Want to trap a monkey?
(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.
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?
(1) Place the human in an uncomfortable situation.
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: email@example.com.
8 Comments | tags: 4 laws of, addiction to, addiction to control, control, idea of, meaning of control, pathologies of control | posted in (1) law of addiction, (2) law of dysfunction, (3) law of emotion, (4) law of alternatives, codependency, codependency, control, control addiction, personal growth
Fourth in the series
Notes on Recovery
Our need to refocus comes from realizing the real reason we try to control stuff:
We’re trying to control how we feel.
We’re especially trying to manage anxiety.
Think about it. What scares you most? Criticism? Failure? Rejection? Abandonment? Humiliation? Physical pain or discomfort?
That’s what you feel most compelled to control.
Compulsive means anxiety-driven. Whenever I act like a control addict – for example,
~ hide my real self from other people,
~ hide my true feelings from myself,
~ try to impress, coerce or manipulate others,
~ insist things be done my way,
~ caretake friends or family members,
~ worry endlessly about the future, or
~ try to make my environment just as I want it to be
– I’m being driven by some anxiety about what will happen if I don’t do these things.
Recovery means finding another way to manage this anxiety.
Which is where refocusing comes in.
When I refocus, I shift my attention from Out There to In Here. I redefine the problem from some external trigger (X looks mad) to my own reaction (I’m scared of X).
I step back from that reaction and realize that, to feel safe again, I really don’t need to control X. I just need to change my reaction. If I can do that, X’s anger stops being a problem.
Changing my reaction to stuff is what allows me to stop trying to control it.
Next: The three questions
* * *
Previous posts in this series:
(A sort of preface:) Tricky
8 Comments | posted in (4) law of alternatives, addiction to control, anxiety and control, codependency, control, control addiction, personal development, personal growth, recovery
Six women, crying.
All moms or grandmothers, and all worried about a kid.
One kid is gay and her parents are rejecting her. One’s being fed junk food and left alone all day with tv. One (a big one) is a germophobe whose marriage is in jeopardy. One (another big one) drinks too much. And the last flies into rages when he can’t get his way.
Anxiety, frustration, guilt and helplessness slowly fill the group room like a swimming pool.
And behind each story is one question: What can I do about this? And the same frightened answer: I can’t do anything.
“Okay,” I say finally. “Ready for some good news?”
They look at me.
“Not the answer you’re looking for, probably. And not where you’re looking for it. Not out there, among the people you love and want to rescue and the problems you hate and want to solve.”
I get up from my chair and go to a mobile hanging in one corner. It’s my Seafood Mobile, all fish, crabs and starfish. I flick a tuna with my finger. The whole mobile bounces.
“This is a family,” I say. “See what happens when one member’s in trouble? The trouble migrates throughout the system. Affects everyone. Got that?”
“Now watch.” I hold the tuna between my thumb and forefinger. The mobile calms down. “This is what happens when one member stabilizes or heals. That healing migrates throughout the system too.”
I sit down again.
“You’ve no control over these problems. But you also have more power than you know. You can be the calm fish. You can help stabilize the system.
“Remember when you were kids? Remember the adults that helped you the most? They weren’t the anxious, angry or desperate ones. Not the ones who scolded or punished or rescued.
“They were the ones who reassured you, encouraged you, praised you, helped you feel good about yourselves. Who modeled calmness, acceptance, or faith. Who helped convince you – because they really believed it – that Everything Will Be Okay.”
“That’s what you can bring to your families.
“Your kids and grandkids are each in their own little rowboat. You can’t row it for them. Can’t stop the storm or calm the waters. You don’t have that kind of control.
“But if you learn how to calm yourselves without controlling, you can offer them a safe harbor. Model faith that Everything Will Be Okay. And provide an emotional space where they can pull in, drop oars, catch their breath, regain hope.
“Not a small thing.”
4 Comments | tags: addiction to control, anxiety and control, control, control - alternatives to, control - detachment vs, growth, relationship | posted in (4) law of alternatives, addiction to control, anxiety and control, communication problems, control, control addiction, parenting problems and control