(A preface, sort of, to the upcoming
series Notes on Recovery)
It’s our wedding day, and my new wife’s cousin keeps taking photos of us. Each time he presses the shutter he chirps “I think you’re gonna like this picture,” a line from an old TV show.
The first time he says it I chuckle. The second time I smile politely.
By the tenth time I want to stab him in the face with a fork.
I was reminded of Cousin Forkface recently by a client who jokes compulsively. The more anxious he feels, the more he jokes. He’s knows he’s doing it but can’t help himself. It’s sad, and it’s irritating.
It’s also, of course, a controlling behavior.
Like those others I’ve written about here lately — compulsive apologizing (Apology), self-editing (Friends), comfort-seeking (Comfort), self-blame (All my fault), persevorating (Gum), reenacting old battles (Dandelion fights), blaming (Blaming), expecting (Killers) and giving up (Resigned).
Each of us has a jillion tricks like these — tactics we use to ease our way through life, increase pleasure, avoid discomfort, reduce anxiety, slip out of emotional tight spots.
They’re attempts to control our experience, what we feel.
Most are unconscious. We don’t realize we’re using them.
Most are harmless enough.
Some are merely annoying.
But some cause more problems than they solve.
And some actually make us (or people we care about) emotionally sick.
Our attempts to control stuff we either can’t or shouldn’t control lie at the root of our anxiety, depression, addictions, and nearly all our relationship problems.
They interfere with trust, safety, communication, intimacy, peace of mind, and love.
So it’s worth becoming more conscious of our unconscious trickiness, so we can distinguish the harmless tricks from the harmful.
And maybe avoid getting stabbed in the face.