(THE BOOK) Chapter 23: Five weeds

After the workshop described in chapter 13 — the one where I redefined codependency as control addiction —  I went back to doing therapy with clinic clients.  

Mine was still a typical outpatient caseload, filled with the same problems every therapist faces.  

But now something was different.

Did you ever buy a new car — a new Honda, say — and take it out on the road, and wherever you drive you see other Hondas?  Suddenly the world is filled with Hondas you never noticed before.

That’s what happened to me. 

Suddenly my caseload was filled with control addicts.

The clients hadn’t changed, of course.  I had.  It’s like I’d put on new eyeglasses.  My vision had refocused or sharpened or something, and now I couldn’t help seeing how relentlessly and self-destructively controlling they all were.

They?  I mean we.  Everyone.

Controlling, I realized, was a universal addiction.  It was everywhere I looked.  Not just in clients I’d labeled codependent, but in every client.  Not just in clients, but in colleagues, and friends, and family, and on the nightly news, and in whatever I read or watched on tv or in the movies. 

And, of course, in myself.  (I’d discovered Bert.) 

Like a red thread in a carpet, the idea of control snaked through every problem, every motive, every personality, every life.

Most surprisingly, I noticed that the five most common problems clients brought to therapy all had compulsive controlling in common.

Anxiety, depression, addiction, relationship problems and problems with parenting — all seemed to grow out of the same dysfunctional urge to control what either couldn’t or shouldn’t be controlled.

Like five weeds growing out of the same root.


8 responses to “(THE BOOK) Chapter 23: Five weeds

  • twelter001

    Or maybe your vision was so narrow that “control” was all that you could see in every patient thereby skewing your judgement about their diagnosis and the work that needed to be accomplished..

    • Steve Hauptman

      Yes, probably that too.
      Some skewing is unavoidable in psychotherapy. Human beings are so impossibly complex that unless the therapist narrows his/her vision it’s impossible to do any real work with them.
      It’s like squinting in order to focus on something far away. Different therapists just squint differently. An analyst will squint in order to focus on unconscious motives, a Gestaltist will focus on unexpressed feelings, a cognitive therapist will focus on underlying thoughts, and so on.
      So in the end we all oversimplify our clients. The test of any therapy is whether the oversimplification (a) clarifies or distorts our view of the problem, and (b) ends in our helping or hurting the client.

  • The conversation: God, skew, and instincts | Monkey House

    […] In response to “Chapter 23: Five weeds”: […]

  • Al

    Your words Steve ‘Different therapists squint differently’ says much to me.
    When I began training as a counsellor, I expected to find the one perfect way to be a counsellor and then I’d help everyone!!!
    Time later, in real world, the best I can do is offer what makes sense to me, therapy that sits with my personality, so I can offer a genuine, working relationship…
    Your control concept fits….it helps my clients make sense.

    And with that the thing that comes up too is the essence of the Serenity Prayer
    Grant me the serenity to accept what I cannot change
    The courage to change what I can and
    The wisdom to know the difference.

    It’s my experience that most of my clients, and myself, need help to identify what to leave, what to change andin that struggle, counselling reveals a clients hidden wisdom..

  • John

    Control and trust and anxiety seem inexorably wound together.  The less I trust others, the more anxious I will be and the more I will want to control them.  The less I trust life, the more anxious I will be and the more I will want to control my environment (if I don’t believe that nature / the universe is benevolent, then I will want to control it).  The less I trust myself, the more anxious I will feel and the more I will seek to control everything and everyone around me. 

    However if I have developed enough know-how and enough of my inner capacities and resources, and if my upbringing was marked by regularity in terms of being attended to, cared for, loved and comforted, then I should be fairly trusting and fairly relaxed in terms of being controlling (generally speaking. Certainly there are more possible outcomes because there are more variables involved, more complexity involved).

    The Serenity Prayer is really about developing the discernment and self-control to know what to control and what to accept/trust . . . God grant me the serenity and self-control to accept the things I can’t control, to change (control) the things I can and ought to control, and the discernment to know the difference.

    Erikson’s first stage of psychosocial development is trust v mistrust, and lasted from birth to 18 months, but sets the stage for everything that follows. It clearly is still a stage that most/all of us continue to revisit and revise our estimations of how much we can trust others, life, ourselves (how ok v not-ok others, life, ourselves are).

    • Steve Hauptman

      Yes, I see it much the same way.

      Many of my clients have problems with trust. Most have been burned by untrustworthy people (parents, often) and disappointing relationships. Most believe the solution to their trust problems is to surround themselves with more trustworthy people.

      And most disagree (at least initially) with my view, which is that the real remedy for trust issues is self-trust.

      Erickson agreed. “The general state of trust…implies not only that one has learned to rely on the sameness and continuity of the outer providers, but also that one may trust oneself,” he wrote.

      If I can trust myself — i.e., know I can take care of myself, act effectively in my own interests and in the service of my own needs — then my need for your trustworthiness shrinks. I don’t need you to make me safe or take care of me; I can do that for myself.

      But if I can’t trust myself, I’m forced either to avoid other people or to control them — search out trustworthy ones, monitor their trustworthiness, be alert for lies and betrayals, read their minds, etc..

      And that way lies madness. Because the more I control in order to reduce my anxiety, the more anxious I become. And the more dependent I become on finding trustworthy people, the less I feel like a self-sufficient adult.

  • Al

    And the confusing part I find is that the way forward out of this insanity is counter intuitive. I’m not sure I would have realised this without help.
    Because, if the person (ie me) is in some way unbalanced inside (due to unmet needs/growth from childhood) the inner drive is almost compulsive, to meet those and grow that bit up….but acting on compulsive urges leads to further imbalance and tension as my mind seems to try to make up, harder and harder…
    And if I can then step back, disengage mind, and literally wait, then what I call a natural response occurs. However, my ‘mind’ always wants to block this ‘natural’ corrector…
    I understand this by what Ernest Kurzt said, how we can achieve (control) the acquiring of knowledge as in facts, but we can’t control wisdom therein. All i can do is point myself in the ‘right’ direction, in whatever way works, and take a deep breath and trust, here and now.

  • The conversation: Trust and tea | Monkey House

    […] In response to “Chapter 23: Five weeds”: […]

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