So the first thing to remember about Plan A is that we learn it and follow it unconsciously.
And the second thing is that every Plan A has the very same goal:
Control over emotional life.
Do this, it tells you, to be safe and avoid pain. Do this to win love and acceptance.
This becomes clearer when you examine the lessons and rules which are Plan A’s component parts.
I, for example, grew up in an alcoholic family. Alcoholics are addicts, and as noted earlier, addicts are people who can’t handle feelings. So I spend my childhood with people who reacted to my feelings with hurt and guilt, anxiety and anger. And the Plan I evolved (essentially the same Plan evolved by every kid in that situation) reflected all that.
One important lesson was, “Feelings are uncomfortable at best, dangerous at worst.” This lesson grew into a rule: Feel as little as possible. Think your way through life instead.
Another lesson was “You’re responsible for other people’s feelings.” This grew into a second rule: Never be yourself around other people.
These two lessons were the foundation stones of my Plan A.
They also called my inner monkey into being.
Bert was born to take control of my chaotic emotional life. He set out to accomplish that by doing things like burying his feelings, developing an acceptable image, and becoming painfully oversensitive to the emotions, perceptions and opinions of others.
Interestingly, it was Bert who convinced me to become a therapist. Attending to others’ feelings while disguising my own seemed a natural fit to my original Plan.
Little did either of us suspect that becoming a healthy therapist would mean I’d have to outgrow Bert and develop a Plan B.
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Controlling can be conscious or unconscious
Conscious controlling is the sort we notice ourselves doing. Unconscious controlling operates outside our awareness.
Archie probably knew he was trying to control Edith. Edith, though, may not have realized she was controlling him back.
One way we hide our controlling from ourselves is by calling it something else:
Niceness. Politeness. Respect. Helpfulness. Protection. Loyalty. Love.
That’s not to say all unconscious controlling is dishonest or unhealthy. But it’s also true that the vast majority of compulsive controllers are relentlessly “nice” people unaware of their driving need for control.
They’re also unaware of how much their need for control controls them.
It’s easy to identify such people. Just place them in a situation beyond their control and see how uncomfortable they get.
(On the wall behind my chair there’s a picture of flowers. I once tilted it so that it hung crooked. Then I spent the day watching my clients’ eyes flick back and forth between my face and the crooked picture. Most were unaware they were doing this. All seemed increasingly restless or irritable. Two finally felt compelled to ask permission to straighten it.)
We’re still forming two Skype-based study/support groups for readers who want to explore these ideas with me in real time. One is for therapists who want to integrate these ideas into their clinical work. Both groups will be small, six 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: email@example.com.
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