Monthly Archives: August 2011

Human treeings

(If you’re new to Monkeytraps, Steve is a therapist who specializes in control issues, and Bert is his control-addicted inner monkey.

Steve speaking:)

Hurricane Irene swept through here the other day, reminding me of a conversation I’ve had with many clients over many years.

“Let’s say you’re a tree, and a hurricane is coming,” I say. “ Which would you rather be, an oak or a birch?”

I sit back and watch them do a mental comparison:

Oak…

versus Birch:

“Oak,” they usually say.

Then I remind them what can happen to a rigid oak in a high wind:

All this tree-talk is metaphorical, of course.  We’re really talking about people and their view of control.

Oak-people see control as necessary to their sense of security.

They have a picture in their minds of How Things Should Be.  Deviations from that picture make them uncomfortable.  This leaves them uncomfortable much of the time.

It also leaves them rigid and unbending, resistant to change, and likely to confuse strength with inflexibility.

Birch-people recognize control as essential in some situations and a dangerous illusion in others.

They’ve learned to learn to recognize their own preferences as just that — preferences — and less insistent on getting life to meet their expectations.

This makes them more elastic, more able to accept change and weather adversity. When life blows them over they bounce back up.  They go with the blow.

Me, I’m a 61-year-old oak, trying to become a birch.

It’s not easy work, psychologically speaking.  But I prefer it to being uprooted by all the stuff I cannot control.

And you?

Which kind of tree are you?

And which kind of tree would you like to be?

* * *

Advertisements

Bert’s therapy (#7): The couch

In deference to Irene, we are publishing Monkeytraps early this weekend. 

Hang in there, East Coast. 

Take care of each other, everybody.

                                                                                                love,

 

 

 

 

* * *

 I’m still uncomfortable with this therapy.  

bbb

ccc

ddd

 

I know.

22222

33333

aaa

Is there anything else we can try?

bbb

ccc

ddd

Well, Freud’s patients used to lie on his couch. 

11111

22222

33333

aaa

Really?

bbb

 

ccc

Yes, but that wasn’t to relax them.

 

11111

22222

33333

aaa

Why, then?

bbb

ccc

ddd

It made them feel vulnerable.

.

.

.

 

 

 

 

Raised their anxiety. Gave Freud more stuff to analyze.   

11111

22222

33333

aaa

Oh. 

bbb

ccc

ddd

 

11111

22222

33333

aaa

What the hell.  Let’s try it.aaa

bbb

ccc

ddd 

Be my guest.

.

.

.

.

11111

 .

22222

33333

aaa

 

 

So.  How do you like it?

 

 .

 

b

 

 

Is it better or worse?

.

.

.

.

 

Worse.

ccc

 

 

Makes you feel vulnerable?

.

.

.

 

No.

 

 

 

Makes you anxious?

 

.

Not really.

 

 

 

Why, then?

.

.

.

You try lying down with a triangular head.

22222

33

cc

 

 

***

 

 


Bert’s therapy (#6): Eye contact

 I don’t like therapy.

 

 

Why not?

a

b

c

It’s embarrassing.

 

 

 

How so?

a

b

 

Well, I sit here and talk about all this personal stuff…

 

 

 

a

b

c

And you just sit there and look at me.

 

 

Ah.

a

b

c

 

 

 

 

So let’s try an experiment.

a

b

c

What?

 

 

Turn around so you can’t see me.

a

b

c

Really? 

 

 

 

Sure.  See how it feels.

a

b

c

 

 

 

 

How’s that?

a

b

c

 

 

 

 

Is that better?

a

b

c

 

 

 

 

Bert?  Can you hear me?

a

b

c

(Sniffle.) 

Yeah. 

 

 

Why, Bert.  What’s the matter?

a

b

c

. . . . .

 

 

 

a

b

c

 

I miss you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Gas in California

If you’re new to Monkeytraps, Steve is a therapist who specializes in control issues, and Bert is his control-addicted inner monkey. 

That’s Bert at left, at his meeting.

Bert speaking:)

Good evening, and welcome to Hypocrites Anonymous.

My name is Bert, and I’m a hypocrite.

(Audience: Welcome, Bert.)

I’m also a therapist.

I’ve been a hypocrite for as long as I can remember.

Well, at least as long as I’ve been a therapist.

(Audience giggles.)

I don’t mean to blame the job for my hypocrisy.  But hypocrisy does sort of come with it.

Because therapists are like priests.

Priests have to pretend to be Holier Than Thou. Who’d listen to them otherwise?

Therapists have to pretend to be Healthier than Thou.

Who’d listen to us otherwise?

So every day I sit with people who come for help with their problems, and part of the helping is pretending to be healthier than them.

I offer calm when they’re anxious, clarity when they’re clueless, courage when they’re scared.

Strength when they’re weak, hope when they’re hopeless, honesty when they lie.

Directness when they’re avoiding, forgiveness when they’re guilty, and kindness when they beat themselves up.

In fact, you could say it’s my job to offer the opposite of whatever people bring me.

Friends, this is not as easy as it sounds.

(Audience laughs.)

But it’s what we all do, right?

We all pretend to be Something or Somebody Else.

Is there anyone here who doesn’t pretend that?

(All hands in the room go up.)

What?

Oh. I get it. This is a Hypocrites Anonymous meeting.

(Everyone laughs and applauds.)

Anyway. My most recent relapse into hypocrisy is my failure at self-care.

Self-care is something I preach to all my clients. Most of them have trouble with self-care. Most of them don’t love themselves enough to stop working and rest and relax. Most of them put the needs of their job or their family or their house or their spouse ahead of their own.

And I have this thing I say to the most stubborn clients.

“You remind me,” I tell them, “of a guy I know who wants to drive from New York to California. Except he says, ‘Gas is too expensive, so I won’t buy gas here. I’ll wait to buy gas when I get out to the coast.’

“You’re like that guy,” I say. “And you better stop and gas up now, or you won’t make California. You’ll be lucky to make New Jersey.”

(Murmurs of agreement.)

Well, tonight I have to confess: I’m out of gas. I’m stuck in New Jersey.

I’m tired, and discouraged, and I need a real rest. And I find I can’t stop working.

Despite everything I know, or thought I knew, I have been sucked into the great mass of Workaholics in this country.

In fact, that’s the meeting I’m headed to after this one.

(Appreciative laughter. One voice: “Can I catch a ride?”)

This is very embarrassing to me. It galls me to admit I’m not Healthier Than Thou.

But: I’m not.

I’m just like Thou.

I’m just like my clients.

I’m just like everyone:

My life is unmanageable.

Thanks for listening.

(Bert sits. Thunderous applause.)

 * * *

Want more? 

To my knowledge, there is no real program called Hypocrites Anonymous.

There is, however, a real Workaholics Anonymous.

Visit their website and you’ll find an interesting self-quiz titled“Twenty Questions: How Do I Know If I’m a Workaholic?”   It begins like this:

  • Do you get more excited about your work than about family or anything else?

  • Are there times when you can charge through your work and other times when you can’t?

  • Do you take work with you to bed? On weekends? On vacation?

  • Is work the activity you like to do best and talk about most?

  • Do you work more than 40 hours a week?

I’m guessing your answers to these first five questions will tell you whether you need to go on and complete the quiz.

 


Fuzzy lollipop

(If you’re new to Monkeytraps, Steve is a therapist who specializes in control issues, and Bert is his control-addicted inner monkey.

Bert’s taking a break from writing this week.  But he did provide the illustrations for this post.

Steve speaking:)

I used my lollipop analogy today.  First time I’ve used it in years.  It’s one of my favorites.

Yvonne is a woman who dislikes herself.  She doesn’t know this, exactly.  She just knows she’s lonely, and discouraged, and pretty much of a doormat in all her relationships.  The sort of person who says Yes when she wants to say No and always has, without knowing why.

She’d just finished telling me about her eight-year marriage to a man who drank, cheated, abused her emotionally, and then left her. 

“Ever licked a lollipop,” I asked, “and then stuck it in your pocket?”

“Sure,” she said uncertainly.  I didn’t believe her.  I was pretty sure she was humoring me, just to move things along.

“What happened to it?” I asked.

She shrugged.  “It got…fuzzy.”

“Right,” I said.  “It got fuzzy.  And the longer it stayed in your pocket the fuzzier it got.  It kept collecting fuzz until after a while it didn’t even look like a lollipop anymore.  More like a fuzzball on a stick.  Right?”

She nodded.

“You’re like that lollipop,” I told her.

“How so?”

“We all are.  When we’re kids we have these experiences which seem to defines us.    Yours was having a mother who couldn’t love you the way you needed to be loved.’

She nodded again.  We’d been over this.

“It left you feeling unlovable,” I said.  “But the problem didn’t end there.  Because you went on and collected more experiences like that one.”

“I know I did,” she said.  “But why?”

“Because confusion is painful for us,” I said.  “We can’t stand to not understand.  It makes us feel out of control.”

She nodded again.  We’d talked about her need for control, too.

“So we look for answers that seem to explain stuff in our life.  And we hang onto those answers even when they’re wrong, and even when they hurt.  Because having no answer is even more painful.  Follow?”

“I think so.”

“You found your answer early on.  You decided that mom didn’t love you because you were unlovable.  It was a lousy answer, because, A, it wasn’t true – she couldn’t love you because she was an alcoholic  – and, B,  it hurt.  But it was better than having no answer at all.”

She was quiet, listening.

“So you carried that answer out into the world and into every relationship.  And whenever there was a disappointment or conflict or someone treated you badly, you turned back to that old answer to explain what was happening.  ‘See?” you told yourself.  ‘Mom was right.  I am unlovable.’’ 

“And that’s why you’re like a fuzzy lollipop.  Because by now you’ve collected so many of those experiences you’re no longer recognizable as yourself.”  

She looked at her hands in her lap.  Then she looked up.

“Well, shit,” she said.

An encouraging response.

“What do I do about it?” she asked.

I made two suggestions. 

The first was to remember our conversation the next time she got into relationship trouble.  “Question how you usually explain problems,” I suggested.  “If you get confused, talk to me about it.  But stop automatically collecting fuzz.”

“Okay,” Yvonne nodded.

The second suggestion was to seek out corrective emotional experiences.  “This one’s harder,” I warned her.  “You have to risk being yourself with people.  Especially new people, like at Al-Anon or in a therapy group.  That’s where you have the best chance of redefining yourself. 

“Practice coming out of hiding.  Tell a bit more of the truth than you’re used to telling.  Show a bit more of your feelings.  Just a bit.  See what happens.

“Of course, this will mean giving up some control.  So it will probably feel scary at first.  But I think you’ll find it’s less risky than it feels.”

She shook her head. 

“Living this way?  That’s what’s risky.”        

 

Questions for you, dear reader:

(1) Are you a fuzzy lollipop? 

(Hint: Most everyone is.)

(2) What early experience seemed to define you?

(Hint: Probably a painful one.)

(3) Are you aware of how you use that old experience to explain your current problems?

(Hint: How you do it may not be entirely conscious.  Dig a little.)

(4) Are you ready to stop?

(Say: Yes.)

Lollipops of the world, unite.

You have nothing to lose but your fuzz.

* * *


Is control your shield?

If you’re new to Monkeytraps, Steve is a therapist who specializes in control issues, and Bert is his control-addicted inner monkey.

This is a reworking of a post published last year.

Steve speaking:)

I lost three clients this summer.

Vince left treatment after a couples session in which I encouraged his wife to attend a family function he didn’t want her to attend.

Wendy left after a family session in which I encouraged her kids to tell her the truth about how they felt about her new boyfriend.

Xavier left because I told him he was emotionally abusing his wife.

All three illustrate the defensive function of control.

In his book Kinds of Power James Hillman explains the Latin origin of control, and implies that originally it referred to fighting gravity:

Control is agency, yes, but of a restrictive kind.  The word comes from contra rotullus, against the roll. Since the free flow of inertia follows the path of least resistance, the easy path downhill is controlled by restraints.

When I read that — against the roll — I found myself imagining that the first “control” must have been some sort of wheel block, some lump of wood or stone used to stop chariots from rolling downhill or something.

I really liked this idea.

I liked seeing control as rooted in the idea of restraining or preventing something. It confirmed my sense of how controlling usually functions in me and the people I know: as a shield against unwanted consequences.

Certainly this is how my three former clients used control.

Vince used it to avoid sharing his wife with her family.

Wendy used it to prevent her kids from expressing preferences that conflicted with her own.

And Xavier used it to defend against the truth of what sort of husband he is.

The most controlling people I know are obsessed with avoiding, preventing and defending.

Why?  Because they expect bad things to happen. (Usually because bad things have already happened to them. Abuse and trauma victims, for example, are famously controlling.)  So they fear the unpredictable, the unexpected, the unplanned. They rely on control to fend off danger and discomfort.

They live, whether or not they realize it, as frightened people.

Control, for all its self-assured position of command, relies on a defensive vision, and [its] traits — enforced loyalty, exactitude, suspicion of the hidden, watchfulness — are paranoid traits.

Paranoia, of course, is an extreme form of craziness. Paranoids imagine that the world itself is out to get them. The paranoids I’ve treated were scared most of the time, unable to trust anyone, and led lives of confusion, uncertainty and occasionally panic.

But then, so do control addicts.

They, too, tend to see the world as dangerous, people as unreliable, relationships as competitive, emotions as scary, honesty as risky, and control as their shield against all of the above.

They hate change, especially change they haven’t asked for.

In therapy they’re almost always expressing resistance to something — some unfolding of events, some anticipated consequence, some expression of the innate tendencies of people around them.

Finally, they’re often anxious or angry without realizing it.

Why?

Because that’s how you feel when you’re at war.

Yoga teacher Stephen Cope writes,

Each of us has our own silent War With Reality.  Yogis came to call this duhkha.  Duhkha means, literally, “suffering,” “pain,” or “distress.”  This silent, unconscious war with How It Is unwittingly drives much of our behavior:  We reach for the pleasant.  We hate the unpleasant.  We try to arrange the world so that we have only pleasant mind-states, and not unpleasant ones.  We try to get rid of this pervasive state of unsatisfactoriness in whatever way we can — by changing things “out there.”  By changing the world. 

Does this describe you?

Is control your shield?

How bad is your duhkha?

And what parts of How It Is are you fending off?

* * *

 Books cited:

Kinds of power: A guide to its intelligent uses by James Hillman.

The wisdom of yoga: A seeker’s guide to extraordinary living by Stephen Cope

 

Want more?

It’s like being barefooted, and walking across blazing hot sand, or cut glass, or in a field with thorns…  And you say, “Do I have a great idea.  I am just going to cover everywhere I go — I’m going to cover it in leather.  And it won’t hurt my feet anymore.”

Click here for the rest of “This lousy world” by Pema Chodron.


The four stages of learning anything

(If you’re new to Monkeytraps, Steve is a therapist who specializes in control issues, and Bert is his control-addicted inner monkey.

That’s Bert at left, demonstrating the four stages.

Steve speaking:)

New client today. Forty years old, married, named Tim.

I ask why he’s come.

“I’m about to get divorced,” he says, “and I don’t know why.”

Tim’s wife Tina has seen a lawyer and asked him to move out.

“Why does Tina want a divorce?” I ask.

“I don’t know,” he says again. “But we fight all the time.”

“What do you fight about?” I ask.

Tim offers a list:

~ Tina likes a warm bedroom at night. Tim prefers a cool one. So the couple sleeps with the AC on in summer and windows wide open in winter.

~ Tina is a gentle parent who doesn’t believe in yelling or spanking.  Tim calls himself a “firm disciplinarian” who yells often and spanks frequently.

~ Tina is a vegetarian. Tim loves meat, and insists it be served at every meal.  On pasta nights, he pouts.

~ Tina is close to her parents, whom Tim dislikes. So he refuses to let them visit when he is at home.  When on holidays and birthdays he is forced to entertain them, he pouts. 

~ Tina is a Democrat.  Tim is a Republican.  So each November Tim tries to browbeat Tina into voting for his candidates.  If she doesn’t, he pouts.

The list goes on, but you get the idea.

“Tim,” I ask , “has anyone ever suggested that you may have a problem with control?”

“Control?” He looks at me like I’ve just spoken Martian.

This only confirms what his recitation has already suggested:

Tim is a Stage One guy.

*

We go through four stages in learning anything:

(1) Stage One is unconscious incompetence. That’s where we don’t know that we don’t know. Imagine a four-year-old sitting behind the steering wheel of Daddy’s car. He’s watched Daddy drive, so now he yanks the wheel left and right, peers over the dashboard, waves his hand out the window to signal turns. He thinks he’s driving. He doesn’t know that he doesn’t know.

(2) Stage Two is conscious incompetence. That’s where we know that we don’t know. Imagine this same kid as a teenager. It’s his first day in the Driver Ed car. The instructor tells him to parallel park. A chill runs through his entire body. He knows that he doesn’t know.

(3) Stage Three is conscious competence. That’s where we know that we know. Flash forward to this same kid six months later. He’s just gotten his driver’s license. He gets behind the wheel, buckles up carefully, and drives down the street with a smile on his face. He knows that he knows.

(4) Stage Four is unconscious competence. That’s where we don’t know that we know. Flash forward, one last time, to this same kid at forty. He’s been driving for so long that now it barely engages his attention. He tools along the highway talking on his cell phone, fiddling with his radio, and worrying about the fight he just had with his wife. When he has to parallel park, he does it without thinking. He’s reached the stage where he doesn’t know that he knows.

*

What has all this to do with control?

This:

When it comes to control, we’re all addicted.

And we all start off just like Tim.

We don’t know we’re addicted. 

We don’t know that we don’t know how not to control.

We control automatically, unconsciously and compulsively. 

And when our controlling causes problems, we don’t see it.  We find other explanations. 

So the first step we face, if we want to recover from this universal addiction, is the same one Tim faces if he wants to understand why he’s about to get divorced:

We must move from Stage One to Stage Two.

We must become aware that, most of the time, we really don’t know how not to be controlling.


Relapse, and the three steps out

(If you’re new to Monkeytraps, Steve is a therapist who specializes in control issues, and Bert is his control-addicted inner monkey.

That’s Bert at left, relapsing.

Bert and Steve are talking. Bert speaks first.)

I really don’t want to write today.

I know.

I didn’t want to last Wednesday, either.  So I skipped it.

I know.

I feel bad about that.

I know.

But I just can’t get myself to write.   What’s going on?

You’re a little depressed.

Am I?  Why?

You’re in relapse.

Into control addiction, you mean.

Right.

How can you tell?

Well, look how tired you are.

Not just tired.  Weary.  Discouraged.

Why, do you think?

I thought it was because I’m working hard.

No.  Hard work makes you tired.  But discouragement comes from trying to do the impossible.

Control reality, you mean.

Exactly.

Well, it wouldn’t be the first time. 

So remind me.  How do I get out of this.  What are the steps?

Step one, shift your focus. 

From outside to inside, you mean.

That’s right.  Detach from external stuff and focus on internal stuff, like what you’re feeling and thinking.   Start paying careful attention to yourself.

Because…

Because it’s a lot harder to change external stuff than how you react to it.

Got it.  Next?

Step two:  Notice how much comparing you’re doing.

Comparing?

The reality you want versus the reality you’ve got.

For example?

Well, that’s a long list.  Last time I noticed, though, you were most unhappy with (1) your current income, (2) your current weight, (3) the number of people who’ve subscribed to your blog, (4) the hot weather, (5) the managed care system, (6) the current Speaker of the House…

Don’t go there.

Okay.  But you get my point.

I do.  I compare constantly.  Remind me why that’s a problem. 

Because every comparison points to a reality you’re fighting.  And every reality you fight saps your energy.  Every bit of resistance — even if it’s tiny, and even if it plays out only in your mind — wears you down a little more. 

Resist too many realities at once, you get exhausted.  Stay exhausted long enough, you get depressed.

I remember now.   Next step?

Step three:  Select one of those fights, and surrender.

Come again?

Pick one of the realities you’re fighting and decide not to fight it anymore.  Instead, accept it.  Or detach from it.  Or ignore it.  Doesn’t matter how you describe it, just stop wanting to change this particular thing.  Stop giving it energy and attention.  Just let it be.  For now.

Okay.

No, do it now.  I want to listen. 

Okay. 

For now, I accept my lousy income.  It’s inadequate, but hey, we’re in a recession.  At least my head’s still above water.  I’m grateful for that.  And my plans for the blog should bring me more money over time.  So for now, I accept it. 

Well done.  Pick another.

For now, I accept my weight.   I know I’ll start losing again when I go back to walking every day.   But it’s August, and it’s hot, and I’m tired.  So to hell with my weight.  For now. 

Good.  How do you feel?

Better.  Lighter.  A bit less tired. 

Good.  Pick one more.

Okay.  He can remain Speaker.  For now.

* * *

Want more?

We are all like young children who have a bad case of scabies.  And we’re old enough to scratch them, but not old enough to know that when you scratch it, it spreads, and it gets worse.   This is an analogy for what we all do.  We have discomfort — the itch… and then we scratch it.  And what happens?  We get very temporary symptom relief.  And it spreads, and pretty soon we’re scratching all over our whole body… and we’re really suffering.   

Click here for the rest of Pema Chodron’s Getting Unstuck, Part 1: Stop Scratching

* * *

I’m ashamed that I’ve tried to be higher than the rest

Brother I am not alone

We’ve all tried to be on top of the world somehow

Cause we have all been losers.

Click here for the rest of Losers by The Belle Brigade.  (No idea why they’re in a bathtub.  An acoustics thing, maybe.)


%d bloggers like this: