Monthly Archives: May 2012

Hang a left

It’s her first appointment, and she’s crying. 

“I feel so stuck,” she says.

I pass the tissues.   “How so?” I ask.

She tells me. 

Her husband bowls every Wednesday, golfs weekends, watches tv each night until bed.  Never talks to her, never compliments her, hasn’t taken her out to dinner in years.  Expects sex regardless. 

“Regardless of what?” I ask. 

“How I feel about it,” she says.

She has two teenagers, whom she serves as cook, laundress, chambermaid, tutor, therapist, referee and chauffeur.  On Mother’s Day they gave her a World’s Greatest Mom card from Wal-Mart, then spent the day with friends.

Her parents are in from Florida.  They visit frequently without asking, stay a week at a time, and criticize everything from her haircut to her parenting.  (I jot critical parents on a mental note card, file it away for a later session.) 

Her best friend is recently divorced, and calls her nightly either to exult or to mourn her new freedom, depending on how her last date went.  (“And do you ever call her?”  “What for?” she asks, without irony.)

Her mood’s been sliding downhill for years.   She sleeps badly.  Feels tired.  Feels alone.  Feels sad.  Cries.

“Ever take a day off?” I ask.

“No.”

“Ever take a nap?”

“No.”

“Have any hobbies?”

“No.”

“Have any friends or family who aren’t totally self-involved?”

She half-smiles.  “No.”

“Ever tried therapy?”

“I didn’t see how it could help,” she says.  “Can it?”

“Yes,” I say.

“How?” she asks.

“By teaching you to drive,” I say.

She looks puzzled. 

“Imagine someone who learned to drive a car without ever being  taught how to make a left turn.  So whenever they go out all they can do is turn right.  What would happen to them?”

She frowns.  “They’d go in a circle.”

“Exactly.  That’s what you’re doing now.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Think of all the choices you make in a day.  Now think of each choice as a fork in the road.  When you put others first, you turn right.  When you put yourself first, you turn left. 

“When was the last time you made a left turn?”

Her eyes widen.  She thinks.

“I don’t make those,” she says finally.

“Right,” I say.  “You’re driving in circles.  It’s why you feel stuck.”

“And therapy can teach me to turn left?”

I nod.  I’m expecting the next question. 

“But isn’t that selfish?”

“Yes,” I said.  “What’s your objection to selfishness?”

I’ve asked that question hundreds of times.  No one has a good answer. 

“It’s just…bad.”

“That’s what everyone says,” I say.  “I suppose some believe it.  But most people use it to convince others to put them first.  The most selfish people I know tend to be the first to condemn selfishness in others. 

“Me, I think of it as a survival skill.   Selfishness is essential, at least some of the time.  If you don’t take care of yourself, who will?”

“Well, this isn’t working.”  She blows her nose.   “I guess I should hang a left once in a while.  But my family won’t like it.”

“Probably not.  You’ll have to train them.”

“How?”

“We’ll talk details later.  But it amounts to putting yourself first and letting them adapt to it.” 

“And that works?”

“Sure,” I said.  “Look how well it’s worked for your husband, your kids and your parents.”

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Self-love, my liege, is not so vile a sin as self-neglecting.

~ Shakespeare, Henry V

 

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Some of us give because we can’t not give.  It’s our way of getting by in the world. 

At least if I give, the thinking goes, others will like me.  Better yet, they may even come to need me.  Then I won’t be so alone in the world.

Giving becomes a kind of barter to belong — a bid for love, rather than an expression of it.

~ From “Healthy selfishness” at daily.om.

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I think it unhealthy to not know the things you like and the things you want.

I think if you do not allow yourself to know them and to exercise adequate levels of self-care by satisfying those wants and needs in ways that make you feel good you will find unhealthy and unsatisfying behaviors that you do in order to be safe.

The relationship will become toxic and cycle through predictable patterns of acting out, failure and disappointment.

Selfish behaviors that take advantage of or hurt someone else are not what I am describing.  Behaviors that are done in service of the health of the self are self-ish.

~ From “The concept of healthy selfishness in therapy” by Brett Newcomb.

* * *

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The Dark: Crying

 

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Do you allow yourself to cry when you need to?

If you do, you are aware of the benefits it has on your emotional and physical well-being.

If you don’t, you may not be in touch with your feelings and, in turn, may not allow your child to experience their feelings.

~ From Naturally healing through crying by Holly Kretschmer

 

* * *

 

Anderson: I find it really hard to cry, except occasionally, like, beyond my control. But I always found it — especially when I was your age, Kyle — kind of a difficult thing. You say it’s a good thing, though.

Kyle: I think it’s a good thing. Because when something happens to you, it just is great to cry. Crying helps you. You are not weak. You are strong.

~ From The importance of crying at andersoncooper.com (1:15).

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Here’s my tip: If your child cries and it’s obviously through experiencing an overwhelming emotion, be there with them.

They need to know it’s ok to express themselves, and that you accept their feelings.

Strong emotions are scary for children; the worst thing you can do is tell them to stop or send them somewhere to deal with them alone.  Naughty corners and time-outs can be harmful for this very reason.

A child needs their caregiver to tell them it’s ok and listen to them vent their feelings.  Try not to distract them or disregard their feelings.  What might seem trivial to you may be disastrous for them.

Just be there with them, and let them know it’s ok to cry, and that you love them no matter what.

~ From The importance of crying at naturalfamilytoday.com.

 


The Dark: Insomnia

 

Introducing a new cartoon series

about secret thoughts:

The Dark

___________

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Can’t sleep?

Not every one of these insomnia remedies alone will get you to sleep, but a few of them at least should prove successful. Needless to say, there’s no guarantee, and no attempt to provide medical advice, but the feedback we’ve received indicates they’ve been very helpful for many people.

~ From Can’t sleep?  Insomnia tips, insomnia remedies and (just maybe) insomnia cures to help you sleep at www.well.com.

 

* * *

 

Overheard

(in the Kitchen)

at Monkey House:

When I’m in emotional pain, I notice that I hurt myself… 

If self-care were represented as a linear continuum with self-harm (destroy) being on one and and self-care (create) on the other, I would have to say that I regularly and naturally gravitate towards the destruction end. 

It’s like there’s a big magnet on the self-harm end and it really takes a tremendous effort for me to take up residence on the creation, or self-care side….

 

 

 Monkey House.

Click here ^. 

Join the conversation.

 

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The Uncomfort Zone

There’s a place in your life that’s neither light nor dark, warm nor cold, where things don’t quite work but where you stay because it’s familiar.

You stay because you know this place like the back of your hand, every dark corner, every lump in the carpet, every draft. 

You stay because you can find your away around it with your eyes closed. Which, in fact, is just what you do.

There’s pain here, but it’s the dull, tolerable kind.  The kind you know well.  The kind you’ve known forever.  The kind you cling to rather than risk something worse.  

That’s the signpost up ahead.

Next stop: the Uncomfort Zone.

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Albert, 58, has been married three times.  His first two marriages ended in acrimonious divorce.  His third marriage is two years old, and his wife recently ended their couples counseling in tearful frustration.   Albert continues in therapy without her.  He reports their life has deteriorated into a series of hurtful arguments alternating with long silences.  Last week she told him she’d leave if she had someplace to go.  I ask how he thinks our work together is going.  “Really well,” he says.  “It’s very interesting.  I feel like I’m learning a lot.”

* * *

Barry, 38, sits on my sofa with his wife Beth.  They are new clients.  I ask why they’ve come.  Beth tells me Barry’s individual therapist thinks couples work is necessary.  “What led you to individual therapy?” I ask Barry.  He frowns.  “I have issues,” he says.  “You drink, and you play video games, and that’s all you do,” the wife says.   Barry frowns harder.  “Do you have a problem with alcohol?” I ask Barry.  “I have issues,” he repeats.  The wall appears impenetrable.  After twenty minutes I suggest Barry wait outside while I talk to Beth alone.  He brightens, stands and walks quickly to the door.  Then he turns back to his wife.  “Can I borrow your iPad?” he asks.

* * *

Carly, 43 and a social worker, is more depressed this week than last.  Last week she was more depressed than the week before.  This slide began last year, with her transfer out of the counseling job she loved into an administrative job she hates, under a supervisor she considers an idiot.  Now she visits her doctor monthly to request tweaks of her medication.  Asked what’s depressing her, she shrugs: “No idea.”   I tell her that I think what she needs is work — real, meaningful work she enjoys, that brings out the best in her and makes her feel valuable.  I suggest she network, go on interviews, or consider private practice.  I also suggest she pursue the hobbies — cooking, dancing, yoga — she once used to feed and express herself.  She shakes her head.  “I’m too tired for any of that now,” she sighs.  “I need to save my energy for the stupid job.”   

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Debbie, 23, is crying.  “You don’t love me,” she tells her boyfriend David, who’s sitting beside her on my sofa looking miserable.  After three months of Debbie complaining of his silence and begging him to be more open with her, David has finally risked telling her about something he dislikes in their relationship.  “I’m not good with words,” he said.   “We never talked in my family.  So when I try I get nervous.  I’m scared to hurt your feelings.  And the more you push me to talk, the scareder I get.”  “Good for you, David,” I say.  “I know how hard that was.”  Debbie wipes her nose with a tissue.  “So you don’t really love me,” she repeats.

* * * 

Eddie, 42, is angry at his son Evan.  “Everything scares him,” he tells me.  “He’s scared to go to school.  Scared he’ll fail Math.  Scared to try out for teams.  Scared to ask a girl out.  What the fuck?”  He shakes his head.  I ask what happens when he tries to talk to Evan, who’s 15.  “What do you think?” Eddie snorts.  “He acts scared of me.”  I ask what Evan’s fear looks like.  “He sort of shrinks into himself.  Gets quiet.  Avoids eye contact.  I can tell he just wants me to shut up and leave him alone.”  “How’s that make you feel?” I ask.  “Furious,” Eddie says.  “I’m his father.  I’m trying to help him.”  “And what do you say?” I ask.  “I say, ‘I’m your father.  I’m trying to help you.  What the fuck?'”

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We read the world wrong and say that it deceives us.           ~ Rabindrath Tagore

I’ve heard someone say that our problems aren’t the problem; it’s our solutions that are the problem.  ~ Anne Lamott  

When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. ~ Abraham Maslow

Only a concerted effort to sort out the specific nature of our personal programming can offer hope of change, of new choices. ~ James Hollis

The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them. ~ Albert Einstein

 

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Overheard at the House:

 

I’m probably addicted to control too.  The way I’ve attempted to control things is to pull further and further within myself and my own world.  I got hurt at work.  Now I don’t work.  I got hurt by friends.  Now I don’t have friends. I’m hurt by family.  So, I’m very careful when I’m with them.  But, I don’t feel safer.  I can’t control myself.  Now, I’m with myself more than ever before!  I don’t think I thought that through…

 

Monkey House. 

Click here ^

and join the conversation.

 

* * *

 

Coming soon:

From the monkeys who brought you 

Bert’s Therapy, The Tribe and Monkey House,

a new cartoon strip about secret thoughts:

 

The Dark

   


The tribe: Expectations

 

Most people feel anxious in group without really understanding why.

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Personally I think it’s because, on some deep level, the group reminds us of our family of origin.

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And we expect it to treat us just as our family did.

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So tell me.  If this group were your family, what would you be expecting now?

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To get hit.

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To be ignored.

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Pink?  What would you expect?

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All of the above.

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Jeez.

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So you all have good reason to feel anxious in this room.

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But I have to ask Pink:

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How’d you work up the courage to even come here?

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Two beers, half a pizza, and a Vicodin.

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Group therapy. 

In Hebrew. 

“Hello, this is Fear Management. 

“My name is Moni, and I too have a phobia. 

“I have a fear of shouting. 

“You know, a, h, h, h, exclamantion mark, ‘ahhh’!

“At this point I suggest we all tell about ourselves…” 

 

Excerpt from the Israeli TV show “Ktzarim”:  Five troubled people (that description includes the group leader) meet for group therapy.  In Hebrew with English subtitles (2:22).

 

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Overheard at the House:

Eventually, and every time, I used to drive my current partner insane with my hang ups and he broke off the relationship….

So I decided only I could change and needed to put my – sorry to be blunt – infantile behaviour aside and choose blind trust, no matter the outcome….

Result: I came to accept that my life is my life and not dependent on anyone else for survival or safety – and in a way I was going to be alone, with or without a partner: it’s part of the human condition….

 

Come. 

Join the conversation

Monkey House.

Because we’re all monkeys on this bus.

 

 

 

 

 



House moving

Don’t look now, but:

 

WE’RE ALREADY MOVING.

Glitches reported by new members trying to join our new Monkey House forum (hosted by HyperBoards) suggest that maybe we needed a new home.

So we moved.  Our new site is  also called MONKEY HOUSE (and subtitled “Because we’re all monkeys on this bus”), and you can find it here:

http://monkeyhouseforum.wordpress.com/

It’s a WordPress site, and so Monkeytraps’s new sister.

We hope and expect Monkeytraps and Monkey House will cross-pollinate.

We also expect it will give us more room to spread out.  Already we’ve created five new rooms (still unfurnished — anyone got a spare Mr. Coffee?) where you can go to meet and talk about the control issues that most bedevil you, including

The idea of control
Control and feelings
Control and relationships
Control and parenting
Control and self-care

And then there’s the sixth, called The bathroom.  Strictly for venting. Frustrated?  Furious?  Depressed?  Dump it here, friend.  Just close the door when you leave.

Come one.

Come all.

Tell your friends.

See you at the house.

love,
~ Bert & Steve


The Tribe: Validation

 

You all know me, but not each other.  So let’s find out what you’re doing here. 

Why did each of you join this group?

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Come on, be honest.  Why are you here?

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It was your idea.

It was your idea.

It was your idea.

It was your idea.

It was your idea.

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My idea?  That’s the reason?

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Hm.

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Well, needing to please your therapist isn’t very therapeutic.  Maybe we should rethink this.

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What if we cancel groupHow would you feel?

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Come on, be brave.  How would you feel about stopping right now?

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Yippee.

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Yes.  Yippee.

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You better be careful.

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Someone might mistake you for a group.

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About validation

One of the most important emotional skills is the skill of validation.
It is a skill because it can be learned.
Whether it is or ever will be part of the academic or corporate measures of emotional intelligence, I really don’t know.
But I do know that if you want to have better relationships with people, the skill of emotional validation is extremely useful.
The relationship will be better because with more validation you are going to have less debating, less conflicts, and less disagreement.  You will also find that validation opens people up and helps them feel free to communicate with you.
In fact, if there is a communication breakdown, if there is a wall between you and someone else, it probably has been built with the bricks of invalidation 
Validation is the means of chipping away at the wall and opening the free flow of communication.

~ From “Emotional validation: Introduction” at EQI.org.

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Visited

Monkey House

yet?

 

  

No?

What are you waiting for?

 

What’s Monkey House?  Read this.

Then click here to join the conversation.  (Go to “Do you need to register a new member?” at the top.)

We’re asking, “What’s the most difficult control issue you’re facing now?“

A recent exchange:

Hi Bert and Members, 
       Cutting through the fear barrier of speaking out.  Here goes: 

       My control issue:  wanting validation as a person, in an individual sense.
       Always, no matter what the situation, I’m pushed to the outer, disregarded, invalidated and not included, the invisible factor engulfs.  As much as I try, 30+ years of trying, same result.  I can do my job, very well if I may say so myself, and yet everything/everyone stays out of arm’s reach to the point of utter loneliness. Smiley

        Thanks Bert And Steve.  After reading your blog for nearly 6 months, I’ve become aware of how the issue of control infiltrates so many aspect of our lives while recognizing both the healthy and unhealthy aspects of control. Smiley

 

Hey, David.  Thanks for cutting through. Smiley

Odd you should mention validation.  That just happens to be the title of our next Monkeytraps post (due Sunday 5/13.)  It’s also a subject on which we both have thoughts.

Steve:  The need for validation is legitimate, inescapable, and the biggest damn monkeytrap I know, since it forces us to try — endlessly and in countless ways, not always conscious or healthy — to get what we need from other people.  And as with most forms of control, the more of it you need, the less you seem to get.  It’s also why having at least one reasonably healthy relationship is more or less essential to happiness.

Bert:  God, I hate needing validation.  I grew up hungry for it, so hungry that I used to avoid relationships just to avoid being disappointed.  That didn’t work, of course, since it was like starving myself in order to avoid food poisoning.  Eventually I had to take the risk again with people.  A pain in the ass, people, but also the only game in town.

 


Welcome to Monkey House

 

Hey.

You, with the banana.

Come in.

Sit. 

Visit.

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Welcome to

Monkey House. 

 

 

 

Hi guys,

 

No, it’s not a real house.

It’s a sort of experiment. 

And it’s my bright idea. 

I’ll explain:

The other day, after Steve’s session with a new client who turned out to have (surprise) control addiction, I found myself remembering the bad old days. 

I mean the days before I knew I was addicted to control.

I remembered how miserable I was, and how clueless.  How I had no idea what was hurting me.  Why I felt so anxious, and depressed, and stuck.

Then I remembered how — after realizing that I’d been making myself sick trying to control stuff that couldn’t or shouldn’t be controlled — I had no idea what to do next. 

No freaking idea. 

See, it’s one thing to notice that your Plan A is unhealthy.  It’s quite another to create a Plan B.

I remembered all the years it took me to come up with mine.  All the reading and writing, thinking and worrying.  All the mistakes.

Also the loneliness.  I remembered how often I wished there was someone to talk with about this control stuff. 

Then I thought of those of you who’ve written to us over the past year, asking the same questions that used to confuse the hell out of me.  

And I said to myself: “Self, wouldn’t it be nice it to have a place where we could talk to each other?”

And my self answered: “Yes.”

So I created Monkey House.

It’s a brand-new forum, hosted by a forum-hoster named HyperBoards, just for us monkeys.  (AKA codependents.  AKA control addicts.  AKA human beings.) 

It’s a place to connect with other monkeys who are struggling with the same pain, confusion and loneliness.  To chat, discuss, question, answer, argue, commiserate, and generally be there for each other while we try to avoid (or escape) the inevitable monkeytraps of our daily lives.

Oh yeah, and admission is free.

You’re cordially invited to visit.  

Just click here.   (Go to “Do you need to register a new member?” at the top.)  You’ll be asked to register a user name and a password and confirm that you’re human.    

Then you can pull up a chair and (if you want) reflect on our very first discussion question:

“What’s the most difficult control issue you’re facing now?”  

I can’t wait to hear your answers.

Can’t wait to see where this experiment goes.

See you at the house.

love,

Bert

PS:  New to the Monkeytraps community? Visit our home page and read START HERE.

   

 

Welcome to

Monkey House.

 

 


The tribe

 

Hi, everyone.

Welcome to group.

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You’re all nervous, I know.

That’s perfectly normal.

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You should start to relax as you get to know each other.

You have lots in common.

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So let’s start.  

Who’d like to introduce themselves first?

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I’d like to go home.

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I may throw up.

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I’d prefer a smaller group.

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Would it help if I left?

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God.  This is such bullshit.

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2=

There.

Everyone feel better?

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2

3

4

5

1=

2= 

* * *

 

Somewhere along the line, we therapists got the idea that there is such a thing as a safe space.

 

There is not.

 

Maybe, at best, there’s the “safe enough space.”  But let’s take a look at what safe often stands in for.

 

When someone says, “I don’t feel safe,” they are often trying to use that expression of feeling to manipulate their environment, rather than check in with us about their emotional state.

 

Safe is often a code word for “I want you to do something different,” such as:

 

Safe means you take responsibility for my lack of caution

 

Safe means you have to respond to me in a conscripted way

 

Safe means you can or can’t say things if they’ll cause an unpleasant feeling in me.

 

~ From “There’s no such thing as a safe place” by Mike Langlois, LICSW.

 


Bert’s therapy: Feel

The last session upset me.

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2

3

Did it? 

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2

3

Yes.  And I told Feel about it, and it upset her too.

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2

“Feel”?

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2

3

 

 

Felicia.  That’s my nickname for her.

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2

Oh.  Bert and Feel.  Cute. 

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2

3

 

bert-4

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2

3

So what upset you?

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2

3

Your suggestion that we have no faith in relationships.

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2

You think I’m wrong?

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2

3

 

No, we think you’re right.  That’s what’s upsetting.

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2

Well, good. 

1

2

3

What’s good about it?

1

2

3

Better upset than in denial.

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2

3

Kind of scary, though.

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2

3

It is that.

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2

3

bert-9

1

Relationship is the best hope a human being has for happiness.  So people without faith in relationships…

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3

Are basically screwed.

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2

 

If they want to be happy, yes. 

1

 

2

3

Well, we’ve decided to work on it together.

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2

Good for you.

1

2

3

 

 

What’s the first step?

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2

3

I’d like to meet Feel.

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2

3

(stares)

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2

3

(waits) 

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2

 

3

Is that absolutely necessary?

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2

Kind of.  What’s your concern? 

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3

 

 

I don’t know what will happen.

1

What are you afraid might happen?

1

2\

3

 

 

 

Hell, I don’t know.  I just know that I…don’t know.

1

Threatens your sense of control?

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2

3

 

 

Bet your ass.

1

Well, we can put it off.  But I’d like you to think about something. 

1

2

3

 

 

What?

1

2

Control is what we lean on when we have no faith.

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2

3

 

It is?

1

Sure.  It’s when we lack faith that things will be okay that we feel compelled to make them okay. 

1

23

 

 

 

bert-20

1

So scary as it might be, if you want to develop any faith you’re going to have to start giving up some control. 

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3

 


ONE WEEK LATER:

13

BERT

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Nice to meet you, Feel.

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2

3

* * *

 

Trust isn’t an emotion.

It’s a learned behavior that we gain from past experiences.

It is hope and dependability, and putting confidence in someone.

Trust is also a risk.

But you can’t be successful when there’s a lack of trust in a relationship that results from an action where the wrongdoer takes no repentance or responsibility to fix the mistake.

Unfortunately, we’ve all been victims of betrayal.

Whether we’ve been stolen from, lied to, misled, or cheated on, there are different levels of losing trust, some more devastating than others.

Regaining trust can seem as likely as winning the lottery.

Sometimes people simply can’t trust anymore – they’ve been too badly hurt and they can’t bear to be that vulnerable again.

It’s understandable, but if you’re willing to build trust in a relationship again, we have some tips.
  

 

Three judges

 

Last week,

in a secret location,

a secret meeting

was held:

8

 

 *

*

 

*

*

*

*

  *

*

*

*

*

*

 *

Thus ended the judging

of the first-ever

Bert Mug contest. 

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AND THE 

WINNING CAPTION 

IS:

 

 

7

Congratulations to

RL 

(of the great state of Florida)

who will soon receive this:

 

  

And thanks to all of you

who sent us submissions.

*

 We had great fun judging them.

 *

*

(You guys are hilarious.)

 

 

* * *

 

I’m a therapist with an odd specialty: control issues. I see everything as related to control.

I think we’re all addicted to it, that this addiction causes most (maybe all) our emotional problems, and that any therapy worth the name helps us redefine our understanding and relationship to control.

Today a new client asked me, “How exactly do we develop this addiction?”

“We’re born that way,” I told her. “We’re born with this big, overdeveloped brain that keeps us scared and worried and trying to control everything and everybody. Sort of like a paranoid computer run amuck. In the East they call this computer monkey mind.”

That’s only half an explanation, though. Some people are obviously more controlling than others. (Think: Mom.) Why is that, if we’re all dominated by monkey mind?

The other half of the answer has to do with Plan A.

From Psychotherapy: Beyond Plan A, by Steve, recently republished on the Recovery Help Now website.

* * *

Coming Soon:

*

Monkeytraps 101:

Bert’s Crash Course in Control

which will be sent to everyone on our mailing list.

(If  you’re not on, you can get there just by

sending us an email to fritzfreud@aol.com.

with SUBSCRIBE in the subject line.)

 


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