What we talk about when we talk about control (part 4): Monkeytraps

how-to-spot-monkeytraps-black(If you’re new to Monkeytraps, Steve is a therapist who specializes in control issues, and Bert is his control-addicted inner monkey.  Steve and Bert wrote this together.)

Steve:  We once asked readers to tell us what they most want to learn about control.  One replied with,

I like your blog, but it’s a little scary, since before this I had no idea how controlling I am and how many problems it causes me.

What I want now is to learn to be more aware of my controlling, to keep the idea of control at the surface of my mind and to understand how wanting to control things drives how I react and what I do and say.

Got any tips on that?

Bert:  Good question.

Steve:  Yes.  She wants to learn how to spot monkeytraps.

Bert:  Maybe you should remind everyone what a monkeytrap is.

Steve:  In the East they trap monkeys by placing fruit in a weighted jar or bottle with a narrow neck. The monkey smells the fruit, 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 — i.e., into holding on when you really should be letting go.

Bert:  And yes, we have tips on how to spot them.

Steve:  The first is,

(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:  For example, 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.  It keeps me busy.  

 Steve:  The second 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. 

Steve:  The third 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 a few 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.

 Steve:  Right.  The most frightened people are the most controlling people.  And the most controlling people stay the most frightened.

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