Category Archives: recovery

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

*

yinyang2


Practicing intimacy: Intimate communication

Ninth in the series 
Notes on recovery 
Intimacy depends on the quality of communication.
And the first step to raising that quality is by not doing stuff we normally do.
Psychologist Thomas Gordon once famously identified twelve “roadblocks to communication” between parents and children.  It’s a good list to memorize, since each item is essentially a controlling behavior able to destroy intimacy between anyone and anyone else:
1. Ordering or directing
2. Warning or threatening
3. Advising or suggesting
4. Arguing or persuading
5. Lecturing or moralizing
6. Criticizing, judging or blaming
7. Agreeing or praising*
8. Ridiculing or shaming
9. Analyzing or diagnosing
10. Reassuring or sympathizing*
11. Questioning or probing
12. Withdrawing, humoring or distracting
A client with whom I shared this list responded, “What’s left?  Hand signals?”
I sympathize.  We’re so used to these ways of unconsciously controlling each other that it’s hard to imagine doing without them.
But there are alternatives.
I-statements, for example.  Ever notice how any sentence containing the word You tends to make the listener defensive?  I-statements avoid this by focusing on me instead.  I’m confused by what you’re saying, instead of You make no sense.  I’m mad at you, instead of You suck.  Like that.  Which do you think leads to better communication?      
Then there’s feedback, a skill I teach in therapy groups.  Group requires a lot of emotional safety, so to forestall judgments or unsolicited advice members are asked to respond to what they hear by describing only what it made them think, feel or remember.  (When you talk about your anger I remember all the times I lost my temper and how it felt.)   These expanded I-statements not only make it safer for everyone to talk about sensitive issues, they help members get to know each other quickly, and to understand their own reactions and perceptions reactions on a deeper level.
Finally, monologuing is an exercise I teach couples who want to learn intimate communication.  Each partner takes five minutes to list his/her resentments (I resent when you insult my mother) and appreciations (I appreciate when you make coffee so I don’t have to) while the other just listens.  Then they switch roles.  Monologuing’s not meant to settle disputes or solve problems; it’s used to keep the air clear, lines of communication open, and each partner in touch with where the other is emotionally.  It also teaches them to make I-statements, identify feelings, listen without interrupting, and develop empathy.  (I didn’t know you felt that way is a common reaction.) Couples who monologue regularly tell me it becomes a way they can talk safely about almost anything.

___________________

*Yes, items 7 and 10 tend to surprise people.   See here for an explanation of why they inhibit parent/child communication.

 

 

 


Refocusing

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
1. Bottom 
2. Power
3. Plan B

 

 

 


The split-level relationship

There are two questions with which you must struggle if you want a healthy relationship:

How can I have you without losing me?

How can I have me without losing you?

You can’t really answer these questions, just struggle with them.

But it’s the struggling that matters.

Why?

Because they represent two essential needs each of us brings to any relationship:

Connection and freedom.

Acceptance by another person, and self-acceptance.

A real partner, and at the same time, a real self.

Most people I know are convinced you can’t have both at the same time.

Most came from families — alcoholic, abusive or otherwise dysfunctional — unable to teach them to balance connection with freedom.

What they learned instead was that having one meant losing the other.  That winning love and approval from parents, for example, meant sacrificing important parts of themselves, like the freedom to express feelings or take care of their own needs.

The family that raised us is where each of us learned our own personal answer to the two questions. And the answer we learned grew into a crucial (though mostly unconscious) part of our basic view of life and relationships, what I call our Plan A.  

Some of us decide, “Since I can’t have both, I’ll have me, and to hell with you.”  Shrinks call this the narcissistic answer.

Others decide, “Since I can’t have both, I’ll have you, and to hell with me.” This is the infamous codependent answer.

So the narcissistic partner says “Me first,” and the codependent replies, “Yes, dear.”

And the two personality types end up together with stunning regularity.  (Remember Archie and Edith Bunker?)

Watching such couples interact, one is struck by their predictability.  In every situation the narcissist finds some way to say “Me first,” and the codependent to reply “Yes, dear.”  It’s as if long ago they sat down and signed a contract.

Which in a way they did.

Their complementary answers to the two questions probably account, in large part, for why they felt attracted to each other.

In any case, the vast majority of couples I see for couples counseling follow this pattern — so many that I felt the need to give them their own name.

I call them split-level relationships.

Split-level relationships work for a while, but almost always break down.  Eventually one or both partners realize they’re not getting what they need.

Codependents usually notice first.  When that partner is female this can lead to the syndrome called the Walk-Away Wife.

But narcissists tend to be unhappy too. They often complain of loneliness, lack of connection to their codependent partner, or an absence of respect or affection.  They may feel impatient, frustrated, irritated, resentful. Sometimes they drink, drug, overeat, rage or cheat, and then feel bad about that.

All this happens because split-level relationship is inherently unhealthy.

Familiar, sure.  Comfortable, even, in the way the predictable may come to feel.

But not healthy.  The unbalanced answers on which a split-level relationship is based simply cannot fill the emotional needs of two adults.  So both partners end up feeling deprived, often without understanding why.

What does recovery for such a couple look like?

Put simply, a sort of role reversal.

Codependent partners must develop courage and practice standing up, asserting themselves.  Narcissistic partners must develop empathy and practice stepping down, giving instead of grabbing.

Easy?  No.  Not easy for either of them.

Just necessary to life on the same level.


Addict

(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.

* * *

 


Hang a left

It’s her first appointment, and she’s crying. 

“I feel so stuck,” she says.

I pass the tissues.   “How so?” I ask.

She tells me. 

Her husband bowls every Wednesday, golfs weekends, watches tv each night until bed.  Never talks to her, never compliments her, hasn’t taken her out to dinner in years.  Expects sex regardless. 

“Regardless of what?” I ask. 

“How I feel about it,” she says.

She has two teenagers, whom she serves as cook, laundress, chambermaid, tutor, therapist, referee and chauffeur.  On Mother’s Day they gave her a World’s Greatest Mom card from Wal-Mart, then spent the day with friends.

Her parents are in from Florida.  They visit frequently without asking, stay a week at a time, and criticize everything from her haircut to her parenting.  (I jot critical parents on a mental note card, file it away for a later session.) 

Her best friend is recently divorced, and calls her nightly either to exult or to mourn her new freedom, depending on how her last date went.  (“And do you ever call her?”  “What for?” she asks, without irony.)

Her mood’s been sliding downhill for years.   She sleeps badly.  Feels tired.  Feels alone.  Feels sad.  Cries.

“Ever take a day off?” I ask.

“No.”

“Ever take a nap?”

“No.”

“Have any hobbies?”

“No.”

“Have any friends or family who aren’t totally self-involved?”

She half-smiles.  “No.”

“Ever tried therapy?”

“I didn’t see how it could help,” she says.  “Can it?”

“Yes,” I say.

“How?” she asks.

“By teaching you to drive,” I say.

She looks puzzled. 

“Imagine someone who learned to drive a car without ever being  taught how to make a left turn.  So whenever they go out all they can do is turn right.  What would happen to them?”

She frowns.  “They’d go in a circle.”

“Exactly.  That’s what you’re doing now.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Think of all the choices you make in a day.  Now think of each choice as a fork in the road.  When you put others first, you turn right.  When you put yourself first, you turn left. 

“When was the last time you made a left turn?”

Her eyes widen.  She thinks.

“I don’t make those,” she says finally.

“Right,” I say.  “You’re driving in circles.  It’s why you feel stuck.”

“And therapy can teach me to turn left?”

I nod.  I’m expecting the next question. 

“But isn’t that selfish?”

“Yes,” I said.  “What’s your objection to selfishness?”

I’ve asked that question hundreds of times.  No one has a good answer. 

“It’s just…bad.”

“That’s what everyone says,” I say.  “I suppose some believe it.  But most people use it to convince others to put them first.  The most selfish people I know tend to be the first to condemn selfishness in others. 

“Me, I think of it as a survival skill.   Selfishness is essential, at least some of the time.  If you don’t take care of yourself, who will?”

“Well, this isn’t working.”  She blows her nose.   “I guess I should hang a left once in a while.  But my family won’t like it.”

“Probably not.  You’ll have to train them.”

“How?”

“We’ll talk details later.  But it amounts to putting yourself first and letting them adapt to it.” 

“And that works?”

“Sure,” I said.  “Look how well it’s worked for your husband, your kids and your parents.”

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* * *

 

 

Self-love, my liege, is not so vile a sin as self-neglecting.

~ Shakespeare, Henry V

 

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* * * 

Some of us give because we can’t not give.  It’s our way of getting by in the world. 

At least if I give, the thinking goes, others will like me.  Better yet, they may even come to need me.  Then I won’t be so alone in the world.

Giving becomes a kind of barter to belong — a bid for love, rather than an expression of it.

~ From “Healthy selfishness” at daily.om.

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* * *

I think it unhealthy to not know the things you like and the things you want.

I think if you do not allow yourself to know them and to exercise adequate levels of self-care by satisfying those wants and needs in ways that make you feel good you will find unhealthy and unsatisfying behaviors that you do in order to be safe.

The relationship will become toxic and cycle through predictable patterns of acting out, failure and disappointment.

Selfish behaviors that take advantage of or hurt someone else are not what I am describing.  Behaviors that are done in service of the health of the self are self-ish.

~ From “The concept of healthy selfishness in therapy” by Brett Newcomb.

* * *


The tribe: Expectations

 

Most people feel anxious in group without really understanding why.

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

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

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To get hit.

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To get humiliated.

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To be told to shut up.

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To be ignored.

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Pink?  What would you expect?

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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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But I have to ask Pink:

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

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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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Come on, be honest.  Why are you here?

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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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Pretty much.

Pretty much.

Pretty much.

Pretty much.

Pretty much.

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Hm.

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

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What if we cancel groupHow would you feel?

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therapist 11

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

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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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Huh.  Now you’re all smiling.  

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You better be careful.

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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.

 


Session 45: Feeding Felicia

So.  I gave Felicia the cookie.

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Ah.  Left it on her pillow?

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And flew away, as you suggested.

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And? 

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And she came and asked why I did it.

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What did you say?

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“I wanted to.”

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Good answer.

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Apparently.  She hugged me.

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Good job.

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It was just a cookie.

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No, it was a course correction.  You feel you two moving in a new direction now?

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Yeah.  How do I keep it going?

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Keep feeding her. 

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Cookies?

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No, no.  Emotional feeding.

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With what?

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Well, there are four foods we need from our important relationships.

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bert10

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Attention, acceptance, appreciation and affection.

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And if we don’t get that stuff regularly…

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We starve.

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Okay.  I fed her attention with the cookie.  How can I show acceptance?

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Name something she does that she knows annoys you.

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Watches reality tv.

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Huh.  That’s a tough one.

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Why?  What are you suggesting?

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Sit and watch with her.

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Holy mother of God.

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Not for long.  Ten minutes.

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You’re kidding, right?  “The Kardashians”?

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(Shivers.) 

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bert16

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Neverthless.  Do it for the marriage.

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I’m not sure any marriage is worth it.

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Now, now.  Just once.  Treat it like an experiment.

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Okay.  (Gulps.)  I’ll try.

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Good man.  Be brave.  Be  curious.   

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Can I be drunk?

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* * *


Session 41: Gorilla warfare

Felicia’s pissed at me.

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What about?

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I’m not really sure.

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Monday she said I don’t make enough money.

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Tuesday she complained I’m not home enough.

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Wednesday she called me an “uninvolved father.”

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Thursday she called me a slob.

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Sounds confusing.

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Bet your ass.

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How did you respond?

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Well, let’s see. Tuesday I went in and asked my boss for a raise.

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Wednesday I came home early with flowers.

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therapist-9

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Thursday I helped Junior with his science project.

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therapist-10

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And Friday I did two loads of laundry and cleaned the bathroom.

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Did it work?

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No.  Now she tells me I’m fat.  What’s going on here?

1

23

Gorilla warfare.

1

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Don’t you mean “guerilla” warfare?

1

No, gorilla.  It’s a control thing.  Your two inner monkeys are battling it out. 

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bert-14

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Happens all the time in split-level relationships.*

1

2*What’s this?  Click here.

3

bert-14

1

One partner seeks satisfaction by complaining or making endless demands on the other.

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bert-15

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The other seeks relief by trying to appease the first.  But it never works.

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Why not?

Because they’re ignoring the real problem, whatever that is.  Pretty common in couples who haven’t learned to talk to each other.

1

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Well, I hate feeling beat up.  What can I do?

1

2

Less.

1

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3

Meaning…

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Give up control.  Stop appeasing her. 

1

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3

She’ll get angry.

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She’s already angry.  Same result, less work. 

1

2

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Okay.  Anything else?

1

Give up control in another way.  Ask what she’s really angry about. 

1

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3

 

1

She may not know at first. That’s fine. Be patient.  Be curious.  Be brave.  Keep asking.

2

 

3

That I can’t do.

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Why not?

1

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She might actually tell me.

1

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3

Oh.  Well, in that case…

1

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3

1

2

There’s always Weight Watchers.

1

2

* * *


Bert on surrender

(If you’re new to Monkeytraps, Steve is a therapist who specializes in control issues, and Bert is his control-addicted inner monkey.

For this post,  Steve interviewed Bert.)

Steve:  So I’ve been writing about peace of mind and how control addiction makes it impossible, and how practicing alternatives to control make it easier to find.  And I wanted to ask you about surrender.

Bert:  What about surrender?

Steve:  How you practice it, mainly.

Bert:  Oh.  Sure this is a good idea?

Steve:  Why not?

Bert:   People will know how lousy I am at it.

Steve:  That’s okay.  They know it isn’t easy.

Bert:  I never use that word, by the way.

Steve:  No?

Bert:  No, that’s one of your writer’s words.

Steve:  You don’t like it.

Bert:  Not really.  Sounds too much like helplessness.

Steve:  That’s not what it means.  It….

Bert:  I know, I know.  Surrender means winning, not losing.  Letting go of what you can’t control represents the victory of awareness over denial, growth over habit, and faith over fear.  Right?

Steve:  Something like that.  What word do you prefer?

Bert:   Depends.  Sometimes I think of surrender as detaching.  

Steve:  Meaning?

Bert:  Taking a step back emotionally.  Like when that client cursed at us in session yesterday.

Steve:  And I told you to not take it personally. 

Bert:  Right.  That it was just transference.  And then other times I think of surrender as accepting. 

Steve:  “It is what it is.”

Bert:  Yes.  Though I hate that expression.

Steve:  Why?

Bert:  It’s like Have a nice day.  Everyone says it, then go right back to being raging control freaks. 

Steve:  Any other words for surrender?

Bert:  Let’s see.  Sometimes I do it by consciously reframing a situation instead of trying to control it.  Remember how mad I used to get at little old lady drivers?

Steve:  Anyone driving at the speed limit, you mean.   

Bert:  Right.  Well, now when I find myself behind one I just tell myself This is God reminding you to slow the fuck down.  And I slow down, and I’m okay with it.

Steve:  Very spiritual of you.

Bert:  I think so.  I use slogans too.

Steve:  Which slogans?

Bert:  Well, there’s the one you wrote on a Post-it and taped to your PC monitor:

99% of what we worry about never happens. 

That got us through some rough times.

Steve:  It did.

Bert:  And the one you kept in the little plastic frame in your office.  The one that made clients think you’re a little nuts: 

Everything’s perfect.

Steve:  I can’t count the times I tried to explain that.

Bert:  Anyone ever buy it?

Steve:  No.  Easier to sell Everything happens for a reason.

But back to you.  It sounds like you do a lot of surrendering, in one way or another.  Why do you say you’re lousy at it?

Bert:  Because of all the times I can’t.

Steve:  Explain.

Bert:  You know how we live.  Rushing from chore to chore, worry to worry.  Working down the To Do list with no end in sight.  Feeling like everything is urgent.  Lying in bed at night and trying to decide if you got enough stuff done to feel okay about yourself.

Then there’s the problem of people.  All the times I just can’t be myself. 

Steve:  Can’t tell the truth, you mean?

Bert:  Yes, but more than that.  All the times I can’t just relax and stop worrying about how someone’s going to react to me.   

But it’s more than that, too. 

It’s all the times I can’t just relax.  Can’t take, even, a really deep breath.  

You know?

Steve:  I know.  Can’t relax if you can’t surrender.  It’s a stubborn addiction. 

Bert:  Sometimes I’m sorry you told me I’m addicted.

Steve:  Do you mean that?

Bert:  No.  No, I guess not.

Steve:  What’s good about knowing?

Bert:  Well, it does clarify things.  When I feel angry or frustrated or crazy it’s usually because I’m trying to control something I shouldn’t.  Calms me down, just seeing that. 

Steve:  Another surrender?

Bert:  I suppose it is.  And then, remembering I’m addicted gives me more choices than I used to have. 

Steve:  More choices?

Bert:  Sure.  Before I knew, I never even thought of surrender as an option.  Now I know, even when I can’t do it.  It’s something to work towards.  Something to practice and get better at.  And that gives me hope.    

Steve:  Hope’s good.

Bert:  It is.  It even lets you breathe a little bit deeper.

* * *

 

 

 

 

 


Session 22: Bull (part 2)

bert

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4

Remember when I complimented you on developing some empathy?

1

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Yeah.

1

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I may have spoken too soon.

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What the hell is “empathy,” anyway?

1

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Awareness of another person’s feelings.

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And I lack that.

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Apparently.  But it’s not your fault.

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bert.

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You’re a man.  Most men are trained to be emotional dunderheads.

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“Dunderhead”?

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Emotionally stupid.

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How does that happen?

1

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Well, we teach men to ignore or hide their feelings…

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bert

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…so they can go to war and go to work and do other stuff that feelings tend to interfere with.

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Because big boys don’t cry.

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Exactly.

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bert 10

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And once you lose touch with your own feelings…

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bert (11)

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…it’s hard to be sensitive to anyone else’s.

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Like a wife’s.

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Yes.

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So she’s right.  I am insensitive to her feelings.

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So it would seem.

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Now I feel like a jerk.

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I wouldn’t say that.  Just think of yourself as…

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bert (15)

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…a bull in a china shop.

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(To be continued.)

x

x

* * *

Want more?

Having spent half his life trying to find fulfillment outside himself, he awakens to discover that it has not worked. For the first time in his life, a man may turn inward for answers.

He may begin to realize that his unhappiness is not caused by his failure to find the right woman or the right career, but by who he is and the way he is living his life.

Rather than blame others, he may ask, “How have I caused this to happen? Perhaps I need to change and develop greater self-awareness before I can have a healthy relationship or a satisfying career.”

This is a very difficult and courageous step for a man to take. Having successfully mastered his life on the outside, he is now forced to acknowledge that he needs help to explore difficulties encountered in his inner life.

From Real men do therapy by Jerry Magaro.

* * *

Most men grow up with an emptiness inside them.  Call it father hunger, call it male deprivation, call it personal insecurity, it’s the same emptiness.

When positive masculine energy  — a male mode of feeling — is not modeled from father to son, it creates a vacuum in the souls of men.  And into that vacuum demons pour.

Among other things, they seem to lose the ability to know how to read situations and people correctly.

Richard Rohr, in From wild man to wise man: Reflections on male spirituality.


Session 17: Guilty

Bad day at work.

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What happened?

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Boss yelled at me.

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And how do you feel?

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Guilty.

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Why’d the boss yell?

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Having a bad day, I guess.  He’s like that.

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So why do you feel guilty?

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I don’t know.

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That’s not guilt you’re feeling.   

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It’s not?

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No.  It’s anger.  Internalized anger often feels like guilt.

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It does?

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Sure.  Anger’s like poison.  If you don’t spit it out at the person who hurt you, it eats away at you and feels like guilt.

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I don’t know about that.  I’ve always been a pretty guilty person.

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4I see.  Tell me, what’s your boss like?

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He’s an asshole.

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How big an asshole?

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Big.

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Big?

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Enormous.

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And how’s it feel, working for an enormous asshole?

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I hate it.  I hate him.  I hate my job.

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th12

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Hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate.

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therapist (13)

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bert (14)

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How you feeling now?

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Better.  Much better.  Not guilty at all.

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th

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Does that always work?

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When the guilt comes from internalized anger, pretty much.

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bert (17)

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By the way, how’s your marriage going?

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bert (18)

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* * *

1

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Session 15: Predictable

bert 1

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So, you’re married?

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Yes.

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And her name’s Felicia, you said.

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That’s right.  But I call her Babe.

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Bert and Babe.  Cute.  And you have a son?

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Yes.  Bud.

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And a daughter?

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Brittany.

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Sensing a pattern here.

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We have a dog, too.

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Named…

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Bonzo.

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Of course.

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Excuse me?

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Just curious.  Favorite color?

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Brown.

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Favorite sport?

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Baseball.

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Favorite music?

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Blues.

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Composer?

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Bach.

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Holiday?

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4

My birthday.

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Favorite meal?

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Burgers.

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4

Favorite coal?

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Bituminous.

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(Sigh.)

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What’s wrong?

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Has anyone ever described you as predictable?

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1

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Bite me.

* * *


(Bert’s therapy) Session 2: Felicia

 

                                       

 

So.  Your wife sent you.

 

…………….

[1]

[2]

[3]

Yes.

 

 

Why? 

……….

 

[1]

[2][3]…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

.

 

She says I have control issues. 

 

What’s she mean?

 

[1]

[2]

[3]

  

 I have no idea.

 

She doesn’t say what bothers her?

 

……………………….

[1]

[2]

[3]

 Nope.  She’s a bit crazy, my wife.

 

 

 I see.  What’s her name?

….

 

[1]

[2]

[3] 

 

  

Felicia.

 

 

 

Maybe we should ask Felicia in to tell us herself.

……………………….

…..

[1]

[2]

[3]

 

 

 

 

How would you feel about that? 

 

 

[1]

[2]

[3]

 

 . . . . .

 

 

 

[1]

[2]

[3]

  I’ll tell you everything.

 

 

 

 

 


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