(If you’re new to Monkeytraps, Steve is a therapist who specializes in control issues, and Bert is Steve’s control-addicted inner monkey.
Steve’s been mad at me for the past day or so.
Can’t say I blame him.
A month ago, just before he resumed publishing Monkeytraps, he made a point of asking his two kids (both twenty-something) to read it and tell him what they thought.
He likes and admires his kids, and he respects their opinion. So this seemed a natural enough request.
But they hadn’t read the first version of the blog a year ago. And though he didn’t blame them for that (even he didn’t think the old Monkeytraps was that great), he was a little scared it might happen again.
But he asked. And they promised.
And then it happened again.
They still didn’t read it.
Disappointed and puzzled, he came to me.
“What the hell?” he asked.
Of course this had already gotten my attention, since I’m in charge of the Controlling How Everyone Feels About Us department.
“I have a theory,” I admitted.
“What’s your theory?”
“You won’t like it.”
“They’re scared of you.”
“Uh huh,” I said, embarrassed.
“It’s my fault.”
“I think I convinced them that I was you.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
I took a breath.
“Yes. No. Maybe. Remind me,” he said impatiently.
“He said we think of having character as a good thing, mainly because it makes us predictable, and other people like knowing what to expect from us. But it’s actually a sign of rigidity. It means we’ve developed a fixed way of responding, and lost our ability to cope flexibly and creatively and authentically. Stopped growing, in effect.”
“Yeah, yeah, I remember now, ” he said. “So?”
But I could tell he knew, now, where I was heading.
“I think the character we’ve developed over the years scared the kids out of giving you feedback on the blog.”
He was silent.
“You mean the I-know-everything character?” he said finally.
“The argue-like-a-lawyer character?”
“Yes,” I said unhappily.
“The guess-how-many-books-I’ve-read character?”
“That’s the one.”
He fell silent again.
Finally he said,
“I was afraid it was something like that.”
“Sorry,” I said meekly.
“Hey, it’s my fault too. Seemed like a good defense at the time. I didn’t want anyone seeing how I really felt about myself.”
“I know. But it got away from us.”
“Yeah. It’s like what I tell clients about defenses. You put them on thinking they’re a suit of armour. Then you wake up one day and realize you’re trapped inside them like tuna in a can.”
What could I say? It ‘s true.
“So what now?” he asked me.
I’d been waiting for this question. I smiled.
“That’s easy,” I said. “Leave the can.”
“Go to the kids. Tell them the truth. Tell them what you need from them.”
He squinted at me.
“It’s the only way,” I shrugged.
“I suppose,” he sighed. But I could tell he wasn’t thrilled with either the problem or the solution.
Still, he did it. He went to both kids, one at a time, and told them the truth. That when he sent them a blog post he didn’t need them to critique the thing. He didn’t need them to analyze the ideas or evaluate the writing. He didn’t even need to know if they could relate to the psychology. He just needed them…to like it.
“Just a pat on the head,” he said, feeling like a moron. “Just a ‘good job, dad.’ That’s all.”
“Really?”his daughter asked.
“Really?” his son said.
His daughter, the affectionate one, gave him a hug.
“Of course, daddy. That’s easy.”
His son, the serious one, pursed his lips.
“I can do that,” he nodded.
And Steve felt better.
I think he’s forgiven me. We haven’t talked again, but that’s how it feels.
Anyway, we learned something.
Masks slip on easier than they slip off.