Tag Archives: meaning of control

(THE BOOK) Chapter 1: Control

an excerpt from 3 (w borders)The ability to dictate reality.

That’s how I define control.

It’s not a definition you’ll find in any dictionary, and probably not how you define it.  

But it’s essential to understanding everything that follows.  

Dictate means rearrange or edit according to our preferences.  Reality means, well, everything — everything outside us (people, places and things) and inside us (thoughts, feelings, behavior) too.

Defined this broadly, the wish for control stands behind just about everything we do consciously.  

Plus most of what we do unconsciously (feel, fantasize, worry, dream) as well.

We seek control in order to get reality to behave as we want it to.

We seek control because we want to make the world adjust itself to us, instead of vice versa.

We all want control in this sense.

Not just want, either.

We crave it.

Control is the mother of all motivations.

Every human ever born has craved it and chased it.

Because it’s a craving that is literally built into us.





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 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.




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.




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: fritzfreud@aol.com.




Elephant parts

“A blog about control,” it says at the top of this page.

So what are we talking about here? 

What is control, anyway? 

What does the word mean? What does the idea mean? 

We must think we know.  We use it often enough. 

This morning, for the hell of it, I Googled “control.”  Google replied with 225,000,000 items.  That’s million. 

I tried the same thing at Amazon.com.  Amazon coughed up 168,459 books with control in their titles. 

So what is this thing that so fascinates us? 

Good question. 

There’s an old story about blind men brailling an elephant.  One feels the elephant’s side and says, “Ah, I get it.  An elephant is just like a wall.”  Another feels the elephant’s leg and says “Ah, I get it.  An elephant is just like a tree.”  Another feels the trunk and decides an elephant is just like a snake. Another feels the tail and decides an elephant is like a rope.  And so on. 

Control is an elephant.  Big, big elephant.  Many parts, many contradictions.  After fifteen years of studying it I sometimes still feel like a blind man, groping my way towards the truth, one wrinkly body part at a time. 

Join me? 


control: The capacity to manage, master, dominate, exercise power over, regulate, influence, curb, suppress, or restrain. ~ Judith Viorst

That’s fairly broad, as definitions go.  My definition, which you won’t find in any dictionary but stands behind everything I write here, is broader: 

The ability to dictate circumstances. 

Dictate as in direct, determine or define.  Circumstances as in, well, everything.  Everything under the sun.  All the nuts and bolts of reality, both external (the world of other people, places, and things) and internal (the world of our own thoughts, feelings and behavior). 

By control, then, I mean nothing less than the ability to edit reality,  transform it into whatever we need, or want, or prefer. 

And by controlling I mean everything we do towards that end, whether or not what we do is effective, or healthy, or if we even know that we’re doing it.

First question: Is control the best word for what I’m describing? 

I don’t know.  But I’ve tried and can’t think of a better one. 

The Buddhist term attachment probably comes closest to what I mean.  As does a Tibetan word Pema Chrodron writes about, shenpa.   But control is so much more important in English (Google lists only 16 million items for attachment) it seems the best label for what I’m interested in describing here. 

Next question:

What are the most important parts of this elephant? 

Well, the first two things you notice about control are 

(1) It’s enormous. 


(2) It’s invisible. 

“Some things you miss because they’re so tiny,” Robert Pirsig writes.  “But some things you don’t see because they’re so huge.” 

Control is one of those invisible huge things. 

The urge to control explains a ridiculously wide range of behaviors.  Often we think of controlling as bossing, bullying or nagging, or a controlling person as someone like Hitler, Donald Trump or Mom.  But that’s like mistaking the trunk for the whole elephant. 

We’re controlling whenever we scratch an itch. Comb our hair.  Mow our lawn.  Salt our soup.  Spank our child.  Balance our checkbook.  Change channels.  Stop at a red light.  Vote.  Punch someone’s nose.  Flatter someone.  Seduce someone.   Lie.   Disguise our true feelings.  Get drunk.  Worry.  Dream. 

You get the idea.   

We’re all controlling, and we’re controlling all the time.  

We chase control all our lives, waking and sleeping, out in public and deep in the secretest crannies of our mind.  We chase it consciously and unconsciously, creatively and destructively, wisely and stupidly, from birth until death. 

We can’t help it.  Control-seeking is the default position of our species. 

At the same time, because it’s such a given of human experience, we barely notice we’re doing it. 

Control isn’t like a tool we pick up and put down.  It’s more like breathing, or blinking, or the way your knee jerks when the doctor taps your patellar tendon.  Constant, automatic, involuntary.

Nor is the wish for control like a faucet we can turn on and off.   The need to control flows through us continuously, saturates all our behavior and feelings, infuses everything we desire and fear. 

It not only drives behavior, it structures thinking.  What is most of our thinking anyway, if not an attempt to somehow change some circumstance, shift some piece of reality closer to what we’d prefer?  What else could you call problem-solving, planning, analyzing, fantasizing, worrying, obsessing?

The idea of control makes up the psychological sea in which each of us swims. 

And most of the time most of us barely notice we’re wet. 

(To be continued.)

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