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.


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.


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 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.


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.


No, do it now.  I want to listen. 


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.)

8 responses to “Relapse, and the three steps out

  • Susan P.

    Well, this is certainly timely, considering that I’ve relapsed myself this week. I will be reading over this post again. I try to control my environment by being a workaholic (even though I don’t officially “work” anymore), by avoiding the uncomfortable feelings that arise when I sit still by any length of time, stay a moving target, etc., etc. I also do whatever I can to search for safety (PTSD issues), and change feels threatening, life-or-death threatening. I am wondering how PTSD fits into your control theories?

    The day after a very difficult night this week, I got an email from my husband with a link to a video of Leonard Cohen (one of my favorites) performing “Anthem.” It was and is amazing. I keep listening to it. “Ring the bells that still can be run/Forget your perfect offering/ There’s a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in.” To hear the whole song, go to:

    Thanks, Steve and Bert.

    • fritzfreud

      Thanks, Susan, for the link to “Anthem,” one of my favorite Cohen songs.

      Thanks, too, for the question about PTSD. My first thought is that trauma offers the clearest way of understanding the boundary confusion at the heart of all control addiction.

      Trauma survivors typically try to defend against an internal threat (their anxiety) by controlling the external environment — e.g., by avoiding people, places and things that remind them of the original trauma. That may seem logical, but In fact it reflects a confusion about where the threat really lies. Because they misperceive the source of danger, trauma survivors often seek safety by trying to control their environment instead of changing how they perceive it. That’s sort of like putting on dark glasses and getting scared because the sun has apparently disappeared.

      Recovery requires taking the glasses off — removing the distortion so the survivor can see people/places/things for what they really are (instead of what they remind her of). Not easy work, but still easier than trying to control the whole universe.

      By the way, I think this description applies to many more people than we generally recognize. Because I think anyone who grows up in a dysfrunctional family comes away from that experience with his or her own form of PTSD.

  • chuck

    Today’s post is especially enjoyable and clarifying. The internal dialog is familiar and feels personally therapeutic. There is a clear sense for purpose and joy. Thanks for writing and communicating. For me, sharing in it is a wonderful thing.


  • john

    Congrats Bert you were able to do 3 @ once, I have a tuff time doing one @ a time, well I guess I can say I used to, the past 3 months or so I have been able to let go (detach) much easier, I have in my life what I like to call my life coach and I was with her just this morning and she mentioned that the changes I have made in my life the last 3 months has made a direct effect on my 4 year old child, for the better, she said my child is no longer anxious, is listening better and much calmer. I listened to her like anyone would when someone is complimenting your child, but it really didnt sink in till much later, what a HUGE compliment for both me and my son, I guess I need to work on accepting positive things in my life, now to my point,, yes I have made a few changes for the better these past few months and Steve and Bert are on the list of changes for the better that I have made sooooo thank you once again to the 2 of you,,,,,,,,,,

  • saa

    just a note that I read your blog everyday and I do not subscribe. Your numbers are higher than you think. I’m a sex addict, married, and recently discovered low self esteem. Who would of guessed.

    keep writing

  • Marie

    Hi Steve, great post. I too totally dislike the “Speaker” the whole political system, the educational cuts etc. etc. so I turn the news off and don’t read the papers or talk politics with anyone Call it avoidance or denial or anything else you can think of but I call it self-preservation. I am learning to give up worrying about some of the things I cannot change. I still worry to the point of feeling like I am going to jump out of my skin about many issues. (I didn’t say I arrived yet) Still on my journey. I appreciate your comments related to trauma survivors. I find your explanation very helpful.
    Hope you feel better!!

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