Monthly Archives: September 2020

Trap 4: Approval

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This continues a new series of posts excerpted from Monkeytraps in Everyday Life: A Guide for Control Addicts (in press).  It’s about psychological monkeytraps: what they are, how they work, and how recovering control addicts can learn to notice when they’ve trapped themselves by trying to control what cannot or should not be controlled. Read the introduction to the series here.

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Trap 4: Approval

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Step 1: I experience discomfort

As a child I don’t get enough approval.

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Step 2: I misread the discomfort.

“There must be something wrong with me.”

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Step 3: I try to control the discomfort.

I work hard to win the approval of others, by trying to be who they want me to be.

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Step 4: My attempt fails.

Whatever approval I win feels meaningless, since it’s a response to my trying, not to the real me.

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Step 5: I misread the failure.

“I must try harder to win others’ approval.” 

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Step 6: I experience discomfort.

As an adult I don’t get enough approval.

 

Footnote:

Approval & control

When we urgently aim to please other people, we’re seeking approval of self from outside sources. And whenever we reach for something in the outside world to give us what we should be giving ourselves, we set ourselves up for disappointment. We set ourselves up to live a life we don’t particularly want, but will fit with what other people expect of us. We don’t dare take a chance on something that may bring on a disapproving stare or rank low on the social status meter. We do what’s expected of us. We do what others want for us and from us. In return, we get their approval. You might be thinking, “Why not seek approval?” Well, the reason is that we only get it at the expense of knowing what we want and being our true selves. When we seek others’ approval, we miss opportunities to learn how to approve of ourselves — even if others don’t. 

~ Ilene Strauss Cohen, Ph.D., “How to let go of the need for approval”

Next:

Trap 5: Avoidance

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Monkeytraps: Why Everybody Tries to Control Everything and How We Can Stop
is available here.

Monkeytraps: Why Everybody Tries to Control Everything and How We Can Stop by [Steve Hauptman]

 

 


Trap 3: Anxiety

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This continues a new series of posts excerpted from Monkeytraps in Everyday Life: A Guide for Control Addicts (in press).  It’s about psychological monkeytraps: what they are, how they work, and how recovering control addicts can learn to notice when they’ve trapped themselves by trying to control what cannot or should not be controlled. Read the introduction to the series here.

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Trap 3: Anxiety

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Step 1: I experience discomfort

I’m anxious most of the time.

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Step 2: I misread the discomfort.

“There’s something wrong with me.”

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Step 3: I try to control the discomfort.

Fearing judgment, I hide my anxiety from others.

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Step 4: My attempt fails.

When I hide my anxiety, it grows.

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Step 5: I misread the failure.

“I must work harder to hide my anxiety.”

Step 6: I experience discomfort.

I’m anxious most of the time.

 

Footnote:

Anxiety & control

Anxious people try to control other people mainly by editing themselves — hiding the parts they think others won’t like. Most importantly, they bury feelings instead of expressing them. That last sentence defines the heart of anxiety. That’s because feelings are – excuse this analogy – like shit.  Feelings are supposed to be expelled and expressed, not buried and hidden.  When they’re buried, they don’t go away.  They collect.  The person becomes emotionally constipated, lives in a constant state of self-interruption, internal pressure and emotional pain. And anxiety is the name we give to this pain.

~ From Chapter 24, “The Anxious,” in Monkeytraps: Why Everybody Tries to Control Everything and How We Can Stop.

 

Next:

Trap 4: Approval

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Monkeytraps: Why Everybody Tries to Control Everything and How We Can Stop
is available here.

Monkeytraps: Why Everybody Tries to Control Everything and How We Can Stop by [Steve Hauptman]


Trap 2: Annoying

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This continues a new series of posts excerpted from Monkeytraps in Everyday Life: A Guide for Control Addicts (in press).  It’s about psychological monkeytraps: what they are, how they work, and how recovering control addicts can learn to notice when they’ve trapped themselves by trying to control what cannot or should not be controlled. Read the introduction to the series here.

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Trap 2: Annoying

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Step 1: I experience discomfort

People find me annoying.

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Step 2: I misread the discomfort.

“I must become more likeable.”

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Step 3: I try to control the discomfort.

I employ codependent behavior — flattering, advice-giving, approval-seeking, rescuing, clinging, conflict avoidance, and unremitting “niceness.”

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Step 4: My attempt fails.

People find my codependent behavior annoying.

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Step 5: I misread the failure.

“I must try harder to win them over.”

Step 6: I experience discomfort.

People find me annoying.

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Footnote:

Codependents and control

It’s as if codependents are turned inside out. Instead of self-esteem, they have other esteem, based upon what others think and feel. Instead of meeting their own needs, they meet the needs of others, and instead of responding to their own thoughts and feelings, they react to those of others. It’s a haywire system, because they have to control others to feel okay, but that just makes matters worse and leads to conflict and pain. It also makes emotional intimacy difficult.

~ Darlene Lancer, author of Codependency for Dummies

 

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Next:

Trap 3: Addiction

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Monkeytraps: Why Everybody Tries to Control Everything and How We Can Stop
is available here.

Monkeytraps: Why Everybody Tries to Control Everything and How We Can Stop by [Steve Hauptman]


Trap 1: Addiction

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This continues a new series of posts excerpted from Monkeytraps in Everyday Life: A Guide for Control Addicts (in press).  It’s a book about psychological monkeytraps: what they are, how they work, and how recovering control addicts can learn to notice when they’ve trapped themselves by trying to control what cannot or should not be controlled. Read the introduction to the series here.

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Trap 1: Addiction

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Step 1: I experience discomfort

I have a feeling I don’t know what to do with.

 

Step 2: I misread the discomfort.

“I need to make this feeling go away.”

 

Step 3: I try to control the discomfort.

I ingest something or perform some behavior that numbs the feeling temporarily.

 

Step 4: My attempt fails.

When the numbness wears off the feeling comes back (usually stronger).

 

Step 5: I misread the failure.

“I need to make this feeling go away again.” 

 

Step 6: I experience discomfort.

I have a feeling I don’t know what to do with.

 

Footnote:

Addiction and control

Addicts are people who can’t handle feelings.  Usually it’s because they never learned to as kids.  Usually because their parents never taught them.  Usually because they couldn’t teach them, because their parents never taught them.  (Usually.)  In any case, being unable to handle feelings is uncomfortable, since feelings tend to keep coming.  So the kid naturally starts looking around for something to make the damn things go away.  To escape a jungle of unwanted, disagreeable feelings by entering the Garden of Numb. Drugs and alcohol are the most obvious paths to the garden, but anything that alters your mood can be turned into an addiction.  And though some are more dangerous than others, in the end each addiction is the same as all the others, because each has the same goal: to give the addict control over emotional life.  Which is why when I’m asked “What does control have to do with addiction?” I reply: “Everything.”  Because finally every addiction is an addiction to control.

~ From The garden of numb

 


Next:

Trap 2: Annoying.

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Monkeytraps: Why Everybody Tries to Control Everything and How We Can Stop

is available here.

Monkeytraps: Why Everybody Tries to Control Everything and How We Can Stop by [Steve Hauptman]

 


A monkeytraps encyclopedia

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This continues a new series of posts excerpted from Monkeytraps in Everyday Life: A Guide for Control Addicts (in press).  It’s about psychological monkeytraps: what they are, how they work, and how recovering control addicts can learn to notice when they’ve trapped themselves by trying to control what cannot or should not be controlled.  Read the introduction to the series here.

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Okay, calling this an encyclopedia is an overstatement.

Encyclopedia* implies inclusiveness, and an all-inclusive list of monkeytraps would be impossible.

Why? 

Because

(a) the number of monkeytraps is limitless, as infinite as the craving which creates them,

and

(b) a monkeytrap isn’t a thing — it’s a dynamic, an emotional pattern that springs into being whenever someone tries to control something that can’t or shouldn’t be controlled.

That said, there are scores of readily identifiable examples of this dynamic that torture us daily.

So it’s worth taking time to understand and remember them.

Below is a table of contents.

Note, please, that this is a work in progress. 

I may add more entries later, as my grasp of monkeytraps expands.

(And if you have any to suggest, please do.)

But here, friends, are the first fifty:

    1. Addiction

    2. Anxiety

    3. Annoying

    4. Approval

    5. Avoidance

    6. Blame

    7. Changing me

    8. Changing you

    9. Character

    10. Child, anxious

    11. Child, dishonest

    12. Controlling

    13. Crying

    14. Defensiveness

    15. Denial

    16. Drinking, mine

    17. Drinking, yours

    18. Failure

    19. Family

    20. Family, dysfunctional

    21. Feelings ~ trap #1

    22. Feelings ~ trap 32

    23. Guilt ~ trap #1

    24. Guilt ~ trap #2

    25. Guilt ~ trap #3

    26. Helpfulness

    27. Help-seeking ~ trap #1

    28. Help-seeking ~ trap #2

    29. Help-seeking ~ trap #3

    30. Hope

    31. How people treat me

    32. Introjection

    33. Mourning

    34. Neediness

    35. No

    36. Parents

    37. Perfectionism

    38. Productivity

    39. Projection ~ trap #1

    40. Projection ~ trap #2

    41. Pursuit

    42. Relationships

    43. Secrets

    44. Self-acceptance

    45. Self-improvement

    46. Self-care

    47. Shame

    48. Stupid

    49. Transference

    50. Trust

    51. Victimization.

Stay tuned for explanations of each.

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Next:

Trap 1: Addiction

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*Encyclopedia: A book or set of books giving information on all or many branches of knowledge, generally in articles alphabetically arranged.  (Webster’s New World Dictionary, 1980.)

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*

Monkeytraps: Why Everybody Tries to Control Everything and How We Can Stop

is available here.

Monkeytraps: Why Everybody Tries to Control Everything and How We Can Stop by [Steve Hauptman]

 

 


Anatomy of a monkeytrap

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This continues a new series of posts excerpted from Monkeytraps in Everyday Life: A Guide for Control Addicts (in press).  It’s a book about psychological monkeytraps: what they are, how they work, and how recovering control addicts can learn to notice when they’ve trapped themselves by trying to control what cannot or should not be controlled.  Today’s post continues the book’s introduction, which began here.

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Anatomy of a monkeytrap

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You can get the monkey off your back, but the circus never leaves town.

~ Anne Lamott

 

 

Monkeytraps don’t so much trap us as invite us to trap ourselves.

Each one contains roughly the same elements, and follows the same circular pattern:

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Look familiar?

No, probably not.

But here’s a familiar example on the physical level:

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This you probably recognize.

Notice that the trap depends on two crucial misreadings.

First I misread what would relieve my rash, then I misread the result of that first misreading.

A psychological analogue would be how we handle an unpleasant feeling, like sadness:

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Again, the trap depends on two misreadings of my emotional experience.  First I misinterpret the meaning of my sadness (which signals, not weakness, but loss).  Then I misinterpret the failure of my first misreading (you relieve sadness not by suppressing but expressing it – i.e., by crying).

Why do these misreadings occur?

Because accurate interpretations (“I need to apply calamine lotion” or “I need to let myself cry”) do not satisfy my need for control.

In other words, they’re rooted wishful thinking.  I want to be able to scratch my itch away.  I want to make sadness vanish by hiding my tears. 

And I will ignore all sorts of evidence that what I want is not possible.

So I basically lie to myself, over and over again in defining the real problem and the real solution. 

I lie myself right into monkeytraps.

All this can be very helpful to remember.

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Dancing

Avoiding monkeytraps depends on learning to recognize one before I stick my paw into it.

When I work with couples I often point out the unconscious “dance” they do with each other in response to stress, a series of predictable moves and countermoves which leads to their repeating the same arguments and frustrations over and over again.

I tell them, “You need to start noticing when the dance starts.  Otherwise you can never stop dancing and do something healthier.”

It’s the same with individuals. 

We fall into unconscious patterns of coping, automatic and rigid responses to pain, fear, or discomfort.  And we have no chance of escape until we notice what we’re doing.

In the next post of this series I’ll begin describing particular monkeytraps.

You can think of them as predictable steps we do in our dance with stress.

You may not follow all of them, but you certainly follow some.

When we follow them unconsciously, the steps of this dance take on an awful life of their own.

Yet the moment we notice what we’re doing and why we’re doing it new choices become possible.

One last point:

We human beings are wired for control addiction.  Because of our oversized brains – which cannot stop remembering and anticipating and worrying — we can’t help trying to control what cannot or should not be controlled.

Even those of us working hard to recover from this addiction remain at perpetual risk of being monkeytrapped.

“You can get the monkey off your back,” Anne Lamott writes, “but the circus never leaves town.”

But it sure helps to notice when the calliope starts playing.

Next:

An encyclopedia of monkeytraps.

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*

Monkeytraps: Why Everybody Tries to Control Everything and How We Can Stop

is available here.

Monkeytraps: Why Everybody Tries to Control Everything and How We Can Stop by [Steve Hauptman]


How to spot a monkeytrap

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Today begins a new series of posts excerpted from Monkeytraps in Everyday Life: A Guide for Control Addicts (in press).  It’s a book about psychological monkeytraps: what they are, how they work, and how recovering addicts can learn to notice when they’ve trapped themselves by trying to control what cannot or should not be controlled.

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How to spot a monkeytrap

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To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.

                                                  ~ George Orwell

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The first thing practicing therapy teaches you is that most people don’t know what they’re doing or why they’re doing it.

I include myself in this generalization.

It’s why I became a therapist, in fact.  I needed to figure myself out.

I was sick and tired of my symptoms, which were the same ones most people bring to therapy: anxiety, depression, addictive behaviors, botched communications, frustrating relationships.

And I was tired of blundering stupidly, over and over, into the same problems that caused those symptoms.

As it turns out, none of this was my fault.

Nor is it yours.

It’s simply how we’re constructed.

We’re like icebergs.  Most of us – most of our feeling and thinking and motivation — is submerged in unawareness.

During a lecture the mythologist Joseph Campbell once drew a large circle on a blackboard and then added a small notch at the top.  The circle, he said, represents the total human being.  The notch is the part that’s conscious.

Freud, of course, is famous for saying that the goal of psychoanalysis was to make the unconscious conscious.

Carl Jung agreed.  “Until you make the unconscious conscious,” he wrote, “it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

And T.S. Eliot noted that bad poets are usually unconscious where they ought to be conscious and conscious where they ought to be unconscious.

The same might be said of unhappy people.

So the goal of any psychotherapy worthy of the name should be to teach us what we do and why we do it.

And, often, how to stop.

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Four laws

One way to do this is to become aware of our need for control.

That need was the subject of Monkeytraps: Why Everybody Tries to Control Everything and How We Can Stop (2015), the first in a projected six-book series.

There I defined control as the ability to dictate reality – to rearrange people, places and things according to our needs and preferences.

I described the Four Laws that had become obvious to me over twenty years of practicing psychotherapy:

  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.

And I argued that our emotional lives are governed by these laws from birth until death, whether we realize it or not.

Monkeytraps in Everyday Life illustrates how the first three of these laws operate on a daily basis.

(The fourth law — and the three healthy alternatives to control addiction, which I call surrender, responsibility and intimacy – are discussed at length in Monkeytraps. That discussion of recovery will be expanded in the forthcoming Monkeytraps for Adult Children, Monkeytraps for Couples, Monkeytraps for Parents and Monkeytraps for Therapists.)

The title of this series comes from a method of trapping monkeys which relies on their inherent monkeyishness.  Fruit is placed inside 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.

Psychological monkeytraps catch human beings in essentially the same way.  They don’t so much trap us as invite us to trap ourselves.

They do this by (a) making us uncomfortable, which then (b) tempts us into trying to control something which either cannot or should not be controlled — to hold on when we should let go.

Since life is filled with discomforts, it is also filled with monkeytraps.

They range in size from the petty (like the urge to scratch a rash) to the destructive (the urge to dominate others) to the potentially fatal (the urge to numb oneself with drugs or alcohol).

Some monkeytraps are inevitable and unavoidable.

But not all.

And to the person who wants to avoid them, a bit of education can be helpful.

For example, it helps to understand how monkeytraps are constructed.

x

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Next:

Anatomy of a monkeytrap.

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*

Monkeytraps: Why Everybody Tries to Control Everything and How We Can Stop

is available here.

Monkeytraps: Why Everybody Tries to Control Everything and How We Can Stop by [Steve Hauptman]

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