(If you’re new to Monkeytraps, Steve is a therapist who specializes in control issues, and Bert is Steve’s control-addicted inner monkey.
Continued from Bert’s Plan A. Bert speaking:)
So Steve created me to get control of his emotional life. And I set out to do that by trying to control everything and everyone around me.
I did this mainly by teaching him to hide his feelings, create a mask that would impress other people, and to read other people’s minds — that is, guess what they wanted from him and provide it.
I also convinced Steve to go to social work school.
I said last time I convinced him to become a social worker. That’s inaccurate. What I really did was convince him to become a psychotherapist. Social work school just seemed the fastest way to do that.
Why did I want him to be a therapist? Because I imagined therapists know stuff the rest of us don’t. I saw them as something like priests, connected to some source of secret knowledge and understanding. I liked that idea.
I also saw them (hey, what did I know? I’m a monkey) as being in control of both their emotional lives and their relationships. Their special knowledge seemed to permit them to get close to other people while not exposing too much of themselves. I liked that idea, too. I liked it a lot.
So Steve went to social work school.
He got hired.
He began to work as a therapist.
And he discovered — surprise — that he couldn’t follow our Plan A and do this job.
At least, not do it competently.
Why? Because, it turns out, being a good therapist is all about creating healthy relationships. And apparently you can’t have control and healthy relationships at the same time.
You can’t, for example, have control and real communication, because real communication requires surrendering control, being honest, emotionally real, even vulnerable. Therapists have to do all that within professional boundaries, of course. But it you edit it out completely (like I wanted Steve to) the relationship feels dead, unreal, sterile. And that solves nothing and helps nobody.
Nor can a therapist overcontrol feelings and do therapy well. It seems feelings are what connect us to and enable us to understand other people. When Steve overcontrolled his, he lost touch with his clients. When he lost touch, he did bad therapy.
We began to realize that what therapy demanded from Steve was essentially the inverse of our Plan A. Instead of seeing feelings as dangerous, he had to learn to trust them. Instead of handling people, he had to find ways to communicate and connect with them instead.
This was, well, disturbing. To both of us.
It was around this time that Steve, suddenly and unexpectedly, produced a poem.
Steve, please describe that.
It came out of nowhere. I was lying in bed one night and heard the thing writing itself in my head. I’m no poet, so I’ll spare you the poem itself. But the first line was “The truth is like a bear in the house,” and the gist was that, when you’re trapped in a house with a bear, you have only two choices: run away and wait for the bear to eat its way through the walls to you, or stop running, turn around and hunt the damned bear.
I didn’t know what it was about at first.
Only later did I realize that the bear in my life was control.
So we decided to hunt it.
Doing therapy had taught me that control isn’t just my Plan A, it’s everyone’s. That controlling is addictive, that its patterns are universal and predictable, and that they cause most of the problems people bring to a therapist. That anxiety, and depression, and addictions, and bad parenting, and lousy relationships all stem from someone trying to control something they either cannot or should not control.
And that — if we’re lucky — a day comes when we realize that controlling doesn’t work as a life strategy. It’s on that day that we shift into Plan B. We begin to watch our own controlling, try to catch ourselves in the act, try to practice healthy alternatives. We stop trying to control life, and start cooperating with it.
We invite you, dear friends and readers, to join the hunt.
For a nice example of Plan B thinking, read Leo Barbauta’s recent Zen Life post “38 Life Lessons I Learned in 38 Years.”
Check out our friend The Subservient Chicken. And no, playing with him does not count as a relapse.
don’t forget to add your two cents (or more, if you feel generous) to The Bert Poll. We need you to educate us.