Monthly Archives: January 2012

What we mean when we talk about control, part 3: Particularization

 

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

No, that’s not them at left.

Steve speaking:)

 

“So, what d’you want to work on?” he asks.

“Pardon?”

“Well, you’re here.  It’s your money, so to speak.  What d’you want to change?”

He thinks, then, of his father; of their struggle to keep between them a screen of calm and order. 

“I’d like to be more in control, I guess.”

                                   ~ From Ordinary People by Judith Guest.

Gentle reader, a question for you:

What does it mean to be in control?

(Author pauses while reader considers.)

Well, when we talk about being in control we usually mean one of two things: (a)  being able to rearrange the world around us, or (b) being able to rearrange how we’re feeling inside.

But as in the dialogue above, it’s not always clear which is which.

Does (b) depend on (a)?  Must I have actual control, out there in the world, in order to feel emotionally in control

Often we assume so.  If I control the world, we assume, I can control how I feel.

We may even doubt there’s any other way to reach (b).  How can I feel okay when what’s happening around me is not-okay?  we ask ourselves.  Isn’t that like swimming in water without getting wet?

A reasonable conclusion.  Logical. 

And wrong. 

Worse, a dangerous conclusion to reach, because of how it leads us to cope with a complex world filled with not-okayness.

This form of confusion even has its own name (which no one ever uses):

3. Particularization

Particularization means mistaking some specific way of satisfying a need with the need itself.

It means confusing ends with means — mistaking what we want with one particular way of getting it.

“The genesis of particularization is habit, or conditioned response,” write two sociologists:

 A person who has satisfied a need in one particular way since childhood is likely to have only a vague awareness of the need; his vivid consciousness will be of the familiar means of satisfaction. When feeling needful, he thinks instantly of the usual mode of fulfillment, bypassing recognition of the need itself….

But if for any reason the habitual behaviors are not very effective — as in many case they are not — particularization renders it difficult for the individual to recognize this fact….  Habit prevails, and he tends simply to try again in the familiar way. 

The result is analogous to bailing a boat with a sieve.

~ From The adjusted American: Normal neuroses in the individual and society by Snell & Gail Putney.

I see this all the time in people who grow up in alcoholic, abusive, or otherwise dysfunctional families. 

Early on they learn to see  life as unpredictable and dangerous (Will Dad drink or be sober?  Will Mom hug me or hit me?  Will everyone get along, or fight until bedtime?)  and blame their inner anxiety on events in their immediate environment.  

Inevitably, they try to reduce their anxiety by controlling that environment (hide Dad’s beer, clean Mom’s kitchen, keep everyone amused or distracted). 

And there it is: particularization.  As kids they equate something they need (feeling safe) with one particular way of getting it (controlling people, places and/or things).

They grow up convinced If I can’t have control, I can’t ever feel safe.  Which leaves them no choice but to keep trying and trying to rearrange the world around them. 

And that, gentle reader, is how you create a control addict.

This happens to all of us, regardless of what our family was like.  Why?  Because we all start out as children.  And children, having no power, are forced to rely on controlling the grownups around them.  (See Control is for kids for a fuller discussion.)

“When the only tool you have is a hammer,” Abraham Maslow once noted,  “everything looks like a nail.” 

So we’re all adult children.  We’re all control addicts.  Because we all enter adulthood with the same hammer in hand.

The question for those of us tired of secretly feeling and functioning like kids is: 

Isn’t there another way to rearrange how we’re feeling inside? 

(To be continued.)

* * *

Want more?

1. We are people who hit age 28 or 39 or 47 and suddenly find that something is wrong that we can no longer fix by ourselves.

2. We are people who gaze at our peers on the street or at a party and say to ourselves, “I wish I could be like her or him.”

3. Or we say, “If only he know what was really going on inside of me, he’d be appalled.”

4. We are people who love our spouses and care deeply for our children, but find ourselves growing distant, detached and fearful in these relationships.

5. Or we feel that everything in our lives is perfect until our sons or daughters become chemically dependent, bulimic, run away from home or attempt suicide.

~ From Adult children: The secrets of of dysfunctional families by John and Linda Friel.

Click here to read the rest of the laundry list begun above.  (Scroll down to chapter 3, titled “Who Are We?  What Are Our Symptoms?”)

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A note from Bert

Earlier today you may have received an announcement of a new post titled “What we mean when we talk about control, part 3.”

That announcement went out in error. 

It happened when someone (I won’t say who) hit the Publish button prematurely.

Sorry. 

Sometimes WordPress, like so much else, is beyond our control.

Stay tuned for the real Part 3, coming this Sunday (1/29).

love,

Anonymous

 


What we mean when we talk about control, part 2: Sense of control

(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:)

Last time I set out to explain the difference between actual control and a sense of control.

Actual control, I said, is an external phenomenon,  something we achieve out in the world.  It happens when we find ourselves able  to intentionally influence other people, places and things. 

Sense of control is an internal phenomenon, something that happens in our heads when we feel in control of our emotional state.

Today, more on the latter.

2. Sense of control

We each want to feel certain feelings and avoid others. 

For example, we each want to feel the items on the left below, and avoid those on the right:

happy ….. sad,

comfortable ….. uncomfortable,

safe ….. scared,

strong ….. weak,

confident ….. inadequate,

certain ….. confused,

contented ….. frustrated,

accepted ….. rejected,

protected ….. abandoned,

approved ….. criticized,

loved ….. hated,

peace of mind ….. worried,

and so on. 

Sense of control refers to those moments when we feel only the items in column A — only the feelings we want. 

It’s in those moments, when our internal universe seems to be under our command, that we experience what I call a sense of control.

And we hunger for those moments.

We hunger for happiness and safety and confidence and love.  Those experiences are what we live for. 

In fact, our whole lives are arranged in an attempt to repeat these experiences as often as possible.

Think about it.  Doesn’t every choice you make boil down to your answer to the question, Which option here is more likely to make me feel happy, not sad?  Comfortable, not uncomfortable

Our preference for comfort over discomfort is rooted in survival instinct, and so hardwired into us.  That makes it the inevitable basis for all our conscious choices, and all our unconscious choices too.    

And often we conclude that what will enable us to choose comfort over discomfort — i.e., a sense of control — is to get actual control, control of the (external) world around us.

And that’s often a valid conclusion. 

Of course I’ll feel better if 

~ My car stays on the road (instead of hitting that tree),

~ The boss gives me a raise (instead of firing me),

~ My kid aces Math (instead of failing),

~ This attractive woman agrees to have dinner with me (instead of slapping my face). 

All these experiences, and a million others like them, lead to a natural conclusion: the way to get a sense of control is to get actual control.

But here’s where it gets tricky. 

Because one is a goal.  And the other is just a means to that goal.

They’re not the same. 

And it can be dangerous and destructive to conclude that they are.

(To be continued.)

* * *

Want more?

We are an anxious nation…in fact, we are an anxious world. There is no question that uncertainty seems to have increased dramatically in the last few years. We worry about terrorism. We worry about war. We worry about losing our jobs. We worry about the dangers confronting our children. And on and on and on.

This worry is understandable, given the state of the world at the present time, but there is no question in my mind that, with the right tools…

All of us can rise above any situation that life hands us.  

 
~ From Nine ways to find peace of mind by Susan Jeffers.  Read the rest here. 


What we mean when we talk about control, part 1: Outside, inside

(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:)

Today I’m unpacking an important idea, one crucial to control addicts.  To everybody, in other words. 

But it’s a slippery idea, hard to nail down.  So I’ll need more than one post to do it.   How many, I don’t know yet.

Feedback and questions welcome while I’m unpacking.

Part 1: Outside, inside

Once upon a time the elderly residents of a nursing home were divided into two groups. 

Group A was given houseplants and told to decide where to place the plants in their rooms and when and how much to water them.  Group B was given houseplants and told the nursing staff would care for them.

Eighteen months later researchers compared the groups and found the plant-tending Group A members to be healthier, more cheerful, more active and more alert.  They also found that less than half as many A group members had died.

Citing this study as evidence of the importance of control, its author later wrote,

Perceiving control apparently is crucial not only to one’s psychological well-being but to one’s physical health as well. 

The belief in personal control may be essential to one’s sense of competence and is basic to human functioning.

When one’s belief in control is threatened, the result is severely incapacitating. 

                  (Ellen J. Langer, The Psychology of Control, 1983).

All this came to mind the other day while I was explaining the idea of control addiction to a new client named Lennie.

“Addiction?” Lennie said.  “That makes no sense.  Addiction’s a sickness.  You have to give up an addiction to be healthy.  But control is a necessity.  You can’t live without control.”

Lennie’s wife Alice is alcoholic.  And like most spouses of addicts, he suffers from what might be called boundary confusion.  He’s not sure where his life ends and hers begins.

When Alice has a bad day, so does he.  He’s concluded that to protect himself he has no choice but to try to control Alice’s addiction and its consequences.  So he begs her to stop drinking, threatens divorce, hides her booze, lies to her boss about why she missed work, lies to their kids about why she passed out on the sofa, and so on.

He’s as addicted to controlling as Alice is to drinking.

But what Lennie said makes sense, right?   Isn’t control a necessity?  Doesn’t the nursing home study prove that?

Not really.

Notice what Langer actually wrote:

Perceiving control apparently is crucial….

The belief in personal control…

When one’s belief in control is threatened….

We’re talking here about two things, not one. 

One outside, one inside. 

Actual control, versus a sense of control.

They’re not the same thing, as I pointed out in a post I wrote last year about power:

Imagine your rich uncle dies suddenly and leaves you control of his multinational corporation. You wake up one morning the CEO of Big Bux, Inc.

You go to your new job. You sit behind a huge desk. Four secretaries line up to do your bidding. You have tons of control. You can hire and fire, buy and sell, build plants or close them, approve product lines, mount advertising campaigns, manage investments, bribe congressmen, you name it.

How do you feel?

Actual control is what you’d have here.  But a sense of control?  I doubt it.

One’s an objective reality; one’s a subjective experience.  Actual control means the ability to dictate or transform external circumstances — make people, place and things behave as we like.  Sense of control means  feeling competent, grounded, secure and calm inside — in control of one’s internal state. 

Put another way:  actual control describes something we achieve out in the world, while sense of control describes something we achieve in our heads.

“So what?” you ask.  “Why is this distinction important?”

Because actual control and sense of control are achieved by quite different methods.

Because chasing one makes you healthy, while chasing the other makes you sick.

And because one’s a lot easier to come by than the other.

(To be continued.)

* * *

Want more?

Langer is a famous psychologist poised to get much more famous, but not in the ways most researchers do.

She is best known for two things: her concept of mindlessness — the idea that much of what we believe to be rational thought is in fact just our brains on autopilot — and her concept of mindfulness, the idea that simply paying attention to our everyday lives can make us happier and healthier.

And now a movie about her life is in development with Jennifer Aniston signed on to star as Langer.

~ From “Mind Power” by Drake Bennett, Boston Globe, February 10, 2010.


It’s Just What I Do, Plan A, and other forms of covert controlling

(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:)

This is the second of two posts about covert controlling.  (You can read the first post here.)

3. It’s Just What I Do

Dennis keeps logging onto his wife’s  computer to view porn.  “And she keeps asking you not to,” I say.  “Right.”  “And she can always tell when you’ve done it.”  “Always.”   “And afterwards you two always have huge arguments.”  “Yes,” he says sadly.  “So why…”  “I don’t know,” he shrugs.  “I’m an idiot.  I don’t know why I do it.  It’s just what I do.”

Ellie just lunched with two friends, and she’s seething.  “I hate them.  They only talk to each other.  Me they totally ignore.  It’s like I’m not there.  If I try to break into the conversation they look at me like I’m some annoying little sister.  It’s always like this.  I get so upset I have to go to the bathroom to cry.”  This lunch, she adds, is a monthly ritual that’s  been going for years.   “Years?” I ask.  “Why keep going?  Why not  just avoid them?”  She shrugs helplessly.  “They’d be angry,” she says.  “But you don’t like them.”  “Not much,” she admits.  “But I can’t say no.  It’s just what I…”

Frank’s wife makes all decisions for the both of them.  “Everything from dinner to where to vacation to when to have sex,” he tells me.   “Don’t you guys ever discuss things?”  I ask.  “Not really,” he says.  “She tells me what she wants, then says, ‘Okay?'”  “And you agree.”  “Yeah.”  “Ever disagree?”  “Once or twice, when we were first married.”  “What happened?”  “She’s better at arguing than me.  She gets loud, and I get nervous.  So I give in.  It’s easier.”  “Is it really?”  He sighs.  “Maybe not,” he concedes.  “But we’re married eight years now.  Agreeing has become a habit.  It’s just….” 

Welcome to It’s Just What I Do. 

This form of covert controlling shows up in my office every day.  And each time it does I’m reminded of what Fritz Perls said about therapy clients:  

“Very few people go into therapy to be cured, but rather to improve their neurosis.”

Still, It’s Just What I Do used to puzzle the hell out of me.  Because I assumed that any repeated behavior must have some payoff attached to it.  And I couldn’t figure out what the payoff was here.

Then I began to study the idea of control.

And I realized the payoff is all about Plan A. 

4. Plan A

I’ve written about Plan A here before.  It’s my label for everything we learn as kids about life and how to cope with it. 

We each have a Plan A.  We learn it mainly as kids, mainly from our parents, and mainly unconsciously.  No one sits us down and says, “Now listen up.  Here’s how you do life.”  Instead we watch and listen to the grownups around us and absorb what they do like little sponges.   

Plan A becomes our psychological default position, the place to which we revert under stress.  As a coping method it may not work all that well.  But it has one enormous advantage over any other plan:  it’s utterly familiar.   

And therein lies the payoff:  the illusion of control.

Familiarity is enormously reassuring.  We don’t have to analyze anything, learn new behaviors, anticipate new outcomes.   Reverting to Plan A means knowing just what to do and just what will come of it.  

The fact is, most of the time, most of us prefer a familiar pain to an unpredictable adventure.

Which explains why Dennis, terrified of losing his marriage, provokes the same fight again and again.  And why Ellie, afflicted with chronic low self-esteem, lunches with people she hates rather than risking their disapproval.  And why Frank, in treatment for crippling anxiety, tries to reduce his stress by agreeing with his wife about everything.

On some level each of them has decided they’re not ready for Plan B.  Not ready for the emotional stretch, the stress of learning, the shock of fresh feelings, the unpredictability of something new.

So they cling to the familiar. 

We all do.  We’re anxious creatures, we humans.  And our anxiety makes us resist change. 

So we cling to the familiar like a child clings to a teddy bear.  And chase control even what we chase is illusory. 

“The most interesting thing about the control-mad people is that they always end up being controlled,” wrote Perls.  “So the control-mad person is the first one to lose his freedom.  Instead of being in control, he has to strain and push all the time.” 

But it’s what we do.

* * *

Want more?

The adjusted American has learned to regard his personality as an expression of what he was born to be, or what he was conditioned to be, and to assume he can never change dramatically (except, perhaps, for the worse).

There are many people who cling to this conception of a determined self because they shrink from accepting responsibility for being what they are.  Those who cannot accept themselves find a false comfort in believing that heredity, society, parents, or whatever is responsible for the shaping of their lives. 

For such solace as this belief affords them, they trade the possibility of choosing their lives differently and creating a more acceptable self.

From The adjusted American: Normal neuroses in the individual and society by Snell Putney and Gail J. Putney.  Wonderful book, by the way.

* * *

There are those that say you can do nothing and everything is out of your control, and there are those who say that you can do everything and that everything is within your control. The truth, I have discovered, is somewhere in the middle. There is plenty out of your control, so make peace with it, and then let it go. Then refocus your attention back on what you can control: what you think, what you say, and what you do.

From 6 Ways to regain a sense of power by Ollin Morales.


Silent Farting, Stuff/Stuff/Blow, and other forms of covert controlling that visited my office so far this month

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

Steve wrote this post.

Bert, however, contributed heavily out of his personal experience:)

 

Most controlling behavior is covert — hidden or disguised. 

Why?  The reason is obvious. 

Nobody likes a controller.  So nobody wants to be seen as “controlling.” 

As a result most controlling behavior is buried beneath a careful attempt to control other people’s reactions to the controller’s attempts to control stuff.

Got that?

Maybe examples will help.

1. Silent Farting

“I just know when something’s up with him,” Ben’s wife tells me.  “It’s hard to say how.  I just know.  Something about the way he walks into a room, or turns the pages of his newspaper, or stirs his coffee.  He doesn’t say anything, doesn’t even look at me.  But I know a storm’s coming.  It’s like I can smell it.”

This is Silent Farting.

It’s  a way for people uncomfortable with expressing anger directly express it indirectly — under the radar, so to speak.  They just sort of exude it, like a bad smell.  The targets of their anger don’t always understand what’s happening, but like Ben’s wife, they can usually tell they’re been farted at.          

Silent Farters tend to be people who in a previous life were punished for expressing anger out loud.  Or grew up with abusive or chronically angry parents, which scared them into deciding that angry was not something they ever want to be.

How is Silent Farting a controlling behavior?  In three senses. 

The Farter overcontrols an unwanted feeling, instead of expressing it in an open and healthy way.

The Farter, by exuding anger instead of expressing it, also tries to control the reactions of others to that feeling.

Finally, Silent Farting can be a form of coercion, an attempt to intimidate by hinting at the storm that’s brewing inside.  Ben’s farting has made his wife hypersensitive to his moods, and I suspect Ben likes it that way.    

2. Stuff/Stuff/Blow

Halfway through our session Jan suddenly blurts, “You know, I’m about ready to walk out of here.”

She is crying.  I’m surprised.  She seemed fine a moment ago.

“Why?”  I ask.

“You make me feel like shit.  You sit there and imply that my relationships are inadequate and then you pressure me to do something I don’t want to do.  I’ve had enough.”

Another surprise.  Two weeks ago I raised the subject of group therapy, and since then referred occasionally to ways in which a supportive group might be of help. 

I know the idea of group makes her uneasy, so I don’t really expect her to join.   But I did think she was curious.  Until now she’s responded to what I say with interested nods.

“How long have you been feeling this way?” I ask

“Since you first mentioned group,” she replies.

 “Why didn’t you say so sooner?”

“I didn’t want to be rude.  But now I’m fed up.”

This is Stuff/Stuff/Blow. 

The Stuff/Stuff/Blower habitually conceals her anger from others, letting the pressure build until she can’t hide it anymore.  Then, baboom.

The explosion usually embarrasses her, so afterwards she resumes stuffing and stuffing until the next inevitable blow. 

Like Farters, most Blowers concluded early in life that expressing anger openly was somehow unsafe or unattractive.  Now they bury theirs as long as they possibly can.

Unfortunately, anger is unavoidable for human beings.  So for the Blower periodic explosions become unavoidable too.

It is not unusual for these explosions to be preceded by silent farting.  But not all Farters are Blowers, and not all Blowers are Farters.  

Personally, I’d rather work with a Blower than a Farter.  Farters who never explode tend to be more scared of anger — theirs and everyone else’s — and so take longer to learn that, like most feelings, anger expressed is much safer than anger than stored up.

(To be continued.)

* * *

Want more?  

Writing this post reminded Steve of the game theory of Eric Berne, founder of the therapy called Transactional Analysis. 

Berne believed we each carry three internal roles or “ego states” — he called them Parent, Adult and Child — that we continually enact in all our relationships.

He also explained dysfunctional interactions in terms of the “games” these three roles inspire us to play:  

Games are essentially devious, toxic and sometimes deadly methods of obtaining “strokes.”

The term stroke is Berne’s name for the unit of human contact and recognition.  Strokes, Berne pointed out, are needed by people for psychological and eventually physical survival, just as they need food, water and air.

These repetitive stroke-gathering interactions, labeled by Berne with the instantly recognizable names ( “Why Don’t You Yes But,” “Now I’ve Got You.”and “I’m Only Trying to Help”, etc) which made TA famous, are the building blocks of people’s life scripts.

~ From “Transactional Analysis” at the changing minds.org website.

 Here’s a brief (10:00) video introduction to TA theory:

Transactional Analysis 1: ego states & basic transactions


Living elsewhere

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

Bert speaking:)

For any recovering addict the first job is learning to see differently. 

For control addicts that means learning to see control issues, in their own lives and in the teeming life of the world around them.

I have to practice this every day. 

Some I catch.  Some I miss.

I invite you to practice with me. 

Below are three puzzle pieces that crossed my path this morning.   Once upon a time I would have seen no connection between them. 

There are no right or wrong answers here. 

Fit them together, or not, as you will.

Piece #1: 

Found in a pile of miscellaneous clutter in my kitchen, a joke, on a sheet of notepad paper from the satirical website Demotivators:

It could be that the purpose of your life is only to serve as a warning to others.

Piece #2:

“Sad story,” my wife says as I stand at the kitchen counter, sipping my first cup of coffee.  “X’s friend’s daughter killed herself yesterday.”

“How old?” I ask.

“Seventeen.  Honor student.  Turned out the college she wanted to get into hadn’t responded yet.”

“But it’s only January,” I say.

“I know,” she nods.  “Sad story.”

Piece #3: 

I keep books on my desk to poke through when stuck for something to write about.  I open one* and find a passage I highlighted years ago in yellow marker:

Alcoholism is the disease of living elsewhere. 

In active addiction, the present moment is a terrible and threatening place.  The remorse for things done and the fear of what is to come crowd the eternal holy now into oblivion.  There is no rest or comfort in the contemplation of the reality of the life of ongoing addiction. 

By the end of my addiction, the only escape from the horror of everyday life lay in the fragile amnesia of fantasy or illusion.  Demons clawed at the windows in deep night….  I had become a “hungry ghost” — the mythic creature with an enormous belly and pinprick mouth, cursed with an insatiable thirst….

My mind was not sound, and by my thirties I was in a terrible world of random dependence.  My unvoiced cry was, in the words of Joko Beck, “I want, I want, I want…” with the deeper objective phrase “the world to be my parents.”    

So.  There are my three pieces.  

No wrong answers here. 

No right ones, either.

Fit them together, or not, as you will.

* * *

Want more?

That is what ordinary recovery is.  Not complicated; not special.  Any addict, like so many of his brothers and sisters in the larger world, lives a life of rapture and illusion.  Ordinary recovery is about waking up to what is real.  When you see what is right before your eyes, you are healed.  the way to the healing moment is through paying attention. Pay attention: the medicine is right before you all the time.

~ *From Cool water: Alcoholism , mindfulness and ordinary recovery by William Alexander

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* * *

Tormented by unfulfilled cravings and insatiably demanding of impossible satisfactions, the Hungry Ghosts are searching for gratification for old unfulfilled needs whose time has passed.  They are beings who have uncovered a terrible emptiness within themselves, who cannot see the impossibility of correcting something that has already happened…. 

[To heal,] The Hungry Ghosts must come in contact with the ghostlike nature of their own longings. 

~ From Thoughts without a thinker: Psychotherapy from a Buddhist perspective by Mark Epstein.


Blue worry

 

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How are you today?

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Uncomfortable. 

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Thought so.

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How could you tell?

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I’m a trained mental health professional.

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Also, you have a blue fish attached to your head.

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bert (5)

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What the hell is that, anyway?

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A blue worry.

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A what?

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A worry that just sort of hangs around forever, nibbling on me.

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Never goes away?

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No.  Occasionally it stops nibbling, but it never goes away.

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Like a permanently angry pet.

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Something like that.

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And why is it nibbling on you today?

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I’m not sure, actually.  I can’t always tell.  I just know I feel nibbled on. 

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I see.  Did you know I was a group therapist?

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No.  So what?

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Someone once said that everyone enters group therapy with three secrets.

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What three secrets?

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A secret sense of inadequacy, a secret sense of alienation, and a sexual secret.

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Really?

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Yes.  Which means everyone secretly feels not good enough, different from everyone else, and ashamed of their sexuality.

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No shit?

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No shit.

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In other words, everyone….

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…feels constantly nibbled at by the same three blue worries.

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And you believe this?

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I suspect there’s truth to it, yes.

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* * *

Want more?

“Blue worry” describes secret reasons we occasionally feel lousy. 

Now read about secrets of a different sort.

No matter how much we earn, no matter how much we have in the bank, no matter how nice our clothing or cars or toys, none of it will make us happier. And the sad thing is that it could take us decades of pursuing wealth and luxury items before we realize this.

So what will bring us happiness? Luckily, it’s three things that don’t cost a thing. These three things have been proven by research — surveys of hundreds of thousands of people about what they have, what their lives are like, and how happy they are.

Here they are, the Three secrets to happiness.

By Leo Barbauta of Zen Habits.

* * *

Forget about money. Don’t fret about youth. Acting happy is likely to make you happy.

There are happy people. Researchers at the National Institute on Aging found that well-being is strongly influenced by enduring characteristics of the individual. In a 10-year study, they found that, regardless of whether their marital status, job, or residence had changed, people with a happy disposition in 1973 were still happy in 1983. There’s good news in these findings: Given the right disposition, in the face of difficulty, people can still find renewed happiness.

What makes for a happy disposition? Who are these people who stay basically up despite life’s downs? There are four important traits of happy people:

Fr0m The Secrets of Happiness at Psychology Today.

* * *

Life’s a piece of shit,

When you look at it.

Life’s a laugh and death’s a joke, it’s true.

You’ll see it’s all a show,

Keep ’em laughing as you go.

Just remember that the last laugh is on you.

From Eric Idle’s Always Look on the Bright Side of Life. sung by Eric with the assistance of four opera singers, a full chorus, an orchestra and an audience filled with glo-sticks at the Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Sciences.

 

* * *

So ahead, smile.  Just for the hell of it.

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The tradeoff

 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:)

Last night an insight came to me in a dream:

I’m the ex-husband of a woman who’s remarried twice since our divorce.  Somehow I’ve gotten re-entangled in her current life and agreed to take time each day to ferry her kids to school or appointments or something.

Her other ex-husband — a good-natured working man, played by Kevin Costner — has gotten himself similarly entangled.  Wife’s current husband is a stuffy businessman (let’s call him George) that both Kevin and I dislike.

One day we’re commiserating about how much we dislike George.  I decide I’m sick and tired of my entanglement and suggest to Kevin that we both just end it.  But Kevin’s scared of Wife.  He declines.

Then later I’m sitting with Wife and George and Kevin and suddenly feel free of my fear of consequences.  I tell Wife and George I’m ending our arrangement.  I tell Wife it’s been good to see her again, and that I really like one of her ex-husbands, and then, turning to George, say “But I really can’t stand you.”

Wife and George immediately begin to bicker.  I sit and watch them for a moment, feeling liberated. 

Then I get up and leave.

I wake up.  The dream fascinates me.  I have no idea what it means.

I roll out of bed and take a walk to think about it.

Gestalt dreamwork usually involves role-playing, but I’m not awake enough for that.  So I look for another way to understand it.

“A dream is an existential snapshot,” I remember Fritz saying.

What’s this a snapshot of?

What’s the situation it depicts?

What lesson is it trying to teach?

Let’s see.  In the dream I freed myself from an uncomfortable situation by telling the truth.

I regained control (of my life and time) by giving up control (of Wife’s and George’s reaction to me).

Bingo.

There’s the lesson:

To get control of something, you must surrender control of something else.

This feels important. For years I’ve been trying to understand control and surrender and to find some neat way of summarizing their relationship.

Now my unconscious has kindly offered one.  

(Thank you, Thing.)

So this business of controlling boils down to a tradeoff.  To get control of something, you must surrender control of something else.

Like the original, literal monkey trap.  To hold on to the banana, the monkey gives up his freedom.  To regain his freedom, he must let the banana go.

To get control of something, you must surrender control of something else.

It also explains all garden-variety codependent interactions.  To control you (that is, get you to like or love or accept me) I must surrender control of something else (like my ability to be honest or spontaneous or emotionally expressive). 

Conversely, regaining control of my emotional life — especially how I feel about myself — means giving up control of how you react to me.

To get control of something, you must surrender control of something else.

And the New Year’s resolutions and goal-setting I blogged about last week.  It applies there too:

To reach a particular goal (writing my book, say) I must surrender control of others (like spending time with my family, or on chores that absorb my energy and attention).

To control of my weight I must surrender control (i.e., limit my choices) of what I put in my mouth.

To control my social anxiety I must surrender control of how other people judge me and practice being authentically myself instead.

And so on.

So obvious.

Why did I never see this before?

Control and surrender are two sides of the same coin.

And getting control of anything means accepting a tradeoff.

To get control in one place, you must give it up in another.

To win something, you must lose something else.

Holding on here means letting go over there.  And vice versa.

Tradeoff.

Balance.

Yin-yang.

Cool.

Thank you, Thing.

Want more?

 

If you surrender completely to the moments as they pass, you live more richly those moments.

~ Anne Morrow Lindbergh

 

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The greatness of a man’s power is the measure of his surrender. 

~ William Booth

 

 

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Love is an attempt at penetrating another being, but it can only succeed if the surrender is mutual.

~ Octavio Paz

 

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Growth demands a temporary surrender of security.

~ Gail Sheehy

 

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The creative process is a process of surrender, not control.

~ Julia Cameron

 

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Man is not logical, and his intellectual history is a record of mental reserves and compromises. He hangs on to what he can in his old beliefs even when he is compelled to surrender their logical basis.   

~ John Dewey

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My friends, no matter how rough the road may be, we can and we will, never, never surrender to what is right.

~ Dan Quayle

 

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Sorry for that last quote.  I found it, I was tempted, and I surrendered.

~ Bert 

 
 
 
 

Bert’s therapy: The do-over

(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 therapy” is the session-by-session saga of a control addict trying to learn alternatives to controlling.)

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So this New Year’s I tried an experiment.  I resolved to make no resolutions.

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How come?

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You convinced me I’m a control addict.  I figured this would be a good way to practice surrender.    

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How’s it going?

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Guess.

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Just another resolution you couldn’t keep?

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Yup.

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And now you feel like a failure.  Again.

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Exactly.  What’d I do wrong?    

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Just what addicts do: tried to control something you can’t control.  In this case, a feeling.  

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My anxiety about the future.

 

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Right.  You tried to make it go away by filling the future with goals and planning.  Didn’t work, right?

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No.  What do I do now?

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Learn from it.  That’s what relapses are good for, to teach you something.

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Like what?

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What’s the most obvious lesson here?

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I have unrealistic expectations of myself.

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Good.  That’s a crucial one.

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And my next step?

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A do-over.

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Like in stickball? 

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Right.  Like when cars interrupt play.

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I can do that?

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There’s no other way to recover.  Recovery is just one do-over after another.    

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It is?

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Sure.  We can’t avoid relapses.  We can only keep giving ourselves second chances to learn from them.

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That feels better than calling myself a failure. 

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And one more thing.  This is crucial too. 

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What?

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Lose the hat.

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 * * *

Want more?

The beginnings and endings of all human undertakings are untidy.

~ John Galsworthy

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Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.

~ Henry Ford

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Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried something new.

~ Albert Einstein

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Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.

~ Marcus Aurelius

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Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.

~Theodore Roosevelt

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I call a do-over.

~ Charlie Brown

 

 


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