Monthly Archives: December 2014

Happy New Year

(1-1-15) Happy new year FINAL

Second Paradox: Monkeyship

As I was saying, control addiction behaves paradoxically.

The Second Paradox is:



This is an interpersonal version of the First Paradox (“The more control you need, the less control you have”).

And what does it look like in action?


Heather wants to marry Ian, who’s scared of commitment.  So she pressures him to propose. This scares him, so he backs away. This scares her, so she steps up the pressure (“Why won’t you marry me?”).  Which makes him back away further and faster. And so on.


“He never talks to me,” Janet complains about Kenny, who grew up in a family where no one talked about anything.  The more she begs him to talk, the more anxious and inadequate Kenny feels.  The more anxious and inadequate he feels, the more silent he becomes.  Which angers Janet, which makes her beg harder.  And so on.


Liz, a people pleaser, gets anxious when Mark is unhappy. So she knocks herself out putting his feelings, needs and preferences ahead of her own.  Mark – who enjoys this – finds he can keep Liz motivated by remaining unhappy.  The unhappier he becomes, the harder she tries.  The harder she tries, the unhappier he becomes.  And so on.


Nancy: “If you didn’t drink, I wouldn’t nag you.”   Oscar: “If you didn’t nag me, I wouldn’t drink.”  Rinse and repeat.


Patty and Ron both grew up in families that didn’t acknowledge or respect feelings.  Hungry for emotional validation, they now seek it from each other.  Unfortunately each takes the position, “I’ll validate you after you validate me.”  Since neither validates first, no one gets validated.  Ever.  So their childhood deprivation continues.  Indefinitely.

See the pattern?

This paradox grows out of two facts of human nature:  Everyone wants control, and no one wants to be controlled by others.

That’s what is being played out above.  Each of these ten partners tries desperately (if unconsciously) to transform the other into the partner they want.  And each resists transformation as hard as they can.

Even people who seem to comply with their partner’s (or parent’s) demands are doing it out of a need to control the other’s behavior.

This creates not love, not intimacy, not healthy connection, but monkeyship — relationship bent out of shape by control issues.  

Some of this goes on in all our relationships.  At some point we all turn monkeyish.  We all try to make our partner into the person we want them to be.

It has little to do with how much we love that partner. 

It has everything to do with how much control we think we need to feel safe. 

And it continues until we learn alternatives to monkeyish behavior.



First Paradox: Boomerang

paradox: a seemingly true statement or group of statements that lead to a contradiction or a situation which seems to defy logic or intuition. ~ Wikipedia


Control addiction is hard to escape because it behaves paradoxically.

I.e., not as you’d expect.

So far I’ve noticed three paradoxes that confuse the hell out of people and keep them addicted.

Here’s the First Paradox:

The more control you need

Needing control has a sort of boomerang effect.  The harder you try to get more of it, the more you end up feeling controlled.

You feel controlled by, surprise, your need for control.

And this happens with weird regularity.

Still, it’s easy to overlook if you’re not looking for it.  So I thought some stories might help illustrate this stubbornly reliable principle.

The actors in each of these (except the last) are heavily disguised, but all the events are based in fact.

Annie’s depressed because she’s overweight.  So she eats cookies to make the depression go away.  Which makes her more overweight.  Which makes her more depressed.  Which makes her eat more cookies.  The more control you need, the less you have.


Barry’s wife drinks.  This panics Barry, so he does everything he can think of to stop her.  He reasons, begs, nags, yells, makes nasty comments, threatens divorce, hides her wine, pours it down the toilet.  Stressed by Barry’s behavior, his wife drinks more. The more control you need, the less you have.


Carol’s daughter fails Math and lies about it.  This enrages Carol, who can’t stand to be lied to.  So she confiscates her daughter’s cell phone and warns her of worse punishments if she lies again.  This scares her daughter, who starts keeping more secrets and lying about more stuff.   Which leads to more punishments.  Which lead to more fear and more lies.  The more control you need, the less you have.


Dennis is an anxious man whose last wife cheated on him.  Now he worries his new wife might do the same.  So he carefully monitors her comings and goings, and makes sure he knows where she is and who she’s with.  Then listens in on her phone calls.  Then intercepts and examines her cell phone records.  Then starts following her on errands.  As a result of all this his anxiety soars to panic-attack levels, and his wife finds a boyfriend with whom she can relax.  The more control you need, the less you have.


Eve’s boyfriend is abusive.  He doesn’t hit her, but yells and criticizes and threatens her constantly.  Friends beg Eve to dump him, but she’s scared that will make him angrier.  So she does her best to pacify and appease him.  Since the boyfriend likes this result, he continues to yell, criticize and threaten.  Then one day he hits her.  The more control you need, the less you have.


Fred and Ginger are married.  It’s the second marriage for each, and each brings to it a history of disappointed relationships.  Both want the marriage to work and are scared that it won’t, which makes them hypersensitive to any and all relationship problems.  They monitor each other closely for signs of dissatisfaction or anger.  They repeatedly seek reassurance that their partner still loves them.  They discuss their problems constantly.  All this leaves them chronically uneasy in each other’s presence.  The distance between them grows, which increases their uneasiness.   They begin to bicker, then to fight.  When they finally come to me for couples counseling the marriage is, in Fred’s words, “Circling the drain.”   The more control you need, the less you have.


Steve’s dog runs away from home.  Steve chases him across front lawns and through backyards, up and down streets.  Panting and bracing himself for his first heart attack, Steve suddenly remembers the First Paradox.  He stops running.  He sits down in the street.  The dog glances back at him over his shoulder.  Steve flops over sideways.  Closes his eyes.  Waits.  Hears nails clicking on pavement.   Feels a long tongue flick his nose.  Reaches out and grabs the dog’s collar.  The more control…

Oh, you know.

How to spot monkeytraps

How are your holidays going?  
Thought so.  
Bert and I guessed you could use this refresher:
In Asia they trap monkeys by placing bait in a heavy jar with a narrow neck.   The monkey smells the bait, reaches in to grab it, and traps himself by refusing to let go.
A psychological monkeytrap is any situation that triggers you into compulsive controlling — into holding on when you really should let go.
And how can you tell when you’re at risk of entrapment?
Three tips:


Tip 1:
Notice where you’re uncomfortable.
We’re controlling whenever we need or want to change some piece of reality instead of accepting it or adapting to it as is.  And we’re most likely to want to change realities that make us uncomfortable.  So it makes sense that our discomfort zones are where we’re most likely to get monkeytrapped.
[] bert panel (print for edit)Bert:  Me, I hate rejection.  So I’m most controlling with people I think might reject me.  I hide feelings I think will upset them, pretend to agree when I really don’t, laugh at stupid jokes, avoid confronting behavior I dislike, try to read their minds, and so on and so on.  Keeps me busy.      
Tip 2:
Notice where you’re stuck.
Stuck as in not learning, healing or growing — struggling with the same damn problem over and over.  You know you’re monkeytrapped whenever you find yourself doing what you already know doesn’t work.
[] bert panel (print for edit)Bert:  All that controlling I just described traps me because it (a) stops me from being myself, which (b) prevents me from ever getting accepted as myself, which (c)  keeps me chronically scared of rejection, which brings me right back to (a).  Like riding an endless merry-go-round.
Tip 3:
Notice where you’re scared.
Like all addictions, compulsive controlling is anxiety-driven.  We stay monkeytrapped because we’re scared to do anything else.  Often even the thought of giving up control in such situations is enough to scare us silly.
[] bert panel (print for edit)Bert:  Took me a long time to see that controlling doesn’t work.  Or it does, but only for five minutes.  Then another scary thing comes along and I have to control that.  And life being what it is, there’s no end to scary things.  So as an anxiety-reduction tactic controlling is a total flop.
The most frightened people are the most controlling people, and the most controlling people stay the most frightened.

Merry Christmas

IMG_2302Merry Christmas from the monkeys at Monkeytraps.

Kid mode

Control is the child’s basic tool.

As kids we have no power, no ability to take care of ourselves.  We need big people (like parents) to do that.  And we use control to make sure those big people do their job.

We learn this before we have language.  We learn it the first time we cry and mom picks us up and feeds or rocks us or changes our diaper.  “Hey,” we realize.  “What I do affects what she does.”

And the urge to control is born.

We spend childhood learning thousands of ways to control big people:

Want mom to love you?  Don’t talk back.

Want dad to be proud of you?  Get straight A’s.

Want teacher’s approval? Do your homework.

Want to avoid being bullied?  Appease the tough kid.

This is how we navigate early life.  For kids there’s no other way.

Of course at some point we’re supposed to develop some power — the ability able to stand up for and take care of ourselves.

But many of us don’t.  Many of us (especially if we’ve been abused or traumatized) stay stuck in kid mode.

We keep relying on control to get our needs met and manage relationships.  We keep seeking approval and avoiding conflict.  We hide who we are, bury our true feelings, and try our damnedest to be whatever we think others want us to be.

Most of the time we do this without even realizing we’re doing it.

And that’s the basic problem of all control addicts.

They’re stuck with the tool of a child to cope with the life of an adult.


(pending) Tired all the time

Bert is.

He’s tired because he’s a control addict.

Control addicts get tired a lot,  though they don’t always understand why.

It’s because they’re always trying (often without realizing) to bend reality to their will.

And when you fight against reality, reality always wins.

Sound familiar?

If so, don’t despair.


(The Book)

starts in January.



(For more Bert, follow Bert’s therapy: Adventures of an inner monkey.)


xmas tree w starQuestion:  Why do the holidays feel like hell to codependents?

Answer:  So much to control, so little time.

Control addicts constantly compare the reality they have with the reality they want, then try to bring the two closer together.

‘Tis the season for that.

And how do we do it?

Usually in too many ways to count.

Some favorites:

~ We imagine ideal holidays and try to manufacture them.

~ We remember traumatic holidays and try to compensate for them.

~ We notice relationship problems and try to disguise them.

~ We notice feelings that don’t match the holiday mood (resentment, jealousy, anxiety, rage) and judge ourselves for feeling them.

~ We associate with people we don’t really like, then suppress or deny our inevitable discomfort.

~ We use the holidays as a benchmark to measure our progress through life, then try to conceal our sense of  disappointment or inadequacy.

~ We mask our awareness of all the above by eating or drinking or drugging or spending too much, then wonder why we end up feeling empty, lonely and mad at ourselves.

What to do instead?

(1) Pay closer attention.  Notice what you already do.  Don’t judge your behavior, just observe it.  Can’t change what you’re unconscious of.

(2) Focus your awareness with the three questions: What am I trying to control?  Have I had any luck controlling this in the past?  If not, what can I do instead? The answer to question 3 should be some form of surrender, responsiblity and/or intimacy.  But don’t beat yourself up if you’re not sure how to do any of that yet.

(3) Use the year before the next round of hellidays to get better at answering that third question.




Three theme songs


The song of the child:

this is me 1 w balloon


The song of the socialized adult:

what will people think w balloon


The song of the healthy grownup:

this is me 2 w balloon


Which is your theme song?

Not the one you’d like?

If so, don’t despair.


(The Book)

starts in January.



The chase



the chase 1 revised

There’s something we’re all after, something we chase all the time.

Click here to watch The chase.


() (pending) Anxious 2

Bert is.

Bert’s a control addict.

Control addicts are usually anxious.

Their anxiety is what makes them controlling.

Unfortunately their controlling makes them even more anxious.

So the more they try to control stuff they more anxious they get, and the more anxious they get…

Sound familiar?

If so, don’t despair.


(The Book)

starts in January.



(For more Bert, follow Bert’s therapy: Adventures of an inner monkey.)

Don’t look now

Don't look now

From “Session 34: Leashed” at

 Don’t despair.

Monkeytraps (The Book)

starts in January.

Stink think

The folks in AA have a term to describe the denial-ridden thought process of alcoholics:

Stinking thinking.

Examples include,

It’s not a problem, I can stop whenever I like.  Or Hey, it’s only one beer.  Or It’s your fault I drink so much.  Or Everyone’s against me. Or Who gives a shit?  And so on.

Control addicts have their own version of stinking thinking.  It takes various forms, but behind them all is a dangerous (and often unconscious) assumption:

If I just try again, or harder, or longer, or differently,

I can make things turn out the way I want them to.

Yeah.  Right.

When stink think crops up in session I usually recommend an antidote I call the three questions:

What am I trying to control here?

Have I had any luck controlling it before?

If not, what can I do instead?*

*(I.e., which of the three healthy alternatives to control — surrender, responsiblity or intimacy — would help me in this situation?)

Taken together, and answered honestly, these questions amount to a free, convenient, and surprisingly reliable bullshit detector.

Like alcoholics, control addicts take a while to notice their own stinking thinking, and even longer to interrupt it.

But those who ask the three questions regularly can speed the process of unstinking their thinking.

 *For more on the alcoholic version of stinking thinking, see Stinking thinking: When negative thinking becomes harmful at

In the elevator

An elevator pitch is a summary of a book brief enough to deliver in the space of an elevator ride.

Below is one I just wrote for my impending opus Monkeytraps.

Feedback welcome.


elevator pitch #2 corrected

Adult children

First time I heard it, the term adult child made no sense to me.

It seemed an obvious contradiction in terms, like square circle or military intelligence.

I understand better now.

I understand that an adult child is someone who’s adult on the outside, childish inside.

That the childish part is a collection of unmet needs, unresolved conflicts and unexpressed feelings.

That, under stress, this part gets triggered, and the adult experiences all the fears and insecurities of the child when that child’s growth was interrupted.

And that you needn’t have grown up in an alcoholic or abusive or especially dysfunctional family for this to be true of you.

That it happens to all of us.

In other words, that Andrew Malraux was right when he wrote,

There is no such thing as 

a grown-up human being.

That we are all adult children.

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