Category Archives: group therapy dynamics

Wonderful/terrible

Wonderful terrible w borderLove is a wonderful terrible thing.

Wonderful because it connects us to others in the ways we most need to be connected.

Terrible because that connection leaves us horribly vulnerable.

You can’t love someone and protect yourself emotionally. Not really.

Real love means hurting when the other person hurts, and being subject to all sorts of doubts and disappointments, disillusionments and frustrations.

And yet many people I know try to make love safe.

They try to control the other person’s feelings, or viewpoint, or behavior.

They operate out of their heads, hoping to keep their feelings buried and beyond danger.

Or they hedge their bet, limiting their emotional commitment in the hope this will keep their vulnerability manageable.

These tactics always fail.

Because you can’t love someone and protect yourself emotionally.

And because you can’t protect yourself without the person you love noticing.

And because, by its nature, love is a wonderful terrible thing.

 

And because, by its nature, love is a wonderful terrible thing.

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Now on YOUTUBE:

[ 1 addiction 320x342 (7)

the new trailer for

MONKEYTRAPS (THE BOOK):

click here.


(THE BOOK) Chapter 25: The depressed

For the anxious, constipation is a problem.  For the depressed, it’s a lifestyle.

Usually it starts unconsciously and in self-defense.  All my depressed clients grew up in dangerous families where it was unsafe to be themselves.  (See Chapter 14.)  Kids in such families have little choice but to self-constipate. 

Ever been physically constipated?  Remember how, the longer it lasted, the more distracted and uncomfortable you felt?  How eventually the internal pressure and tension came to sap your energy and occupy all your attention?

That’s just what happens to the depressed.  It’s no accident that people in recovery use excretory metaphors (my shit’s coming up, can’t get my shit together) to describe emotional processes.  Feelings are a kind of waste material, the emotional byproducts of experience, just as feces are physical byproducts of what we eat.  And just as physical waste must be expelled from the body, feelings must be expressed — not hidden or stored up.  When they aren’t we get sick, emotionally, physically and spiritually.

Humans either express themselves or depress themselves.

The best book I know on all this is Alexander Lowen’s Depression and the Body, which explains depression as a physical symptom, an exhaustion that comes from fighting oneself by suppressing feelings that need to come out.  Lowen writes,

The self is experienced through self-expression, and the self fades when the avenues of self-expression are closed….  The depressed person is imprisoned by unconscious barriers of “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts,” which isolate him, limit him, and eventually crush his spirit.

For control addicts – who experience life itself as one long litany of shoulds and shouldn’ts — some depression is inevitable.  And since everyone is addicted to control, it is not surprising that depression is called the common cold of mental illness.

I’ve had my cold for six decades.

I caught it in grade school.  Nobody called it depression then.  This was the fifties.  I’m not sure if back then anyone even knew that kids got depressed.

All I knew was I always felt sad, shy, nervous, worried.  Different.  Inadequate.  Flawed. 

I preferred being alone.  Preferred books to people.  Preferred tv to real life.

“Moody,” mom called me.  “Difficult” was dad’s diagnosis.

I also felt bad about feeling bad.  It must be my fault, I thought.  Teachers were always writing on my report cards could do better if he’d try.  So I decided feeling crappy meant I was somehow doing Life wrong, that I’d feel better if I just tried harder.  I just didn’t know how.

I felt bad through high school, college, and into adulthood.  Through courtship, marriage and fatherhood.  Through college, graduate school and into professional life. 

Along the way I got some therapy, and some medication, and read lots of books.  Lots of books.  The idea of happiness, always mysterious to me, became a preoccupation, then a challenge, then a sort of quest. 

I read everything I could that might cast some light on what had become my life’s central question: How do you feel good about life? 

It was only after I began to work as a therapist that I found an answer.

Doing therapy with control addicts taught me that I hadn’t gotten depressed because dad drank, or mom was unhappy, or because they fought or divorced when I was eight.  It wasn’t because I never had as much money as I wanted, or the body I wanted, or wrote the book I always wanted to write.  Or because of anything that had happened to me.

I was depressed because of how I reacted to what happened.  

Or rather, didn’t react.

We express ourselves, or we depress ourselves.

 

 


(THE BOOK) Chapter 24: The anxious

The anxious are all different and all the same.

Big and little, old and young, rich and poor.  Worried seniors, controlling spouses, insecure employees.  Obsessive parents, stressed teenagers, scared kids.

Their symptoms are both painful and remarkably common.  They can’t stop worrying.  Their thoughts race.  They either can’t fall asleep or can’t stay there.  Their appetite comes and goes.  They’re self-doubting, perfectionistic, agonize over mistakes.  They get irritable, cranky or tearful.  They’re self-conscious around other people.  Even when alone, with no jobs to do, they can’t relax or enjoy themselves.

Some develop physical symptoms: restlessness, muscular tension, teeth grinding, indigestion, nausea, headaches.

Some suffer social anxiety.  Others have panic attacks.  Still others report obsessive thoughts and/or compulsive behaviors.

But behind all these differences they have three things in common:

(1) They try to control the future.   

They do this mainly by thinking about it.  Anticipating it.  Planning it.  Worrying about it.   Obsessing about it.   Forming expectations.  In other words, by surrendering their thoughts to the not-so-tender mercies of monkeymind.

This highly efficient system keeps anxieties growing like weeds.

Because the more the anxious worry about the future, the more anxious they get.  And the more anxious they get, the more they worry about the future.  And so on.

(2) They try to control other people. 

They do this by insisting — secretly, in the privacy of their monkeyminds– that other people always like them, accept them, approve of them, agree with them, admire their clothes, hair, physique, income, intelligence or sense of humor.

They convince themselves that they really need other people to do this, and that life will be intolerable when they don’t.

Thus they scare the crap out of themselves, and set off on a desperate course of seeking a degree of interpersonal control nobody can ever have.

(3) They overcontrol themselves.

This habit is an inevitable outgrow of the last.  Anxious people try to control other people mainly by editing themselves — hiding the parts they think others won’t like.

Most importantly, they bury feelings instead of expressing them.

That last sentence defines the heart of anxiety.

That’s because feelings are – excuse this analogy – like shit.  Feelings are supposed to be expelled and expressed, not buried and hidden.  When they’re buried, they don’t go away.  They collect.  The person becomes emotionally constipated, lives in a constant state of self-interruption, internal pressure and emotional pain.

And anxiety is the name we give to this pain.


(THE BOOK) Chapter 22: Lessons and rules

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.


(THE BOOK) Chapter 4: Chameleon

Controlling is hard to spot, and even harder to talk about.

Several reasons for this:

(1) It’s automatic and unconscious, like blinking or the beat of a heart.  You can make yourself aware of your own controlling, but it takes effort.

(2) It’s normal.  You do it all the time.  Everyone around you does it all the time.  So controlling behavior fades into the background of awareness, like a chameleon blends into its surroundings.

(3) We use stunted language to describe it.  We apply the verb control to wildly different behaviors, to our handling of everything from feelings to finances, foreign trade to cholesterol, termites to acne.   We almost need to construct a new language in order to adequately describe this chameleon we’re looking for.

Let’s try to do that, then.

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We’re forming two online 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: fritzfreud@aol.com.

 

 

 


(THE BOOK) Chapter 2: Controlling

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

Why?

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?

x

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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: fritzfreud@aol.com.

 

 


(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.

* * *

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.

 

 

 


Third Paradox: Tradeoff

The Third Paradox of control:

 THIRD PARADOX

.

Controlling boils down to a tradeoff.

Gain control here, lose control there.

Think of the original monkey trap:

To hold on to the banana, the monkey surrenders his freedom.  To regain his freedom, he must let the banana go.

It also explains all garden-variety codependent interactions:

To control you (make you like, love or accept me) I must surrender control of something else — like my ability to be honest, or spontaneous, or emotionally expressive. 

Conversely,

Taking control of my emotional life — especially how I feel about myself — means surrendering control over how you react to me.

It also applies to New Year’s resolutions, not to mention all goal-setting:

To reach a particular goal (like writing my book) I must surrender control of others (like spending time with my family, or on chores that absorb my energy and attention).

To gain control of my weight I must surrender control (i.e., limit my choices) of what I put in my mouth.

To control my social anxiety I must detach from how other people see me and practice being myself.

And so on.

So control and surrender are two sides of the same coin.

And getting control of anything means losing control of something else.

To win A, you must sacrifice B.

Tradeoff.

Balance.

Yin-yang.

Fill your bowel to the brim 

and it will spill.

Keep sharpening your knife 

and it will blunt.

Chase after money and security

and your heart will never unclench.

Care about people’s approval

and you will be their prisoner. 

                         ~ Lao Tzu

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yinyang2


Labels

In times of crisis she calls herself names.

“I’m so stupid,” she’ll say.  Or “I’m crazy.”

But when I offer her a diagnosis – suggest she has an anxiety disorder, say – she rejects it:

“I don’t like labels.”

Puzzling.  What are stupid and crazy if not labels?

It reminds me of something many addicts say when I suggest medication:

“I don’t want to need a pill to make me feel good.”

I hear this regularly from people already dependent on pot, street drugs or alcohol.

How explain this inconsistency?

To some people, accepting a diagnosis or medication feels like a loss of control.

I sympathize.  Nobody likes to feel defined or directed by somebody else.

But resisting diagnosis and treatment usually leaves such people feeling neither freer nor stronger.

Just crappier.

Not more in control, but more helpless.

Another reminder of what I call the First Paradox.

The greater your need to feel in control, the less in control you’re likely to feel.


Leaf

11/13/12 (Tuesday).

I’m blowing leaves down the driveway when I notice Henry raking the leaves on his lawn. 

I think that’s his name, Henry.  We’ve exchanged maybe ten words since he moved in.  

Four years ago. 

So I’m surprised to find myself thinking of offering him my leaf blower.

Surprised, then annoyed.  Since the impulse makes me uncomfortable. 

I’m shy.  I don’t do shit like that.

“Why even consider it?” I ask myself. 

But I know why.  It’s what Chris said to me the other night on the way to a family gathering.  She knows  family gatherings make me nervous.  

“Get your Buddha on,” she told me.

I knew what she meant.  Stop being scared of people.  Stop avoiding them.  Stop taking them personally.  Detach.  Relax.  Breathe.  Practice what you preach. 

“Shut up,” I answered.

But now I sigh and switch off the blower and coil the endless orange cord around my forearm and walk it over to Henry, who is plainly startled to see me but covers it nicely.

We chat.  While I’m talking with him I’m talking to myself. 

“Practice,” I say. “This is practice.” 

And, “You don’t practice enough.” 

And, “You don’t practice what you preach.”

And, “But maybe you’ll start.  Maybe this is you turning over a new leaf.” 

Eventually Henry declines my offer, which is a relief (since now I don’t have to come back to collect the damned blower), and I walk home feeling both virtuous and silly. 

There was nothing to be scared of here, and I knew that going in, and  was scared anyway. 

I’m sixty-two now.  Scared for sixty-two years. 

“Will I die this way?” I wonder.

Then a last thought comes as I walk back up my clean driveway and into my house.

“How to handle feelings isn’t just a human problem,” I think. 

It’s the human problem.  And all the others come from that.”

* * *

  

       

 


Monkeytraps, and how to spot them

(Steve and Bert wrote this one together:)

Steve:  One reader writes,

I like your blog, but it’s a little scary, since before this I had no idea how controlling I am and how many problems it causes me.

What I want now is to learn to be more aware of my controlling, to keep the idea of control at the surface of my mind and to understand how wanting to control things drives how I react and what I do and say.

Got any tips on that?

Bert:  Good question.

Steve:  She wants to learn how to spot monkeytraps.

Bert:  Yeah.  You should remind everyone what a monkeytrap is.

Steve:  In the East they trap monkeys by placing fruit in a weighted jar or bottle with a narrow neck.  The monkey smells the fruit, reaches in to grab it, and traps himself by refusing to let go.

A psychological monkeytrap is any situation that triggers you into compulsive controlling — i.e., into holding on when you really should be letting go.

Bert: And yes, we have tips on how to spot them.

Steve: Here’s the first:

Notice where

you’re uncomfortable.

We’re controlling whenever we need or want to change some piece of reality (instead of accepting it as it is).  And we’re most likely to want to change realities that make us uncomfortable.  So it makes sense that our discomfort zones are where we’re most likely to get monkeytrapped.

Bert:  I, for example, can’t stand rejection.  So it’s with people I think might reject me that I tend to be most controlling.

I do it in all sorts of ways: hide feelings I think might upset them, pretend to agree when I really don’t, laugh at their stupid jokes, avoid confronting behavior I dislike, try to read their minds, and so on.

Steve:  Tip #2:

Notice where

you’re stuck.

Stuck as in not learning, or healing, or growing — struggling with the same damn problem over and over again.

Bert:  Same example.  Working hard at controlling people’s reactions to me is a monkeytrap because it

(a) stops me from being myself, which

(b) prevents me from ever getting accepted as myself, which

(c) keeps me chronically scared of rejection.

In short, a dysfunctional merry-go-round.

Steve:  Right.  You know you’re monkeytrapped whenever you find yourself doing, over and over and over again, what doesn’t work.

And why do you?

That brings us to Tip #3:

Notice where

you’re scared.

Unhealthy controlling is driven by anxiety.  We stay monkeytrapped because we’re scared to do anything else.  Often even the thought of giving up control in such situations is enough to scare us silly.

Bert:  Like me telling my mother-in-law her breath stinks.

Steve:  Uh, yeah.  Great example.

So if you want to spot where you’re compulsively controlling, look for the three clues: discomfort, stuckness, and fear.

* * *


The tribe: Expectations

 

Most people feel anxious in group without really understanding why.

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member 1

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Personally I think it’s because, on some deep level, the group reminds us of our family of origin.

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member 2

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And we expect it to treat us just as our family did.

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member 3

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So tell me.  If this group were your family, what would you be expecting now?

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member 4

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therapist 5

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To get hit.

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To get humiliated.

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therapist 7

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To be told to shut up.

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therapist 8

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To be ignored.

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Pink?  What would you expect?

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member 9

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therapist 10

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All of the above.

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Jeez.

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member 11

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So you all have good reason to feel anxious in this room.

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member 12

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But I have to ask Pink:

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member 13

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How’d you work up the courage to even come here?

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member 14

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therapist 15

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Two beers, half a pizza, and a Vicodin.

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* * *

  

Group therapy. 

In Hebrew. 

“Hello, this is Fear Management. 

“My name is Moni, and I too have a phobia. 

“I have a fear of shouting. 

“You know, a, h, h, h, exclamantion mark, ‘ahhh’!

“At this point I suggest we all tell about ourselves…” 

 

Excerpt from the Israeli TV show “Ktzarim”:  Five troubled people (that description includes the group leader) meet for group therapy.  In Hebrew with English subtitles (2:22).

 

* * *

 

Overheard at the House:

Eventually, and every time, I used to drive my current partner insane with my hang ups and he broke off the relationship….

So I decided only I could change and needed to put my – sorry to be blunt – infantile behaviour aside and choose blind trust, no matter the outcome….

Result: I came to accept that my life is my life and not dependent on anyone else for survival or safety – and in a way I was going to be alone, with or without a partner: it’s part of the human condition….

 

Come. 

Join the conversation

Monkey House.

Because we’re all monkeys on this bus.

 

 

 

 

 



The Tribe: Validation

 

You all know me, but not each other.  So let’s find out what you’re doing here. 

Why did each of you join this group?

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3therapist 3

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member 3

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Come on, be honest.  Why are you here?

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member 4

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2=herapist 5

a

It was your idea.

It was your idea.

It was your idea.

It was your idea.

It was your idea.

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My idea?  That’s the reason?

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member 6

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Pretty much.

Pretty much.

Pretty much.

Pretty much.

Pretty much.

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Hm.

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member 8

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Well, needing to please your therapist isn’t very therapeutic.  Maybe we should rethink this.

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member 9

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What if we cancel groupHow would you feel?

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member 10

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therapist 11

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member 11

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Come on, be brave.  How would you feel about stopping right now?

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member 12

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th

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Yippee.

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t1herapist 14

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Yes.  Yippee.

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Yippee also.

 

 

 

Me too.

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Ditto.

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th

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mem

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Huh.  Now you’re all smiling.  

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member 15

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You better be careful.

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member 16

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Someone might mistake you for a group.

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* * *

 

 

About validation

One of the most important emotional skills is the skill of validation.
It is a skill because it can be learned.
Whether it is or ever will be part of the academic or corporate measures of emotional intelligence, I really don’t know.
But I do know that if you want to have better relationships with people, the skill of emotional validation is extremely useful.
The relationship will be better because with more validation you are going to have less debating, less conflicts, and less disagreement.  You will also find that validation opens people up and helps them feel free to communicate with you.
In fact, if there is a communication breakdown, if there is a wall between you and someone else, it probably has been built with the bricks of invalidation 
Validation is the means of chipping away at the wall and opening the free flow of communication.

~ From “Emotional validation: Introduction” at EQI.org.

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1

Visited

Monkey House

yet?

 

  

No?

What are you waiting for?

 

What’s Monkey House?  Read this.

Then click here to join the conversation.  (Go to “Do you need to register a new member?” at the top.)

We’re asking, “What’s the most difficult control issue you’re facing now?“

A recent exchange:

Hi Bert and Members, 
       Cutting through the fear barrier of speaking out.  Here goes: 

       My control issue:  wanting validation as a person, in an individual sense.
       Always, no matter what the situation, I’m pushed to the outer, disregarded, invalidated and not included, the invisible factor engulfs.  As much as I try, 30+ years of trying, same result.  I can do my job, very well if I may say so myself, and yet everything/everyone stays out of arm’s reach to the point of utter loneliness. Smiley

        Thanks Bert And Steve.  After reading your blog for nearly 6 months, I’ve become aware of how the issue of control infiltrates so many aspect of our lives while recognizing both the healthy and unhealthy aspects of control. Smiley

 

Hey, David.  Thanks for cutting through. Smiley

Odd you should mention validation.  That just happens to be the title of our next Monkeytraps post (due Sunday 5/13.)  It’s also a subject on which we both have thoughts.

Steve:  The need for validation is legitimate, inescapable, and the biggest damn monkeytrap I know, since it forces us to try — endlessly and in countless ways, not always conscious or healthy — to get what we need from other people.  And as with most forms of control, the more of it you need, the less you seem to get.  It’s also why having at least one reasonably healthy relationship is more or less essential to happiness.

Bert:  God, I hate needing validation.  I grew up hungry for it, so hungry that I used to avoid relationships just to avoid being disappointed.  That didn’t work, of course, since it was like starving myself in order to avoid food poisoning.  Eventually I had to take the risk again with people.  A pain in the ass, people, but also the only game in town.

 


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