
After the workshop I go back to doing therapy with clinic clients. Mine is a typical outpatient caseload, filled with the sorts of problems every therapist faces: anxiety, depression, addictions, bad relationships, parenting problems.
But now something’s changed.
Have you ever bought a new car — a new Honda, say — and take it out on the road, and wherever you drive you see other Hondas? Suddenly the world is filled with Hondas you never noticed before.
This is happening to me. Suddenly my caseload is filled with control addicts.
The clients haven’t changed, I have. It’s like I’m wearing new eyeglasses. My vision has refocused or sharpened or something, and now I can’t help seeing how relentlessly, compulsively and self-destructively controlling they all are.
They? I mean We. Everyone.
Controlling, I find, is the universal addiction. It’s everywhere I look. Not just in codependent clients, but all of them. Not just in clients, but in my colleagues and friends and family. And on the nightly news, and in whatever I read or watch on tv or in the movies. And of in myself.
Like a red thread in a carpet, the idea of control snakes through every problem, every motive, every personality, every emotional life.
Why is this?
I had always assumed that dysfunctional families created codependency. But now I find the red thread running everywhere, which must mean either that (a) all families are dysfunctional (an arguable premise) or (b) the urge to control is hardwired into us, rooted in some deep part of our brain that can’t help rejecting what life hands us and trying to replace it with what we prefer. Or (c) both. Or (d) something else entirely. I don’t know.
I spend the next fifteen years studying the idea of control.
I hunt for books on control (there aren’t many), then for books on related ideas like desire and power and addiction. I buy lots of books. I start reading everything with a highlighter in my hand, scribbling big yellow Cs alongside the parts that relate to control. Half my books start to look pee-stained. I buy more books. I start typing out control-related passages I like and collect them in a computer file which as of today runs to 200 pages.
I discover Buddhism, which turns out to be all about control addiction (except Buddhists call it attachment). I try meditating. I hate it. Well, not hate it exactly, but resist it like hell, to the point I’m unable to sustain a regular practice. Apparently the control addict in me just can’t stand to sit and listen to my own thoughts, to that anxious internal chatter Buddhists call monkeymind.
I begin reshaping my approach to therapy around the idea of control. I teach my clients to notice when they’re monkeytrapped – i.e., caught in situations which tempt them to control what they cannot control, to hold on when they should let go.
I start a blog called Monkeytraps. I write posts about control addiction and ways to recover from it. I write posts about my own addiction, and the part I think of as my inner monkey, whom I name Bert.
People read the blog and write comments. “You’re writing about me,” is a familiar reply.
And the new therapy seems to work. I am struck by how many clients tell me, as they become less controlling, “It’s so much easier.”
I decide to write a book.
Monkeytraps: Why Everybody Tries to Control Everything and How We Can Stop was published in December 2015.
It’s based on four lessons I learned from my study and clinical work:
(1) We are all addicted to control.
(2) This addiction causes most emotional problems.
(3) Behind all controlling is the wish to control feelings.
(4) There are better ways to handle feelings than control.
I call these lessons the Four Laws of control, since they seem true of everyone I meet and seem to operate pretty invariably.
We can’t help but follow these laws, whether we realize it or not.
Just as, whether we realize it or not, we can’t avoid living lives shaped by the universal addiction.
This post previously appeared on Lisa Fredericksen’s Breaking the Cycles (http://www.breakingthecycles.com/blog/)
 Sharon Wegscheider-Cruse, ChoiceMaking: For co-dependents, adult children and spirituality seekers (Health Communications, 1985).
 Robert Subby, Lost in the shuffle: The co-dependent reality, quoted in Whitfield (see below).
 Charles Whitfield, Co-dependence: Healing the human condition (Health Communications, 1991).
 Timmen Cermak, Diagnosing and treating co-dependence (Johnson Institute, 1986).
 Melody Beattie, Codependent no more (Harper/Hazelden, 1987).
Adapted from “The ten rules emotions follow that everyone should know,” at Psych Central.
We are all in a post-hypnotic trance induced in early infancy.
~ R.D. Laing
Every human being emerges from childhood in a trance.
Its defining characteristic is a tendency to perceive and treat ourselves as we were perceived and treated by our parents.
If they loved and accepted us, we love and accept ourselves.
If they abused or neglected or judged us, we abuse or neglect or judge ourselves.
Garbage in, garbage out. As with computers, so with children.
All this is pretty much inescapable.
And as adults most of us walk around hypnotized much of the time without realizing it.
Adult relationships, though, tend to trigger our awareness of this trance.
This happens because, in our need for our partners’ love and acceptance and approval, we tend to confuse them with our parents.
We slip back into the Kid Trance, where how we feel about ourselves depends on how we are seen and treated by someone else.
This is both an awful and a wonderful thing.
It’s awful because of it how feels. It’s never fun feeling like a vulnerable, self-doubting, dependent kid in a grownup’s body.
It’s wonderful because of the opportunity it offers.
Because adult relationships provide a second chance — a chance to awaken from the trance, to revisit distorted conclusions about ourselves and our worth as people, and to redefine both in light of a more adult awareness.
We do this mainly by practicing what kids cannot do:
We act like ourselves.
We tell the truth.
This is not easy work.
It can be scary to be ourselves.
It’s especially scary if our past attempts at doing so were met with criticism or conflict or rejection.
Since the alternative is to remain permanently hypnotized.
Six months ago he came in so wired and anxious we needed to walk the neighborhood for forty minutes before he could sit and talk comfortably.
Now he tells me, “I feel better.”
“Good,” I say.
“I sleep better,” he says. “I’m less tired. I worry less. And I stopped snapping at everyone.”
“Yes, but confusing,” he frowns. “Because I don’t know why I feel better.”
“Why do you think?” I ask.
“Well, it has something to do with this,” nodding at the two of us sitting together. “Because nothing else has changed.”
I know what he means. He still hates his job, remains unsure in his marriage, still struggles with the legacy of growing up in an alcoholic home.
“And what about this” — I imitate his nod — “helps you feel better?”
“Well, talking,” he says. “I never knew just talking could help so much. But beyond that,” and he shakes his head. “Do you know?”
“I know how I see it,” I say. “I can tell you that.”
“Therapy’s not mysterious,” I say. “All a therapist has to offer is two things. One’s a safe place to tell the truth — that’s the talking part.”
“The other is a new way of seeing things.”
“Seeing things how?”
“Imagine a small pond with black gravel on the bottom,” I say. “Now imagine that every day you throw a piece of white gravel into that pond. What happens over time?”
“The white gravel collects,” he says.
“And if you do this daily for years?”
“Eventually the white gravel covers the black.”
“That’s just what is happening with you.”
He thinks about it.
“So the pond is me. And the black gravel is…wait, I know. It’s Plan A.“
God bless him, he’s read my book.
“Right. For six months you’ve been replacing the feelings and beliefs you carried out of childhood — many of them unconscious — with stuff that works better. Ideas that allow you to think, feel and function in healthier ways.
“Think about it. What do you believe now that you didn’t six months ago?”
He’s quiet for a while.
“Three things,” he says finally. “Holding in feelings made me sick. That’s the first one. The second is that I didn’t cause dad’s drinking or my parents’ shitty marriage.” He pauses. “And the third is that being anxious and depressed all these years doesn’t mean I’m weak or stupid or a failure. And that there are other people like me out there.”
“Bravo. You’ve changing your gravel.”
“I guess so,” he says thoughtfully. “Changes everything, doesn’t it?”
Control means the ability to dictate reality — to edit people, places and things according to our needs and preferences.
It is the single most important idea in our lives.
Because, more than any other, the idea of control shapes our emotions and behavior, our relationships and personalities.
Because what we believe about control — even when we’re unaware we believe it — determines how we feel and how we act.
~ If I think control is always a good thing to have, I’ll feel deprived whenever I can’t have it.
~ If I think control is always necessary, it will become my priority, and I will seek it regardless of consequences.
~ If I believe my safety depends on having control, I will feel anxious or panicked or overwhelmed whenever control is impossible.
~ If you and I both want control at the same time, we’re going to have a problem.
On the other hand,
~ If I remember that control is often impossible and/or unnecessary, I’ll feel less driven to seek it in all situations.
~ If I know I can feel safe even when I don’t have control, I’ll work harder at learning healthy alternatives.
~ If I’m aware that humans get addicted to control, I’ll be more careful about when and how I go about controlling, and feel more satisfaction when I am able to cope without it.
~ If I know that controlling can wreck communication and destroy relationships, I’ll think twice before trying to control you, or using it to solve problems that crop up between us.
Whenever I meet new clients I listen carefully for their view of control, since more than anything else it summarizes how they see themselves and their relationship to reality.
The more they experience reality as threatening or doubt their ability to cope with whatever life hands them, the more they see controlling as both good and essential.
The safer they feel, or the more they trust their coping ability, the easier it is for them to see controlling as a problem, or to to imagine feeling safe and happy without control.
My job as their therapist almost always amounts to helping them move from the first camp into the second.
(Decoding the laundry list, concluded.)
If I’m an adult child,
(10) I feel different from other people.
This comes mainly from how I overcontrol my emotional life. I don’t trust or listen to feelings so much as judge them. Since I judge them, I don’t share them with anyone else. Since I don’t share them, others don’t share their feelings with me, so I never discover that we feel essentially the same way. Trapped in this closed loop of feeling > judgment > more feeling > more judgment, I’m forced to the inaccurate conclusion that I’m different from everyone else.
(11) I’m either super responsible or super irresponsible.
This comes from how I manage my anxiety. Since I don’t understand that my anxiety comes from emotional constipation (i.e., holding feelings in), I blame it on external stressors, like the stuff I have to do in my life. Sometimes I try to be all over that stuff (super responsible), and sometimes I try to try to forget or ignore it (super irresponsible). Unfortunately neither approach works for long. Hyper-responsibility leaves me anxious and exhausted, while hyper-irresponsibility leaves me anxious and guilty. So I swing like a pendulum between these two unhealthy extremes, confusing the hell out of myself and the people around me.
(12) I’m extremely loyal, even in the face of evidence that my loyalty is undeserved.
This comes from doubting myself and the evidence of my feelings. Childhood left me convinced I was permanently flawed, so when things go wrong between us I blame myself. (If you hurt my feelings I decide I’m oversensitive. If you ignore or neglect me I tell myself Stop being so needy. And after I lose my temper with you I may worry Am I crazy?) My sense of self-worth is so low that I figure I’m lucky to have any relationships at all, and so must work extra hard to preserve them. This damaged view of myself that keeps me in relationships long after a healthier person would have escaped.
(13) I’m impulsive — i.e., tend to lock myself into a course of action without thinking through alternatives or consequences.
This, too, comes from how I manage anxiety. I’m impulsive because I lack self-awareness (for example, that I’m constipated) and the ability to defer gratification. Instead I grab for the first choice I think will bring relief. (Boss yelled at me? Quit the job. Boyfriend didn’t call? Drive by his house. Girlfriend forgot my birthday? End the relationship.) In recovery I’m learning, though, to take a breath, consider my options, process my choices with a safe person, and that there are better ways to reduce anxiety than leaping without looking.
Part 14 of a series on
monkeytraps and adult children.
Read part 1 here.
(Decoding the laundry list, continued.)
As an adult child,
(5) I have trouble relaxing or having fun.
That’s because I grew up scared. I never knew what to expect. (Will Dad hug me or hit me? Will Mom reassure me or tell me what I did wrong? Will they get along or argue? Will I be accepted? Criticized? Abused? Ignored?) Such uncertainty is rife when a family member is alcoholic, but it exists in all families to some extent. Uncertainty made me hypervigilant. I learned to scan constantly for threats, signs of tension or anger or conflict or other trouble. I did that so long I lost the ability to do otherwise, to drop my defenses and relax or just play. I became an adult who is chronically braced against imminent danger.
(6) I take myself very seriously.
This flows directly from the last item. Fear makes you pretty damn serious. Fear hijacks your attention, steals your energy, keeps you preoccupied and wary. And since one of the things I’m most scared of is criticism, I’m forever worried that others will judge me. (Dance? Play? Act silly? God, no. I’d look like a fool.) I worry about that, on some level, all the time.
(7) I struggle with intimate relationships.
Intimacy means being able to be yourself with another person and allow them to do the same with you. It requires dropping your defenses and surrendering control. It requires faith, both in other people (I trust you not to hurt or betray me) and in myself (I am basically lovable and can take care of myself). I never developed that faith. So showing another person who I really am feels like skydiving without a parachute. Frankly it’s hard for me to imagine how anyone can do it, or would want to.
(8) I over-react to changes beyond my control.
I spent childhood reacting to events that were scary or stressful. This left me experiencing the external world as dangerous. And I concluded that the only way to feel safe was to control those external events — the people, places and things in my environment. A logical conclusion, but psychologically disastrous, since it made me hypersensitive to everything I couldn’t control. And every life is filled with the uncontrollable. So now, to the extent that I rely on control to feel secure or confident, my internal life feels not safe but chaotic.
(9) I constantly seek approval and affirmation.
All kids need large helpings of the four A’s: attention, acceptance, approval and affection. Kids who get enough feel loved and lovable. Kids who don’t feel holey — emotionally hungry. I didn’t get enough, so now my hunger compels me to seek feeding in the form of approval and validation. Unfortunately I seek it in self-defeating ways. Since I feel unlovable, I don’t believe I deserve feeding. So instead of revealing my true self to you I hide the parts of me (like anger and self-doubt) I think you’ll dislike. I try to fool you into loving me. As a result whatever love or approval I do get feels meaningless, since I had to lie to get it. I remain holey, and so compelled to seek approval and affirmation again and again.
(To be continued.)
Part 13 of a series on
monkeytraps and adult children.
Read part 1 here.
Three decades of knowing and working with adult children (not to mention six decades of living as one) have made it impossible for me to read the thirteen laundry list items as anything but iterations of control addiction.
For example, as an adult child…
(1) I guess what normal is, then try to imitate it.
I don’t feel normal (whatever that is). I feel different, inadequate, anxious. I assume these feelings are unique to me, and that if you knew about them you’d judge me. So I hide my feelings and fake normalcy. (I won’t let on how much a change in plans disturbs me, for example, or how nervous I am in social situations.) I do this to control how you perceive and react to me.
(2) I have trouble following projects through from beginning to end.
This is mainly because of how I handle discomfort. All projects turn uncomfortable at some point, demanding we do things we’d rather not do. I don’t know what to do with such feelings — that it helps to vent, for example, or ask for encouragement or advice. Instead I try to make them go away by interrupting what I’m doing. (I call this “taking a break.”) Thus my bedroom remains unpainted, my graduate degree unearned, my book unwritten, and I may never lose those last ten pounds.
(3) I lie when it would be just as easy to tell the truth.
Since the truth (like how I really feel about myself or about you) makes me terribly uneasy, honesty feels dangerous. It feels much safer to conceal and manipulate the truth. I’ve been doing that for so long that now it’s a habit. I overcontrol the truth because it gives me the sense that of being able to control you and how you see me.
(4) I judge myself without mercy.
Childhood taught me to expect others to criticize or reject me. This was so painful that now I anticipate it and do it to myself before you can. I’d rather abuse myself than feel victimized. (Kind of like quitting a job before they can fire you.) And judging myself without mercy saves me from being surprised or disappointed should you ever do it. In this way I manage both my expectations of you and my own chronic anxiety.
(To be continued.)
Part 12 of a series on
monkeytraps and adult children.
Read part 1 here.
Twenty-five years of practicing therapy have led me to four conclusions:
1. Human beings are addicted to control.
2. This addiction causes most (maybe all) of our emotional problems.
3. Behind this addiction lies the wish to control how we feel.
4. There are better ways to manage feelings than control.
These are the Four Laws of control.*
Adult children really need to understand them and how they function.
Because at the root of all the adult child’s emotional problems — anxiety, depression, addictions, struggles with relationships and communication and intimacy — is a dysfunctional and futile pursuit of control.
“This is very simple to understand,”Janet Woititz writes, explaining why adult children over-react to changes beyond their control. “The young child of the alcoholic was not in control. The alcoholic’s life was inflicted on him, as was his environment.”
Living in an unsafe unpredictable environment is so scary that such kids grow up addicted to chasing what they never had — a sense of safety and structure and peace of mind. And they do this mostly by trying to control people, places and things.
Of course, Woititz is describing children of alcoholics.
But can’t the same can be said of all children, regardless of background?
What child has control?
What child isn’t largely helpless in the face of his parents, his environment, and forces beyond his understanding, much less his control?
What child doesn’t grow up as an adult with at least some unfinished business?
Which is why I say we are all adult children.
Let’s look at how this affects us.
*The Four Laws are explained in detail in Monkeytraps: Why everybody tries to control everything and how we can stop (Lioncrest, 2015).
Part 11 of a series on monkeytraps and adult children.
Read part 1 here.
At the heart of all the adult child’s problems lies control addiction.
What’s control addiction?
Let’s start with two definitions:
Control means the ability to edit reality — to make people, places and things the way we want them to be.
Addiction means the compulsion to repeat a certain behavior in order to achieve a particular gratifying — but ultimately unhealthy — experience.
Thus control addicts are people who
(a) feel compelled, over and over and over again, to edit reality according to their preferences, and
(b) experience intolerable discomfort or anxiety when they cannot.
We are all control addicts.
Think of it this way:
Moment to moment, control addicts carry around in their heads a picture of the reality they want.
And they constantly compare that picture to the reality they have.
Anything they do to bring those two realities closer together — to change the one they have into the one they want — is what I call controlling.
It’s controlling whether they do it in speech, behavior, or in the privacy of their imagination and dreams.
Their controlling may be obvious or hidden, conscious or unconscious, choiceful or compulsive, creative or destructive, healthy or unhealthy.
Note that this description covers a vast range of human behaviors.
I’m controlling when I mow my lawn, balance my checkbook, steer my car, swat a mosquito or help my kid do homework.
I’m controlling when I brush my teeth, salt my eggs, change channels, vote in elections or post selfies on Facebook.
I’m controlling when I pursue a goal, a degree, a job, a raise, a sale item, a cure for cancer or a sexual partner.
I’m controlling when I rage at bad weather, slow traffic, dumb commercials, rude waiters or lying politicians.
I’m controlling when I lie, hide my feelings, pretend to agree with you, worry that I’m fat or guess what you think of me.
I’m controlling when I try to get you to agree with me, hire me, understand me, respect me, kiss me, forgive me or do me a favor.
Also whenever I judge, criticize, manipulate, persuade, coerce or abuse you.
Not to mention whenever I anticipate, plan, ruminate, fantasize, worry, project or obsess.
That’s right. All those behaviors stem from the urge to swap my current reality for one I think I’d prefer.
All those and infinitely more.
Our craving for control is inevitable and unavoidable, the mother of all motives, the psychological sea in which we all swim.
Perhaps the best way to describe its enormity in human psychology is to describe its opposite:
The opposite of controlling is the ability to say nothing, and do nothing, and trust that things will be just fine anyway.
How often can anyone do that?
How often can you?
We are all control addicts.
Part 10 of a series on monkeytraps and adult children.
Read part 1 here.
If on first encountering the Laundry List you found it confusing, you’re not alone.
Fortunately I can simplify it for you.
Because behind those thirteen traits is one core symptom that explains all the others.
It is hinted at by item number 8…
You over-react to changes
beyond your control.
…and item number 13:
You tend to lock yourself
into a course of action
without thinking through
alternatives or consequences.
This creates confusion,
loss of control over
At the heart of all the adult child’s problems lies control addiction.
Part 9 of a series on monkeytraps and adult children.
Read part 1 here.
In 1983 Janet Woititz offered a list of thirteen traits typical of adult children.*
Her description came to be known in recovery circles as The Laundry List.
If you’re trying to decide whether you possess such traits, it’s still a good place to start.
Below is a revised version.
If you’re an adult child,
1. You guess at what normal is, then try to imitate it.
2. You have trouble following projects through from beginning to end.
3. You lie when it would be just as easy to tell the truth.
4. You judge yourself without mercy.
5. You have trouble relaxing or having fun.
6. You take yourself very seriously.
7. You struggle with intimate relationships.
8. You over-react to changes beyond your control.
9. You constantly seek approval and affirmation.
10. You feel different from other people.
11. You’re either super responsible or super irresponsible.
12. You’re extremely loyal, even in the face of evidence that your loyalty is undeserved.
13. You’re impulsive — i.e., tend to lock yourself into a course of action without thinking through alternatives or consequences. This creates confusion, self-loathing and loss of control over your environment. You also spend large amounts of time and energy cleaning up the mess.
Part 8 of a series on monkeytraps and adult children.
Read part 1 here.