Monthly Archives: October 2020

Trap 10: Child, anxious

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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 10: Child, anxious

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Step 1: I experience discomfort.

I am frustrated and embarrassed that my child is scared of X.

*

Step 2: I misread the discomfort.

“I must push my child to get over this fear.”

*

Step 3: I try to control the discomfort.

I tell my child

Don’t be silly

or Don’t be a baby

or You’re not really scared of X

or That’s nothing to be scared of

or Look at your sister, she’s not scared of X

or You can’t go through life being scared of things, 

etc.

*

Step 4: My attempt fails.

My child’s anxiety increases, and now includes me and my “help.”

*

Step 5: I misread the failure.

“I need to push harder.”

Step 6: I experience discomfort.

I am frustrated and embarrassed that my child is scared of X.

*

Footnote:

Children and invalidation

Invalidation can happen anywhere, and in any relationship. In this post, I am addressing invalidation in the family which we will define as any pattern of communication or interaction that indicates to another person that their point of view, opinions or emotions are irrational, flawed, unwarranted, worthless, self-centered or even crazy. Simply wrong.

What this means for little Johnny is that he lives in an environment that does not uniquely value him as a person. His environment is bent toward the thoughts and ideals of the invalidating parent. Johnny’s opinions are not allowed to be his own, they must reflect the thinking of his parent. Even worse, Johnny’s emotions are also vetted by his parent. If Johnny says he feels scared about something, he is told that he, 1) is not scared, or 2) should not feel scared. Perhaps an alternative is offered, but it is too late. What Johnny has already learned is not appropriate emotion regulation and expression, but that he is not allowed to have his own emotions, what he genuinely feels is wrong, and that someone else is in charge of his emotions….

Invalidation attacks identity. If a person is consistently exposed to an invalidating environment, their grip on the reality of what they think and feel becomes malleable. You could even consider it a subtle form of brainwashing, possibly even to the point where a mentally healthy person contemplates their own craziness.

~ From “Invalidation: How to ruin your child’s sense of self” at the Uncommon Sense blog

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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]


(About therapy #3:) Therapy as driver ed

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“I function very well,” he tells me. 

A bit defensively.

“How so?”

“I do my job. I do it well. I’m a good teacher. My students like me. And I meet my responsibilities. I pay my bills, take care of the house, the dogs. I’m there for my family and my friends and my colleagues. They can come to me for anything, and they all know it. “

“Okay,” I say. “Why are you here?”

He frowns. 

“Something’s missing,” he says finally.

“Any thoughts on what it might be?”

“No.”

“How can you tell it’s missing?”

“Just a feeling,” he says.

“Where?”

“Excuse me?”

“In your body.  Where do you feel the feeling?”

He thinks.

“Here,” touching his chest.

“Can you describe it?”

“Kind of empty,” he says.  “Hollow.”

“Sad?” I ask. 

“Maybe.”

“Heart-achey?”

He nods.

“Right. And when you say you’re there for people, does that include you?”

“I don’t follow.”

“It sounds like you’re very sensitive to the feelings and needs of the people around you,” I say. “Are you sensitive to your own feelings and needs as well?”

“Not so much,” he admits.

“Then I know what’s missing.”

“What?

“You,” I say. “You is what’s missing.”

I remind him of what he’s told me about his family of origin. “Kids who grow up in alcoholic or dysfunctional families like yours tend to lose touch with their own emotional life early on. They put their attention on other people instead, what others want or need or expect. It’s a shift into survival mode that allows them to navigate an uncertain and anxiety-producing environment. Do you remember, as a kid, being especially alert to who was unhappy or angry, or when an argument seemed to be brewing?”   

“Oh yes.”

“And now?”

“I still do,” he says, looking surprised. “I walk into a classroom or a faculty meeting and immediately spot who’s in a bad mood.”

“And their bad mood makes you uneasy.”

He nods.

“And you keep feeling that way unless you can either change their mood or get away from them.”

“Yes.”

“Sure. You’re reacting like the kid you were, the kid who played defense by overfocusing on other people.  Given your family’s dynamics, that was unavoidable. But you need something more now. That’s what the empty/sad feeling means. You need to start paying attention to yourself.”

He frowns.  “Not sure how to do that.”

“I’ll teach you. We’ll start by redirecting your attention from outside to inside, like just now.”

He nods, but he doesn’t look happy.

“What?” I ask.

“It’s kind of scary,” he says.

I smile at him.

“Good,” I say. “You’re begun. Where do you feel the fear?”

“My stomach.”

“That’s fine,” I say. “Of course you scared. You’re scared like a new driver who gets behind the wheel for the first time.  You don’t know what you’re doing yet. But then you learn, step by step.  And before long you can start the car up and shift into drive and take it to the end of the block and not be so scared.”

“Okay,” he says. “And what happens if I don’t?”

“Don’t do this work, you mean?”

“Right.”

“You keep feeling the way you do now,” I say. “Like there’s a hole where your self is meant to be. Like a hostage to the moods and preferences of others. And like a passenger in your own car, instead of the driver.”

“Fuck that,” he says.

We both laugh.

“How your stomach?” I ask.

He smiles.  

 

 


Trap 9: Character

*

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 9: Character

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Step 1: I experience discomfort.

I feel tired, trapped, and unable to be myself — to be emotionally honest or authentic or spontaneous.

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Step 2: I misread the discomfort.

“This feeling means there’s something wrong with me.”

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Step 3: I try to control the discomfort.

I try to fix myself by trying harder to meet the demands of my circumstances and the expectations of others.

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Step 4: My attempt fails.

My attempt leaves me feeling even more tired and trapped.

*

Step 5: I misread the failure.

“I must try harder to fix myself.”

Step 6: I experience discomfort.

I feel tired, trapped, and unable to be myself.

*

Footnote:

Character and control

Once you have a character you have developed a rigid system. Your behavior becomes petrified, predictable, and you lose your ability to cope freely with the world with all your resources. You are predetermined just to cope with events in one way, namely, as your character prescribes it to be.  So it seems a paradox when I say that the richest person, the most productive, creative person, is a person who has no character. In our society, we demand a person to have a character, and especially a good character, because then you are predictable, and you can be pigeon-holed, and so on….

The fact that we live only on such a small percentage of our potential is due to the fact that we’re not willing — or society or whatever you want to call it is not willing — to accept myself, yourself, as the organism which you are by birth, constitution, and so on.  You do not allow yourself, or you are not allowed, to be totally yourself…. [So] your power, your energy, becomes smaller and smaller. Your ability to cope with the world becomes less and less — and more and more rigid, more and more allowed only to cope as your character, as your preconceived pattern prescribes it.

~ Frederich S. Perls, Gestalt Therapy Verbatim (Real People Press, 1967)

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Next:

Trap _: __

* * **

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 9: Character

Step 1: I experience discomfort

x

Step 2: I misread the discomfort.

x

Step 3: I try to control the discomfort.

x

Step 4: My attempt fails.

x

Step 5: I misread the failure.

x 

Step 6: I experience discomfort.

x

 

Footnote: Character & control

(Perls on character)

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Next:

* * *

*

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]


(About therapy #2:) Therapy as self-defense

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So I’m trying to explain boundaries to someone who doesn’t understand what they are.

We know this because she keeps getting exploited.

She tells me several stories to illustrate this.  Mostly about men who take advantage of her. 

“I don’t know why it keeps happening,” she says.  “Do I have a sign on my forehead or something?”

“Maybe,” I say.

“What do you mean?”

“Some people — let’s call them predators — are good at noticing when other people lack strong boundaries.  They sense when they can impose on you and get away  with it.”

“What, they read minds?”

“No.  But they’re observant, and they test you.  They notice things like how comfortable you are expressing feelings or opinions or preferences.  Are you comfortable doing that?”

She shakes her head. 

“And I’m guessing you’re also what’s called conflict averse.  Do you avoid arguments?  Disagreeing with others?  Saying No?”

She nods.

“Well, predators pick up on that.  And over time they use it against you.  Keep crossing your boundary until they get what they want.”

“Like sex?”

“Sure, but not just sex.  They chip away at your ability to be yourself in all sorts of ways.  They teach you — often in very subtle, nonverbal ways — what they like and dislike, what pleases and annoys them.  And they reward the former and discourage the latter.  At the time you may not even notice it’s happening.  But eventually you find you’ve adapted to them so completely that you’ve lost yourself.  And you feel like a hostage, like…”

“A kid,” she says. 

“So you know what I’m talking about.”

“Yes, and I’m sick of it,” she says.  “So what’s a boundary?”

A boundary, I tell her, is an imaginary line between us that defines where I end and you begin. 

“On this side of the line are my thoughts, feelings and problems, and yours are on the other side.  And when the line gets blurred it gets terribly confusing.  You pay more attention to my emotional life than to your own.”

“How can I tell where the line is?”

“By listening to yourself.  Your feelings, mainly.  They act as a sort of radar.”

“Mine don’t.”

“I bet they do.  Remember that first guy you told me about?  How long were you with him before what he began making you uncomfortable?”

“Our first date,” she frowns.  “At dinner he was nasty to our waitress.  It made me nervous.”

“That’s good.  Your radar kicked in quickly.  How did you react to the nervous feeling?” 

“Pushed it away.  I wanted him to like me.”

“Right.  So you ignored your radar, and I bet he noticed.”

“You think he was testing me?”

“I think predators are always looking to see what they can get away with.”

She shakes her head angrily.  “How do I protect myself from people like that?”

“You’re doing it now,” I say.  “You’re in therapy, and you’re learning how to listen to your feelings.  And the more you do, the better you’ll get at trusting your radar and finding ways to avoid danger or escape it.”

“Like self-defense training,” she smiles.

“Exactly like that.”

 

 

 

 


Trap 8: Changing you

*

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 8: Changing you

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Step 1: I experience discomfort

I am unable to accept you as you are.

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Step 2: I misread the discomfort.

“This person needs to change.”

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Step 3: I try to control the discomfort.

I try to get you to change.

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Step 4: My attempt fails.

You resent and resist my attempt to change you.

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Step 5: I misread the failure.

“You don’t love or respect or care about me enough to meet my expectations.” 

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Step 6: I experience discomfort.

I am unable to accept you as you are.

 

Footnote: Acceptance & control

Any time we let the actions of another person control our emotions to the point that we are offended, angry, etc. we have given them the power to disturb our peace. What we are really saying is, “Your behavior has the power to upset me. Therefore, my happiness is dependent upon you behaving a certain way. Unless you act like I want you to, I am not happy, therefore I am always at your mercy.” Anytime our own happiness is left in the hands of another person, no matter how great we get along with that person, it is never a good idea. There will always be a time when they don’t act exactly according to our own agenda and therefore it is almost assured that we will get upset by them at some point.

~ From “Conscious relationships: Accepting others as they are” on the blog Fractal Enlightenment

 

Next:

Trap 9: Character

***

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]

 


(About therapy #1:) About therapy

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A new client, visibly uneasy.

She’s been to therapy before but never had a good experience. 

One therapist was mostly silent, which made her anxious. 

Another gave her articles to read about feelings and relationships.  It felt like school, she says.

A third shared so much about her own personal life that my client felt impelled to comfort the therapist.  (This was especially disappointing because she has a history of getting lost in relationships.)

And one, an older man, actually dozed off in session. 

(“What did you do?” I ask.  “Waited for him to wake up.” she shrugs)

She asks me how I do therapy. 

She asks this near the end of the hour.

I answer briefly, but promise more in writing.

The next day I send her this. 

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The goal of therapy

A client once asked me what I thought the goal of therapy was.  The question startled me.  No one ever asked me that before, and not being able to answer immediately made me feel like a jerk.

But I thought about it, and what came to me was something Michelangeo said about being a sculptor.

The sculptor’s job, he said, was to free the statue from the stone.

So I told my client that, and that I see the therapist’s job as similar.

“The therapist’s job is to help the client scrape away everything that isn’t really him/her,” I said.  “All the defenses, all the false beliefs and  assumptions, all the unnecessary anxieties and fear.”

I still like that analogy.  My job is to help people locate their real selves, and then to help them to be their real selves out in the world.

You and I have already talked some about why that’s hard to do.

As children we each learn a Plan A that is basically distorted, an overgeneralization from our childhood experiences.  If Dad is angry and scary, we learn to fear and avoid all angry people.  If Mom calls us “stupid” we believe it’s true, even though what Mom says may have less to do with our limitations than her own.  And so on.

So we all grow up hypnotized into believing things which simply aren’t true, about ourselves and other people and feelings and relationships.

The work of therapy is to scrape away that trance, to wake up and see things as they really are.

How do we do that?

.

The experience of therapy

I’m a great believer in what I call corrective emotional experience.

I think one way to scrape away the false beliefs of Plan A is by replacing them with new experiences.

For example, some people grow up surrounded by abusive or scary people, which led them to see relationships as dangerous.  The job of therapy is to teach such people that relationship can be safe and comforting.

Some people grow up learning that expressing how they feel leads to discomfort or rejection.  Therapy’s job is to teach them that, in a healthy relationship, expressing feelings can make you feel more comfortable and more connected, not less.

Some people (like the kid whose Mom calls her stupid) grow up with distorted views of themselves, both their weaknesses and their strengths.  Therapy’s job is to replace that with a more realistic view of themselves, by providing a less distorted mirror — i.e., the therapist.

Those are all corrective emotional experiences.

It’s what helped me in therapy. 

I went into it not liking myself very much. 

Luckily my therapist liked me more. 

And over time she taught me to see myself as she did.

.

The method of therapy

So how do we create corrective emotional experiences?

There are many ways.

The most fundamental is to make the therapeutic relationship as safe and predictable as possible.

We meet regularly, at the same time if possible, for the same length of time, and for a fee that does not change.

We meet in private, and I promise you confidentiality, i.e., not to disclose anything we talk about.  (The only exceptions to confidentiality are if I think you’re in danger of hurting yourself, hurting someone else, or if a judge orders me.)

Though it sometimes feels like other kinds of relationship — friendship, for example, or parent/child — our relationship is strictly professional.  That means it serves your needs and focuses on your feelings, not mine. 

I work for you.  You owe me nothing but to show up for appointments, pay your fee, and be as honest with me as you can.

Most of the time I won’t share my own personal life with you.  If I do (as I did above, by mentioning my own therapy), I will do it only because I think it will help you in some way.

These may seem like small matters, but they’re not.  They are essential to creating a relationship that’s safe, predictable and therapeutic.

..

Feelings in therapy

I was trained as a Gestaltist.  Gestalt therapists believe that we are self-regulating organisms who develop emotional and psychological problems when we interrupt our own natural self-regulating behaviors — expressing feelings, for example.

Most of us learn as children that expressing feelings can be risky in a number of ways.  Our feelings may make others uncomfortable, and they may respond with defensiveness or judgment or anger or rejection or even abuse.  Which, of course, teaches us to hide our feelings, to shut down.

So the basic goal of Gestalt therapy is to provide a place where the client can unlearn that defensive reaction, and express feelings without fear or shame.

This is usually easier said than done.  The Inner Child (you may remember reading about her) is usually convinced that expressing feelings is dangerous, and it can take her a long time to believe otherwise.

But I can think of nothing more healing and empowering than regaining what we each had at birth — the ability to listen to feelings, identify them, trust them, and express them in healthy ways.

In short, to be your emotionally authentic self.

 

 

 


Trap 7: Changing me

*

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 7: Changing me

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Step 1: I experience discomfort

I see myself as stuck, flawed or inadequate.

Step 2: I misread the discomfort.

“There must be something wrong with me.”

Step 3: I try to control the discomfort.

I try to change myself.

Step 4: My attempt fails.

When I try to change myself, another part of me rises up to resist the changing.

Step 5: I misread the failure.

“This inability to change means I’m worse than I thought.” 

Step 6: I experience discomfort.

I see myself as stuck, flawed or inadequate.

 

Footnote: Self-improvement & control

[W]e cannot deliberately bring about changes in ourselves or in others. This is a very decisive point.  Many people dedicate their lives to actualize a concept of what they should be like, rather than to actualize themselves.  This difference between self-actualizing and self-image is very important. Most people only live for their image.  Where some people have a self, most people have a void, because they are so busy projecting themselves as this or that.  This is the curse of the ideal.  The curse that you should not be what you are.

~ Frederick S. Perls, Gestalt therapy verbatim (Real People Press, 1969)

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Next:

Changing you

* * *

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 6: Blame

*

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 6: Blame

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Step 1: I experience discomfort

I am angry or anxious or frustrated or in some other emotional pain.

*

Step 2: I misread the discomfort.

“Person X is making me feel this way.”

*

Step 3: I try to control the discomfort.

I let Person X know This is your fault, you must fix it.

*

Step 4: My attempt fails.

If my discomfort is X’s fault, I myself am dependent and helpless, which makes me feel worse.

*

Step 5: I misread the failure.

“Person X isn’t doing enough to fix my feeling.” 

*

Step 6: I experience discomfort.

I am angry or anxious or frustrated or in some other emotional pain.

 

Footnote:

Blame & control

There is a very dangerous drug on the streets that nobody is talking about. It’s called blameoin (pronounced: blame-o-win). Blameoin is a drug that makes you believe that someone else is always at fault and there is nothing you can do about it. Blameoin users blame others for everything. (“That’s my incompetent boss’ fault!”) Blameoin allows its users to preserve their ego. Users don’t have to take responsibility for their actions. They can continue to believe they are perfect because everything is someone else’s fault. Just like with other dangerous drugs, users feel better in the short term, but the drug slowly destroys their life. Every time they snort blameoin, they lose power to whoever or whatever they blamed. They make themselves powerless to improve the situation. If it’s your boss’ fault, what can you do about it? Your options are limited when trying to affect other people’s actions. Your actions are the easiest ones to affect. Blameoin takes away your ability to control those actions.

~ Jeff Steinmann, “The danger of blame”

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Next:

Trap 7: Changing me

***

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 5: Avoidance

 

**

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: Avoidance

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Step 1: I experience discomfort

X makes me uncomfortable.

*

Step 2: I misread the discomfort.

“I should stay away from X.”

*

Step 3: I try to control the discomfort.

I avoid X.

*

Step 4: My attempt fails.

Because I avoid it, I never discover (a) what X is really like or (b) how to cope with it, so my discomfort continues.

*

Step 5: I misread the failure.

“X remains a threat to me.” 

*

Step 6: I experience discomfort.

X makes me uncomfortable.

 

Footnote:

Avoidance & control

If you’ve ever heard the phrase, “What you resist, persists,” you have been introduced to the basic reason that avoidance coping can increase anxiety. When people use this strategy to consciously or unconsciously avoid something that causes them anxiety, they usually create a situation where they need to face it more…. [For example,] If you avoid having the conversations that are necessary to resolve a conflict in the early stages, it can snowball and bring greater levels of stress to the relationship. In some cases, unresolved conflict might even end a relationship. If this happens, you might develop anxiety over any type of conflict, as your experience might have made you believe that even a small conflict can end a relationship (which might be true if a conflict was not resolved). If you find yourself ending relationships rather than working through conflicts, you will likely end up with many broken relationships and a sense that you’re not able to make relationships “work” in the long-term.

~ Elizabeth Scott, M.S., “Avoidance coping and why it creates additional stress”

 

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Next:

Trap 6: Blame

***

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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