Dragon shit

The dragon’s mother is pain.

It’s pain — a hurtful event or situation — that incubates and drops the dragon egg.

The pain may be acute (a single experience, like an assault) or chronic (like living in a dysfunctional family).

The egg’s shell is a misreading of what caused the pain.

It’s this fundamental misreading (usually along the lines of This is my fault) that hatches the baby dragon.

The baby dragon itself is a mistaken conclusion, a lie we believe.

And that lie grows into an adult dragon big enough (though often invisible) to dominate your emotional life.

It does this by chewing on you (this is your fault, this is your fault) and littering your life with dragon shit.

The most common forms of dragon shit are guilt, shame, embarrassment, anxiety, and feelings of inadequacy.

So when you’re feeling shitty, look around for your dragon.

 


The difference between dragons and problems

.

The difference between

a dragon

and a problem

is as follows:

.

We are able to see

problems as problems

— things external,

things outside us,

things out in the world

that somehow hurt us.

.

But when we take

inappropriate

responsibility

for a problem —

convince ourselves

This is my fault

then it becomes

a dragon.

.

Thus every dragon

is hatched from

a misunderstanding

of what’s hurting us.

.

And then, instead of

applying attention

and energy

and courage

to solving

the problem,

we invite the dragon

to chew on us.

.

And it does.

.

Often for a lifetime.

.

And the

chewing

distracts us

from ever

solving

the problem.

 

 

 

 

 


Dragons

 

I have a theory I’d like to share with you.

It’s about dragons.

Everyone has one.

Your dragon is the central problem of your life.

It creates most of the pain, fear and confusion you carry.

It also defines you, creates your identity.

You spend most of your time, energy and courage fighting this dragon.

Often without realizing it.

Often mistaking the dragon for some flaw in yourself.

But it’s not you.

It’s your dragon.

Everyone has one.

Everyone.

There is no shame in this.

In fact, recognizing your dragon is an important step toward awareness and healing.

Also a form of self-validation.

Instead of thinking of yourself as weak or inadequate or broken, you tell yourself,

This is difficult because this is my dragon.

Everyone has a dragon.

As a therapist, I know this to be true.

Dragons are what bring people into therapy.

Though they usually don’t recognize this at the time.

The first session with a new client usually introduces me to their dragon.

Sometimes it’s how they were parented.

Sometimes it’s the dysfunctional environment they survived as a child.

Sometimes it’s the aftereffects of some trauma or abuse.

Sometimes it’s an addiction.

Sometimes a chronic illness.

Sometimes a devastating relationship failure.

What all dragons have in common is that, initially, we can’t see them as dragons.

We can experience them only as flaws in our self.

There must be something wrong with me, we think, for me to feel this bad.

No.

You feel bad because you’re being chewed on by a dragon.

And the proper response is not guilt or shame or self-blame.

That only makes you weaker.

The proper response is to pick up a sword and fight back.


(About therapy #7:) Micro losses and the pocket of your heart

x

“Something odd happened yesterday,” she frowns.  “I lay down to nap like always, but found I couldn’t because I was too sad.”

“Sad?”

“I don’t know what else to call it.  A kind of dull ache around my heart.”

“Sounds like sad,” I nod.

“Right?” she says.  “But I don’t know where it came from.  Everything’s fine.”

“Everything’s fine,” I repeat.

“Yes.  We’re all healthy.  Nobody in the family has covid.  The kids have adjusted to remote learning.  We’re doing fine financially, despite the pandemic.  And I’m really happy about the last election.  What’s to be sad about?”

“And yet,” I say.

“Right, and yet.  What the fuck?”

“I have a theory,” I say.

“Please.”

“You remind me,” I say, “of a guy I worked with once.  Came for help with anxiety.  He constantly worried about death.  Couldn’t stop thinking about it.  Couldn’t stop worrying that either he or someone he loved was going to catch something fatal or get into a car accident.”

“That’s awful,” she says.

“It was.”

“What did you tell him?”

“That his anxiety wasn’t really about dying.  That he was constipated.”

“Aha,” she smiles.

“You remember?” I ask.

“Sure,” she smiles, and recites.  “Feelings are like shit, and when we don’t express them we feel anxious and depressed, in other words, shitty.”

“Exactly.  Well, this guy had plenty of feelings he wasn’t expressing, about his marriage and his job and his kids and his parents.  I told him that was what was making him anxious.  But since he wasn’t aware of it his mind went to work trying to explain this shitty feeling, and it latched onto the fear of death.”

“He misinterpreted the anxiety,” she says. 

“Right.  I also told him that when he began expressing those feelings in therapy he’d become less anxious and his death anxiety would go away.”

“And?”

“And that’s what happened.”

“Wow.  Cool.  But what has that to do with my sadness?”

“I think you’re probably constipated too.”

“How so?”

“Think about it.  What causes sadness?  It’s a reaction to loss.”

“Right,” she says uncertainly.

“And even though you tell me everything’s fine, you experience losses every day.  I call them micro losses, and they’re part of the new normal.  So like most of us you’ve adapted to them, told yourself they’re no big deal.  But they’re losses nonetheless.”

“What kind of losses do you mean?” she asks.

“Little things we used to have or used to be able to do.  Like going in to the office, or out to a restaurant or a movie, or taking your kids to the park.  Like having people for dinner, or going out with friends for a drink, or to a ball game.  When was the last time you went grocery shopping without having to mask up?  When was the last time your parents visited their grandchildren?  How long since it felt safe to hug anyone you wanted?”  

“Right,” she says thoughtfully.

“And then there’s the news.  Covid and the election and dysfunctional government.  The economy and corruption and racism.  Trump and Putin and Kim Jung Un.  Black Lives Matter and the Proud Boys and Jeffrey Epstein.  I mean, really.”

“The new normal,” she muses. 

“Right.  And even when we avoid the news it’s impossible to insulate ourselves from all that crap.  It chips away at our emotional life.”

“And you think that’s why I’m sad?”

“That, plus the fact that we live in a culture which tells us happiness is okay but sadness is not.  It’s not okay to be sad or scared or angry or frustrated or discouraged or hopeless.  So we ignore those feelings instead of processing them fully.  And they build up in your system.  They collect like lint in the pocket of your heart.  And then your wonder why you feel….”

“Shitty,” she says.  “So what do I do?”

“How are you feeling right now?”

“Like crying.”

“Do that.”

And she did.  

 


(About therapy #6:) Therapy and the three tests

.

We’ve been talking for thirty minutes, and it’s going fine for a first session, but I can tell something’s bothering him. So I ask what it is.

“How do I know if you’re the right therapist?” he asks.

“Good question,” I say. “Why do you ask?”

“Because you’re the third one I’ve talked to this year,” he says.

“And the others weren’t right?”

“Nope,” he says. “But it took me months to realize it, and I don’t want to go through that again.”

“I don’t blame you,” I say. 

“To answer your question, you can’t really know ahead of time if a therapist is right for you. But you can get to where you trust that they are. And there are tests to help you get there.”

“Tests?”

“Yes. You’re probably performing them already, but it can help to put a label on what you’re doing unconsciously.”

“What tests?”

“There are three. The first is for safety.

“Drop down out of your head and ask your stomach: How does it feel to be talking to this guy? Does it feel like I’m being judged? Can I imagine telling him the truth about stuff I usually keep to myself? Do I feel safe disagreeing with him? Questions like that. Trust your stomach’s answers. If it tightens up, that might be a red flag.”

“Okay.”

“The second test is for relief. When therapy works, you should feel better at the end of the session than at the start — calmer, or clearer, or more hopeful, or at least less alone.  Not all sessions end this way, but most of them should.”

“That didn’t happen with the other two therapists,” he muses. “But I thought it was my fault.”

“Like I said, trust your stomach. It’s often smarter than your head.” 

He nods. “That’s what I finally did when I fired them. Okay, what’s the third test?”

“It’s for what I call resonance.

“The right therapy teaches us things that on some level we already know, even if we can’t articulate them. So the right therapist will say things that resonate — echo inside you, like a shared truth.

“It’s what helps you feel the therapist gets you.  It’s also what makes it possible to trust them. Essential, I think, to getting any real work done.” 

I pause.

“Did you have that experience with either of the other two therapists you tried?”

“No,” he says. “But I may have just now.”


Trap #12: Child, angry

*

This continues a new series of posts excerpted from Monkeytraps in Everyday Life: A Guide for Control Addicts (in press).  It’s about psychological monkeytraps: what they are, how they work, and how recovering control addicts can learn to notice when they’ve trapped themselves by trying to control what cannot or should not be controlled. Read the introduction to the series here.

 

*

.

Trap 11: Child, angry

*

Step 1: I experience discomfort.

I am upset by my child’s angry behavior.

*

Step 2: I misread the discomfort.

“I must make this behavior go away.”

*

Step 3: I try to control the discomfort.

I punish my child for expressing anger.

*

Step 4: My attempt fails.

Punishment makes my child angrier.

*

Step 5: I misread the failure.

“My punishments are not severe enough.”

Step 6: I experience discomfort.

My child’s anger and my upset both worsen.

 

*

Footnote:

Kids and anger

 

“The truth about rage is that it only dissolves when it is really heard and understood, without reservation.”

~ Carl Rogers

 

Acknowledging the anger, as well as the more threatening feelings under the anger

If you can keep yourself from getting triggered and acknowledge why your child is upset, his anger will begin to calm. That will help him feel safe enough to feel the more vulnerable emotions driving the anger. Once the child can let himself experience his grief over the broken treasure, his hurt that his mother was unfair, his shame when he didn’t know the answer in class, or his fear when his classmate threatened him, those feelings begin to heal. As those vulnerable feelings begin to fade away, he no longer needs his anger to defend against them — so the anger vanishes.

By contrast, if we don’t help kids feel safe enough to feel those underlying emotions, they will just keep losing their tempers, because they don’t have any other way to cope with the upsets inside them. These kids often seem to have “a chip on their shoulder” because they lug around resentments; a feeling that life is against them. They’re always ready to get angry.

~ 10 Tips to Help Your Child Deal with Anger at AhHa parenting

 

 

* * * *

Monkeytraps: Why Everybody Tries to Control Everything and How We Can Stop
is available here.

Monkeytraps: Why Everybody Tries to Control Everything and How We Can Stop by [Steve Hauptman]


(About therapy #5:) Therapy as sailing lessons

*

“But I don’t want to meditate,” Alice says.

We’re in group, discussing whether to start each meeting with a meditation.

“I hate it,” she says. “I can’t do it. I can’t stop thinking. I’d much rather use group time to talk.”

“Okay,” I say. “And you want to talk about…”

“You know,” she says. “Whatever’s driving me crazy at the moment. Husband, kids, mother. Covid, politics.”

“So by talk you mean vent.”

“Right. It reduces my stress. Meditation just makes me nuts.”

Roberta, sitting next to her, smiles. “Actually it just reminds you of how nuts you are.”

“What do you mean?” Alice asks.

Roberta has been meditating for five years. “I don’t meditate to relax,” she says. “I do it to train my monkeymind.”

“I don’t understand,” Alice says.

Roberta turns to me. “What’s that quote you told me, about sailing?”

“I cannot control the wind, only adjust the sails.”

“Right,” Roberta says. “Meditation helps me adjust the sails. Like you, when I meditate I usually think about all the crap that drives me crazy. But then I notice that I’m thinking, and I label the thought — Having a thought about my dumb husband, for example.  And then I go back to counting my breaths, until the next thought comes along.”

“But what’s the point? The thoughts never stop, do they?”

“No, they never stop,” Roberta says. “But I stop believing them. Instead of getting swallowed up in whatever I’m remembering or projecting or fantasizing I’m able to step back and say Oh, there I go again and go back to my breathing. It helps so much, not taking thoughts seriously.”

“But nothing changes,” Alice frowns.

“Yes and no,” I say. “Her reaction changes. And something else too.”

“What?”

“What I call problem definition. Roberta stops thinking of her dumb husband as the problem and redefines it as her reaction to him.”

“So?”

“So one’s beyond her control and one isn’t. Alice, what did you say drives you crazy? Husband, kids, mom, covid, politics. Can you control any of them? Your husband, for example?”

“Fat chance.”

Roberta laughs. “Me too. But it’s really nice to not have to get mad at him.”

“And that’s adjusting the sails,” Alice says.

“Right,” I say. “Actually I think it’s something that needs to be at the heart of every therapy these days.  Things are so stressful now, so crazy and unpredictable and uncontrollable. Life feels like one big endless storm, and if we don’t learn to sail, we’ll capsize.”

“Okay,” Alice says. “Let’s meditate. I won’t like it, but it’s better than drowning.”

_____________________

Art: Chuck Paine

 

 

 


Trap 11: Child, dishonest

*

This continues a new series of posts excerpted from Monkeytraps in Everyday Life: A Guide for Control Addicts (in press).  It’s about psychological monkeytraps: what they are, how they work, and how recovering control addicts can learn to notice when they’ve trapped themselves by trying to control what cannot or should not be controlled. Read the introduction to the series here.

*

Trap 11: Child, dishonest

*

Step 1: I experience discomfort.

I am frustrated and angry that my child habitually lies to me.

*

Step 2: I misread the discomfort.

“I must discourage this behavior that I dislike.”

*

Step 3: I try to control the discomfort.

I punish my child for lying.

*

Step 4: My attempt fails.

Now afraid of me and my reactions, my child’s lying increases.

*

Step 5: I misread the failure.

“I must try harder to discourage this behavior.”

Step 6: I experience discomfort.

I am frustrated and angry that my child habitually lies to me.

*

Footnote:

Kids and lying

~ Parents should keep in mind that telling lies is a natural part of child development and that in most cases, children outgrow this behavior.

~ Parents should consider a child’s age, the circumstances and reasons for the lie, and how frequently he engages in this behavior.

 ~ Some common causes of lying in school-age children include:

  • Wishful imaginative play

  • Fear of punishment

  • A desire to brag to friends/classmates to boost status and impress them

  • To avoid something they don’t want to do (such as clean up toys)

  • A desire to not disappoint parents when expectations are too high

  • Unhappiness with something in their lives

  • An attempt to get attention

~ Do not make kids feel like they cannot come to you. If a child is worried that you will be angry, he may try to avoid telling you the truth at all costs. The important thing is to help your child feel secure, safe, and supported so that he knows he can talk to you without losing your affection and love. In fact, research shows that when you threaten kids with punishment for lying, they are less likely to tell the truth.

~ Katherine Lee, What to do when kids lie at the VeryWellFamily blog

* * * *

Monkeytraps: Why Everybody Tries to Control Everything and How We Can Stop
is available here.

Monkeytraps: Why Everybody Tries to Control Everything and How We Can Stop by [Steve Hauptman]


Nuts is normal

 

It’s Election Week in the good old Dysfunctional States of America, and since so many of us are suffering as a result I thought it might be a good time to repost this reminder of why it is normal for human beings to feel, well, nuts. 

Despair not, friends.  All things pass.  This will too.

x

x

(If you’re new to Monkeytraps, Steve is a therapist who specializes in control issues, and Bert is Steve’s control-addicted inner monkey.  That’s the two of us above.

Bert speaking:) 

I’m nuts.

Yes, you heard me right.

I’m nuts.

Not embarrassed to admit it, either.

Why?

Because I know a secret.

You’re nuts, too.

How do I know this?

Because you’re human.  (Unless, of course, you’re one of the many dogs or cats who enjoy this blog.)

And, being human, you’re a victim of what has been called monkeymind.

What’s monkeymind?

It’s what you hear in your head when your attention isn’t distracted.

It’s the sound of a brain which over millennia has evolved into a sort of top-heavy computer, built for problem-solving, and devoted to finding new problems to solve.

It’s the whispering, worrying, fretting, scolding and mocking that keeps you unhappy and on guard against life.

It’s the sound of a normal human mind at work.

In other words, the most human part of you.

Still not sure what I mean?

Experiment.  Take a moment now (when you finish reading this sentence) to sit without thinking for, oh, a minute or so.  Just sixty seconds.

(Pause.)

Hear that?

Yup.  Monkeymind.

The nuts part.

Steve wants to add something.

What makes it nuts is that it’s so detached from reality.  Like a monkey swings from tree to tree to tree, monkeymind swings from past to future and back again, over and over, ceaselessly remembering, anticipating and fantasizing.  It’s never still, never focused on the here-and-now — a Now which may actually be perfectly safe and okay.  So when you’re in monkeymind you’re having all these feelings — often painful ones, anxiety and anger and such — that have nothing to do with what’s really happening in your life at the moment.  It’s like being trapped in a nightmare, unable to wake up. 

Speaking as a recovering inner monkey, I would add that there’s one other thing that makes monkeymind nuts.

It really really really believes in control.

It operates on the assumption that if we think and analyze and strategize long and well enough we can solve every problem and bring life under control.  That if we could just figure things out, life could be perfect.  Perfectly safe, perfectly comfortable, perfectly happy.

I remember a Little Rascals episode in which the kids got their mule to walk in a circle by extending a pole out over his nose with an apple dangling from the end.  The donkey kept plodding after the apple endlessly, never getting closer, and apparently never noticing.

Yes.  We all chase that apple.

Well, I for one am sick of it.

That’s why I’m a recovering monkey.  I’m sick and tired of feeling victimized by my own mind.

Tired of fighting reality instead of accepting it.

Tired of trying to control everything.

Tired of this never-ending plod towards an apple I can never reach.

Tired — so, so tired — of being nuts.

 


(About therapy #4:) Therapy and old hammers

x

“So how do you change ingrained behaviors?” she asks me.

“Good question,” I say.  “Why do you ask?”

“I have some I’m sick of.”

I can guess what she’s talking about.  But if she wants to generalize for now, fine.

“Generally,” I say, “you start by thinking of the behavior as an answer to a question.  Decide what the question is, then find a better answer.”

“Question?  What sort of question?”

“It’s usually about something you need.  How can I make myself feel safe?  How can I avoid conflict?  How can I make people like me?  Basic questions like that. They all tend to be versions of How can I feel what I want to feel?

She looks confused.

“Okay,” I say. “Name a behavior you’d like to change.”

She frowns. 

“I can’t say No.  Whatever people ask me for, I feel compelled to give it to them.”

“And this is on your mind because….”

She sighs. “Last night a mom in my daughter’s class called to ask me to help her put together a holiday party.  I wanted to say No, but I said Yes.”

“And why do you think you said Yes?”

“She’s a nice woman.  I didn’t want to disappoint her.  Didn’t want her to be mad at me.”

“Okay,” I say, “so the underlying question here sounds like How can I get comfortable with this person?  How can I make this a pleasant interaction? Something like that?

“I suppose,” she says.  “But it didn’t work.  I hung up and felt mad at myself.  And I do this all the time, and I hate it, but I can’t stop, and I don’t know why.”

“Ever hear of Abraham Maslow?” I ask.

“No.”

“American psychologist.  He said that when the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem starts to look like a nail.

“Your hammer — the one you picked up in childhood and still rely on to solve interpersonal problems — is control.  You try to control the people around you, mainly by giving them whatever you think they want.  It’s called people-pleasing, and it’s why you can’t say No.”

“People-pleasing? I thought I was just being nice.”

“Yes, that’s how people-pleasers justify what they do.  But being authentically nice — compassionate or kind or generous or helpful — is a choice.  You do it because it feels good.  But people-pleasing is a compulsion.  You do it because you’re afraid to do anything else.”

“That’s true,” she says. “I was scared to say No to the party lady.”

“Right.  So you answered the question How can I feel like I want to feel? with your old answer: Give this person what she wants.  But it didn’t work, because the hammer that helped you survive as a kid in your alcoholic family doesn’t work so well for you as an adult.”

“I get it,” she says. “What can I do instead?”

“Practice detachment.”

“What’s that?”

“An alternative to controlling people.  Be yourself, tell the truth, and let the party lady have her feelings.”

“Shit,” she scowls.  “That sounds hard.”

“Actually it’s much easier than people-pleasing.  But at the beginning it’s scary.”

“I’m not sure I can do it.”

“You don’t have to,” I shrug.  “Keep using the old hammer.”

She shakes her head. 

“I don’t want to.  That thing is getting too heavy.”

 

 


Trap 10: Child, anxious

*

This continues a new series of posts excerpted from Monkeytraps in Everyday Life: A Guide for Control Addicts (in press).  It’s about psychological monkeytraps: what they are, how they work, and how recovering control addicts can learn to notice when they’ve trapped themselves by trying to control what cannot or should not be controlled. Read the introduction to the series here.

*

*

Trap 10: Child, anxious

*

Step 1: I experience discomfort.

I am frustrated and embarrassed that my child is scared of X.

*

Step 2: I misread the discomfort.

“I must push my child to get over this fear.”

*

Step 3: I try to control the discomfort.

I tell my child

Don’t be silly

or Don’t be a baby

or You’re not really scared of X

or That’s nothing to be scared of

or Look at your sister, she’s not scared of X

or You can’t go through life being scared of things, 

etc.

*

Step 4: My attempt fails.

My child’s anxiety increases, and now includes me and my “help.”

*

Step 5: I misread the failure.

“I need to push harder.”

Step 6: I experience discomfort.

I am frustrated and embarrassed that my child is scared of X.

*

Footnote:

Children and invalidation

Invalidation can happen anywhere, and in any relationship. In this post, I am addressing invalidation in the family which we will define as any pattern of communication or interaction that indicates to another person that their point of view, opinions or emotions are irrational, flawed, unwarranted, worthless, self-centered or even crazy. Simply wrong.

What this means for little Johnny is that he lives in an environment that does not uniquely value him as a person. His environment is bent toward the thoughts and ideals of the invalidating parent. Johnny’s opinions are not allowed to be his own, they must reflect the thinking of his parent. Even worse, Johnny’s emotions are also vetted by his parent. If Johnny says he feels scared about something, he is told that he, 1) is not scared, or 2) should not feel scared. Perhaps an alternative is offered, but it is too late. What Johnny has already learned is not appropriate emotion regulation and expression, but that he is not allowed to have his own emotions, what he genuinely feels is wrong, and that someone else is in charge of his emotions….

Invalidation attacks identity. If a person is consistently exposed to an invalidating environment, their grip on the reality of what they think and feel becomes malleable. You could even consider it a subtle form of brainwashing, possibly even to the point where a mentally healthy person contemplates their own craziness.

~ From “Invalidation: How to ruin your child’s sense of self” at the Uncommon Sense blog

* * * *

Monkeytraps: Why Everybody Tries to Control Everything and How We Can Stop
is available here.

Monkeytraps: Why Everybody Tries to Control Everything and How We Can Stop by [Steve Hauptman]


(About therapy #3:) Therapy as driver ed

*

“I function very well,” he tells me. 

A bit defensively.

“How so?”

“I do my job. I do it well. I’m a good teacher. My students like me. And I meet my responsibilities. I pay my bills, take care of the house, the dogs. I’m there for my family and my friends and my colleagues. They can come to me for anything, and they all know it. “

“Okay,” I say. “Why are you here?”

He frowns. 

“Something’s missing,” he says finally.

“Any thoughts on what it might be?”

“No.”

“How can you tell it’s missing?”

“Just a feeling,” he says.

“Where?”

“Excuse me?”

“In your body.  Where do you feel the feeling?”

He thinks.

“Here,” touching his chest.

“Can you describe it?”

“Kind of empty,” he says.  “Hollow.”

“Sad?” I ask. 

“Maybe.”

“Heart-achey?”

He nods.

“Right. And when you say you’re there for people, does that include you?”

“I don’t follow.”

“It sounds like you’re very sensitive to the feelings and needs of the people around you,” I say. “Are you sensitive to your own feelings and needs as well?”

“Not so much,” he admits.

“Then I know what’s missing.”

“What?

“You,” I say. “You is what’s missing.”

I remind him of what he’s told me about his family of origin. “Kids who grow up in alcoholic or dysfunctional families like yours tend to lose touch with their own emotional life early on. They put their attention on other people instead, what others want or need or expect. It’s a shift into survival mode that allows them to navigate an uncertain and anxiety-producing environment. Do you remember, as a kid, being especially alert to who was unhappy or angry, or when an argument seemed to be brewing?”   

“Oh yes.”

“And now?”

“I still do,” he says, looking surprised. “I walk into a classroom or a faculty meeting and immediately spot who’s in a bad mood.”

“And their bad mood makes you uneasy.”

He nods.

“And you keep feeling that way unless you can either change their mood or get away from them.”

“Yes.”

“Sure. You’re reacting like the kid you were, the kid who played defense by overfocusing on other people.  Given your family’s dynamics, that was unavoidable. But you need something more now. That’s what the empty/sad feeling means. You need to start paying attention to yourself.”

He frowns.  “Not sure how to do that.”

“I’ll teach you. We’ll start by redirecting your attention from outside to inside, like just now.”

He nods, but he doesn’t look happy.

“What?” I ask.

“It’s kind of scary,” he says.

I smile at him.

“Good,” I say. “You’re begun. Where do you feel the fear?”

“My stomach.”

“That’s fine,” I say. “Of course you scared. You’re scared like a new driver who gets behind the wheel for the first time.  You don’t know what you’re doing yet. But then you learn, step by step.  And before long you can start the car up and shift into drive and take it to the end of the block and not be so scared.”

“Okay,” he says. “And what happens if I don’t?”

“Don’t do this work, you mean?”

“Right.”

“You keep feeling the way you do now,” I say. “Like there’s a hole where your self is meant to be. Like a hostage to the moods and preferences of others. And like a passenger in your own car, instead of the driver.”

“Fuck that,” he says.

We both laugh.

“How your stomach?” I ask.

He smiles.  

 

 


Trap 9: Character

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This continues a new series of posts excerpted from Monkeytraps in Everyday Life: A Guide for Control Addicts (in press).  It’s about psychological monkeytraps: what they are, how they work, and how recovering control addicts can learn to notice when they’ve trapped themselves by trying to control what cannot or should not be controlled. Read the introduction to the series here.

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Trap 9: Character

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Step 1: I experience discomfort.

I feel tired, trapped, and unable to be myself — to be emotionally honest or authentic or spontaneous.

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Step 2: I misread the discomfort.

“This feeling means there’s something wrong with me.”

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Step 3: I try to control the discomfort.

I try to fix myself by trying harder to meet the demands of my circumstances and the expectations of others.

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Step 4: My attempt fails.

My attempt leaves me feeling even more tired and trapped.

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Step 5: I misread the failure.

“I must try harder to fix myself.”

Step 6: I experience discomfort.

I feel tired, trapped, and unable to be myself.

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Footnote:

Character and control

Once you have a character you have developed a rigid system. Your behavior becomes petrified, predictable, and you lose your ability to cope freely with the world with all your resources. You are predetermined just to cope with events in one way, namely, as your character prescribes it to be.  So it seems a paradox when I say that the richest person, the most productive, creative person, is a person who has no character. In our society, we demand a person to have a character, and especially a good character, because then you are predictable, and you can be pigeon-holed, and so on….

The fact that we live only on such a small percentage of our potential is due to the fact that we’re not willing — or society or whatever you want to call it is not willing — to accept myself, yourself, as the organism which you are by birth, constitution, and so on.  You do not allow yourself, or you are not allowed, to be totally yourself…. [So] your power, your energy, becomes smaller and smaller. Your ability to cope with the world becomes less and less — and more and more rigid, more and more allowed only to cope as your character, as your preconceived pattern prescribes it.

~ Frederich S. Perls, Gestalt Therapy Verbatim (Real People Press, 1967)

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Next:

Trap _: __

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Monkeytraps: Why Everybody Tries to Control Everything and How We Can Stop
is available here.

Monkeytraps: Why Everybody Tries to Control Everything and How We Can Stop by [Steve Hauptman]

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Trap 9: Character

Step 1: I experience discomfort

x

Step 2: I misread the discomfort.

x

Step 3: I try to control the discomfort.

x

Step 4: My attempt fails.

x

Step 5: I misread the failure.

x 

Step 6: I experience discomfort.

x

 

Footnote: Character & control

(Perls on character)

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Next:

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Monkeytraps: Why Everybody Tries to Control Everything and How We Can Stop
is available here.

Monkeytraps: Why Everybody Tries to Control Everything and How We Can Stop by [Steve Hauptman]


(About therapy #2:) Therapy as self-defense

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So I’m trying to explain boundaries to someone who doesn’t understand what they are.

We know this because she keeps getting exploited.

She tells me several stories to illustrate this.  Mostly about men who take advantage of her. 

“I don’t know why it keeps happening,” she says.  “Do I have a sign on my forehead or something?”

“Maybe,” I say.

“What do you mean?”

“Some people — let’s call them predators — are good at noticing when other people lack strong boundaries.  They sense when they can impose on you and get away  with it.”

“What, they read minds?”

“No.  But they’re observant, and they test you.  They notice things like how comfortable you are expressing feelings or opinions or preferences.  Are you comfortable doing that?”

She shakes her head. 

“And I’m guessing you’re also what’s called conflict averse.  Do you avoid arguments?  Disagreeing with others?  Saying No?”

She nods.

“Well, predators pick up on that.  And over time they use it against you.  Keep crossing your boundary until they get what they want.”

“Like sex?”

“Sure, but not just sex.  They chip away at your ability to be yourself in all sorts of ways.  They teach you — often in very subtle, nonverbal ways — what they like and dislike, what pleases and annoys them.  And they reward the former and discourage the latter.  At the time you may not even notice it’s happening.  But eventually you find you’ve adapted to them so completely that you’ve lost yourself.  And you feel like a hostage, like…”

“A kid,” she says. 

“So you know what I’m talking about.”

“Yes, and I’m sick of it,” she says.  “So what’s a boundary?”

A boundary, I tell her, is an imaginary line between us that defines where I end and you begin. 

“On this side of the line are my thoughts, feelings and problems, and yours are on the other side.  And when the line gets blurred it gets terribly confusing.  You pay more attention to my emotional life than to your own.”

“How can I tell where the line is?”

“By listening to yourself.  Your feelings, mainly.  They act as a sort of radar.”

“Mine don’t.”

“I bet they do.  Remember that first guy you told me about?  How long were you with him before what he began making you uncomfortable?”

“Our first date,” she frowns.  “At dinner he was nasty to our waitress.  It made me nervous.”

“That’s good.  Your radar kicked in quickly.  How did you react to the nervous feeling?” 

“Pushed it away.  I wanted him to like me.”

“Right.  So you ignored your radar, and I bet he noticed.”

“You think he was testing me?”

“I think predators are always looking to see what they can get away with.”

She shakes her head angrily.  “How do I protect myself from people like that?”

“You’re doing it now,” I say.  “You’re in therapy, and you’re learning how to listen to your feelings.  And the more you do, the better you’ll get at trusting your radar and finding ways to avoid danger or escape it.”

“Like self-defense training,” she smiles.

“Exactly like that.”

 

 

 

 


Trap 8: Changing you

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This continues a new series of posts excerpted from Monkeytraps in Everyday Life: A Guide for Control Addicts (in press).  It’s about psychological monkeytraps: what they are, how they work, and how recovering control addicts can learn to notice when they’ve trapped themselves by trying to control what cannot or should not be controlled. Read the introduction to the series here.

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Trap 8: Changing you

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Step 1: I experience discomfort

I am unable to accept you as you are.

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Step 2: I misread the discomfort.

“This person needs to change.”

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Step 3: I try to control the discomfort.

I try to get you to change.

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Step 4: My attempt fails.

You resent and resist my attempt to change you.

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Step 5: I misread the failure.

“You don’t love or respect or care about me enough to meet my expectations.” 

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Step 6: I experience discomfort.

I am unable to accept you as you are.

 

Footnote: Acceptance & control

Any time we let the actions of another person control our emotions to the point that we are offended, angry, etc. we have given them the power to disturb our peace. What we are really saying is, “Your behavior has the power to upset me. Therefore, my happiness is dependent upon you behaving a certain way. Unless you act like I want you to, I am not happy, therefore I am always at your mercy.” Anytime our own happiness is left in the hands of another person, no matter how great we get along with that person, it is never a good idea. There will always be a time when they don’t act exactly according to our own agenda and therefore it is almost assured that we will get upset by them at some point.

~ From “Conscious relationships: Accepting others as they are” on the blog Fractal Enlightenment

 

Next:

Trap 9: Character

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Monkeytraps: Why Everybody Tries to Control Everything and How We Can Stop
is available here.

Monkeytraps: Why Everybody Tries to Control Everything and How We Can Stop by [Steve Hauptman]

 


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