(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.
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.
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.)
* * *
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:
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.