Bert’s Plan A

(If you’re new to Monkeytraps, Steve is a therapist who specializes in control issues, and Bert is Steve’s control-addicted inner monkey. That’s Bert at left, looking trapped.

Bert speaking:)

Recently someone asked Steve, “Exactly how does a person get addicted to control?”

“We’re born that way,” he answered.  “We’re born with this big brain that keeps us scared and worried and trying to control everything and everybody.  Sort of like a paranoid computer run amuck.”

He was referring to the idea of monkey mind, which I wrote about recently.  (See “Bert is nuts.”)

But that’s only half an explanation.  Because some people are obviously more controlling than others.  Why is that so, if we’re all dominated by monkey mind?

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

Steve has this little speech he gives to new clients about the real reason people enter therapy.  Steve, summarize. 

It goes something like this.  In the end there’s only one reason anyone goes to therapy: 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.  They just do Life themselves, and we watch and listen and soak it all up like little sponges.  That’s why our Plan A tends to look so much like others in our family.

And it works pretty well for a while.  Especially while we’re living in the family.  It’s like we’re all following the same invisible 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, I guess I need a Plan B.”  Or we can keep trying to make Plan A fit every situation.

Guess which we choose?

Right.  Plan A.  Always Plan A.

Why?  First of all, we may not even know there’s such a thing as Plan B.  Childhood conditions 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.

And that’s when we begin to develop symptoms — anxiety, depression, addictions, communication problems, lousy relationships.

And those symptoms are what drive us into therapy.

Seeking a Plan B.

Bert again:

In our case — Steve’s and mine — Plan A was shaped by growing up in an alcoholic family. 

Steve’s dad was alcoholic, and his mom was depressed.  Together they taught him two important lessons he’s spent his adult life trying to unlearn.

The first lesson was, “Feelings are at best inconvenient, and at worst dangerous.”  The implication of this lesson?  So you’d damned well better keep them to yourself.

The second lesson was, “You’re responsible for other people’s feelings.”  The implication:  So you damned well better be careful about what you say and do around other people.

These two lessons were the foundation stones, so to speak, of our Plan A. 

They’re also what called me, Bert, his inner monkey, into being. 

Steve created me to take control of what was a pretty chaotic emotional life.  I set out to do that by doing things like burying his feelings, developing an impressive image (see “Bert’s mask”) and becoming exquisitely oversensitive to the feelings, perceptions and opinions of others. 

I also convinced him to become a social worker.  Which seemed a natural fit to our original Plan.

(To be continued.) 

* * *

Check out my first guest post,

titled “Seven Kinds of Power”  and just published on Breaking the Cycles — Changing the Conversation, a web site devoted to “using 21st century brain and addiction-related research to change how we talk about, treat and/or prevent alcohol and drug abuse, underage drinking, alcoholism, drug addiction, dual diagnosis, DUIs and secondhand drinking/drugging (SHDD)”  (

* * *


Don’t forget to answer the new Bert Poll question.

We need you to educate us.  🙂   



21 responses to “Bert’s Plan A

  • Phyllis

    Hi Steve & Bert, This was really good. I am not sure which one of you is smarter, but, you make a really good writting team. Thanks.. Phyllis

  • Charles

    I’m really enjoying the blog. Thanks a lot!

  • fritzfreud

    Thanks to you, Charles. Bert appreciates the encouragment. 🙂

  • Linda R.

    Too bad life/parenting don’t come with a manual… Then again, what fun would that be???!!!
    “I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next.
    Delicious Ambiguity.” – Gilda Radner

    • fritzfreud

      That’s a nice quote from Gilda. Unfortunately I’m not that brave. I wish I could consider ambiguity delicious, and I’m trying to get myself there. But most of the time it just scares the poop out of me.
      ~ Bert

  • Marie

    Hi Steve, wish I would have read your blog before I left for work this morning. I would have had the courage to say “no” instead of “yes” to something I really didn’t want to do.

    Good job Steve and Bert. You’re doing great work.

  • fritzfreud

    Thanks, Marie. Please don’t beat yourself up. Learning this control stuff is a lot like learning to ride a bicycle: you have to fall over lots and lots (and lots) before you finally find your balance. 🙂

    PS: Bert adds: Go say No to something tomorrow.

    • Khursheed

      So true.. n yes learn to ride the bicycle n eventually feel the FREEDOM that comes with cycling down(or up)a mountain path! :)..dont ask me why i chose mountain now Bert.
      Ps- Bert i think u have the most adorable, loving n wise pair of eyes 😉

      • fritzfreud

        Reply from Steve:
        Thanks, Khursheed. I’m guessing you chose “mountain path” for your analogy because emotional life is, well, mountainous. Lots of ups and downs, lots of work navigating them, and plenty of chances to lose your balance. At least that’s how mine seems.

        Reply from Bert:
        (a) Thanks for liking my eyes.
        (b) You know I’m just a metaphor, right? 🙂

  • Phyllis

    So who said Metaphors can’t have nice eyes???

  • Kelly

    Another moving post that got me to think all week.
    I have a question to pose….how might one distinguish between a plan A and a life path? Or is there not a difference and just depends on the lens one views it with? Inquiring minds want to know…. 🙂

    • fritzfreud

      Hi Kelly. Not sure what you mean by “life path.” But if you mean the result of a considered choice — a conscious decision to heal or grow up or something like that — then it sounds like what I mean by “Plan B.” Which, conveniently enough, is the subject of the post I’m writing even as we speak. I’ll post it tonight, and you can tell me if it helps to answer your question at all.

  • Linda

    Just finished reading…so well put…so true. All the combination’s of people , places and things outside ourselves we are always trying to control. We believe it is the right way to be based on what we observed as a child. Of course, we look up to our parents naturally; who else are we going to look up to… we don’t know any better, though we did get those gut feelings as a child that was telling us then something is not right. That was a gift then I believe from God and a gift now to always be connected to. Follow your gut as they say; but it seems we are always questioning ourselves not trusting that inner voice. I personally have come along way with that thanks to people like you Steve; it is a Lifetime journey.

  • Constipated: Control and depression « Monkeytraps

    […] despite all that Steve and I learned together, Plan A isn’t easy to leave behind.  So stuffing feelings is still my first impulse, especially […]

  • Monkeyships, part 4: Me first. / Yes, dear. « Monkeytraps

    […] The family is where each of us finds our own personal answer to the two questions.  The answer we find grows into a crucial (though usually unconscious) part of our basic view of life and relationships, what I call our Plan A. […]

  • It’s Just What I Do, Plan A, and other forms of covert controlling « Monkeytraps

    […] written about Plan A here before.  It’s my label for everything we learn as kids about life and how to cope with […]

  • The split-level relationship « Monkeytraps

    […] The family that raises us is where each of us learns our own personal answer to the two questions. And the answer we learn grows into a crucial (though mostly unconscious) part of our basic view of life and relationships, what I call our Plan A. […]

  • Just what we do | Monkey House

    […] written about Plan A here before.  It’s my label for everything we learn as kids about life and how to cope with […]

  • turn key profit

    It’s actually a great and helpful piece of info. I am satisfied that you
    shared this helpful information with us. Please stay us up to date like
    this. Thanks for sharing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: