Monthly Archives: December 2011

Bert’s journal: Here goes nothing

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

The following is excerpted from Bert’s recovery journal.  I’m printing it without his permission.  Don’t tell him.)

December 28, 2011

On vacation. 

In relapse. 

Monday I typed up four New Years resolutions.  Put them in a desktop folder titled “Goals 2012.”  Felt virtuous. 

Added two more goals yesterday.  That made six. 

Then went back and added subgoals, or steps, or whatever.  Then a couple of sub-subgoals.  Then sat and looked at them for a while.  Felt tired.

Today I remembered reading somewhere that a goal without a plan is just an idle wish. 

So I sat down and tried to draft a step-by-step plan for each goal that would actually enable me to reach it.

Even tried to make them SMART:  Specific, Measurable, Achievable,  Realistic, and Time-framed.   

Stopped after an hour. 

Felt nauseous in my head.

Well, in the left side of my brain anyway.  The right side wanted to go off and find a substance to abuse.  Found Twinkies.

I go through this horseshit every year.  It’s embarrassing.  The resolutions or goals or whatever are always the same (meditate more, eat less, walk daily, make more  money, take more emotional risks) , which means I’m no more likely to reach them this year than last.  

Writing the list gets harder and harder. 

Completing it feels like signing a mortgage.   

But apparently I can’t help myself.  Starting the new year without a plan feels like going outside without pants.

Goals are good, right?  Planning is necessary?  It’s smart to be SMART?

I don’t feel smart.  I feel like a moron.     

Sigh.

What was it Fritz said about the future?  Here:  

We imagine, we anticipate the future because we don’t want to have a future…. We fill in the gap where there should be a future with insurance policies, status quo, sameness, anything so as not to experience the possibility of openness towards the future. 

Do I dare give up this stupidass habit, this annual minuet with fear? 

Can I abstain from trying to control the future? 

Have no plans?

Abandon goals?

Surrender to openness? 

Live a day at a time?

Let life just happen?  Unfold? 

And practice being present for it? 

Like Mary Oliver:

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it is over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

 Dare I resolve…nothing?

 Here goes nothing.

 

* * * 

Want more?

EMILY:   Good-bye, Good-bye, world.  Good-bye, Grover’s Corners…  Mama and Papa.  Good-bye to clocks ticking…and mama’s sunflowers.  And food.  And coffee.  And new-ironed dressed and hot baths…and sleeping and waking up.  Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you.

She looks towards the STAGE MANAGER and asks abruptly, through her tears:

Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?  Every, every minute?

STAGE MANAGER:   No.

Pause.

The saints and poets, maybe — they do some.

~ From Our Town by Th0rnton Wilder.

 

Watch Penelope Ann Miller deliver this monologue, and the play’s conclusion, here.

a

a
a

* * *

Advertisements

Peace. Good will.

 

* * *

For those of you who celebrate Christmas, and anyone who enjoys a good flash mob:

 

(1) Click here to watch the surprise performance given on December 18 at a mall in California.  (The guys on the escalator are Bert’s favorite.)

 

(2) Click here to watch 3500 people — directed by one Omnipotent Voice — meet, dance and sparkle on July 27 in New York City.

 

 

                                                                  

(3) Click here to see dancers unexpectedly perform “Do Re Mi” at the Antwerp Central Station in Belgium in 2009. (If you’re not smiling by the end of this, check thy pulse.)

 

 

* * * * * * * *

 

 


Just the world

(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 the second in a series of posts about the nuts and bolts of recovery from control addiction.

Steve speaking:)

Yesterday in session something happened that reminded me of Bert’s last post, the one about reframing

Annie was crying on my sofa, because we were talking (again) about her marriage to an emotionally abusive man. 

And at one point she looked at me through her tears and asked,  “What did I do to deserve this?”

It wasn’t a rhetorical question.  She wanted an answer.

Aha, I said to myself.  There speaks the Just World Hypothesis.

I asked Annie if she’d heard of it.

“The what?” she said.

“The Just World Hypothesis,” I said.  “Most people believe in some form of it.”

The Just World Hypothesis (or Theory, or Fallacy) amounts to the belief that the universe is arranged so that people get what they deserve.

Good things happen to good people, in other words, and  bad things happen to bad.  

Most people believe this, even if they’re not aware of it.  Which explains why people tend to feel guilty when bad things happen to them. 

It’s common among religious people, raised on the idea of sin.  But belief in God is no prerequisite to belief in a Just World.  I once worked with an atheist who argued endlessly against the existence of God but never doubted, when confronting personal misfortune, that he himself  had  somehow caused it.

Why do we cling to this bias?

Control.  Or the illusion thereof.   

“Because it’s far too frightening for many to accept that bad things can happen to good people — and therefore that they themselves have no control over whether bad things might happen to them someday — they will instead search for ways to differentiate themselves from victims of ill fortune,” writes Renée Grinnell.  “For example, outsiders might deride people whose houses were destroyed by a tornado, blaming them for choosing to live in a disaster-prone area or for not building a stronger house.”

Belief in a Just World also leads to even more pernicious misinterpretations, like blaming the victim. 

Afterwards, they said that the 22-year-old woman was bound to attract attention. She was wearing a white lace miniskirt, a green tank top, and no underwear. At knife-point, she was kidnapped from a Fort Lauderdale restaurant parking lot by a Georgia drifter and raped twice. But a jury showed little sympathy for the victim. The accused rapist was acquitted. “We all feel she asked for it [by] the way she was dressed,” said the jury foreman.  (From “The Just World Theory” by Claire Andre and Manuel Velasquez.)

The type of blaming I’m most familiar with is self-blame, where clients actually impede their own recovery by taking unrealistic and unfair responsibility for bad things that happen to them.

It’s particularly common among abuse victims, and people who grew up in alcoholic or otherwise dysfunctional families prone to unpredictability and emotional turmoil, where kids often got blamed for things that weren’t their fault.  This left them feeling vulnerable, vaguely guilty, and too quick to blame themselves.  

Annie grew up in such a home. 

I explained all this to her.

“So you don’t believe in a just world?” she asked me. 

“I believe in justice,” I said.  “But the Just World Hypothesis is bullshit.  Look around you.  Bad things happen to good people all the time.  Shit happens.”

“Shit happens,” she repeated.

“All the time,” I said.  “And we have to find some way to make peace with it.  With the world as it is.  It’s not a just world.  It’s  just the world, as is.  Messy.  Unpredictable.  And mostly beyond our control.”

She’d stopped crying.  Some of the strain had left her face.  She wiped her eyes. 

“Shit happens,” she said.  “Interesting idea.”

* * *

Want more?

What’s going on here, it’s suggested, is a quest for a feeling of security. The suggestion that victims of rape were “asking for it” is a case in point: if you can convince yourself that victims deserve to be victimised, you don’t need to fear that you and yours – who don’t deserve it – might have to endure the same fate….

a

a

a

The just world hypothesis sees suffering and concludes that people who suffer must be the kind of people we disdain.

From “Just World Theory” at rethink.org.

 

 

 

 

 


Bert’s tricks: Reframing

                                                                                                     

(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, surrendering a little.

Bert speaking:)

Had breakfast this morning with my friend Richard.

“I liked that last post,’ he said, “about the alternatives to control.  Very helpful.”

“Thanks,” I said.  “I’m not looking forward to writing the next one.”

“Why not?”

“The last one was theoretical.  Now I have to write about how hard the alternatives are to practice.  And I have to admit that, even though I’m the so-called expert, I’m not very good at any of this stuff.”

He smiled.  “Maybe that’s what people need to hear.”

Oh.  Okay.     

I’m not very good at any of this stuff.

Then again, I’m better than I was.

And one of the things I’ve learned in recovery is that sometimes better is good enough.

See what I did there?

That’s called a reframe.

It’s is a sort of trick I play on myself.  The cognitive equivalent of taking a giant step to one side and looking at something from a new point of view.

“Reframing is simply changing the meaning of an event or experience, in the way that placing a picture in a different picture frame somehow changes the look of it,” writes Jan Brause.  “Human beings are meaning making machines and we learn the meaning of things from an early age from our individual culture and the significant others in our lives. The meaning or ‘frame’ that we place on something has a significant impact on how we respond to it.”

In other words: Change the frame you place around what you see, and you change what you feel when you see it.

And it works. 

A classic example:

I cried because I had no shoes,

until I met a man who had no feet. 

Now, I’m a control addict, which means my initial reaction to any pain,  problem or stressor — in short, any reality that displeases me —  is to look for some way to control it.  And when I can’t find one I feel angry and entitled to complain.  

This reaction comes from the unconscious assumption that control is always, always a good and necessary thing.  Reframing means challenging that assumption.

For example:

The other night in the library parking lot I slammed my car door on the buckle to my seat belt, which bent some thingy in the door and made it impossible to close.  So I rolled down the window and put my arm through it and drove home that way, hugging the door shut. 

It was a cold night.  My fingerstips felt blue.  My shoulder began to ache from hugging.  I spent the first half of the drive home cursing my bad luck. 

Then, two miles from home, I passed a woman walking on the street.  She was overweight, had an Ace bandage on her knee, grocery bags in both hands, and she was limping.

Hello, reframe.

Note:  This there-but-for-the-grace-of-God, attitude-of-gratitude stuff is just one sort of reframing.  There are plenty of others, which I’ll describe in future posts.  But I thought this was a good place to start, given the season and all.      

In closing, a holiday gift for all you other control addicts. 

It’s a Zen story.* 

Read it next time some reality displeases you.

It’s about how life teaches us reframing, if we let it. 

Once upon the time there was an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years.  One day his horse ran away.  Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit.  “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.

“Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses.  “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed.

“Maybe,” replied the old man.

The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg.  The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.

“Maybe,” answered the farmer.

The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army.  Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by.  The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.

“Maybe,” said the farmer.

Happy reframing.

*(From The 10 Very Best Zen Stories at awakeblogger.com.) 

* * *

Want more?

Students used a variety of coping strategies including emotional or instrumental support; self-distraction; denial; religion; venting; substance use; self-blame; and behavioral disengagement.

Of these, using social support (both emotional and instrumental), denial, venting, behavioral disengagement, and self-blame coping had negative effects on satisfaction at the end of the day.

That is, the more students used these coping strategies in dealing with the day’s most bothersome failure, the less satisfied they felt at the end of the day.

In contrast, positive reframing (i.e., trying to see things in a more positive light, looking for something good in what happened), acceptance and humor coping had positive effects on satisfaction.

From Using humor to cope with setbacks at pyschcentral.com.

 

   


The alternatives

a

a

 

(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’s paw at left.

Bert speaking:)

a

a

At the end of a recent post (The Talk) I wrote,

So each of us needs to examine the role control plays in our lives.  Which means we need to learn how to (a) notice when we’re controlling, (b) decide if our controlling is healthy or not, and (c) learn alternatives to the unhealthy sort.

Steve’s friend Lisa replied by asking for an explanation of (c), the alternatives to unhealthy controlling.

Now, Steve — the shrinky theorist — and I — the recovering control junkie — have slightly different views of this subject.

So I’m breaking our answer into two parts.

First, the shrinky-theorist view:

There are three alternatives to compulsive controlling: surrender, responsibility and intimacy.

Surrender is the ability to give up controlling what you can’t control anyway. It grows out of believing that you can let go and things will still be okay.  Often described with words like “detachment,” “acceptance,” and “faith,” surrender is the spiritual alternative to control.

Responsibility is the ability to reply to a situation honestly and with some self-awareness.  It grows out of listening to your feelings (instead of hiding or editing them) and trusting that what they tell you is both friendly (not to be feared) and important (not to be ignored). Often described with words like “presence,” “mindfulness” and “authenticity,” responsibility is the emotional alternative to control.

Intimacy is the ability to be yourself with another person and allow them to do the same.  It’s actually a combination of the first two alternatives, since it requires that you both (a) abstain from controlling someone (surrender) and (b) share the truth about yourself (responsibility).  The interpersonal alternative to control, intimacy represents the high-water mark of emotional development — i.e., it’s about as healthy as we human beings get.

By the way, I didn’t invent these alternatives.  I just noticed and named them.

They’re what all addicts who decide they no longer want to be ruled by addiction — to control or anything else — must practice in recovery.

So instead of controlling reality, they practice accepting reality as-is.  This includes not agonizing over past events or fantasizing scary futures.  They give up wrestling with all that, and pay attention instead to what’s happening here and now.  That’s surrender. 

Instead of controlling feelings, they practice identifying what they feel and finding ways to express it appropriately.  This includes owning feelings they carry around from the past and noticing when those old feelings get triggered in the present.  That’s responsibility. 

And instead of controlling other people, they risk coming out of hiding and connecting in authentic ways.  This includes giving up, as best they can, attempts to manipulate how others see them and think about them and feel towards them.  That’s intimacy.

Next time, the recovering-junkie view.

(To be continued.)

* * *

Want more?

I’ve noticed that things go much more smoothly when I give up control—when I allow them to happen instead of making them happen.

Unfortunately, I’m terrible at this.

Although I’m much better than I used to be, I’m a bit of a control freak. I often use perfectly good energy trying to plan, predict, and prevent things that I cannot possibly plan, predict, or prevent.

From Let Go of Control: How to Learn the Art of Surrender by Dr. Amy Johnson.


Questioning the iceberg

(Steve and Bert are fighting a particularly stubborn cold, and so have decided to recycle and expand a post we wrote over a year ago:)

Peary relates that on his polar trip he traveled one whole day toward the north, making his sleigh dogs run briskly. At night he checked his bearings to determine his latitude and noticed with great surprise that he was much further south than in the morning. He had been toiling all day toward the north on an immense iceberg drawn southwards by an ocean current. ~ Jose Ortega y Gassett

a

Here’s why the idea of control fascinates me.

It’s an emotional iceberg, constantly carrying each of us southwards — away from where we want to go or where we think we’re headed.

Its size and invisibility make it easy to overlook.

But ignoring it is dangerous.

Because it hardly matters how hard you mush towards your goal when the iceberg keeps moving you in the opposite direction.

So:

Feeling lost?  Stuck?  Exhausted?  Depressed?

Stop mushing, already.

Question the iceberg instead.

You can do that by asking yourself:

(1) What is it I’m trying to control here?

(2) Have I been able to control this thing successfully in the past?

(3) If not, what can I do instead?

To answer (3), you’ll need to know something about the three alternatives to control.

We call them surrender, responsibility and intimacy.

They’ll be our subject next time.

* * *


Bert’s therapy: Dandelions

My wife and I are fighting again.

1

2

3

4

What about?

1

2

3

4

The same thing.  It’s always the same thing.

1

2

3

4

therapist (2)

1

2

3

4

We’ve been having the same fight for years.

1

2

3

4

therapist (3)

1

2

3

4

I say the same stuff.  She says the same stuff.  Nobody wins.

1

2

3

4

therapist (4)

1

2

3

4

The same stupid fight, over and over.

1

2

3

4

th

1

2

3

4 

Why do we do that?

1

2

3

4

Do you have a lawn?

1

2

3

4

Yes.

1

2

3

4

Any dandelions on the lawn?

1

2

3

4

Sure.

1

2

3

4

What happens when you mow dandelions? 

1

2

3

4

They grow back.

1

2

3

4

And keep growing back until you kill the root. 

1

2

3

4

Our fights have roots?

1

2

3

4

Right.  Unconscious ones. 

1

2

3

4

What can I do about it?

1

2

3

4

Start digging.

1

2

3

4

For what?

1

2

3

4

Unfinished business you brought into the marriage.

1

2

3

4

Such as?

1

2

3

4

Unhealed wounds.   Unmet needs.  Unexpressed feelings.

1

2

3

4

Oh.  Great.

1

2

3

4

 

1

2

3

4

x

1

2

3

4

How are you feeling right now?

1

2

3

4

x

1

2

3

4

Tell me.

1

2

3

4

Like I have terminal athlete’s foot.

1

2

3

4

therapist (17)therapist (18)

1

2

* * *

Want more?

All of these people sincerely want more love and intimacy in their lives.  They have tried hard to improve their relationships. They have tried to change their behavior and they have tried to change their partners’ behavior. They may have read one of the many books on relationships that urge them to fight more fairly, or communicate their feelings more clearly. But nothing has worked for them.

A crucial piece is missing from their understanding of their relationships. They do not completely know what their fight is about, or why they are having such strong feelings. They have been looking at the “visible” aspects of their relationships–the things they say and do. But all of these problems–from always picking the wrong partner to finding yourself stuck in a pattern of chronic fighting or chronic avoidance–stem not from the visible, objective parts of the relationship, but from the subjective world of your unconscious mind. Trying to make sense of them by looking at your outer, rational behavior is like trying to look at an elephant through a microscope: you’re simply using the wrong lens.

David Shaddock, in From Impasse to Intimacy:
How Understanding Unconscious Needs Can Transform Relationships

 

 * * *

Me and my partner (2:31). 

“A fun look at how Imago Dialogue can help you create deeper connection with your partner.”

 


The Talk

(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, giving The Talk.

Bert speaking:)

Alas, I am cursed.

Well, not me so much.  The other me.  The shrinky part.

In the past two weeks Steve met with three new clients and gave each of them his latest version of The Talk.

The Talk is what I call his attempt to compress the theory he’s been developing for two decades into a five-minute sound bite. 

He’s been doing this for years now, editing and reshaping and tweaking The Talk along the way.  But I get nervous whenever he gives it. 

I’m afraid he’s confusing people. 

And that’s because I suspect all his explanations are fatally afflicted by the so-called Curse of Knowledge.

“Once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know it,” write Chip and Dan Heath.*  “Our knowledge has ‘cursed’ us.  And it becomes difficult for us to share our knowledge with others, because we can’t readily re-create our listeners’ state of mind.”

Steve’s theory is about the idea of control.   And control is an idea he’s has been immersed in for so long — reading and writing and thinking and talking and even, god help us, dreaming about it — that I fear it’s impaired his ability to communicate with normal people.

So, dear reader, I have a favor to ask you.

Read The Talk below.   It’s short, just 269 words. 

Then write back and tell me your reaction.  

Which parts are clear?  Which parts are confusing?  Which parts do you need to have explained more?

Be honest. 

Please.

Thanks.

* * *

(The Talk)

 

Control means the ability to dictate reality —

to make people, places and things

behave the way we want them to.

 

We each carry around in our heads

a picture of the reality we want.

And we constantly compare that picture

to the reality we have.

 

Anything we do to bring those two closer together

— to change what we have into what we want —

I call controlling.

 

Studying this phenomenon

has led me to four conclusions:

 

(1) We’re all addicted to control.

 

(2) This addiction causes most

(maybe all) emotional problems.

 

(3) Behind all controlling is

the wish to control feelings.

 

(4) There are better ways to handle feelings

than control.

 

Now, this view of control can be confusing,

because so often control is so clearly

a good and necessary thing.

 

I won’t willingly surrender control

when I’m driving my car on wet pavement,

or my kid gets sick and needs a doctor,

or garbage piles up in my kitchen,

or a mosquito tries to bite me,

or in any of a million other

daily situations.

 

But:

there are two areas where

controlling tends to cause

more problems than it solves:

feelings

and

relationships.

 

Why?

 

Because

~ Overcontrolling feelings

tends to make us sick — 

anxious, depressed, addicted;

while

~ Overcontrolling other people

tends to annoy, scare,

and alienate them.

 

So each of us

needs to examine the role

control plays in our lives.

 

Which means we need to learn how to

(a) notice when we’re controlling,

(b) decide if our controlling is healthy or not,

and

(c) learn alternatives to

the unhealthy sort.

 

(THE END) 

 

 * * *

Want more?

What is the Curse of Knowledge, and how does it apply to science education, persuasion, and communication? No, it’s not a reference to the Garden of Eden story. I’m referring to a particular psychological phenomenon that can make our messages backfire if we’re not careful.

From Overcoming the curse of knowledge. by Jesse Galef. 

 

________________________________________________

*Chip & Dan Health, Made to stick: Why some ideas survive and others die


%d bloggers like this: