Category Archives: (3) law of emotion

(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.

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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.

 

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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.

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Finally:

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.

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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: fritzfreud@aol.com.

 

 

 


Feelings

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20 years ago:

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“What are you feeling?”

 

“I feel upset”

 

“Upset? What does upset mean?”

 

“Upset! It means that I feel upset!”

 

“Upset isn’t a feeling. Are you sad? Or scared? Or angry? Or feeling loss? Or something else?”

 

“I’m not sure.”

 

Yes, I was so afraid of my emotions that I couldn’t even begin to identify my “negative” emotions.

 

That would have meant getting close enough to them to start to really feel them, which felt utterly overwhelming.

 

And I’m not only talking about feelings related to the abuse, I’m talking about the feelings related to every day life.

 

Thus began my education about emotions.

~ From I have to feel what? by catsmeow at Living While Healing.


The illusion of control

The heat’s back today, and it’s too hot to walk. 

But there’s good news too. The aging AC in my building finally expired, transforming my office into a sauna with sofas.  So I had to stay home. 

Like a snow day, but with sweat.

Anyway, I’m sitting here at my desk with a fan at my elbow, reading chirpy blogs filled with excellent advice about how to transform my neuroses and finances, when I hear footsteps. 

Guess who? Bert growls.

***

Oh, please.  Take the day off, can’t you?

I want to chat. 

What about?

 About the other day.  After we talked I felt better.

Great.  You’re welcome.  Go take a nap.

Planning on it.  First I have a question.

Of course you do.

Patience, please.  Your monkey’s your monkey.

(Sigh.)  What’s your question?

Why did I feel better?

Come again?

Nothing changed.  All the stuff I was complaining about stayed exactly the same.  I felt better anyway.  Why?  What did you do?

I helped you detach from the illusion of control.

Oh.  (Pause.)  What the hell does that mean?

You were attached to an idea that was making you unhappy.  I just helped you move your attention elsewhere.

What idea was I attached to?

That you had to solve your problems.

But I did have to.  I still do.

Not in order to feel better.   For that you had to detach. 

“Detach,” meaning…

Let go of. 

How does that help?

How does it help to put down any load you’re carrying?

Oh.  Okay.  But the problems are still there.

Right.  So?

I still have to solve them.

Let’s say you do that.  What then?

I don’t follow.

You’ve solved all your problems.  What do you do now?

That’s silly.  Nobody can solve all their problems.

Exactly.  At best we exchange old ones for new ones.  And to believe anything else is an illusion.

The illusion of control. 

Right.   

And you believe that?  Control is an illusion?

Most of the time, yes.

But wait.  Some problems are solvable, right?

Sure.

So we can have some control. 

I’d say it differently.  I’d say there are times when we’re able to stop chasing control.  That’s not the same as actually having it. 

You lost me.

Yes, that happens.

(Pause.)  Let me ask it another way.  Why do you believe control is an illusion? 

Why do you think?

I don’t know.  Anyway, I’m not convinced it is.

Oh?  Have enough control, do you?

No.  Of course not.  But that doesn’t mean it’s not possible.

Right.  You just have to try a bit harder.

Right.

Do you know anybody who has enough control?

I’ve never asked.  But I doubt it.

Me too.  So why assume control is possible?

Well, it must be. 

Because?

(Silence.)

Look.  The idea of control is what might be called a necessary fiction.  It’s a myth, a story we tell ourselves in order to go on. 

Go on living.

Yes.  It gives us a sense of security and a sense of direction.  And it really is necessary, because facing our lack of control is terrifying for most people.  But it really is a fiction too. 

But why?  Why can’t I ever have control? 

Do you remember the four laws?

Yes and no.   I mean I do, but I keep forgetting them.

Yes, that’s normal.  The third law is

3. Behind all controlling is the wish to control feelings.

Yes, I remember now.

And that’s why control is mostly an illusion. 

Why?

Because feelings are mostly uncontrollable. 

Wait.   That’s not true.  If it were, we’d all run amuck.   I’d punch out everyone that makes me angry, or seduce every woman I find attractive, or…

You’re confusing feelings with behavior.  

Sure, behavior is controllable.  Sure, we can choose to express our feelings or hold them in.  We can split ourselves into controller and controlled. 

What I’m saying is, ultimately feelings are stronger.  Ultimately emotional life is beyond our control.  No one stays in control of their emotional life. 

But you know this.  You sit with me in that consulting room every day.  You know what happens to people who rely on control. 

They get sick.

Right.  Anxious, depressed, addicted. 

Divorced.

That too.

So what’s the alternative?  

To controlling your emotional life?

Yes.

You know that too.

Remind me.

Can you control the weather?

Of course not.

Is that a problem?

No.  

Why not?

Because I can handle the weather.  I know how to respond to it.  It rains, I wear a raincoat.  It snows, I wear galoshes.  It’s hot and the office AC crashes, I stay home with a fan in my face. 

Exactly.  Feelings are like weather.  Not a problem when you learn how to respond to them.

Respond to.  Not control.

Right.  

Which means…

Well, it starts with listening to them.  Listening for instructions, I call it.   Which I’m about to do.

How?

By ending this conversation.   We just passed 800 words. 

Oh.  Crap.   Lost some readers, I imagine.

That’s okay.  The ones who are interested will come back. 

Can I come back?

I expect you will, whether or not I give you permission.

(To be continued.)

 

 

 

 


Hey. You. With the banana.

Welcome to Monkeytraps.

Thanks. What’s a monkey trap?

Wikipedia defines it as “A cage containing a banana with a hole large enough for a monkey’s hand to fit in, but not large enough for a monkey’s fist (clutching a banana) to come out.  Used to catch monkeys that lack the intellect to let go of the banana and run away.” A bit harsh towards monkeys, but you get the idea.  Other versions use heavy bottles or anchored coconuts to hold the banana.

And this is what you’re blogging about?  Catching monkeys?

No. It’s a metaphor.

For what?

Psychological traps.  The sort we all get stuck in.

More specific, please.

monkeytrap is any situation that pulls you into holding on when you really need to let go.  I know I’m in one whenever I find myself trying to control something that can’t or shouldn’t be controlled.

Such as?

Well, feelings are monkeytraps.  So are relationships.  So are stressful situations of all sorts.  Anything that scares us or confuses us or makes us uncomfortable. Come to think of it, life itself is pretty much one monkeytrap after another.

Cheerful.

Realistic, I think.

And you’re writing about this because?

I’m a shrink.  Twenty years of doing therapy have convinced me that just about every emotional problem is rooted in some sort of monkeytrap.  Anxiety, depression, addictions, relationship problems, parenting problems, all of them usually turn out to be caused by someone holding onto something when they really should let go.

Too much control makes us sick?

No.  Too much controlling.  Control itself, that’s usually an illusion.

Beg your pardon?

I know.  Radical thought.  But think about it.  What in your life can you finally, absolutely control?

Um.

Exactly.   We spend our lives grabbing for it anyway.  Control is like a mirage that vanishes when you walk up to it, or a train you chase but never catch.  Most of the time we don’t even know we’re chasing it.   “Ideas we have, but don’t know we have, have us,” James Hillman said.  Control is just such an idea.    

Like an addiction.

Exactly.  We’re all addicted to control.  I know I am.

How can you tell?

Because the opposite of control is the ablity to accept the reality you’ve got instead of trying to replace it with the one you want.   (The reality you want, that’s the banana.)  It means being able to relax, and do nothing, and trust that everything will work out okay.  I’m not able to do that much.  You?

No.  Who is?

Nobody I know.  I’ve known some people who could do it occasionally.  I’ve never known anyone who could do it all the time.  I doubt any human being can.  We’re the monkeys who simply must control things, or die trying.  It’s one of the reasons I avoid the term “control freak.”   There’s nothing freakish about controlling.  What’s freakish is being able to stop.  

Why is that?

Why is one of the questions I hope to explore in this blog.  I have some ideas about it.  I have ideas, too, about how to better understand and deal with this universal addiction.  I created Monkeytraps as a way to road test those ideas.

Road test how?

Unpack them in public, ask readers to think and talk about them.  Start a conversation about all this.

Okay.  Anything else I should know?

Lots.  But I’m trying to keep these things bite-sized, and I just passed my 500-word limit.  So come back tomorrow.  (Or whenever I do this next.  Sign up below, I’ll let you know).  Bring your banana.


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