Monthly Archives: July 2016

Monkeyships (3): Why we can’t talk

~~ dueling bananas no border(If you’re new to Monkeytraps, Steve  is a therapist who specializes in control issues, and Bert is his control-addicted inner monkey.

Bert speaking:)

Once upon a time a dad brought his fourteen-year-old son to Steve for family counseling. 

He said he wanted the two of them to be closer, to talk more. 

The session started this way:

DAD:  Go ahead, buddy.  You can say anything here.

SON:  I want to go home.

DAD:  No.  We’re doing this, dammit.  Now open up. 

(He actually said that.)

Steve was professional.  He took a breath, fought down the urge to roll his eyes, and tried to explain to Dad how he was sending what Steve called a “mixed message.”

My reaction was simpler.  I wanted to strangle Dad.

He reminded me, I suppose, of all the times I’d witnessed some adult coerce some kid into something for their “own good.”   

And all the times some wife or husband sat on Steve’s sofa and demanded “openness” from their partner, only to wither them with criticism when the other finally dared open up. 

And all the times one partner justified withering another with “I’m just expressing my feelings.”

And all the times I saw teachers coax students into participating in discussions, only to reward them with humiliation.

And all the times I saw parents demand honesty from their kids, only to punish them for telling the truth.

All the times, in short, I watched one person verbally mug another and call it “communication.”

Hear that?  I’m getting mad again.

Steve, give your professional opinion.

I think you can have communication, or you can seek control, but you can’t do both at the same time.

And I think that, to the extent any party to a conversation seeks to control it, healthy communication becomes impossible.

Which makes healthy communication pretty rare.

What’s “healthy” communication?

The sort that permits people to give up control — to risk being honest, emotional, vulnerable, authentic — without fear of the consequences.

Not easy.

Not easy at all.  

And it can be terrifying.  

Why is that?

Because we’ve all been burned by unhealthy communicators.  

If,  for example, you grew up in a family where words were used to coerce, wound or manipulate — forget it.   Not only would opening up scare you, you might not even believe that safe communication is possible.  Why should you?

That’s the case with many people I work with.  When I talk to them about “healthy communication” I might as well be speaking Martian.  They simply have no internal model for what I’m describing.

What do you do about it?

I help them learn a new model.

For example, most people don’t know how to listen.  I mean, really listen.  (Often they mistake listening for merely waiting their turn.)

So I may teach a couple Monologuing, which asks one partner to sit and pay attention while the other describes their feelings for five minutes.  Then the listener plays back what he/she heard.  (Which always contains surprises.)  Then they switch roles.

Another problem:  Most people don’t realize how often and how casually they hurt others with their words.  

So I teach them to distinguish between You- and I-statements  — how, for example, there’s a world of difference between saying “You’re an idiot” and “I’m mad at you.”   Then I teach them to abstain from the former and practice the latter.  Which most people find really difficult to do.

 Not easy, as I said.

No, it’s not. 

Just our only hope. 

 For what?

For really connecting with another human being. 

 

 

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Dysconnected

unplug 4aThree days into vacation I know I have a problem.  Distracted, restless, unable to settle inside, too tired to work and too tense to relax.  And I can’t sleep.

The insomnia puzzles me.  I’ve gone sleepless when depressed or battling some particular anxiety, but I don’t feel depressed or anxious now.  I’m not sure how I feel.  Except maybe topheavy.  Like my head weighs too much.

I lie in bed for hours in the dark, twitching my legs every few minutes and thinking about everything and nothing.  I have no Off switch.

Then early the fourth morning, while ruminating about ruminating, a word pops into my mind:

Overstimulated.

That’s how I feel.  Like a wire buzzing with too much current.

What stimulation? I ask myself.

And myself answers:

Screens.

The hours spent reading and writing emails.  The blog posts, replies to comments, and replies to the replies.  All the posters and comments and cartoons I post to social media every day (fifty in June).  Reaching first thing in the morning for my iphone to check for new texts.  And carrying it everywhere.   To the bathroom, in the kitchen when I’m cooking; checking it at stoplights.  And each night, when I finally leave my computer and go up to bed, to lie there beside my wife either watching tv (we’re just finishing Season Four of The Good Wife) or scrolling endlessly on my phone through Facebook.

Shit, I think, I’m addicted. 

~

As an experiment, I decide to unplug for a day. 

I shut down my computer.  I turn off my phone and put it in a desk drawer.  I resolve to ignore my tv.

Suddenly I have more time than I know what to do with.  I find myself doing things I haven’t done for as long as I can remember.  I sit with my wife and talk over coffee.  I plant flowers in the bed by the mailbox.   I read for two hours.  I invent a new bean dip.  I meditate.  I sit on my deck and watch clouds. 

That night I sleep through.

This is all very startling.

I decide to research this new addiction.  From the library I borrow six books on technology.  One is Christina Crook’s The Joy of Missing Out: Finding Balance in a Wired World (New Society, 2015), where I read this: 

Deep down, we believe we have control over our mobile technologies; the truth is we make our technologies, but they remake us: the way we see the world, the way we spend our time and the way we value and relate to others. (1)

And this:

The problem with high-volume media is that we are bombarded, fragmented, addicted: running from dopamine-hit to dopamine-hit and, as a result, our emotional regulation is skewed.  We are fragmented people. (2) 

And this:

That is what is bad about technology as we commonly think of it: even though we are more productive, connected and entertained, at the same time we ourselves become less functional as sentient creatures…. [W]hen we inundate ourselves with technology, we lose our focus and begin to act like machines. (3)

And this:

As many as a million young people in Japan are thought to be holed up in their homes, some for decades at a time, spending their waking moments immersed online, reports the BBC….  Japan is the first country in the world to institute state-run “fasting” camps for Internet-addicted children.  (4)

And this:

At its core, technology is a systematic effort to get everything under control. (5) 

That last is the one that gets me.  I am, as you know, all about control. 

I need to know more about this.

~

This will be the last blog post you receive from me for a while. 

I have decided to go offline for the month of August.

No blogging or browsing.  No Facebook or Twitter or YouTube.   No emails in or out.  Texting only in emergencies.

When I come back I’ll write some posts about it.  Maybe even a book. 

It’s a little scary, like most surrenders.

Part of me whispers Are you sure you want to do this? 

Then I realize that’s Bert’s voice.  Bert, the control addict in me. 

We decided we don’t want to be addicted, remember? I say back to him.  So yes, I want to do this. 

So here goes.

See you in September.

 

 

__________________

(1) Crook, 44.

(2) Crook, 57.

(3) Aiden Enns, publisher of Geez magazine, quoted in Crook, 63.

(4) Crook, 112.

(5) Albert Borgmann, quoted in Crook, 44.

 


Parenting.

(7-20-16) Parenting -- no banner.


Monkeyships (2): Addiction for two

~~ dueling bananas(If you’re new to Monkeytraps, Steve is a therapist who specializes in control issues, and Bert is his control-addicted inner monkey.

This is the second in a series on control and relationships.

Steve speaking:)

“All happy families,” wrote Tolstoy, “are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Not in my experience.

In my experience, unhappy families — unhappy marriages, especially — are remarkably similar.

Consider:

~ Heather wants to marry Ian, who’s scared of commitment.  So she pressures him to propose, which 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,” is Jane’s main complaint about Kevin, who grew up in a family where no one talked to anyone about anything.  The more she begs him to talk, the more inadequate Kevin feels.  The more inadequate he feels, the more silent he becomes.  Which angers Jane, which makes her beg harder.  And so on.

~ Lisa is a people pleaser who 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 and doesn’t want it to stop — finds he can keep Lisa 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.

~ Both Patty and Ron 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.

Notice a pattern?

All these examples (and the variations are infinite) illustrate what I call the Second Paradox of Control: 

The more you try to control somebody, the more you force them to control you back.

This is the interpersonal version of the First Paradox of Control: “The more control you need, the less control you have.”

 This Second Paradox grows out of a fairly obvious fact of human nature: 

We all want control, and we all resent being controlled by others.

That’s just what is being played out in these examples.  Each of the ten partners is trying desperately (if often unconsciously) to transform the other into the partner they want.  And each of the ten is resisting the transformation as hard as they can.

You might call it control addiction a deux.

Or you could use the catchy term explained here last time: monkeyships, relationships bent out of shape by control issues.

Some of this goes on in all our relationships, because at some point every relationships turns monkeyish. 

It has nothing to do with how much we love our partner. 

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

And we can expect it to continue unless we learn alternatives to monkeyish behavior.


Isn’t/Is, parts 1 & 2

(c) Isn't - Is, part 1

********

(c) Isn't - Is, part 2


Monkeyships (1): A way out of trouble

~~ dueling bananas no border(If you’re new to Monkeytraps, Steve is a therapist who specializes in control issues, and Bert is his control-addicted inner monkey.

Bert speaking:)

Lately Steve’s seeing more and more couples.

I dont know why, since he never trained as a couples therapist and doesn’t advertise himself as one.  But couples apparently like his approach, because they keep sending him new couples to work with.

Which, at one time, would have really pissed me off.

Because I hated couples work. 

It scared me.

It scared me for two reasons.  First, there was too damned much going on in the room. 

Steve, explain.

Well, work with couples means paying attention to many levels and variables at once.  Like

~ what the partners say, and what they don’t say;

~ which feelings they express, and which they feel they must hide;

~ which of their goals and motives are conscious, and which remain out of awareness; and

~ what’s happening between them here and now, as opposed to  whatever past experiences (often buried, usually painful) are getting triggered.

Right.  All that felt overwhelming.  It was just too much. 

Too much to control, you mean.

Yes.  Couldn’t control it mentally.  Couldn’t organize it in my head.

And then I hated the tension.  Many couples were so angry at each other that sessions with them felt like watching someone juggle live hand grenades.  I kept waiting for some emotional KABOOM to blow the whole office into matchsticks.

You couldn’t control the emotional situation either.

Right.  I couldn’t control either their feelings or my own feelings about not being able to control how they felt.

All of which explains why, for years, whenever someone called Steve to request couples counseling I’d immediately climb up onto his shoulder and whisper Just say no over and over.

He didn’t listen, though.

Well, we had to make a living.

I didn’t care about that.  My priority was not feeling scared. 

But I’m glad he didn’t listen.   Because over time he learned something important about how to help couples.  And I even started to feel safe. 

Both these things happened after he came up with his Monkeyships Theory.

Steve, explain what a monkeyship is.

It’s any relationship that becomes dysfunctional because both partners are struggling for control.

And the theory?

Simply that most (maybe all) relationship problems are monkeyship problems, since at one time or another all relationships turn, well, monkeyish.

This theory helped me feel safer with couples work in two ways. 

First, focusing on the idea of control helped me to observe and organize what was happening in each session, like a magnet rearranges iron filings.  

Yes.  Noticing how people try to control each other really clarifies how they get into trouble in the first place. 

More importantly, it gave Steve a way to help them get out of trouble.

 I realized my job wasn’t so much to fix or change any couple’s interaction as to help them notice how they were trying to get control.  I did this by pointing out what I was seeing and hearing.

Once they could spot their own patterns, the next step was to teach them the three alternatives to control — surrender, responsibility and intimacy (see the end of “What you damned well better know about control”).   And then get them to practice.

This sort of therapy is no quick fix, and it works better with some couples than others.  Its success depends mainly on how willing they are to stop playing blame tennis and look hard at themselves. 

For those who can do that, the alternatives offer a path out of monkeyship and towards what relationship is meant to be: a place where both partners can be themselves with each other, and where both come to see that what’s good for their partner is — surprise — also good for them. 

(To be continued.  This is the first in a series of posts on control and relationships.)

 


Scabs.

~~~Scab.

She’s always cheerful.

He’s always joking.

She’s always calm, cool and collected.

He’s always detached and philosophical.

Always is a problem in therapy.

It usually indicates what I call an emotional scab.

Physical scabbing you know.  It’s where a wound crusts over.  Those scabs may itch a bit, but generally you leave them alone, because they signify healing going on under the surface

Emotional scabs are different.  Those you may need to pick at.

People scab over emotionally when they’ve been hurt or traumatized.  In an attempt to protect themselves, they conceal their wound beneath a false front like those described above.

This sort of scabbing is useful to a point.  Who wants to go around bleeding in public?

But past that point one may need to pick at this sort of scab in order to complete the healing. 

Because feelings need to be identified and expressed before they heal.

Anger, grief, anxiety and disappointment all need – and deserve — respectful attention. It’s not enough just to pretend they’re all gone.

So if you come to my office, and you’re always one thing or another…

Don’t be surprised if I start to pick at your scab.


BOOK EXCERPT: Tradeoff (the Third Paradox)

z

From Monkeytraps: Why Everybody Tries to Control Everything and How We Can Stop by Steve Hauptman (Lioncrest, 2015).

~~~LOGO on white

 

Chapter 53: Tradeoff

To get control in one place you must surrender it in another.

                   ~ The Third Paradox

 

I once met a speedcuber, one of those people who could solve Rubik’s Cube in sixty seconds.  Nice friendly young guy.  I sort of hated him.

I was jealous.  Life always felt to me just like one big insoluble Rubik’s Cube.  I could never get things under control on all sides at once.  The harder I tried to make one side of my cube all one color, the more infuriatingly multicolored the other sides got.

It’s still like that.  I still can’t get everything right at once.  I can see clients, or do chores around the house.  I can spend time with my family, or work on my book.  I can go to dinner with friends, or watch my weight.  I can keep up with my professional reading, or read mysteries to relax.  The one thing I can’t do is everything.  I’m trading off all day long.

I am not alone.  Every day I talk with people whose determined attempt to get control over one area of their lives triggers a loss of control in another.  Like

The drinker who uses alcohol to manage his feelings, then loses control of his health.

The careerist who achieves success and status at work, but becomes estranged from his wife and kids.

The compulsive mother who makes her children the focus of her existence, then loses her husband to an affair.

The depressive who successfully hides his feelings from everyone, then one morning finds himself too exhausted to get out of bed.

And so on.

Earlier I mentioned Fritz Perls’ idea that all attempts at self-change will trigger a resistance from deep within ourselves.  That seems to be how change works in the larger world too.  The more we try to force reality to meet our expectations, the more reality pushes back.

It is a point made by cautionary tales as old as Midas and Scrooge, and as modern as Jurassic Park.

And it is especially relevant to those of us who struggle with addiction to control.  We should remember that, in the world of feelings and relationships no less than the physical world, Newton’s Third Law of Motion pertains.  For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. 

Or, if you prefer: Every yin seeks its yang, and vice versa.

But the scales always get balanced somehow.

The same point is spelled out in a letter to Carl Jung from one of his longtime patients:

By keeping quiet, repressing nothing, remaining attentive, and by accepting reality — taking things as they are, and not as I wanted them to be — by doing all this, unusual knowledge has come to me, and unusual powers as well, such as I could never have imagined before.  I always thought that when we accepted things, they overpowered us in some way or other.  This turns out not to be true at all, and it is only by accepting them that one can assume an attitude towards them.  So now I intend to play the game of life, being receptive to whatever comes to me, good and bad, sun and shadow forever alternating, and in this way, also accepting my own nature with its positive and negative sides.  Thus everything becomes more alive to me.  What a fool I was!  How I tried to force everything to go according to the way I thought it ought to.*

~~~LOGO on white

 

 

 

 

*Quoted in Stephen Cope, The wisdom of yoga: A seeker’s guide to extraordinary living (New York: Bantam Books, 2006), 136.

 

 


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