Monthly Archives: December 2012


(2012) 12-30 -- 18. You shall love your crooked neighbor.



Happy New Year, fellow crooks.



We try to combat not being enough by pleasing, and performing, and perfecting.

We go through our lives trying to be who we think we’re supposed to be,

doing and saying what we think people want to hear,

putting on whatever mask or face we think we need to put on for that moment.

And what that leaves us is, exhausted.


10-16 -- Brene Brown

~ From The gifts of imperfection

by Brene Brown.

Red pills

red pill 2 (12-18-12)

A guy goes to a doctor.

A guy goes to a doctor. 

“Doc, I’m in awful pain.  Please help me.”

“Okay,” says the doc.  “Here’s two pills.   Take the blue one in the morning, and the red one at night.”

“I’ll take the blue one,” the guys says, “but not the red one.”

“Why not?”

“I hate red.” 

This joke kept floating into my mind last week because of a string of conversations I found myself having.

They were conversations with

~ an alcoholic who drinks due to loneliness but won’t leave his isolation to attend AA,

~ a mom who craves a close relationship with her daughter but won’t stop telling her what to do,

~ a husband who wants his wife to forgive his affair but walks away when she tries to talk about her feelings of hurt and anger, and

~ a wife and mother exhausted from meeting everyone else’s needs, but who won’t say No to any demand made of her.

Each in considerable pain.  Each avoiding some obvious step to relieve it.

Each saying I hate red.

Therapists call this help-seeking, help-rejecting behavior, and it reflects a largely unconscious cost/benefit analysis.  On some level each of these people has decided that the discomfort of solving their problem would be greater than the discomfort  caused by the problem itself.  (I hate this pain, but I hate red more.)

Pretty common, this.  We all have red pills.  They’re what we make New Year’s resolutions about.  Things we should do but just can’t stop avoiding.

Exercise more.  Watch less tv.  Eat less sugar.  Ask for that raise.  Write that damned book.

There are tons of books and articles about how to handle this.  Just this morning  I came across two new ones: Leo Barbauta’s  “The Do Plan, or why we know but don’t do”and Jack Canfield’s “The power of determination.”

But what’s it all have to do with control?

Red-pill behavior illustrates what I call the Third Paradox*:

To get control in one place,

you have to give it up in another.

Want control of your weight?  Give up control of your food choices.  Want control of your loneliness?  Give up avoiding people.  Want your daughter’s company?  Stop controlling her.  And so on.

Here’s the key:

In practice, what “give it up in another”usually means is stop avoiding some uncomfortable feeling. 

Behind all controlling is the wish to control or manage feelings. Notice those examples above.  The alcoholic is managing social anxiety.  The mom is managing frustration with her daughter’s life choices.  The husband is managing guilt over his affair.

But in backing away from those feelings they’ve backed into new problems.  So solving those problems will mean learning to tolerate the feelings they avoid.

Again, we all do this.  We always will.  We’re all control addicts.  It’s how we’re wired.  No point in beating yourself up over it.


If you have a problem of which you’re really really really sick and tired, you might reapproach it by noticing that’s it’s really a solution as well — your way of protecting yourself from some particular emotional experience.

This sort of redefinition is the essential first step towards any solution.


What’s the red pill in your life?



*Click here for descriptions of the First and Second paradoxes.


(2012) 12-15 -- Xmas tree.




Here at Monkeytraps we believe two things about expectations:

1. An expectation is an attempt to control something.

It’s a sort of demand we make on the future.

“It must be like this,” we tell ourselves.  “And if it’s not, I won’t be happy.”

Then it’s not.  And we’re not.

Which leads to my second thought:

2. Expectations are killers.

They kill all sorts of important living things.


Spontaneity.  Spontaneity means freedom — being able to express yourself without fear or constraint.   But expectations are both judgmental and constraining.  (Listen up, future: I want this to happen, and not that.)  Expecting A prevents you from accepting and embracing B, or C, or D.  That includes what comes to you from your environment and what comes up inside you, your own feelings and responses.  Expectations are emotional handcuffs.

Pleasure.  However else you define pleasure, it’s certainly a feeling.  And expectations generally undermine our ability to feel.  They’re born in our heads, while feelings live in our bodies.  They’re future-oriented, where feelings occur only in the now.  They’re controlling, where feeling (especially the feeling of pleasure) involves surrendering to an experience.  And they’re born out of fear (I really don’t want X to happen).  And nothing kills pleasure deader than fear.

Love.  Real love, the kind we all crave, depends on safety — knowing you can be yourself and not be punished for it.  How can you feel that if you’re worried about meeting someone’s expectations?  How can they feel it if they’re worrying about meeting yours?

You may wonder why I’m writing about expectations just now.

Well, Christmas is coming.

‘Tis the season to be expecting.

And expectations are the main reason so many people suffer emotionally at this time of year.

We expect to feel a certain way, and usually don’t.

We buy with one eye on what people expect of us, and the other on what we expect of them.

And we compare where we are this December to where we were last December, and to where we’d expected to be by now.

Let’s be realistic, though.  Expectations are difficult to give up.  No one who reads this is going to suddenly stop expecting.

But you can take note of what you’re expecting.

And you can distinguish the expectations that are really important from the one are just bad habits.

And you can consider tossing out a few of the less important ones.

See how you feel.

Better, I bet.

Lighter.  Freer.  More accepting.  More loving.

Not a bad way to feel heading into a new year.



12-15-12 -- Italian flash mobIn an Italian plaza, orchestra and chorus assemble one by one, and perform Beethoven’s Ode to Joy for delighted passers-by.

Watch and smile:

Ode to joy.  (5:41)


Supplies 7 (bite & fork)Recently a husband struggling to save his marriage from his own infidelity asked me the saddest question I’ve heard in years:

“What kind of a person would cheat on his wife just because he thought he could get away with it?”

“A hungry blind man,” I said.

I went on to explain how I see narcissism.  It happens to people, I said, who didn’t get what they needed in childhood.  This left them emotionally hungry, painfully and chronically so.  And their hunger makes them preoccupied with feeding themselves and blind to the needs and feelings of others.

That, as I said, is how I see narcissism.

Here’s the thing, though:

We’re all a little hungry and a little blind.

Most people enter adulthood having not received enough of what’s called narcissistic supplies – attention, acceptance, approval, affection, acknowledgement.  The five A’s.

Our need for these supplies is built into us, and non-negotiable.  We can’t not need them.  We need what we need because we need it.

Our only choice is how we go about feeding ourselves.  Narcissists do it by putting themselves first.  Codependents do it by putting others first.  But both act out of the same hunger.

Narcissists and codependents have three other things in common:

~ They’re externally focused — i.e., intent on getting other people to feed them.  Among other things, this makes them not very skilled at self-care.

~ They have an either/or view of relationships.  “Either you’ll get what you need”  they reason,  “or I’ll get what I need.  But we both can’t get what we need at the same time.”  This logic forces them to approach relationships as a sort of competition.

~ The either/or view also sabotages their chance for healthy relationship, which is  rooted in the idea of mutuality: that what’s good for you is ultimately good for me, and vice versa.

So what to do about all this?

We can start by becoming more aware of two things: how hungry we are for narcissistic supplies, and how we go about trying to get fed.

What’s not helpful?

Pretending we don’t need what we need.

Denial doesn’t make needs shrink or go away.  It just invites them to take over our lives.

We need what we need because we need it.


For more on narcissism and codependency, see “Scratch a codependent” and “The split level relationship. 


Twenty years of practicing therapy makes you aware of certain patterns. 

One is the series of questions I ask clients struggling with an intractable problem:

  1. What have you done to solve it?
  2. What was the result?
  3. What did you do then?

My clients’ answers, too, tend to follow a pattern:

  1. I did X.
  2. It didn’t work.
  3. I did X again.

Ruth’s son is failing academically. He hates school and refuses to study.  This scares Ruth, so she forces him to go to summer school.  Result: Ruth’s son is failing academically.

Jay’s wife distrusts him since his affair.  “Tell me the truth,” she begs.  Jay craves her trust, but hates criticism and conflict.  So he keeps secrets and hides his feelings.  Result: Jay’s wife distrusts him.

Sandy feels inadequate and unlovable.  So she tries to win love and approval by solving everyone else’s problems.  This encourages everyone to bring their problems to Sandy, which she finds overwhelming and exhausting.  Result: Sandy feels inadequate and unlovable.

Bert struggles with writer’s block.  Fearing failure, he finds ways to avoid working on his book.  The more he avoids writing, the larger his fear of failure looms.  Result: Bert struggles with writer’s block.

And so on.

Here’s the thing:

Whatever our goal may be, our deepest priority is usually emotional comfort.

It’s why we cling to our so-called comfort zones.

It’s also why we’d rather do something familiar and ineffective than something new that might actually work.

So, like snakes eating their own tails, we go around and around in the same circles.

“Insanity,” wrote Einstein, “is doing the same thing and expecting different results.”

Take a look at your most persistent problems.

You may find that you’re just a bit crazy.


beyond control 3


The world we live in now is a world stuck in fast-forward.


A world obsessed with speed, with doing everything faster, with cramming more and more into less and less time.


Every moment of the day seems like a race against the clock.


To borrow a phrase from Carrie Fisher, “These days, even instant gratification takes too long.”


And if you think about how we try to make things better, what do we do?


Well, we speed them up, don’t we?


We used to dial; now we speed-dial.


We used to read; now we speed-read.


We used to walk; now we speed-walk.


We used to date; now we speed-date…. 


We’re so marinated in the culture of speed that we fail to notice the toll it takes on every aspect of our lives — on our health, our diet, work, our relationships….


12-2-12 -- Carl Honore

~ From

Carl Honore praises

slowness (19:18).





(2012) 12-2 -- 168. Be mindful how you approach time (no caption)

Be mindful how you approach time.  Watching the clock is not the same as watching the sun rise.  
~ Sophia Bedford-Peirce



* * *

Beyond Control is a collection of articles, talks, interviews and whatnot illustrating how different people practice the three alternatives to control – surrender, responsibility and intimacy.  
Read more about the alternatives here: 

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