Last time I mentioned that Steve created me to get control of his emotional life.
I tried to do that by controlling everything and everyone around me.
I call this my Plan A.
It included hiding his feelings, wearing masks to impress other people, and reading their minds – i.e., guessing what they liked or wanted and trying to give it to them.
It also included sending him to social work school.
Social work didn’t interest me. I wanted Steve to be a therapist, and that seemed the fastest way.
Why did I want him to be a therapist?
Therapists know stuff civilians don’t. I saw them as special, something like priests, possessed of secret knowledge and understanding. I liked that idea. I wanted in on that.
I also thought a therapist’s position allowed him to get really close to other people without exposing too much of himself. Since people scared me, I liked that idea too. I liked it a lot.
Finally, I figured if anyone’s in control of their emotional lives and their relationships, it must be therapists.
What did I know? I’m a monkey.
So I sent Steve off to social work school.
And he graduated.
And got hired as a therapist.
And began to work.
And discovered (surprise) that he couldn’t follow Plan A and do his job.
At least, not competently.
Steve, explain why.
Because good therapy is all about healthy relationship. And you can’t create that and seek control at the same time.
You can’t, for example, seek control and have real communication. Real communication means surrendering control, being honest and real and, yes, vulnerable. Therapists have to do all that within professional boundaries, of course. But editing out all realness and vulnerability leaves a relationship cold, unreal, and sterile. Which solves nothing and helps nobody.
Nor, I found, can a therapist overcontrol his own feelings and do good work. It’s feelings that connect us, allow us to understand other people. When I overcontrolled mine I lost touch with my clients. When I lost touch, I did bad therapy.
It quickly became apparent that what therapy demanded from Steve was essentially the reverse of our Plan A. Instead of guarding against feelings, he had to trust them. Instead of handling people, he had to connect with them instead.
This was disturbing. I began to think I’d made a terrible mistake.
Then around this time Steve, suddenly and unexpectedly, burped up a poem.
Steve, describe that.
It came out of nowhere. I was lying in bed one night and heard the thing writing itself.
It began, “The truth is like a bear in the house.”
And it went on to describe how, if you’re trapped in a house with a bear, you have only two choices: run away and wait for the bear to find you, or turn around and hunt the bear.
At first I had no clue what this was about.
It took weeks to realize that my personal bear is the idea of control.
And so you set out to hunt it.
Right. I figured the poem was like a telegram from my unconscious. Part of me sending a message to another part.
And when I brought bear-hunting to my work, I got another surprise.
I discovered that control isn’t just my bear.
I saw that controlling is addictive, its patterns predictable and universal, and that they cause nearly all of the problems people bring to a therapist.
I saw that anxiety, depression, addictions, bad relationships and lousy parenting all stem from someone trying to control something they can’t or shouldn’t control.
And eventually I learned that a day comes — if we’re lucky — when we realize that controlling simply doesn’t work as a life strategy.
That’s the day we shift to Plan B.
Describe that shift.
We start to notice our own controlling, catch ourselves in the act, learn and practice healthy alternatives. We stop trying to control life and find ways to accept and cooperate with it.
And a great relief follows.
That feeling is hard to describe. It’s like you suddenly find yourself sanding with the grain, instead of against.
Or like giving yourself permission to stop swimming against the tide of feelings and events, and letting it carry you along instead.
Friends, consider this an invitation:
Come join the hunt.
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“Love is how we ask for peace”
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Afghanistan seems so far away. Here’s a video (1:34) that brings it closer: