The alternatives




(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:)



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.

13 responses to “The alternatives

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