Category Archives: (1) law of addiction

(THE BOOK) Chapter 2: Controlling

an excerpt from 3 (w borders)The urge to control is part of our hard wiring.


Because it is wired into us to

..~ seek pleasure and avoid pain,

..~ imagine a perfect life (one that meets all our needs and makes us perfectly happy), and then

..~ try to make those imaginings come true.

The word controlling covers all forms of this imagining and trying.

Our trying may be large (building a skyscraper) or small (killing crabgrass), complex (winning a war) or simple (salting my soup). 

It may be important (curing cancer) or petty (trimming toenails), public (getting elected) or private (losing weight), essential (avoiding a car crash) or incidental (matching socks).

I may inflict my trying on other people (get you to stop drinking, kiss me, wash the dishes, give me a raise) or on myself (raise my self-esteem, lose weight, hide my anger, learn French).

All this involves seeking some form of control.

We’re controlling nearly all of the time.

We control automatically and unconsciously, waking and sleeping, out in the world and in the privacy of our thoughts.

From birth until death.

The only time we’re not controlling is when we can relax, and do nothing, and trust that things will work out just fine anyway.

How often can you do that?




We’re forming two online study/support groups for readers who want to explore these ideas with me in real time.  One group is for therapists who want to integrate these ideas into their clinical work.  Both groups will be small, eight members at most, and meet weekly. Fee is $50 per session, and group members may purchase Monkeytraps (The Book) at half price. Interested?  Write me:



(THE BOOK) Introduction


an excerpt from 3 (w borders)Want to trap a monkey?

Try this:

(1) Find a heavy bottle with a narrow neck.

(2) Drop a banana into it.

(3) Leave the bottle where a monkey can find it.

(4) Wait.

The monkey will do the rest.

He’ll come along, smell the banana, reach in to grab it.

Then find he can’t pull it out, because the bottleneck is too small.

He can free himself easily.  He just has to let go.

But he really, really wants that banana.

So he hangs on.

He’s still hanging on when you come to collect him.

And that’s how you trap a monkey.




Want to trap a human? 

Try this:

(1) Place the human in an uncomfortable situation.

(2) Wait.

The human will do the rest.

He or she will try to reduce their discomfort by controlling the situation.

The harder they work to reduce their discomfort, the more uncomfortable they’ll get.

The harder they try to escape their discomfort, the more trapped they’ll feel.

And that’s how you trap a human.




This is a book about control in general, and psychological monkeytraps in particular.

A psychological monkeytrap is any situation that temps us to hold on when we should let go — to control what either can’t or shouldn’t be controlled.

The world is filled with monkeytraps.  

As is the emotional life of every human being.

I learned this from practicing psychotherapy.

Therapy also taught me four truths:

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.

I call these the Four Laws of control, and they structure the four parts that follow:

Part 1: Addiction is about the idea of control, and how it structures our lives and choices.

Part 2: Dysfunction is about the most common ways control addiction makes us (and those we love) sick and miserable.

Part 3: Emotion is about the real reason we try to control people, places, things, and ourselves.

Part 4: Alternatives is about moving beyond control addiction to healthier ways of responding to discomfort.

I plan to publish the first two parts online for free.  Then I’ll offer the entire book for sale in spring 2015.

Since this is a new way of looking at people and their problems, chapters will be kept bite-sized and spaced out, to give you a chance to chew on each idea as it emerges.  

Chapters you want to reread will be archived on the page titled Monkeytraps (The Book).

Feedback and questions are always welcome.





You may be used to thinking of control as a solution, not a problem.  

Fine.  Read on.

You may not think of yourself as a controlling person.  

Also fine.  Read on.

You may never have tried redefining your emotional problems as rooted in your wish for control.  

Terrific.  Read on.

A client once described his first Al-Anon meeting as “like a light coming on in a dark room.  Suddenly I could see all the furniture I’ve been tripping over all my life.”

That’s just what we’re going for here.

Welcome to the light switch.

* * *

We’re planning an online study/support group for readers who want to explore these ideas with me in real time.  Also coming, a group for therapists who want to integrate these ideas into their clinical work.  Both groups will be small, eight members at most, and meet weekly. Fee is $50 per 90-minute session, and group members may purchase Monkeytraps (The Book) at half price. Interested?  Write me:




The big lie

In Mein Kampf (1925) Adolf Hitler explains the propaganda technique known as The Big Lie.

Most people, he writes, never think to fabricate “colossal untruths,” and so never expect others will have the gall to do so.  This makes them gullible — so gullible that

Even though the facts [disproving the lie] may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation.

Some families promulgate Big Lies, too.

I know this because there’s one lie with which therapists struggle every working day.

I wrote about it here not long ago (All my fault).

The lie is,

A family’s problems are

caused by the children.

This lie is usually told by parents, who may believe it themselves.  (Often because their parents taught them to.)

Some deliver it directly.  I wish you were never born.  Or Why do I drink?  You’re why I drink.

That’s rare, though. More often the lie is delivered indirectly.  If I wasn’t pregnant, do you think I’d have married your father?

And sometimes it’s delivered nonverbally, with not words but behavior.

A sigh.  A sniff.  A look.  Averted eyes.  Angry or rejecting body language.  Even comments meant to be overheard.  That kid will be the death of me.

How can children defend against this?

They can’t.

Kids are like sponges.  They absorb whatever poison they’re soaked in.

So if you’re a parent it’s worth taking time to examine how you explain, in the privacy of your mind, your own family’s pains and problems.

Because, accurate or cockeyed, your conclusions will probably become your kids’ conclusions.

And in some cases, the lie they end up living.


(Bert speaking.)

I’ve been addicted to control for as long as I can remember.

That is, for as long as I can remember I’ve been trying to force reality — people, places, things, even myself — to match the pictures in my head of how I want reality to be.

I do this constantly.

I do it unconsciously.  Which means I usually don’t know when I’m doing it.

And I do it compulsively.  Which means I get really really anxious when I can’t get control.

I expect to stay an addict until I die.

Yes, I’m in recovery.  But that just means I’m less controlled by my need for control than I used to be, just as recovering alcoholics are less controlled by their need to drink.  They’ll always be alcoholics, though, and I’ll always be a control addict.

I’ll always feel this urge to control stuff.  Even when I know it’s crazy to try.

It’s crazy, I’ve learned, because control is largely an illusion.

Sure,  it’s not always an illusion.  If I pour sugar in my coffee the coffee gets sweeter.  If I pull the steering wheel to the right my car will reliably turn right.

But the world is larger than sugar and steering wheels.  And the truth is that, beyond these concrete ways of changing my immediate circumstances, much of my controlling operates more on the level of wishful thinking.

Why?  Because most of my controlling is an attempt to control feelings and relationships.

And feelings have no steering wheel.  And in relationships sugar doesn’t always work.

Let me explain.

Say I have a feeling I don’t want.  Say I feel inadequate.  But it’s uncomfortable to feel that, and I also worry that if you see that I feel inadequate you may agree with me, which would make me feel worse.  So I hide my feeling, from you and from myself.  I work hard at presenting myself as adequate, even superior. (For an example, see “Bert’s mask.”)  And let’s say it works: I convince you I’m superior.  I have successfully controlled your perception of me.

Do I feel better?

Not so much.

At least, not for long.  Why?  Because I know it’s an act, a pretense.  I’ve basically fooled you about me, and I can’t forget that.  So whatever approval I get from you is essentially meaningless.  And I end up feeling both inadequate and phony.

See how that works?

Another example:

Say I’m mad at you, but afraid to show it.  I’m scared you might get mad back at me, which would make me unhappy.

So I hide my anger from you.  I bury it.

But overcontrolling feelings tends to be bad for me.  Feelings are meant to be expressed, not contained.  Released, not stored up.  So burying my anger makes me uncomfortable.  Constipated.  Pressured.  Uneasy.  Anxious.  And when I do it long and habitually enough, I get depressed.  I.e., chronically unhappy.

How’s that for irony?

Why doesn’t control work better in the realms of feeling and relationships?

Because at the heart of this addiction lies an annoying but inescapable paradox:

The more control I need, the less in control I feel.

* * *


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