Monthly Archives: June 2012
Years ago I used to run for exercise.
And I remember reading a little book about running which reduced the process of training to three simple rules:
Push meant stretching myself, working to increase my strength and stamina by gradually running farther or faster or longer.
Rest meant pausing between workouts, giving my body time to recuperate and build new muscle.
And Listen meant paying attention to what my body was telling me in order to decide whether I needed to be Pushing or Resting.
Eventually I decided I was too neurotic to be a runner. I just couldn’t follow all three rules. I was able to Push just fine, but Resting made me uncomfortable — anxious and guilty. And Listening? Deaf as a post.
So what’s my running history have to do with anything?
This: These same rules apply to recovery.
I don’t care what you’re recovering from — addiction, depression, emotional trauma, physical illness, whatever. There will be times when you need to push, times you need to rest, and times you need to listen.
For me, as a recovering control addict,
~ Push means stretching beyond my comfort zone by doing the opposite of whatever I usually do.
This means different things on different days. It might mean expressing a feeling I’d rather stuff, telling a truth I’d rather ignore, tackling a chore I’d rather avoid, or starting a project I’d prefer to forget entirely.
Pushing often feels like cutting my way through jungle with a machete. The jungle is all those years of tangled fears, scared projections and bad habits that keep me stuck, feeling like a kid in an adult’s body.
Pushing can be hard work.
But there’s no recovery without it.
~ Rest means the opposite of Pushing.
You know, to take a break.
To actually breathe.
Or maybe nap. Walk on a beach. Eat a candy bar. Read a mystery. Draw or paint something. Watch the sun set. Reflect. Regroup.
Easy and pleasant, right?
Like most control addicts I tend towards workaholism, a compulsion to keep planning and moving and doing. It allows me to stay in my head and avoid feelings.
So there are times when it takes a real effort — even courage — to stop playing Energizer Bunny and let myself feel whatever’s happening inside.
Which means Resting can be difficult. Sometimes it feels like just another sort of Pushing.
But there’s no recovery without it.
~ Listen means to change channels — to say “Shut up” to my own mind and tune into my body instead.
By mind, of course, I mean monkey mind, that whispering, worrying, scolding and mocking voice that keeps me permanently on guard against life.
Mind also means Dog, that self-critical part whose sole mission in life is to chew endlessly on the sore ankle of my self-esteem.
Neither of these parts wants me to Listen to my body. They want me listening only to them.
Which I usually do.
Which can be pretty damned risky.
Because mind tends to be, well, crazy. It absolutely believes in the illusion of control and spends all its time trying to grab more. Behind this control-seeking are all the bad memories, scared projections, and false truths it’s absorbed and held onto since I was a baby.
In short, mind is full of shit.
But my body tells me the truth if I let it.
Listening to what my body says is the only reliable way I know to figure out what I really need: when I need to pee, or rest, or eat, or take a walk, or take a hot bath, or meditate, or sit and talk with my wife.
I admit it. I have to really work at Listening.
Like Resting, it takes practice, and more than a little guts.
But I don’t have much choice about whether I practice or not.
Because there’s no recovery without it.
* * *
and Bert will read this post to you:
* * *
He found himself Listening.
And what he heard was a tiny voice.
And the tiny voice whispered, “Go fishing.”
Since he’s no more a fisherman than he is a runner, Bert knew the voice was whispering metaphorically.
He knew what it meant was, “Stop working. Take care of yourself. Practice what you preach, already.”
So Monkeytraps is going on vacation.
We’ll resume posting new stuff on Sunday, July 8.
Meanwhile, check our our new page, Bert Reads, to hear Gumdrop Head read some of his posts.
And our forum Monkey House remains open to visitors, venters, questioners, answerers, and the occasional runaway.
See you in two weeks.
And while we’re away, please take care of yourself too.
Because if you don’t, who will?
~ Steve & Bert
Today Bert answers questions from…
What do you mean by the word “control”?
How can I tell if I’m addicted to control?
What’s the worst part of being a control addict?
To hear Bert’s answers, click here:
* * *
What’s Q&A Thursday?
What’s his mission?
Why is his head shaped like a gumdrop?
We don’t know.
Other questions for Bert?
Post them in the Leave a Reply section or send them to Steve at email@example.com
* * *
Mary’s a painter.
She paints, as she puts it, in two gears.
In one gear she keeps her eye on the audience and produces paintings she hopes to sell. Landscapes. Still lifes. Pink clouds against blue sky. Her cat in a shaft of sunlight. Pretty pictures. She calls these her “careful” paintings.
In the other gear she focuses inward and tries to paint the feelings she hears. Anger at her husband. Grief for her dead father. Fear of her mother, and of people in general. Unpretty pictures. Abstracts, usually, in strong colors. She calls them “explosions.”
We’ve been working to help her explode more regularly.
Today the way she plops down on my sofa announces how the work has been going.
“Still constipated?” I ask.
She nods. When depressed, she dislikes talking.
“Tell me what happens.”
She shakes her head. “Same old shit. I lose focus. I start off listening, determined to really listen, just listen. And for a while I can. But then little things distract me. The phone rings. Eddie yells at the dog. A car with a bad muffler goes by. And I get distracted.” She sighs. “And I dry right up.”
We both know why this happens. As a child Mary spent most of her time with Mom, who was alcoholic, moody and unpredictable. She learned early on to focus on Mom, try to read her moods and guess her intentions, the way a fisherman far out to sea keeps a defensive eye on the weather.
She still does it. She does it everywhere, in all her relationships. She simply never learned how not to.
It’s a control thing.
In our first session I told her, “Kids who grow up in threatening environments usually become control-addicted. That’s because they decided the only way to ever feel safe was to anticipate and fend off external dangers. To try to control people, places and things.
“And that made perfect sense, when they were kids.
“But it’s no basis for an adult life. Because you end trying to control everything. And since nobody can control Everything, you keep failing and feeling more confused and inadequate. What you thought would make you feel safe ends up making you feel…”
“Crazy,” she finished.
“Crazy, yes. But also scared and helpless. Like you’re still that kid.”
We’d hoped she could use painting to feel less crazy by giving her practice in shifting attention from outside to inside. Maybe then she could express some of the feelings she learned long ago to stuff.
But a weather eye like Mary’s is not surrendered easily. And creative explosion feels like a death-defying act.
“Are you up for an experiment?” I ask.
She eyes me. “Maybe.”
“When do you paint? Same time every day?”
“No,” she says. “When I feel like it.”
“Okay, so this experiment has two parts. The first part is to establish a routine. You pick a time to paint, and then you paint at that time every day, without fail.”
“Okay,” she says uneasily. “And the second part?”
“You paint with your body.”
“You paint only what you feel. Take a breath, and then another, and tune into your stomach. Whatever feeling you find there, paint that. Don’t think about it. Let your stomach do the painting. Colors and shapes only. Nothing representational. And paint fast. That’s it.”
“Yes. See what happens.”
“But what if I get distracted? What if the phone rings? What if…”
“You want to be a painter? The kind who can explode?”
She nods. “I really do.”
“Buy ear plugs.”
(To be continued.)
* * *
There are at least four types of explosions that a — let’s call it a healthy person for the time being– must be able to experience.
These are: anger, joy, grief and orgasm….
Now these explosions in themselves are not the meaning of life or existence. They are a kind of energy that bursts, so to say, a dam, and links up with the authentic person. So that the feeling, the ability to participate, to be emotionally involved, becomes possible.
Once you’re through the explosive layer, the authentic person, the real person comes through.
~ From Gestalt Therapy Verbatim by Fritz Perls.
* * *
I propose a new form of courage of the body: the use of the body…for the cultivation of sensitivity.
This will mean the development of the capacity to listen with the body.
It will be, as Nietsche remarked, a learning to think with the body.
It will be a valuing of the body as means of empathizing with others, as expression of the self as a thing of beauty, and as a rich source of pleasure.
~ From The courage to create by Rollo May.
* * *
Art making is
a way of dwelling in
whatever is before us
that needs our attention.
~ From Art is a way of knowing by Pat Allen.
* * *
Q & A Thursday
Didn’t get the memo? Read all about it here.
A note from Steve:
Welcome to Q & A Thursday.
Here’s how this particular brainstorm got started:
One night we’re sitting around talking about how tickled we both are at all the visitors who keep showing up at Monkey House.
And I say, “I can’t believe we’re actually having conversations about control. I mean finally. I went through ten years — grad school plus training plus clinical practice — without getting to talk about it even once.”
“Yeah,” Bert says. “Isn’t it weird how everyone ignores it?”
“I know. And it’s everywhere. It’s the elephant in every living room.”
“A slippery elephant, though.”
“Yes. That’s a good word. In fact, whenever we talk about it I worry that we’re losing or confusing people. And it’s not like in therapy, where they can ask questions.”
“Well,” Bert says, “you could invite them to.”
Good old Bert.
I think for a moment.
“That’s an idea,” I say. “But I have a better one. They could ask you the questions instead.”
“Me? Why me?”
“You’re the addict, brother. You speak from firsthand experience.”
“Well, yeah. But I relapse like every ten minutes.”
“That’s my point. You know how hard it is to recover.”
“But you know that too.”
“It’s not the same thing. I know it professionally. You know it personally. And that could help them feel less embarrassed about being addicts themselves.”
“Oh,” he says. “Like in self-help meetings.”
“Exactly. And one more thing.”
“Of the two of us, you’re more adorable.”
Which is how I convinced him. Because like all codependents, Bert is a secret narcissist.
* * *
So the plan is to henceforth reserve each Thursday for Q & A with Bert.
You provide the Q. He (with assistance from less-adorable me) will pick those he thinks he can answer. Then he’ll record his answers for you to hear.
Guidelines for questions:
1. They should concern the idea of control and the role it plays in your life. This might include control’s relationship to feelings, relationships, communication, emotional problems, parenting, physical health, self-care, spirituality, creativity and happiness. What do you find yourself trying to control? What do you wish you could control better? Or control less? You get the idea. It’s a big elephant.
2. You can submit questions either publically or privately. Public questions can be left in the Comments section at the end of each Monkeytraps post. Private questions can be mailed to Steve directly at fritzfreud.com.
3. All questions are subject to editing for length, language and/or clarity.
* * *
Finally, Bert has something to say. A self-introduction of sorts.
Click here to hear it:
(This is an mp3 file. On my computer it plays automatically in Windows Media Player. Your default player may be different. Let me know if you have trouble playing it. I’m not too tecchy, but maybe together we can figure it out.)
I look forward to your questions.
Stage fright notwithstanding, I know Bert does too.
See you next Thursday.
* * *
A Bert Mugging, cont’d.
As mentioned last time, BertMugMania has forced us to start offering these little beauties for sale.
And being altruistic as well as codependent, we’d like to do it as inexpensively as possible.
We’re currently in negotiations with several major mug manufacturers to get you the best price we can.
And — since the more mugs we order, the cheaper they’ll be — we’re asking anyone who’s interested in buying a Bert Mug to send us an email saying, “I’m interested in buying a Bert Mug.”
We should have a price quote by next week. We’ll order at the end of the month.
* * *
Bert, as you’ve never experienced him before.
a thrilling new feature:
In which your favorite Inner Monkey
answers YOUR questions
from the depths of
his own experience
he’ll be doing it…
In his own voice.
Yes, that’s right:
You don’t want to miss this.
Come back tomorrow.
Because God only knows what he’ll say.
Jill is pale and near tears.
They’re discussing Tupperware.
Two minutes ago Jack said, “I hate how it always falls out on the floor whenever I open the cabinet.”
“Well, that’s what Tupperware does,” Jill replied.
Jack frowns. Jill tenses. We’re off to the races.
As a trained mental health professional I can tell that there’s more going on here than meets the eye. Though a trained cocker spaniel would probably sense the same thing.
I start asking questions. Thirty minutes later I’ve learned that Jack coped with growing up in the chaos of his dysfunctional family by becoming a perfectionist who now regularly imposes his need for order on the people around him. And I’ve heard Jill describe how her mom used to prowl through her personal belongings, and how nowadays the only room in Jill’s life which feels remotely like hers is the kitchen.
Given those histories, Tupperware war was inevitable.
Axiomatic among therapists is the idea that most relationship problems boil down to problems with communication.
Fair enough. But the next questions are “Where do communication problems come from?” and “Why do they keep recurring?”
Here’s how I see it.
Communication tends to break down whenever partners either haven’t learned or have forgotten three key principles. The first is
(1) There’s no such thing as a grownup human being.
This is the secret truth behind the vast majority of emotional problems. Human beings grow faster physically than psychologically, so regardless of how big or old or emotionally healthy we are there’s always part of us that retains the feelings, perceptions and vulnerabilities of the child we once were. That part — the famous Inner Child you’ve probably heard about — is usually what gets triggered by criticism, rejection or conflict.
And when you and I keep having the same fight over and over, it’s a fair bet that the fight is really between your Child and mine.
Which leads to the second principle:
(2) All feelings are legitimate.
This actually means two things: that all feelings make sense, and that all feelings are worthy of respect.
Jack’s excessive anger at unruly Tupperware makes sense in light of how he’s come to associate external control with internal safety. Jill’s anxiety at Jack’s “invasion” of her kitchen and criticism of her housekeeping makes sense in light of how it reminds her of her mom’s disregard for personal boundaries.
Neither can help feeling what they’re feeling. Their only real choice is between feeling them secretly or out loud.
Which brings us to the third principle:
(3) Every conversation occurs on two levels.
Level 1 is the level of What We Talk About.
Level 2 is the level of How We Feel When We Talk About It.
Communication tends to break down when couples are unable to leave Level 1 and drop down to Level 2.
Jack and Jill will keep fighting about Tupperware because the fight isn’t about Tupperware at all. Tupperware’s just the trigger. The real issues are Jack’s need for a sense of order and safety, and Jill’s need for boundaries and respect.
More than any other, this principle explains why communication problems tend to recur and why couples repeat the same fight over and over.
When feelings are involved, Level 1 talk won’t resolve much, because Level 1 talk doesn’t address feelings. So we’re talking about the wrong thing.
And trying to resolve conflict by talking about the wrong thing is like mowing the tops off dandelions. Expect a new crop tomorrow.
* * *
Yesterday I drove my mother and father to the VA hospital in Albuquerque for a doctor’s appointment.
I had never been to a VA hospital before.
I guess I should have expected the numbers of crutches and canes, armless and legless veterans, young and weathered faces alike.
I was personally witnessing the costs endured when humans war against each other.
“Isn’t it odd,” I said to my mother, “that human beings war with each other?”
Why in the world do we do that?
Then I considered the ways in which we war on an interpersonal level.
We humans war to varying degrees with our partners, our friends, our bosses, our co-workers, our siblings, our parents—pretty much all in the name of our need to be “right” or the need not to be wrong.
~ From The freedom of not needing to be right by Hannah Eagle.
* * *
In the wake of our recent, glorious Bert Mug contest several readers wrote to ask if they could buy a Bert Mug.
“Sure,” Steve replied. “I can order some. But I’ve no idea what to charge.”
Then Bert had a bright idea.
“They’re cheaper in bulk, right?” he said. “So find out who else wants one, order a bunch and set the price accordingly.”
Steve now thinks Bert may be the smart one in the family after all.
Anyway, that’s what we’re doing.
If you’d like an original, not-available-in-stores (or anywhere else on the planet) Bert Mug, let us know sometime in the next couple of weeks. Steve’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’ll place our order at the end of the month.
A closer look before deciding? Here you go:
* * *
Lieberman watched the movie, trying to remember the name of the actor talking to Joan Crawford.
“You think my father is an asshole?”
Lieberman looked at his gandson, considered the question, and scratched his chin.
“No,” said Lieberman. “Who said he was?”
“You heard your mother tell someone on the phone.”
“Your father is not an asshole. Nor is your mother. They are both stubborn, confused, directionless, and self-destructive. That is the human condition. Watch this part here. Joan Crawford’s eyes. The way they go up.”
~ Stuart M. Kaminsky, Lieberman’s Day (Henry Holt, 1994).
I’m adding sugar when I first hear the sound. A tiny squeak, like a mouse crying. I stop to listen. The sound goes away.
I resume adding sugar. I hear the squeak again. Again I stop. Again the squeak evaporates.
“What the fuck,” I say aloud.
Do I believe in ghosts? I never thought about it before this.
I reach for the creamer. Again the mouse cries.
I look down. The tiny cry is coming from my bare feet, squeaking on the kitchen floor.
* * *
Yes, I believe in ghosts.
I don’t mean the barefoot kind. Not the “Paranormal Files” kind, either.
I mean the ones we inherit or create in our minds. The kind that haunts most of us, most of our lives.
I believe in them because I spend most of my days with haunted people.
~ Frank’s father was an angry, critical man with a keen eye for the inadequacies of others. Perfectionism is the ghost Frank inherited. It’s made him a workaholic, terrified of failure and rejection.
~ Gail’s mom was depressed and emotionally unavailable all through Gail’s childhood and adolescence. Helplessness is the ghost Gail inherited. It’s made her a career codependent, compulsively drawn to find and rescue emotionally damaged friends, lovers and strangers.
~ Hope is 16; her mom is a 38-year-old narcissist trying to recapture her youth by partying with friends each night and cheating on her husband. The ghost Hope inherited is the conviction I Am Unloveable. It’s made her a bulimic who occasionally cuts herself with razors.
~ Ian’s parents fought constantly while they were married, battled through their divorce, and continued to bicker afterwards. Fear of Conflict is that ghost Ian inherited. This family version of combat fatigue (aka PTSD) left him unable to assert himself in virtually any situation.
~ My own family never had enough money when I was growing up. Today I wrestle with a ghost I’ve named Not Enough to Go Around. It emerges to squeak in my ear whenever I fantasize about trying to make a profit, like raising fees or writing an ebook and offering it for sale.
Therapy with haunted people amounts to teaching them to better distinguish outside from inside. (This is a confusion common to all control addicts, who regularly confuse the two.) That’s because haunted people are absolutely convinced the ghosts exist outside — out there in the real world. We don’t realize that we import them into each new situation.
How to stop doing that? It varies from person to person. But the first step is always the same:
Identify the ghost as a ghost. As a belief, a prejudice, an anxiety we project onto the world.
One last thought:
The truth is, as much as they scare us, we love our ghosts.
They seem to explain something, and in a familiar way. There’s odd comfort in that. We adore our explanations.
That’s why we hold onto them so tight. That’s why it takes work to see them for what they really are, and authentic courage to let go of them.
Excuse me now. I have to go write.
* * *
~ John Milton
* * *
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.
~ From What we mean when we talk about control: Outside, inside by Steve Hauptman.
* * *
I hear hammering.
Yeah, me too.
What is it?
Renovation at Monkey House.
What are they building?
A new wing.
Can’t tell you. It’s a secret.
What’s this, some control game?
So you’re manipulating me.
Yep. Stay tuned.
I get angry.
“Shit, ” I say to myself. “Stupid. Stupid.”
“No, no,” another voice answers.
“You thought about this,” it says. “Last night 0n the drive home. You weighed the pros and cons and decided you were too tired to stop. Remember?”
I remember. My anger at myself fades.
End of story.
Why tell you this?
Because I found it remarkable.
Last year I published a post here which began,
I’d like to introduce you to my dog.
Please look down.
You’ll find him attached to my ankle.
Titled “Bert’s dog” (and accompanied by the disturbing illustration below), it went on to describe that part of me a Gestaltist would call my Top Dog, and other shrinky types might label my Inner Critic or Punitive Superego.
You know the part I mean. You’ve got one yourself.
It’s that inner voice that knows each of your faults and weaknesses and never lets you forget them.
The part which pretends it’s protecting you or moving your forward when actually it’s just making you hate yourself.
The part that behaves as if relentless self-criticism somehow gives you more control of your life instead of making you feel more and more helpless.
Anyway, I wrote about how I call mine Dog for short, how he’s scared and tortured me my whole life, and how I learned to live with him over the past six decades.
The post ended,
So. What to do with a dog like this?
Well, it helps me a lot to remember what I’ve learned about him. That Dog isn’t me, just the scared worried part. That he’s unappeasable, and that he lies, and that he’ll say or do anything to survive.
All this gives me some distance from his voice. It means when he starts growling I can say “Oh, you again. Shut up,” instead of taking him too seriously.
Which is just what I did in the kitchen this morning.
I found it remarkable because for so long — despite everything I tell clients and everything I tell myself — I was never entirely sure it would happen: that I’d actually outgrow the abusive voice that’s dogged me since childhood and replace it with a kinder, gentler inner parent.
Realizing that I had, standing there by the microwave, felt like a cool breeze on a hot day.
And the microwave’s bing sounded like music.
You, too, can train your Dog.
* * *
Self–talk refers to the dialogue that goes on inside your head when faced with conflict or life challenges or even simple day-to-day concerns.
This aspect of yourself has a running commentary about everything you do. It never lets anything go by with out some comment, remark or evaluation.
Becoming aware of this process is the first step in taking charge of this part of yourself that can create a lot of unnecessary stress.
The automatic reactions you have to this constant barrage of negative thoughts, judgments and evaluations can keep you feeling stressed and less able to meet life’s challenges.
~ From Self-talk and stress at lifematters.com
* * *
I thought something would have to descend on me. Or there would have to be a level of purification. Or there would have to be some alignment of the planets….
But he said, “Forget all that — that’s part of the conversation.
“Just stop right now. Just be still.”
~ From Silencing the mind by Gangaji (1:54).
* * *
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.
You’re on your own.
And you know what you know.
And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…
* * *