Monthly Archives: January 2015

(THE BOOK) Introduction


an excerpt from 3 (w borders)Want to trap a monkey?

Try this:

(1) Find a heavy bottle with a narrow neck.

(2) Drop a banana into it.

(3) Leave the bottle where a monkey can find it.

(4) Wait.

The monkey will do the rest.

He’ll come along, smell the banana, reach in to grab it.

Then find he can’t pull it out, because the bottleneck is too small.

He can free himself easily.  He just has to let go.

But he really, really wants that banana.

So he hangs on.

He’s still hanging on when you come to collect him.

And that’s how you trap a monkey.




Want to trap a human? 

Try this:

(1) Place the human in an uncomfortable situation.

(2) Wait.

The human will do the rest.

He or she will try to reduce their discomfort by controlling the situation.

The harder they work to reduce their discomfort, the more uncomfortable they’ll get.

The harder they try to escape their discomfort, the more trapped they’ll feel.

And that’s how you trap a human.




This is a book about control in general, and psychological monkeytraps in particular.

A psychological monkeytrap is any situation that temps us to hold on when we should let go — to control what either can’t or shouldn’t be controlled.

The world is filled with monkeytraps.  

As is the emotional life of every human being.

I learned this from practicing psychotherapy.

Therapy also taught me four truths:

1. We are all addicted to control. 

2. This addiction causes most (maybe all) our emotional problems.

3. Behind this addiction lies our wish to control feelings.

4. There are better ways to manage feelings than control.

I call these the Four Laws of control, and they structure the four parts that follow:

Part 1: Addiction is about the idea of control, and how it structures our lives and choices.

Part 2: Dysfunction is about the most common ways control addiction makes us (and those we love) sick and miserable.

Part 3: Emotion is about the real reason we try to control people, places, things, and ourselves.

Part 4: Alternatives is about moving beyond control addiction to healthier ways of responding to discomfort.

I plan to publish the first two parts online for free.  Then I’ll offer the entire book for sale in spring 2015.

Since this is a new way of looking at people and their problems, chapters will be kept bite-sized and spaced out, to give you a chance to chew on each idea as it emerges.  

Chapters you want to reread will be archived on the page titled Monkeytraps (The Book).

Feedback and questions are always welcome.





You may be used to thinking of control as a solution, not a problem.  

Fine.  Read on.

You may not think of yourself as a controlling person.  

Also fine.  Read on.

You may never have tried redefining your emotional problems as rooted in your wish for control.  

Terrific.  Read on.

A client once described his first Al-Anon meeting as “like a light coming on in a dark room.  Suddenly I could see all the furniture I’ve been tripping over all my life.”

That’s just what we’re going for here.

Welcome to the light switch.

* * *

We’re planning an online study/support group for readers who want to explore these ideas with me in real time.  Also coming, a group for therapists who want to integrate these ideas into their clinical work.  Both groups will be small, eight members at most, and meet weekly. Fee is $50 per 90-minute session, and group members may purchase Monkeytraps (The Book) at half price. Interested?  Write me:




One root


In therapy we sometimes talk as if narcissists and codependents come from different planets.

I’ve done it myself.  In one post, for example, I contrasted their relationship behavior as Me First versus Yes, Dear.

I forgot how much they have in common.

Such as?

Well, both are hungry.  Both typically came from families unable to meet their childhood emotional needs.   So they spend their adult lives seeking attention and acceptance, approval and love.

And both are control addicts.  Yes, they control differently – narcissists more overtly, codependents more covertly.  But both spend most of their energy and time trying to transform the reality they’ve got into the reality they want.  And neither is good at going with the flow.

Finally, they’re both self-centered.

Narcissists, of course, are obvious about it.  Look at me.  Ain’t I special?  Gotta love me.

Codependents are more subtle.  You okay?  Anything I can do for you?  Sure, whatever you want.

Their Yes, dear behavior may manifest as people-pleasing, conflict avoidance, emotional dishonesty, self-sacrifice, self-abuse, or any number of other ways of disguising their true selves.

But behind it all is a desperate attempt to feed themselves by manipulating others — to get their needs met in the only way they know, and without much concern for (or even awareness of) how it impacts those they’re manipulating.

They may call it love or respect or being considerate or being nice.  But codependents put others first, not out of altruism, but in hopes that someday someone will return the favor.

So forget all that two-planets stuff.

Think of codependency as narcissism in sheep’s clothing.

And narcissists and codependents as two flowers with one root.

In the army now

We’re in the Army now.
We’re not behind a plow.
We’ll never get rich, we’re diggin’ a ditch.
We’re in the Army now.

Welcome to the army.

Which army, you ask?

The Army of Second Adolescents.

Remember what adolescent means?  Remember how it felt?

Neither child nor adult.

Inner turmoil.  Vague anxieties.

Chronic feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, self-doubt.

Sound familiar?

Sure it does.

Everyone in the army feels that way.

We’re marching everywhere.
It’s getting in our hair.
We follow the rules
and follow the mules
We’re in the Army now.

Second adolescence is a stage when adults are supposed to find out who they really are.

As in first adolescence, you feel grown, but not grown-up.

You feel constricted by rules and expectations imposed on you.

Not by school, but by your job.

Not by parents, but by marriage and family.

You march through your days wondering just where you’re headed.

And, occasionally, if it’s worth the trip.

And you don’t like yourself much.

And you worry a lot.

And again life feels frustrating.

And again life feels unfair.

We’re happy as can be.
Have lots of company.
The cooties at night
Drop in for a bite.
We’re in the Army now.*

And just as first adolescents have their psychosocial tasks to complete, so do we in the army.

The main task we face?

To grow up psychologically.

To feel as adult as our bodies look.

To feel like this is our life, not someone else’s idea of the one we should be living.

To develop our own values and identity and spiritual core.

To love who we love — and dislike who we dislike — without fear or deceit.

To do our work, the work we were placed here to do.

To stop being controlled by fear and self-doubt, envy and the opinions of others.

To realize that our time here is not limitless.

That we need to stop planning and rehearsing and get on with it.

Get on with acting, finally, like just who we are.

Have you reached those goals yet?

(Me neither.)

So.  On your feet.  Fall in.

You’re in the army now.



*We’re In The Army Now,” lyrics by Tell Taylor & Ole Olsen, music by Isham Jones (1917)

* * *



All my hopes

ALL MY HOPESThere’s a couple I’m working with.

I have to see them separately.

I’m scared to see them together.

Because she can’t stop complaining about her husband, and he can’t stop complaining about his wife.

And I can’t help imagining a session with them both in the room as a sort of emotional demolition derby.

Bash.  Crash.  Crumple.


It’s like that with some couples, especially those who’ve been together for a long time.

They fall into the habit of blaming all their misery on each other.

Of defining each other as My Big Problem.

Which usually leads into defining changing each other as My Big Solution.

They pin all their hopes on somehow transforming their partner into the partner they want, need and deserve.

They pour all their time and energy into that project.

Which, of course, their partner just loves.

That way lies madness.

(Or at least demolition derby.)

Friend, don’t pin all your hopes on anyone else.

Learn.  Stretch.  Grow.  Mature.


Pin your hopes on yourself.

The dust settles

Dust -------------------------------------------

Life is difficult.  

This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths….

[Because] once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.

~ M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled


Control is often impossible.

This is another one of the great truths.

It’s a great truth because once you accept it, how you see yourself and your life changes.

Lying in bed at night, thinking of all those realities beyond your control, you reach a point where you can say to yourself,

There I go again.  Trying to control the uncontrollable.

And at that point the dust settles.

And your mind calms down.

And you see that you haven’t been failing or inadequate.

You’ve just been trying to do the impossible.

And suddenly life’s uncontrollability no longer matters.

Since, if there’s nothing you can do, there’s nothing you must do.

And you can relax a little.

And you can sleep.


“I feel terribly guilty,” she says.


“I’m mad at my father.”


“He be furious if he knew.”

She’s reminding me that control addicts (a.k.a. codependents) are cursed.

They’re cursed by the inability to distinguish their feelings from the reactions of other people to those feelings.

This is a common result of growing up in families — alcoholic, abusive or otherwise dysfunctional — where feelings were not tolerated, much less encouraged.

Thus this young woman can’t experience angry thoughts about dad without immediately scaring herself by imagining his reaction if he knew.

She feels anxious and guilty about feeling.

This is the curse of confusing inside with outside, also known as blurred boundaries — not knowing just where you end and others begin.

It’s a terrible way to live.

It not only keeps you scared of other people, it turns you against yourself — makes you fear the currents of your own emotional life.

Instead of something to respect and listen to, feelings come to seem like a dangerous vulnerability.

And since, being human, you can’t stop feeling, you almost never feel safe.

What to do?

Recovery for such people requires

(a) finding a safe place (like a therapeutic relationship or support group), and then

(b) slowly, bravely training themselves to express feelings to people who won’t punish them.

This is called a corrective emotional experience.

It’s no picnic.

It’s scary.

And must be repeated many many times.

But those with the courage and the patience to do this work often discover that they can uncurse themselves.


Planet Control

stewardess ================================May I have your attention, please?

We’ll be starting our descent in a few minutes. 

And before we land the captain has asked that I brief you new flyers on the indigenous culture of Planet Control.  

Those of you who’ve heard this before can go on with your reading. 

I assume each of you has some familiarity with Planet Control, or you wouldn’t be on this flight to begin with. 

But just to clarify:  The basic rules of social intercourse here are,

1. Always conceal what you’re really thinking.

2. Always conceal what you’re really feeling.

3. Always conceal what you really want.

4. Always pay close attention to what those around you are thinking, feeling and wanting.

5. If you aren’t sure, try to read their minds.

6. If you can’t read their minds, blame yourself for being selfish.

7. If you notice symptoms of emotional distress — like anxiety, depression or the urge to abuse substances — relax.  These are perfectly normal reactions to the culture of Planet Control.  They won’t go away over time; they may actually worsen.  But you get used to it.

If all that seems too much to remember, following one simple rule should suffice:

Do not be yourself.  It may bother someone. 

We hope these tips make your stay on Planet Control safer and more pleasant.

Thanks for your attention.

And thanks for flying Codependent Airways.


Of all the pathologies to which control addiction can lead, family violence is one of the more grotesque.  This post came to me as twenty-year old notebook pages scribbled by someone going through one of the darker days of her life.  Worth reading, by men and women.  I thank the writer for her courage in sharing it.



I keep thinking I don’t belong here.

When I first got here at 9:00 AM there was only one other person.  The woman at the window talked to me in a loud harsh-sounding voice.  Especially loud.  She asked me why I was here through the hole in the window that keeps her separated from the angry and sad people on the other side.  Her voice was so loud it seemed to echo. 

Why are you here?

I am here for an order of protection I tell her in a soft embarrassed voice.

Against who?

My spouse.

The worst part had been said, and I was told to sit and fill out a petition.

A petition that would order someone — someone who had at one time vowed to love and cherish me  for the rest of my life – to stop hurting me.  So much that it left bruises.

I don’t belong here, I keep thinking.

Later I sat in front of a probation officer.  Attached to her desk were two signs with the same message: Do not move the chair closer to this desk.

The probation officer looked tired.  It was only 9:15 AM.

I told her about the incidents.  I told her about the strong hands around my throat, and how it still hurts in several places there.  I told her about the hands that grabbed my wrists.  I showed her the bruise on my left wrist.  It’s brown in color.  I showed her the small bruise on my right wrist.  It’s purplish.  I told her what happened when my face hit the rug of the living room, how it still hurts on the inside of my gums, how my head felt like it had been shattered, jolted for a long time afterward.  I told her my shoulder hurts, and I wasn’t sure of the other injuries, because sometimes it takes a while for the bruises to appear.

Then I was told to sit until my petition was typed.  It could take an hour, maybe two.  Maybe more.

I take a seat in the lobby.  It’s crowded now.  There are a few children.  Some of the people are speaking angrily.  Some of them are arguing about child support.  Too much.  Too little. 

Every now and then someone comes to the door that leads to the rooms where you tell about your bruises and other kinds of hurts and injustices.  She or he calls out a name.  The people come and go.

There is a very large colorful wall poster that contains artwork about family violence.  These are drawings by children who have watched people in their families hurt other people in their families. 

Like my daughter. 

Like my son.

There are drawings of a hand holding a belt and a face that looks frightened.  An arm held up to take the blow.  It’s instinctive.  There is a large tear on the frightened face.

Do I belong here?

Fifteen years, I told the probation officer.  I have been taking these bruises for fifteen years.

She looks up at me, but she does not show any emotion.  She tells me to talk to a women’s group. 

Then she says, Fifteen years is a long time.

I nod. 

I feel very very small, and very very stupid.

What is wrong with me?

Then I think — later in the lobby, where a little dark-faced, sad-eyed boy watches me intently — I have never really had a time in my life when I haven’t been abused.

I can do one of two things:  I can fight back, like I am today, or I can accept this fact of my life and just keep surviving the best that I can, and then die.

Last night I thought to myself it’s time to disconnect the life support systems here. 

Let this sinking ship fall beneath the surface of the waves and hit bottom. 

It takes so much effort to keep this ship afloat, and even at that it’s barely above the surface.

I’m barely breathing, and I’m alone.

Later I’m in Part 10 of the court.  I’m waiting for a judge to listen to my problem and decide whether I should be protected.

It’s another life support system.

I’m very tired, and I’m numb.

I can’t feel anything, so I don’t know if this is the right thing to do or not.

There are so many people here with attorneys in suits.  They are talking about transactions.  They are talking about child support and custody of children.  Some of these children are here.  One of these people is crying.  Her attorney is here. 

I am alone.

I am used to this.

Who would sit here with me?

I am not important enough.

I have not reached out.

My therapist offered to come here, but I did not want her to because I know how much it would take from her day.

It is too much to ask.

I am used to being alone with my fears and my hurts and my oh so very very much confusion.

People are pacing.  People are running after children.  People are talking to the people they are with.  Some people are just sitting, not talking, not moving, only thinking very deeply.

I wait for my name.

I am not sure if I belong here, but I cannot get out of my mind the look on my son’s face that night.

He was so frightened, like the children in the family violence poster.

I can’t stop thinking of that pain, that look on his face.

That is why I am here.

~ Susan Perretti 

Why control addicts need to hit bottom

A guy visits a farmer.  

“Want to meet the smartest mule in the world?” the farmer asks.

“Sure,” says the guy.

So the farmer takes him to the barnyard and shows him a mule.

“What’s two plus two?” the farmer asks.

The mule stares back at him.

“I said, what’s two plus two?” shouts the farmer.

The mule stares.

The farmer picks up a rake handle and smacks the mule between the eyes.

The mule blinks, then stamps his foot: one, two, three, four.

“Great,” the guy says.  “Smart mule.  But why’d you hit him with the rake handle?”  

“Oh,” says the farmer, “that was to get his attention.”


Control addicts are like all addicts.

Who are just like that mule.

They must get hit over the head before they can start recovering.

An addict’s rake handle is called “hitting bottom.”  Bottom being that point where the pain of their addiction becomes larger than their fear of giving it up.

Control addicts need this no less than alcoholics and drug addicts.

They need that pain.

Without it, they won’t pay attention.

So don’t waste your time trying to convince them to stop their controlling.

And — please — never protect them from its consequences.

They need those consequences.

They need that pain.

And unless and until they feel it…

They’re just another mule in the barnyard.



The 3rd question

The 3rd question


Don’t know?

Don’t worry.

You will,

after you read

MT ad 2 (w author) enlargedx

Coming soon to this space.


The 2nd question

The 2nd questionx

Be honest, now.


If you are,

you’ll probably realize

how much

you need to read


[MTB] + Part 1 - Addiction

Coming soon to this space.



The 1st question

The 1st questionx

Not sure what

you’re trying to control?

Uh oh.

Not good.

Be sure to read


[MTB] + Part 1 - Addiction

Coming soon to this space.




(pending) Feel battered by life.

Maybe you’re picking

the wrong fights.


Learn how to pick

the right ones.



MT ad 2 (w author)

Coming soon to this space.

Dog catches car

5-8-11 -- Control is a boomerang B (2)We’re walking.

Loki lunges after every car that passes.

“What would you do if you caught one?” I ask.

He doesn’t answer.

But his silence gives me a chance to think about how people are like dogs.

The car we chase, of course, is control.

Ever wonder what would happen if we caught the car?

I know of two interesting possibilities.

GIVER 600xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

One is the sedated, carefully emotionless dystopia of The Giver (2014), now available on DVD.  (Can’t catch the movie?  Read the book. It’s even better.)

WALL-E 600xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Another is Wall-E’s (2008) depiction of a fat, comfort-soaked future where robots do all the work and humans have nothing to do but develop morbid obesity.

What these two visions share is a recognition of humanity’s craving for comfort, aversion to pain, and how disastrous it would be if we ever managed to gratify both totally.

Life would change fundamentally, they agree.  And it wouldn’t be pretty.

It wouldn’t even be life.

Seventy-six years ago Aldous Huxley took the same view in Brave New World (1939).  That novel describes a world where war, aging, illness, hunger and anxiety have been largely eradicated, and features this dialogue between two characters called the Controller and the Savage:

Controller:  We prefer to do things comfortably.

Savage:  But I don’t want comfort.  I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness.  I want sin.

Controller:  In fact, you’re claiming the right to be unhappy.

Savage:  All right then, I’m claiming the right to be unhappy.

Controller:  Not to mention the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer; the right to have too little to eat; the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen tomorrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind.

Savage:  I claim them all.

My point here is simple.

Like all animals, we’re wired to seek pleasure and avoid pain.

But we’re the only animals able to exert control over the world into which we are born.

In many ways, this is a good and useful thing.

But given our tendency to overcontrol reality…

God help us if we ever catch that car.



DOG 600xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx



Get me out of here

2 roomsFirst session of the new year.

She looks haggard.

I ask how her holidays went.

“Awful,” she says.  “My demented inlaws visited.  Which started my husband drinking.  Which started us fighting.  Which scared the crap out of the kids.

“Now I can’t stand the marriage and can’t stop thinking about leaving it.  Can’t sleep or eat.  Can’t stop crying at work.  Can’t stop worrying or feeling scared.”

“Jesus,” I say.  “How can I help?”

She looks at me.  “Get me out of here.”

We exchange sad smiles.

“Or at least,” she says, “teach me how to survive a shitstorm.”

“Okay,” I say.  “Leave the room.”


“You have two rooms in your house,” I say.  “Your mind and your body.  Right now you’re trapped in your mind.  Stay there and you’ll go crazy.  You need to drop down a floor.”


“Whatever works for you.  Walk.  Go to the gym.  Take a yoga class.  Dance.  Take a bath.  I used to lie on a hard floor and focus on trying to get comfortable.  Anything that moves your attention from thinking to feeling.”

“And then?”

“Then listen.  Your body will tell you what you need first.  It’s telling you now, but you’re too scared to listen.”

“What I need,” she repeats.

“Sure.  There’s stuff you can solve right now and stuff you can’t.  Can’t fix your husband or his family.  But you can take better care of yourself, get rest and food and exercise.  And that will help you feel better and give you strength to figure out the other stuff.”

“Still not sure how,” she frowns.

“Start now.  Take a breath.  Move your attention to your body.  What do you notice?”

She breathes and listens.

“My heart hurts,” she says.

“What’s it feel like?”

“Like being squeezed by a big hand.”

“And what’s your body need?”

She breathes again.  And starts to cry.

She cries for ten minutes.

I pass her a box of tissues and wait.

Finally she stops and looks at me.  I raise my eyebrows to ask how she is.

“Better,” she smiles.


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