(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, or part of him. He’s just let go of something.
If you missed part 1 of this post, you can read it here.
So Steve just told his client Ben (the overwhelmed social worker) he should give himself permission to quit his new job. And Ben’s looking bewildered.
And I feel like puking.
I mean, I think I know where Steve’s going with all this control-is-the-kid’s-tool stuff. But it still feels dangerous to tell someone to quit his job. In this economy?
And I know how Ben feels. I remember all the times I felt trapped — in jobs, in school, in relationships. I remember the cold knot of panic that comes with believing there’s no alternative to feeling helpless and scared. The knot that comes with feeling like a kid trapped in an adult body.
Ben frowns at Steve. “You think I should quit my job?”
Steve shakes his head.
“I didn’t say that. I said I think you should give yourself permission to quit your job.”
“No, it’s not,” Steve says. “I’m talking about a mental shift. One that allows you to feel less trapped. You feel trapped, right?”
“Yes. Like I can’t do the job, and I can’t leave it,” he says dismally. “What would everyone think?”
“But you’re not trapped. You can leave the job.”
Ben shakes his head. “I can’t.”
“I know you believe that,” Steve tells him. “You’re wrong.”
He pauses. “Look at it this way. Say a doctor diagnosed you with cancer and said you had to quit this job to save your life. Could you quit then?”
“I guess,” Ben nods. “But I don’t have cancer.’
“Wait. If a doctor diagnosed your mother with cancer and said you had to quit to save her life, could you?”
“If your wife told you she’d leave you unless you quit this job, could you?”
Ben nods again. Starting to get it.
“So you can quit. You just need a good enough reason. A reason that allows you to give yourself permission.”
“Okay,” Ben says. “But feeling anxious isn’t a good enough reason to quit my first social work job.”
“If you say so. Good enough is in the eye of the beholder. My point is that, at the moment, you’ve convinced yourself of something that’s just not true. You feel trapped not because you can’t quit, but because you won’t. And I suspect that much of your anxiety comes from believing there’s no escape.”
Ben is listening closely.
“On the other hand, if escape is possible, and you stay, it changes the meaning of staying. Now it’s a choice. Follow?”
“Can you think of any good reason to choose to stay? Despite how crappy you feel now?”
“Well,” he says, “it might teach me something about handling crappy feelings.”
“Managing anxiety, you mean.”
“That’s right.” He pauses.
“And then,” he goes on, “If I stay when I can leave, I’d probably feel better about myself. Like maybe I’m more than a helpless kid. Like maybe I have some…courage.”
Steve’s smiling. My nausea, I notice, is gone.
Ben looks different now. Still stressed and worried. But his eyes look less squinty, and his shoulders a bit straighter.
He looks at Steve.
“Feeling like you have a choice makes all the difference, doesn’t it?”
Steve, describe what happened here.
My goal was to help Ben shift his focus from control to power.
He’d essentially built himself a jail cell and locked himself inside. The cell was his obsession with what others would think of him if he quit. His need for their approval was the lock on the door.
All I did was suggest a way to place his own need for relief ahead of his need for approval. To stop controlling how other people saw him and take care of himself instead.
That’s what I mean by switching from control to power.
Just a mental shift. Nothing in Ben’s situation changed as a result of our talking. But letting go of control left him able to stop feeling like a trapped child and start feeling like an adult with choices.
Just a mental shift.
Feeling like you have choices makes all the difference.
Writing this post reminded us both of that part of The Power of Myth where Joe Campbell summarizes Nietzsche’s “three transformations of the spirit” — or, as we think of them, the three stages of growing up.
We like it so much we’ve included it in its entirety on its own Bert recommends page. Read it here.
Then (if you like) write and tell us how you relate to it.
And get this:
The e-Buffet — “An electronic magazine serving gourmet subject matter to inquisitive minds” — where Bert & Steve expect to be regular contributors.
Click here to check it out. And let us know what you think.