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Psychotherapy: Beyond Plan A

November 8th, 2011 / Coping Skills /

This guest blog entry is by Steve Hauptman, LCSW. Steve Hauptman, LCSW is a psychotherapist, writer and coauthor — with Bert, his control-addicted inner monkey — of Monkeytraps: A blog about control athttp://monkeytraps.com.

Please note that the opinions presented in the article are that of the author and not necessarily the opinions of RHN. RHN chooses to publish articles and share individual sites to evoke discussion and show all options, ideas and beliefs.

I’m a therapist with an odd specialty: control issues. I see everything as related to control.

I think we’re all addicted to it, that this addiction causes most (maybe all) our emotional problems, and that any therapy worth the name helps us redefine our understanding and relationship to control.

Today a new client asked me, “How exactly do we develop this addiction?”

“We are born that way,” I told her. “We’re born with this big, overdeveloped brain that keeps us scared and worried and trying to control everything and everybody. Sort of like a paranoid computer run amuck. In the East they call this computer monkey mind.”

That’s only half an explanation, though. Some people are obviously more controlling than others. (Think: Mom.) Why is that, if we’re all dominated by monkey mind?

The other half of the answer has to do with Plan A.

Twenty years of practicing therapy have taught me that in the end there’s only one reason anyone goes to someone like me:

Plan A has broken down.

Plan A is my label for everything we learn as kids about life and how to cope with it.

We each have a Plan A. We learn it mainly as kids, mainly from our parents, and mainly unconsciously. I mean, nobody sits us down at the kitchen table and says “Now listen up, kid. Here’s how you do Life.” No, they just do Life themselves, and we watch and listen and soak it all up like little sponges. That’s why our personal Plan A looks so much like those of our family members.

It works okay for a while. Especially while we’re living in the family. It’s like we’re all following the same unwritten rule book.

But Plan A always breaks down, because eventually we move beyond the family into the larger world, filled with new people and new problems, and we discover that what worked at home doesn’t always work so well out there.

At which point we have a choice, at least in theory. We can decide, “Oh, gee. I need a Plan B.” Or we can keep stubbornly trying to make Plan A fit every situation.

Guess which we choose?

Right. We choose Plan A. We always choose Plan A.

Why? First of all, we don’t know there’s such a thing as Plan B. Childhood has conditioned us to see our Plan A as simply normal. (Why would anyone want to do Life in any other way?)

Second, even when we realize there are other options, we cling to Plan A because…it’s familiar. We know how to do it. And change is scary. So we keep following Plan A even after we suspect it no longer works.

Some of us keep following it even after we’re convinced it doesn’t works.

And some of us keep following it until we develop symptoms — anxiety, depression, addictions, communication problems, bad relationships.

And it’s those symptoms that drive us into therapy.

Seeking Plan B.


 


 

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