(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 Bert at left, looking trapped.
Recently someone asked Steve, “Exactly how does a person get addicted to control?”
“We’re born that way,” he answered. “We’re born with this big brain that keeps us scared and worried and trying to control everything and everybody. Sort of like a paranoid computer run amuck.”
He was referring to the idea of monkey mind, which I wrote about recently. (See “Bert is nuts.”)
But that’s only half an explanation. Because some people are obviously more controlling than others. Why is that so, if we’re all dominated by monkey mind?
The other half of the answer has to do with Plan A.
Steve has this little speech he gives to new clients about the real reason people enter therapy. Steve, summarize.
It goes something like this. In the end there’s only one reason anyone goes to therapy: Plan A has broken down.
Plan A is my label for everything we learn as kids about life and how to cope with it.
We each have a Plan A. We learn it mainly as kids, mainly from our parents, and mainly unconsciously. I mean, nobody sits us down at the kitchen table and says, Now listen up, kid. Here’s how you do Life. They just do Life themselves, and we watch and listen and soak it all up like little sponges. That’s why our Plan A tends to look so much like others in our family.
And it works pretty well for a while. Especially while we’re living in the family. It’s like we’re all following the same invisible rule book.
But Plan A always breaks down. Because eventually we move beyond the family into the larger world, filled with new people and new problems, and we discover that what worked at home doesn’t always work so well out there.
At which point we have a choice, at least in theory. We can decide, “Oh, I guess I need a Plan B.” Or we can keep trying to make Plan A fit every situation.
Guess which we choose?
Right. Plan A. Always Plan A.
Why? First of all, we may not even know there’s such a thing as Plan B. Childhood conditions us to see our Plan A as simply normal. (Why would anyone want to do Life in any other way?)
Second, even when we realize there are other options, we cling to Plan A because…it’s familiar. We know how to do it. And change is scary. So we keep following Plan A even after we suspect it no longer works.
And that’s when we begin to develop symptoms — anxiety, depression, addictions, communication problems, lousy relationships.
And those symptoms are what drive us into therapy.
Seeking a Plan B.
In our case — Steve’s and mine — Plan A was shaped by growing up in an alcoholic family.
Steve’s dad was alcoholic, and his mom was depressed. Together they taught him two important lessons he’s spent his adult life trying to unlearn.
The first lesson was, “Feelings are at best inconvenient, and at worst dangerous.” The implication of this lesson? So you’d damned well better keep them to yourself.
The second lesson was, “You’re responsible for other people’s feelings.” The implication: So you damned well better be careful about what you say and do around other people.
These two lessons were the foundation stones, so to speak, of our Plan A.
They’re also what called me, Bert, his inner monkey, into being.
Steve created me to take control of what was a pretty chaotic emotional life. I set out to do that by doing things like burying his feelings, developing an impressive image (see “Bert’s mask”) and becoming exquisitely oversensitive to the feelings, perceptions and opinions of others.
I also convinced him to become a social worker. Which seemed a natural fit to our original Plan.
(To be continued.)
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Check out my first guest post,
titled “Seven Kinds of Power” and just published on Breaking the Cycles — Changing the Conversation, a web site devoted to “using 21st century brain and addiction-related research to change how we talk about, treat and/or prevent alcohol and drug abuse, underage drinking, alcoholism, drug addiction, dual diagnosis, DUIs and secondhand drinking/drugging (SHDD)” (breakingthecycles.com).
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Don’t forget to answer the new Bert Poll question.
We need you to educate us. 🙂