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.)


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.


13 responses to “Gas in California

  • Cheryse Durrant

    Bert, I loved your talk. Tremendous honesty. Makes me think that the best therapists (and even inner monkeys) must be those who have personally experienced at least some obstacles, control or otherwise. How else can they relate to others so well? Garth Brooks’ famous line “Life is not tried it is merely survived If you’re standing outside the fire” comes to mind. You’re helping so many – keep dancing within the flames!

  • Attachment Girl

    Hi Steve,
    I really enjoyed this post and I wanted to write to say thank you for being a hypocrite (although I’ll take exception with that label later in my response.) There was a long period in my theraputic work when I was trying to repair my attachment injuries, when i really NEEDED my therapist to be that stronger, wiser, other. I was terrified of my own emotions, so I needed him to not be scared. I never saw him scared. I deeply appreciated him allowing me to idealize him for a while to get what I needed. But the important thing was that, like you, he saw himself as a wounded healer. No different from me, except that in our relationship, he was the one focused on my needs. I believe a therapist being able to see their own humanity and woundedness is what keeps their clients safe. It is the therapist who REALLY believes that they are above all that, that they are “healthier than thou” who becomes arrogant enough to do serious damage to a client that comes to them for healing.

    I mentioned earlier wanting to dispute the label of hypocrisy. Hypocrisy to me means that someone is preaching something they actually don’t believe is the right thing to do. You believe in self care, in its importance and you believe you SHOULD be practicing what you preach. Your failure to practice it right now means you’re human, not a hypocrite. I want you to be kinder to yourself the same way you are to your patients. (For slightly selfish reasons, I really enjoy reading your blog, I am finding it really helpful and I would rather you keep writing it. 🙂 )

    I hope you are able to find more balance soon. And thank you for your openness, it’s a good reminder to me that my therapist really is human. 🙂

  • jpbauer

    I reiterate and repeat what Cheryse Durrant so eloquently replied earler:

    ” I want you to be kinder to yourself the same way you are to your patients. (For slightly selfish reasons, I really enjoy reading your blog, I am finding it really helpful and I would rather you keep writing it. )

    I hope you are able to find more balance soon. And thank you for your openness, it’s a good reminder to me that my therapist really is human. ”

    Thinking of you and wishing you all the very best life has to offer.

  • Susan P.

    Isn’t it always the case – we are so good at offering advice but bad at taking it into our own hearts? During my mother’s recent health crisis, I was on top of everything. I took charge (yes, I am a control addict) but I thought that was my responsibility as the only daughter of aging parents. And I tell you, I felt real, real good – consulting with the doctors, making the appointments, making the decisions. It sounds weird, but all that controlling actually energized me, made me feel worthy, valuable. When my Mom said, “What would we do without Susan?” I was on cloud nine. Finally, after 50 plus years, it was what I had been waiting so long to hear.
    Now that the crisis is over, I’m crashing. I kept going and going and I didn’t notice that I’d run out of gas. I’m so hooked on DOING, on getting it right. But as you often say, Steve/Bert, if it was my daughter or son who was worn out, what would I tell her or him? You’re are an extra special person and therapist and I think it is precisely because you are so, well, HUMAN (sorry Bert). You might guide us well with the answers we need (I sure have benefitted), but NEWS FLASH: I’ve always looked at you as a fellow traveller on the journey whose ups and downs have taught you (and through you me) a heck of a lot. A Healthier Than Thou person/advisor?? No thanks.

  • Graham Cumming

    Thanks for being transparent. This whole subject of a man’s “hypocrisy” is handled with honesty and sensitivity by John Eldredge in his great book, “Wild at Heart.” He eloquently describes this condition as “hiding behind an elaborate fig leaf.”

  • Cathy | Treatment Talk

    I love your style of writing for your post. We all find ourselves hiding behind our “fake self” once in awhile, but it is interesting and humorous to think about the therapists being the opposite of their patient. We do try to put forward what people expect and some of us can take it a little too far and lose ourselves. Glad to know you are human like the rest of us!

  • Self-care « Monkeytraps

    […] ~ From Gas in California […]

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